To hear U.S. President Barack Obama and his team describe it, the eleventh-hour proposal from Russia and Syria regarding chemical weapons can be directly attributable to Obama's resolve and toughness in issuing a credible threat. That just-so story ain't necessarily so.
Obama did have a very credible threat from about Aug. 22 until midday on Aug. 31, when he surprised the world and announced a delay, pending authorization from Congress. For about 10 days prior to that abrupt reversal, everyone thought the United States was about to attack. Heck, even Obama's senior staff thought the United States was about to attack. During that time, as the New York Times tick-tock makes clear, there was ample back-and-forth diplomatically about possible deals of the sort that arose suddenly in the last 48 hours. But there was no progress.[[LATEST]]
There was, however, a steady erosion in credibility of the strike. As political opposition at home mounted, it went from a near certainty of happening to a near certainty of not happening. By late Sunday and early Monday of this week, the credibility of the threat was at the lowest point it had been since the crisis began. The House was almost certainly going to vote against Obama. The Senate was a likely no, too. And Obama's advisors had said it was "unthinkable" that the president would strike Syria in defiance of that expected congressional rebuke. With Obama's address to the nation still to come, the game was not over, but the betting money had swung decisively in the other direction.
At that precise moment, a stray comment by Secretary of State John Kerry -- a comment no more significant or meaningful than the more fulsome discussions Obama reportedly had with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G-20 summit -- catalyzed an abrupt Russian reversal. It apparently catalyzed more than that, since Syria appears to have conceded that it possesses chemical weapons, something they were denying when a strike looked imminent.
How could a threat, which when credibly imminent was producing defiance suddenly produce a breakthrough when it seemed least credible? Why would Putin and Syria's Bashar al-Assad "buy" a non-strike when they were about to get it for free?
One possible answer, offered to me by Joshua Rovner of Southern Methodist University in a private debate among academic security specialists, points to the twin role of reassurance and compellence (threat) in coercive diplomacy. As I have explained before, for coercion to work, you have to simultaneously threaten bad outcomes if the target defies you and promise good outcomes if the target acquiesces. Coercion can fail if the target doubts either side of that calculus. Perhaps, my friend speculates, Kerry's stray comment provided the needed reassurance that was hitherto lacking.
That may be part of it, but the facts better fit another explanation: Putin and Assad pounced on the stray comment because they knew that on Monday Obama was what in business is known as a motivated buyer. Obama needed a way out from the political defeat that he was facing, so he was willing to pay as high a price as he ever was to avoid the embarrassment.
What is the price? As Middle East expert Michael Doran of the Brookings Institution explains, the most tangible result of the last 48 hours is that Obama is now a partner with Putin and Assad. Putin and Assad have bought not merely an indefinite delay in airstrikes (something they were getting anyway), but also explicit partnership with Obama and tacit rejection of the "Assad must go" plank of Obama's Syria policy. Note that despite all of the moving rhetoric in Obama's address about the horror of what the Assad regime did, Obama pointedly did not repeat his long-standing assertion that "Assad must go."
So long as the international community is haggling over the terms and conditions of inspections, Assad cannot go. Obama needs him to deliver the deal.
In fact, not only are strikes off the table, but arguably, other diplomatic forms of punishment that might have been considered as an alternative to strikes after a congressional rebuke -- say, referring Assad to the International Criminal Court for war crimes -- are also off the table.
Putin and Assad acted not because they feared the imminent strike. They acted at the moment when they least had to fear the strike in order to get the most from Obama.
Reasonable people can still debate whether this was the best available deal for Obama given the corner he found himself in. But it is a big stretch to trumpet it as a reward for resolve and coercive swagger.
Yet, as Michael Singh makes clear, the president's spinners are right about one thing regarding the threat of force: The only way the Russian-Syrian gambit is likely to yield any positive fruit is if, going forward, the credibility of the military threat is restored. A credible military threat did not do much to generate this deal, but it will be essential to rescue American interests from the trajectory we are currently on.
Photo: U.S. Navy via Getty Images
Having allowed an unscripted remark about red lines to take the United States to the brink of war, and after a "full-court press" that actually reduced the likelihood of congressional support for his proposal of an "unbelievably small" attack on Syria, another unconsidered remark by Secretary of State John Kerry has now derailed that policy. Russian and Syrian enthusiasm for Kerry's idea has taken the administration by surprise, but the administration is trapped into supporting it. This is not even Hollywood slapstick; it is Italian comic opera.
According to the State Department, Kerry had simply been "making a rhetorical argument about the impossibility and unlikelihood of Assad turning over chemical weapons he has denied using." Yet it turns out to be both possible and likely that the Syrian and Russian governments are smart enough to capitalize on the administration's mistakes to further our national humiliation.
It is also the president's humiliation. Midstream in the full-court press, he cannot even make up his mind about what action he intends to undertake. Yesterday he dismissed the "limited, tailored" attacks he had been advocating, saying, "The U.S. does not do pinpricks." He followed up with a sweeping boast that "our military is the greatest the world has ever known. And when we take even limited strikes, it has an impact on a country like Syria." That simplistic approach, convincing oneself the enemy will think so because we do, that our actions are all that matter in the equation, is what had so many conservatives opposing the use-of-force authorization: The president was leading us toward a disaster.[[LATEST]]
Senate Democrats, lacking the votes to approve the authorization for force, heaved a sigh of relief from not having to deal a president of their party such a blow. Nearly 80 percent of Americans were unpersuaded by the president's case. Russia's gambit will be explored and found credible, because it's the president's only escape. The White House will surely crow the president had by dint of brilliant diplomacy found a way to punish Bashar al-Assad without using military force, uphold the international prohibition on chemical weapons use, and strengthen the role of the United Nations. Such magical thinking is unlikely to gain traction anywhere but the South Lawn.
The administration's case to Congress had been that we must act in Syria, else Iran and North Korea would seize on our weakness. Yet the administration's every move in this crisis has trumpeted indecision, lacking the courage of its convictions, and the inability to craft a strategy achieving its objectives. The lessons America's enemies will take from the administration's Syria choices are that the United States can easily be deterred from intervening and is unwilling to use military force, the Russians are the ally of choice, and the coming three years will be a bonanza -- time to take advantage of America's feckless president. It has an impact on a country like the United States, President Obama.
Photo: Alastair Grant - WPA Pool/Getty Images
The finest national security advisor you've never heard of died Saturday, Aug. 10. Judge Bill Clark served as President Ronald Reagan's national security advisor for just under two years, from January 1982 to October 1983. These crucial years marked the foundational period in Reagan's Cold War policy. During this window, Reagan began to implement his strategy for confronting the Soviet Union and bringing it to a point of negotiations and collapse. Reagan's strategy, highly controversial at the time but now more appreciated in hindsight, depended on Clark to channel the president's vision and translate it into doctrines and specific policies.
Why is Clark so little remembered today? The position of the assistant to the president for national security affairs (NSA for short) has been defined in the popular mind by luminous giants such as Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and Brent Scowcroft, who wielded tremendous influence while at the White House and have continued to have a prominent public voice in the decades since. Not so the self-effacing Clark, who never wrote a memoir, gave few interviews, and otherwise seldom spoke out after leaving office, content instead to repair to his beloved California ranch. Clark's historical reputation was also diminished by a few of the memoirs written by some of his former Reagan administration colleagues that unfortunately tried to settle old policy scores at Clark's expense (and to which the devout former seminarian generally turned the other cheek). For example, former Secretary of State George Shultz's otherwise superb memoir, Turmoil and Triumph, is, to my mind, unduly critical of Clark.
In a regrettably revealing display of the stale conventional wisdom that ignores Clark's legacy, neither the New York Times nor the Washington Post even saw fit to write a dedicated obituary of him. Instead both merely ran this minimalist treatment by the Associated Press that devotes but two sentences to his tenure as national security advisor. Clark's legacy, as well as the history of the Cold War, deserves better. (Some conservative outlets have shown a greater appreciation for Clark; see especially this thoughtful remembrance by Steven Hayward over at Power Line, or this one by K-Lo at National Review. For an affectionate tribute from the journalist who knew Reagan and Clark best, see this from the indispensable Lou Cannon).
Part of the reason for the prevailing underestimation of Clark, then and now, was his relative lack of foreign-policy experience -- a deficiency he readily admitted. His résumé was indeed thin; before becoming national advisor he served only one year as deputy secretary of state, which in turn only came after an embarrassing Senate confirmation hearing that highlighted his callowness in the field. Yet Clark also possessed several attributes that proved essential to his successful tenure as NSA. These included a close personal relationship with Reagan, a shared set of convictions about the nature of the Cold War and the Soviet Union, organizational acumen, and the loyalty and affection of his staff.
Clark was Reagan's alter ego. Rejecting the prevailing conventional wisdom that the Soviet Union was stable and destined to coexist with the United States as a perpetual rival, Reagan and Clark instead saw the USSR as vulnerable and sought to exacerbate its internal contradictions. The pillars of this strategy included launching a massive arms buildup that would stress the fragile Soviet economy in a failed effort to keep pace, highlighting the Soviet Union's illegitimacy through ideological and economic warfare and active support for political and religious dissidents, and transforming the perverse nuclear trap of mutually assured destruction. At the National Security Council, Clark developed these insights through an ambitious series of national security decision directives and implemented the strategy through new measures as varied as the National Endowment for Democracy and the Strategic Defense Initiative.
Now that the Reagan administration archives are beginning to be opened and declassified, the process of historical scholarship should hopefully begin to restore Clark's reputation as an essential architect of American Cold War policy. For scholars, I hope this will serve as yet another caution against relying excessively on conventional wisdom and personal memoirs. For policy practitioners, Clark's role as NSA serves as a reminder that while foreign- policy knowledge is important, ultimately it is secondary to wisdom, integrity, the unreserved trust of the president, and the right set of policy convictions.
Not long ago I had dinner with a former Reagan NSC staff member who had served under several of Reagan's NSAs. I asked his assessment of Clark. Without hesitation came his firm response: "Bill Clark won the Cold War."
An exaggeration, perhaps, but not as much as the prevailing neglect of Clark's legacy would have you believe. With his death the nation has lost a great and a good man. May he rest in peace.
Photo from 1985: Diana Walker/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images
It's official: President Barack Obama showed President Vladimir Putin his tough side by canceling out of the bilateral summit in Moscow. In yet another of those carefully calibrated messages the "realists" in the White House commend themselves for sending, the leader of the Free World will not give Russia's leader the benefit of His Grace one-on-one (oh, but he'll still participate in the St. Petersburg G-20 summit).
