Friday, September 26, 2014


"Moscow will curtail Ukraine's access to vital Russian markets if Kiev implements any part of a trade agreement with the European Union, President Vladimir Putin warned in a letter, toughening his stance on a deal at the centre of East-West tensions. In a letter to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, seen by Reuters on Tuesday, Putin warned that even changing national legislation to prepare for the EU-Ukraine trade deal, known as the association agreement, would trigger an immediate response from Moscow. We still believe that only systemic adjustments of the Association Agreement, which take into account the full range of risks to Russian-Ukranian economic ties and to the whole Russian economy, will allow to retain existing trade and economic cooperation between the Russian Federation and Ukraine," Putin wrote in the letter, which is dated Sept. 17. Putin did not go into detail about possible retaliation, but Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said last week he had signed an order to curb Ukrainian exporters' access to Russia. Those measures are yet to take effect.... In a last-minute concession to Moscow, the EU delayed implementing the trade accord until Dec. 31 2015. Brussels hopes that will give it time to assuage Russian concerns about the pact, which is now a legal treaty that cannot easily be changed. But Putin's letter suggests that the Kremlin considers the 15-month delay to the EU-Ukraine agreement a complete freezing of the process until Russian demands for changes to the legal texts are met. "Adoption of such amendments to Ukrainian legislation, including implementing acts, will be considered as infringement of the arrangement to postpone implementation of the Association Agreement, entailing immediate and adequate retaliatory measures from the Russian side," Putin wrote.".
Robin Emmott, "Putin warns Ukraine against implementing EU deal". Reuters. 23 September 2014, in
"The West should take advantage of any cease-fire efforts to craft and strongly advocate this solution, and should then negotiate the precise terms with Kiev and Moscow. Legally and morally, there can be no Western objection to this — it is after all the solution that the West has put forward to end conflicts in many parts of the world. In another former Soviet territory, Nagorno-Karabakh, the West went further and proposed the loosest form of confederation with Azerbaijan. This solution corresponds to history and local reality; for the Donbass is in fact a region with its own culture and traditions. To separate the Donbass in this way while preserving the principle of Ukrainian territorial integrity would allow the West to help in developing and consolidating the rest of Ukraine without constant disturbances in the East. This would open the possibility — albeit a long way in the future — of Ukraine joining the European Union; and if the people of the Donbass region at that point choose to secede and lose the benefits of European Union membership — well, so much the worse for them.... The choice today is not between a united Ukraine fully in the Western camp, or a Ukraine which has lost part of its territory to Russia. As recent military developments have demonstrated, the first outcome is simply not going to happen. The choice is between a Ukraine with an autonomous Donbass region, along with a real chance of developing the country’s democracy and economy in a Western direction, or a Ukraine which will be mired in a half-frozen conflict that will undermine all hopes of progress. The way out of this disaster is obvious — if only Western governments have the statesmanship and courage to take it".
Anatol Lieven, "A Way Out for Ukraine and Russia". New York Times. 3 September 2014,
Grazhdanin Putin's démarche the other day in re the recently executed agreement between Ukraine and the European Union gives the lie once again (if that were actually needed or indeed required at this point in time) that for Moskva, the question of Ukraine is not a question relating to NATO or any (very vague) 'Russian interests', in Ukraine as such. The real issues involved are those related to the fact that nothing scares Moskva more than the idea that Ukraine has a Western and European, rather than Russian and Asiatic future 1. With a fully Western oriented Ukraine, democratic (or if you like, semi-democratic) and pluralistic, one of the fundamental rationales, the props of Putinism ceases to exist: that Russia and its people as well as the other former peoples of the ex-Sovietskaya Vlast, are destined to a non-Western and non-pluralistic future. With a positive example of Ukraine before their eyes, the Russian people, especially the urban, middle classes of the major cities, will see that the allegedly primordial nature of Russian statehood is in fact nothing of the sort. It is merely a rather tread bare rationalization for the endemic corruption, violence, backwardness and stupidity which is the ne plus ultra of Putinism in its current form. Hence, Putin's statement the other day and the need for the Western powers to counter it at every turn.
1. DAVID M. HERSZENHORN, "Ukrainian President Sets Sights on Closer E.U. Ties". The New York Times. 25 September 2014, in; Richard Balmforth and Natalia Zinets, "Ukraine president sets 2020 as EU target date, defends peace plan". Reuters. 26 September 2014, in

