Author Topic: Geo Political matters  (Read 136502 times)


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Re: Geo Political matters
« Reply #150 on: August 29, 2007, 09:19:37 PM »
IMHO, Russia has agreed to become China's Jr. partner.


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Iraq WMD Found in UN Storage & Other Absurdities
« Reply #151 on: August 31, 2007, 12:51:22 PM »
This piece could be filed under a dozen or more topic headings. Utterly amazing.

August 31, 2007, 8:00 a.m.

Closet Case
The U.N.’s worldwide inventory problem.

By Claudia Rosett

Talk about skeletons in the closet. The United Nations weapons inspectors once tasked with tracking Saddam Hussein’s arsenal have just discovered that for more than a decade they’ve been storing vials containing one of Iraq’s chemical-weapons concoctions — phosgene — in a cabinet in their own New York office. Removed from Iraq’s Al Muthanna chemical-weapons facility in 1996, the phosgene apparently sat unnoticed in the UNMOVIC office until last week.

This discovery was presented by the U.N. at a press briefing Thursday as the sort of mistake anyone could make, even if — as one of the U.N. weapons experts explained — opening the containers would mean “a couple of people would be dead.” Phosgene is an irritant, widely used as a weapon in World War I, which causes people to choke to death.

Officials from the U.N.’s Iraq weapons-inspections office, known as the U.N. Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), explained that it was an “accident” that the phosgene had ever been brought from Iraq to New York. “This kind of material should certainly not have come here,” said UNMOVIC spokesman, Ewen Buchanan.

UNMOVIC officials said the quantities found were small, with all the vials able to fit inside a container the size of a Coca-Cola can. As soon as the substance had been tentatively identified, the vials were further sealed and isolated. The U.N. then invited agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation to come remove them from UNMOVIC’s offices, which are across the street from the main U.N. headquarters building in midtown Manhattan.

Thursday afternoon, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s office issued a statement that UNMOVIC believes “There is no immediate risk or danger to the public” and that a sweep of the office “revealed no further potentially dangerous materials.”

Glad that’s settled. But phosgene sitting unnoticed for years in a U.N. office in midtown Manhattan is just the latest symptom of a growing danger that one might politely call the U.N.’s worldwide inventory problem. In some cases the reason is sheer sloppiness, in others it can be deliberate, involving fraud, theft, or worse. But whatever the local specifics, the U.N., with its diplomatic immunity, secrecy, slipshod internal controls, inadequate auditing, buck-passing, and $20 billion-per-year system moving people, money, and goods around the globe, has become a cauldron of threats to the global security it is supposed to promote.

Take, for example, the problems for U.S. security posed by something that sounds on the face of it a lot less alarming than phosgene: U.N. stationery. This summer, U.S. federal agents arrested a Russian official working at the United Nations in New York, Vyacheslav Manokhin, who is alleged in the federal complaint to have been part of a scheme misusing the U.N. and UNDP letterhead to help “numerous non-United States citizens” fraudulently enter the U.S. At least some of these letters were signed in the names of U.N. officials who did not exist. A pretext for entry to the U.S. was to attend conferences, many of them at the U.N. in Manhattan. (Manokhin has pled not guilty).

Also in New York, federal investigations into corruption in the U.N. procurement department have led to a guilty plea and two jury-trial convictions over the past two years from U.N. officials — including the conviction this March of the former head of the U.N. budget oversight committee, Vladimir Kuznetsov, for conspiring to launder kickbacks on procurement deals. Some of those funds were moved through a bank branch located for the convenience of United Nations staff inside the U.N. headquarters complex.

And this March, we learned that the U.N. Development Program, without alerting U.S. authorities, had been keeping a stack of counterfeit $100 bills for more than a decade in its North Korea office safe (having tried without success to return them to the North Korea state bank from which they were obtained, according to a UNDP spokesman). This news emerged as part of a still-spreading scandal in which U.S. officials have alleged, based on confidential U.N. documents, that the UNDP had been funneling hard cash, and possibly weapons-related goods, to the rogue, nuclear-bomb-building North Korean government of Kim Jong Il.

Then there was the mother of all U.N. inventory fiascoes, the 1996-2003 Oil-for-Food program for Iraq, in which abysmally deficient U.N. oversight provided cover that was exploited by U.N.-sanctioned Saddam — under the noses of U.N. inspectors and authenticators and overseers and monitors and managers — to bust sanctions, bank billions, and buy weapons via a worldwide network of smuggling and corrupt deals.

In the U.S., Oil-for-Food has by now led to a series of guilty pleas, one jury-trial conviction, and nine pending cases. But however hard U.S. prosecutors might labor to mop up the U.N. mess, the U.N. is a global operation, sprawling far beyond U.S. jurisdiction. Scores of U.N. member states — including such major players as Russia and China — have done nothing to pursue leads unearthed in a slew of investigations. The former head of Oil-for-Food, Benon Sevan, who ran Oil-for-Food for six years out of U.N. headquarters in New York, and was indicted in New York federal court this past January, has had no trouble retiring to a perch safely beyond reach of U.S. extradition, on his native Cyprus (he says he is innocent).

On a perhaps lighter note, it seems the U.N. can’t even keep track of paperwork done in the name of the top boss. The organization has never disclosed what became of any U.N. documentation that should have been generated when Kofi Annan’s son, Kojo Annan, availed himself of the help of the UNDP office in Ghana to import a Mercedes duty-free in 1998 under false use of the senior Annan’s name and U.N. diplomatic perquisites. The UNDP seal was on the import documents finally released in 2006 by Kojo’s lawyer. Either at the U.N. or UNDP, there should have been some U.N. record. Was it lost? Perhaps misfiled, somewhere near the wayward phosgene in the UNMOVIC office?

We must at least credit UNMOVIC officials who, having discovered the phosgene, came forward swiftly and in public to disclose that they had botched their inventory control (perhaps it concentrates the mind to discover chemical-weapons samples on the premises). But there are a lot of questions still unanswered. Who brought the phosgene to New York? And how? And why over the course of more than a decade did UNMOVIC never get around to a full stock-taking in its own office?

Anyone unfamiliar with the U.N. bureaucracy might also wonder why, four years after the overthrow of Saddam, UNMOVIC still exists at all. Actually, the real surprise is that UNMOVIC is finally in the process of closing its doors — thanks to an absurdly delayed decision by the Security Council, which finally voted this June to shut down the operation. It was in the course of archiving material, in preparation for shutting down, that UNMOVIC staff came across the phosgene.

If shutting down a U.N. operation is what it takes to provoke a full housecleaning, there’s a great case by now for closing down the entire U.N. system, immediately. There’s no chance of that. But back in January, when the North Korea Cash-for-Kim scandal first broke, Ban Ki-moon, in a statement released by his office, promised “an urgent, system wide and external inquiry into all activities done around the globe by the U.N. funds and programmes.” It never happened. While the FBI busies itself in Manhattan hauling away UNMOVIC’s lethal office trash, and U.S. prosecutors toil to stop the U.N.-related fraud, bribery, money-laundering, and other escapades that have become such a staple of the U.N. landscape, the least Ban could do is redeem his broken promise and deliver a full, independent inquiry into whatever the U.N.’s global empire might still have stashed in its nooks, crannies, safes, cabinets, and closets.

— Claudia Rosett is a journalist-in-residence with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

National Review Online -


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Re: Geo Political matters
« Reply #152 on: August 31, 2007, 03:43:27 PM »
Claudia Rosett does the best reporting on the UN. Of course the MSM totally ignores her.


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Re: Geo Political matters
« Reply #153 on: August 31, 2007, 04:55:36 PM »
That UN piece is "shocking, absolutely shocking".

Changing subjects, here's this:

China: Central Asian Rumbles
August 31, 2007 18 05  GMT


China is making a bid for Central Asia's energy resources -- a move that will ultimately expand into a bid for geopolitical control of the entire region. Russia is waking up to the threat and starting to take countermeasures, setting the stage for a broad Sino-Russian conflict in Central Asia.


Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov on Aug. 31 inaugurated the construction of a new natural gas project that will ship Turkmen natural gas currently destined for Russia to China instead. The event marks the formal beginning of a conflict between Russia and China for control of the entire Central Asian region.

The Chinese Gambit

China's desire for strong connections with Central Asia is neither new nor secret. Ever since China opened up to the world in 1979, it has been apparent that the country needs access to ample markets and resources, and that in turn has made China utterly dependent on maritime trade. Until China commands a sizable blue-water navy capable of reliably projecting power at least as far as the Persian Gulf -- which is to say, until it has a navy that can, without backup from its own land-based aircraft, pose a threat to the U.S. Navy -- China will remain at the mercy of U.S. foreign policy for its industrial, energy and trade policy. Since China desperately wants to avoid a confrontation with Washington so it can focus on its internal problems, the only way for China to square the circle is to develop a wholly land-based energy supply system that is out of the reach of U.S. fleets. Simply put, China's strategic imperatives dictate dealing with Central Asia.

A series of deals signed with Central Asian leaders Aug. 19 is actually the finishing touch on a project that has long been in the works. Since the mid-1990s, China has been engaging in energy projects, getting its foot in the door across Central Asia, particularly in Kazakhstan. This started with small oil fields in northwest Kazakhstan and gradually built into networks of fields, along with a few larger projects. In time, Chinese state firms built a pipeline to connect their projects to other infrastructure just north of the Caspian Sea.

Over the last few years, China has started linking up pieces of old Soviet-era pipes, with the goal of ultimately Frankensteining together a line reaching all the way from the Caspian across Kazakhstan to Western China. Parts of it already are operational, shipping roughly 200,000 barrels per day (bpd) from central Kazakhstan to China. One of the Aug. 19 deals provides the money for the last stitch in Central-Western Kazakhstan. Once it is complete, China's very first line -- the one near the Caspian -- will be reversed and linked in, and the entire project should be pumping approximately 400,000 bpd of Kazakh crude to China by 2009. Later stages will aim to increase the pipe's capacity to 1 million bpd.

Pipeline projects, of course, have political aspects, since they solidify relationships between producers and consumers (and cut out everyone else), but Russia has not shown much concern over this Kazakhstan-China oil pipeline. Russia understands energy politics better than most, and it knows that, ultimately, natural gas is truly the tie that binds -- far more so than oil.

Oil is a liquid, and liquids can be shipped not only via pipeline but also via rail, truck, barge and tanker. Oil also is used in such a range of products that there are many substitutes for many of its uses. So, while an oil pipeline certainly creates a relationship, it does not necessarily create a two-way dependency between the producer and consumer.

Natural gas does create that dependency. Natural gas is, well, a gas and therefore is very difficult to ship by any means other than pipeline. (It can be liquefied and shipped via ocean-borne tanker, but oceans are hard to come by on the landlocked steppes of Central Asia.) Unlike oil, natural gas is used primarily for energy generation in specialized facilities, which means -- among other things -- that there are no easy substitutes. Once a state is hooked into a natural gas network, breaking away is very hard to do. Russia has used this not only to bind the states of the former Soviet Union to its will but also to consistently affect the politics of states in Europe dependent on Russian supplies.

The other Chinese-Central Asian energy deal signed Aug. 19 involves just such a natural gas project linking Turkmenistan to China. Like the oil pipeline farther north, the natural gas line will consist of pieces of stitched-together Soviet infrastructure in a route that will take it through Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. The proposed pipe would take 30 billion cubic meters (bcm) of Turkmen natural gas -- roughly half of Turkmenistan's export capacity -- and ship it to China.

For China, these are all business deals. China has the interest, the need, the market and the money, so it is building the pipelines. The Central Asians are suitably impressed by the idea of cold cash backing up new infrastructure, particularly after 17 years of Russia building little new infrastructure and allowing the old to rust on the steppes. But in running a pipe from Turkmenistan, China is in effect drawing a knife across the map of Central Asia, slicing off the southern four "stans" from their traditional overlord: Russia.

The Russian Interest

Russia has financial and geopolitical reasons for opposing China's move.

First is the money issue. China plans to take natural gas for its line that is currently supposed to be sent north to Russia. True, China's plans do involve developing greenfield projects in Turkmenistan -- on Aug. 30, China National Petroleum Corp. received Turkmenistan's first post-Soviet license to develop onshore natural gas projects in the country's Mary and Amu Darya regions -- but these deals will be insufficient. Not only will it be years before they begin producing appreciable amounts of natural gas, but 17 years of mismanagement also has made Turkmen output unstable. So, at least for the next five years, whatever natural gas is shipped to China must come from production that would normally be shipped to Russia. At European retail prices, that alone will cost Gazprom $9 billion annually in sales.

