Friday, August 29, 2008

Russia Stands Alone

So much for Russia's hopes of igniting a united front against western power and leadership. Russian President Dimitri Medvedev went to the annual summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization seeking the organization's backing for the Russian invasion of Georgia and subsequent recognition of the separatist territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Instead, the SCO refused to lend its support for the Russian endeavor, choosing instead a neutral stance, urging all parties to resolve their differences without war. The SCO furthermore endorsed the basic concept of territorial integrity.

It's difficult to see how Russia made such a strategic mistake, and why it expected to get the SCO's support. The members of the SCO are Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Russia, and China. It's China's presence that makes Russia's move confusing. It seems likely that Russia thought that the opportunity to stand up to the US and NATO would be so appealing that China would jump at the chance. But given China's own domestic problems with separatist regions in Taiwan, Tibet and the Uighurs in the west, it seems foolish to ask China to support a principle that would encourage those regions to break away from China and that would allow outside parties to intervene to support their independence. Furthermore, China does not support any the independence of any separatist regions outside of China, as NATO did with Kosovo and as Russia did in Georgia. And finally, China has become increasingly interdependent on the US and western institutions, like the WTO. It should have been obvious to Russia that China would not back this move.

The move by the SCO reveals the limitations of Russian power and appeal. Russia simply does not have the strategic or ideological attraction that the Soviet Union did during the Cold War. Few states are looking towards Russia as a viable alternative to the US and western leadership and institutions. While Russia's invasion of Georgia may pay off in the short-term, in the long run, Russia will be increasingly alienated from the global community which will, hopefully, be a price Russia would prefer not to pay.

The US should quickly move to exploit the decision by the SCO. The US should be telling China that Kosovo was a one-off, unique situation that will not be repeated, especially not in China. The US and NATO will not certainly not be willing to go to war with China to "free" Tibet or even Taiwan, and the cost of doing so diplomatically is also far too high a price for the west to pay. If China can come to see Russia as a dangerous, free-wheeling state that is a threat to international norms, Russia will be even more isolated. And that may help force Russia back in line.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Can Mercenaries Save Darfur?

An interesting possibility has emerged in the conundrum over what to do about Darfur, and other humanitarian crises that seem to demand international peacemaking. Sadly, politics being what it is, states are unwilling to commit their own soldiers into situations that might costs lives for issues that are not directly seen as being part of the national interest. Thus, states tend to look the other way and pass the buck to international organizations, as happened in Rwanda and is happening in Darfur. When states go ahead and get involved anyway, they tend to do so in a half-assed manner, as the US did in Somalia. Even when IOs, like the UN or the African Union, deploy peacekeepers, they are often ineffective, underfunded, undermanned, and underequipped, hampered by restrictive Rules of Engagement necessary to reach political consensus and soothe states fearful of having their soldiers killed, and are beholden to the whims of sovereign states (for example, despite approving a 26,000 strong peacekeeping force, Sudan's insistence that the force be made up predominantly of African troops has prevented the UN from deploying a sufficiently strong enough presence in Darfur). In short, while the UN may be good at peacekeeping, the (perhaps) more important task of peacemaking is beyond its abilities, and outside of the political will and interest of states that do have the necessary capabilities.

Which brings us to a meeting of bizarre bedfellows last month: the actress and Darfur activist Mia Farrow and Erik Prince, founder and CEO of the government contractor, Blackwater Worldwide. According to an ABC News report:

Farrow told ABC News that Blackwater, despite its controversial history and allegations of murdering civilians in Iraq, might be able to help the "hopelessly under-equipped" African Union forces deployed in Darfur with logistics and training.

"Blackwater has a much better idea of what an effective peace-keeping mission would look like than western governments," Farrow told ABC News from a refugee camp in near the Darfur border. Farrow said those governments have been unsuccessful in standing up to the Sudanese government and bringing peace to the region.


Prince, meanwhile, has reportedly said that with about 250 professionals, Blackwater could transform roughly one thousand of the African Union soldiers into an elite and highly mobile force.

"I'm so sick of hearing that nothing can be done," Prince told the Wall Street Journal last month, calling the Janjaweed, a militia force backed by the Sudanese government, an "unfettered bully."

"No one has stood up to them," he told the Journal. "If they were met by a mobile quick reaction force of African Union soldiers, the Janjaweed would quickly learn their habits were not sustainable."

Prince also told the Associated Press in July that the military "can't be all things to all people" all the time. "There are always going to be some pieces that the private sector can help in."