What a bold move. Except for the fact that Putin has little to gain from a bilateral summit with the United States just now. What are the deliverables Russia could expect from a face to face? There are no policy issues ripe for agreement. Putin could expect to be harangued by Obama about Edward Snowden (we extradite criminals to you without a treaty), Syria (end your lucrative defense supplies and use your influence with Assad to create an outcome you don't want and set a precedent you may suffer from), visa liberalization (not after Boston), gay rights ("I have no patience for countries that try to treat gays or lesbians or transgender persons in ways that intimidate them or are harmful to them"), and nuclear reductions (a safer world is in all our interests even if it takes away your only military leverage). Who wouldn't want to skip out on that meeting?
Putin may well benefit from discomfiting the American president, but he achieved that only weeks ago at their bilateral meeting in Ireland, where news stories carried pictures of tense, dissatisfied expressions and stories of stalemate, and in the granting of asylum to Edward Snowden. No need to stoke those embers again so soon, especially if Obama might step on Putin's preferred story line that by granting asylum he's preventing Snowden from revealing damaging information about the United States. Putin might like to play up supposed American hypocrisy, but you can't fault his understanding of realism: the man has an unapologetic insistence that goals come before morals.
There is nothing now that Putin seems to want that Obama can give him. Or, to put it differently, the things Putin wants Obama has already given him: a de facto veto on American policies, from Syria to missile defenses, and quiescence on Russia's authoritarian descent. The Obama administration has compromised a core U.S. interest -- the ability to take action unilaterally or with like-minded allies -- in return for Russian cooperation on second-order issues like Iran sanctions (which should be just one element of an Iran policy). Realists would never make that trade. In classic liberal fashion, Obama is constraining American power by rules and norms to which all states could be subjected.
The reason President Obama's Russia policy is on the rocks is that the White House pretends to be realist but acts like a liberal. It hesitates to acknowledge the legitimacy of Russian interests, perseveres in policies that are not achieving results, and refrains from using power to deter or punish actions contrary to U.S. interests. All the while it earnestly explains why what it wants is what Russia should do, when Moscow clearly believes that preventing Washington from achieving its aims is a central goal.
Why has Russia policy gone so wrong? Not for lack of effort or desire for a fresh start. The Obama administration rightly set out in 2008 to refashion U.S.-Russian relations, which were in a dismal state after years of mutual disappointment and creeping authoritarianism in Moscow. One of the benefits of changes in government is a routine reevaluation of policies and the sense of a new beginning. President Bill Clinton tried to build a solid partnership with President Boris Yeltsin. President George W. Bush, too, took his chance, saying after his first early meeting with Russia's leader that he had looked into Putin's eyes and could see his soul.
The Obama administration put talent on the team for this problem: Mike McFaul is both a serious scholar of Russia and an ardent advocate of democratization who, before joining the Obama campaign, had run an important study of the opportunity cost to the Russian economy of Putin's governance. In showing quantitatively the ways authoritarian policies inhibited economic growth, the study up-ended Putin's argument that his policies were responsible for increased Russian prosperity.
But, of course, McFaul is a poor choice of advisor to the president and plenipotentiary to Moscow if getting along with Putin's Russia is the administration's aim. If realists were actually in control of Obama policies, he wouldn't have been nominated. Belief that our values are universal -- that all people deserve and yearn for freedom -- and can take root even in the Russian tundra would have been disqualifying. No amount of private correspondence and Tom Donilon's shuttle diplomacy makes up for it.
Liberals are ignoring an important reality about Putin's Russia, which is that he has the consent of the majority of Russian people. According to a Pew poll, 56 percent of Russians report themselves satisfied with the outcome of the presidential election that swapped Medvedev and Putin. Seventy-two percent of Russians support Putin and his policies, a level of public endorsement Obama can only dream of. Fifty-seven percent of Russians consider a strong leader more important than democracy; a 25 percent margin over those who believe democracy is essential. And by a margin of 75 percent to 19 percent, Russians consider a strong economy more important than democracy.
Much as we might hope Russian reformers force progress, American policies need to acknowledge that Russians are mostly satisfied with the governance they have (and thus get the one they deserve). The Pew polling indicates that economic growth and social mobility are the bases of Putin's public support. And unless Washington can craft policies that affect those variables, it ought not expect the Putin government to be responsive to our appeals.
The Obama White House likes to think of itself as full of foreign policy realists. But realism, as it exists in international relations theory, has three main tenets: 1) power calculations as the metric of importance in understanding state behavior; 2) willingness to discard policies that are not advancing one's interests; and 3) the willingness to use one's advantages to threaten and enforce preferences on other states. For all their pretensions to realism, the Obama administration does none of these three things well.
The White House has been willing to sacrifice some U.S. interests and allies for the cause of U.S.-Russia comity. It refuses to intervene in Syria or anywhere else without a United Nations Security Council resolution. It cancelled the anti-ballistic missile deployments to Europe that NATO had agreed to. And it has prioritized issues to some extent, placing cooperation on Iran sanctions above European missile defenses and continuing to pull Georgia westward. But the administration has allowed lesser events like Libya, where we were duplicitous in gaining Russian consent for U.N. action, and half-hearted endorsement of congressional activism on the Magnitsky Act to foster Russian resentment.
Moreover, the compromises the Obama White House has made are consistent with the administration's overall policy preferences: avoiding foreign interventions wherever possible, and putting "diplomacy" before security on missile defense. But a better test of realism is when it requires compromising core tenets of either principle or policy. Handing over Syria's rebel leadership so Assad can consolidate his grip and "end the human suffering" of that civil war would be a realist move. Or, on the flip side, agreeing to write off Georgia's western aspirations for Moscow allowing a U.N. intervention in Syria would be a realist move. Or, on the flip side of the flip side, arming Caucasian separatists to aggravate Russia's security problems would be a realist move.
Putin has an economy seemingly incapable of diversification, dependent on high oil prices and current demand levels. And, like China, it has a public that's politically quiescent as long as standards of living are rising fast. But these are major weaknesses that Washington either doesn't want to seize upon, or doesn't have the ingenuity to figure out how to affect. Add to these the debilitating brain drain of technologists and creative types, business practices that are unlawful and predatory, and a foreign policy that's seen -- not just by the United States -- as bad guys keeping bad guys in power, and you have a choice of levers.
Instead of a Nixonian ruthlessness that presses our advantages or identifies common interests and sells off issues (and allies) of lesser importance to achieve them, the Obama administration has become a continuation of the Bush administration in Russia policy: a bossy liberal, condescendingly explaining to Moscow that if only they understood their true interests as we understand their true interests, they would adopt our policies.
But Putin has already made his own pivot, disavowing the values on which "Western" (by which is meant free) societies are based, and the Russia people are willing to permit it. President Obama may think he's sent a tough message to Putin that actions have consequences, and that keeping Snowden means a cold shoulder -- but when it comes to playing the realist chess game, he's got a lot to learn from grandmaster in Moscow.
DMITRY KOSTYUKOV/AFP/Getty Images
The failed effort to extradite National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden has glaringly revealed the inadequacy of America's foreign policy. Looking past the drama of camping in the Moscow airport's transit zone and the naivety of the Russian "reset" strategy, one can easily recognize that today's world is far more dangerous than many assume.
In response, it is essential for America to recognize budding global challenges, take a more international view, and expand its global outreach efforts.
The fact that China allowed Snowden to fly to Russia, which in turn granted him asylum in defiance of the United States' publically stated wishes, represents more than an opportunity to disingenuously chide America for its transparency transgressions. Both regimes are notoriously opaque and are often criticized on such matters by the international community.
The actions of China and Russia indicate that they are comfortable, perhaps even eager, to openly challenge American leadership in the world. If history teaches us anything, it is that a world where global leadership is being contested or frequently challenged is a dangerous place.
A world without American leadership is a much more dangerous and much less prosperous place. There is no doubt that the world is flattening, but whether the much-heralded post-American world is on the horizon remains within the hands of Americans.
As a Brazilian friend advised me, the United States must act more like the student council president, not the school principal. While we have clearly retreated from the latter role in recent years, we don't even seem to be campaigning for the former role.
It is in the interest of both America and the world that the United States more actively court allies, both traditional and new, to band together under our leadership to tackle present and future global threats. The focus of these efforts should not be conflict, but rather increased incentives for coordinated action.
The United States' international alliance has historically included Canada, Europe, Israel, Japan, and South Korea. Europe's prolonged economic crisis clearly makes it a less robust ally. Japan under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is starting to express more independence from American tutelage. Most of our traditional allies suffer from extremely low birth rates that will impose severe demographic pressures on them for decades to come. Preserving the vitality of this coalition that has already been so beneficial to the world will be a challenge in and of itself, but it must be kept cohesive. This will require more sensitivity to global views on matters such as data privacy.
While the historic American alliance has been sufficient to advance worldwide action in the past, it must grow if global consensus is to be within reach to meet current and future threats as well as encourage countries like China and Russia to be cooperative. When exploring the most appropriate future partners, it is useful to classify the members of the G-20 as Partner, Parochial or Pivot Powers.
In a world where the Parochial Powers will not heed the wishes of the United States, but are more apt to respond to global consensus, the actions of the Pivot Powers are key. Their decisions will determine whether the world acts or remains stymied in response to global threats. The four most prominent Pivot Powers are Brazil, India, Mexico, and Turkey. Each plays a significant role in its region. Each has become too big to sit in the peanut gallery and criticize the actions of the great powers. They are today's emerging great powers.
In broad terms, the tranquility of the world relies upon the United States-led Partner Powers maintaining cordial relations with the Parochial Powers. Effective outreach to Pivot Powers can reduce Parochial Power overreach.
The appropriate American response to the Snowden debacle is to commence a far more aggressive campaign to get Brasilia, New Delhi, Mexico City, and Ankara to consider themselves members of the Partner Power alliance committed to coordinated positive action. By working to achieve a greater global consensus, the United States can advance its own ends while making the world a safer place for all.
A couple of notable items stood out from President Obama's speech in Berlin on Wednesday calling for further reductions in the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
First, Obama reaffirmed his desire to eliminate nuclear weapons across the globe based upon the belief that, "so long as nuclear weapons exist, we are not truly safe." That is a lovely sentiment, but also more than a bit ironic coming from an American president speaking in Berlin. After all, it was American nuclear weapons that helped keep West Germany safe throughout the Cold War, and it was American nuclear weapons that helped protect West Berlin from repeated Soviet and East German coercion. And it is American nuclear weapons, and the threat of their use, that today help reassure U.S. allies across the globe and deter those who wish them ill. Moreover, the advent of nuclear weapons has decreased markedly the prospect of large-scale war among great powers. In fact, a world without nuclear weapons could be a lot less safe than the one we live in.