Tuesday, September 23, 2014


"The United States and its Arab allies bombed militant groups in Syria for the first time on Tuesday, killing scores of Islamic State fighters, members of a separate al Qaeda-linked group and opening a new front amid shifting Middle East alliances. The attacks encountered no objection, and even signs of tacit approval, from President Bashar al-Assad's Syrian government, which said Washington had warned Damascus in advance. Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates participated in or supported the strikes against Islamic State targets, U.S. Central Command said. The countries are hostile to Assad but now fear the fighters who emerged from the rebellion they backed in Syria's 3-year-old civil war. U.S. President Barack Obama said in a televised statement that the breadth of the coalition, including the five Arab states, showed the United States was not alone in its second campaign of air strikes. Since Aug. 8, U.S. air strikes have hit militant targets in Iraq, where Washington supports the government, but had held back from a military engagement in Syria, where it is at odds with Assad. The White House said some of the strikes in Syria had targeted an al Qaeda affiliate known as the Khorasan group, which it said had been plotting an imminent attack either in the United States or in Europe".
Phil Stewart and Tom Perry, "U.S. and Arab allies launch first strikes on militants in Syria". Reuters. 23 September 2014, in
"American airpower will be the centerpiece of U.S. direct action against the so-called Islamic State. That much, at least, the U.S. government made clear Monday night with the launch of U.S. airstrikes on Syria. American bombers, sea-launched Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles, F-15s, F-16s, F/A-18s, unmanned aircraft, and Arab allies from bases throughout the Persian Gulf region attacked an initial set of roughly 20 primarily fixed targets—logistical hubs, headquarters, training camps, and other ISIS infrastructure—in Raqqa and other areas in Syria. Meanwhile, the United States has flown hundreds of sorties against ISIS forces in Iraq, but Iraqi security forces have yet to retake major cities. What effect will airstrikes have on ISIS? Will they “degrade” or “defeat” the group? To understand the implications we first must understand ISIS as an organization: How it fights, how it is organized, and ultimately how it might be vulnerable to a long-term bombing campaign. ISIS’s battlefield success and political resiliency depend on a sophisticated but partially decentralized structure that recommends a different form of targeting than in past U.S. decapitation efforts against al Qaeda and its affiliates. ISIS’s offensive success, especially in Iraq, is attributed to a mix of subversion, guerrilla warfare, and light infantry tactics yielding a surprisingly effective irregular warfare strategy. Its defensive strength derives from its robust local and international recruiting efforts and its success at retaining guerrilla resilience even as it undertakes a state-building project.... ISIS’s tactics and structure suggest that rather than hitting only massed ISIS forces in Iraq and its fixed infrastructure across both Iraq and Syria, an offensive campaign should target its battlefield leadership and the elements of the organization necessary for sustaining and coordinating its operations across the region". .
Daniel Trombly & Yasir Abbas, "Who the U.S. Should Really Hit in ISIS". The Daily Beast. 23 September 2014, in
The expansion of the air war against the radical Islamist group ISIS to Syria is something that I and any enemy of Muslim extremism can only applaud. By definition, this horrid group cannot be easily defeated, much less destroyed with merely a couple of air and missile strikes. What is needed and required is the journalists from the Daily Beast highlight above is a highly co-ordinated and pinpointed air campaign which will take not weeks but months at the very least. And even if the air campaign is extremely accurate and focused, the effort itself will require both endurance and allies on the ground. Unfortunately, in the case of Syria, the only allies on the ground who are at all militarily able to challenge ISIS effectively is the existing regime of Assad Fils. To pretend that those elements of the opposition which are western-aligned would be capable of defeating ISIS is a chimera, pur et simple. Unfortunately, the fact of the matter is that ISIS will only be substantially defeated and destroyed in both Syria and Iraq with a combination of American air power and ground forces. The Assad regime is the only available force who could possibly fulfill such a role. This fact may perhaps not be agreeable but it is assuredly a fact. As the man who I regard as the premier military commentator in the United States, Anthony Cordesman recently noted:
There is no good option for Syria, only a least bad one, and efforts to try to build a moderate political and military opposition will probably take years and only succeed if the Assad government and other opposition factions largely self-destruct 1.
1. Anthony Cordesman, "The Islamic State: The Case for Expanding the Air War". The Center for Strategic and International Studies. 23 September 2014, in For an opposing argument to my own as per the potential to build a credible military force among the remnants of the pro-Western, Syria Opposition, see: Kenneth Pollack, "An Army to Defeat Assad: How to Turn Syria's Opposition Into a Real Fighting Force". Foreign Affairs. (September/October 2014), in

