Thursday, July 24, 2008
Obama in Berlin
I admit that I got chills up my spine when I heard that 200,000 people showed up to hear Barack Obama speak in Berlin. I don't know what it feels like to have almost a quarter of a million living, breathing human beings, spread out in front of you off into the distance, hanging on your every word. For that matter, there probably aren't too many people alive who know what that feels like. But I imagine it's not you're ordinary, everyday kind of adrenaline rush. (The only video I found so far of the event is kind of anti-climactic, though, since the audience is a little offbeat in their applause, probably due to the language barrier, but also due to the sheer time it took for the sound to reach them, and it seemed to hamper Obama's delivery.)
Anyway, I read a transcript of the speech, and truth be told wasn't that impressed. It hits all the right notes in terms of repairing the mistrust within the trans-Atlantic alliance, which Obama implicitly but correctly identifies as existing on a popular level. (The arrival of Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy has already largely repaired the damage on a political level.) The two areas where he got bold were on global warming (on which he basically said, "Our bad, we'll get it right next time."), and Afghanistan, where he called for Europe and NATO to double down. On the first, I'm in agreement, on the second, I'm not.
After years of using the removal of military resources from Afghanistan as a club to beat the Bush administration over the head with for its conduct of the war in Iraq, Democrats (and increasingly Republicans) have come to believe that with more troops in Afghanistan we can achieve our objectives. I'm far from convinced that that's the case, and think that the claims of how important success there is to NATO's future are exagerrated.
More practically, calling for greater troop contributions from Europe ignore the fact that it's not going to happen. England's looking to reduce its engagement, Germany has already ponied up, and France has already downsized the contingent it committed to send at the April NATO summit.
The Afghanistan reference is pure Obama, who often uses his privileged iconic position to deliver a gentle chiding lecture. In that, it might disabuse his German listeners of what Josef Joffe calls in The New Republic "their infatuation with Obama":
After Inauguration Day, alas, Europe and the world will not face a Dreamworks president, but the leader of a superpower. Whether McCain or Obama, the 44th president will speak more nicely than did W. in his first term. He will also pay more attention to the "decent opinions of mankind." But he will still preside over the world's largest military, economic, and cultural power.
Finally, Obama closed with a call to "remake the world once again," a theme that I'm not terribly comfortable with. The speech probably works from a political perspective, in that by making demands of Europe and not assuming unilateral responsibility for the challenges the trans-Atlantic alliance has faced, he hasn't provided John McCain with any ammunition to use against him. It also probably did nothing to diminish his popularity in Europe. But if Afghanistan becomes central to Obama's European policy, he's in for some tough sledding.
Cross-posted to World Politics Review.
Monday, June 30, 2008
Sarkozy the European
I've got a new piece up over at World Politics Review titled, Sarkozy the European: France's EU Presidency:
On July 1, France will assume the rotating presidency of the European Union, a role it will exercise for the next six months. It's a moment that French President Nicolas Sarkozy has been preparing for since last year, and anxiously awaiting since at least January, when his popularity among French voters suddenly plummeted. With the impact of his domestic reforms stymied by the increased cost of fuel and food commodities, and his image tarnished by personal excesses and professional lapses, Sarkozy was counting on using the parallel track of the EU presidency to reinject some dynamism into his flagging first term in office. But as he himself once observed, political success depends on a combination of determination, competence and luck. And if Ireland's rejection of the Lisbon Treaty just weeks before the French EU presidency is any indication, Sarkozy's luck might not have turned yet.
Also, remember that if at any time during the week you don't see anything posted here, click through to the WPR blog, because I'm posting there every day.
Thursday, June 19, 2008
It's not easy, but with a little imagination you could probably come up with some sort of category that groups together America, Saudi Arabia and China. Consolation pool for the soccer World Cup, for instance, or a snarky "Friends of the Ozone Layer" award. But toss Sweden in there, and the exercise becomes a bit more challenging. Until you consider that yesterday, Sweden's parliament passed an aggressive surveillance bill that allows its national intelligence agency to scan all telephone and electronic communications that cross the country's borders for key words without a court order:
"By introducing these new measures, the Swedish government is following the examples set by governments ranging from China and Saudi Arabia to the U.S. government's widely criticized eavesdropping program," Google's global privacy counsel, Peter Fleischer said.
Proponents justify the measure, which passed by a very close margin, by the terrorist threat. Which brought to mind a remark made by Yves Boyer (one of the analysts I interviewed for last week's Livre Blanc series) on a TV program the other night. He referred to other European countries that have become too lazy to think for themselves strategically, instead adopting the American posture by default. He suggested that might be the case with regards to France's Livre Blanc, and it would be easy to say that's what's going on here with Sweden.
I agree to a certain extent, but I'd also argue that American doctrine is moving towards the French-European position as well, both in terms of military interventions and for domestic counter-terrorism police work. French counter-terrorism measures, for instance, are more muscular than America's, as are England's. (I'm talking about domestic measures, not those carried out in offshore black sites to our great national shame.) So it's possible to argue that Sweden is following that trend as much as our own example.
Cross-posted to World Politics Review.
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
A Widening Focus
Part three of the series on France's strategic posture review is up over at WPR. Today's installment explores the widening geographic focus of France's strategic vision:
In assessing the strategic environment to which the Livre Blanc, France's strategic posture review, must respond, none of the French officials and experts interviewed by World Politics Review could really speak with much certainty. Taken together, the conversations we had gave the distinct impression that outside of the stable if evolving configurations of the European Union and the Atlantic alliance, France's emerging strategic vision is driven more by questions than by answers.