Second, Obama's call upon Moscow to enter into negotiations to reduce by one-third U.S. and Russian deployed strategic nuclear weapons seems a strange use of his limited political capital. Given the fact that the Russian nuclear arsenal is Moscow's only major claim to great power status, it is unclear whether Putin and company will be eager to reduce their nuclear forces. Similarly, Obama's call for "bold reductions in U.S. and Russian tactical weapons in Europe" is likely to be a tough sell in Moscow, both because Russia has increasingly turned to nuclear weapons to compensate for its conventional weakness, but also because the United States has such little to offer in return. Washington already reduced its stockpile of non-strategic nuclear warheads by 90 percent between 1991 and 2009. According to press reports, the United States keeps 180 air-delivered nuclear weapons in Europe, whereas the Russian arsenal of tactical nuclear weapons totals some 2,000 weapons. Moreover, the Obama administration has already appeased Moscow over U.S. plans to defend our allies in Europe against missiles from Iran and elsewhere, so it is unclear what more can be done on that front.
So what if Putin's Russia doesn't reciprocate Obama's overtures? Previous administrations, Democratic and Republican, supported the reduction of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, coupled with modernization to make a smaller arsenal more reliable and effective. Obama's approach, by contrast, has been reduction without modernization. Although the administration has pledged additional funding for U.S. nuclear infrastructure, there is skepticism as to whether it will ever materialize. And opponents of the U.S. nuclear enterprise increasingly frame their arguments in budgetary terms, stressing the "savings" that could be achieved if the United States slashes its nuclear stockpile. In a period of declining defense budgets, nuclear programs represent juicy targets.
Largely lost in such discussions is the real reason the United States maintains a nuclear arsenal: to protect the United States and its allies against aggression and coercion. It is a purpose that John F. Kennedy and the Germans who greeted him in Berlin half a century ago understood all too well, but one that seems to make the current president uncomfortable.
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images
Another BRICS summit brings another round of angst in the West over the new world the rising powers seek to build without us. The combined weight of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa is indeed breathtaking. Each is subcontinental in scope; together they represent nearly every region; their combined GDPs may surpass those of the G7 within two decades; as a group they have contributed more to global growth over the past five years than the West; and between them they boast nearly half the world's population.
Moreover, the BRICS possess complementary advantages: China is a manufacturing superpower; India is the world's largest democracy, with a deeper well of human capital than any other; Russia is a potential "energy superpower," according to the U.S. National Intelligence Council; Brazil dominates a region lacking any great power competitor; and South Africa represents a continent that has grown faster than Asia over the past decade. An alliance among these behemoths could indeed change history in ways that diminish the West.
Except that nearly all of the BRICS covet a special relationship with the United States, have development aspirations that can only be achieved with Western technology and investment, have security concerns they do not want to put at risk through confrontation with Washington, and quietly understand that strategic and economic rivalries within their grouping may be more salient than the ties that bind them together.
There will be several ghosts in the room at the BRICS summit: America, which India, China, and Russia have identified as more important to their interests than other rising powers; Indonesia, whose demographic and economic weight gives it a stronger claim to membership than South Africa; and Mexico, whose dynamic economy is more integrated with the world than Brazil's and wonders who appointed a Portuguese-speaking nation to represent Latin America.
Ironically, it may be the cleavages within the BRICS club that more accurately hint at the future of the global order: tensions between China and Brazil on trade, between China and India on security, and between China and Russia on status. These issues highlight the continuing difficulty Beijing will have in staking its claim to global leadership. Such leadership requires followers, and every BRIC country is reluctant to become one.
As my GMF colleague Dan Kliman puts it: "Talk of a new international order anchored by the BRICS is just that - talk. The two largest emerging powers in BRICS - Brazil and India - desire modifications to the current order; they do not seek to scrap it. Without geopolitical or ideological mortar, the BRICS summit remains less than the sum of its parts."
The BRICS countries may posture, but their strategic interests by and large lie in working more closely with the West rather than forming an alternative block that seeks to overthrow the existing world order. Indeed, the largest of the BRICS tried just such a strategy in another era -- and failed. India's experiment with non-alignment during the Cold War was a recipe for keeping Indians poor and shutting their country out of premier global clubs like the U.N. Security Council. We know how Moscow's quest to mount a Soviet ideological and material challenge to the West ended. And China long ago abandoned its Maoist zeal for world revolution. The country's biggest trading partners today are the European Union and the United States, and its leaders understand that the nature of China's relationship with the United States will be the main external determinant of China's ability to become a truly global power.
Power is diffusing across the international system, and the BRICS grouping is a reflection of that. But we should not let the occasional rising-powers summit lead us to lose sight of the main reality of a more multipolar world -- that in the race for influence in the 21st century, the United States remains in pole position.
ROBERTO STUCKERT FILHO/AFP/GettyImages
Last week, Ambassador Max M. Kampelman died in Washington. He was 92. In a city that honors bipartisanship but rarely achieves it, Ambassador Kampelman lived it. He was also able to bridge superficially contradictory ideas: pacifism and fighting the Nazis; labor rights and anti-communism; a willingness to negotiate with Moscow and a clear-eyed view of the Soviet threat. He happily worked for both Hubert Humphrey and Ronald Reagan. Most importantly, he did so while stubbornly adhering to important principles.
Amb. Kampelman served as the chief negotiator for the Nuclear and Space Talks with the Soviet Union, from 1985 to 1989, but his public service began during World War II. A pacifist, he registered for the draft as a conscientious objector and undertook "work of national importance under civilian control." In his case, this meant volunteering to participate in experiments using controlled starvation to understand how best to help released prisoners of war and concentration camp victims to recuperate from their ordeals. During the six month experiment, he went from about 160 pounds to slightly more than 100 pounds.
After World War II, Amb. Kampelman, who had already earned a law degree and worked as a labor lawyer, completed a Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota. He wrote his dissertation on "The Communist Party and the CIO: A Study in Power Politics." With equal strength, he advocated labor rights and opposed the attempted Communist take-over of American unions.
In Washington, after serving on Senator Humphrey's staff, Amb. Kampelman practiced law privately for over two decades. In 1980, Vice President Walter Mondale, an old friend, called and asked him to lead the U.S. delegation to the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. President Reagan, who knew Amb. Kampelman from their membership in the Committee on Present Danger, asked him to stay after the 1980 election. In closing the successful Madrid talks, Amb. Kampelman issued a wary statement, highlighting the importance of Soviet compliance, rather than the mere achievement of a paper agreement.
In 1985, President Reagan called Amb. Kampelman and asked him to serve as the chief negotiator at renewed negotiations with the Soviet Union on nuclear arms and missile defenses. Amb. Kampelman personally oversaw the latter, in which the Soviets sought to smother and the United States sought to protect President Reagan's cherished Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). He succeeded in protecting SDI, while creating the space necessary to complete the 1987 INF Treaty, which banned all U.S. and Soviet missiles with ranges of 500-5,500 kilometers, a signal achievement.
Max M. Kampelman served Republicans and Democrats. By peaceful means, he fought the monstrous evils of his age -- Nazism and Communism. He advanced the causes of freedom and peace. He stuck to his principles through trying times. His career is worth remembering and admiring.
While we have no doubt that Bob Schieffer, the moderator of Monday night's foreign policy debate, will have plenty of material to choose from in formulating his questions for the candidates, we couldn't resist a chance to add our own suggestions. Following are some potential questions for the debate as submitted by the Shadow Government crew:
1. Mr. President, is there any foreign policy challenge America faces that you would concede has gotten worse on your watch because of actions you have taken or not taken? In other words, is there any foreign policy problem that you would say can be blamed at least partly on you and not entirely on Republicans or President Bush?
2. Mr. President, what is the fairest criticism of your foreign policy record that you have heard from Governor Romney over the course of this campaign?
3. Mr. President, what is the most unfair criticism of Romney's foreign policy platform that you have heard your supporters levy over the course of this campaign?
4. Mr. President, why do you say that Romney is proposing defense expenditures that the military have not asked for when Romney is just proposing restoring funding to the levels you claimed were needed in your own budget a few years ago. That budget, which you asked for, reflected what the military asked for didn't it? And didn't you order the military to accept deeper cuts -- thus they can't now speak up and ask for those levels to be restored without being insubordinate, so isn't it misleading to claim that they are not asking for them when you ordered them not to?
5. For both: Both campaigns have featured senior retired military endorsements as a way of demonstrating your fitness to be commander-in-chief. Don't you worry that such endorsements drag the military into partisan politics, thus undermining public confidence in a non-partisan military institution?
1. Mr. President, history tells us that prestige matters; that is, nation-states who are regarded for their power, whether military, economic or moral, are less often challenged by those who wish to upset the peace or change the international order that favors the interests of the great powers. Has your administration seen an increase in the prestige of the United States or a decrease, and why?
2. For both: Isn't a reform of our foreign aid system and institutions long overdue, and shouldn't reform have as its primary goal the promotion of direct and tangible US interests, such as more trade with more countries that govern themselves democratically? If this is truly the appropriate goal for international development funds, then why aren't all aid recipients required to practice sustained and real democracy?
1. For both: Do you believe that the economically endangered nations of Europe should adopt policies of austerity, as countries like Germany have argued, or that they should turn instead to more fiscal stimulus? If you prefer stimulus, is there any level of debt/GDP at which you get concerned about their ability to pay those debts? If you believe these countries should borrow more, from whom should they borrow? Should the United States be offering funds?
2. For both: There has been almost no progress on global trade talks since the summer of
2008. How would you assess the health of the World Trade Organization and the
world trading system? Is this important for the United States? What would you
do to strengthen the WTO, if anything?
3. For both: In 2009, in response to the stimulus bill, a top Chinese economic official said, ""We hate you guys. Once you start issuing $1 trillion-$2 trillion... we know the dollar is going to depreciate, so we hate you guys but there is nothing much we can do...." Brazil's finance minister, Guido Mantega, has accused the United States Federal Reserve of igniting a global currency war with its policies of quantitative easing. To what extent does the United States need to consider the international ramifications of its economic policies? Do you believe a strong dollar is in the U.S. interest? If so, what does that mean?
1. For both: What do you consider the top two national security threats to our country?
2. For both: How do you see increasing energy independence for the United States affecting our foreign policy?
3. President Obama, you have threatened to veto any changes to the 2010 Budget Control Act, yet both your Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff believe sequestration going into effect would be disastrous. How will you enact the Budget Control Act without damaging our national defense?
4. Governor Romney, you have committed to increase defense spending; where does the money come from to do that in year 1 of a Romney administration?
5. President Obama, Vice President Biden has said that your administration will withdraw U.S. forces from Afghanstan in 2014, whether or not the Afghan security forces are then capable of taking over the fight. Do you agree?
1. For both: Under what circumstances would you authorize military action against Iran's nuclear facilities? Will you intervene to stop the civil war in Syria? If so, what lessons have you learned from our recent experiences in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya that will shape how you undertake an intervention? How do you plan to accomplish a responsible transition to Afghan leadership for security there? What should be the mission of U.S. troops in Afghanistan after transition, and how many troops will be required to accomplish it? Or do you envision a complete withdrawal of all forces?