Friday, September 19, 2014


"The crisis over Ukraine has all but frozen official communication between the United States and Russia. The Russian reaction to the political upheaval in Kiev — the absorption of Crimea, and the armed intervention in eastern Ukraine — and the American responses to those actions have brought about a near-complete breakdown in normal and regular dialogue between Washington and Moscow. Relations between the two capitals have descended into attempts by each side to pressure the other, tit-for-tat actions, shrill propaganda statements, and the steady diminution of engagement between the two governments and societies. Reports from the NATO summit meeting that ended in Newport, Wales, on Friday indicate that the United States and its allies will respond to Russia’s intervention and violence in Ukraine with an escalation of their own — including further sanctions, enhanced military presence in front-line states, and possibly greater support for Ukraine’s armed forces. This amounts to more of the same, with little if any assurance of better outcomes. What the Western strategy lacks is an equally vigorous diplomatic approach to ending this conflict. Diplomatic efforts should aim to provide Ukraine and its neighbors with a future that can sustain peace and security for all countries in the area; re-establish respect for the core principles of Europe’s political order; and open the way for more productive American-Russian relations. As three former United States ambassadors who served in Moscow, we believe that the time is right for American leadership in a serious diplomatic effort to achieve these ends. Each of us has seen the high price paid when relations and dialogue between Washington and Moscow break down, as in the effort to prevent Baltic independence at the end of the Soviet era, the Kosovo crisis and the insurgency in Chechnya. Each time relations broke down, there was a high cost to the cause of peace and security for both the United States and Russia, as well as their allies. Our experience convinces us that creative, disciplined, serious active diplomacy — through both official and unofficial channels — provides the one path out of destructive crises and a reliance on violence and confrontation. So-called Track 2 dialogue between nonstate actors — experts and groups of individuals on both sides — can also play a useful role. ".
Jack F. Matlock, Thomas Pickering & James Collins, "Give Diplomacy a Chance with Russia". The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. 8 September 2014, in
"Ukraine’s president Petro Poroshenko urged Washington on Thursday to provide weapons to his country’s military as he received a rapturous welcome from the US Congress. In an address to both houses of Congress, Mr Poroshenko said Ukraine needed more than the non-lethal military aid that the US is giving the country in its battle with Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. “Blankets, night-vision goggles are important, but one cannot win the war with blankets,” he said. The Ukrainian president received regular standing ovations for a rousing speech that emphasised Ukraine’s status as a democracy and included withering criticism of Russian intervention in the east of the country. “With just one move, the world has been thrown back in time – to a reality of territorial claims, zones of influence, criminal aggression and annexations,” he said. “The postwar international system of checks and balances was effectively ruined....” Mr Poroshenko told Congress that Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March was one of the “most cynical acts of treachery in modern history”. He also warned US lawmakers that Russia’s next act might be to cross “a European border”. His comments came as it emerged that Russian president Vladimir Putin had warned Mr Poroshenko that Russian troops could be in six central and eastern European capitals within two days – including five that are capitals of Nato members – according to EU officials briefed on the conversation."
Geoff Dyer & Peter Spiegel, "Poroshenko addresses Congress to urge US to arm Ukraine". The Financial Times. 18 September 2014, in
There is a stark incongruity between the first statement above by three widely experienced American diplomats, all with years of experience in dealing with both Sovietskaya Vlast and with the Russian Federation and the address by the New Ukrainian President to the American Congress. So far, per contra to our Ambassadorial trio's statement, it has been Russia and not the Western powers who have made the running in the Ukrainian conflict. Both in commencing it, and it fueling it, and finally in escalating it most recently. Given these facts, diplomacy per se, is fruitless. One can hardily 'negotiate' when one's interlocutor is uninterested in doing so. Quite the converse in fact. Which is not to gainsay the fact that ideally, it would make a great deal of sense to prepare, if at all possible some type of 'golden parachute' or stepladder, so that Russia will not unnecessarily be humiliated by the West in some new mini-Cold War or economic version of the same. Unfortunately, as one reads in the newspapers recently, those who are coming to the fore in Moskva are the hardest of the hardliners 1. Those 'statist' (actually gangsters pur et simple) elements, who have nothing to lose and everything to gain, at least temporarily from further antagonism between Russia and the West. Sad but very true. Au fond, the attitude of such elements, and for that matter, Grazhdanin Putin himself is something almost completely out of the handbook of Soviet Cold War diplomacy, as the following dispatch from that most intelligent of diplomatic commentators and observers of things Soviet, Sir Frank Roberts, makes aptly clear circa the Persian Crisis of 1946:
"It seems fairly clear that plan of Soviet Government is to extort some agreement satisfactory to themselves from the Persian Government by threat, and indeed if necessary by use of force and to delay making any reply to United States Government or His Majesty's Government until they can say that matter has been settled with a Persian Government direct. 2"
The actions of the West in resolving that crisis: a very firm and hard diplomatic line which allowed for no concessions to Moskva, were what managed to resolve peacefully that crisis 3. It is my surmise that a similar stance by the Western powers and in the particular the Americans will be necessary in order to resolve peacefully the crisis in Ukraine.
1. Courtney Weaver, Jack Farchy and Kathrin Hille, "Yevtushenkov loses favour as new Moscow order emerges". The Financial Times. 17 September 2014, in
2. Sir Frank Roberts to Foreign Office, 13 March 1946, in Documents on British Policy Overseas. Series I. Volume VII. Edited by H. J. Yasamee & K. A. Hamilton. Her Majesty's Stationary Office. (1995), p. 60.
3. My rendition of the Persian Crisis of 1946 relies upon the work of Bruce J. Kuniholm, which is what one may characterized as the 'Orthodox' version, as opposed to the more 'revisionist' interpretation of Melvin J. Leffler. For Kuniholm, see: The Origins of the Cold War in the Near East: Great Power Conflict and Diplomacy in Iran, Turkey, and Greece, (1980). For Leffler, see in particular the relevant chapters in: A Preponderance of Power: National Security, the Truman Administration and the Cold War, (1994).

