Over at the Foreign Policy Association's website, Sean Goforth has ginned up a handy new acronym to describe the latest constellation of threats to U.S. national interests:
Ever since "axis of evil," broad characterizations of geopolitical threats have been considered impolitic, if not ignorant.... The hesitation to label a global threat as such is now sacrificing substance for political correctness. Venezuela, Iran, and Russia constitute a VIRUS of instability that threatens the United States and Western order. This recognition is needed, but the US should learn from past mistakes and avoid a hard-line path similar to the one that resulted from branding "axis of evil."
Clearly, there's some rhetorical tension in that paragraph. One the one hand, VIRUS is just an awesome acronym, and Goforth deserves some props for coming up with it. Seriously, it's catchy, it effectively captures the relationship between the salient actors, and it sounds quite menacing. I can already picture the cable news teasers and one-liners:
"After the break: can the Obama administration combat the VIRUS?"
"When we come back: is the VIRUS running rampant across Latin America?"
"Coming up: forget Tiger Woods, Sean Penn is in danger of spreading the VIRUS!"
The thing is, Goforth concludes with his recommended policy responses to the VIRUS coalition. And they appear to be.... pretty much what's being done right now:
[T]he VIRUS alliance is playing a sophisticated game of brinksmanship. Venezuelan government documents suggest that Chavez hopes to get the US to perceive an immediate threat and overreact, igniting a series of events that will eventually collapse "the empire." More realistically, if Colombia or Israel, key American allies, were to misstep and launch a limited-scale attack against Venezuela or Iran it would further boost anti-Americanism and add weight to claims of imperialism. A final objective appears to be presenting a dilemma that will drive a fissure between the US and Israel, a prospect that Iran's nuclear program may well realize.
Responding to the VIRUS needn't require one bold policy. Talk of regime change should be scuttled for sure-it only justifies more arms purchases and feeds anti-American rhetoric. And focusing just on Iran is feckless. Iran is embedded in an alliance that cobbles Russia's diplomatic protection with a network that spreads "business" investments across three continents to serve strategic purposes.
Instead of antagonizing the VIRUS the United States should seek inoculation through savvy diplomacy that breaks the bonds between its constituent members, which is a realistic objective because Venezuela, Russia, and Iran don't share deep-seeded cultural or economic ties. Luckily for Western security, the VIRUS' venom is being diluted by economic realities on the ground: unemployment is extremely high in all three nations, and Iran and Venezuela have the world's highest rates of inflation. If oil trades at moderate prices, Chavez and his "brother" Ahmadinejad will be left to account for their failure to bring development, though Putin's popularity seems assured no matter how badly the Russian economy sours.
So, according to Goforth, the proper U.S. response to VIRUS appears to be:
A) Don't overreact or overreach;
B) Try to split the constituent members of the VIRUS through assiduous diplomacy; and
C) Be patient and let these economies collapse under their own weight.
Is there anything different betwqeen these policy recommendations and what the Obama administration is currently doing? The only new thing here is the idea of letting oil prices stay relatively low to prevent new infusions of cash into the coffers of these regimes -- although, truth be told, this isn't really that new an idea.
I suspect, however, that Goforth's policy recommendations will not garner much attention. I expect the VIRUS acronym, on the other hand, to spread across the foreign policy community like... well, you know.
The Washington Post's Philip P. Pan had an excellent story today on the ways in which Russia used economic coercion to aid and abet regime change in Kyrgyzstan last week. This part stands out in particular:
After the opposition announced plans for nationwide protests, Putin provided a final spark by signing a decree March 29 eliminating subsidies on gasoline exports to Kyrgyzstan and other former Soviet republics that had not joined a new customs union.
When the tariffs kicked in April 1, Russian fuel shipments to Kyrgyzstan were suspended, said Bazarbai Mambetov, president of a Kyrgyz oil traders association. Within days, gas prices in Bishkek began to climb, enraging residents already angry about sharp increases in utility fees.
As the Kremlin leaned on Bakiyev, it also consulted the opposition, hosting its leaders on visits to Moscow, including in the days before the protests. On the eve of the demonstrations, the Kyrgyz prime minister accused one, Temir Sariev, of telling police that he had met with Putin and had won his support for efforts to overthrow Bakiyev.
What's interesting about this is that Russia didn't rely on "smart sanctions" that would only hurt the ruling elite. They clearly imposed sanctions designed to roust the mass public into action.
Sometimes, dumb sanctions aren't actually all that dumb.
[So you're saying that similar sanctions should be imposed against Iran?--ed. No. Iran is not Kyrgyzstan, and the United States is not Russia. There are too many differences between the two cases to make that facile comparison. I'm just pointing out that there is more than one way for sanctions to change a targeted state's behavior.]
Three Five quick thoughts on the Moscow subway bombing:
1) Who gets the blame? As Clifford Levy points out in the NYT, "Mr. Putin built his reputation in part on his success at suppressing terrorism, so the attacks could be considered a challenge to his stature." On the other hand, one could see Putin trying to shift the blame onto Russian president Dmitri Medvedev or Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov as a way to thwart future rivals. On the other hand, a lot of Russians are already unhappy with the government, and diversionary tactics might not work this time.
2) Is there an international dimension? Russia's neighbors in the Caucasus and Central Asia, along with the United States and China, are praying right now that the suicide bombers were entirely domestic in origin and execution. If there was an international link, one could easily envision nightmare scenarios about Russia's international response.
3) How screwed is the North Caucasus? They were already pretty screwed because of the Putin administration's attempts to crack down on secessionist groups in the region. I seriously doubt that this attack is going to cause Russian leaders to rethink their strategy. If anything, a doubling-down approach is the likely outcome.
4) Hey, Europe might be relevant again!! The New York Times' Steve Erlanger reported on the latest Brussels Forum meeting, at which European security and foreign policy officials kept saying, "we're relevant!!" Given that the highest-ranking U.S. attendee was an Assistant Secretary of State, I'm pretty sure that U.S. officials didn't think that dog would hunt ex ante. A Russia ready to lash out, however, is guaranteed to force more transatlantic consultations.
5) Obama's counter-terrorism policies don't look so bad in comparison. This is unfair -- the process matters just as much as the outcome, and it might be that the Obama administration is just luckier than the Medvedev/Putin administration. Still, the comparison will be made (though Michelle Malkin attempts to link the attacks to Obama's weaknesses on counterterrorism).
Over in Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovich's apparent narrow victory over the Yulia Tymoshenko has had the anticipated effect inside the U.S. foreign policy community -- there's been an exercise in massive navel-gazing. I'm therefore going to make things worse by engaging in meta-navel gazing (usually something I only consider doing with you-know-who).
Let's start with the Century Foundation's Jeffrey Laurenti:
Yanukovych's election yesterday, narrowly edging out prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko in the run-off, spotlights the folly of Washington conservatives who pressed single-mindedly to lock Ukraine (and Georgia) into the Western military alliance during the Bush administration. They discounted deep ambivalence among Ukrainians themselves and sought to override overt opposition from NATO's leading members in western Europe.