2. For both: Should the United States support the spread of democracy abroad? What is the role of democracy assistance in U.S. grand strategy, and how does it relate to our overall national interests? How will you respond to future peaceful uprisings like the Green Revolution or the Arab Spring?
3. For both: Some Americans are concerned that the government has accumulated too much power over the last decade in its effort to develop a robust counterterrorism capability. Others believe we need to keep those powers because the terrorist threat has not abated. Do you plan to sustain the government's new, post-9/11 war-time powers, reportedly including targeted killings and indefinite detentions, indefinitely? If not, will you publicly and explicitly commit to defining a clear end-state to the war against al Qaeda, the achievement of which will terminate the new powers?
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There has been a lot of commentary on the Obama administration's "pivot" (or "rebalance") to Asia here at Shadow Government. Most commentators have praised Secretary Clinton's activism towards Southeast Asia, but pointed out that the rhetoric of the pivot will look hollow without a real trade strategy and adequate resourcing for our forward military forces. This past month it looks like the wheels may have started coming off on the trade strategy axle.
In early September regional leaders met at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders meeting in Vladivostok, sans Barack Obama who was unwilling to skip town in election season, and courtesy of Vladmir Putin who was unwilling to schedule the meeting at a time the U.S. President could attend. President Obama's absence was not the end of the world: Bill Clinton skipped two APEC summits and managed to compensate the next year (for the record, George W. Bush missed none...but that was before we were "back in Asia" as the current White House likes to say). The real problem at Vladivostok was the hallway banter by the other delegates about TPP -- the Trans-Pacific Partnership -- that forms the core of the administration's strategy for building a regional economic architecture that includes us and strives for WTO-consistent trade liberalization and rule-making. The overall critique in Vladivostok was that the U.S. side is playing small ball on TPP, to the frustration of multiple stakeholders. The U.S. business community is worried at the lack of market access in the negotiations; the Australians and Singaporeans are hedging with Asian-only negotiations because of what they see as incrementalism by USTR; and Japanese officials are dismayed by administration signals discouraging Tokyo from expressing readiness to join TPP.
This all matters because of the other summitry gossip that is coming out of Asia. On November 18-20, the Cambodians will be hosting the East Asia Summit, which President Obama joined with great fanfare last year and which the president will be able to attend this year because it is after the U.S. elections. The main deliverable on economics at that summit will be a decision within the region to proceed with the RCEP -- an Asian "Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership" that includes the ten ASEAN states, Japan, China, Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand -- and does not include the United States. The Cambodians' current plan for the November summit is to hold an RCEP inaugural meeting while President Obama waits outside the room cooling his heels with Vladmir Putin (since Russia is also not included in the regional trade deal). Stunningly, our allies Japan, Australia ,and Korea all appear to be on board with this scenario.
At one level this resembles the silliness of a junior high school prom, but at another level it could be the moment people start writing the obituary for the "pivot." To prevent that, a returning Obama administration or a new Romney administration has to put more oomph into the current anemic U.S. trade strategy. The RCEP launch will be embarrassing, but since those talks have no prospect of hitting a WTO-compliant level of trade liberalization, the United States can retake center stage again by showing that it can form an even more impressive coalition of trade liberalizing states. This means getting Japan in to TPP; leveraging Canada and Mexico in the TPP process (which will also help us counter Brazilian efforts to separate South America from us); and beginning to move on a complementary trans-Atlantic FTA process. The "pivot" was never sustainable without like-minded allies in our hemisphere and Europe and now is the time to recognize that and develop a strategy accordingly.
The next administration will also have to demonstrate credibility by moving to secure trade promotion authority (TPA) from the Congress (just can't get around Article One Section Eight of the Constitution). Finally, the administration had better start thinking about new ways to engage on economic issues within the EAS that keep us in the regional dialogue without requiring a high-standard FTA with countries like Laos or Burma. Bob Zoellick was a master of that art at USTR when he pioneered the Enterprise for ASEAN Initiative -- a flexible framework that allowed a la carte participation by countries ranging from an FTA (Singapore) to establishing very basic economic dialogues (Cambodia).
In short, for trade to continue underpinning U.S. leadership in Asia, we will have to go global, be agile within the region, and give a shot of adrenaline to USTR. Otherwise, the "pivot" will be a minor footnote in the textbooks.
ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images
A great hero for our time, Andrei Sannikov, was freed on Saturday afternoon.
For readers of Shadow Government who don't follow Belarus, this is very important. Belarus is the last dictatorship in Europe, run by Alexander Lukashenko. Strategically located among Russia, Poland, and Ukraine -- Belarus has its own history but has been basically a Russian satellite since Lukashenko was elected in 1994. The only European country to be thrown out of the OSCE, Belarus has become more repressive with time. The December 2010 elections were considered farcical by all accounts. Andrei Sannikov, a former Deputy Foreign Minister and diplomat, was the most prominent opponent to challenge Lukashenko in those elections.
Lukashenko runs the country as a puppet state based on the worst instincts and whims of Vladimir Putin. One problem has been that Belarus is politically oppressed but has enjoyed relatively benign economic times, which many speculate is due to subsidized Russian energy that Russia provides Belarus and that runs to Western Europe through Belarus. Lukashenko enjoys some political support but that has dropped over time and he remains in power illegitimately using harsher and harsher tactics.
After the rigged elections, Sannikov was imprisoned on trumped-up charges and Amnesty International listed him as a prisoner of conscience. He was beaten while in custody and his life was in very serious danger as his health deteriorated. His four-year-old son was threatened with being removed from the custody of his family and put into a foster home. A key aid of Sannikov's died under very suspicious circumstances. In short, the regime has put incredible pressure on Sannikov and his family. He has kept faith and risked his life for a free Belarus.
The United States and Europe have maintained sanctions on Belarus for several years. Europe has been divided on Belarus and the U.S. especially under George W. Bush was particularly vocal against the bad actions of the Belarus government. The Obama administration has maintained sanctions, but is perceived to be less animated about seeing the end of the Lukashenko regime. The German Marshall Fund with offices in Washington, Brussels, Paris, Berlin, and elsewhere maintained Belarus on the agenda in ways that others could not, as sanctions require a transatlantic approach in order to work.
It is possible that Lukashenko is using the Sannikov release as an opening gambit to try to have the sanctions lifted. A free Belarus would likely want a foreign and economic policy similar to Kazakhstan -- with the ability to engage and balance among Europe, the U.S., and Russia on a free basis -- not operate as a wholly owned subsidiary of Russia. The best medium-term outcome would be for Lukashenko to not seek another term in 2014, seek a cold exile in Moscow, and allow for democratic elections in Belarus. A free Belarus would be a big win for the United State and Europe. In the meantime, this weekend is a moment of relief and joy.
President Obama has before him an opportunity to promote U.S. values and a more comprehensive policy toward Russia because of the political and economic needs of Vladimir Putin and his "court." The right action now will promote U.S. interests, arguably the interests of the Russian people, and make it possible for the United States to have a better relationship with what we hope will be a more democratic Russian government in the not too distant future.
Russia's Prime Minister and de facto power center, Putin, currently finds his position not as stable as he'd like it to be. Poll numbers for his party remain low, cynicism remains high, all around him many of the world's autocrats and corrupt regimes are collapsing or wobbling, and the Russian economy and standard of living is stagnating even in a time of high oil prices.
This perhaps explains Russia's renewed effort to gain entrance into the WTO. This is good news in and of itself as free trade is a boon to all countries, but the U.S. policy should not be simply to say "amen" and push for Russia's accession with no other considerations. Russia's desire to join the WTO is just one of several levers that the president can use as part of a strategy to support Russia's becoming a more democratic country and the delegitimization of those trying to return it to tsarism.
The strategy the president should pursue could be comprised of three parts. First, a "reset" on U.S. policy toward Russia in terms of how we react to the government's treatment of dissidents and democratic activists. This effort is actually already in motion in that the president plans to nominate Michael McFaul to be the next ambassador to the Russian Federation. Dr. McFaul is a well-known and respected expert on Russia; but more importantly, he is an expert on democratic development and a firm supporter of same. His nomination alone sends a strong signal that the Obama administration is serious about its concerns regarding Russian politics. McFaul should go to Moscow with the full backing of the president to be an influential voice for democratic governance; he should be instructed to meet with dissidents and democratic activists. The timing is excellent: some of the best known democratic leaders in Russia have formed a new party and petitioned the government to allow it to participate officially. The U.S. position should be clear that such a party should be welcomed. Perhaps Putin will grasp that doing this makes Russia look good for WTO purposes if he needs a reason beyond just doing the right thing.
ALEXEY DRUZHININ/AFP/Getty Images
A news item from this weekend is that President Obama intends to nominate NSC Senior Director Michael McFaul to be the next ambassador to Russia. This is an inspired choice. McFaul will bring a compelling set of attributes to the position, including a deep knowledge of Russia, a close relationship with President Obama, experience in high levels of government and national security policy, and a longstanding commitment to democracy and human rights promotion. That last quality will be of particular importance, as Russia's grim and deteriorating record on democracy will be in the international spotlight with its presidential transition in 2012. "Transition" is a more accurate word than "election," as the question of Russia's next president will not be settled by Russian voters at the ballot box but rather by the opaque intra-Kremlin maneuverings between current President Dmitri Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. As Paul Bonicelli has pointed out, as a former and potentially future president, Putin's intentions and actions are more "neo-Czarist" than democratic, and his relationship with Medvedev will likely grow more and more strained.
In appointing McFaul, President Obama is also departing from recent precedent in bypassing the career Foreign Service for the position. Over the past three decades, all but one residents of Spaso House have been career foreign service officers. But the exception was a notable one: President Bush 41's bipartisan appointment of Democratic elder statesman Bob Strauss (namesake of the Strauss Center for International Security and Law, where I'm honored to work), who ably represented the U.S. in Moscow during the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the transition of the national identity back to "Russia."
NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/AFP/Getty Images
As the end of the year approaches, along with it comes the ritual end of year evaluations as well as New Year's resolutions. In that spirit, several Shadow Government contributors here offer our thoughts on the Obama administration's foreign policies -- specifically:
1. Advice for the administration in the new year,
2. Suggestions on what policies are working and should be continued, and
3. Suggestions on what policies aren't working and should be consigned to the archives.
Advice: Seize the initiative. This is not about a specific policy but an overall posture. Two years since President Obama's election, the question of an "Obama Doctrine" remains elusive, as the administration's national security policy has mostly been reactive, focused on managing current challenges and crises. This inbox by itself is a substantial challenge to be sure, and one which the administration is handling with varying degrees of success (e.g. decently well with Iran and North Korea, with mixed results with Afghanistan and Iraq, and less well with Pakistan and Israel/Palestinian issues). Missing thus far, however, has been an overarching strategic framework. Hence my advice that the White House seize the initiative for its next two years, and develop a strategic doctrine or at least proactively take advantage of creating some new foreign policy opportunities. Implications for seizing the initiative include:
What might seizing the initiative look like in practice? For specific policy ideas, perhaps a new alliance of democracies in Asia, or a new global free trade initiative, or reinvigorated transatlantic partnerships, or a new strategic outreach in a neglected region such as Latin America or Africa (including an American partnership with the likely new state in southern Sudan, as Andrew Natsios has suggested), or establishing a robust strategic framework for winning the war of ideas against jihadist ideology.