The possibility of involving a private contractor like Blackwater in a crisis like Darfur has, unsurprisingly, ruffled many feathers. J. Steven Morrison, a Sudan expert for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, argued that "It's preposterous to think there is some magic silver bullet that takes the form of Blackwater or any other private military contractor to solve the problems in Darfur." Furthermore, Blackwater's troubled record in Iraq has led other to question the wisdom of involving this specific company:

Blackwater employees have been involved in two deadly incidents in Iraq that proved to be public relations disasters for the company.

The first was the slaying and mutilation of four Blackwater contractors in 2004 in Fallujah that led to congressional hearings about the protection Blackwater provided its employees.

The second, a September 2007 shooting at a crowded Baghdad intersection that killed 17 Iraqis, triggered congressional hearings and investigations from more than a dozen federal agencies.

Federal prosecutors have sent target letters to six of the security guards involved in the September shooting, indicating a high likelihood the Justice Department will seek to indict at least some of the men, according to reports by the Washington Post on Sunday.

An Iraqi government investigation concluded that the security contractors fired without provocation. Blackwater has said its personnel acted in self-defense.

The question Blackwater in particular is not really one which I am equipped to engage. But the general antipathy to the use of private military trainers and personnel -- mercenaries, if you will -- is, I believe, misplaced. Morrison's worry is one of standard political paralysis: There's no guarantee that a new idea will work, so better to stick with the old idea, even if it's not working. And clearly, international peacemaking efforts aren't working. While the UN dithers and tries to raise enough soldiers and equipment, the janjaweed continue their reign of terror against the people of Darfur. And it's not like the UN has a much better track record than Blackwater: numerous allegations of rape, prostitution, child pornography, and other sexual abuses have dogged UN peacekeepers for years. And, even when UN peacekeepers have been on the ground, events like Srebrenica and Rwanda indicate the limits of their willingness to fight to protect their charges. And waiting for states to get involved hasn't been much better.

So, why not turn to private firms? Note that what Blackwater is discussing here isn't putting its own people into the situation, but rather training the African Union peacekeepers to be competent at their jobs. A private company will not be hampered by a lack of political will or fears of alienating public constituencies. While the world may not yet be ready to use mercenaries for the job itself, using a firm like Blackwater to train those who are willing to go into situations like Darfur should certainly be seriously considered.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

A New Cold War?

The aftermath of the Russian invasion of Georgia in defense of the separatist territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia certainly has not smoothed any of the ruffled feathers. Yesterday, Russia recognized the independence of the break-away territories, making it clear that the invasion was pay-back for the west's protection of and support for Kosovo, which declared its independence from Russian-allied Serbia. The US and most of its allies denounced the move, with the US declaring that it would veto any attempt by Russia to get the UN to recognize the territories' independence. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said “Abkhazia and South Ossetia are a part of the internationally recognized borders of Georgia, and it’s going to remain so.”

Today, the tensions continued to rise, as a US warship arrived in the Georgian port of Batumi, ostensibly to deliver humanitarian aid. However, the interjection of US sailors and vessels into the region will undoubtedly be read by Russia as a signal of the American willingness to support Georgia in any further crises, and perhaps even as a commitment to defend Georgian territorial integrity. In response, Russia sent three warships to a port in Abkhazia, clearly signaling Russian intentions to break the region, along with South Ossetia, away from Georgia. Meanwhile, the Russian invasion prompted Poland to move quickly to accept deployment of an American ballistic missile defense system, a move to which Russia has responded with threats of military action. Russian President Dimitri Medvedev has responded to the west's support of Georgia, as well as the deployment agreement of the ABM system, by stating that “[Russia is] not afraid of anything, including the prospect of a Cold War.”

Is that where all of this is leading? Does Russia, desperate to regain the glory, power, and respect held by the Soviet Union, want to enter into a new global struggle with the United States, NATO, and the western powers? Is the US ready to accept such a development?

While it's possible that Russia prefers a new Cold War to the status quo of weaknesses, dependence, and perceived humiliation, it's not likely to happen. The Russia of the 21st century is a far cry from the Soviet Union. Russia lacks, plain and simple, the military capability, and the power projection in particular, to challenge the US for global leadership. While Russia's economy has strengthened, it has done so largely on the basis of energy exports, which makes Russia as dependent on foreign economies as foreign states are on Russia. Meanwhile, the rest of the economy is underdeveloped and highly dependent on foreign investment, which gives the outside world a fair amount of leverage over Russia. The Russian stock market has taken a beating since the invasion of Georgia, and lost billions of dollars in value with the recognition of independence. Foreign investors, wary about the chance of war, sanctions, or other punishments, are pulling their money out of Russia, and the stock market lost 4.1% of its value, and the ruble has slid 4% as well. Also yesterday, Russian officials acknowledged that Russia is not likely to be admitted into the World Trade Organization any time soon. And while there were real economic concerns over Russia's accession, the invasion more or less sealed Russia's fate.

