Staying at the core of Europe and doing what it takes to become fully part of the EU economically, politically and strategically is the priority for Romania. In this respect Romania should not sacrifice its European position, however desirable this would be for shady business and political interests tired of the “yoke” represented by the CVM. A distancing from the European core is incompatible with the Romania’s long term national interest. If a “greater Romania” comes about this would be with Moscow’s approval. This could entail a rapprochement or at least a certain extension of Russia’s economic and political interest. It would not be a union where Moldova re-joins Romania but rather Romania being absorbed into a different sphere of influence. Romania would play an automatic role in the economic and strategic puzzle that connects Russia to the Adriatic. This is not a negligible probability outcome in the context of event transitory EU strategic and political weakness. Romania’s European anchors may be stronger than they appear but they are not set in stone and the sands are shifting. Romania is not part of the Euro-zone, its entry in the Schengen area is long overdue and with the continued CVM all are signs of vulnerability. These tie into Romania’s reputation but also its ability to function as a core EU country. This should be the focus of both the EU and Romania. In turn Romania’s neighborhood policy should be a part of this. this includes a new set of policies and initiatives vis a vis Russia. It needs to be carefully and convincingly crafted jointly with the EU partners. A noisy unionist project runs the risk of covering other critically important subjects for Romania and the EU and in fact lead to a widening of teh distamce between Romania and EU’s core. This would serve a lot of interests but neither Romania’s nor Moldova’s Here is what the EU Commission says on the issue. AT
A compact critical review of Russian foreign policy situation by : Stephen Sestanovich
It seems only yesterday that President Vladimir Putin seized the world’s attention with his proposal to put Syria’s chemical weapons under international control. To many, the fancy footwork had a clear message: Russia was back in the diplomatic big league at last.
We can see now what all the headlines briefly obscured. Since Mr Putin regained the presidency last year, his foreign policy has foundered. Russia has not faced such a serious need to rethink its role in the world for more than a quarter century.
Start with Europe. For the past decade, Moscow avoided conflict in relations with the EU by staying on good terms with Germany. No more. Whether the issue is energy pricing or gay rights, Berlin is now one of Mr Putin’s foremost critics. Russian trade tactics – such as a recent threat to ban Dutch tulips as unsafe – make enemies across the continent.
Belligerence has antagonised former Soviet neighbours, too. To thwart Ukraine's and Moldova's interest in closer ties with the EU, Moscow has warned that it may block their goods from entering Russia. In September it started a similar quarrel with Belarus; last month, with Lithuania. Mr Putin, it seems, will pick a fight with anyone.
Russia’s influence in the Middle East is also declining. Almost three years into the Arab spring, it is on worse terms with nearly all the region’s states. Seen from Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, Jordan, Israel and Egypt, Moscow’s support for Iran promotes instability. And Russian backing for Syria’s regime evokes genuine anger.
Relations with the US show the same pattern. President Barack Obama cancelled his Labor day summit with Mr Putin because it promised no results. Yes, Russia’s granting of asylum to Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency contractor turned whistleblower, annoyed the US. But the summit was scratched because there was so little to justify it.
Some experts point out that Mr Putin has at least improved ties with China. This achievement is far less significant than it should be, however. Imagine how the US would feel in the same position. When you have good relations only with China, you have nowhere else to turn. Russians are as uneasy about China’s rise as Americans – maybe more so. But they are facing it alone.
Mr Putin may reckon others will eventually yield to his pressure. But his strategy is clearly not working. The response of most governments is outrage and resistance. Many think they can stand up to Moscow because its leverage is declining. Upheaval in global energy markets – especially the shale gas revolution – is one reason. The dramatic drop in Russian economic growth this year further saps Russian influence.
And although it threatens a trade war, Moscow ignores the fact that many of its neighbours have already redirected their exports to the EU. Russia’s diplomatic tools are weaker in other areas, too. For years, Moscow found a middle route in the stand-off between the US and Iran. Now, with Washington and Tehran in wary contact, Russia’s influence with both will decline.