But this is about more than "just" money. Gazprom is responsible for supplying Europe with approximately one-quarter of the natural gas it uses, approximately 150 bcm per year. But Gazprom lacks the skills and capital to both fill its European export commitments and supply the Russian market. To bridge the gap, Russia maintains a stranglehold on Central Asian natural gas exports via Soviet-era infrastructure, buying up nearly every molecule of the stuff exported from Turkmenistan (45 bcm), Uzbekistan (10 bcm) and Kazakhstan (10 bcm).

If Russia did not have those Central Asian supplies, Moscow would either have to let Russians freeze or give up a goodly portion of its energy leverage over Europe. (Technically, most Turkmen natural gas is purchased by Ukraine, but since it must pass through Gazprom's pipeline network en route to Ukraine, for all intents and purposes, Turkmen natural gas is fully integrated into the Russian system, with all the political connotations that suggests.) With the Red Army only a fraction of its former size and the Russian nuclear deterrent weakening, the energy hammer is one of Russia's few easily usable, reliable policies. China's Central Asian gambit would brand Russia an unreliable supplier and remove that very useful hammer from the Kremlin's geopolitical toolbox.

It also is extremely unlikely that China's encroachment into Central Asia will halt with just a Turkmen natural gas deal. If the region's primary energy infrastructure flows east to China -- and through both Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan -- then it is eminently likely that Uzbek exports, too, will soon flow east rather than north. With the supplier states realigned, the consumer states of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan would have little choice but to look to China to ensure their energy supply security. The web of relationships that holds Central Asia close to Russia would be respun with China at the center, drastically revamping the region's balance of power to China's benefit.

For years, China's slow energy-spearheaded movement into Central Asia went unchallenged by the Kremlin; after all, it was limited for the most part to a disaggregated collection. But with the sudden surge in Chinese natural gas plans, Russia can no longer afford to do nothing while its erstwhile "ally" casually takes over Russia's southern flank.

The question in Russia, of course, is what to do about it.

Culturally, Russia has a blind spot as far as China is concerned dating back to the time of Josef Stalin. Russians traditionally (which is not to say accurately) see China as the little brother who would -- of course -- never do anything without Russia's permission.

So, in the Russian mind, rhetorically China is a Russian ally that is theoretically committed to building a multipolar world to hedge in U.S. power. As Russia is discovering, however, the key words in that sentence are "rhetorically" and "theoretically"; China looks out for China's interests, and it is in China's interests to have a strong economic relationship with Washington and ever-closer economic and political ties with Central Asia.

Russia's realization that its world view needs an update has been long in coming, but sources indicate Russian President Vladimir Putin has -- angrily -- come around. Realization will lead to retaliation, since Russia cannot hope to resurge its influence if its southern flank is not secure.

The first stage of the Russian pushback will be to hold quiet talks with Central Asia's leaders and remind them of their "priorities." Putin himself, who is of the mind-set that the Central Asian leaders are cheating on him, plans to deliver this message at an as-yet-unscheduled meeting with the Kazakh, Turkmen and - likely -- Uzbek heads of government. Should that fail, the next step would be a reminder to these same leaders that Russia retains a very long arm. The Kremlin tends to get personal in delivering such reminders, and it is likely there will be some reports of people close to Central Asian leaders committing suicide with five bullets to the head from a sniper rifle from across the street.

The bottom line is that the geopolitical imperatives of Russia and China -- always uneasily tolerating each other -- are now grating against one another in what is truly a zero-sum game. Only one of them can have Central Asian natural gas, and whoever controls that gas ultimately controls the region.
« Last Edit: August 31, 2007, 05:58:11 PM by Crafty_Dog »


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Bumbling Bedfellows
« Reply #154 on: October 13, 2007, 09:19:30 AM »

Guevara: Iranians silence Che's daughter.

October 12, 2007 -- ANXIOUS to create what they call "a global progressive front," Presidents Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran and Hugo Chavez of Venezuela are sponsoring projects to underline "the ideological kinship of the left and revolutionary Islam."

The theme - hammered in by Ahmadinejad during his recent visit to Venezuela, Nicaragua and Bolivia - inspired a four-day seminar organized by his supporters at Tehran University last week (partly financed by Chavez).

The hope was that the conference would produce a synthesis of Marxist and Khomeinist ideologies and highlight what the Iranian leader has labeled "the divine aspect of revolutionary war." But the event itself proved rather embarrassing.

The conference title was "Che Like Chamran," a play on words designed to emphasize "the common goals" of Marxism and Islamism. It honored Mostafa Chamran on the 26th anniversary of his death, which coincided with the 40th anniversary of the death of the Cuban-Argentine guerrilla icon Che Guevara.

Chamran was a Khomeinist militant of Iranian origin who became a U.S. citizen in the '60s before traveling to Lebanon, where he founded the Amal guerrilla group. He entered Iran in 1979 and helped the mullahs seize power. Appointed defense minister by Khomeini in '81, he died in a car crash a few months later.

The conference had three guests of honor: Mahdi Chamran, a brother of Mostafa and an Ahmadinejad associate, and Che's daughter Aleida and son Camilo.

Aleida, a pediatrician who lives in Havana, wore the mandatory Khomeinist hijab, while her brother had grown designer stubble to please the hosts. Also attending were an array of aging European and Latin American "Guevaristas" and Lebanese Hezbollah cadres.

At first, the conference was all clear sailing as participants agreed that the sole source of world evil was America and its "earth-devouring ambitions."

The Khomeinists were pleased to hear their European and Latin American guests denounce "America's criminal plans to attack the Islamic revolution," and insist that Iran had every right to develop its nuclear capabilities. The aging Guevaristas were equally pleased as their hosts praised the dead T-shirt poster boy as "a fighter for universal justice."

Mahdi Chamran claimed that Ahmadinejad, Chavez and "the leaders of the revolution in Nicaragua and Bolivia" belong to the same family of "strugglers for universal justice." Another Khomeinist speaker, Mortaza Firuzabadi, invited all anti-American forces to accept the leadership of Ahmadinejad's revolutionary regime. "Our aim is to free the downtrodden humanity and restore the violated rights of all nations," he said. "In this global jihad, we recognize no frontiers."

Things went pear-shape thanks to one keynote speakers, Hajj Saeed Qassemi, whose title is "coordinator of the Association of Volunteers for Suicide-Martyrdom." Praising the late "Che" as "a true revolutionary who made the American Great Satan tremble," he "revealed" that Guevara had been "a truly religious man who believed in God and hated communism and the Soviet Union."

"Today, communism has been consigned to the garbage can of history as foreseen by Imam Khomeini," Qassemi said. "Thus progressists everywhere must accept the leadership of our religious, pro-justice movement."

Demanding the right to respond, Aleida Guevara told the conference that Qassemi's claim might be based on a bad translation: "My father never mentioned God," she said as the hall sighed in chagrined disbelief. "He never met God."

The remarks caused a commotion amid which Aleida and her brother were whisked away, led into a car and driven to their hotel under escort.
Qassemi returned to the podium to unleash an unscripted attack on "godless communists." He called on "the left in Latin America and elsewhere" to clarify its position. He claimed that Guevara and his "Supreme Guide Fidel Castro" had decided to hide their religious beliefs in order to secure Soviet support."

"Both were men of God and never believed in socialism or communism," he asserted. "The Soviet Union is gone," he emphasized. "The leadership of the downtrodden has passed to our Islamic Republic. Those who wish to destroy America must understand the reality and not be clever with words."

A few hours after the incident, the Guevara siblings attended another meeting, this time organized at Amir-Kabir University by a group called the Mobilization of the Downtrodden Militia. Camilo Guevara confirmed his sister's earlier remarks but insisted that "progressists everywhere" focus on fighting America rather than probing each other's personal beliefs.
By the end of the day, the two Guevaras had become nonpersons. The state-controlled media, which had given them VIP billing, suddenly forgot their existence. The anniversary of Guevara's death was mentioned in passing with no reference to his Marxism.

The Islamic Republic bans all non-Khomeinist ideologies, but two are specifically punishable by imprisonment or death: socialism and liberal democracy.
The two Guevaras, who left the Islamic Republic in some haste, managed to anger some Iranian progressists. The siblings refused to mention the mass arrest of workers' leaders throughout Iran in the last few months or condemn the current wave of repression against trade unions, women's organizations, teachers and farm workers.
"These people don't give a damn about the toiling masses," says Parviz Jamshidi, a lawyer for imprisoned trade unionists. "To them workers represent nothing but an abstraction, an excuse for appearing left and chic. They don't see that the Khomeinist regime is at war against the poorest sections of our society."


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Re: Geo Political matters
« Reply #155 on: October 15, 2007, 11:37:46 PM »
Worth reading again, I think it captures well a certain mindset-- Qassami:

"Things went pear-shape thanks to one keynote speakers, Hajj Saeed Qassemi, whose title is "coordinator of the Association of Volunteers for Suicide-Martyrdom." Praising the late "Che" as "a true revolutionary who made the American Great Satan tremble," he "revealed" that Guevara had been "a truly religious man who believed in God and hated communism and the Soviet Union."

"Today, communism has been consigned to the garbage can of history as foreseen by Imam Khomeini," Qassemi said. "Thus progressists everywhere must accept the leadership of our religious, pro-justice movement."

Demanding the right to respond, Aleida Guevara told the conference that Qassemi's claim might be based on a bad translation: "My father never mentioned God," she said as the hall sighed in chagrined disbelief. "He never met God."

The remarks caused a commotion amid which Aleida and her brother were whisked away, led into a car and driven to their hotel under escort.
Qassemi returned to the podium to unleash an unscripted attack on "godless communists." He called on "the left in Latin America and elsewhere" to clarify its position. He claimed that Guevara and his "Supreme Guide Fidel Castro" had decided to hide their religious beliefs in order to secure Soviet support."

"Both were men of God and never believed in socialism or communism," he asserted. "The Soviet Union is gone," he emphasized. "The leadership of the downtrodden has passed to our Islamic Republic. Those who wish to destroy America must understand the reality and not be clever with words.""


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Re: Geo Political matters
« Reply #156 on: October 17, 2007, 09:09:10 AM »
Iran: Keeping an Eye on Washington and Moscow

Talks between U.S. and Russian officials have entered a critical round and have given Iran -- which figures heavily in the negotiations -- something to be concerned about.


Stratfor on Oct. 11 highlighted the details of the agenda for upcoming high-level talks between the United States and Russia, along with how Iran will figure heavily in these negotiations. The degree to which either side is willing to make concessions is unclear, but the Washington-Moscow talks have entered a critical round.

Therefore, Iran cannot be oblivious to what is transpiring between the Kremlin and the White House. It could be that nothing substantive will come from U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates' visit to Russia, in which case the Iranians do not have much to worry about. There are, however, indications from within the clerical regime that it is concerned (to put it mildly) that Russia could sell it out to the United States for the right price.

Hassan Rohani, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's representative on the Supreme National Security Council, scathingly criticized his country's nuclear policy Oct. 11, saying that the sanctions it has prompted are badly hurting the Iranian economy. Rohani, who also is a senior member of top Iranian clerical body the Assembly of Experts, was quoted by Iranian daily Etemad Melli as saying, "At the moment, we are under threats in the international domain more than ever. … The country's diplomacy is successful when it does not let the enemy unite other countries against our national interests."

Rohani's comments clearly underscore the grave concerns within the Iranian establishment's highest echelons about the growing possibility of Iran's isolation. Tehran was, for a long time, able to maintain a wedge between the United States and the European Union. With the emergence of new European governments in Germany and France, Iran depended more on Russia and China to block U.S.-sponsored resolutions in the U.N. Security Council calling for tougher action against Iran.

If Iran is about to lose Russian support as well, Tehran could be completely vulnerable; China is unlikely to stand up for the Iranians on its own. Additionally, Moscow could make a commitment to Washington not to sell weapons to Iran or complete the Bushehr nuclear power plant -- a move that would force the Iranians to reshape their policy. An isolated Iran is just what the United States needs in order to force a settlement on Iraq more or less on its own terms.

Iran's position in Iraq is not superb, either; the Iranians are having a hard time keeping the Shia together and recently brokered a truce between their main proxy, the Supreme Iraqi Islamic Council, and the al-Sadrite movement. Tehran also knows that U.S. forces will not be withdrawn any time soon, and thus there will be no vacuum for the Iranians to fill. Given these circumstances, waiting out the United States in order to consolidate its influence in Iraq is becoming a more untenable option for Tehran.