Russia's determination to reclaim its former influence presents both opportunities for partnership and more alarming scenarios of conflict, most notably in Central Asia's gas fields. China's rise is considered inevitable, but comes with the possibility of destabilizing effects, both in Asia and further afield. The emerging powers might integrate themselves into a reformed global governance system, or else operate parallel to it should no room be made for their ascension. And the Middle East remains a vector of volatility, with the specter of an Iran with deliverable nuclear weapons looming on the horizon. Bruno Tertrais, research fellow at the Fondation pour la Recherche Stratégique, evoked an increased -- if still not great -- risk of a major regional conflict, and added, "The world is more unpredictable than when we prepared the last Livre Blanc in 1994. The idea of a strategic surprise is an idea we have to take more into account in our analysis."
There are some surprising twists, so click through.
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
NATO and European Defense
The second installment of my weeklong series in WPR is up. This one is on Nicolas Sarkozy's proposal to reintegrate the NATO command structure, and what it means for European defense:
Since the time of Gen. De Gaulle, France's posture towards the United States can be summed up in the familiar expression, "Friend, ally, non-aligned." A source of French pride and American distrust, the formula has haunted France's historically stormy relationship with NATO, and served as the geopolitical expression of l'exception française, France's cultural identity of exceptionalism. It took on added significance since the emergence of the European Union, of which France was and remains a driving force. The need to balance its two principle relationships -- one a strategic alliance with political implications, the other a political project with strategic implications -- while still maintaining its autonomy to act in its own interests when necessary can be found at the heart of the French foreign policy debate. While no one seriously advocates one pole of the spectrum to the exclusion of the other, the eternal question remains the right dose of each. Which explains why President Sarkozy's proposal to formally reintegrate into the NATO command structure has been the subject of such scrutiny, discussion and debate...
For the rest, click through. And in case you missed part one, it's right here.
Monday, June 2, 2008
Hampton makes some really good points here. I'd quibble with the claim that globalization is about economic liberty, so much as economic deregulation. I'd also make a distinction between "Brussels" the idea, as opposed to Brussels the reality. How accurately the anti-democratic, technocratic image of the former matches the reality of the latter is subject to debate. But there's enough truth to it to make it resonate strongly in public opinion, and resentment of it certainly drove opposition to the 2005 Constitutional Treaty, and is doing so with the Treaty of Lisbon today.
I failed to make it clear in my post, but when I referred to the "small villages across the continent that are increasingly being transformed by globalization," I actually had the EU common market (ie. "Brussels" and the continent-wide "mini-globalization") in mind as much as the broader globalization phenomenon. Sometimes, of course, it gets hard to separate the two. In the village where I lived in Provence, the wealthy English, Dutch and Belgian second-home owners who had transformed the life and culture of the village (and who in many ways represented "Brussels," at least symbolically) had for the most part gotten wealthy off of globalized commercial activity. From the LA Times article, it seems that in Ireland, the second-home owners are Irish. But resentment of "Brussels" seems to overlap with a resentment of outsiders responsible for a lost way of life in the opposition to the Treaty.
One final thought about the broader globalization backlash that I referred to. As it gathers, it's almost sure to express itself in a call for stronger regulation, whether of the ecological, national security (e.g. protected industries) or social variety. In other words, one of the ways that the developed economies will begin to strategically defend themselves against the wealth and power transfers of the globalized economy will be the "Brussels-ization" of the globalized governance system. Won't that be fun?
Cross-posted to World Politics Review.
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
Nabucco in Jeopardy, Again
Turkish President Abdullah Gul met with Turkmenistan President Gurbanguli Berdymukhamedov yesterday, and while both leaders expressed their ". . .mutual will for improving bilateral economic and commercial relations between the two countries," no agreement was announced on whether or not Turkmeni gas will feed the proposed Nabucco pipeline that would make Turkey a gas hub connecting Central Asia with Southern and Central Europe. For Today's Zaman (Turkey), that meant the two countries "agree to boost economic cooperation." For RIA Novosti, citing a Turkish-language paper, that meant "Nabucco trans-Caspian gas pipeline in jeopardy."
WPR contributing editor John Rosenthal recently wrote about the fact that the logic of the Nabucco pipeline, designed to reduce Europe's dependence on Russian gas, doesn't stand up without Iranian reserves feeding it. Which makes the U.S. State Dept's sudden support for the project surprising, and its criticism of other countries for signing energy deals with Iran somewhat hypocritical.
I suppose it could be argued that participation in Nabucco could function as a carrot to try to lure Iran into adopting a more responsible regional posture. But the thing about offering carrots is that they work best when you're not absilutely dependent on the other party to accept them.
I suppose it's also worth noting that Iraq's Oil Ministry has just announced a tender for a pipeline to Iran, designed to transport Iraqi crude to Iran and Iranian refined products back into Iraq. Something to think about the next time someone argues we invaded for the oil.
Cross-posted to World Politics Review.
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
NATO-EU Defense Fusion
There's a lot going on in terms of European defense vis à vis NATO these days. France is considering integrating the alliance's command structure while at the same time pushing hard for EU defense, an effort for which America NATO ambassador Victoria Nuland recently expressed support. Russia is offering historic contributions on both fronts. Now via DefenseNews comes this, from NATO chief Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, regarding EU defense:
"I would like to see much more pooling of our capabilities, especially in areas such as vital enablers - transport, helicopters, or in research and development, or in harmonizing force structures and training methods," he said.
"It is absolutely critical that all of the capabilities that we are able to generate from this pool of forces are equally available to both NATO and the European Union," Scheffer said at the Brussels Forum conference.
De Hoop Scheffer emphasized the need for more efficient cooperation on strategic airlift, as well as attack and transport helicopters, two capabilities in high demand and small supply for both NATO's Afghanistan mission and the EUFOR Chad mission currently deploying.
This idea of pooling capabilities goes quite a bit further than the Berlin Plus Agreement, which essentially puts NATO assets at the EU's disposal under special circumstances for Crisis Management Operations. Significantly, it demonstrates the dramatic shift that has taken place since then in terms of the newfound acceptance of a European defense capacity that is complementary to NATO.