A record this poor ought to be a problem for Mr Putin. Yet it is rarely criticised. The public seems to like his bristly nationalism. The president has mounted an intense domestic propaganda campaign to portray his Syria moves as a huge success. Disputing this claim – much less suggesting that the rest of his policy is going nowhere – only invites retribution.
Even many of Mr Putin’s critics seem to think that attacking his international record is not the best way to challenge him. Better to focus on economic, political or legal reform – issues on which he may be more vulnerable. When Russia starts to change, I have been told, foreign policy will take care of itself.
Right or wrong, these answers testify to the timidity of Russia’s foreign policy establishment, its intellectual and business elite and its political opposition. Yet it is hard to believe the nation will long be satisfied with the path he has put it on. Current policy produces too little benefit for anyone. A more fundamental course correction – no easy undertaking in any country – is inevitable.
Can the rest of us do anything to hasten a Russian reassessment? Anti-Putin crusading will not help much; to many Russians, it simply confirms he is doing the right thing. But conciliation is not the right response either; it too suggests he is getting results. What Russian policy makers and experts alike should hear from Europe and the US – a message delivered more in sorrow than in anger – is that their foreign policy has gone way off track. Until it rights itself, Russia will have less and less global influence.
The old remark about Britain in the 1960s – that it had lost an empire but not yet found a role – captures Moscow’s predicament exactly. More than 20 years after the Soviet collapse, Russians have to think this problem through for themselves. Mr Putin, unfortunately, keeps putting the answer out of reach.
This article appears in full on CFR.org by permission of its original publisher. It was originally available here.
The time America’s political class chose ultra partisan politicking over politics. The timing couldn’t be worse.
I am linking a published letter by Ed Miliband not only because it is personally relevant to me but also because the letter correctly challenges the abysmal ethical standards of contemporary media. AT
Ed Miliband MP, Leader of the Labour Party, writes in Tuesday’s edition of the Daily Mail:
It was June 1944 and the Allies were landing in Normandy. A 20-year old man, who had arrived in Britain as a refugee just four years earlier, was part of that fight. He was my father. Fighting the Nazis and…
A link to an exceptional analysis in FP by DAVID ROTHKOPF on the complexity that drives president Obama’s decision-making:
”…”The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function,” wrote F. Scott Fitzgerald in The Crack-Up. When he first set these words to paper in 1936, it’s pretty certain that he did not imagine they would one day become the core foreign-policy principle of a 21st-century president. Yet because they have, we have been reminded of another important lesson about first-rate minds, second-rate ones, and minds of every quality: Character trumps intellectual ambivalence every time.
It is no doubt simpler for leaders who see things plainly and without nuance. Indeed, doubt is perhaps the most dangerous and relentless enemy of those whose decisions carry great weight. But as we saw in the Iraq war, “slam-dunk” certainty is no guarantee of either success or good judgment. In the early years of George W. Bush’s presidency, in my view, a lack of critical second-guessing among policymakers undermined what were the president’s fundamentally good intentions.
Barack Obama has been afflicted by the ability to see multiple sides of any issue since he took office. His Afghanistan policy initiative was, until recently, the outstanding example of this characteristic. After a lengthy internal debate, he presented in one speech both the decision to escalate U.S. involvement in that country and the announcement that the United States would be leaving on a certain date. It was the first illustration of what I described at the time as the Groucho Marx approach to foreign policy, referring to the comic icon’s signature song, “Hello, I Must Be Going.” But we have since seen other examples of Obama’s ambivalence — opposing the Bush administration’s abuses of international law, yet violating sovereignty countless times with expanded drone attacks; standing up for civil liberties, yet overseeing the greatest expansion of our intrusive surveillance state ever; pivoting to Asia, but still regularly being drawn back to the Middle East; going to Congress to get approval for action in Syria and then reserving the right to take action on his own.”