Thus, a U.S.-Russian agreement -- or lack thereof -- will determine the future course of U.S.-Iranian dealings on Iraq.



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China busts a move in Kazakhstan
« Reply #157 on: December 11, 2007, 09:37:43 PM »
China, Kazakhstan: Pipelines and the Balance of Power

China has broken ground on the final portion of a pipeline linking the massive energy reserves of the Caspian Sea directly to China. That realization will be the culmination of 15 years of strategic planning, and will change the balance of power between China, Russia and the United States.


Kazakh Prime Minister Karim Masimov hosted a ceremony Dec. 11 in which he broke ground on an oil pipeline to connect the Kazakh cities of Kenkiyak and Kumkol. The project will complete a transport network linking the huge oil fields of the Kazakh sector of the Caspian Sea basin directly to western China.

Overall, China's strategic position is unfortunate. Most of its population lies in the coastal areas of eastern and southern China. And most of the country's deep interior can only support a small population, while jungles and mountains to the south and the Russian nuclear arsenal to the north block expansion. Finally, China cannot supply its own energy needs, forcing it to rely upon U.S. command of the seas for its economic well-being.

Central Asia -- and Kazakhstan specifically -- provides China with a means of breaking out of this situation. Lightly populated Kazakhstan has loads of room, loads of energy, and -- thanks to the Soviet collapse -- offers loads of opportunities for geopolitical expansion. All that it requires is constructing infrastructure to knit the two nations together.

The Kenkiyak-Kumkol line is the second phase of that plan. The first -- completed in December 2005 -- linked Atasu with China (existing Soviet-era infrastructure allowed this segment to connect as far west as Kenkiyak). Once Kenkiyak-Komkol is completed and a few pumping stations on other pieces of (Chinese-constructed) infrastructure are reversed, China will be linked into three separate Kazakh petroleum basins with the biggest one -- the Caspian -- sitting right at the end of the Frankensteined line. China's goal is by 2011 to have the line shipping 400,000 barrels per day (bpd) with eventual upgrades taking that number north of 1 million bpd. And this too is really only the beginning. Plans are in place for building additional oil and natural gas pipelines to capture not just Kazakh energy but Uzbek and Turkmen energy as well. Ground has already been broken on some of the most ambitious of these projects.

The projects will expand China's geopolitical box, giving it its first large-scale access to non-waterborne imported oil. Until now, U.S. naval superiority has ensured Washington could shut down the Chinese economy without so much as firing a shot. Now, that ability will be blunted somewhat. While this will not translate into instant conflict with the United States -- China will still be importing at least another 3 million bpd via oceanborne tankers -- it will provide Beijing its first serious strategic wiggle room and make military conflict with the United States at least theoretically possible.

The implications for Russia are far more dramatic. Moscow has always thought of Central Asia as its exclusive stomping ground. This pipeline network undermines that in every way possible. Russian influence is strongest in Kazakhstan; should Kazakhstan find a firmer economic partner to the east, the rest of the "Stans" -- none of which borders Russia -- are almost certain to follow. For Russia this pipeline means not only the loss of a sphere of influence and the expansion of a potential rival onto its southern flank, but also a weakening of the Russian position vis-à-vis Europe. Russia lacks the natural gas production capacity to supply both its home market and its European customers without a monopoly on Central Asian natural gas. China intends not only to end that monopoly, but also to harvest all of the region's natural gas for itself.

The Russians have few tools for competing with the growing surge in Chinese power. Economically, the Central Asians would vastly prefer selling their energy to China over Russia -- China pays more and connections come with fewer strings attached. There is also the issue of lingering resentment over Soviet imperialism. So unless the Russians are willing to embrace (and pay for) new export options for the Central Asians, the only remaining option is making the Central Asian leadership too scared of Russian retribution to cooperate with China. This is something with which Moscow has a good deal of experience. But until a few members of Central Asia's inner circles begin meeting untimely demises, Chinese infrastructure will continue inching its way across the border, bringing the entire region ever closer to Beijing's orbit.



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Stratfor Net Assessment
« Reply #158 on: January 01, 2008, 07:45:48 PM »
Net Assessment: United States
Stratfor Today » December 31, 2007 | 2343 GMT

Brendan Smialowski/Getty ImagesThere are those who say that perception is reality. Geopolitics teaches the exact opposite: There is a fundamental reality to national power, and the passing passions of the public have only a transitory effect on things. In order to see the permanent things, it is important to tune out the noise and focus on the reality. That is always hard, but nowhere more so than in the United States, where the noise is incredibly loud, quite insistent, and profoundly contradictory and changeable. Long dissertations can and should be written on the dynamics of public opinion in the United States. For Stratfor, the root of these contradictions is in the dynamism of the United States. You can look at the United States and be awed by its dynamic power, and terrified by it at the same time.

All nations have complex psyches, but the American is particularly complex, contradictory and divisive. It is torn between two poles: dread and hubris. They alternate and compete and tear at each other. Neither dominates. They are both just there, tied to each other. The dread comes from a feeling of impending doom, the hubris from constantly overcoming it.

Hubris is built into American history. The American republic was founded to be an exemplary regime, one that should be emulated. This sense of exceptionality was buttressed by the doctrine of manifest destiny, the idea that the United States in due course would dominate the continent. Americans pushed inward to discover verdant horizons filled with riches one after another, indelibly impressing upon them that life was supposed to get better and that setbacks were somehow unnatural. It is hard not to be an economic superpower when you effectively have an entire continent to yourself, and it is especially hard not to be a global economic hegemon once you’ve tamed that continent and use it as a base from which to push out. But the greatest driver for American hubris was the extraordinary economic success of the United States, and in particular its extraordinary technological achievements. There is a sense that there is nothing that the United States cannot achieve — and no limits to American power.

But underlying this extraordinary self-confidence is a sense of dread. To understand the dread, we have to understand the 1930s. The 1920s were a time of apparent peace and prosperity: World War I was over, and the United States was secure and prosperous. The market crash of 1929, followed by the Great Depression, imprinted itself on the American psyche. There is a perpetual fear that underneath the apparent prosperity of our time, economic catastrophe lurks. It is a sense that well-being masks a deep economic sickness. Part of the American psyche is braced for disaster.

This dread also has roots in Pearl Harbor, and the belief that it and the war that followed for the United States was the result of complacency and inattentiveness. Some argued that the war was caused by America’s failure to join the League of Nations. Others claimed that the fault lay in the failure to act decisively to stop Hitler and Tojo before they accumulated too much power. In either case, the American psyche is filled with a dread of the world, that the smallest threat might blossom into world war, and that failure to act early and decisively will bring another catastrophe. At the same time, from Washington’s farewell address to failures in Vietnam or Iraq, there has been the fear that American entanglement with the world is not merely dangerous, but it is the path to catastrophe.

This fault line consistently polarizes American politics, dividing it between those who overestimate American power and those who underestimate it. In domestic politics, every boom brings claims that the United States has created a New Economy that has abolished the business cycle. Every shift in the business cycle brings out the faction that believes the collapse of the American economy is just over the horizon. Sometimes, the same people say both things within months of each other.

The purpose of a net assessment is not to measure such perceptions, but to try to benchmark military, economic and political reality, treating the United States as if it were a foreign country. We begin by “being stupid”: that is, by stating the obvious and building from it, rather than beginning with complex theories. In looking at the United States, two obvious facts come to light.

First, the United States controls all of the oceans in the world. No nation in human history has controlled the oceans so absolutely. That means the United States has the potential to control, if it wishes, the flow of goods through the world’s oceans — which is the majority of international trade. Since World War II, the United States has used this power selectively. In general, it has used its extraordinary naval superiority to guarantee free navigation, because international trade has been one of the foundations of American prosperity. But it has occasionally used its power as a tool to shape foreign affairs or to punish antagonistic powers. Control of the oceans also means that the United States can invade other countries, and that — unless Canada or Mexico became much more powerful than they are now — other countries cannot invade the United States.

Second, no economy in the world is as large as the American economy. In 2006, the gross domestic product (GDP) of the United States was about $13.2 trillion. That is 27.5 percent of all goods and services produced in the world for that year, and it is larger than the combined GDPs of the next four countries — Japan, Germany, China and the United Kingdom. In spite of de-industrialization, industrial production in the United States was $2.1 trillion, equal to Japan’s, China’s and Germany’s industrial production combined. You can argue with the numbers, and weight them any number of ways, but the fact is that the United States is economically huge, staggeringly so. Everything from trade deficits to subprime mortgage crises must be weighed against the sheer size of the American economy and the fact that it is and has been expanding.

If you begin by being stupid instead of sophisticated, you are immediately struck by the enormity of American military power, based particularly on its naval power and its economic power, which in turn is based on the size and relative balance of the economy. The United States is the 2,000-pound gorilla of the international system. That means blows that would demolish other nations are absorbed with relative ease by the United States, while at the same time drawing howls of anguish that would lead you to assume the United States is on the eve of destruction. That much military and economic power does not collapse very easily or quickly.

The United States has two simple strategic goals. The first is to protect itself physically from attack to ensure its economy continues to flourish. Attacks against the United States are unpleasant, but invasion by a foreign power is catastrophic. Therefore the second goal is to maintain control of the seas. So long as the oceans are controlled by the U.S. Navy — and barring nuclear attack — the physical protection of the United States is assured. Therefore the United States has two interests. The first is preventing other nations from challenging American naval hegemony. The second is preventing other nations from acquiring nuclear weapons, and intimidating those who already have them.

The best way to prevent a challenge by another fleet is to make certain the fleet is never built. The best way to do that is to prevent the rise of regional hegemons, particularly in Eurasia, that are secure enough to build navies. The American strategy in Eurasia is the same as Britain’s in Europe — maintain the balance of power so that no power or coalition of powers can rise up as a challenger. The United States, rhetoric aside, has no interest in Eurasia except for maintaining the balance of power — or failing that, creating chaos.

The United States intervenes periodically in Eurasia, and elsewhere. Its goals appear to be incoherent and its explanations make little sense, but its purpose is single-minded. The United States does not want to see any major, stable power emerge in Eurasia that could, in the long term, threaten American interests either by building a naval challenge or a nuclear one. As powers emerge, the United States follows a three-stage program. First, provide aid to weaker powers to contain and undermine emerging hegemons. Second, create more formal arrangements with these powers. Finally, if necessary, send relatively small numbers of U.S. troops to Eurasia to block major powers and destabilize regions.

The basic global situation can be described simply. The United States has overwhelming power. It is using that power to try to prevent the emergence of any competing powers. It is therefore constantly engaged in interventions on a political, economic and military level. The rest of the world is seeking to limit and control the United States. No nation can do it alone, and therefore there is a constant attempt to create coalitions to contain the United States. So far, these coalitions have tended to fail, because potential members can be leveraged out of the coalition by American threats or incentives. Nevertheless, between constant American intrusions and constant attempts to contain American power, the world appears to be disorderly and dangerous. It might well be dangerous, but it has far more logic and order than it might appear.

U.S. Foreign Policy
The latest American foreign policy actions began after 9/11. Al Qaeda posed two challenges to the United States. The first was the threat of follow-on attacks, potentially including limited nuclear attacks. The second and more strategic threat was al Qaeda’s overall goal, which was to recreate an Islamic caliphate. Put in an American context, al Qaeda wanted to create a transnational “Islamic” state that, by definition, would in the long run be able to threaten U.S. power. The American response was complex. Its immediate goal was the destruction of al Qaeda. Its longer-term goal was the disruption of the Islamic world. The two missions overlapped but were not identical. The first involved a direct assault against al Qaeda’s command-and-control facilities: the invasion of Afghanistan. The second was an intrusion into the Islamic world designed to disrupt it without interfering with the flow of oil from the region.

U.S. grand strategy has historically operated by splitting enemy coalitions and partnering with the weaker partner. Thus, in World War II, the United States sided with the Soviet Union against Nazi Germany after their alliance collapsed. During the Cold War, the United States sided with Communist China against the Soviet Union after the Sino-Soviet split. Following that basic strategy, the United States first sided with and then manipulated the Sunni-Shiite split. In all these cases the goal was to disrupt and prevent the formation of a coalition that could threaten the United States.