It seems like a proposal, though, that benefits NATO more than the EU. On the material level, because it essentially amounts to a sugar-coated call for increased European defense expenditures at a time when it's unlikely that the EU will be benefitting from NATO's overstretched capacity. And on the political level, since part of the effectiveness of an independent EU defense capacity is its ability to be deployed to sensitive areas (e.g. South Lebanon) for which NATO would be politically unacceptable.
Still, it's one more thing to keep your eye on next month at the NATO summit in Budapest.
Cross-posted to World Politics Review.
Monday, March 17, 2008
NATO's Bitter Pill
To get a sense of just how badly things are going for NATO in Afghanistan, consider the following. Just over two weeks from now at the alliance's summit in Budapest, about the only pieces of good news likely to be announced are that the French will deploy more boots on the ground to ease the strain on Canadian forces, and the Russians will allow logistical supplies to transit its air and ground space. You got that right: France and Russia are coming to NATO's rescue.
Of course, it's not the threat of a military defeat, but that of a political defeat that looms large. Afghanistan just has some sort of mojo that makes it the last meal of colonial empires, Socialist unions and very possibly trans-Atlantic alliances. And even if the weakened alliance should survive the shock, the medicine may prove more deadly than the disease. France is looking to leverage its NATO re-up to move European defense integration forward (and I've got a hunch that won't be as difficult as the WSJ suggests), and Russia already seems to have succeeded in attaching a heightened regional role to the supply route deal.
If it looks like these are the kinds of consolidations that eventually make America the odd man out on the European continent, that's because they are. As Europe looks ahead to the post-Bush era, about the only thing working in America's favor is that the post-Putin era has yet to begin.
Of course, the disaffection cuts both ways. If all NATO can offer is already available through coalitions of the willing outside the alliance structure, the alliance boils down to a big Article 5 security blanket that's not worth the miniscule European defense budgets it enables.
Cross-posted to World Politics Review.
Saturday, March 15, 2008
Russia's European Courtship
The other day over at the World Politics Review blog, I flagged what seemed to be significant developments in Russia-EU and Russia-NATO relations. Specifically, Russia's offer of material support (six to eight desperately needed helicopters) to the EUFOR Chad mission, as well as logistical support (relaxed supply transport restrictions) for the NATO mission in Afghanistan.
Today, M K Bhadrakumar has an Asia Times Online article that provides some context to the NATO angle. Basically, Russia is taking advantage of the desperate situation in Afghanistan to float a comprehensive proposal that would essentially break NATO's (read: America's) monopoly on stabilization efforts in Afghanistan in particular, but in the region (ie. Pakistan) in general. The move would open the floodgates to involving both Russia and China (through the CSTO and SCO) in any strategic solution to the region's problems, including extremist violence but also the growing drug-trafficking problem in Afghanistan.
As significantly, in light of Russia's historic contribution to the EUFOR Chad mission, the effort seems aimed at driving a wedge in the trans-Atlantic alliance by luring Europhile EU countries (ie. France and Germany) into closer strategic cooperation with Russia. In his January NY Times Sunday Magazine article, Waving Goodbye to Hegemony, Parag Khanna raised the specter of Russia integrating the EU. Intuitively, the move seems to make sense for both sides: Russia gains the multi-lateral legitimacy that comes with the EU brand identity; the EU gains the clout that comes with Russia's strategic and expeditionary capacities. Their mutual dependance in terms of energy purchases only lends added incentive.
Obviously, this is nothing but strategic daydreaming for now. But if an EU-Russia marriage ever did happen, it would start with the kind of flirtation we're seeing now.
Cross-posted to World Politics Review.
Sunday, March 2, 2008
Sweet Home Alabama
A quick word on the EADS tanker contract that's getting so much blog attention. (Kevin here, Art here, Danger Room here and here.) Some mention was made of EADS' promise to build the aircraft in Alabama as a way to placate Congress. It's important, though, to point out that as early as last December, EADS was floating suggestions of outsourcing operations to Alabama as a way of counteracting the
collapse of the dollar to third-world currency status correction in the dollar's exchange value. So while the move might make for some good Stateside p.r., it makes for some even better bottom line.
There are still some potential rough patches for the deal, though. To begin with, EADS, while publicly traded, counts among its major shareholders both the French and Spanish states, as well as a Russian state-controlled bank. The resulting public-private hybrid could trip the kind of ad hoc (read: politically motivated) American national security sensors that killed the Dubai ports contracts in 2006.
But perhaps just as dangerous will be how outsourcing EADS operations to America will play in Europe, where both France and Germany have often displayed protectionist impulses to what's considered an industrial feather in Europe's cap. It's hard to stick up for a national industry when the soundtrack for its payroll is more Lynyrd Skynyrd than Marseillaise.
Cross-posted to World Politics Review.
Tuesday, February 26, 2008
The EU's Kosovo Problem
A quick followup to John's [WPR] post about the deep divisions among EU member states regarding whether or not to recognize Kosovo's independence. When you take a look at who's opposed and why, it becomes clear that for Europeans much more than for Americans, the question of national sovereignty vs. ethno-linguistic-sectarian autonomy is not some far-off problem. Spain has got a delicate situation with Catalonia, and a violent Basque separatist movement to deal with. Greece and Cyprus are both keeping a wary eye on Turkish Cypriot claims to legitimacy. Romania and Bulgaria are in a corner of Europe where separatist claims could stoke regional unrest. And that's just Europe.
I've limited my comments on Kosovo so far to how sloppily it's been handled. (See this brief Laura Rozen post for confirmation.) But one thing is obvious. The argument that it doesn't set a precedent for separatist movements has not resonated in the areas of the world where such a precedent would be most threatening. To the contrary, the dissolution of Yugoslavia down to its lowest common denominators (of which Kosovo is simply the final act) has been accepted as one of the principal models for dealing with weakly federated nation states. The Biden-Gelb Plan for Iraq, for instance, is a thinly disguised version whose Federal structure, should it be implemented, is unlikely to stand the test of time.