Russia will succeed in Syria if it wants to be exceptional not equal – what an Op Ed and a speech by two presidents tell us about the Syrian predicament
Besides a few platitudes on International Law, the OpEd president Putin has penned in the NYT has parts that are interesting and parts that are truly scary. In responding to the speech made by the US president in Congress, he claimed equal treatment for Russia and denounced the US president’s claim to American exceptionalism. There is a deeply flawed logic there that influences the Syrian predicament.
Let’s start with the good part. President Putin makes a few convincing statements. Yes one should always prefer diplomacy to force. Yes, the use of force in Syria may create more problems than solve. Yes there are recent blatant examples of just how wrong the use of force can go. And yes, international cooperation, particularly between permanent members of the SC is a good tool to solve breaches of peace and threats to regional and global security. When it works!
President Putin is also right to be worried that the UN may become as irrelevant as the League of Nations. He is also right (though he does not mention this in the OpEd) to think that the League of Nations was made so by the lack of real interest of the world’s great powers in using it as a tool to prevent war. While the League of Nations was made irrelevant by not using its (weak) peace preserving instruments, the UN risks being made irrelevant by blockage. It constantly suffered from partisan driven paralysis during the Cold War too. Ultimately, during all those years, it worked (as a place to settle conflict and de-escalate risks to global peace and security) because the game was taking place under MAD rules of engagement.
Today none of the classical great powers is contemplating gowning to war against the others. They still plan for this but in a halfhearted way. But the competition remains fierce if terribly unequal. Also the competition is less existential that during the Cold War and hence countries holding opposing views in the UN SC have less to lose if they play a blocking game.
Russia itself broke international law several times and it was repeatedly in breach of UN Charter provisions. This includes massive and disproportionate use of military forces against its own citizens as well those of at least one other country. When it comes to the UN, it was Russia that blocked repeatedly UN SC resolutions on Syria. Not just a resolution to open the way for use of force but resolutions with enough teeth to impact the Assad regime. At the time the issue was more about finding a way to first avoid the continuous bloodshed and second avoid a spiral that would destabilize the entire region. Because of UN SC blockage we are way past that point. And indeed there are few viable solutions, military or diplomatic. The scenario we contemplate is Lebanon’s civil war but on a much larger scale and with more terrible ideological elements. But the question is not about use of force designed to stop the civil war in Syria. It is probably much too late for that or too early however fraught with moral traps this statement may be. The question regards the use of force to insure the Assad regime, or anybody else in Syria or the region for that matter, will not today or ever contemplate that it can use weapons of mass destruction with impunity. This is important for the region and the world’s security. In fact this may be critically important for Russia too.
While confounding the issue of who used chemical weapons on a large scale in Syria president Putin makes a very dangerous and cynical calculation. While the UN report will probably point a finger to the Assad government it will lack the clear cut absolute evidence the Russia claims is needed to assert it was the “government side”. And here lies the biggest part of the problem. Russia and its diplomats and soldiers now the risks of not acting on a use of WMDs. The problem is that the Putin administration cares very little about that. Neither it cares about the civilian suffering in Syria. In fact, and despite what the NYT piece says, it is Russia that offers support (and today some claim to legitimacy) to the Assad regime that is guilty of massacring civilian population on a large scale. In this respect I do not see how Russia can be seen as the constructive party president Putin claims it is.
Now that may change. It is true that Russia’s credibility as an honest broker is low but I believe the world (and the US) is ready to concede that it can play a major role. That by the way would be the only added value for Russia’s proximity to the inner circle of the Assad regime.
Aside Russian calculation regarding regional balance of power, access to lucrative weapons deals, control of Syrian coast in the proximity of Israeli and Cypriot gas fields etc. its role there may prove to be much more of a nightmare that president Putin has bargained for. Stepping in as a successful broker will get Russia major points in terms of international clout and credibility.