Looked at from 50,000 feet, that was the result of the invasion of Iraq. It set the Sunnis and Shia against each other. Whether this idea was subjectively in the minds of American planners at the time is not really relevant. That it played out the U.S. model in foreign policy is what matters. The invasion of Iraq resulted in chaos. About 3,000 American troops were killed, a small number compared to previous multiyear, multidivisional wars. Not only did the Islamic world fail to coalesce into a single entity, but its basic fault line, Sunnis versus Shia, erupted into a civil war in Iraq. That civil war disrupted the threats of coalition formation and of the emergence of regional hegemons. It did create chaos. That chaos provided a solution to American strategic problems, while U.S. intelligence dealt with the lesser issue of breaking up al Qaeda.

The U.S. interest in the Islamic world at the moment is to reduce military operations and use the existing internal tension among Muslims to achieve American military ends. The reason for reducing military operations is geopolitical, and it hinges on Russia.

The total number of U.S. casualties in Iraq is relatively small, but the level of effort, relative to available resources, has essentially consumed most of America’s ground capabilities. The United States has not substantially increased the size of its army since the invasion of Iraq. There were three reasons for this. First, the United States did not anticipate the level of resistance. Second, rhetoric aside, U.S. strategy was focused on disruption, not nation-building, and a larger force was not needed for that. Third, the global geopolitical situation did not appear to require U.S. forces elsewhere. Therefore, Washington chose not to pay the price for a larger force.

The geopolitical situation has changed. The U.S. absorption in the Islamic world has opened the door for a more assertive Russia, which is engaged in creating a regional sphere of influence in the former Soviet Union. Following the American grand strategy of preventing the emergence of Eurasian regional powers, the United States must now put itself in a position to disrupt and/or contain Russia. With U.S. forces tied down in the Islamic world, there are no reserves for this mission. The United States is therefore engaged in a process of attempting to reduce its presence in the Islamic world, while repositioning to deal with the Russians.

The process of disengagement is enormously complex. Having allied with the Shia (including Iran) to disrupt al Qaeda, the United States now has shifted its stance toward the Sunnis and against the Shia, and particularly Iran. The U.S. interest is to re-create the balance of power that was disrupted with the invasion of Iraq. To do this, the United States must simultaneously create a balance in Iraq and induce Iran not to disrupt it, but without making Iran too powerful. This is delicate surgery and it makes the United States appear inconsistent. The recent contretemps over the National Intelligence Estimate — and the resulting inevitable public uproar — is part of the process of the U.S. rebalancing its policy in the region.

The Iraqi situation is now less threatening than the situation to the east. In Afghanistan, the United States and NATO have about 50,000 troops facing a resurgent Taliban. No military solution is possible given the correlation of forces. Therefore a political solution is needed in which an accommodation is reached with the Taliban, or with parts of the Taliban. There are recent indications, including the expulsion of EU and U.N. diplomats from Afghanistan for negotiating with the Taliban, that his process is under way. For the United States, there is no problem with a Taliban government, or with Taliban participation in a coalition government, so long as al Qaeda is not provided sanctuary for training and planning. The United States is trying to shape the situation in Afghanistan so those parts of the Taliban that participate in government will have a vested interest in opposing al Qaeda.


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Assessment part two
« Reply #159 on: January 01, 2008, 07:46:54 PM »

Pakistan obviously plays a role in this, since Afghanistan is to some extent an extension of Pakistan. The United States has an interest in a stable Pakistan, but it can live with a chaotic Pakistan provided its nuclear weapons are safeguarded and the chaos is contained within Pakistan. Given the situation in Afghanistan, this cannot be guaranteed. Therefore, American strategy must be to support Pakistan’s military in stabilizing the country, while paying lip service to democratic reform.

The United States has achieved its two major goals in the Islamic world. First, al Qaeda has been sufficiently disrupted that it has not mounted a successful operation in the United States for six years. Second, any possibility of an integrated Islamic multinational state — always an unlikely scenario — has been made even more unlikely by disruptive and destabilizing American strategies. In the end, the United States did not need to create a stable nation in Iraq, it simply had to use Iraq to disrupt the Islamic world. The United States did not need to win, it needed the Islamic world to lose. When you look at the Islamic world six years after 9/11, it is sufficient to say that it is no closer to unity than it was then, at the cost of a fraction of the American lives that were spent in Vietnam or Korea.

Thus, the United States at the moment is transitioning its foreign policy from an obsessive focus on the Islamic world to a primary focus on Russia. The Russians, in turn, are engaged in two actions. First, they are doing what they can to keep the Americans locked into the Islamic world by encouraging Iran while carefully trying not to provoke the United States excessively. Second, they are trying to form coalitions with other major powers — Europe and China — to block the United States. The Russians are facing an uphill battle because no one wants to alienate a major economic power like the United States. But the longer the Americans remain focused on the Islamic world, the more opportunities there are. Therefore, for Washington, reducing U.S. involvement in the Islamic world will be acceptable so long as it leaves the Muslims divided and in relative balance. The goal is reduction, not exit — and pursuing this goal explains the complexities of U.S. foreign policy at this point, as well as the high level of noise in the public arena, where passions run high.

Behind the noise, however, is this fact: The global situation for the United States has not changed since before 9/11. America remains in control of the world’s oceans. The jihadist strategic threat has not solidified, although the possibility of terrorism cannot be discounted. The emerging Russian challenge is not trivial, but the Russians have a long way to go before they would pose a significant threat to American interests. Another potential threat, China, is contained by its own economic interests, while lesser powers are not of immediate significance. American global pre-eminence remains intact and the jihadist threat has been disrupted for now. This leaves residual threats to the United States, but no strategic threats.

Capitalism requires business cycles and business cycles require recessions. During the culmination of a business cycle, when interest rates are low and excess cash is looking for opportunities to invest, substantial inefficiencies creep into the economy. As these inefficiencies and irrationalities become more pronounced, the cost of money rises, liquidity problems occur and irrationalities are destroyed. This is a painful process, but one without which capitalism could not succeed. When recessions are systematically avoided by political means, as happened in Japan and the rest of East Asia, and as is happening in China now, inefficiencies and irrationalities tend to pyramid. The longer the business cycle is delayed, the more explosive the outcome.

Historically, the business cycle in the United States has tended to average about six years in length. The United States last had a recession in 2000, seven years ago — so, by historical standards, it is time for another recession. But the 2000 recession occurred eight years after the previous one, so the time between recessions might be expanding. Six years or nine years makes little difference. There will be recessions because they discipline the economy and we are entering a period in which a recession is possible. When or how a recession happens matters little, so long as the markets on occasion have discipline forced back upon them.

In the most recent case, the irrationality that entered the system had to do with subprime mortgages. Put differently, money lenders gave loans to people who could not pay them back, and sold those loans to third parties who were so attracted by the long-term return that they failed to consider whether they would ever realize that return. Large pools of money thrown off by a booming economy had to find investment vehicles, and so investors bought the loans. Some of the more optimistic among these investors not only bought the loans but also borrowed against them to buy more loans. This is the oldest story in the book.

The loans were backed by real assets: houses. This is the good news and the bad news. The good news is that, in the long run, the bad loans are mitigated by the sale of these homes. The bad news is that as these houses are sold, housing prices will go down as supply increases. Home prices frequently go down. During the mid-1990s, for example, California home prices dropped sharply. However, there is an odd folk belief that housing prices always rise and that declining prices are unnatural and devastating. They hurt, of course, but California survived the declines in the 1990s and so will the United States today.

In an economy that annually produces in excess of $13 trillion in wealth, neither the subprime crisis nor a decline in housing prices represents a substantial threat. Nevertheless, given the culture of dread that we have discussed, there is a sense that this is simply the beginning of a meltdown in the American economy. It is certainly devastating major financial institutions, although not nearly as badly as the tech crash of 2000 or the savings and loan crisis of the 1980s devastated their sectors. It is having some effect on the financial system, although not nearly as much as one might think, given the level of angst expressed. And it is having a limited effect on the economy.

A liquidity crisis means a shortage of money, in which demand outstrips supply and the cost of money rises. There are, of course, those who are frozen out of the market — the same people to whom money should not have been lent in the first place, plus some businesses on shaky ground. This is simply the financial system rebalancing itself. But neither the equity nor the money markets are behaving as if we are on the verge of a recession any time soon.

Indeed — and here sentiment does matter, at least in the short run — it would appear that a recession is unlikely in the immediate future. Normally, recessions occur when sentiment is irrationally optimistic (recall the New Economy craziness in the late 1990s). What we are seeing now is economic growth, stable interest rates and equity markets, and profound anxiety over the future of the financial system. That is not how an economy looks six months or a year before a depression. Those who believe that major economic disaster is just around the corner have acted on that belief and the markets have already discounted that belief. It would certainly be reasonable for there to be a recession shortly, but we do not see the signs for it.

To the contrary, we see a major stabilizing force, the inflow of money into the American economy from what we might call the dollar bloc. During the period of European imperialism, one of the characteristics was politically enforced currency blocs (sterling, franc, etc.) that tied colonial economies to the mother country. We are now seeing, at least temporarily, a variation on that theme with a dollar bloc, which goes beyond the dollar’s role as a reserve currency.

For a decade, China has been running massive trade surpluses with the United States. Much of that surplus remained as cash reserves because the Chinese economy was unable to absorb it. Partly in order to stabilize currencies and partly to control their own economy, the Chinese have pegged their currency against the dollar, varying the theme a bit lately but staying well within that paradigm. The linking of the Chinese economy to the American led to the linking of the two currencies. It also created a pool of excess money that was most conservatively invested in the United States.

With the run up in the price of oil, another pool of surplus money that cannot be absorbed in native economies has emerged among the oil producers of the Arabian Peninsula. This reserve also is linked to the dollar, since oil prices are dollar-denominated. Given long-term oil contracts and the structure of markets, shifting away from the dollar would be complex and time consuming. It will not happen — particularly because the Arabs, already having lost on the dollar’s decline, might get hit twice if it rises. They are protected by remaining in the dollar bloc.

Those two massive pools of money, tightly linked to the dollar in a number of ways, are stabilizing the American financial system — and American financial institutions — by taking advantage of the weakness to buy assets. Historically (that is, before World War I), the United States was a creditor nation and a net importer of capital. That did not represent weakness. Rather, it represented the global market’s sense that the United States presented major economic opportunities. The structure of the dollar bloc would indicate a partial and probably temporary return to this model.

One must always remember the U.S. GDP — $13.2 trillion — in measuring any number. Both the annual debt and the total national debt must be viewed against this number, as well as the more troubling trade deficit. The $13.2 trillion can absorb damage and imbalances that smaller economies could not handle. We would expect a recession in the next couple of years simply based on the time since the last period of negative growth, but we tend to think that it is not quite here yet. But, even if it were, it would simply be a normal part of the business cycle, of no significant concern.

Net Assessment
The operative term for the United States is “huge.” The size of its economy and the control of the world’s oceans are the two pillars of American power, and they are intimately connected. So long as the United States has more than 25 percent of the world’s GDP and dominates the oceans, what the world thinks of it, or what it thinks of itself, is of little consequence. Power is power and those two simple, obvious facts trump all sophisticated theorizing.

Nothing that has happened in the Middle East, or in Vietnam a generation ago or in Korea a generation before that, can change the objective foundations of American power. Indeed, on close examination, what appears to be irrational behavior by the United States makes a great deal of sense in this context. A nation this powerful can take extreme risks, suffer substantial failures, engage in irrational activity and get away with it. But, in fact, regardless of perception, American risks are calculated, the failures are more apparent than real and the irrational activity is more rational than it might appear. Presidents and pundits might not fully understand what they are doing or thinking, but in a nation of more than 300 million people, policy is shaped by impersonal forces more than by leaders or public opinion. Explaining how that works is for another time.

The magnitude of American power can only be seen by stepping back. Then the weaknesses are placed into context and diminish in significance. A net assessment is designed to do that. It is designed to consider the United States “on the whole.” And in considering the United States on the whole, we are struck by two facts: massive power and cultural bipolar disorder. But the essence of geopolitics is that culture follows power; as the United States matures, its cultural bipolarity will subside.

Some will say that this net assessment is an America-centric, chauvinistic evaluation of the United States, making it appear more powerful, more important and more clever than it is. But in our view, this is not an America-centric analysis. Rather, it is the recognition that the world itself is now, and has been since 1992, America-centric. The United States is, in fact, more powerful than it appears, more important to the international system than many appreciate and, if not clever, certainly not as stupid as some would think. It is not as powerful as some fantasize. Iraq has proved that. It is not nearly as weak as some would believe. Iraq has proved that as well.

The United States is a powerful, complex and in many ways tortured society. But it is the only global power — and, as such, it is the nation all others must reckon with.