Like insects trapped in Baltic amber since dinosaur days, American conservatives remained frozen in a comfortingly simple cold-war view of the world: Russia is incorrigibly suspect and must relentlessly be hemmed in by American power.
That sounds like a cue.... yes, let's click over to The American Interest's Walter Russell Mead:
The apparent victory of Viktor Yanukovych in yesterday’s Ukrainian presidential election is yet another setback to the idea that the world is rapidly becoming a more democratic place....
In hindsight, the choice that we made to extend NATO farther east in gradual steps might have been a mistake. Russia hates NATO expansion and always has. To some Russians it looks like the inexorable approach of a hostile alliance that endangers the motherland; to others it is a constant humiliating reminder of Russian weakness and the west’s arrogant presumption after 1989. The expansion was annoying when it was limited to the former Warsaw Pact Soviet allies; it was maddening and infuriating when it extended to territories that were once part of the USSR like the three Baltic republics of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia. The prospect of a new wave of expansion to include Georgia and Ukraine, and push right up to the Russian frontier, was a worst case scenario nightmare for Russia.
If we were going to expand NATO eastward, we probably should have done it all at once, making agreements in principle and establishing basic interim security treaties with those countries whose actual entry might have to be delayed. What we’ve done instead is like pulling a bandage off tiny bit by bit, endlessly prolonging the agony. We should have ripped the whole thing off twenty years ago. (We should have also thought much more seriously than we ever have about the likelihood that expanding NATO probably ultimately entailed bringing the Russians in as the only way to stabilize the security situation across Europe.) Now the combination of Russian opposition (which, among other things, reduces European enthusiasm for expansion), geopolitical instability (do we want to get sucked into a new Russia-Georgian war?) and the general decline of US interest in Europe make a strong new push for expansion unlikely — even if the Yanukovych government wanted to join NATO.
So here we are: stuck with a security fault line in Europe, while the Russians will continue to fish where there aren’t any signs.
Both of these posts suggests way too much focus on the immediate implications of the election -- a president more favorably disposed towards Moscow.
I think this is one time when the mainstream media actually brings greater value-added to the table. The New York Times' Clifford Levy makes an intriguing suggestion in this news analysis -- that the process of Ukraine's election is more significant than Yanukovich's victory:
[T]he election won by the candidate, Viktor F. Yanukovich, was highly competitive, unpredictable and relatively fair — just the kind of major contest that has not been held in Russia since Mr. Putin, the prime minister, consolidated power.
On Monday, for example, European election monitors praised the election that was held Sunday, calling it an “impressive display” of democracy. Ukraine's election, in other words, did not follow the Kremlin blueprint and, if anything, seemed to highlight the flaws in the system in Russia. As such, it presented a kind of alternative model for the former Soviet Union....
[Analysts said] that while the public ousted the Orange government, it did not want to do away with all aspects of the Orange democracy. They said a backlash would occur if Mr. Yanukovich tried to crack down.
The Ukrainian model may have particular resonance now with recent rumblings of discontent in Russia.
Late last month, antigovernment demonstrations in Kaliningrad, a region in western Russia physically separate from the rest of the country, drew thousands of people and seemed to catch the Kremlin off guard. Some protesters chanted for Mr. Putin’s resignation, complaining about higher taxes and an economy weakened by the financial crisis.
And last week, a prominent politician from what had been perceived as a puppet opposition party unexpectedly turned on the Kremlin and lashed out at Mr. Putin’s domestic policies. “Is opposition and criticism dishonest?” said the politician, Sergey Mironov. “In a civilized society, this is the duty and goal of the opposition.”
It is highly unlikely that Russia will soon have Ukrainian-style openness. The question now is, what will be the long-term impact across the former Soviet Union if Ukraine can follow its successful election with a relatively peaceful transition to a Yanukovich administration?
That's far from guaranteed, if Tymoshenko's latest actions are any indication. And the past is not necessarily encouraging -- Belarusian strongman Alexander Lukashenko won free and fair elections the one time they were held in Belarus, back in 1994.
Still, this is an outcome that should have democracy activists pretty pleased with themselves -- and members of the foreign policy community less obsessed with the international relations version of horse race politics.
Blake Hounshell highlights a tidbit from Henry Paulson's new memoir that caught my attention as well. According to Paulson, in the summer of 2008 Russia approached China to sell off their Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac debt. This merited stories from Bloomberg and the Financial Times. According to the FT:
Russia proposed to China that the two nations should sell Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac bonds in 2008 to force the US government to bail out the giant mortgage-finance companies, former US Treasury secretary Hank Paulson has claimed....
Mr Paulson said that he was told about the Russian plan when he was in Beijing for the Olympics in August 2008. Russia had gone to war with Georgia, a US ally, on August 8.
“Russian officials had made a top-level approach to the Chinese, suggesting that together they might sell big chunks of their GSE holdings to force the US to use its emergency authorities to prop up these companies,” he said.
Fannie and Freddie are known as GSEs or government sponsored enterprises.
“The Chinese had declined to go along with the disruptive scheme, but the report was deeply troubling,” he said. A senior Russian official told the Financial Times that he could not comment on the allegation.
The Russians deny the story in the Bloomberg story, but Ashby Monk points out the possible implications:
Paulson’s report is pretty amazing. If true, it would appear that Russia was plotting economic warfare against the US during the summer of 2008; I don’t really know what else to call it. Their intention was to use their sovereign wealth to purposely weaken and damage the US economy. The fact that all this apparently occurred around the same time that Russia was engaged in a traditional war with Georgia, a US ally, lends some credibility to the idea.
This revelation–while unconfirmed–will not comfort those in the West that fear SWFs; it doesn’t help anybody if these funds are seen to be potential weapons of economic destruction…
Let's assume this is true for the sake of making life interesting. There's still a few more pieces of data I'd like to have before drawing conclusions.
Monk assumes that the Russians did this for geopoltical reasons. If memory serves, however, China and Russia were both concerned about protecting the value of their GSE debt. Forcing the U.S. government to intervene would have helped protect their remaining holdings. So this might have been an entirely commercial gambit.
Second, this really isn't about sovereign wealth funds per se but about official holdings of U.S. debt and equities. Some people think this is a real problem -- others don't. Readers should provide their thoughts in the comments.
Third, the fact that the Russians thought the Chinese would go along with them on this says a lot about the delusions Russian leaders had during the Russian-Georgian conflict. They really seem to have believed that China, other members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and the rest of the Collective Security Treaty Organization would be perfectly cool with Russia recognizing the independence of two secessionist states -- just because it would be an affront to the U.S.A. Whoops.
This raises my provocative but closing point -- that the Russian-Georgian war might have been the best thing that could have happened for the bilateral relationship. Despite all the doomsaying at the time, the conflict -- combined with Great Recession -- had a modest humbling effect on Russian ambitions. The commodity bubble - which had fuelled Russia's economic growth and self-confidence for the past decade - popped in the summer of 2008. The recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia abetted a capital outflow that had begun in reaction to the Russian government's heavy-handedness in picking winners and losers in the domestic economy. These trends, if nothing else, likely highlighted the opportunity costs of continued bellicosity to Russian elites and Russian policymakers.