Any negotiated peace in Syria would be better than external military involvement. Also a credible, non-military solution for the chemical weapons issue would also highly desirable. This is unfortunately highly unlikely. The problem is that rouge regimes like Assad’s Syria, North Korea and to some extent Iran use diplomatic process as an escape for making any real concession. This in part because any real concession is a weakness they cannot afford. And they get away with it despite of what that does to their own citizens and the world’s security. This in part would not be so without Russian support. This is the catch 22 for Russia. The problem is that the same problem is faced by the US, the region and the international community too.
Now I get to what I meant in the beginning of this peace when I said the president’s OpEd is also scary. To believe what the OpEd piece claims is beyond cynicism and more in the realm of delusion. It does take a certain amount of arrogance to claming equality, because this is how God wishes! As an agnostic that knows a few things about religion I can confidently say that it is individuals that are equal and not countries and certainly not regimes.
Russia has yet to prove that it can be considered equal (to any power) in terms of its contributions to peace and security. In fact, one can argue that in many ways Russia is like any other big power in the opposite (when it comes to peace and security). Russia too can ignore interests and rights of others equally well as other powers when it suites it. Yes it did fight and defeated Nazism and it paid a horrible price. Yes its innumerable heroes both on the battlefield and civilians deserve Europe’s eternal gratitude. But let’s not forget that it was also Russia that for many decades enslaved in the name of Soviet Union peoples across Europe. Also let’s not forget that it was Russia that invented and managed the Gulag and exported successfully this type of terror across the vast swaths of the continent it controlled. To claim legal or political equality between nations is one, to claim equality in the sense that all nations are exceptional in their contribution to peace, security and liberty at home and abroad may be quite a different thing. And Putin’s Russia is unfortunately not in a position to legitimately claim so.
The US does have its many mistakes in international affairs that include heavy handedness, abuse of use of force and even war crimes. At the same time, it is clear that such comparisons serve little purpose and are bound to be subjectively interpretable. Let’s be clear, in the speech quoted by president Putin, the US president was referring to a civic call to exceptionalism enshrined in the US legal and political history. A history of defending democracy and liberty by the US at home and abroad. This exceptionalism also contributed to Russia’s people own effort to combat Nazism and ultimately defeat Communism. The fact that some on both sides thought that defeating Communism means defeating Russia remains a problem for both sides. The fact also remains that Barrack Obama has started as a civic activist serving disenfranchised communities in Chicago and Vladimir Putin as a KGB officer serving the Soviet regime. They may both have the well being of their nation at heart but indeed their choice of instruments is strikingly different. The very exceptionalism president Obama was referring to made it in fact possible for a black man named Hussein that had a Muslim step-father to be elected in free and fair elections as the POTUS after September 11. That made it possible for a US president (one that actually has the legal and military means to actually strike Syria) to act with utmost restraint, despite the many voices in his own and its competitor’s camp that blame him for it. Meanwhile in Russia today is one of the worst times to be a member of a political, sexual orientation, ethnic or religious minority. When not legally sanctioned or perpetrated by the authorities these abuses are condoned by them. And in Syria president Putin is the only friend (except Hezbollah and Iran) that the Assad regime can claim.
President Putin was referring to the equality between powers that allows for no exceptionalism in the sense that all are equal in their pursuit of self-interest. That is a deeply twisted understating of the concept as used by the US president. And that is in fact exactly why the exceptionalism president Obama mentioned in his speech is relevant. What American exceptionalism is can be twisted in many ways. Like for example how anti-Semites twist Jewish exceptionalism when they refer to the “chosen people” concept as arrogance instead as a (religious) burden-creating legacy. The American exceptionalism is something for Americans to live with and by. It refers to their own choices rather than to how the world shall treat or see the US. One can accept or not that this exceptionalism stems from classical enlightenment and the republican and democratic values it informed. One may accept or not that those values have helped the US be a leading force in preserving the free world in both world wars, the cold war and ever since. This is between the Americans ant their political conscience and not between them and the world. For Vladimir Putin this is irrelevant. He does not grasp or does not care that this is an inner exceptionalism that may make some Americans proud but it does not in any way reduces Russia’s or any other nation’s claim to equality. It is also the type of voluntary blindness that does not allow Kremlin to se Russia’s own domestic plight.