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Why we are in the Gulf
« Reply #160 on: January 02, 2008, 03:03:57 PM »
While we are on the subject of the role of the US Navy , , ,

Why We're in the Gulf
The world would be a much more dangerous place without America as a policeman.
Tuesday, January 1, 2008 12:01 a.m. EST

Few subjects matter as much as oil, the Persian Gulf and American foreign policy. But few subjects are less well understood. Even relatively sophisticated observers will attribute American interest in the Persian Gulf to Uncle Sam's insatiable thirst for crude, combined with an effort to gain lucrative contracts for American oil firms. The U.S. on this view is something like a global Count Dracula, roaming the earth in search of fresh bodies, hoping to suck them dry.

True, the security of America's oil supply has been an element in national strategic thinking at least since Franklin Roosevelt met with King Abdul Aziz in the waning days of World War II. And true, the U.S. government has never been indifferent to the concerns of the major oil concerns. But the security of our domestic energy supplies plays a relatively small role in America's Persian Gulf policy, and the purely commercial interests of American companies do not drive American grand strategy.

The U.S. today depends on the Middle East for only a small portion of its energy supplies. Still the world's third largest oil producer and holding large coal reserves, America is significantly less dependent on foreign energy sources than the other great economies. Imports account for 35% of U.S. energy consumption versus 56% for the European Union and 80% for Japan. Nearly half the oil and all the natural gas imported by the U.S. comes from the Western Hemisphere; sub-Saharan Africa supplies most of the balance. Only 17% of U.S. oil imports and less than 0.5% of our natural gas come from the Persian Gulf; 80% of Japan's imports come from the Gulf, and by 2015 70% of China's oil will come from the same source.

While U.S. import needs are projected to grow significantly, U.S. dependence on Persian Gulf energy is not, thanks largely to expected production increases in the Western Hemisphere and sub-Saharan Africa. U.S. energy imports from the Persian Gulf are expected to remain below 20% of total consumption. The oil market, of course, is global, and if something were to happen to the Middle Eastern supplies, prices would rise world-wide, and the U.S. economy would be seriously disrupted. But domestic supply is not the key to American interest in the Gulf.

For the past few centuries, a global economic and political system has been slowly taking shape under first British and then American leadership. As a vital element of that system, the leading global power--with help from allies and other parties--maintains the security of world trade over the seas and air while also ensuring that international economic transactions take place in an orderly way. Thanks to the American umbrella, Germany, Japan, China, Korea and India do not need to maintain the military strength to project forces into the Middle East to defend their access to energy. Nor must each country's navy protect the supertankers carrying oil and liquefied national gas (LNG).
For this system to work, the Americans must prevent any power from dominating the Persian Gulf while retaining the ability to protect the safe passage of ships through its waters. The Soviets had to be kept out during the Cold War, and the security and independence of the oil sheikdoms had to be protected from ambitious Arab leaders like Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser and Iraq's Saddam Hussein. During the Cold War Americans forged alliances with Turkey, Israel and (until 1979) Iran, three non-Arab states that had their own reasons for opposing both the Soviets and any pan-Arab state.

When the fall of the shah of Iran turned a key regional ally into an implacable foe, the U.S. responded by tightening its relations with both Israel and Turkey--while developing a deeper relationship with Egypt, which had given up on Nasser's goal of unifying all the Arabs under its flag.

Today the U.S. is building a coalition against Iran's drive for power in the Gulf. Israel, a country which has its own reasons for opposing Iran, remains an important component in the American strategy, but the U.S. must also manage the political costs of this relationship as it works with the Sunni Arab states. American opposition to Iran's nuclear program not only reflects concerns about Israeli security and the possibility that Iran might supply terrorist groups with nuclear materials. It also reflects the U.S. interest in protecting its ability to project conventional forces into the Gulf.

The end of America's ability to safeguard the Gulf and the trade routes around it would be enormously damaging--and not just to us. Defense budgets would grow dramatically in every major power center, and Middle Eastern politics would be further destabilized, as every country sought political influence in Middle Eastern countries to ensure access to oil in the resulting free for all.
The potential for conflict and chaos is real. A world of insecure and suspicious great powers engaged in military competition over vital interests would not be a safe or happy place. Every ship that China builds to protect the increasing numbers of supertankers needed to bring oil from the Middle East to China in years ahead would also be a threat to Japan's oil security--as well as to the oil security of India and Taiwan. European cooperation would likely be undermined as well, as countries sought to make their best deals with Russia, the Gulf states and other oil rich neighbors like Algeria.

America's Persian Gulf policy is one of the chief ways through which the U.S. is trying to build a peaceful world and where the exercise of American power, while driven ultimately by domestic concerns and by the American national interest, provides vital public goods to the global community. The next American president, regardless of party and regardless of his or her views about the wisdom of George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq, will necessarily make the security of the Persian Gulf states one of America's very highest international priorities.

Mr. Mead is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of the recently published "God and Gold: Britain, America, and the Making of the Modern World" (Knopf, 2007).



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Re: Geo Political matters - World Peace
« Reply #161 on: January 29, 2008, 07:39:47 AM »
VDH is apparently poking fun at the world's current obsession with the plight of the Palestinians.  Within his five step program are some valuable nuggets of historical wisdom, IMO.

A Modest Proposal for Middle East Peace
The U.N. need only take five simple steps.

By Victor Davis Hanson

There seems to be a growing renewed animus against Israel lately. Arun Gandhi, grandson of the purported humanist Mahatma Gandhi, thinks Israel and Jews in general are prone to, and singularly responsible for, most of the world’s violence. The Oxford Union is taking up the question of whether Israel even has a right to continue to exist. Our generation no longer speaks of a “Palestinian problem,” but rather of an “Israeli problem.” So perhaps it is time for a new global approach to deal with Israel and its occupation.

Perhaps we ought to broaden our multinational and multicultural horizons by transcending the old comprehensive settlements, roadmaps, and Quartet when dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, a dispute which originated with the creation of Israel.

Why not simply hold an international conference on all of these issues — albeit in a far more global context, outside the Middle East?

The ensuing general accords and principles could be applied to Israel and the West Bank, where the number of people involved, the casualties incurred, and the number of refugees affected are far smaller and far more manageable.

Perhaps there could be five U.N. sessions: disputed capitals; the right of return for refugees; land under occupation; the creation of artificial post-World War II states; and the use of inordinate force against suspected Islamic terrorists.

In the first session, we should try to solve the status of Nicosia, which is currently divided into Greek and Turkish sectors by a U.N. Greek Line. Perhaps European Union investigators could adjudicate Turkish claims that the division originated from unwarranted threats to the Turkish Muslim population on Cyprus. Some sort of big power or U.N. roadmap then might be imposed on the two parties, in hopes that the Nicosia solution would work for Jerusalem as well.

In the second discussion, diplomats might find common ground about displaced populations, many from the post-war, late 1940s. Perhaps it would be best to start with the millions of Germans who were expelled from East Prussia in 1945, or Indians who were uprooted from ancestral homes in what is now Pakistan, or over half-a-million Jews that were ethnically cleansed from Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, and Syria following the 1967 war. Where are these refugees now? Were they ever adequately compensated for lost property and damages? Can they be given promises of the right to return to their ancestral homes under protection of their host countries? The ensuring solutions might shed light on the Palestinian aspirations to return to land lost sixty years ago to Israel.

A third panel would take up the delicate issue of returning territory lost by defeat in war. Ten percent of historic Germany is now part of Poland. The Russians still occupy many of the Kurile Islands, and Greek Cyprus lost sizable territory in 1974 after the invasion by Turkey. The Western Sahara is still annexed by Morocco, while over 15 percent of disputed Azerbaijan has been controlled by Armenia since 1994. Additionally, all of independent Tibet has been under Chinese occupation since 1950-1. Surely if some general framework concerning these occupations could first be worked out comprehensively, the results might then be applied to the much smaller West Bank and Golan Heights.

In a fourth panel, the international conference should take up the thorny issue of recently artificially created states. Given the tension over Kashmir, was Pakistan a mistake — particularly the notion of a homeland for Indian Muslims? North Korea was only created after the stalemate of 1950-3; so should we debate whether this rogue nation still needs to exist, given its violent history and threats to world peace?

Fifth, and finally, is there a global propensity to use inordinate force against Muslim terrorists that results in indiscriminate collateral damage? The Russians during the second Chechnyan War of 1999-2000 reportedly sent tactical missiles into the very core of Grozny, and may have killed tens of thousands of civilians in their hunt for Chechnyan terrorists — explaining why the United Nations later called that city the most destroyed city on earth. Syria has never admitted to the complete destruction of Hama, once home to Muslim Brotherhood terrorists. The city suffered the fate of Carthage and was completely obliterated in 1982 by the al-Assad government, with over 30,000 missing or killed. Did the Indian government look the other way in 2002 when hundreds of Muslim civilians in Gujarat were killed in reprisal for Islamic violence against Hindus? The lessons learned in this final session might reassure a world still furious over the 52 Palestinians lost in Jenin.


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Re: Geo Political matters
« Reply #162 on: January 29, 2008, 11:38:59 AM »
GREAT post Doug!

In a closely related vein:

Iran to US and Europe: If you support Israel, we'll kill you

And seize your property.
But remember: their nuke program is peaceful!
"Kayhan Editor Close To Iran's Supreme Leader Khamenei: 'America and Its European Supporters Must Know... That the Price of Supporting [Israel] Will Cost Them the Property and Lives of Their Citizens... If the Heads of Some Islamic States Prevent the Muslim Peoples from Attacking the Zionists... They Can Be Toppled,'" from MEMRI (thanks to Sr. Soph):
In a January 26 op-ed in the Iranian daily Kayhan, the paper's editor, Hossein Shariatmadari, who is close to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, called on Muslims to unite in a retaliatory attack on American, European, and Israeli "sensitive centers" because of "the war crimes that these countries are committing in the Gaza Strip" and because of their support for Israel. In his op-ed, Shar'iatmadari stressed that American and European civilians must be harmed in these attacks, so as to make the U.S. and the European countries change their policy towards Israel. He further called for harming Israelis worldwide, and explained that Islamic regimes that prevent an Islamic attack on Israel must be toppled, because they are defending the enemy.
Following are excerpts from Sharatmadari's op-ed, which was titled "The Defenders of the Enemy"1)
"America and its European and Zionist supporters must know that their support for Israel's crimes will cost them very dearly. Once they discern that this support will cost them the property and lives of their citizens, they will doubtless reconsider their support for the savage Zionists... And didn't the Imam [Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini] teach that if every Muslim pours out one bucket of water, there will be a flood that will sweep away Israel, and destroy it?
"Every time a movement rises up against the Zionist occupier and acts to liberate its homeland, America and its allies accuse it of terrorism, and every state that supports these movements is punished. Why wouldn't the Muslims act the same way, and attack all the supporters of the Zionists everywhere in the world?
"The prevalent legal doctrine in both the Shi'ite school and the Sunni school is that it is permissible to attack anyone whom the enemy uses as a shield in the war against the enemies of Islam. Therefore, if some heads of Islamic states prevent the Muslim peoples from attacking the Zionists – thus constituting a shield that prevents support to the persecuted people of that region – it permissible to topple these defenders of the enemy."

Posted by Robert at January 28, 2008 6:03 AM
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Re: Geo Political matters
« Reply #163 on: March 28, 2008, 08:12:56 AM »
NATO Expansion Should Continue
March 28, 2008; Page A13

Next week Romania's capital of Bucharest will host representatives from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's 26 member nations. There the alliance will make critical choices about its mission in Afghanistan and expanding to several former Soviet-bloc nations. These decisions need not and should not be further delayed for yet more "meetings" and "consultations" in capitals across Europe.

Today NATO needs clarity of purpose. A display of timidity in Bucharest could derail its recent progress in adjusting to the demands of the still new 21st century. Moving decisively beyond NATO's traditional mindset is a strategic imperative if the alliance is to remain relevant to the challenges it is likely to face.

David Klein 
There is no better way for NATO to move forward than by extending full membership invitations to Albania, Croatia and Macedonia and by beginning the process to bring Georgia and Ukraine into the alliance in the future through membership action plans (MAPs). At a time when European commitments to the NATO mission in Afghanistan are being questioned, the determination of Albania, Croatia and Macedonia to contribute to tough missions is clear. Collectively, the three Balkan nations have more than 650 troops currently serving in Afghanistan and Iraq.