Thursday, September 18, 2014


"The idea of Scottish independence has moved from the implausible to the very possible. Whether or not it actually happens, the idea that the union of England and Scotland, which has existed for more than 300 years, could be dissolved has enormous implications in its own right, and significant implications for Europe and even for global stability. The United Kingdom was the center of gravity of the international system from the end of the Napoleonic Wars until World War II. It crafted an imperial structure that shaped not only the international system but also the internal political order of countries as diverse as the United States and India. The United Kingdom devised and drove the Industrial Revolution. In many ways, this union was a pivot of world history. To realize it might be dissolved is startling and reveals important things about the direction of the world.... The possibility of Scottish independence must be understood in this context. Nationalism, the remembrance and love of history and culture, is not a trivial thing. It has driven Europe and even the world for more than two centuries in ever-increasing waves. The upcoming Scottish election, whichever way it goes, demonstrates the enormous power of the desire for national self-determination. If it can corrode the British union, it can corrode anything. There are those who argue that Scottish independence could lead to economic problems or complicate the management of national defense. These are not trivial questions, but they are not what is at stake here. From an economic point of view, it makes no sense for Scotland to undergo this sort of turmoil. At best, the economic benefits are uncertain. But this is why any theory of human behavior that assumes that the singular purpose of humans is to maximize economic benefits is wrong. Humans have other motivations that are incomprehensible to the economic model but can be empirically demonstrated to be powerful. If this referendum succeeds, it will still show that after more than 300 years, almost half of Scots prefer economic uncertainty to union with a foreign nation".
George Friedman, "The Origins and Implications of the Scottish Referendum". Stratfor: Global Intelligence. 16 September 2014, in
"To cut himself off from Europe, from enlightenment, from the revolution of which he had been frightened since the Fourteenth of December, 1825, Nicholas on his side raised the banner of Orthodoxy, autocracy, and nationalism, embellished after the fashion of the Prussian standard and supported by anything that came to hand--the barbaric novels of Zagoskin, barbaric ikon-painting, barbaric architecture."
Alexander Herzen. My Past and Thoughts. Volume II. Translated by Constance Garnett. Revised by Humphrey Higgins. (1968). p. 515.
There are two ways to evaluate the issue of the Scottish referendum on independence on the 18th: i) the logical pros and cons of the question, which for the most part would seem to indicate that Scotland and its people would be the losers in any such exercise. Just as Ireland was the loser for upwards of sixty years by virtue of its breaking away from the United Kingdom; ii) the historical perspective which would show how we arrived at the current situation of this absurdity: that Scotland would become independent of the United Kingdom as a whole. The first way of analyzing the question has been dealt with in any number of articles in the Financial Times and elsewhere and I do not mean to replicate those rather conclusive arguments herein 1. The historical perspective would argue that the chimera of Scottish nationalism and the concomitant independence movement, are part and parcel of (among other things): the decline of the British Empire; the decline of Scottish heavy industry and the Labour Party-voting working class who manned it; the secularization of Scottish society and in particular the decline of the influence of the Kirk; the collapse of the voting appeal of the Conservative and Unionist party in Scotland. These are it seems to me the main forces responsible for impelling Scottish nationalism. With a soupçon of incompetence by the current British Prime Minister David Cameron, whose maladroit negotiations over the referendum allowed for the current situation to rear its head in the first place.
With all that being said, what is my prediction for the 18th? Without much by way of a crystal ball, I can only surmise that the idea of independence is au fond for the people of Scotland still a chimera and that at the very end of the day, the people of Scotland will follow the example of the people of Quebec back in 1980 and again in 1995, in narrowly rejecting the possibility of independence. Given the fact that the people of Scotland have much less a reason to vote for independence than that of Quebec, one can only assume that the former will follow the latter in rejecting the possibility. Something which is all to the good as far as I can see, as there is nothing good which can come out of Scottish independence for anyone other than the apparatchiks of Edinburgh and Scotland's parliament. Political parasites, who are quite content to employ the same dubious rationales that Herzen's examples from early 19th century Central and Eastern Europe show us.
1. Chris Giles, "Independent Scotland’s prosperity hinges on five challenges". The Financial Times. 14 September 2014, in ; Richard Whitman, "The Costs of Dis-Union for a UK Without Scotland". The Royal Institute of International Affairs. 12 September 2014, in