All of this demonstrates the potential power of engagement. If Russia seeks a new Cold War, it will have to do so at the expense of its domestic economy, which, given that many of the leading Russian government officials are connected to Russian state-owned enterprises (Medvedev was chairman of Gazprom until ascending to the presidency in May), will directly affect their personal finances.

This is not to say that Russia will not continue to challenge the West. But the price of starting a new Cold War is likely far more than Russia would be willing to pay. The US, NATO, and the western powers need to make it painfully clear to Russia that the price for this behavior will be, first and foremost, economic, and secondly, Russian participation in international organizations. Far from being empty, such threats can actually be carried out, and can impose serious costs on Russia.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Russia Learns A Lesson, But Was It The Right Lesson?

In the last few days, the diplomatic wires have been burning up as US officials warn Russia about possible consequences of the invasion of Georgia. SecState Rice is in Tbilisi working on the details of the ceasefire and trying to get Russian troops out of Georgia. President Bush referred to Russia's actions as "bullying and intimidation," warned of as-of-yet unspecified consequences, and wondered, perhaps tellingly, what the G-7 would do about the invasion. SecDef Gates warned that “Russia’s behavior over the past week has called into question the entire premise of that dialogue and has profound implications for our security relationship going forward, both bilaterally and with NATO. If Russia does not step back from its aggressive posture and actions in Georgia, the U.S.-Russian relationship could be adversely affected for years to come.”

So, what did Russia learn from all of these warnings and blustering. Apparently, not much. Despite the signing of a cease-fire, Russian armored vehicles were, as of Friday night in Georgia, moving towards the capital city of Tbilisi, seizing a village about 15 miles out of town. Russian troops also moved west through Georgia, to the town of Abasha, although they seem to have withdrawn. Most concerning, however, was Russia's reaction to the signing of a deal to place a ballistic missile defense system in Poland. A senior Russian defense official lashed out at the move, saying that "cannot go unpunished." This, of course, is of direct and immediate concern to the US. Not only is Poland a member of NATO, but the deal ties the US closer to Poland than ever before:

In exchange for providing the base, Poland would get what the two sides called “enhanced security cooperation,” notably a top-of-the-line Patriot air defense system that can shoot down shorter-range missiles or attacking fighters or bombers.

A senior Pentagon official described an unusual part of this quid pro quo: an American Patriot battery would be moved from Germany to Poland, where it would be operated by a crew of about 100 American military personnel members. The expenses would be shared by both nations. American troops would join the Polish military, at least temporarily, at the front lines — facing east toward Russia.


the United States would be obliged to defend Poland in case of an attack with greater speed than required under NATO, of which Poland is a member.

Polish officials said the agreement would strengthen the mutual commitment of the United States to defend Poland, and vice versa. “Poland and the Poles do not want to be in alliances in which assistance comes at some point later — it is no good when assistance comes to dead people,” the Polish prime minister, Donald Tusk, said on Polish television. “Poland wants to be in alliances where assistance comes in the very first hours of — knock on wood — any possible conflict.”

Would Russia really attack Poland if such an attack risks bringing NATO into the fight? If Russia does attack Poland, would the US go to war to defend its new ally, if that war was against a military power (fading though it is) like Russia?

Certainly, the failure of the West to come to Georgia's aid has emboldened Russia, as has the to-date unwillingness to set out any punishment. But Poland and Eastern Europe are a different story from Georgia. America's credibility, alliance structure, and policies of engagement and enlargement depend on the expansion of NATO and the US's ability to protect its allies. The US cannot fail to protect Poland, even if that means going to war with Russia. Such a war would, hopefully, remain limited (this isn't the Cold War, after all, and Russia doesn't see its interest or sphere of influence as global). But if Russia seeks such a war, it would be far too damaging to American long-term interests not to fight. Which means that the US must be willing to engage in high-stakes brinksmanship to ensure that such a war does not happen and that Russia knows that the US will go to war to defend its NATO ally.