At the moment Croatia has more than 200 troops training the Afghan National Army and serving in Provincial Reconstruction Teams. A company of Macedonian troops leads the mission of defending NATO's International Security Assistance Force headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan. In addition to its continuous troop presence in Afghanistan since 2002, Albania was among the first nations to deploy to Iraq in 2003. Five years later, Albania intends to be among the last to leave. As the Albanian military commander in Mosul, Iraq, recently said, "We'll be here as long as the Americans are."

As was the case with NATO invitations to other former Soviet-bloc nations in 1999 and 2004, this year's expansion would consolidate democratic and economic gains in Southeast Europe. The region's trajectory toward free political institutions and free markets is unmistakable.

For the past several years under membership action plans, the governments of Albania, Croatia and Macedonia have been preparing to join the ranks of NATO. They now meet the necessary criteria for membership. They have shown their commitment to human rights and regional stability by protecting the rights of ethnic minorities. They have allocated a greater percentage of their GDP to defense expenditures than most NATO countries in Western Europe, and they have built sound defense capabilities in intelligence, medical support, and special operations.

Perhaps most important in light of NATO's demonstrated shortcomings, Albania, Croatia and Macedonia have made use of those capabilities in Afghanistan and Iraq by taking on the tough missions that several current NATO members have been unwilling to carry out. Albania, Croatia and Macedonia are certainly not large geographically, but the operational -- and attitudinal -- contributions they bring to NATO will far outstrip their size.

With respect to Georgia and Ukraine, both nations are democratic, politically mature, relatively stable and committed to the international community after the Orange and Rose revolutions in 2003 and 2004. Neighboring Russia recently suggested it might turn its nuclear arsenal on Ukraine or incite civil disorder in Georgia if either takes steps to join NATO. Undeterred, the Georgian and Ukrainian governments have expressed their clear desire to initiate membership action plan proceedings.

Silence on the issue of Georgia and Ukraine in Bucharest -- including postponement of MAPs, as some Western European governments seem to be suggesting -- would amount to a rejection of Georgia's and Ukraine's international aspirations. It would prove disillusioning to their people, and it would serve as a green light to Russia to continue the tired rhetoric of the Cold War.

The administration, bipartisan majorities in Congress, and most members of NATO have expressed support for extending membership to nations in Southeastern Europe and for partnerships with those nations beyond. Why then the hold up? Aside from Russia's opposition, Greece has threatened to issue a sole veto over Macedonia's entry because Macedonia refuses to change its country name. The future of the trans-Atlantic alliance -- and its credibility as the pre-eminent political and military instrument of the world's democracies -- are too important to be constrained by narrow disputes over semantics or to intimidation tactics more befitting the last century.

A larger, reinvigorated alliance, with three new members and two potential members, would augment NATO with countries that have a proven track record of not only recognizing today's challenges but also of consistently contributing to the alliance's efforts to promote and protect its interests. Expansion would bring operational expertise and a spirit of cooperation to an alliance in need of both. All five nations would also bring to NATO an appreciation for the vigilance required to defend liberty. With their peoples' first hand experience of Communist occupation, they see in Islamic extremism the dangers of an all too familiar totalitarian ideology.

NATO's mission in Afghanistan, thousands of miles from the European continent, has been an historic step toward transforming NATO to meet new challenges of the 21st century. But its work there has laid bare some hard truths about the state of the alliance.

Restrictive national caveats imposed by some member nations currently prevent their contingents from engaging in combat, causing other NATO and non-NATO members of the coalition -- such as those being considered for membership currently -- to carry a disproportionate burden of the alliance's work and sacrifice. Outdated rules of engagement, uneven national commitments, and a lack of sufficient urgency among several of its members are indisputable facts. And so too are the possibilities of failure and creeping irrelevance if NATO does not act wisely in Bucharest.

Expanding NATO to Albania, Croatia and Macedonia and building closer partnerships with Georgia and Ukraine would help to assuage any concerns that the alliance no longer has the collective grit for the tough work necessary to overcome the challenges in Afghanistan. All five non-NATO nations currently under consideration -- in contrast with several full NATO members -- have demonstrated willingness to accept NATO responsibilities.

Albania, Croatia and Macedonia are today ready to accept those responsibilities. Georgia and Ukraine will likely be ready to accept NATO responsibilities in the coming years if issued membership action plans next week. The Bucharest summit presents an opportunity to advance the interests of all 26 member nations by expanding the NATO alliance. Now is not a time for self-doubt. It is a time for U.S. and European leadership.

Mr. Rumsfeld was U.S. ambassador to NATO from 1973 to 1974 and was the 13th and 21st U.S. secretary of Defense.

See all of today's editorials and op-eds, plus video commentary, on Opinion Journal.


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Re: Geo Political matters
« Reply #164 on: March 28, 2008, 12:18:54 PM »
Second post of the day:

Geopolitical Diary: Ukraine, The Main Battlefield of Cold War II
March 28, 2008
Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko said on Thursday that no NATO bases would be deployed in his country in the event that Kiev became a member of that organization. Citing Ukraine’s Constitution, which forbids the establishment of foreign military bases in the country, Yushchenko said, “Some people are spreading the fable that there will be a NATO military base in Sevastopol. There will be no base.” This statement comes within three weeks of Kiev saying it had abandoned its bid for membership in the Western military alliance. 

This is not the first time Ukraine has done such a flip-flop. On the contrary, this oscillation between aligning with the West and placating Russian concerns has been the hallmark of the country’s behavior for some years now — if not historically. Structurally, Ukraine is divided between the people in the western part of the country, who want to align with the United States and Europe, and the people in the eastern part, who are looking eastward toward Moscow. 

The ill-fated Orange Revolution of late 2004/early 2005 — which failed to bring the country under Western influence –- complicated things. It exacerbated the divisions within the country, creating a stalemate between the two sides. Ukraine’s geopolitical position has failed to allow the country to break its dependence on and past with Russia. As a result, on a larger geopolitical scale, the United States and Russia are locked in a long-term tug-of-war over Ukraine. 

In fact, Ukraine represents the major arena in which Cold War II is being played out between Washington and Moscow. Ukraine is of critical importance to both sides. For the United States, a successful extraction of the country from the influence of Moscow — not to mention NATO’s arrival on Moscow’s doorstep — means relegating Russia to the status of a declining regional power. Conversely, and more importantly, for Russia, it is not just about its efforts to revive the bipolar world, but it is an issue of survival. 

The loss of Ukraine could critically weaken the Kremlin. It is not merely a buffer separating Russia from the West; it is integrated into the Russian industrial and agricultural base. This is why Moscow has been using the tool of natural gas cutoffs and coercion by the FSB to keep Ukraine’s leadership in check. Moreover, Moscow has laid out the consequences of Kiev teaming up with NATO, saying it will point missiles at its neighbor if it were part of the alliance. 

Moscow, however, can take comfort from the fact that there is no consensus within the West regarding Ukraine’s entry into NATO. The Europeans, particularly Germany, do not share Washington’s level of enthusiasm for Kiev’s assimilation into NATO. Uninterrupted supply of Russian gas via Ukraine is of far greater value to the Central and Eastern Europeans than any grandiose plans to secure the downfall of Russia. It isn’t that Germany is against Ukraine joining the West, but that it would rather pick that fight another day — preferably when Europe wasn’t so dependent on Russia for energy.

But it is Ukraine that is being tugged and pushed from all sides, leaving it to balance precariously between surviving with a very aggressive Russia to its east, ambivalence to its west and a Washington eager to use Kiev as its pawn to stick it to Moscow. For the next week, Ukraine will toe the line — not accepting or rejecting the other and waiting for the United States and Russia to decide how far this battle will go. 

In short, Ukraine is not just the premier battlefield of Cold War II, but a more-or-less permanent standoff arena –- unless, of course, one side decides to back off, which isn’t about to happen anytime soon.


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Re: Geo Political matters
« Reply #165 on: April 21, 2008, 11:01:31 PM »
Geopolitical Diary: Russia, the West and Azerbaijan
April 22, 2008
News broke in the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan on April 21 that on March 29 Azerbaijani authorities had halted a shipment of Russian equipment destined for Iran’s nuclear facility at Bushehr. The Azerbaijanis say the shipment was detained because the equipment may be in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions restricting international assistance in Iran’s nuclear program.

Details about the incident remain sketchy — everything from the nature of the equipment to the reason for the media blackout of the past 20 days remains unclear — but against the broader backdrop of geopolitical events, a few pieces of this puzzle reveal a pattern. The only question in Stratfor’s mind is this: What pattern has been highlighted by this revelation?

Russia is in the process of attempting to push back against steadily encroaching Western pressure across the length and breadth of its periphery. One of its most efficient means of doing this is contributing to instability in the Middle East as a means of occupying Western — and especially American — attention. And there are few means more effective at doing this than assisting Tehran with anything that involves the word “nuclear.”

But it is not as if the West sits idly by waiting for the Russians to produce a particularly well-crafted monkey wrench — and it is certainly not as if the West does not have its own options. This particular instance all comes down to Azerbaijan. Separated from NATO members by the politically unstable geography of the Caucasus, Baku is well aware that its very existence depends on its ability to tack between the winds of Russian assertiveness and Western power.

In the past, Baku has sought to engage the West — obliquely seeking membership in both the European Union and NATO — but it has also been willing to back track whenever it hears a growl from Moscow. Azerbaijan taking a firm stance against what has become a core Russian policy is tantamount to announcing to the world that it is applying to the United States for statehood — and that would not be done without some firm assurances out of NATO. As for potential Russian reactions, while Russia theoretically could still ship materials to Iran across the Caspian Sea or via an air bridge, putting Azerbaijan in the Western camp largely severs direct Russian influence into the Middle East.

The Bushehr events meld well into these processes. It is a very Russian move to play the Iranian nuclear card in the days leading up to NATO’s April 2-4 summit. It would similarly be a very Western move to use Western influence — Western companies are almost wholly responsible for the development of the Azerbaijani energy industry — to arrange for a stoppage of that shipment. And it would be very Azerbaijani to seek the strongest benefit from both sides for cooperation.

And there is yet another angle to this dance. Iran knows full well that the United States — not to mention Israel — would never allow Tehran to develop a nuclear weapon, and that crossing the red line risks turning Tehran into a crater. For Tehran, the nuclear card is just that — an asset to be traded away for something Iran wants and needs more: an Iraq that will never again seek to invade it. Only one power — the United States — holds the key to that desire, and playing poker with a country as powerful and as unpredictable as the United States tends to be a bit nerve-wracking. Ergo the nuclear “card.”

It is not clear if all this is about Russia, NATO, Azerbaijan, Iran or Iraq. It fits very neatly into all scenarios. But on one thing there is clarity: On an event like this, the world itself can turn.

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WSJ: East Europe supports Ukraine and Georgia for NATO
« Reply #166 on: April 24, 2008, 06:01:32 AM »
Eastern Solidarity
April 24, 2008

The "new Europeans," although safely ensconced in NATO and the EU, aren't turning their backs on countries still stranded in a security and political limbo farther east. If only their moral clarity were infectious.

Yesterday in Prague, the Visegrád Group – Poland, Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia – said that Ukraine and Georgia should be put on a track toward NATO membership at the earliest opportunity. At the NATO summit in Bucharest earlier this month, Germany, along with a few other "old Europeans," scotched a U.S.-led effort to give these two countries "membership action plans." The Alliance is supposed to revisit the issue by year's end. The Visegrád foreign ministers also endorsed Ukraine's bid to join the EU; Brussels can't bear the thought.

Meanwhile, also yesterday, Lithuania threatened to block the launch of EU-Russia trade talks. The Lithuanians are concerned about growing Russian pressure on Georgia. The veto threat serves as a useful reminder that Russia can pay a price for bad behavior.

The warning is apt, too. The go-slow-on-NATO decision in Bucharest, a blow to Georgia's pro-Western government, emboldened the Kremlin. President Vladimir Putin last week moved to upgrade ties with Georgia's two breakaway regions, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. This could be a prelude to Russian annexation, formal separation or possible war. Russia has similarly asserted its right to veto Ukraine's ambitions to leave its orbit for good.

German, French and Italian politicians have a sorry record of willingness to indulge the Putin Kremlin. Yet thanks to the post-Cold War enlargements of NATO, the U.S. isn't alone in championing the right of European democracies freely to choose which friends to keep and alliances to join.