Now I don't dismiss the argument that Serbia's oppressive mis-governance of Kosovo created a special case. I'm actually pretty susceptible to it. But unlike Iraqi Kurdistan, for instance, which could actually make a pretty strong claim for being a truly autonomous sovereign entity, Kosovo is a legal fiction. Its declaration of independence is simply a facade papering over a NATO/EU institutional infrastructure. (See Jacqueline Carpenter's WPR exclusive for more.) So as much as Kosovo sets a precedent for separatist movements, it sets an even more dangerous precedent for -- or at the very least, leaves the strong impression of -- the enforced partitioning of sovereign states without a UN mandate.
Cross-posted to World Politics Review.
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Live And Learn
I expressed some surprise yesterday at Turkey's rapid recognition of Kosovo's independence, especially in light of their concerns over Kurdish separatist sentiment. Today I came across these remarks by a "high-level" Turkish diplomat in the Turkish Daily News:
Kosovo and Cyprus are two different cases and we are not trying to take advantage of the former's independence for the Turkish Cypriots. But we naturally cannot stop any third party's drawing similarities between the two.
The diplomat went on to emphasize that Turkey's priority is to proceed with Cypriot reunification talks under UN auspices, and to that end is watching the outcome of the Greek Cypriot presidential elections closely. But their recognition of Kosovo does seem to make more sense now, even if it seems like a pretty fine line to walk, given how closely the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq already resembles a sovereign state.
Meanwhile, to give you an idea of how prickly the Cyprus issue is, while Turkey has recognized Kosovo and the EU as a whole has not (leaving it up to individual members to decide for themselves), Turkey has warned that it will veto any NATO cooperation with the unanimously approved EU support mission being organized for Kosovo because of the presence of a Greek Cypriot contingent.
Monday, February 18, 2008
Back To Nationalism
Via Laura Rozen, President Bush has recognized Kosovo's independence and will officially establish diplomatic relations. So there you have it.
Paris, London, Rome and Berlin have also all moved rapidly to "avoid creating a vacuum with indecisive behavior," according to German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. But despite having unanimously approved a support mission including police and judicial training teams, as well as maintaining the 15,000 strong KFOR deployment, the EU has left it up to member states to determine their position individually, due to internal divisions on the question. Spain, Cyprus, Greece, Bulgaria, Romania and Slovakia are opposed to formal recognition due to fears that it might set a precedent for their own separatist minorities.
That's the beauty of the EU (a collective sovereignty or a collection of sovereignties, depending on the need of the moment) but also its internal contradiction, which yesterday's Le Monde editorial described well:
It remains no less the case that Europe is playing against type. Founded to transcend nationalisms, it now gives the impression that it's rewarding Kosovar nationalism. In the name of what will it then oppose the self-determination of the Serbs...of Northern Kosovo, or even that of the Serbs...in Bosnia-Herzegovina? (Translated from the French.)
Le Monde went on to point out that if this is to be the conclusion -- rather than a new chapter -- of the instability in the Balkans, then all of Europe will have to invest politically, especially to present Serbia with the image of a European consolation prize to make up for its current loss.
Monday, February 18, 2008
Homer Simpson Diplomacy
Without getting into any of the more substantial aspects of Kosovo's declaration of independence, one thing seems pretty straightforward about the timing of the announcement: it sucks. Setting aside for a moment the merits of the case (and I think there are valid arguments on both sides of the issue), the Kosovo negotiations have been dragging on for years. Stretching them out for another month or two would not have meaningfully changed anything, except to avoid pissing off Russia and China (both opposed to the move) on the eve of a decisive Iran sanctions resolution. In a complicated geopolitical landscape, it's a good rule of thumb to steer clear of the inherently avoidable landmines. D'oh.
Update: By the way, in case you're wondering why China is opposed to Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence, the answer lies just across the Taiwan Strait.
Thursday, February 14, 2008
The World's Reluctant Auxiliary Policemen
According to this Jamestown Foundation report, US-Turkish relations -- which had been thawing recently -- just hit another snag over the US' request that Turkey step up its military participation in Afghanistan. Turkey already has 1,000 troops in the Afghan theater, most of them in and around Kabul, but they're restricted by rules of engagement that limit them to firing in "self-defense". Washington would like Ankara to send in more boots, especially to the south and west where the fighting is going on, and loosen up their trigger fingers.
Ankara isn't too pleased about the request being perceived as a quid pro quo for American intelligence that helped it target PKK camps in Iraqi Kurdistan since last November. Also, with 100,000 Turkish troops massed on the Iraqi border to engage the 3,000-strong PKK guerilla/terrorists in the Qandil Mountains, it's unlikely Turkey can spare too much of its military muscle...
More than anything, this just demonstrates the way in which the failure in Afghanistan is having a very serious impact not only on the region, but also on our relationship with our coalition allies. Robert Gates' two recent sorties excoriating NATO countries for not ante-ing up with needed troops and material serve as further illustration.
And while our unpopular commitment in Iraq definitely complicates the picture and has degraded the Afghanistan mission, the force generation questions that are being raised with our NATO allies extend beyond that particular theater. They are the same questions that France is raising with regard to EU defense (although for its own strategic reasons), and get to the heart of how the EU will define its identity in the coming multi-polar world.
As Hubert Vedrine often puts it, Europe has to decide whether it wants to be a continent-wide Switzerland or a world power. And if it wants to be a world power, capable of advancing its interests and shouldering its share of the responsibility, it has got to not only develop a greater force projection capability (ie. dramatically increased military budgets for the majority of the continent), but also develop the political will to act. Whether that will is expressed through NATO or the EU is another question to be resolved, but it's contingent on answering the first.
Afghanistan might not be the best barometer, because it's been compromised by the Iraq connection. But if they've grown wary of the "world's reluctant policeman", then sooner or later Europe (and "emerging" countries like Turkey, India, and Brazil) are going to have to come up with an alternative.
Update: Click and ye shall find. Apparently I've stumbled on the "collective unconsciousness" meme of the day, since The National Interest has got not just one, but two articles on related subjects (peacekeeping missions and German combat participation in Afghanistan).