Friday, September 12, 2014


"Barack Obama has prepared the US for a “steady, relentless” war with Islamic militants in a speech to his nation that heralds a substantial expansion of the US anti-Isis campaign from northern Iraq into neighbouring Syria. In a prime time televised address, the US president outlined his strategy “to degrade and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, known as Isis, which has grabbed large swaths of territory in northern Iraq and Syria in recent months. Mr Obama’s address, on the eve of the 13th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks on America, also made clear the limits of Washington’s action, which will focus on air power and intelligence to support Iraqi and Kurdish forces, with no US troops on the front lines. America will lead “a broad coalition” of western and Arab countries “to roll back this terrorist threat,” he said. 'But I want the American people to understand how this effort will be different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil.'"
Richard McGregor and Geoff Dyer, "Obama prepares US for ‘steady, relentless’ war with Isis". The Financial Times. 10 September 2014, in
May seem unusual to criticize a strategy you have both suggested and endorse, and it is important to stress from the outset that President Obama has almost certainly chosen a strategy that is the “best game in town” — if he fully implements it, gives it the necessary resources, and sustains it over time. The President has had to choose a strategy based on the “rules of the game” in the United States, in Iraq, in Syria, and allied states. They are rules that place major constraints on what the United States can do. The United States had no choice other than to depend on regional allies for ground forces, training, bases, improvements in unity and governance, efforts to limit the Islamic State’s funding and its volunteers, and efforts to highlight its lack of religious legitimacy and horrifying departures from Islam. The United States has no domestic political support for deploying its own ground combat units. It would take months to deploy and organize a major land force presence to cover the large areas involved, and U.S. ground troops would walk into Iraqi and Syrian civil wars where they would almost inevitably be seen as favoring one side and being seen as an enemy by the other. The strategy the President announced also has a good chance of meeting half of his goals: seriously degrading the Islamic State/ISIL/ISIS, and “degrade” may well be enough to destroy its ability to function as a protostate and secure base for violent Jihadism and extremism. “Destroy,” however, is probably far too ambitious a goal. A serious threat of violent Jihadism and extremism is likely to endure for years to come, and reemerge along with similar threats in an arc that reaches from Morocco to the Philippines and from Sub-Saharan Africa to Russia and China. This may not be a “long war” in any one place, but outbreaks of violent instability seem likely to be the rule and not the exception.
Anthony Cordesman, "The "Best Game in Town" - Five Key Risks of the President’s Strategy". The Center for Strategic and International Studies. 11 September 2014, in
Anthony Cordesman, who is perhaps the premier commentator on matters military in the United States is no doubt correct: the approach taken by the American Administration and President is indeed the very 'best game in town'. Given the fact that there is absolutely no likelihood of involving American ground troops in confronting and endeavoring to destroy ISIS, the plan of action as outlined by the American Administration this week, with its reliance on a combination of aerial bombing and the ground troops of allied countries in the region is the best means of endeavoring to defeat ISIS 1. 'Defeat' that is and not 'destroy'. 'Destroy' as Cordesman ably points out, is perhaps beyond the possibility of this or any American administration. And in fact, is not in reality needed. What is required at this point in time, is the reduction of ISIS to a hunted and miniscule terrorist grouping that it was circa 2009-2011. Able to do little or not harm to anyone but themselves. And certainly the situation not now wherein it is in essence a statelet, possessing in abundance both arms and money. With all that being said, what are the possible problems with the American Administration's strategy? As Cordesman himself cogently points out:
"No U.S. strategy can ever ignore the threat the United States poses to the United States. The United States now faces three immediate threats. First, underreacting in terms of using airpower, arms transfer, and advisory efforts decisively. This is a President who overvalues avoiding the risk of decisive action and the importance of cost over effectiveness, and undervalues the importance of timely decisions. Second, the United States has not yet shown in two wars that it can create and maintain the kind of integrated civil-military efforts needed to maximize the chance of success. The civil side in particular is erratic and dysfunctional, and both sides lack continuity and consistent realism in using resources and their area expertise. Third, this “war” or “battle” is extremely complex, uncertain, subject to reversals, and requires patience through the life of this Administration and beyond. Partisan interest and public frustration present serious threats to a consistent and effective effort" 2.
Presuming that this Administration is able to follow-through on what was outlined this week, and is able to prevent both the Persians and the Assad Regime from endeavoring the strategic version of an off-side tackle, the plan of action against ISIS should indeed work very well in reducing it to little more than a small terrorist grouping. With the only caveat that I myself have being: will the Americans have the iron will to keep up the bombing campaign and supervise the ground war long enough for both to succeed?
1.Peter Baker, "New Military Campaign Extends a Legacy of War". The New York Times. 10 September 2014, in
2. Cordesman, op. cit.