Continue: Rediscovery of the freedom agenda. After its initial woeful neglect of democracy and human rights promotion, earlier this year the Obama administration rediscovered -- rhetorically at least -- the importance of supporting freedom around the world. The White House should build on this, particularly with specific policies and with new resources. As events in just the past few weeks have shown, in places like Belarus, Cote d'Ivoire, Egypt, and China, the demands of citizens for their liberty remain embattled and in need of America support.
Drop: The "reset" with Russia. Now that New START has passed the Senate, and thus completes the centerpiece of the administration's "reset" policy, it is time for a new, realistic look at Russia -- which necessarily means a delete of the reset framework. The original reset framework assumed that U.S.-Russia relations could be put on a sustained positive trajectory based on shared interests and reciprocal good will. But as Bob Kagan wrote earlier this week, "relations with Moscow are about to grow more challenging," as serious issues including Russia's ongoing occupation of Georgia, growing corruption and internal repression, and cynical ambivalence on Iran remain. Defense Secretary Robert Gates's reported description of Russia got it right: "An oligarchy run by the security services." Taking a fresh look at the United States' Russia policy should include strengthening U.S. support for beleaguered Russian reformers, reaffirming U.S. commitments to our allies and partners in Russia's border regions, and jettisoning unrealistic assumptions about shared interests. Ironically, such a reduction in expectations might well enable better cooperation in the areas where our interests do align.
Advice: Be as committed to seeing Iraq and Afghanistan through to success as the President was in pursuing health care "reform." President Obama secured his place in history with the passage of Obamacare. Whether it comes to be seen as a positive legacy like Social Security, or as an overreach and folly like Prohibition, it will always be seen as historic and as the president's own. This was a policy war of choice, not of necessity. There were needful aspects of health care reform, but most of them fell out of the bill or got swamped by far more expensive and consequential optional items. Elections have consequences, and in this case it empowered Obama to doggedly pursue what he considered to be the right thing -- and he showed he was willing to pay a huge electoral price, if necessary.
It is time for him to engage in a policy war of necessity, building a political coalition in support of prevailing in Iraq and Afghanistan. His policy moves in the next two years will likely prove decisive in determining whether U.S. forces leave in success or defeat. Until now, President Obama has not made war leadership a central priority of his administration, and he has devoted very little effort at all to the crucial task of mobilizing political/public support. It is time, past time, to devote the political capital to this effort.
Continue: President Obama and his team proved quite adept in passing New START. To be sure the treaty itself was only of secondary importance for national security. Indeed, the side deals on force modernization and missile defense wrung out of the administration by skeptical senators will likely prove far more consequential in the long run than the modest treaty provisions. Yet the orchestration of lobbying, arm-twisting, bipartisan outreaching, principled deal-making, and even somewhat hyperbolic policy-shilling -- all of that amounted to an impressive effort culminating in what surely is the administration's greatest national security accomplishment to date. If the administration devotes a similar effort to forging bipartisan support for the various wars under its command (see point above), it will be an even more impressive national security accomplishment.
Drop: The silly campaign boasting that "America is back" in Asia. The boast was always a bit absurd but it quickly became an embarrassment when President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had to skip regional meetings and postpone long-planned trips to attend to domestic political priorities. The boast also reflected a needless defensiveness on the administration's part. The United States has pursued a common bipartisan grand strategy in Asia for over a decade now, with President George W. Bush building on President Bill Clinton's initial efforts regarding China, India, and Japan, and now President Obama building on Bush's initiatives. Rather than pretend to be offering a bold departure, why not make a virtue out of the truth and note that there are some areas where mainstream Democrats and mainstream Republicans can agree, and one of them is Asia? Both sides recognize that the United States is an Asia-Pacific power and the world will be a better place if the United States remains vitally engaged in this region. No need to pretend that the United States ever left, because it didn't and it won't.
Advice: From a trade perspective, it is remarkable to think how little has been accomplished in the first two years of the Obama presidency. When he took office, President Obama inherited an agenda that included stalled global trade talks (the Doha round of World Trade Organization negotiations), three already-negotiated free trade agreements (South Korea, Colombia, and Panama), and a troubled trade relationship with China. Across all of these items, the only achievement approaching progress was the revision to the Korean free trade agreement, and that came at the very end of 2010. The revision left Ford and the United Auto Workers happier, but came at the expense of other sectors, such as pork producers.
Better late than never, but there were costs to the lost time. Free trade agreements that promised U.S. producers at least a period of privileged access to a trading partner's market are now just offering the prospect of equal access, since our jilted partners went and negotiated agreements with other countries while the United States dallied. Frustration was already high with the lagging global trade talks; it has since mounted. What's more, the repeated empty promises of the G-20 nations to conclude the Doha round undermined that group's credibility.
The ineffectiveness of the G-20 was also revealed in the sad Seoul summit, in which China and Germany objected to any global rebalancing plan that pushed past platitudes. The Obama administration -- Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner in particular -- deserves credit for putting forth a credible approach; it just didn't seem to gain traction. As with trade liberalization, the administration might have been more credible had it led by example. In trade, it called for a new WTO agreement while condoning "Buy America" protectionism and showing that it would not spend the political capital to push through existing agreements. In international finance, it called for global rebalancing while dramatically increasing spending, creating a significant new entitlement program through its health care plans, and relegating any plans for fiscal restraint to a separate deficit commission (as opposed to using its own Office of Management and Budget).
So what happens when you defer serious action on the international economic front for a couple of years? Institutions (in this case the WTO) deteriorate, problems (resurgent global imbalances) fester and grow, and resolutions to address these issues soon may be undercut by new crises that demand attention.
Looking ahead to the rest of Obama's term, my top candidate for major distracting crisis to come is the bubbling debt trouble in Europe. The leaders of the Euro nations have been working furiously to address problems as they pop up in Greece, then Ireland, then Portugal, with Spain and Belgium starting to simmer. But all of their remedies have done little more than buy time and, in some cases, allow the problems to grow. There are fundamental inconsistencies ripping the euro apart. When that happens, it will not simply be a matter of having to deal with currency exchange at the borders; it will likely involve a significant banking crisis. Those, it turns out, can be nasty.
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Yesterday, an agreement -- originally negotiated under the Bush administration -- allowing for civil nuclear cooperation between the United States and Russia passed its final milestone before taking effect. Such agreements are required under section 123 of the Atomic Energy Act before any significant cooperation involving nuclear technology may take place, and are already in force with some 50 other nations and entities. Given that the United States and Russia have two of the largest nuclear industries in the world, the absence of such an agreement was an anomaly.
The agreement does not require any specific actions. Rather it serves as a framework that will enable cooperation on projects established under later deals. A recently concluded joint study by Harvard's Managing the Atom Project and Russia's Kurchatov Institute (in which I participated), concluded that promising areas for future work include: commercial cooperation on new reactor designs, including factory-built reactors with high levels of inherent safety, security, and proliferation-resistance; establishing "cradle-to-grave" fuel services to address waste disposition and nuclear weapons proliferation issues associated with atomic energy; and, use by U.S. firms of Russia's more extensive base of experimental facilities. None of these activities are guaranteed by the "123 Agreement," but none are possible without it.
In the long run, the "123 Agreement" with Russia may prove to be even more significant than the far more controversial New START Treaty. It focuses on future areas of cooperation, rather than on Cold War nuclear arsenals, which both nations were reducing with or without an agreement. It can facilitate new approaches to energy production that will make nuclear power safer, more secure, and less susceptible to abuse by would-be nuclear weapons proliferators. Finally, it is one of the few points of genuine intersection between the U.S. and Russian economies.
Some have criticized the deal because of Russia's nuclear proliferation track record. There is no doubt that Russia's proliferation record has not been good, but it has improved in recent years, perhaps in part because of the far larger opportunities offered by legitimate nuclear commerce that could otherwise be put at risk. Indeed, the "123 Agreement" actually creates more leverage to stem proliferation, because valuable cooperation could be cut off, whereas prior to the Agreement, it simply was not possible.
As leading nuclear states, Russia and the United States should be working together to prevent nuclear weapons proliferation, while addressing the world's energy needs. The new "123 Agreement" will help to advance these vital and common interests.
President Obama appeared yesterday with former Secretary of State Colin Powell, and received his endorsement of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) with Russia. In today's Washington Post, Powell joined Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, James Baker, and Lawrence Eagleburger in presenting "The Republican case for ratifying New START."
With former Republican officials coming out in favor of the treaty's ratification and amidst reports that some Senate Republicans may be willing to trade New START for an extension of the Bush tax cuts, New START ratification now seems to be mostly a matter of timing.
That said, the debate over New START has been an interesting one on both the left and the right. Many conservatives rightly highlighted a number of substantive concerns about the treaty in the months after Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed it in April, but some took their opposition further. Former Massachusetts governor and potential presidential candidate Mitt Romney wrote an op-ed calling the treaty, "Obama's worst foreign policy mistake," and in June, a group of conservative leaders wrote in a "memo for the movement" that New START "will make America less safe."
The reality, as I lay out in more detail in a piece on ForeignPolicy.com, is that New START is a rather meaningless treaty. The treaty would reduce the U.S. nuclear arsenal by only a modest amount and leave us at levels that most experts agree are sufficient to maintain our global nuclear deterrent. Most of the concerns expressed by New START critics are due to the bungled manner in which the Obama administration announced its new phased adaptive approach for missile defense last year, as well as the savvy rhetorical games played by the Russians in a signing statement they released on missile defense. Fortunately, the resolution of ratification approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and subsequent administration statements address most of these concerns about missile defense and other contentious issues. Once New START reaches the Senate floor, critics will also have the opportunity to further modify the resolution of ratification to address any outstanding questions.
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The Chinese and the Russians have joined forces to launch an assault on U.S. financial hegemony! From China Daily:
China and Russia have decided to renounce the US dollar and resort to using their own currencies for bilateral trade, Premier Wen Jiabao and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin announced late on Tuesday.
This all signifies... not much. At most, it is a symbolic attempt to lodge a complaint against perceived U.S. mismanagement of the dollar as a global reserve currency.
Remember, hardly anyone is required to use the dollar. They do so because it is convenient. This is true domestically as well as internationally. A pundit could try to barter a column for a latté, with no money involved, but it would require finding just the right politically-curious barista. It's much easier to use dollars to facilitate exchange.