Both the US and Russia have systematically acted in self interest and addressed international issues exclusively through a great power’s set of preferences and scenarios. But the very nature of the regimes in these two great powers underlines the exceptionality of one and not the other. They may be both popularly elected but we all know that elections are not the only conditions of democracy. By the way, free and fair elections not just polls. It is this essential quality of liberal democracies that is central here. Yes the US may quite often act like a great power and not like a great liberal democracy. That is the price of being a great power and it is mostly paid by the receiving side. This means usually but not always by citizens of other nations. The US exceptionalism does not serve as excuse for these wrong decisions or policies but as a long term and permanent correction instrument available to its leadership, political elites and public.
Both Russia and the US are now attempting to do what is both in their own national interest and just. It will be very hard to establish a universally acceptable moral position when judging the outcome of bloody conflicts that threaten entire regions and potentially the world. President Obama’s temporization of US use of force is creating for Russia the option to choose the role it wants to play in Syria. The two powers are today terribly unequal in terms of the actual power they poses in terms of military and economic capabilities. One is essentially a great spoiler the other a great potential breaker of things (to quote the excellent article by Rosa Brooks). If Russia will successfully contribute to a negotiated solution to Syria it will be not because it wants to be equal but because it wants to be exceptional!
Exceptionally lucid analysis. Rosa Brooks’ article linked here hits a raw nerve. It takes a woman to cut through the clutter in this domain that is usually a chorus of men. She is so right to define the challange in terms of relative power and what is doable and what not by US alone. US cannot fix the world. It certainly cannot fix Syria. The Obama administration knows this and it is the very essence of the problem the US decision makers face today. But she also talks about America’s allies. “Europe, despite its various woes, has become a major power.” That is also something you will not hear too often. It is a fact that even Europeans are in denial of. The conventional wisdom is that somehow Europe is in a perpetual decline. That belief gets lots of traction these days mainly because the EU has an institutional and financial crisis and lacks the politicians that have the gust to face it and lack the imagination and courage it takes to solve it. It is high time for Europe to actually play in the league its economic and cultural clout call for. BTW that will be difficult and painful. The former because it requires both vision and leadership and those are scarce resource in a populist and day to day driven political class. And the latter because “Europe as a global power” requires sacrifices. To come about on the world stage it will ask for a further giving up of national sovereignty and of the illusion that some part of Europe are so radically diferent than others in anything but superficial culture. Also that requires measuring the success of some with a different yardstick. Finally it will rest on pulling and sharing of capabilities including military ones. Most difficult will be to change the dominant foreign policy culture. Europe as a global power requires assuming responsibilities and taking risks as well as making a clear distinction between its high held humanitarian ideals and the cold reality of Europe’s interests and needs.Yes the US needs to stop complaining (and snooping around the EU perm rep) but also it needs to work together with the EU on making this new Trans-Atlantic alliance work. Together they may be better at mending the world. Or just at prolonging the ability to break things. This is why things like TTIP negotiations and NATO reform are critically important. AT
Since the nerve gas attack in Syria last Wednesday, politicians and generals in Turkey have been asking a frightening question: If the US carries out a military strike, would Syria fight back? And would Syrian President Bashar Assad dare to attack Turkey, and therefore NATO, using chemical weapons? Der Spiegel