All of these events have the realists waving their "told you so" signs about the dangers of NATO expansion. For realists, the end of the Cold War signaled the end of NATO's relevance; it makes no sense, they argue, to antagonize Russia over Georgia, Ukraine, or Poland. Russia has a legitimate security concern in Eastern Europe, the US does not. Thus, NATO should not push towards Russia's western border.

As I have argued many many times on these pages, the US should not, and does not, understand its interests along the narrow lines outlined by realists. It's not all about power. The problems in Georgia do not represent a victory for realism; they do expose the difficulties in advancing an agenda of engagement and enlargement. If Georgia had been admitted into NATO, Russia's decision to invade would have been made in a very different strategic environment.

US hegemony and leadership has moved much of the world further away from war than it has ever been. But that program requires constant maintenance, and comes at a high cost. The US must not shirk its duty here. President Bush should immediately make it clear that Poland is a member of NATO, and that the US and all NATO members will, if need be, fulfill their obligations to Poland. Then, as soon as possible, a nominal number of US troops should be rushed to Poland, to make a credible demonstration of US will and intent. Russia clearly feels emboldened and empowered by the west's debacle in Georgia. But Russian interests must be put back in their place.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Russia Gets Nervous (But Not Nervous Enough)

In Monday's post on the Russian invasion of Georgia, I wrote that Russian membership in the G-8 should be immediately and indefinitely suspended, if not revoked all together. Of course, I wasn't the only person to suggest such a move. Charles Krauthammer takes the argument one step further, arguing that the US should "suspend the NATO-Russia Council established in 2002 to help bring Russia closer to the West," dissolve the G-8 (later reforming it as the G-7 sans Russia), bar Russia from joining the WTO, and boycott the 2014 Winter Olympics to be held in Russia, just 15 miles from the Georgian border. While neither President Bush nor the presidential candidates have made such concrete proposals, it won't be surprising to such such punishments come down the line in the near future. WTO membership will be hard enough for Russia now, as every member, including Georgia, has to agree to a bilateral agreement with Russia for Russia to join. If President Mikheil Saakashvili can hold on to power (the thrust of the violation of the ceasefire by Russia seems to be replacing Saakashvili with a Russian puppet leader as well as preventing Georgia from retaining the separatist provinces), getting that agreement will be next-to-impossible.

Nonetheless, Russia seems to be a bit worried about these possibilities. Today, a senior Russian official expressed concern, saying that "there are no formal reasons to stop these (accession) talks," and that "The statements that our accession should be delayed because of events in Georgia sound strange. It contradicts basic logic, common sense and promises that were given by the governments of Western countries to Russia." This statement seems to indicate that Russia is concerned about the possibility of being shut out of the global economic system. Of course, Russia doesn't seem too concerned, probably because no such threat is immediately forthcoming.

President Bush should immediately make it clear to Russia what the consequences of this action will be, not only for US-Russian relations, but for Russia's whole approach to the west. Sending humanitarian aid is not enough; the credibility of the American role as protector of the global order is at stake here. Bush needs to move quickly to prevent the Georgian government from collapsing and the Finlandization of Georgia, with Ukraine sure to follow.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Georgia On My Mind

In the wake of this weekend's invasion of Georgia by Russian armed forces, things seem to be proceeding from bad to worse. After Georgian forces took action against ethnic Russian separatists in the region of South Ossetia, Russian forces entered the country in a self-proclaimed effort to force Georgia to "bring peace" to the region. However, Russia quickly expanded the conflict, conducting air strikes against Georgian cities and crossing the border and occupying a military base in the region of Abkhazia. Reports today from Georgia claim that Russian forces have seized a vital highway, effectively splitting Georgia in two, while a Georgian official in the embassy in Russia has said that Russian forces are moving towards the Georgian capital of Tbilisi and that Russia's goals are the "complete liquidation" of the Georgian government.

Most of the blame deservedly falls on Russia for using force to reassert its fading power in areas Russia deems critical to its own national security. And Russia is also clearly sending a message to the West in the wake of the declaration of independence by Kosovo. If NATO is free to use force to intervene in an ethnic conflict over sovereignty, so is Russia. And finally, Russia is likely punishing Georgia for its recent move towards the West, particularly the US, that culminated in Georgia's failed bid to join NATO.