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NK, Syria, and more
« Reply #167 on: April 27, 2008, 06:27:59 PM »
Kim Jong-il builds ‘Thunderbirds’ runway for war in North Korea
An airbase inside a mountain is the latest sign that North Korea, whose links to Syria’s nuclear programme came to light last week, is cranking up its military machine

Michael Sheridan, Far East Correspondent, and Uzi Mahnaimiin in Tel Aviv

North Korean military engineers are completing an underground runway beneath a mountain that can protect fighter aircraft from attack until they take off at high speed through the mouth of a tunnel.
The 6,000ft runway is a few minutes’ flying time from the tense front line where the Korean People’s Army faces soldiers from the United States and South Korea.
The project was identified by an air force defector from North Korea and captured on a satellite image by Google Earth, according to reports in the South Korean press last week.
It is one of three underground fighter bases among an elaborate subterranean military infrastructure built to withstand a “shock and awe” assault in the first moments of a war, the defector said.

The runway, reminiscent of the Thunderbirds television series, highlights the strange and secretive nature of the regime that provided the expertise for a partially built nuclear reactor in Syria, film of which was released by the CIA last week.
The reactor was destroyed by Israeli aircraft last September in an operation that may have killed or injured North Koreans at the site in the remote deserts of eastern Syria.
The airstrike appears to have convinced North Korea to harden its own defences and to spend more on its military, even as it struggles to cope with a new food shortage that could see millions of its citizens go hungry. In recent days North Korea has ordered its people to be vigilant against “warmongers”.
“The prevailing situation requires the whole party and army and all the people to get fully prepared to go into action,” North Korea’s state media said on Friday.
Although the media unleashed a volley of abuse against the United States and Lee Myungbak, South Korea’s conservative new president, it also said “sincere and constructive” negotiations on nuclear disarmament were in progress, an apparent effort to play off hawks against doves in Washington.
Some diplomats, who are sceptical of the process, say that behind the rhetoric, Kim Jong-il, the North Korean leader, may sense that he is a hair’s breadth away from a deal that would leave him with up to 10 nuclear weapons and a security guarantee for his regime.
In Washington, nuclear experts were puzzled by the timing and quality of the evidence released by the Bush administration. Democrats suggested hardliners around Dick Cheney, the vice-president, had forced the issue to try to wreck the talks with Kim.
However, there is a more persuasive argument. Analysts in Seoul see the American disclosures as a sly way to keep the negotiations alive. Kim had refused to make a “full declaration” of his nuclear programme by a December 31 deadline; now, in effect, the CIA has done it for him. “The revelation was a highly orchestrated one,” commented The Korea Herald, adding that it “enabled” Pyongyang to “make its declaration without losing face”.
One indication is that Christopher Hill, the US State Department negotiator, flew to Singapore for an unusual session with his North Korean counterparts shortly before the United States went public. “There must have been some sort of secret agreement or deal,” said Taewoo Kim, of the Korea Institute for Defence Analyses in Seoul.
Last year Hill persuaded the White House that the talks offered a realistic chance to accomplish a peace treaty formally ending the 1950-3 Korean war, in which more than 50,000 Americans died. His critics, such as John Bolton, the former United Nations ambassador, say North Korea has a long recidivist history of selling missiles and unconventional weapons to unstable Middle Eastern regimes such as Syria, Iran and Libya.
Whatever the truth, even by the standards of North Korean politics the atomic intrigue half a world away – with its multinational cast of spies, scientists, diplomats and airmen – makes an exotic story.
The alliance between the two clan dictatorships in Damascus and Pyongyang is more than 35 years old. In another tunnel, this one under Mount Myohang, the North Koreans have kept as a museum piece the Kalashnikov assault rifle and pistols sent as gifts from President Hafez al-Assad of Syria to Kim Il-sung in the early years of their friendship.
Today North Korea and Syria are ruled by the sons of their 20th-century dictators – Bashar al-Assad succeeded his father in 2000 and Kim Jong-il took over in 1994. They inherited a hatred of America and a fondness for authoritarian family rule.
Syria possesses the biggest missile arsenal and the largest stockpile of chemical weapons in the Middle East, built up over the past two decades with arms bought from North Korea.
North Korea, which detonated a nuclear device in October 2006, has become pivotal to Syria’s plans to enhance and upgrade its weapons.
Syria’s liquid-fuelled Scud-C missiles depend on “essential foreign aid and assistance, primarily from North Korean entities”, said the CIA in a report to the US Congress in 2004.

Diplomats based in Pyongyang have said they now believe reports that about a dozen Syrian technicians were killed in an explosion and train crash at Ryongchon, North Korea, on April 22, 2004. North Korea blamed a technical mishap, but there were rumours of an assassination attempt on Kim, whose special train had passed through the station en route to China some hours earlier.
No independently verified cause of the disaster was made known. However, teams of military personnel wearing protective suits were seen removing debris from the section of the train in which the Syrians were travelling, according to a detailed report quoting military sources which appeared on May 7, 2004, in the Sankei Shimbun, a Japanese newspaper.
The technicians were said to be from Syria’s Centre D’Etudes et de Recherche Scientifique, a body known to be engaged in military technology.
Their bodies were flown home by a Syrian military cargo aircraft which was spotted on May 1, 2004 at Pyongyang. There was speculation among military attachés that the Syrians were transporting unconventional weapons, the paper said at the time. Diplomats said the Sankei Shimbun report was now believed to be accurate.
Last year Jane’s Defence Weekly reported that dozens of Iranian engineers and Syrians were killed on July 23 attempting to load a chemical warhead containing the nerve gases VX and sarin onto a Scud missile at a plant in Syria.
The Scuds and warheads are of North Korean design and possibly manufacture. Some analysts think North Korean scientists were helping the Syrians to attach air-burst chemical warheads to the missiles.
Syria possesses more than 100 Scud-C and ScudD missiles which it bought from North Korea in the past 15 years. In the 1990s it added cluster warheads to the Scud-Cs that experts believe are intended for chemical weapons.
Like North Korea, Syria has an extensive chemical weapons programme including sarin, VX and mustard gas, according to researchers at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute in California.
The Scud-C is strategically worrying to Israel because Syria has deployed it with one launcher for every two missiles. The normal ratio is one to 10. The conclusion: Syria’s missiles are set up for a devastating first strike.
Since 2004 there have been a series of leaks designed to suggest that Syria has renewed its interest in atomic weapons, a claim denied by Damascus.
In December 2006 the Kuwaiti newspaper, Al-Siyasa, quoted European intelligence sources in Brussels as saying that Syria was engaged in an advanced nuclear programme in its northeastern Hasakah province.
It also quoted British security sources as identifying the man heading the programme as Major Maher Assad, brother of the president and commander of the Republican Guard.
Early last year foreign diplomats had noticed an increase in political and military visits between Syria and North Korea. They received reports of Syrian passengers on flights from Beijing to Pyongyang, almost the only air route into the country. They also spotted Middle Eastern businessmen using trains between North Korea and the industrial cities of northeast China.
Then there were clues in the official media. On August 14 Rim Kyongman, the North Korean minister of foreign trade, was in Syria to sign a protocol on “cooperation in trade and science and technology”. His delegation held the fifth meeting of a “joint economic committee” with its Syrian counterpart. No details were disclosed.
Initially, the conclusion of diplomats was that the deal involved North Korean ballistic missiles, maintenance for the existing Syrian arsenal and engineering expertise for building silos and bunkers against air attack. Now it is known that Israeli intelligence interpreted the meeting as the last piece in a nuclear jigsaw; a conclusion that Israel shared with President George W Bush.
For years the United States and Israel saw North Korean weapons sales to the Middle East as purely a source of revenue – apart from seafood, minerals and timber, North Korea is impoverished and has little else to sell. The nuclear threat in Syria was also believed to be dormant, as Damascus appeared to rely on a chemical first-strike as an unconventional deterrent.
In a period of detente, the United States and its allies concurred when China sold a 30kw nuclear reactor to Syria in 1998 under international controls.
Then, in 2003, American intelligence officials believe that Syria recruited Iraqi scientists who had fled after the fall of Saddam Hussein. Like other countries in the region, Syria renewed its pursuit of nuclear research.
The calculus changed for good after North Korea tested a nuclear bomb in 2006 and admitted to a plutonium stockpile sufficient for 10 more.
The danger to Israel is multiplied by the triangular relationship between North Korea, Syria and Iran. Syria has served as a conduit for the transport to Iran of an estimated £50m of missile components and technology sent by sea from North Korea to the Syrian port of Tartous, diplomats said.

They say Damascus and Tehran have set up a £125m joint venture to build missiles in Syria with North Korean and Chinese technical help. North Korean military engineers have worked on hardened silos and tunnels for the project near the cities of Hama and Aleppo.
Israel also noted reports from Pyongyang that Syrian and Iranian observers were present at missile test firings by the North Korean military last summer and were given valuable experimental data. Israeli sources said last week that Iran was informed “in every detail” about the nuclear reactor and had sent technicians to the site.
Such was the background against which Israel took its decision to strike. Two signals from the North Koreans in the aftermath showed that the bombs hit home.
On September 10, four days after the raid, Kim sent a personal message of congratulations to Assad on the Syrian dictator’s 42nd birthday.
“The excellent friendly and cooperative relations between the two countries are steadily growing stronger even under the complicated international situation,” Kim said.
The next day, in a message that went largely unnoticed, the North Koreans condemned the Israeli action as “illegal” and “a very dangerous provocation”.

Just days later a top Syrian official, Saeed Elias Daoud, director of the ruling Syrian Arab Ba’ath party, boarded a Russian-made vintage jet belonging to the North Korean airline, Air Koryo, for the short flight from Beijing.
Daoud brought counsel and sympathy from Assad, whose father Hafez was famed as a strategic gambler with a talent for brinkmanship.
Now Kim is waiting to see if his own gamble has paid off.
Additional reporting: Sarah Baxter in Washington


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Re: Geo Political matters
« Reply #168 on: April 28, 2008, 10:26:58 PM »
April 29, 2008
Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan said that while much remains to be achieved before any peace agreement between Israel and Syria, Ankara would continue to act as a go-between to encourage the two sides to restart direct negotiations, Haaretz reported Monday. The Israeli daily quoted Babacan as saying, “when the issue is a little more mature, then I hope that the sides will meet each other. It is a very promising development,” and that “There has been diplomatic traffic for the past year, which has intensified in the past few months.” The paper added that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan probably will be sending his foreign policy adviser, Ahmet Davutoglu, to Israel to brief Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on recent talks between Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Erdogan in Damascus, Syria.

At a time when it is difficult to determine the status of the Israeli-Syrian back-channel communications, information coming from the Turks is perhaps the best gauge on progress (or the lack thereof) in these talks. Meanwhile, the two principal actors — Israel and Syria — will continue to send out confusing signals. But the bottom line is that the public rhetoric matters very little, if at all; what does matter is that a negotiating process of sorts has taken off.

This is not to say that process will lead to an Israeli-Syrian agreement, however. Many bilateral and multilateral issues could complicate the talks, and possibly even derail the process. At this stage, it is very difficult to say with any degree of certainty what will happen, hence the need to watch the process play out.

That said, the Turkish role as the mediator between the Israelis and the Syrians is quite interesting to say the least. The key question is why are the Turks so keen on seeing a peace agreement between the two sides? How does such an agreement or working toward such an agreement serve Ankara’s geopolitical interests?

We have discussed Turkey’s bid to assert itself on the global stage by inserting itself into the various regions that it straddles, namely, Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East. Faced with resistance in its efforts to gain an anchor in Central Asia and Europe, Ankara under the Erdogan government has sought to assert itself in the Middle East, where there are no barriers to entry — and more important, ample opportunities for Turkey to advance its international status.

Mediating between Israel and Syria allows Turkey to insert itself between various players, including the United States, Israel, certain Arab countries and Iran. Turkey is unique in that it has significant influence with all sides. This allows it to deal with both sides in the various conflicts brewing in the region, namely, in Iraq, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories.

And this role comes at virtually no cost to Turkey. Ankara has nothing to lose should the talks lead nowhere. If the negotiations succeed, however, a peace agreement between Israel and Syria possibly could create the conditions for a Turkish role in the Palestinian and wider Arab-Israeli dynamics. More important, it could lead to a more comprehensive arrangement between the United States and Iran.

From the Turkish point of view, the U.S. move to effect regime change in Iraq in 2003 created chaos in Turkey’s backyard. Not only did it greatly enhance the Kurdish separatist threat to Turkish interests, U.S.-Iranian dealings on Iraq empowered Iran. Tehran thus emerged as a potential competitor to Ankara for top spot in the region, upsetting the latter’s regional calculus. Turkey thus needs to find a way to ensure that it has the upper hand in the region — and mediating a peace deal between Israel and Syria could go a long way in this regard.