At the same time, the invasion itself provided a moment of clarity to U.S. policymakers about the precise limits of their influence when dealing with balky republics in the Caucasus. Even as a candidate, Obama articulated a "realist internationalist" position towards the Russian Federation. This approach recognizes Russia's great power status and the utility of a great power concert in dealing with global trouble spots. Rather than prioritizing human rights, democratization, or even economic interests in the bilateral relationship, this policy position prioritizes great power cooperation on matters of high politics, such as nuclear nonproliferation and the containment of rogue states that transgress global norms.
You can argue about the priorities, but on the whole I think this policy has worked. The war allowed both sides to confront the costs of continuing down a very negative trajectory. They both stepped away from the brink.
This is worth thinking about whem mulling over a different bilateral relationship that's had a bad few months.
I, for one, am glad that the foreign press is brave enough to cover what America's mainstream media is not -- the U.S. government's complicity in causing the Haitian earthquake. Never mind that the foreign media echo chamber aparentluy started with a false rumor -- with luck, our MSM will now start asking the tough questions.
Why, you might ask? What is America's motivations to trigger Haiti's earthquake and then intervene with massive aid in the hemisphere's poorest country? Well, there are different theories bandied about.
Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez suggests that this was a practice "drill," designed to test the earthquake weapon before targeting Iran (though see the update below). Very clever!! It is unclear whether Chavez believes that this is a test of the "demonstration effect" variety or not. It is also unclear just how such an earthquake would actually destroy Iran's nuclear program -- the 2003 Bam earthquake certainly didn't.
This Canadian-based Centre for Research on Globalization's Ken Hildebrandt offers the following ingenious explanation:
You've likely guessed my suspicions about recent events. I'm not saying this is what occurred, though it's sure a possibility to be considered in my view.
This could hardly have happened at a more convenient time. The president's ratings are plummeting, and his bill to subsidize the insurance industry has essentially divided the nation in two.
What better way to lead the people into believing we're one big happy family than to reunite former Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush along with Obama in a joint humanitarian effort?
This is so convenient... and brilliant!! It makes perfect sense that the Obama administation would try to kill upwards of 200,000 Haitians in order to bring the country together as one! Because, clearly, in recent years, natural disasters have bolstered the standing of U.S. presidents!! Certainly, a calamity in Haiti would work even better! If only Rush Limbaugh had played ball....
What I love about conspiracies like these is the careful balancing of smart and stupid that the key actors have to possess in order for the plan to work as described.
Question to readers: how far and how wide will this meme travel?
UPDATE: I just received the following from a atrategic communications advisor to the Venezuelan Embassy in the United states:
In response to your recent post on Foreign Policy’s website, I just wanted to clarify that President Hugo Chavez never associated himself with the theory that a
U.S.weapon had caused the earthquake in . Haiti
The claim was made by a blogger on the website of a state-run yet independent television station. At some point thereafter, someone jumped to the conclusion that President Chavez had agreed or repeated the claim, which is absolutely not true. President Chavez did argue against an increased
U.S.military presence in , but at no point did he question what had caused the earthquake or aligned himself with any conspiracy theories to that effect. Haiti
If it's early January, then it's time for Russia to play hardball with one of its neighbors and put a mild scare into Western Europe:
Russia has stopped shipments of oil to Belarus following a dispute about pricing, oil traders said on Monday.
The move will set off alarm bells in Europe, triggering memories of last January’s natural gas war between Russia and Ukraine that left several eastern European cities without gas for days. Oil, however, is more fungible than gas, and easily made up with alternative suppliers, so the consequences of the dispute are unlikely to be as severe....
The cut-off follows the failure of negotiations between Minsk and Moscow in the closing days of last year on new tariff arrangements for transit of Russian oil onward to Europe.
On January 1 a spokesman for the Belarus government told Interfax news agency that “unprecedented pressure” had been put on their delegation during the negotiations. Minsk called on Russia to continue supplies to Belarus under the old terms, until a new agreement could be reached.
It warned that Russian demands would violate a customs union agreement signed last year by Belarus, Russia and Kazakhstan, and “would undermine all agreements reached on the further integration of our states”.
The dispute is likely to present an?obstacle to closer ties between the two countries. Belarus is virtually Russia’s only ally among former Soviet republics.
In this bilateral relationship, Belarus is Charlie Brown to Russia's Lucy. Every time the Belarusian government believes it has embedded Russia into an institution that affords it some protection, Russia pulls away the football.
Belarus' geostrategic problem is that its a buffer state with no natural ally, no natural resources, and a human rights situation that is so God-awful that no one in the West likes the country very much.
A theme common to all social scientists in the United States is the complaints lodged at "human subjects committees" or "institutional review boards" (IRBs). These are committees set up to ensure that faculty research projects do not lead to the mistreatment of the human subjects that are the focus of said research. This is all to the good for those researchers who are giving human subjects experimental drugs and treatments, mostly to the good for researchers who are running psychological experiments on test subjects, and one whopper of an inconvenience for the rest of us who have to get IRB approval for completely unintrusive investigations.
In the New York Times, however, Ellen Barry writes about some new requirements for professors at St. Petersburg State University who wish to present overseas. Their new requirements will make me a little less likely to bitch about IRB procedures:
Word spread this month among the faculty members of St. Petersburg State University: According to a document signed on Oct. 1, they have to submit their work to administrators for permission before publishing it abroad or presenting it at overseas conferences.
The order, which was circulated internally and made its way onto a popular Internet forum, says professors must provide their academic department with copies of texts to be made public outside Russia, so that they can be reviewed for violation of intellectual property laws or potential danger to national security....
Though scientists have long been subject to export control rules, the St. Petersburg order applies to the humanities as well. It asks for copies of grant applications to foreign organizations, contracts with foreign entities, curriculums to be used for teaching foreign students and a list of foreign students, along with their plans of study.
Deans will clear the work for publication or submit it to an internal export control commission for review, said Igor A. Gorlinsky, the university’s vice rector for scholarly and scientific work. The order was issued to clarify a rule that has been on the university’s books for a decade, but that existed “only on paper,” he said. Dr. Gorlinsky added that the plan might be adjusted or streamlined in response to faculty feedback....
He said he doubted that work in the humanities would be affected unless it violated the university’s intellectual property rights.
“What state secrets could there be in the sphere of political science?” he said (emphasis added).