Globally, there is nothing novel about discovering an exchange rate between the Chinese RMB and the Russian rouble. Once you have each currency's exchange rate against the dollar, it's just straightforward division to calculate (known as the cross rate).
The problem for Beijing and Moscow is that if their trade does not balance - and China, at least, has occasionally had a problem with that - someone is left holding a bag of roubles or renminbi. Other than buying Russian goods, there's only so much one can do with roubles. That's what sets apart the big global currencies, like the dollar or the euro. Even if you don't want to shop in New York, you can always go to a Middle Eastern bazaar and buy a few barrels of oil.
There are perks to issuing a global currency; it's nice to be able to print money that's accepted around the world. There are also responsibilities. If the U.S. Federal Reserve prints too much, all those bags of dollars will drop in value. China, sitting atop many of those bags, has been particularly vocal about its concern.
That's why the Chinese premier is in Russia, issuing joint proclamations, trying to take the dollar down a peg. The Chinese and the Russians may be joining forces, but given the way global finance works, they're mostly going to end up simply encumbering each other.
ALEXEY DRUZHININ/AFP/Getty Images
President Barack Obama and his advisors formulated their Afghan policy almost exclusively to achieve one goal: deny safe haven to al Qaeda, according to Bob Woodward's book Obama's Wars. Counterterrorism is an important goal, but the administration seems to believe it is the only goal. This is a seriously myopic vision of U.S. national security interests. We have a much broader range of interests at stake in Afghanistan and South Asia. The administration's failure to understand them goes a long way to explain why it settled on a half-hearted strategy in Afghanistan.
So why are we fighting?
Scott Olson/Getty Images
The ceremony on Saturday marking the beginning of the fueling of Iran’s Bushehr nuclear reactor was preceded by much commentary about the implications of the move for Iran’s nuclear program and international efforts to halt Iran’s steady progress toward a nuclear weapon.
Under construction for decades, it was only a matter of time before Bushehr went live, especially after the Bush administration agreed in 2007 not to object to the project, hoping that a Russian-fueled Iranian reactor producing electricity would obviate Iran’s claimed need for indigenous production of nuclear fuel.
While Bushehr could eventually produce plutonium that Iran could use in a nuclear weapon, this would be a different path to a weapon than the uranium enrichment route that Tehran has thus far pursued. Plus, under Moscow’s agreement with Tehran, Russia will retain the spent fuel, which will be transported back to Russia. All aspects of the reactor’s operations, including the fuel, will be under International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) safeguards.
These arrangements, are of course not completely foolproof, but are about as close as it gets. Even if Iran wanted a confrontation, and kicked out the Russians and IAEA from Bushehr, Iran does not appear to possess the reprocessing technology required to produce weapons grade plutonium from the spent fuel. Regardless, an international confrontation of this sort would be a green light for Israeli or perhaps even U.S. military action, an action one would assume the Iranians would not risk.
Another concern cited by critics is that now that the reactor is operational, any military action taken against the facility becomes much more difficult given the likelihood of a Chernobyl-style dispersion of radiation. Given the reported continuing Russian presence at the site, military action already is already unlikely, given that the last thing Israel would likely want to do is kill Russian scientists and technicians that are working on a project that has been blessed by successive U.S. administrations of both political parties. Also, if Israel or the United States became convinced that Bushehr was being used as part of Iran’s nuclear weapons program, it is likely that either country could find a suitable way to disable the reactor without contaminating a large geographic area.
Despite the fact that Bushehr thus fails to meet the hype swirling around the weekend’s events, there are several lessons to be learned from the plant going online.
IIPA via Getty Images
U.S. policymakers for years have lamented their lack of leverage in pushing for democratic reform and respect for human rights in Russia. Well, now we may have an opportunity, but the question is whether we will make use of it. If Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is serious in wanting our help with his economic modernization agenda, we should insist that he needs to make measurable progress in political liberalization first.
Medvedev has made "modernization" and "innovation" the buzzwords in Russia these days, and he brought that buzz with him to the United States this week. Before arriving in Washington today, Medvedev visited Silicon Valley to study that high technology center in hopes of replicating it in Russia. He has designated an area just outside of Moscow, Skolkovo, and a Russian oligarch, Viktor Vekselberg, to spearhead this effort. During a speech at the St. Petersburg Economic Forum last week, he also promised various economic reforms designed to spur foreign investment in the high-tech field as part of his efforts to diversify Russia's economy away from dependence on exports of natural resources.
The West is eager to get in on the act. The European Union earlier this month launched a "Partnership for Modernization" with Russia. Medvedev met with top representatives from Cisco Systems, Apple, Microsoft, and others to encourage their investment. And the Obama administration, in a June 11 statement announcing Medvedev's trip to the United States, noted that President Obama looked forward to exploring greater cooperation with Russia in "trade, investment and innovation." According to the statement, Obama is "pleased" that Medvedev will visit Silicon Valley and "have the opportunity to review the unique set of factors that has fostered this important center of technological advancement and entrepreneurship."
What's wrong with this picture? Let's begin in Russia. Medvedev's high-tech project so far appears to be driven by a top-down approach. The Russian state plans to pump lots of rubles into Skolkovo, but this contradicts Medvedev's previous pledge to reduce the role of the state in the economy. Throwing lots of money at the problem is more likely to feed corruption than spur innovation. As Vladislav Inozemtsov, director of the Moscow-based Center for Post-Industrial Studies, recently argued, the Russian government is simply "throwing money at ventures...but little is being done to develop innovation from the bottom up." In an interview the other day with RFE/RL, Vladimir Babkin, an expert at the State Duma's committee for science and technology, noted, "Silicon Valley in California was created on the basis of universities. It was a bottom-up growth. In Russia, it's top down, and the goals are unclear."
Moreover, Russia doesn't have a competitive advantage to focus on development of a high technology economy. It spends little of its GDP, comparatively speaking, on research and development. According to the number of patents issued by the United States Patents Office to residents of foreign countries, Russia registered 904 over the past five years; Belgium with one-fourteenth the population of Russia, registered four times as many. Many Russian scientists and engineers have emigrated to more promising prospects overseas (including, fortunately, many smart ones to the United States), leaving Russia suffering still from a brain-drain. Russia's economic advantage, for better or worse, is in natural resources, and most Russian businessmen know that.
When the price of oil plummeted in 2008-09 and Russia's GDP dropped by nearly eight percent last year, Medvedev sought to energize his modernization drive by emphasizing the need for development of a high technology sector. The price of oil has bounced back, albeit not to the highs of two years ago, and pressure to diversify has decreased correspondingly. But Medvedev has not given up and has made Skolkovo the centerpiece of his agenda.
It is one thing for the Googles and Microsofts of the world to invest in Skolkovo; after all, they are accountable to shareholders and will be driven by whether they see the possibility of making a profit in Russia. The bigger question is why the U.S. government should get involved. What policy reason do we have to help Russia develop into a high technology economy, assuming this is even possible?
After all, despite Medvedev's rhetoric about dealing with corruption and rooting out legal nihilism, Russia continues to move in an anti-democratic direction, with no real rule of law or accountability but lots of impunity for murders of human rights activists, critics, and journalists. Pending legislation would expand the powers of the FSB (the KGB's successor organization), and the farcical Khodorkovsky trial continues apace. Russia ranks 146th out of 180 countries on Transparency International's Corruption Index and 63rd out of 137 in the latest Global Competitiveness Report. The "values gap" between our two countries is growing and contributes to diverging interests on key issues. The argument that a Russia with a more vibrant economy over time will become more democratic is belied by the trend of the last decade -- Russia's economy soared (thanks to the rise in the price of oil) but its political situation deteriorated badly.
So, why would the U.S. government want to help Russia become more economically efficient and diverse -- i.e., stronger -- when Russia is becoming more authoritarian? The Obama administration explicitly rejects linkage in its relationship with Russia -- it pursues each issue on a separate track -- and thus won't insist on political modernization in Russia as a precondition for helping Medvedev's high technology pursuits. Such an approach forfeits any leverage we may have to push for liberalization in that country. That is a shame, for a Russia that is reforming economically and politically would indeed be a Russia worth investing in.
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Supporters of the Obama administration's "reset" policy toward Russia tout the New START Treaty, Russian support for sanctions against Iran, transit for Afghanistan across Russian territory, and cooperation in dealing with North Korea and non-proliferation more broadly as the fruits of its success. National Security Advisor Jim Jones cites the reset as one of the main successes in the administration's foreign policy (that, to some, says a lot about its overall foreign policy). There is no denying the vastly improved tone and rapport between the American and Russian presidents compared to the end of the Bush-Putin days. But before people get too carried away, let's focus on two recent developments that remind us of the challenges we face in dealing with Russia.
On May 31, Russian authorities brutally broke up opposition protests in Moscow and St. Petersburg and arrested more than 100 people. A journalist participating in the protest suffered a severely broken arm at the hands of the police. The U.S. National Security Council spokesman issued a statement expressing "regret" at the detention of peaceful protestors ("condemn" would have been a more appropriate verb -- we "regret," for example, the recent death of Russian poet Andrei Voznesensky). While violent suppression of demonstrations is nothing new for Russian authorities, what makes this latest example noteworthy is that it happened just days after an American delegation went to Russia for the second round of the Civil Society Working Group co-chaired by NSC Senior Director Mike McFaul and Deputy Head of the Russian Presidential Administration Vladislav Surkov.
When this working group was first announced last July during President Obama's visit to Moscow, I argued that having Surkov as the chair was comparable to putting Chechnya's brutal leader Ramzan Kadyrov in charge of a working group on stabilizing the North Caucasus. The choice of Surkov, the brains behind "sovereign democracy" (the concept that justifies the regime's crackdown on political opponents) was widely condemned by Russian human rights activists who wrote to Medvedev urging that he be removed from this working group. The U.S. side argued that it had no veto authority over the choice of Russian co-chairs of the various bilateral working groups, but in this case, it would have been better to have nixed the civil society working group than to have had Surkov leading it.
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The Obama administration is already gearing up its push for Senate ratification of the recently signed New START agreement between the United States and Russia, with hearings that began yesterday and a vote possible by the end of the year. As senior administration officials make their case around town at various think tanks and before Congress, they need to do a better job of refining their message to make sure it stands up to scrutiny.
In a speech last week at the Atlantic Council, undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Ellen Tauscher stated three times that the New START agreement "does not constrain U.S. missile defense programs." Despite the repetition, Tauscher's claim, like that of other Administration officials, is simply not accurate.
Article V, Section 3 of the text states: "Each Party shall not convert and shall not use ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile) launchers and SLBM (submarine-launched ballistic missile) launchers for placement of missile defense interceptors therein. Each Party further shall not convert and shall not use launchers of missile defense interceptors for placement of ICBMs and SLBMs therein. This provision shall not apply to ICBM launchers that were converted prior to signature of this Treaty for placement of missile defense interceptors therein." This section makes clear that the treaty does indeed constrain one possible way for the U.S. to develop missile defense capabilities. This may not be the way the current administration envisions developing its missile defense system, but that isn't what Tauscher claimed. (A White House fact sheet issued March 26 is more accurate in stating, "The Treaty does not contain any constraints on testing, development or deployment of current or planned U.S. missile defense programs..." [emphasis added].)
JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images
When I became the U.S. Ambassador to the Organization
for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), I was often told by my State
Department colleagues that if the U.S. and Russia worked well together in OSCE,
the organization would also work well.
The United States and Russia, indeed, worked well together in my initial years at OSCE and my Russian counterparts and I were able to achieve a few things. That has not been the case in recent years. The United States and Russia, in effect, gave up on the organization. Its budget shrank. Russia and others became disillusioned with western standards on human rights. Security took a back seat when then-President Vladimir Putin suspended Russia's participation in the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty (CFE) in 2007. In 2008, speaking in the Bundestag, President Dmitry Medvedev presented a plan for a new security architecture for Europe that did not seem to build on OSCE.
President Obama proposed to change the relationship when he called on both the United States and Russia to hit the "re-set" button. Suddenly, things began to happen. New incentives ranging from arms control to overflights to Afghanistan were agreed to. But nothing of consequence was happening at OSCE, one of the world's few organizations where both the United States and Russia are full-fledged, voting members. There was lots of attention given to NATO; little, if any, to OSCE, notwithstanding Secretary Clinton's Paris speech as recently as this past January, where she called for more responsibilities for OSCE.
There are many reasons for this inattention, especially from the United States. One is the absence of an OSCE summit since 1999, when President Clinton went to Istanbul with other national leaders. That was 11 years ago. According to an agreement at the Helsinki Summit in 1992, the OSCE was to have a summit every two years. That has not happened.
When Kazakhstan took over the OSCE chairmanship on January 1 of this year, as is done by a different member-country every year, it made an OSCE summit at the heads of government or state level its highest priority. Russia has indicated its support, as have a number of other states. Many more members are looking to the U.S. for its leadership on this issue. The United States has been tepid in its response. President Nazerbayev's visit to Washington, where he met with President Obama as part of the Nuclear Security Summit, was a missed opportunity for definitive U.S. agreement to an OSCE summit and for setting a time and place. The other OSCE members will follow if the U.S. and Russia agree.
ERIC FEFERBERG/AFP/Getty Images
This week's bad news on nuclear proliferation far outweighed the pleasant production values surrounding the Washington Nuclear Security Summit. But let's look at the good news first.
Representatives of 47 nations declared this week that nuclear terrorism is a bad possibility. They issued a communiqué to that effect and provided a non-binding work plan to counter "one of the most challenging threats to international security," as the communiqué characterized it. The White House blog was stronger, calling nuclear terrorism "the most dire threat of our time." The fact that the administration recognizes this is very welcome.
But such declarations are not new. The United States saw the problem immediately after the fall of the Soviet Union and, under President Clinton, worked with Russia to safeguard nuclear material. The United Nations recognized the danger and in 2005 adopted by consensus the Convention for the Suppression of the Acts of Nuclear Terrorism. That extensive set of measures entered into force in 2007 and, by the end of last year, had been ratified and agreed by 59 nations, more than attended this summit. Both this week's communiqué and work plan recall that convention and call for its implementation.
Nothing in the work plan is binding beyond agreement to meet again in South Korea in 2012. The tentative wording of the plan often betrays its own ineffectual outcome. For example, it says:
Participating States encourage nuclear operators and architect/engineering firms to take into account and incorporate, where appropriate [emphasis added], effective measures of physical protection and security culture into the planning, construction, and operation of civilian nuclear facilities and provide technical assistance, upon request, to other States in doing so."
Is there somewhere it would be inappropriate to incorporate physical protection and safety culture into nuclear facilities? But at least the participants were able to agree that, for the most part, this is a good idea.
The other outcomes of the summit -- reiteration of a 2000 agreement between the United States and Russia on plutonium disposal, a fuzzy but positive step forward on Ukraine's disposal of nuclear materials, closure of a Russian nuclear facility that ceased production last year -- were all useful. They are, however, unlikely to achieve any real reduction in the risk of proliferation and nuclear terrorism.
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Thanks to his personal intervention in ironing out final sticking points, Barack Obama is heading to Prague in a few days to sign a new arms control treaty with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev. To date, nothing symbolizes success for Obama's "reset" policy with Russia more than this treaty, yet reaching agreement took longer than the administration expected. Often during the negotiations, the U.S. side appeared more eager to get a deal done than did the Russians, since this agreement is critical to Obama's ultimate aim of Global Zero -- i.e., a world without nuclear weapons. The Russians took this eagerness to mean that they could hold out and exact more compromises from the U.S. negotiators, though at the end Obama seems to have held firm in rejecting limitations on missile defense (though the Russian side might wind up having a different interpretation on this issue).
A year ago during a Washington think-tank conference on U.S.-European relations a few days after Obama met with Medvedev for the first time in London, one senior administration official described the proposed arms treaty as the "low-hanging fruit" in the relationship. The tree bearing that fruit must have grown higher and higher as issues such as verification, telemetry, and missile defense kept delaying agreement. But if this was the "easy" issue in the relationship, other serious challenges remain, including Afghan transit (which has picked up but is still nowhere near the thousands of flights per year envisioned when the agreement was signed last July), Iran sanctions, Russian bullying of its neighbors, and the deteriorating situation inside Russia itself.
Even the bounce Obama got from finalizing the arms control treaty on the heels of his victory on health care got overshadowed quickly in Russia by the terrorist attacks on the Moscow metro. And despite those attacks, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin decided to stick to his scheduled trip to Venezuela last Friday to meet with Hugo Chavez and Bolivia's President Evo Morales in a clear middle-finger signal to Washington.
Still, Obama will travel to Prague to sign the treaty with Medvedev, and then Medvedev will be coming to Washington three days later (along with some 40-plus other foreign leaders) for a Nuclear Security Summit hosted by Obama. Come to think of it, couldn't the two leaders have signed the agreement while Medvedev is in Washington, say on the morning of April 11, instead of having Obama schlep all the way to Prague? Of course, that would deprive the administration of its interest in marking the one-year anniversary of Obama's speech in Prague in which he put forward his fanciful, some would say naïve if not even dangerous, notion of a world without nuclear weapons.
While in Prague, Obama plans to have dinner with leaders from 10 East and Central European countries. These leaders, especially after the administration's callous and incompetent handling of last September's missile defense decision, feel neglected by this President, and their dinner with Obama is the administration's way to try to sooth their ruffled feathers. But their meeting with Obama will take a backseat to the signing ceremony he will have with Medvedev. After all, Obama is going to Prague to sign the treaty with Medvedev; if that agreement weren't ready, he wouldn't be going at all and these regional leaders would not be dining with him. The administration needs a real strategy of engagement with these countries which are among America's staunchest allies, not simply a feel-good, after-thought dinner.
When the glow wears off from Prague and then the Nuclear Security Summit, the hard work of winning ratification will get started in the U.S. Senate, where tough questioning can be expected from many Republicans (and remember, for ratification, Obama needs 67 votes from a Senate with 41 Republicans) over issues like the linkage with missile defense and verification. Republicans will also want to weigh the impact of the treaty on the administration's forthcoming Nuclear Posture Review and are likely to balk at administration interest in launching serious negotiations with the Russians on even tougher issues like further cuts and tactical nukes before this treaty is even considered and ratified.
Obama deserves to enjoy his victory in finalizing this agreement, though it sure would be easier -- and a lot cheaper -- if he and Medvedev were signing it in Washington, not Prague.
As Politico has pointed out, the Obama administration has a tendency to describe their every action as "unprecedented." In the case of the U.S.-Russia Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, this is actually true. Theoretically, the treaty agreed to by the Obama administration limits each side to 1,550 strategic nuclear weapons. In practice, it will allow least 200 nuclear weapons in excess of the U.S. and Russian stockpiles permitted under the 2002 treaty signed by the Bush administration. The administration is laying claim to a 30 percent reduction in strategic nuclear weapons while actually permitting an increase in the force. This is unprecedented.
The discrepancy comes from what each treaty actually limits. The earliest treaties (SALT I and II) limited but did not reduce stockpiles, and established "counting rules" on the basis of how many warheads each system could deliver. The 1992 START Treaty was structured to give the Russians incentives to shift from fast-flying missiles to bombers. In the theology of nuclear deterrence, it is believed that "slow-flying" bombers are more stabilizing because a leader could reconsider the decision after launching, and the target country would have greater warning of an impending attack. So the 1992 Treaty gave generous discounts to bombers, counting the newer B-1 and B-2 bombers as a single weapon although they have the capacity to carry up to 20 warheads. The older B-52s that carry air-launched cruise missiles were counted at half their true capacity, so tallied as 10 warheads each. The Obama administration's new START treaty counts all bombers as a single nuclear weapon, leading the Federation of American Scientists to conclude that 450 U.S. warheads and 860 Russian warheads will be excluded from the count.
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A slam against the Obama administration heard with greater frequency these days is that it is much harder on its allies than on its enemies (even former enemies). At the same time that it desperately tries to win over "new friends," the administration treats its old friends either with indifference (e.g., most of Europe) or a critical eye. A perfect example of this is the administration's handling of the recent blow-up with Israel over settlements in East Jerusalem as compared with its response to Russia's announcement last week on nuclear reactors in Iran.
There is no question that Israel deserved pushback for having its interior ministry announce during the visit of Vice President Joseph Biden plans for additional housing in East Jerusalem. Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who was as surprised as Biden by the announcement, did not deserve the endless and condescending scolding from the Administration, however, including a 45-minute phone lecture from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton after Biden left Israel. Biden handled the response to the Israeli announcement quite well. Why then did Obama and Clinton think they needed to pile on? Do they not have confidence in the vice president? Indeed, it was rather shocking to see Obama administration condemnation of the Israelis continue for days and relations between the two countries reach their lowest point in years. Obama senior advisor David Axelrod went on the Sunday talk shows and called the Israeli move "destructive" and an "insult", even though the offense wasn't even committed by Netanyahu but by a Ministry official in the coalition government.
Fast forward to Moscow end of last week. On the day Clinton arrived in Moscow, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin announced that the Russian-built Bushehr reactor in Iran would be up and running this summer. Put aside the fact that Bushehr is well behind schedule as it is, the point here by Putin was to undercut U.S. efforts to present a unified position on Iran and embarrass the Secretary of State. Where was the firm U.S. response then?
ALEXEY NIKOLSKY/AFP/Getty Images
By Jamie M. Fly
The events of the past week pose a challenge to President Obama's vision of a world without nuclear weapons. Last week in Vienna, the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) met to discuss Iran and Syria's continued stonewalling of IAEA investigations into illicit nuclear activities carried out by each country.