But some blame for this situation must fall on the West as well. NATO allowed Georgia to put itself in a very dangerous position with its bid for membership, and then failed to follow through and admit Georgia. At the time, I wrote that NATO made a bad choice by bowing to Russian concerns over Georgia (and Ukraine); now we see the consequences of that bad choice. Georgia put itself out on a limb by seeking NATO membership (not to mention by contributing troops to Iraq), and the West is now standing by while Russia saws that limb off. Needless to say, this is likely to have a very negative impact on the value of ties to the US, NATO, and the West, if seeking such ties produces an outcome such as Georgia is now experiencing.

What is to be done at this point? Given Russia's membership on the UN Security Council, the UN is not likely to be capable of playing any kind of role, be it meaningful or token, in resolving this crisis. Nor is the NATO-end-around viable here, as war with Russia is certainly not on anyone's radar screen at this point.

However, the West, and particularly the US, must not roll over here. It is vital to send a message to countries, such as Georgia and Ukraine, that warming up to the West will not end in abandonment and a Russian invasion. If globalization, engagement, and other aspects of Western global strategy are to succeed, nations in hot spots must be willing to take risks and confidently believe that those risks will pay off and that the West will help them.

For starters, Russia should have its membership in the G-8 suspended immediately and indefinitely, if not revoked all together. I have long argued that Russia's participation is a joke and more of a sop to a fading former power. But now that membership is a true farce. If Russia chooses to act in this way, it cannot be a participant in the global order. The whole logic of engagement is predicated on the benefits of the global system acting as an inducement for states to liberalize their behavior. Now, not only is Russia's domestic situation problematic, but it's international behavior is as well. Russia cannot be allowed to continue as a member of the G-8 so long as it remains involved in Georgian affairs to this degree.

After that, I'm not sure what steps should follow. But the G-8 has served as a useful carrot in the past, now it is well suited to be a stick.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Peter Rodman, RIP

My first foreign policy mentor, Peter Rodman, died this past Saturday. I first worked with Rodman as an intern when he was the director of Middle East Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. I moved with him to the Nixon Center, where he was Director of National Security Studies. Peter has had an impressive, albeit largely behind the scenes, career at the center of US foreign policy and national security, having been one of Henry Kissinger's top aides during events such as the opening of China, the peace talks ending the Vietnam War, and the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. Peter helped me understand the difficult decisions inherent in policy making, but also worked with me to see how analysis and clear thinking helped uncover the best decision. I hadn't spoken with him in several years, but I will never forget the guidance, support, and wisdom he imparted to a 23 year old intern, eager to learn about foreign policy.

He will be greatly missed.

From the New York Times:

Peter Rodman, Foreign Affairs Expert, Dies at 64

Peter W. Rodman, a foreign policy expert who served every Republican president from Richard M. Nixon to George W. Bush, including as an assistant secretary of defense for nearly six years in the current administration, died on Saturday in Baltimore. He was 64.

The cause was complications of leukemia, said Danielle Pletka, vice president of foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute.

Mr. Rodman was lured into government by his senior thesis adviser at Harvard, Henry A. Kissinger, then the national security adviser, and he became Dr. Kissinger’s aide in negotiations that included the opening of China, peace talks on Vietnam and the Arab-Israeli conflict.

As assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, he traveled with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld to gather allies for the war on terrorism in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. He led a mission to London to help establish the multinational peacekeeping force for Kabul after the overthrow of the Taliban.

His jobs included being director of the State Department’s policy planning staff; a senior editor at National Review; and director of national security programs at the Nixon Center, a foreign policy research organization. He had been a senior fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution since March 2007.

Peter Warren Rodman was born on Nov. 24, 1943, in Boston. He became interested in foreign policy at 4 and later taught himself Russian to listen to Soviet broadcasts, his family said. He graduated summa cum laude from Harvard in three years and earned a master’s degree from Oxford and a law degree from Harvard.

In 1994, he published “More Precious Than Peace: The Cold War and the Struggle for the Third World,” a study of Soviet-American competition in the developing nations that Foreign Affairs called a “tour de force.” Next year, Knopf is to publish his “Presidential Command: Power, Leadership, and the Making of Foreign Policy from Richard Nixon to George W. Bush,” which melds his own experiences with extensive research.

Mr. Rodman also worked extensively with Mr. Kissinger on Mr. Kissinger’s memoirs and published many monographs and articles, some in the popular press.

Mr. Rodman is survived by his wife, the former Veronique Boulad, a daughter, Theodora, and a son, Nicholas, all of Washington; his father, Sumner, and mother, Helen, of Chestnut Hill, Mass; and a brother, John, of Newton Centre, Mass.