Seth Robinson has a interesting essay over at The New Republic that explains why Russia is loathe to sanction Iran over nuclear issues. The key part:
How does Russia benefit from its nuclear cooperation with
? Simple economics provides a compelling first answer: The Russian economy has not only reaped the benefits of the Bushehr deal, but it has also been bolstered by the sale of fuel and the potential sale of additional reactors. What's more, the nuclear project is only one of many economic agreements between the two countries. Total bilateral trade hovers around $2 billion, as Iran Russiasupplies with consumer goods, oil and gas equipment, and military technology. Iran Russiaalso enjoys privileged access (along with China) to 's Southern Pars gas fields.... Iran
Iranis still a powerbroker in the Caspian oil trade; its position on the Caspian Sea, which is estimated to hold more than 10 billion tons of oil reserves, makes it an important and influential partner for . Russia has been extensively involved in coordinating transnational oil and gas deals, arranging transportation of exports with a number of regional states. Tehran Russiais in a position to use its good relations with Iranto challenge 's efforts to create new pipelines and foreign direct investment in the Caspian region. Washington Iranhas already proven an effective regional ally for Russia--in addition to cooperating on energy deals, Tehranhas pointedly refrained from criticizing Moscow's Chechnyapolicy and has held strategic meetings with on the Taliban. Moscow
Finally, Russian nuclear cooperation with
Iranprovides the Kremlin with leverage over the . United States remains guarded against Western advances into its "near abroad," and has fought to keep neighboring states from being brought into the NATO fold. By dangling the Iranian nuclear issue in front of the Moscow United States, may believe it has a means to maintain regional dominance. Russian leaders have already extracted concessions from Moscow Washington, as the United Statesrecently altered plans for missile defense in Polandand the . Yielding on the Czech Republic Iranissue would strip Moscowof the ability to coerce the and damage its own ability to reassert local influence. United States
The first reason is both sufficient and compelling; I'm not entirely sure I buy the latter two. Iran's nuclear program gave the United States just cause to insert missile programs into Eastern Europe in the first place -- so Iran's nuclear ambitions have caused as many problems for Russia's near abroad as they have ameliorated. As for the Caspian argument, it's not clear how a Russian-Iranian axis challenges U.S. energy diplomacy in the region. If anything, that axis probably incentivizes the smaller energy producers to find a viable pipeline alternative that flows outside of Moscow and Tehran's orbit.
That said, the economic interest argument is pretty powerful. So, does this mean sanctions would be fruitless? Not necessarily. The paradox about economic sanctions is that although allies are more reluctant to coerce each other, they are also more successful once they make the decision to coerce. At the same time, successful sanction efforts almost always end at the threat stage. So if Russia ever signaled that it would seriously contemplate a cut-off in bilateral exchange, the Iranians would be likely to concede before implementation.
This is the outcome the Russians would prefer the most -- a mild threat from the P5 + 1 prods Tehran into taking just enough action to avoid further isolation, and any further implementation of sanctions.
But I could be wrong. Persuade me in the comments.
According to the Associated Press, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev wants to get outside of the DC beltway in his next trip to the USA:
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev says he would like to meet with "dissidents" when he visits the U.S. next week.
Russian news agencies quote him as telling a group of visiting foreign experts that "I believe there are dissidents in the United States."
ITAR-Tass quotes him as saying: "Let them tell me what problems the United States has. That won't be bad, considering the Soviet experience."
I think that this is a fantastic idea, when one considers the potential pool of dissidents. Fortunately, Andy Heil has come up with a list of possibile dissidents at RFERL's Transmissions blog. His list:
This is an excellent start, but I think we can add a few names to the old dissident list. Let me think.... who else is railing against the System these days?
I'm just trying to imagine Medvedev meeting this crew.
Commenters are encouraged to suggest additional names in the comments.
In a legen -- wait for it -- dary blog post, Belle Waring mentioned the pony problem in public policy. Namely, "an infallible way to improve any public policy wishes. You just wish for the thing, plus, wish that everyone would have their own pony!"
I bring this up because of David Sanger's New York Times story about the prospects of imposing a gasoline embargo on Iran:
The Obama administration is talking with allies and Congress about the possibility of imposing an extreme economic sanction against Iran if it fails to respond to President Obama's offer to negotiate on its nuclear program: cutting off the country’s imports of gasoline and other refined oil products....
But enforcing what would amount to a gasoline embargo has long been considered risky and extremely difficult; it would require the participation of Russia and China, among others that profit from trade with Iran. Iran has threatened to respond by cutting off oil exports and closing shipping traffic through the Strait of Hormuz, at a moment that the world economy is highly vulnerable.
The rest of the story is kind of irrelevant -- because without China and Russia, this is just a theoretical exercise. In fact, here's a good time-saver: if you read any story about a gasoline embargo o Iran, just scan quickly and get to the part where the reporter explains how and why Russia and China would go along. If it's not mentioned, the story is inconsequential.
If you want China and Russia to agree to sanctions, should you wish for the free pony as well? Here the growth of dissent in Iran complicates an already complicated picture. I'm betting that Moscow and Beijing have observed the "Death to Russia!" and "Death to China!" chants among the protestors. This is likely going to make them even more reluctant to do anything that undermines the current regime (even if this hurts their long-term interests). Which a gasoline embargo would most certainly do.
Do I think a gasoline embargo is a good idea? Absolutely. Do I think it will happen? No, I don't.
The reality is the Russians are where they are. They have a shrinking population base, they have a withering economy, they have a banking sector and structure that is not likely to be able to withstand the next 15 years, they're in a situation where the world is changing before them and they're clinging to something in the past that is not sustainable.
If Biden was just shooting the breeze off the record, I'd be hard-pressed to disagree with anything in the quotes. I'm pretty sure, however, that part of "smart power" is not being gratuitously insulting to fellow members of the nuclear club. Maybe, just maybe, they'll take this kind of dumbass statement personally.
Don't take my word for it, though -- take Joe Biden's:
It is never smart to embarrass an individual or a country when they're dealing with significant loss of face. My dad used to put it another way: Never put another man in a corner where the only way out is over you. It just is not smart.
The word "stupid" has been thrown around a lot this week, but I think it applies pretty well to Biden's language.
This bit from the Los Angeles Times' account of today's Tehran protests is veeeeeeeeerrrrrry interesting.
At times the two camps appeared to be shouting directly at each other, exposing the still-festering election rift within Iranian society and the political establishment underneath both at the Friday prayer enclosure on the university campus and on the streets outside.
As Mousavi supporters chanted "Death to the dictator," against Ahmadinejad, his supporters chanted "Death to opponents" of Khamenei.
As hard-liners repeated their signature cries of "Death to America" and "Death to Israel," riled-up Mousavi supporters overpowered them with chants of "Death to Russia" and "Death to China," the Islamic Republic's powerful United Nations Security Council protectors.
This little exchange underscores the fact that the United States is not the only great power with a stake in the outcome of what happens in Iran.
That said, one wonders if Russia and China will respond by doubling down on the current regime -- i.e., aiding and abetting Khamenei, Ahmadinejad, and the Revolutionary Guards in order to ensure a friendly Iran.
If this happens, 2009 could be a bizarro-world replay of 1953, when the United States backed a coup in Tehran order to ensure a U.S.-friendly regime. That move gave the United States 25 years of a friendly Iranian government, immediately followed by thirty years of a hostile Iranian government.