Thursday, September 11, 2014


"Margaret Thatcher, the late British prime minister, once praised Deng Xiaoping’s famous “one country, two systems” formula for Hong Kong as an “ingenious idea” that elegantly grafted the capitalist British colony back on to Communist China. In the years immediately after Hong Kong returned to China’s fold as a “special administrative region”, its civil freedoms and capitalist economy were safeguarded. But almost two decades after the 1997 “handover”, the former Chinese leader’s apparently simple solution has become a source of misunderstanding and conflict. The Chinese government and Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp are locked in a bitter fight over fundamentally different visions for the territory’s political future. One emphasises Beijing’s ultimate authority while the other stresses the sanctity of Hong Kong’s “second system”. It is a contradiction that “one country, two systems” delayed addressing, but can no longer be avoided.... The fight has brought thousands – opponents and supporters of Beijing – on to the streets of Hong Kong in recent months exposing the tensions over the territory’s future. While love of country and love of the party may be inseparable in Beijing’s eyes, this concept is alien to the many Hong Kong residents who found refuge during periods of political turmoil on the mainland, including the famine that followed a botched modernisation drive in the late 1950s and the cultural revolution of 1966-76. Few people in Hong Kong expected China to allow arrangements that could result in the election of a chief executive that it did not approve. Chan Kin-man of Occupy Central, the group spearheading a Gandhi-style civil disobedience campaign for more expansive political rights, says Beijing does not want “to create aspirations” for democracy in mainland China.... China’s willingness to tolerate opposition in Hong Kong has declined in tandem with the territory’s perceived importance to the Chinese economy. When Chris Patten, Hong Kong’s last colonial governor, assumed his post in 1992, China’s economy was only about five times bigger than Hong Kong’s. Today it is 35 times larger. “It has clearly become an asymmetric relationship,” says Arthur Kroeber at GaveKal Dragonomics, a consultancy. “In the 1990s Hong Kong was much more important to Beijing because China needed a lot of money and expertise from Hong Kong and they really depended on Hong Kong infrastructure, such as its port.” Beijing also trod more carefully during much of the 1990s because a smooth transition of power in Hong Kong was critical to the restoration of its international standing after the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. But 25 years on, a newly assertive Beijing appears unfazed by the opinions of others. Mr Kroeber says there is “little concern in Beijing about how its Hong Kong policies will appear to the rest of the world”. In the eyes of the Chinese government, Hong Kong increasingly appears to be an ingrate. Mainland Chinese residents are generally courted for their tourist dollars and more than 40m visited the territory last year, according to government statistics. But they are now reviled as “locusts” by many Hong Kongers who blame them for crowding public spaces, using public services and contributing to runaway property prices. “I don’t think Hong Kong is a spoiled child but it has been treated as a favourite child,” says Mr Zhao at the Central Party School. Beijing’s harder line is in keeping with its uncompromising approach over its many territorial disputes in the East and South China Seas with Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam – and also a domestic propaganda campaign aimed at bolstering President Xi Jinping’s image as a strong leader in the mould of Deng".
Tom Mitchell and Demetri Sevastopulo, "Hong Kong: Voting with their feet". The Financial Times. 7 September 2014, in
"Chinese foreign policy on one issue display no public ambiguity at all. This is the future of Hong Kong. If what has been said publicly is accurate, it appears that a vast but avoidable tragedy for the 5.6 million people of Hong Kong is in the making...Mainland Chinese officials say that they intend to preserve Hong Kong as it is, under the self-government of its own residents and as an 'autonomous region' of the P.R.C. Beijing [sic! Peking] draws attention to the fact that the new constitution of the P.R.C. provides for autonomous region status for both Hong Kong and Taiwan [sic! Formosa]. Nonetheless, the people who are contemplating living under this new staus which despite a 400-year independent history and culture of its own, found itself summarily incorporated into the P.R.C. Similarly, although Beijing often says to Taiwan that after reunification it can keep its own army, it does everything in its current (to say nothing of future) power to prevent the sales of arms to that same army."
Chalmers Johnson, "East Asia: another year of living dangerously". Foreign Affairs. (January 1984), pp. 736-737.
The mots used to describe the situation in Hong Kong almost thirty years ago by Chalmers Johnson are still quite pertinent: 'tragedy'. Whether it could have been avoided is difficult, post-facto to say. As Chalmers himself notes, the UK government, was prior to the negotiations which resulted in the Anglo-Chinese accord of 1984, which still governs Hong Kong, "'realistically' preparing a Zimbabwe-type rather than a Falklands-type solution for them" 1. With the growth of the asymmetrical nature of the relationship between both Hong Kong and the PRC and even between the PRC and Great Britain: with the PRC towering above Hong Kong and having become a much larger power, in almost every sense than the United Kingdom, the likelihood of a 'fair' or a 'democratic' solution to the conundrum of Hong Kong is from almost every vantage point completely illusory. Given the extremely authoritarian nature of the China's current regime, to expect that it would voluntarily agree to allowing Hong Kong to continue to evolve into a democratic polity staggers belief. Sad but very true it would appear. In the absence of some type (now truly non-existent) overwhelming pressure exercised by the Western powers on the subject, there is little or no reason to expect that Peking is at all interested in accommodating the poor people of Hong Kong. And au fond, perhaps that is just as well. If nothing else, the coming clampdown in the still free-wheeling island will demonstrate to all and sundry the nature of the regime in Peking: despotic, authoritarian, corrupt and utterly the enemy of Western style governance and civil liberties.