On November 16, IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei submitted reports on both countries to the members of the Board. His report on Iran was perhaps the strongest IAEA report on Iran to date. It found that Iran violated its safeguards obligations by not reporting the existence of a covert enrichment facility near Qom. The report also noted that Iran continues to not cooperate with the IAEA's investigation into Iran's pre-2003 covert weaponization program. It was a damning final report from ElBaradei, who retired at the end of last week having spent much of his twelve years at the helm of the IAEA trying to cajole the Iranians into coming clean, often undermining U.S. and Western efforts to pressure in the process.
President Obama has relied heavily on ElBaradei to try to broker a deal to transfer a significant portion of Iran's stockpile of low enriched uranium out of Iran for processing into fuel for Iran's research reactor. Despite reportedly agreeing to a deal last month in Geneva, Iran has since backed away from the deal, reverting to its traditional negotiating tactics.
It had been almost four years since the Board of Governors passed a resolution condemning Iran's actions, even as Iran has flouted successive United Nations Security Council resolutions and stymied ElBaradei's IAEA. On Friday, the Board reacted to the recent revelation of Qom and Iran's continued stonewalling of the IAEA investigation by approving a resolution calling on Iran to suspend construction at Qom and expressing concern that Iran's recent actions as well as its failure to implement the Additional Protocol limit the IAEA's ability to verify that Iran's nuclear program is purely for peaceful purposes.
The Bush administration tried repeatedly to push the board to pass such a resolution last year as Iran's noncompliance became more and more egregious. Unfortunately, the administration backed down quickly (too quickly in my view), when it became clear that Russia and China did not support such an action. The fact that Russia and China supported last week's resolution is a positive sign, but there are already debates among experts about how strong the resolution was and whether it is tantamount to a second referral of the Iranian nuclear file to the United Nations Security Council. It is likely that the Obama administration agreed to water down the resolution to keep Russia and China on board. Russian and Chinese acquiescence in Vienna does not mean that they will support meaningful sanctions in New York early next year.
However, if Iran's initial reaction to Friday's resolution is any indication, Iran could be the Obama administration's greatest ally in getting China and Russia to support sanctions. A conservative Iranian member of parliament threatened to withdraw from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). On Sunday, President Ahmadinejad announced that Iran would build ten more uranium enrichment facilities. The second threat is likely just that, a threat. Iran lacks the capacity to build large scale enrichment facilities very quickly -- witness the fact that Qom was still not operational despite reportedly being under construction for years. The threat to withdraw from the NPT however, is more troublesome. If Iran were to do this, it could be a trigger for Israeli military action. If the IAEA is unable to verify the location of Iran's nuclear material, Obama administration officials may have to consider U.S. military action or risk diversion of nuclear material to covert facilities.
On Syria, the Board last week missed an opportunity to send a message to the Assad regime. ElBaradei's latest report makes clear that Syria has adopted the Iranian playbook on handling IAEA investigations. The report says that Syria has not responded to the IAEA's questions about its former covert nuclear reactor at Al Kibar even though some of its early answers contradict information that the IAEA has obtained from other sources. Syria has also refused to give the IAEA access to other facilities related to Al Kibar, claiming that these are sensitive military sites even though the IAEA has reminded Syria that under its safeguards agreement, this is not a reason to deny the IAEA access. In addition to unanswered questions about Al Kibar, the report raises new concerns about illicit activity at Syria's declared research reactor near Damascus.
Unlike Iran, Syria at the moment is experiencing a renaissance in its relations with the United States as well as Europe. This will have to change if the international community is serious about upholding the nuclear nonproliferation regime. The Board of Governors, which has largely been silent on the Syria nuclear issue, should have sent a strong message to Damascus that unless the Assad regime begins to share information, it will be subject to the same treatment as Iran (including eventual referral to the Security Council for further action).
The issue is not that Syria has an ongoing nuclear program (although it is difficult for the IAEA to verify this given Syria's lack of cooperation), but it is about the sanctity of the nuclear nonproliferation regime and the message that needs to be sent to other countries thinking about shirking their commitments. The lesson cannot be that such countries will be slapped on the wrist but then quickly forgiven, only to receive increased trade and diplomatic relations from the United States and Europe.
How President Obama handles these two issues in the coming months will say much about how serious he is about his supposed goal of ridding the world of nuclear weapons. As Obama said in his April speech in Prague after North Korea violated several United Nations Security Council Resolutions by conducting a missile test, "Rules must be binding. Violations must be punished. Words must mean something."
Last week's IAEA Board resolution on Iran was a start, but there is much work to be done before he can turn this rhetoric into reality.
JOE KLAMAR/AFP/Getty Images
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton came away from her visit to Moscow this week with mixed results. The two big ticket items involved Iran and the human rights situation inside Russia.
By all appearances, Clinton struck out on moving Russia closer to supporting sanctions against Iran should current negotiation efforts fail. "We did not ask for anything today," she said, in a rather stunning admission. "We reviewed the situation and where it stood, which I think was the appropriate timing for what this process entails."
That she would not try to push Russia toward supporting sanctions is hard to believe -- and, if true, frankly irresponsible. More likely, she tried and failed but was putting the best spin on it. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov's comments after his meeting with Clinton clearly indicated continued Russian resistance to any sanctions push. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, never a supporter of getting tougher toward Iran, reinforced this position in comments from Beijing on Wednesday when he argued that discussing sanctions now against Iran would be "premature."
This contrasts with comments Russian President Dmitry Medvedev made in New York last month and that he reportedly reiterated in his private meeting with Clinton on Tuesday. The Kremlin, however, has not publicly challenged either the foreign minister's or prime minister's contradictory comments, even though the president is ultimately in charge of Russian foreign policy (the idea that Medvedev would slap down Putin is rather laughable). Yet these conflicting messages cause confusion about who calls the shots in Moscow. Then again, perhaps the situation is very clear: it is Putin and not Medvedev (more on this in a future blog entry). What a shame, then, that Putin was in Beijing, not Moscow, during Clinton's visit. All this is not a surprise to those of us who have been saying that Russia is unlikely at the end of the day to support tough sanctions against Iran -- even in exchange for the Obama administration's regrettable decision September 17 on missile defense (which, by the way, was handled abysmally).
In contrast to the bad news on Iran, Clinton's comments on the human rights situation inside Russia were a pleasant surprise. In spite of her short shrift of human rights concerns in the past (recall her comments on the way to Beijing in February when she said she didn't want those issues to "interfere" with other pressing matters), Clinton made clear the concerns of the Obama administration about the deteriorating situation inside Russia. Her meeting with human rights and civil society activists was a very good follow-up to President Obama's similar meeting in July. Her interview with independent radio station Ekho Moskvy and her remarks to students at Moscow State University (MGU) also touched on these issues in a strong way.
"I think all of these issues -- imprisonments, detentions, beatings, killings - it is something that is hurtful to see from the outside," Clinton said at MGU. "Every country has criminal elements, every country has people who try to abuse power, but in the last 18 months ... there have been too many of the incidents," adding that not enough was being done to "ensure no one had impunity from prosecution ... I said that this is a matter of grave concern not just for the United States but for the Russian people, and not just for activists but people who worry that unsolved killings are a very serious challenge to order and the fair functioning of society," Clinton said. In an innovative society, she observed, "people must be free to take unpopular decisions, disagree with conventional wisdom, know they are safe to peacefully challenge accepted practice and authority."
In her interview with Ekho Mskvy, she highlighted the attacks on journalists and human rights defenders, noting they are "of such great concern. ... in the last 18 months ... there have been many of these incidents. ... I think we want the government to stand up and say this is wrong."
Her strong statements on these issues were especially important given an unnecessary and unfortunate situation caused by an article in the Russian newspaper Kommersant earlier in the week based on comments made by NSC Senior Director Michael McFaul suggesting that human rights concerns would receive less attention from the Obama administration. The thrust of the Kommersant article seemed out of synch with Obama's handling of the issue in July, with Clinton's comments this week, and with McFaul's own passion for human rights over his career (and I've known him for some 16 years). Clinton stepped into the fray and allayed the concerns, at least for the time being, of those who were worry that human rights issues will fall down the list of priorities in the interest of the Obama Administration's overall "reset" policy with Moscow.
ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images
By Peter Feaver
Secretary Clinton's recent visit to Moscow provides another opportunity to do a midcourse assessment of Iran policy. The assessment is bleak. Very bleak. The "mission accomplished" banners that Obamaphiles were unfurling when the Russians hinted at a greater openness to sanctions look a bit more faded and ironic today in light of reports that the Russians are back to their old script of opposing sanctions as an impediment to negotiations.
I argued earlier
that the key intermediate objective of the negotiations with Iran was getting
Russia (and China and the European in-laws) on side to impose tougher economic
pressure on Iran. Without such leverage, negotiations were very unlikely to
Of course, the overall objective of those negotiations is to get the Iranian regime to abandon its nuclear weapons program. The Obama team, like the Bush team before it, believes that the only way the Islamic Republic will do so peacefully is if the United States can exert serious economic leverage over the regime so a compromise deal looks attractive -- hence the urgency of the intermediate objective of establishing such leverage.
From the beginning, the diplomatic track has been stymied by two stubborn facts. Fact 1: The U.S. cannot unilaterally generate the sanctions leverage it needs to give diplomacy a chance. Fact 2: The Russians, the Chinese, and sometimes the European in-laws all believe that diplomacy is an alternative to sanctions (and vice-versa) rather than understanding that sanctions are a necessary component of the diplomatic track. In other words, sanctions are what you resort to when diplomacy has failed rather than something you resort to in order to help diplomacy succeed.
The "shocking" news that the Iranian regime had been misleading the international community with a hidden second enrichment program provided a one-time opportunity to bring the international community on side, impose sanctions, and then pursue negotiations. Instead, the Obama team contented itself with the rhetorical support for sanctions the Russians offered -- the vague suggestion that if the Iranians kept up their bad behavior stiffer penalties might follow -- basked in the glow of praise for its deft diplomacy, and launched negotiations.
With Secretary Clinton in Moscow, the Russians sprung the trap. We can't do sanctions, the Russians explained, because that would undermine negotiations. As long as the negotiations are ongoing, the Russians will block sanctions. All the Iranian regime has to do to keep sanctions at bay is to string the negotiations along. As was foreseeable, Team Obama is trapped negotiating with the Iranian regime without significant leverage and without much prospect of additional leverage. This does not guarantee failure, but it does guarantee that the Iranian regime has the strongest possible hand and that the U.S. hole card, the evidence of Iranian duplicity revealed at the U.N. General Assembly in late September, has been played to minimal effect.
ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images
Shadow Government is a blog about U.S. foreign policy under the Obama administration, written by experienced policy makers from the loyal opposition and curated by Peter D. Feaver and William Inboden.