Readers, does this analogy hold up?
During the transition, Barack Obama voiced numerous concerns about being trapped in the Presidential "bubble," cut off from the rest of the real world. Oddly enough, this is also a concern of 30 Rock.
If this New York Times story by Clifford J. Levy and Ellen Barry is any indication, the bubble seems to have completely enveloped Obama's White House staff:
Crowds did not clamor for a glimpse of him. Headlines offered only glancing or flippant notice of his activities. Television programming was uninterrupted; devotees of the Russian Judge Judy had nothing to fear. Even many students and alumni of the Western-oriented business school where Mr. Obama gave the graduation address on Tuesday seemed merely respectful, but hardly enthralled....
Some Obama aides said they were struck by the low-key reception here, especially when compared with the outpouring on some of his other foreign trips. Even Michelle Obama, who typically enjoys admiring coverage in the local news media when she travels, has not had her every move chronicled here.
Seriously? Seriously?! The President of the United States visits a staunchly nationalist country that has significant conflicts with Washington, and the charm offensive didn't take? Well, blow me down!!
When/if Obama visits China and India, his staffers might have some more rude awakenings in their future.
President Obama gave a speech today in Moscow outlining his view of the Russian-American relationship. This was the part that stuck in my academic IR craw:
There is the 20th century view that the United States and Russia are destined to be antagonists, and that a strong Russia or a strong America can only assert themselves in opposition to one another. And there is a 19th century view that we are destined to vie for spheres of influence, and that great powers must forge competing blocs to balance one another.
These assumptions are wrong. In 2009, a great power does not show strength by dominating or demonizing other countries. The days when empires could treat sovereign states as pieces on a chess board are over. As I said in Cairo, given our independence, any world order that -- given our interdependence, any world order that tries to elevate one nation or one group of people over another will inevitably fail. The pursuit of power is no longer a zero-sum game -- progress must be shared. (emphasis added)
If he had said, "The pursuit of prosperity is no longer a zero-sum game," I'd be fine with the passage. I still think power is a zero-sum concept, however. The two ideas are linked but hardly the same.
Obama is hardly the first president to mangle IR concepts in his speeches -- remember "a balance of power that favors freedom"?
Still, I hope that's a rhetorical flourish rather than a genuine belief of the administraion.
With Obama in Russia today, there are soome different blog takes on what to expect from bilateral relationship.
Dave Schuler thinks Russian and American interests are increasingly incompatible:
[T]here isn’t much basis for a good relationship between Russia and the United States. Russia’s population is dwindling, its economy languishing, it survives largely by selling its natural resources. Russia would be a difficult market for American goods and its natural customer for its oil and gas is Europe. We don’t really need Russia’s cooperation on pressing world issues like climate change.
Russia has had consistent and clear interests over the period of the last 200 years or more: annexing or at least neutralizing its neighbors.
The US-Russia relationship is multifaceted, and there’s plenty of stuff we disagree about. And within the category of “stuff we disagree about” there’s a particular sub-category of stuff that it’s exceedingly unlikely we’re going to agree about. Most notable among these is Russia’s relationship with the post-Soviet countries....
There’s a certain amount of sentiment in the United States that not only should the U.S. continue to disagree with Russia’s perspective on this, but that we ought to somehow elevate such disagreement to the very top of the U.S.-Russian bilateral relationship. The president should go over there, denounce the Russians, get denounced back, and then come back to Washington empty handed but full of self-righteousness. This is part and parcel of the phenomenon whereby people don’t grasp the difference between a pundit and a president. It makes a lot more sense to focus a visit on something like the nuclear issue, where U.S. and Russian interests are roughly in alignment and some high-level discussions stand a decent chance of bearing fruit.
I'm gonna side with Yglesias on this one, mostly because I don't think I buy Schuler's logic connecting Russia's strategic situation and the absence of any basis for a good relationship between Washington and Moscow. I agree with Schuler that the reservoir of anti-Americanism in Russia runs long and deep. That said:
Am I missing anything?
I'll be on the road most of tomorrow, so blogging might not be possible. Before I go, however, it's worth considering the ways in which the ongoing social uprising in Iran is tripping up great powers other than the United Ststes.
There have been some interesting developments here -- particularly with regard to Russia. Andrew Sullivan posts the following from a reader:
Famed film director, Mohsen Makhmalbaf, on behalf of Mousavi's campaign, was on BBC just now, He accused Ahamdinejad of giving up Iran's rights in Caspian Sea and other areas in the last 4 years and now is enjoying Russia's firm backing. Then he called it a Russian Coup! He said he has information that high ranking Russian advisers are teaching Ahmadinejad's thugs as to how to oppress the opposition effectively. This is Mohsen Makhmablf, not just any director. Already Iranians are gathering in front of Russian consulate in Toronto.
Over at TNR, Julia Ioffe takes a look at Russian press coverage of the election -- and more intriguingly, the Russian government's rapidly evolving relationship with Ahmadinejad:
[T]he winds are changing. Obama has taken a less militant tone with Tehran and with Moscow. Medvedev, lately showing more sleight of hand than his predecessor, seems to have finally picked up on the world's extreme skepticism about the election results and the growing seriousness of the unrest in Iran.
Here's what happened: Slated to arrive in Yekaterinburg on Monday for the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit (Iran is an observer in the group, which is a sort of answer to NATO in Asia), Ahmadinejad postponed his trip because of the situation at home. When he finally arrived yesterday, Ahmadinejad found that his two-hour tete-a-tete with President Dmitri Medvedev had been canceled due to the president's "overly-saturated schedule." Instead, he shook hands in front of the cameras with Medvedev, whose spokesperson insisted that this fleeting encounter was nothing more than a flicker "on the sidelines." As Gazeta noted in its main headline on Iran of the day, "Ahmadinejad Can Wait."
I'm not sure this backtracking will be terribly adroit. If Ahmadinejad and Khamenei fall, methinks it's going to be pretty easy for the new Iranian leadership to Google this AP story:
"It's quite symbolic that the Iranian president arrived in Russia on his first foreign visit since re-election," Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said at a briefing. "We see that as a sign that the Russian-Iranian relations will advance further."....
Ryabkov said the election was Iran's internal affair, but he endorsed Ahmadinejad as the victor.
"We welcome the fact that the elections have taken place, and we welcome the newly re-elected Iranian president on the Russian soil," he said. "We see this visit as a reflection of partner-like, neighborly and traditionally friendly relations between Moscow and Tehran."
A pure realist might argue that regardless of who is in power in Iran, the bilateral relationship with Russia will remain strong. A week ago, I would have agreed with this position. Now, however, we're talking about a regime transition, as opposed to the simple change in government that would have taken place with a clean Mousavi victory last week. And new regimes remember who helped their domestic adversaries in the past.