Monday, February 11, 2008
Chad, Europe & Darfur, Redux
I mentioned the other day that what was really at stake in the fighting in Chad, besides the survival of President Idriss Deby's regime, was the conditions on the ground for the roughly 400,000 refugees located in eastern Chad on the Sudanese border. Chad accused Sudan of supporting the rebels' assault in what was widely seen as an attempt to disrupt the deployment of a UN-mandated EU peacekeeping force. The EUFOR mission is to secure the area for the humanitarian NGO's that run the refugee camps for both Darfur refugees and internally displaced Chadians.
From all the latest reports I've read, the EU nations who comprise the mission have interpreted the rebel operation as an attempt to intimidate out of deploying, and they're determined not to back down in the face of that kind of pressure. So it looks like the mission will deploy as soon as it is logistically possible (ie. once the only land route from the capital to the eastern province has been re-secured).
But now, in an apparent retaliation for Sudan's support of the rebels, Chad says it will no longer accept any more refugees and is threatening to expel those that are already there. Just this weekend, 12,000 more Darfur refugees streamed across the border into Chad following bombing by the Sudanese military. In other words, this would have all the makings of a humanitarian catastrophe, if it weren't for the fact that it already is a humanitarian catastrophe.
Saturday, February 2, 2008
Chad, Europe & Darfur
A little heads up on the fighting going on in Chad's capital: there's actually quite a bit more at stake there than whether the rebels manage to replace Chad's thug ruler Idriss Deby or work out a power sharing arrangement with him. The real action in that story is the EUFOR Chad force which was scheduled to deploy yesterday to the Eastern part of the country, on the border across from Darfur. The area is a hotbed of Chadian insurgency groups, Sudanese militias, and organized bandits, all of whom target the over 200,000 refugees from Darfur and over 100,000 internally displaced Chadians that are gathered there in UNHCR refugee camps.
The EUFOR Chad mission, authorized by the UN Security Council, was designed to re-establish security in the area in order for humanitarian groups to provide assistance to the refugees, and eventually help them return to their homes. Needless to say, none of the border-hopping armed groups were particularly enthusiastic about the mission deploying, and the Sudanese government wasn't too keen on seeing a European contingent on the other side of the border from Darfur either. So the timing of the rebel offensive, which in cutting off the land route to the east has already delayed the mission's deployment, is highly suspect.
Should they seize power, which is looking more and more likely, it's very possible the rebels will revoke Chad's invitation to the EUFOR force altogether, effectively putting an end to the mission. The last time the rebels threatened Deby's hold on power in 2005, France provided him with intelligence and some air support which allowed him to turn them back. The move caused one rebel group to declare a "state of belligerence" with France, which had already raised some concerns about the largely French EUFOR contingent being targetted.
Now France must decide whether to intervene on Deby's behalf again to make sure the EUFOR mission (which it worked hard to put together) deploys, thereby impeaching the mission's multi-lateral veneer of impartiality; or stand by and let the rebels seize power, thereby watching the mission (and the months' worth of diplomatic maneuvering to get it off the ground) go down the drain.
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
In the latest development in the ongoing pipeline diplomacy roiling the Middle East and Europe, Iran's foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, announced that Iran was willing to supply gas for the EU's Nabucco pipeline project. Most significant about the announcement, which comes on the heels of two major Russian gas deals that strengthened Moscow's grip on European supply routes, is that Mottaki made specific mention of Europe's desire to diversify its gas sources.
Obviously, the offer must be understood principally in the context of the ongoing nuclear standoff, as an Iranian attempt to weaken European opposition to its uranium enrichment program and create a wedge between Washington and its European allies. In light of today's announcement about the agreement reached over a third round of UN sanctions, that's unlikely to happen. Even if the sanctions were watered down to bring Russia and China on board, they are symbolically extremely significant.
But the offer also coincides with Tehran's lingering and increasingly bitter dispute over a gas delivery contract with Turkmenistan. Turkmenistan has shut down its pipeline to Iran citing technical problems, but most observers believe the move, coming in the midst of a particularly cold Iranian winter, is a bareknuckled attempt to renegotiate the contract to reflect the higher price (roughly double) that Moscow recently agreed to pay for Turkmenistan's supplies.
If the Iranian offer signals a potential faultline in the Iran-Russian tactical alliance, it's one worth pursuing. While sitting on the second largest known natural gas reserves (after Russia), Iran would need enormous investment to develop its extraction and delivery capacities, which explains its vulnerability to Turkmenistan's tactics.
So far, the Russians have continued to supply the nuclear fuel to the Bushehr reactor, and their reticence has contributed to watering down the latest round of UN sanctions. But Moscow did sign on, and its efforts to solidify its energy position have come at the expense of Iran's domestic supplies. In response, Iran seems to be signalling that its allegiance is not set in stone, and that for the time being all its alignments are tactical rather than strategic in nature.
Monday, January 21, 2008
Pipeline Diplomacy, Redux
This little item got buried over the weekend, but it's a pretty significant development. Russia just signed a major pipeline contract with Bulgaria which, combined with the imminent deal giving Russia a controlling interest in Serbia's largest gas and oil company, tightens Russia's grip on the Balkans' energy supply. Russia will now be able to pipe gas directly to the European market, bypassing Turkey as a transit point altogether.
Meanwhile, the EU's Nabucco project, whereby gas from Azerbaijan and Iran would be transitted through Turkey to the continent, has been bogged down by disputes over financing, transit routes, and the Iran nuclear standoff. With Russia having already locked down Turkmenistan's entire annual gas production and already in possession of the major supply lines, any hope for diversified European gas sources just grew much slimmer.
How Turkey reacts to these developments will be very significant. They've been stalling on a deal to develop Iran's gas reserves in order to entertain the US' offers of becoming a regional energy hub for Iraqi and Azerbaijan gas and oil reserves. The problem is that Iraq is far from stabilized, and so far no acceptable route has been found for the Azerbaijan supplies. Should Turkey decide that one tactical energy alliance in hand is better than two in the bush, it could have a dramatic impact on the region's strategic realignment.