Friday, September 05, 2014


"The United States and its European allies share most of the responsibility for the crisis. The taproot of the trouble is NATO enlargement, the central element of a larger strategy to move Ukraine out of Russia’s orbit and integrate it into the West. At the same time, the EU’s expansion eastward and the West’s backing of the pro-democracy movement in Ukraine -- beginning with the Orange Revolution in 2004 -- were critical elements, too. Since the mid-1990s, Russian leaders have adamantly opposed NATO enlargement, and in recent years, they have made it clear that they would not stand by while their strategically important neighbor turned into a Western bastion. For Putin, the illegal overthrow of Ukraine’s democratically elected and pro-Russian president -- which he rightly labeled a “coup” -- was the final straw. He responded by taking Crimea, a peninsula he feared would host a NATO naval base, and working to destabilize Ukraine until it abandoned its efforts to join the West. Putin’s pushback should have come as no surprise. After all, the West had been moving into Russia’s backyard and threatening its core strategic interests, a point Putin made emphatically and repeatedly."
John J. Mearsheimer, "Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West’s Fault: The Liberal Delusions That Provoked Putin". Foreign Affairs. September / October 2014, in
"From the beginning in the ninth century, and even today, the prime driving force is Russia has been fear. Fear, rather than ambition, is the principal reason for the organization and expansion of the (sic) Russian society. Fear, rather than ambition in itself, has been the great driving force. The Russians as we know them to-day have experienced ten centuries of constant, mortal fear....From the days of Ivan the Great until our own time, a period of five centuries, the history of Moscow is one of steady, continuing expansion. Yet this expansion, in a way peculiar to Russia, is not an aggressive expansion. Right up to our own day it is a defensive expansion, an expansion prompted by the lack of natural defensive frontiers in a world of mortal danger on all sides."
Louis J. Halle. The Cold War as History. (1967), pp. 12, 17.
"My task as minister of foreign affairs was to expand the borders of our Fatherland. And it seems that Stalin and I coped with this task quite well."
Molotov Remembers: Inside Kremlin Politics. Conversations with Felix Chuev. Edited by Albert Resis. (1993), p. 8. The date of the quotation was 29 November 1974.
The flaw, one is tempted to say, the 'egregious flaw' in John Mearsheimer analysis is that it supposes that states have some primordial 'state' or 'national' interest. A point of view which is of course rather common to political scientists and theorists (like of course Mearsheimer). The handbook of international relations theory, Hans J. Morgenthau's Politics Among Nations, is made up of such an analysis 1. Unfortunately, it is completely ahistorical and any rather cursory review of diplomatic history and international history of the past two to three hundred years would quickly show that this is the case. For some examples, think of the fact that from 1180 to 1920, having the island of Ireland under some type of control by the British Crown was the sine qua non of British statecraft. Well the affects of the Great War and the Irish Rebellion of 1918-1922 were sufficient to shake off this truism of British policy. Similarly, it was a cardinal rule of British foreign policy that the Suez Canal and the adjacent portions of Egypt should be ultimately under British control, either de facto or de jure. As the then British Foreign Secretary, Herbert Morrison noted in August 1951 to his American opposite number, Dean Acheson:
"The plain fact is that we cannot afford to leave Egypt entirely, and I can assure you that no British Government, of whatever complexion, could offer to do so and hope to remain in office" 2.
And yet within less than six years, British troops withdrew from the Canal zone forever with no negative repercussions domestically. History can easily provide more examples. The point that I am endeavoring to make is that Putin and Putinism hostility towards a democratic & pluralist Ukraine has little to do with some type of primordial Russian 'state interest'. And has everything to do with the fear, yes, fear that Putin and his clique has of a demonstration effect that a fully democratic and Western-oriented Ukraine will have on his own population. That and not some imaginary fear of 'Western expansionism', serves as the explanation for Russian policy. In short, the driving mechanism of Russian policy towards Ukraine is primarily that of primat der Innenpolitik, the primacy of domestic policy and not primat der Aussenpolitik. In short, just like the downfall of Sovietskaya Vlast enabled the vast majority of Central and Eastern European countries to escape the grip of Russian power, so will the downfall of Putinism have the end result of liberating of Ukraine and Russia itself from the death grip of Putin's power clique 3.
1. Hans J. Morgenthau. Politics Among Nations. (1948).
2. Morrison to Acheson, 15 August 1951, in PREM 8 / 1389, in Public Records Office, Kew, UK.
3. The need to look at matters in their specific historical context is brought out in Ivo Lederer's wonderful introduction to this subject matter as it relates to Russian and Soviet foreign policy: "Introduction". Russian Foreign Policy: Essays in Historical Perspective. (1962), pp. xx-xxi and passim. For the idea that current Russian foreign policy is fixated by its domestic aspects, see: Anna Borshchevskaya, "Reflections: view from Moscow." The New Criterion. (September 2014), pp. 37-38.