An Iran led by a representative government unfettered by the clerics is a game-changer on several levels. If a new Iranian regime wants to talk turkey with the Obama administration, then the United States suddenly needs Russia a whole lot less. Authoritarian states everywhere will become much more nervous about contagion effects. I'm not sure how the Sunni regimes in the region would react to a liberalizing Iran, but I'm betting that they wouldn't like it. Come to think of it, the effect on Iraq is unclear as well, but I'm pretty sure there would be some effect. I'm trying to game out how it would affect energy markets, and my head hurts from trying to weigh the cross-cutting effect on all of the variables.
As the previous paragraphs suggest, I'm pretty sure a Rubicon has been crossed in Iran that can't be uncrossed. This isn't 1999 and 2003 -- too many days have passed with the Khamenei regime on the defensive. The regime as it existed for the past twenty years -- hemmed-in democracy combined with clerical rule -- is not going to be able to continue. With the largest protests of the past week scheduled for tomorrow, I think this ends in one of two ways: the removal of Ahmadinejad and Khamenei from power, or bloodshed on a scale that we cannot comprehend.
Actually, come to think of it, those two outcomes are not mutually exclusive.
Not everything going on in international relations is about Iran. My latest column at The National Interest Online evaluates yesterday's BRIC Heads of State summit in Yekaterinaburg. The closing paragraph:
[T]hink of the BRIC grouping as an homage to other toothless international groupings. Indeed, most of the official BRIC communiqué consisted of pledges to do things that will clearly not be done, like finish the Doha trade round. In doing this, the BRIC coalition appears to be quickly learning from the grand tradition of fruitless G-8 and G-20 communiqués.
The New York Times' Peter Baker breaks a story about the Obama administration's efforts to engage in linkage politics with Russia:
President Obama sent a secret letter to Russia's president last month suggesting that he would back off deploying a new missile defense system in Eastern Europe if Moscow would help stop Iran from developing long-range weapons, American officials said Monday.
The letter to President Dmitri A. Medvedev was hand-delivered in Moscow by top administration officials three weeks ago. It said the United States would not need to proceed with the interceptor system, which has been vehemently opposed by Russia since it was proposed by the Bush administration, if Iran halted any efforts to build nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles.
The officials who described the contents of the message requested anonymity because it has not been made public. While they said it did not offer a direct quid pro quo, the letter was intended to give Moscow an incentive to join the United States in a common front against Iran. Russia’s military, diplomatic and commercial ties to Tehran give it some influence there, but it has often resisted Washington’s hard line against Iran.
“It’s almost saying to them, put up or shut up,” said a senior administration official. “It’s not that the Russians get to say, ‘We’ll try and therefore you have to suspend.’ It says the threat has to go away.”
Three things of interest here:
The Times story has already been updated with Medvedev's reaction:
On Tuesday, a press secretary for Dmitri A. Medvedev told the Interfax news agency that the letter did not contain any “specific proposals or mutually binding initiatives.”
Natalya Timakova said the letter was a reply to one sent by Mr. Medvedev shortly after Mr. Obama was elected.
“Medvedev appreciated the promptness of the reply and the positive spirit of the message,” Ms. Timakova said. “Obama’s letter contains various proposals and assessments of the current situation. But the message did not contain any specific proposals or mutually binding initiatives.”
She said Mr. Medvedev perceives the development of Russian-American relations as “exceptionally positive,” and hopes details can be fleshed out at a meeting on Friday in Geneva between Foreign Minister Sergei V. Lavrov and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Mr. Obama and Mr. Medvedev will meet for the first time on April 2 in London, officials said Monday.
My hunch is that, in the end, the Russians will spurn this deal [UPDATE: Drezner gets results from Dmitri Medvedev!]. Russia has sizeable commercial and strategic interests in Iran, and will want to maintain as much flexibility as possible in dealing with Tehran. If Moscow is smart, however, they will try to parlay this as a means for acting as the interlocutor between Iran and the West.
On the other hand, it seems though the Obama administration can't lose. If the Russians say no, then Obama's hand is strengthened in both Western and Eastern Europe, and Russia loses some leverage in trying to get missile defense out of their backyard.
VP Joe Biden gave a speech at the Munich Security Conference today that made quite a splash.
The main themes of the speech were about American outreach to Iran and Russia, Still, the Washington Post's Craig Whitlock reported the following oddity:
Biden is scheduled to meet privately later this weekend in Munich with Sergei Ivanov, Russia's deputy prime minister. While he was conciliatory in his speech, Biden also signaled that the Obama administration would take a tough line when necessary.
For example, he said the U.S. government would not recognize the breakaway Caucasus republics of Abkhazia or South Ossetia, which seceded after the war in Georgia and has received strong Russian support.
This is Biden's example of a tough line? Well, whoa, blow me down!!
In not recognizing Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the United States has bravely aligned itself with... every other country in the world except for Russia and Nicaragua. This is a tough line like saying the U.S. government would also not recognize Vladimir Putin as King of the World.
We'll see how Tehran and Moscow respond to the outreach. I do like the fact that the "America will extend a hand to those who unclench their fists" line from Obama's inaugural address is now part of U.S. lexicon. It's a clever framing that puts the onus on Iran and Russia.
The falling price of oil and increased political risk following the conflict in Georgia played a prominent role in driving Russia’s stock market to new lows on Wednesday. But bankers and traders said that the underlying reason for the selling was a liquidity crunch of the kind that affected western markets a year ago but has only recently appeared in Russia - a serious cash shortage that is forcing banks and funds to sell otherwise attractive assets. Analysts said the market was being forced down as leading Russian businessmen and funds had to liquidate positions due to margin calls as they were unable to raise cash elsewhere.This is interesting, because as although these tycoons need the Russian government, the Russian government needs their support as well. Meanwhile, Russian President Dmitri Medvedev tries to calm everyone down, with limited success:
Russia is considering using money from its national wealth fund and pension fund to support financial markets where necessary in the future, Alexei Kudrin, finance minister said on Thursday as the country’s stock market trod water despite government moves to bolster confidence. In an unprecedented bid to reassure investors Mr Kudrin said: ”There are several proposals for the banking community to improve the instruments that would allow (markets) to calmly work in this environment,” ”Among these is a proposal to place pension fund money and national wealth fund money on the domestic market. In future it will be possible if it becomes necessary,” Mr Kudrin told reporters, adding the money would be placed in securities. The comments failed to impress the market. On Thursday, the dollar-denominated RTS index opened marginally higher before edging 0.1 per cent lower to 1,333.27, following an almost 12 per cent drop during the previous two sessions. The country’s more heavily traded rouble-denominated Micex index rose 0.6 per cent to 1,120.98. Intervention would knock Russia’s sovereign rating if it proved to be more than a verbal attempt to prop up the stock market, analysts warned.[You're going to say that the war with Georgia caused all of this right?--ed.] Oh, hell, no. There's a lot more going on. This Lex summary seems pretty accurate to me:
Put aside Georgia, TNK-BP, and Vladimir Putin’s verbal mugging of Mechel and there were already good reasons why Russia’s market started falling in May, long before tanks trundled through the Roki tunnel. Those are the recovering dollar – forcing closure of long rouble positions – and falling prices of oil and commodities, whose long rally had underpinned the rise of Russian equities. Those factors are still in play, and fuelling the swing out of all big emerging markets. In Russia’s case they have come together with a big – and justified – leap in political risk that has turned what might have been a more orderly retreat into a rout.My take is that Russia badly miscalculated the economic and political costs of some of their actions -- in particular, the recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. We'll see if Medvedev can talk up the markets. My gut -- it's all about the gut these days -- thinks that this sounds a lot more like Kevin Bacon in Animal House (go to 6:10 on the video). Developing..... UPDATE: I see that Putin is doing his best Kevin Bacon impersonation as well. He's also blaming "speculators" on the whole kerfuffle.