And history, when it gets around to the Iraq War, may very well decide that while Bush and the neocons were emptying the American treasury to conquer the last of the dwindling oil reserves, Putin and the mullahs were turning a profit off of locking down the gas supplies.
Friday, January 18, 2008
Kevin Drum and Matthew Yglesias have both flagged the news that France has just signed an agreement with the UAE to establish a permanent military base just across the Strait of Hormuz from Iran. Kevin cites Marc Lynch, who writes:
Early spin has suggested that this will allow France to better cooperate with the US against Iran, but this seems shortsighted. A long-term French strategic position in the Gulf challenges American exclusivity, and potentially undermines the fundamental architecture of the hegemonic American position in the Gulf. (Link included from original.)
Matthew suggests that the latter might be a good thing, in that it will re-balance the dysfunctional relationship between American military commitments and European strategic interests.
The fact is, there's a bit of all three going on. The base in question is for the moment largely symbolic given its limited size and the fact that it won't be operational for a year at least. But its location at the bottleneck of the Strait of Hormuz and very close to Iran does in fact constitute a pressure point on Tehran. That France happens to be the most forceful and most credible advocate right now for preventing Iran from developing a nuclear fuel enrichment capacity is significant. Their position is not so much in alignment with ours on Iran so much as it is an ideal version of what ours should have been from the start: Clear-sighted, non-hysterical, with firm demands and rewarding incentives.
On the other hand, as I argued on the very first day of Nicolas Sarkozy's presidency, he has a very ambitious vision for France's role in the world, and he's pretty savvy about getting what he wants. As for the French presence he's establishing, it's not limited to the military and it's not limited to the Gulf. Sarkozy has been using a nuclear energy foreign policy to establish France's strategic position throughout the Arab world. In the eight months since he took office, he has already signed civil nuclear cooperation agreements with Morocco, Libya, Algeria, and the UAE, while offering assistance to Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Significantly, this is in direct opposition to the American line of discouraging the proliferation of civil nuclear capacity in the Middle East, especially in the circumstances now surrounding the Iranian standoff.
So while Matthew is correct in suggesting that Europe in general and France in particular having the capacity to put their military money where their mouth is will balance the trans-Atlantic relationship, that will in effect be a development that lessens America's strategic leverage in the world. In other words, good-by to the world's reluctant policeman, hello to the long-announced French vision of the multi-polar world. This isn't going to happen overnight, but it is definitely the way Sarkozy would like to see things develop.
That it's ineluctable does not necessarily mean that it will be advantageous to the US. The alternative, however, of an America that serves as the military firewall to all the world's brushfires, is no longer sustainable.
Monday, December 31, 2007
Somewhat neglected amid all the attention being given to events in Pakistan, over which we have limited influence, is the approaching endgame for the Kosovo impasse, over which we have enormous influence. As things stand, it's looking increasingly likely that come the new year, the US, the EU, and NATO are going to bypass the UN Security Council, where Russia has threatened a veto, and serve as guarantors of the breakaway Serbian province's unilateral declaration of independence. Here's how Mikhail Gorbachev described the Western approach:
"It is an unprecedented step, which will certainly result in failure, both politically and morally," Gorbachev said in an interview with the government daily Rossiiskaya Gazeta.
"For the first time in history, two organizations are trying to assume responsibility for the future of a country - Serbia - which is not a member of either of them."
Serbia has already threatened retaliatory measures in the event of a unilateral declaration of independence, including suspending its membership proceedings for acceding to the EU. And as Dimitri Simes explained in this excellent IHT op-ed, the standoff has even broader implications for the West's relationship with Russia. If Kosovo serves as a precedent, it could legitimize the eventual absorption by Russia of two separatist Georgian provinces, which is why the West is trying to treat it as a one-off "policy by exception". But its heavy-handed dissection of Serbia's territorial integrity would deal Russia another humiliation at a moment when Moscow increasingly feels the need to demonstrate its resurgent influence.
I'll be writing more about this, not only because it represents a giant hornets' nest in practical terms. It also presents a lot of food for thought on theoretical levels. Addressing the potential atomization of multi-ethnic, multi-sectarian states deserves to be on the short list of our foreign policy priorities, right up there with global warming and nuclear proliferation. And whether we like it or not, how we handle Kosovo will of course determine a precedent, so exploring some its broader implications seems worthwhile. But for now I just wanted to get this up and into the mix.
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
The EU peacekeeping mission to Chad is either, a) an important milestone in the development of a European defense component; or b) a remake of "The Keystone Kops Go To War", but with sound. So far, events seem to be pointing to the latter:
The deployment of a European Union peacekeeping force in Eastern Chad has fallen behind schedule amid fears that its French-dominated troops could come under attack after setting foot in the troubled African state.
Initially, the EU had signalled its desire to have the 3,000-strong force, known as Eufor, operational by mid-November, when the dry season was expected to begin.
Not only was that deadline missed, there has also been a fresh outbreak of fighting between soldiers loyal to Chad President Idriss Deby and rebels commanded by Mahamat Nouri. Nouri's Union of Forces for Democracy and Development (UNFDD) declared Nov. 30 that they were "in a state of belligerence against the French army or any other foreign force on the national territory." His rebels accuse France of bias in favour of Deby.
The French government has argued that the resumption of hostilities increases the need for a peacekeeping force as quickly as possible. But other EU governments have asked if the neutrality of the force would be compromised.
Norbert Darabos, Austria's defence minister, has warned of a "danger of direct engagement of Eufor in armed confrontations".
Of course, Mr. Darabos is right. There's always a "danger of direct engagement" when you send troops into a warzone. But it's one of the risks most armies are willing to take.