Thursday, September 04, 2014


"The unfortunate truth is that unless and until a new, truly democratic regime emerges in Moscow (as well as Beijing), we are likely to see more naked assertions of power politics than we have experienced since 1989. This will not be a return to the Cold War—a point worth underlining. Neither Russia nor even China (whose leaders long ago abandoned the communist vanguard for the pursuit of profit) offer universalist ideologies capable of competing with free market capitalism. We are not in a “revolutionary” period of world politics, in Kissinger’s terms, in which a radical power—think revolutionary France, Leninist Russia, or Maoist China—pursues (at least for a while) dreams of world revolution. But if history as serious ideological competition is still “over”—as Francis Fukuyama claimed in 1989—history as geopolitical competition marches on. And the implications for world order are profound.... It is this rejection of fundamental norms of international order that lends global significance to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine. The world is not headed for another Cold War, it risks regressing to an era more red in tooth and claw.The priority for policymakers in Washington will be to cling to as much of the substance of Western liberal order as possible, while carefully managing its rising frictions and differences with Russia and China".
Patrick Stewart, "Russia Assaults Ukraine—and the Liberal World Order". The Council on Foreign Relations. 28 August 2014, in
"The use or threatened use of force is therefore a normal and recognized method of bringing about important political change, and is regarded as morally discreditable mainly by those 'conservative' countries whose interests would suffer from change....Normally, the threat of war, tacit or overt, seems a necessary condition of important political change in international sphere".
E. H. Carr. The 20 Years' Crisis, 1919-1939: an Introduction to the study of International Relations. Revised edition. (1961). pp. 215-216.
"That is not the question...But if I wanted to, I could take Kiev in two weeks".
Russian President Vladimir Putin as quoted by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, in "Putin Tells European Official That He Could ‘Take Kiev in Two Weeks’", by Andrew Roth. The New York Times. 3 September 2014, in
The sine qua non of what one may describe as the essence of Putinism's foreign policy modus operandi is encapsulated in the above referenced quotation by the Russian Federation President. Whether or not the statement is in fact true. With that being understood, where does that leave the Western powers at the moment, but as it relates to Ukraine and as it relates to future interaction with Russia? In the case of Ukraine, assuming for a moment that the talks about a cease-fire breakdown, and the war continues, the only possible Western response to Russia's creeping military intervention is the provision of arms and other forms of military assistance to Kyiv. The idea that such a move by the Western powers would (in the words of German Chancellor Angel Merkel, "create the impression that with weapons shipments and strengthening the Ukrainian army we could create a solution", is the height of absurdity 1. Why? For the simple reason that Moskva already believes that via its creeping military intervention it can 'create a solution' that Moskva finds to its liking. By not arming Kyiv with as much military equipment as Ukraine can absorb, the Western Powers merely are falling into line with Russian policy. The crux of the matter is that sans any Western counter-pressure on Moskva both on the economic front and on the frontline in Ukraine proper, Russian policy will have proven to be successful. And with another success to his name, there is no telling where Putin will strike next. With Peking emboldened by his example, perhaps embarking on a more aggressive policy in its policy towards its neighbors in the Orient.
Which brings up the question of the overall issue of Russian Revisionism and what the proper Western response should be. There is a school of thought (of which Patrick Stewart is one such member) which argues that the proper Western response to Russian (or Chinese for that matter) Revisionism is a combination of appeasement and diplomatic pour parler, with an emphasis upon the former, as he stated back in 2010:
"Over the next ten years and beyond, the United States will have to accommodate new powers in reformed structures of global governance while safeguarding the Western liberal order it helped create and defend"2.
Unfortunately, this E.H. Carr type of 'accommodationalism', id. est., appeasement can only work, as History seems to show, when the differing powers in question share fundamental concepts of the international order. And per contra to his ahistorical supposition, the post-bellum 1815 order in Europe was securely anchored by the fact that the five European Great Powers (England, Russia, France, Prussia and Austria) au fond shared a similar understanding of the new norms of international relations 3. Accommodationalism, sans that shared understanding has the end result bringing about the very breakdown of international order that it seeks to avoid. As the case of Europe between 1933 and 1940 clearly show. Unfortunately, there is little evidence that either Putin or his confreres in Peking share Western norms of international politics. With this being the case, there appears little else for the Western powers to do but to oppose as much as is possible, upon this side of caution and with the avoidance of recklessness, with both Russian (and Chinese) revisionism. Anything else will merely result in a creation of a purely Hobbesian bellum omnium contra omnes.
1. See: Geoff Dyer, Peter Spiegel and Neil Buckley, "Debate heats up in US and Europe over arming Kyiv." The Financial Times. 2 September 2014, in
2. Patrick Stewart, "Irresponsible Stakeholders? The Difficulty of Integrating Rising Powers". Foreign Affairs. (November / December 2010), in
3. For Stewart's flawed understanding of post-1815 history, see the following quote: "An imperfect historical parallel might be the Concert of Europe of the early 1800s. That arrangement leavened the traditional balance of power with a balance of rights, which helped bridge differences between the Western powers (France and the United Kingdom) and the authoritarian monarchies (Austria, Prussia, and Russia) of the Holy Alliance. Global cooperation today may follow a similar logic", in Stewart, "Irresponsible Stakeholders", op. cit. For the E. H. Carr reference, see his call for a similar type of 'understanding' for the revisionist powers of 1930's Europe, in Carr, op. cit., pp. 208-236 & passim. For a much more accurate reading of the shared understanding which underlay the post-bellum settlement in Europe from 1815 onwards, see Paul Schroeder's magisterial opus on the subject: The Transformation of European Politics, 1763-1848. (1994), pp.537-582 and passim.