Towards the end of the Barin Kayaoglu article linked here from Al Monitor web site, the author comments in passage on the rabid antisemitic opinions expressed by some of AKP and PM Erdogan’s opponents in Turkey. The problem is not just one of Islamism or new forms of nationalism in the country (or elsewhere in the region). The anti Jewish/Israeli sentiment (with the two often purposefully treated as one) appears to go hand in hand with an anti-western attitude. To various degrees this also applies to the general public and not only the political class. This trend is clashing with an obvious embrace of technology, economic measures, western life style and fashion, and even political rhetoric. Yes you certainly see more “islamic dress” in Istanbul but you also see many more people dressed according to decidedly contemporary western fashion all over Turkey. A growing clash between fundamental values appears to divide these societies. The tension is growing and this is obvious in protests like the one around Gezi Park. This also partly explains why parties like CHP in Turkey fail to create secular, modern pluralities to counterbalance the ruling majority. The questions is thus not who will win next elections but whether this is turning into a race to the bottom. AT
Europe and the West have no monopoly when it comes to adopting ineffective and sometimes contradictory policies when in reaction to the “Arab spring”. In this piece in FP Piotr Zalewsky looks at how Turkey’s leadership got it all wrong … and blames it on others. AT
Just for context: All EU aid for Egypt in the past three years was in the range of 450 million euros. Its military aid is about 140m per year. The US aid is in the range of a few dozen million and its military package for Egypt is about 1.3 billion. “Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait recently pledged $12bn in aid.” One should also look at what China, Russia, India are doing. The West, and Europe in particular, needs to come up with a clear set of policies and back them with funding and investment if we really want to be a shaping force in the region. There is no shortage of alternative would be “benefactors” or partners. There are moral, but also practical questions that need to be addressed. Between a full blown realist EU agenda and a values driven idealist one we are failing to provide any. The EU institutions and policy mechanism built and tested on a institutionalist logic are obviously falling short of our and the region’s policy needs. AT
Even optimists are growing nervous over the rapid accumulation of dollar-denominated debt in emerging economies like Turkey, while the Fed weighs its options.
The Verge publishes this piece following yet another Russian space program failure. Unfortunately this has become the norm. The reliability and success rate of Russian space program has dropped to abysmal levels. On top of the apparent acute degradation of safety and reliability of the Russian space program, there are also soviet legacy issues related to the inherent lack of concern for environment and human life. Like with other issues in governance, foreign or economic policy and democratic accountability, Russia needs to find a way to address these failures rapidly. The state of its space program is not just a costly embarrassment, but also a downward spiral in reputation and relevance. However, trying to maintain (all) the trappings and symbols of supper power status dose not give much room for maneuver. This is true for Russia as much it is for its partners internationally. It certainly is a serious issue for international space exploration where Russia plays a major role. For Europe and the US, (that is ESA and NASA) this is a specific problem given the reliance of ISS on Russian lift capacity - for manned missions. Soyuz is a different system altogether but the problems are similar. There are alternatives but it would take time to develop, test and implement those. This applies in many other areas and the space program is just a symbolic and eloquent case. Energy security, regional commerce, global contribution to peace and security including cooperation on files like Iran’s nuclear program or blatant cases like Syria come to mind. Finally, it is symbolic that all this time China develops a highly successful space program. This is entirely built on soviet and Russian technology but in the context of a well funded, reliable and apparently well managed environment. AT
The Berlin Airlift begins 65 years ago, June 24, 1948
WORLD IN FILM. Issue no. 176, 100 DAYS OF BLOCKADE, 1948
On June 24, 1948, Soviet forces began a blockade of West Berlin, severing all land connections between the city and western Europe. In response, U.S. and British Commonwealth Forces launched the Berlin Airlift (aka “Operation Vittles” for the Americans) to supply their garrisons and the population of Berlin.
At its height, the airlift delivered 5000 tons of supplies daily, including food, milk and coal, with aircraft arriving at Berlin every 30 seconds (at multiple airports). The blockade was eventually lifted on May 12, 1949.