Seriously, though, this is precisely the sort of identity crisis the EU will have to resolve if it wishes to assume a more assertive role in global affairs. Of course, the willingness to project force presupposes the willingness to fund the defense budget. Which means that the EU has a lot of soul searching to do before it arrives at an answer. But the Chad mission, if it ever touches down in Africa, will almost certainly be a formative step in the process.
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
The Not So Easy Way Out
The coming showdown in Kosovo is worth our attention for a number of reasons. To begin with, in terms of pure power politics, it will have a major impact on Russia's orientation towards Europe and the West. That in turn will have consequences for some of the regional alignments where Russia can make things difficult for American and European interests, including the Middle East, but also Eurasia.
On a more theoretical level, given how questionable the multi-lateral legitimacy of the initial Kosovo War was, and given the degree to which the foundations of multi-lateralism have been undermined since, it's hard to imagine how a second Kosovo War could be anything but extremely destabilizing on a global level.
On an even more theoretical level, the Kosovo crisis raises questions for the West in terms of its approach to addressing ethnic and sectarian conflict in fragile and failed states. We seem to be moving increasingly towards an atomized vision of reducing nation-building efforts to the lowest common denominator. As an example, our vision for Iraq has moved from a central government, to a Federalized arrangement, to tribal "awakenings".
The element in these atomized "solutions" that seems to be taken for granted (read: ignored) is that in order to prevent them from completely degenerating into festering zones of violence and instability, they require some sort of longterm, outside military presence to stabilize them. It's easy to talk about an "independent" Kosovo. But if it takes a permanent outpost of EU peacekepers whose presence is contested by Serbia and Russia, it's a legal fiction.
There's an old joke about the French intellectual who, confronted with an arrangement that seems to be working, objects, "It's great in practice. But does it work in theory?" It's a question we ought to ask ourselves about our rejection of multi-ethnic, multi-sectarian nation-building. The path of least resistance is by definition easier to travel. But it doesn't necessarily take us where we want to go.
Saturday, November 10, 2007
Back At The Ranch
Frankly, I'm surprised to see Angela Merkel reach the Crawford Ranch before Nicolas Sarkozy. All the honor and glory of addressing Congress notwithstanding, I'm betting he's green with envy right about now. Especially given that the EU rumor mill has it that Angie and Nico don't exactly... get along?
After a tour of the property and a round of hamburgers, Merkel expressed support for a third round of UN sanctions if the IAEA reports Iran to the Security Council next week, as well as a very tepid agreement to possibly consider limited unilateral sanctions if absolutely nothing else imaginable shows even the slightest chance of getting Iran to... Well, you get the picture.
Be that as it may, Le Monde fills in some backstory on the visit, and the behind the scenes policy divergences, from the German and European perspective. Specifically, while Washington might be a little impatient with Merkel's reluctance to go along with unilateral sanctions (ie. those not imposed by the UN) as well as her restrained rhetoric, the Germans are convinced their approach is the most effective. As one of Merkel's parliamentary coalition members put it:
Everyone is criticising us for showing signs of weakness, especially in the United States. Meanwhile we're trying to keep the Russians and Chinese on board. (Translated from the French.)
Of course, the fact that Germany remains Iran's primary trading partner might have something to do with their reluctance to impose sanctions as well.
Meanwhile, Sarkozy, with his muscular rhetoric and willingness to go along with unilateral sanctions, has clearly become Bush's go to EU ally on Iran. His stance on unilateral sanctions is especially significant, as Hubert Vedrine pointed out in an article for Telos in September, since it would represent a major shift in French foreign policy doctrine, which until now has relied on multi-lateral and coalition-based consensus to legitimize all interventionist policies, which includes sanctions.
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
In addition to military cooperation and intelligence sharing to fight the PKK in northern Iraq, President Bush promised Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to take some steps to address "transit issues" and "issues with money". What he's referring to is the difficulty Turkey has had convincing the EU to take more aggressive action on the PKK's representatives and front groups operating in Europe. According to a report in Today's Zaman, for example, France has had a policy since the Jospin government of refusing to extradite French-based PKK agents, allowing several of them to disappear despite being on an Interpol "red list" and under police surveillance. Another was able to leave the country and eventually fly, via Vienna, to Iraq:
French and Turkish experts on the PKK file attribute the French government’s attitude toward the PKK to a “political decision” made during the socialist government of Lionel Jospin in 1998. The socialist government had decided not to extradite the PKK militants, even if there were international arrest warrants for them, on grounds of “capital punishment, human rights violations and torture” in Turkey. Turkish requests for extradition and diplomatic notes issued since 1998 are still waiting to be taken into consideration by the French Justice Ministry. Although Turkey has abolished the death penalty and implemented reforms in human rights, the French attitude has not changed. In other words, while it recognizes the PKK as a terrorist organization and condemns its terrorist attacks, France still condones the presence of the terrorist organization in its territories.
The article goes on to say that France "seems to be changing its attitude". Bush's success in getting more such attitude adjustments from our European allies could very well play a role in determining the outcome of the PKK crisis. Good thing we have such an abundance of goodwill over there.
Update: Or over here, seeing as "over there" is where I am.
Monday, October 22, 2007
One Down, One To Go
I won't venture too far into the outcome of the Polish elections, since I admittedly wasn't even aware that they'd taken place until a friend from Poland asked me what I thought of them. I will say that the twins seriously creeped me out, so I'm glad I'll only have to be reading (or not reading, as the case may be) about one of them from here on out. And while they did seem to do a good job of defending Poland's interests in the EU, they did it in such a confrontational way that I doubt that too many European heads of state will be sad to see them go.
Thursday, October 4, 2007
It might be slipping under the radar in the American press, but France and Germany have been engaging in something of an armwrestling match over European industrial projects, dating back at least to last year's negotiations over how to re-structure the European aviation heavyweight, EADS. According to an article in last week's Nouvel Obs (print edition), recent tensions between the two countries are in part a result of German exasperation over Nicolas Sarkozy's frenetic style, and his tendency to "tirer les draps" (French for hogging the covers). Now comes word that Berlin is insisting on structuring the financing of a European satellite GPS system in such a way that stacks the deck for German aerospace contractors, to Paris' (and the rest of Europe's) irritation.