The euphoria that followed the destruction of Georgian's $2 billion Army and the humiliation of President Saakashvili has dissolved. And for the first time since Vladimir Putin – and his muscled, uncompromising, and vindictive world view – came to power in 1999, serious voices are expressing doubts about his judgment. They clearly feel that Russia has not emerged onto the world stage quite so authoritatively as Mr. Putin may have thought; the country has instead stumbled into a dangerous and debilitating trap. A number of prominent Russian foreign policy analysts saw the recognition of the disputed territories coming and warned urgently against it. They include a highly experienced diplomat and former government minister, Alexei Adamishin. "Russia has every moral right to recognize the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia," he wrote in an opinion piece beforehand. But the consequences will be "catastrophic." A couple of weeks earlier, Sergei Karaganov, of the Council for Foreign and Defense Policy, Russia's equivalent of the Council on Foreign Relations, urged the Kremlin to think carefully before recognizing the two secessionist states. Equally grim analyses have followed the announcement, and there are indirect signs of concern in the business community.... [Putin] trusts very few people. Aides say he makes policy on key issues – Georgia, Ukraine, NATO – himself, along with a small circle, and tends to improvise. He shows little interest in the Russian stock market, which has taken a battering since the outbreak of the Georgia crisis, while most of the mega-rich, many of them close associates, have attained their fortune by obeying one rule: Do exactly what Putin says. In the past, everybody obeyed this rule, and many in the ruling elite were genuinely convinced that he was the right leader for these times. Now, doubts are creeping in, and people are bracing themselves for tense years. The strong man has started to show his weaknesses.Clearly, Russia will pose significant regional headaches for the United States and other countries for some time to come. There's a big difference, however, between "regional headache" and "major shift in the distribution of power." *Let's stipulate that while I'm not 100% confident that everything on the Wikipedia page is correct, I am over 90% confident about the relevant information.
IVAN: OK, so how did this happen, Sergei? SERGEI: Look, we had him in the back of the car, but then he was complaining about this spring that pokes out of the seat cushion... he had a point, that thing drove all the other accidental shooting victims really crazy. Hits you right in the sciatica. So we stopped the car and switched seats so he could sit in the front passenger seat. And then I was doing that thing with my gun, you know, where I do my Sipowicz impersonation? IVAN: That always kills.... SERGEI: Right!! He was laughing, I was laughing, and then we hit that darn pothole on the road out of the Narzan airport, and BANG! Just like in Pulp Fiction. IVAN: OK, but you hit the pothole twice, right? SERGEI: Oh, sure, because we retraced our steps to figure out what the heck happened the first time. IVAN: (snaps notebook shut) That's good enough for me!Readers are encouraged to script their own explanation.
One minor casualty of the recent conflict in Georgia was the doctrine of peace through McGlobalization — a belief first elaborated by Thomas Friedman in 1999, and left in ruins on August 8, when Russian troops moved into South Ossetia. “No two countries that both had McDonald’s had fought a war against each other since each got its McDonald’s,” wrote Friedman in The Lexus and the Olive Tree (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux). Not that the fast-food chain itself had a soothing effect, of course. The argument was that international trade and modernization — and the processes of liberalization and democratization created in their wakes — would knit countries together in an international civil society that made war unnecessary. There would still be conflict. But it could be contained — made rational, and even profitable, like competition between Ronald and his competitors over at Burger King. (Thomas Friedman does not seem like a big reader of Kant, but his thinking here bears some passing resemblance to the philosopher’s “Idea for a Universal History from a Cosmopolitan Perspective,” an essay from 1784.) McDonald’s opened in Russia in 1990 — a milestone of perestroika, if ever there were one. And Georgia will celebrate the tenth anniversary of its first Micky D’s early next year, assuming anybody feels up for it. So much for Friedman’s theory. Presumably it could be retooled ex post facto (“two countries with Pizza Huts have never had a thermonuclear conflict,” anyone?) but that really seems like cheating. Ever since a friend pointed out that the golden arches no longer serve as a peace sign, I have been wondering if some alternative idea would better fit the news from Georgia. Is there a grand narrative that subsumes recent events? What generalizations seem possible, even necessary and urgent, now? What, in short, is the Big Idea?Now I recommend giving the rest of the essay a read -- but the premise upon which McLemee bases the piece is a bit bogus. Social science theories tends towards the probabilistic. Just because one McGlobalized country has invaded another McGlobalized country does not mean that the "theory" has no explanatory power. There's no need to reject the general trend that globalized states tend to not attack each other. There's certainly no need to throw out Kant with Friedman. Furthermore, one could argue that the causal processes articulated in the theory are actually working pretty well. Russia's stock market fell by more than 4% after yesterday's recognition of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. As Lex points out on the FT blog:
By any normal measures, the Russian market – down 36 per cent since May - is now as cheap as a bottle of bootleg vodka. Sadly, investors are concluding Russia is not a normal country. Its choice of confrontation with the west will do little immediate damage to its economy - $1bn a day is still flowing in from exports of oil, gas, and oil products. But the damage to growth and the development of its market could be long-lasting.... If reforms are slow or non-existent, long-term earnings growth will be slower too, and vulnerability to commodity shocks higher. Investors will demand a premium to reflect the political and event risk. Russia’s chances of closing the valuation gap with China and India – which it never quite managed – recede sharply. How much of that worst-case scenario comes to pass will depend, in part, on how the current crisis evolves. Meantime, investors will continue their retreat from Moscow in favour of places that act in their own long-term economic self-interest.So, in the end, the war has resulted in losers on all sides. Georgia has obviously lost through its aggressive behavior towards the breakaway provinces. The United States and Europe has lost because they clearly were not able to deter Russia in Georgia. Russia has gained the humiliation of Georgia, but is has lost in terms of its ability to raise capital and coordinate among its erstwhile allies, who seem to be juuuuust a bit nervous right now. Now the sixty-four thousand dollar euro dollar question is whether these costs will deter further military aggression by all the parties involved. My instinct says yes, despite all this "new Cold War" rhetoric -- but I want to hear from readers on this question.
Investors pulled their money out of Russia in the wake of the Georgia conflict at the fastest rate since the 1998 rouble crisis, new figures showed yesterday. Russian debt and equity markets have also suffered sharp falls since the conflict began on August 8, with yields on domestic rouble bonds increasing by up to 150 basis points in the last month.... Alexei Kudrin, finance minister, said the capital flight had largely subsided and would be more than made up for by projected inflows. Russia’s foreign currency reserves, at $581bn, are the world's third largest. “There is nothing that has happened that could cause us to change any of our plans,” he said. But the ebbing of foreign investor confidence will make it harder for Russian companies to raise debt and equity finance since foreign sources account for a disproportionate share of long-term capital for Russian corporate borrowers. “The market is vulnerable to foreign capital flight,” said Kingsmill Bond at Troika Dialogue, the investment bank. “The major Achilles heel of the Russian market is that there is very little domestic long-term capital.” Partly as a result of the Georgian conflict, yields on domestic rouble bonds have increased in the last month by between 75 and 150bp, Mr Bond said.The key word in that last sentence is "partly." Over at Foreignpolicy.com, Clifford Kupchan explains the other factors:
As far as portfolio investors and the Russian stock market are concerned, the main tipping point was the four days following July 24, when TNK-BP’s Robert Dudley left the country, and shortly after that, Putin went after the steel company Mechal and took about $6 billion off its capitalization. Those behaviors really rattled investors and caused a steep dip in the Russian stock market. The war’s effect has been less dramatic.
More broadly, I think Russia as an island of stability and a safe haven from the credit crunch—that perception of Russia is on life support. Essentially over. There’s been four reasons: TNK-BP, Mechal, the Russian government’s willingness to use administrative means to break up cartels and implement de facto price controls (which means there’s more strategic risk in consumer sectors as well as strategic sectors), and fourth is the war. When you add those four together, the investment climate has taken a real, real hit over the last month.
This ain't 1998: Russia's not going to collapse anytime soon. But it's hard to see this as a viable developmental model either.
The post-Cold War world, the New World Order, ended with authority on Aug. 8, 2008, when Russia and Georgia went to war. Certainly, this war was not in itself of major significance, and a very good case can be made that the New World Order actually started coming apart on Sept. 11, 2001. But it was on Aug. 8 that a nation-state, Russia, attacked another nation-state, Georgia, out of fear of the intentions of a third nation-state, the United States. This causes us to begin thinking about the Real World Order.Why, yes, I can't think of another post-Cold War conflict involving breakway provinces. Oh, wait.... Look, as significant events go in world politics go, a great power's invasion of its small, fragmented neighbor does not rank that high.* Even from a American-centric perspective, North Korea's acquisition of nuclear weapons -- and the Bush administration's policy reversal on said weapons -- ranks as more significant. The rise of China and India are way more important. Things do change in international relations -- but Fred Savage/Daniel Stern epiphanies are pretty damn rare. One caveat: the event does move up the importance scale if Russia decides to annex Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Expect to hear lots of "Alsace-Loraine" language then. *NOT TO BE READ AS AN ENDORSEMENT OF RUSSIA'S BEHAVIOR.
What will it take for the Georgians to figure out that South Ossetia and Abkhazia... Are gone. They. Are. Never. Coming. Back. Ever. They weren't before the war. If it weren't a mathematical impossibility, I would say that the events of the last week reduced the chances of Georgia regaining the two territories from zero to an even smaller value of zero.In the spirit of cheesy Robert Ludlum three-word titles, let's call this The Nexon Conversion. This happens when a foreign policy leader stops demanding policy reversals that are never going to happen. Two examples from the Russia-Georgia conflict. First, the Financial Times reports that Condoleezza Rice is demanding that Russia withdraw its forces from all of Georgian soil "immediately." Right. Because Russia will definitely do that now that the United States has demanded it publicly. Second, the FT also reports that Russia is so upset at Poland for signing a missile-shield agreement with the United States that it's making loose nuclear threats against the country. Right. Because on top of invading Georgia, issuing these kind of warnings will definitely convince Poland that Moscow is not a threat. Way too many people in positions of power need the Nexon Conversion right now.
George Kenann calls NATO expansion a “strategic blunder of potentially epic proportions” here, a position most realists share. Obama calls for NATO expansion to Georgia here, despite the fact that an alliance with Georgia offers little benefit to Americans but is likely to the drag the US into conflict with a nuclear armed state. Obama, if it wasn’t clear already, is no realist. That is a perhaps a result of running for President of a country that wants idealist presidents, but the fact remains.OK, first of all, could realists please spare everyone the lament about how hard their lot is in the United States? I know realists like to believe that this country is hostile to realism, but it just ain't so. Second of all, I'm not sure that realist opposition to NATO expansion is vindicated by the Georgia invasion. I presume their argument is that NATO expansion somehow triggered the security dilemma, which led to Russia's current revanchism. The thing is, I wrote half a book about how Russia treated its near abroad during the nineties, when it was supposedly so weak. It coerced the living hell out of them (sanctions, supporting irredentists, etc.) back then too -- and this was long before NATO was expanded. So the idea that Russia wouldn't have done anything in the Caucasus if the West had kept its nose clean strikes me as pretty absurd. Russia was going to do this as soon as it had the power and saw an opportunity. If you want to blame this on past United States actions, Iraq matters a lot more than anything else. Indeed, Friedman seems to make this exact point later on:
Commentators of all stripes seem to assume that Russia’s move into Georgia was driven by its increasingly autocratic nature. (This is reminiscent of Kennan’s argument back in the X article that Communism made the Soviet Union prone to aggression, which he later regretted.) It is worth considering whether this is a misperception. A powerful body of political science argues that states’ foreign policy actions are driven mostly by their circumstance and interests, not their regime type or the personality of the leaders. Regime type and personality affect how states interpret their circumstances, but maybe not as much as we tend to think. The United States is not particularly tolerant of seemingly hostile states in its near abroad either, whether they are democracies or not.UPDATE: Friedman responds in comments:
I... argue that the war demonstrates the idiocy of expanding NATO to Russia's doorstep, which for the US is all costs, no benefits. That is because it demonstrates that Georgia has showed itself to be the kind of ally you don't want to have - reckless, carrying a territorial and ethnic conflict with a nuclear armed state, and devoid of benefit for us.He's got a point here, but I'm not sure how generalizable the point is. All of the Baltic states could have met Friedman's definition of a "reckless" state in the nineties. They all bordered Russia, two of them (Estonia and Latvia) treated their Russian minorities pretty shabbily, and the third (Lithuania) had some fun border disputes too. NATO membership for those countries, however, has not resulted in more recklessness -- if anything, it (plus EU membership) moderated their behavior. This might be where institutionalists have a point. Friedman (and other realists) presume that alliances can encourage small states like Georgia to behave more recklessly. It is equally possible, however, that joining an institution moderates behavior. And, it should be noted, institutionalists find their greatest empirical support for this argument in the behavior of Eastern Europe since 1989. For the record, I think I'm with Hilzoy on this question -- extending NATO membership to the Baltics makes sense, but extending it to Georgia is a country too far. My point in this post is that I'm very leery of either all-in arguments (neocons) or all-out arguments (realists). Neither group has really distinguished themselves in this debate.
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.