In the traditional logic, these two countries are the motor that drives Europe. And while their relationship has always known peaks and valleys, rumor has it that it's entering a pretty deep valley phase. Which adds some context for Sarkozy's emerging re-alignment of French foreign policy to an American line.
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Options On The Table
With the Bush administration planning to declare the Iranian Revolutionary Guards a terrorist organization, and with the US military increasingly singling out Iran as the principle troublemaker in Iraq, it would be easy to mistake the US-Iran conflict for a one-on-one affair. Of course, that would be to ignore the other players involved, most immediately Israel and the Arab states of the Middle East, all of whom have vested interests in the containment of Iran's regional ambitions.
But there are wider, non-regional interests at stake, and it should come as no surprise that these hinge upon energy considerations. Take, for example, the recent deal signed between Iran and Turkey to construct a pipeline to provide natural gas to the European market. At a time when the US is desperately trying to isolate Iran, American strategic goals run headlong into those of our allies. Namely, the need for the EU to diversify its energy suppliers, thereby reducing its dependence on Russian natural gas. So at a time when we should be consolidating our alliances and trying to weaken those of Iran, our policies run the risk of doing just the opposite.
The problem with the Bush administration hawks who want to confront Iran militarily isn't whether they're right or wrong on the merits of their case against Tehran. (Iran's intentions are impossible to know for sure, and even less possible to predict into the future.) It's whether they've realistically assessed the potential for success.
Munich, 1936 has become the common refrain for those advocating an attack. But while Chamberlain need not have left those meetings with a worthless agreement, no more could he have realistically confronted Hitler's aggression militarily at that time. In other words, a military option with no realistic chance of success is not a real option.
On the other hand, the Iranian-Turkish natural gas pipeline could easily serve as a wedge to weaken Russia's support of the Iranian nuclear energy program. In response to the deal, Russia has already announced that it won't supply any gas to Turkey beyond the amount they've contracted for, as they did just last winter. With Iranian gas production lagging far behind their reserves, that could leave Turkey -- and Europe -- feeling this winter's bite. And that's an option that might prove more effective than any military strike.
Thursday, June 14, 2007
Square Root Of Sarko
Here's one for wonks and political scientists. The stripped down treaty that the EU is trying to substitute for its failed constitution includes a "double majority" voting system. To pass, a measure has to be approved by at least 55% of the member states representing at least 65% of the EU population.
In practice, it means that certain very big countries (read: England, France, Germany, and Italy) can't realistically be left out of any majority, but neither can the mass of very small countries. The problem is that the medium-sized countries (read: Poland and Spain) can neither block a big-small majority nor force through a medium-small one.
Which is why Poland has made a counter-offer. To pass, a measure still needs 55% of the members states' approval. But the population majority is calculated using the square roots of member states' populations. In case you're wondering how that weights the results, consider the comparative populations of France (60 million) and Poland (39 million). Now consider the square roots: 7,745 vs. 6,244.
Poland has promised a veto unless the population majority is re-weighted, threatening to de-rail the urgently needed institutional reforms contained in the treaty. But not to worry. Super Sarkozy is in Warsaw as we speak, ready to work his negotiating magic.
Tuesday, June 12, 2007
The Squeaky Wheel
If the US eventually does get around to dealing with the PKK problem, either directly or by proxy through the Kurds, this article on Turkish relations with Iran might explain why. It might explain the EU's current charm offensive towards Ankara as well.
Thursday, May 10, 2007
After Tony... & Jacques... & Gerhardt...
The news that Tony Blair will be stepping down as Prime Minister of Great Britain at the end of June is significant for all sorts of reasons. One of them being the enormous question mark it leaves, not only in terms of British leadership, but also in terms of Western Europe as a whole. Because with Blair's departure, England, France, Germany, Italy, and Spain will all be governed by relatively new heads of state. And this at a time when the United States is effectively governed without one.
Of course, these folks all know each other from conferences and summits and the like. And as far as the EU goes, the executive personnel are all seasoned pro's. But it takes some time for the balance of forces (and personalities) to settle. Time that -- considering all the sensitive dossiers on the table (Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon) -- isn't necessarily available.
Monday, February 19, 2007
When Bigger Is Not Better
If you want a metaphor for the challenges facing further European political integration, look no further than the Airbus A380. Airbus is the pan-European manufacturing arm of EADS (the European Aeronautic Defense and Space company), with facilities in France, Germany, Spain and England. It's the object of no small amount of European pride, and its rivalry with Boeing is something of a spectator sport over here.
Billed as the largest passenger airplane ever built, the A380 was destined to be the feather in Airbus' increasingly decorated cap. Its initial test-flights in late 2005 and 2006 impressed, and orders streamed in, eventually totalling 166 airplanes (pretty healthy sales for a $300 million bird). Major buyers include Emirates Airlines (43), Lufthansa (15), Qantas (20), and even UPS, which contracted to buy 10 units of the freight model.
In the meantime, in June 2005, before the plane was even test-flown, Airbus announced a six-month production delay. This was followed by another six-month delay announced in June 2006, followed by another delay accompanied by a delivery shedule re-structuring announced in October 2006.
The cause of the problem was ostensibly the cabin wiring, but insiders blamed a power struggle between German and French management factions resulting in poor communication throughout the company.
Now, with production delays of two years, orders in limbo, $6.6 billion in lost projected revenue, and stock value having taken a hit, EADS was supposed to announce a re-structuring plan to cut 10,000 jobs (20% of their workforce) tomorrow. An announcement which was postponed because none of the four countries involved can agree on where to make the cuts.
Which is why if you're waiting to see what an integrated EU foreign policy would look like, or a non-NATO European military force, I've got one piece of advice for you: Don't hold your breath.