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Re: Geo Political matters
« Reply #169 on: April 29, 2008, 04:08:56 PM »
A partial correction to post #167:

Not exactly true (the Thunderbird part):

Apr 27, 2008 (12 hours ago)
Too Good to Be True
from In From the Cold by Spook86

SU-25 attack jets on the ramp at Sunchon AB, North Korea. Sunchon is one of the few NK airbases where fighters are stored above ground (Google Earth photo via Flickr)

The U.K. Sunday Times reports that North Korea is completing a 6000-foot, underground runway that would protect fighter jets from attack until they take off, through the mouth of a tunnel.

As the Times' Michael Sheridan reports:

The 6,000ft runway is a few minutes’ flying time from the tense front line where the Korean People’s Army faces soldiers from the United States and South Korea.

The project was identified by an air force defector from North Korea and captured on a satellite image by Google Earth, according to reports in the South Korean press last week.

It is one of three underground fighter bases among an elaborate subterranean military infrastructure built to withstand a “shock and awe” assault in the first moments of a war, the defector said.

The runway, reminiscent of the Thunderbirds television series, highlights the strange and secretive nature of the regime that provided the expertise for a partially built nuclear reactor in Syria, film of which was released by the CIA last week.

The paper's account provides no additional details on the underground base, which it compared to the subterranean facility in Thunderbirds, the classic, 1960s British sci-fi TV series. But there's only one problem with the "runway-inside-a-mountain" that supposedly exists in North Korea; the story simply isn't true.

Tales of a massive, underground jet base in the DPRK have been making the rounds for years, and like many myths, they contain elements of truth. For example, virtually all North Korean Air Force (NKAF) bases have underground facilities (UGFs), but they're--typically--a combination parking area and maintenance hangar, carved inside a mountain.

Many of the UGFs are quite large; at many bases they can accomodate a full aircraft regiment, as many as 45 jets. The underground shelters offer hardened protection from enemy air attack and allow North Korean technicians to service and load their jets without being detected. But to launch, aircraft must depart the UGF, using one of adits that lead to the outside taxiway and runway. Each of the portals has a massive blast door, providing more protection against enemy airstrikes or missile attacks.

Pyongyang's UGF project has been underway for decades. In fact, it's something of a rarity to find a NKAF base where underground facilities aren't used, or simply don't exist. One of the installations that fall in that category is Sunchon AB, near Pyongyang. Sunchon is home to the newest aircraft in the North Korean inventory, the MiG-29 Fulcrum and the SU-25 Frogfoot.

Fighters at the base are stored in above-ground aircraft shelters, similar to those at airfields in Europe and the Middle East. Construction of the shelters at Sunchon was prompted by an important discovery; the moisture and humidity in UGFs created havoc with the jets' avionics. Older North Korean fighters with tube-based electronics (MiG-15/17/19/21s) are less affected by high moisture levels, and are usually stored in underground bunkers.

Underground facilities are also found at bases supporting other aircraft, including the three mentioned in the Times' story. Incidentally, those installations have been around for years, and they serve (primarily) as forward bases for AN-2 Colt biplanes, used as an insertion platform for North Korea's massive special operations forces. Prior to an attack against the south, the AN-2s would arrive at the forward airfields, allowing local SOF units to deploy on the aircraft.

As for the underground runway, it's impractical for a number of reasons. First, creating the airstrip, an "overhead" area and adjacent parking and maintenance chambers would require a huge excavation job, producing massive piles of rock and dirt (known as spoil in the imagery intelligence business). Those piles would have appeared long before their recent detection by "Google Earth."

Then, there's the actual business of taking off from an underground runway. Needless to say, there is no margin for error; the slightest mistake could lead to a conflagration that would wipe out scores of aircraft. Additionally, the large tunnel opening (the departure point for the fighters) would be more difficult to camouflage and conceal. Targeting the exit point would make it easy to shutdown the runway, destroying more equipment--and personnel--inside the UGF.

In fairness, the Times' account isn't completely false. Much of the information about WMD cooperation between Syria and North Korea is factual and timely. But on the subject of that mythical, underground fighter base, the British paper is far off the mark.


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Georgia on Russia
« Reply #170 on: May 07, 2008, 09:32:33 AM »
A Georgian Cabinet minister said on Tuesday that his country is very close to war with Russia over Abkhazia, a region in Georgia’s northwest that wants to secede formally from Georgia. A leader of the Abkhazian movement, its foreign minister, said that Abkhazia was ready to hand over military control to the Russians. The Russians are, of course, already in Abkhazia, and announced last week that they have been doubling the number of troops they have there, something the Georgians claim is aggression against Georgia. The Russians claimed that the Georgians were the ones massing troops along the Georgian-Abkhaz border. The White House issued a statement saying that “The Russian government has taken what we would call provocative actions which have increased tensions with Georgia over its separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia,” another breakaway region.

There are three factors driving all of this. First, there is Kosovo. When the United States and Europe imposed — from the Russian point of view — independence on Kosovo, in defiance of Serb or Russian wishes, it was clear that the Russians would have to respond. When they declined to respond in Kosovo itself, their next option was to extend the Kosovo precedent to an area where it would involve an American ally. Georgia was an obvious choice. Like Kosovo, it has regions that want to be independent from a relatively small country. By supporting this process, the Russians impose a quid pro quo on the United States in particular.

Second, during the NATO summit, the United States came out in favor of NATO membership for Georgia (and for Ukraine as well). The Russians took this as both an intentional affront and a threat to their national security. The idea of NATO troops present in Georgia, in an area that Russia considers to be part of its sphere of influence, was unacceptable. It was also something that the Russians had to react to, first for symbolic reasons and second because if the U.S. were to pull off NATO membership at some later point, it would be a serious problem for Russia. The Russians needed to act now, not later.

Third, Russia is, as we have said before, in the process of using the window of opportunity presented by the American commitment to the Islamic world, to assert their sphere of influence. The Caucasus, where Georgia is located, is an area of fundamental importance to the Russians. Georgia is their major challenge in the region and therefore it is the one they need to confront. Moreover, if the Russians manage to solve their Georgian problem, they will have changed the rules of the game in other regions, such as Ukraine. Other countries in the former Soviet space will be much more cautious in their flirtations with the Americans, if the Russians can lean on Georgia with nothing more than a protest from Washington.

This does not mean that war is likely. Unless the Georgians are suicidal, they are not going to fight the Russians. This is 2008, not 1998, and the Russians have the means both to bolster forces as needed and to overwhelm the Georgians. On the other hand, it is unlikely that the Russians want to invade Georgia. It is rugged country and resistance could be fierce, particularly against an occupying force.

The Russians are deliberately intimidating the Georgians and the Georgians are talking up war in the hope of getting help from the West. Unless the French or Germans feel like intervening in force — assuming they can — the United States won’t. It does not need another war on its hands. The Russians are hoping to build a sense of isolation and embattlement among the Georgians, in the hope of forcing a very public capitulation from an American ally.

This is a very important crisis in an important part of the world. It represents a direct challenge by Russia to an American ally and how it ends can define broader relationships on the Russian periphery. The Russian build-up is no accident and the Georgian warnings are not really true but not frivolous either. They are in trouble and they know it. One option the Americans have is to place a small number of troops in Georgia to bolster Georgian morale and serve as a warning to the Russians. That in turn assumes that such a presence won’t be the final straw for the Russians, who outgun any American force that can be deployed.

There are only two reasons why Russia would not seize this opportunity. One, they are even more hampered by their internal clan war than they are letting on. Or two, even now — even when the U.S. tied down in Iraq — they fear that the U.S. retains the military capability to defeat a Russian incursion. The last may seem ridiculous, but remember that the U.S. position during the Cold War was essentially predicated on the nuclear bluff (a much more powerful Moscow has fallen for that before.)

With that said, the one possibility we find unlikely is Russia simply backing off. After Kosovo, they simply cannot afford to do that. We expect that the situation will be solved through negotiations, and expect that both Abkhazia and South Ossetia will wind up seceding formally as well as practically. The question is whether the Russians will be content with that or whether they want regime change in Georgia as well.


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Re: Lessons from the past, peace through strength
« Reply #171 on: May 14, 2008, 11:07:32 PM »
The negotiations that led to the disarming and fall of the Soviet empire might be the most important event of our lifetime (depending on your age).  Seems like almost nothing is written about it.  I came across some formerly secretive documents from the time and recommend this one - a memorandum of conversation (contemporaraneous notes from the American side)from Reykjavik, October, 1986.  Three years and one month later, east Berliners and west Berliners were partying in the streets as the wall came down.  Topics included detailed negotiations about nuclear reductions, missile defense, verification issues, philosophies of Marxism and challenging them on their lack of truly consensual government.

The context of course was that they were five and a half years into a Reagan policy of investing and building whatever was necessary to stay ahead militarily of the Soviets coupled with Reagan's persuasive explanation that Americans do not want to give up the lifestyle they enjoy for war.  The Soviets were trying to accomplish Perestroika" (restructuring) and "glasnost" (openness) without giving up communist socialism in an economy that was faltering worse than he knew.



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Re: League of Democracies
« Reply #172 on: May 15, 2008, 08:36:26 AM »
I love this idea as a way for the world to grow past the UN cleptocrats and the G8 with the phony Russia member, to move forward internationally WITHOUT moving toward world government.

The case for a league of democracies

By Robert Kagan

Published: May 13 2008 19:13 | Last updated: May 13 2008 19:13

With tensions between Russia and Georgia rising, Chinese nationalism growing in response to condemnation of Beijing’s crackdown on Tibet, the dictators of cyclone-ravaged Burma resisting international aid , the crisis in Darfur still raging, the Iranian nuclear programme still burgeoning and Robert Mugabe still clinging violently to rule in Zimbabwe – what do you suppose keeps some foreign policy columnists up at night? It is the idea of a new international organisation, a league or concert of democratic nations.

“Dangerous,” warns a columnist on this page, fretting about a new cold war. Nor is he alone. On both sides of the Atlantic the idea – set forth most prominently by Senator John McCain a year ago – has been treated as impractical and incendiary. Perhaps a few observations can still this rising chorus of alarm.

The idea of a concert of democracies originated not with Republicans but with US Democrats and liberal inter­nationalists. Madeleine Albright, former secretary of state, tried to launch such an organisation in the 1990s. More recently it is the brainchild of Ivo Daalder, a foreign policy expert and senior adviser to Barack Obama. It has also been promoted by Anne-Marie Slaughter, dean of the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton university, and professor John Ikenberry, the renowned liberal internationalist theorist. It has backers in Europe, too, such as Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the Danish prime minister, who recently proposed his own vision of an “alliance of democracies”. The fact that Mr McCain has championed the idea might tell us something about his broad-mindedness. But Europeans should not reach for their revolvers just because the Republican candidate said it first.

American liberal internationalists like the idea because its purpose is to promote liberal internationalism. Mr Ikenberry believes a concert of democracies can help re-anchor the US in an internationalist framework. Mr Daalder believes it will enhance the influence that America’s democratic allies wield in Washington. So does Mr McCain, who in a recent speech talked about the need for the US not only to listen to its allies but to be willing to be persuaded by them.

A league of democracies would also promote liberal ideals in international relations. The democratic community supports the evolving legal principle known as “the responsibility to protect”, which holds leaders to account for the treatment of their people. Bernard Kouchner, the French foreign minister, has suggested it could be applied to Burma if the generals persist in refusing international aid to their dying people. That idea was summarily rejected at the United Nations, where other humanitarian interventions – in Darfur today or in Kosovo a few years ago – have also met resistance.

So would a concert of democracies supplant the UN? Of course not, any more than the Group of Eight leading industrialised nations or any number of other international organisations supplant it. But the world’s democracies could make common cause to act in humanitarian crises when the UN Security Council cannot reach unanimity. If people find that prospect unsettling, then they should seek the disbandment of Nato and the European Union and other regional organisations which not only can but, in the case of Kosovo, have taken collective action in crises when the Security Council was deadlocked. The difference is that the league of democracies would not be limited to Europeans and Americans but would include the world’s other great democracies, such as India, Brazil, Japan and Australia, and would have even greater legitimacy.

Some Europeans say it is precisely this global aspect that worries them, because it diminishes the centrality of Europe. The same fears make Europeans hesitant about expanding the Security Council to include Japan, India and Brazil. But this is short-sighted. New institutions should reflect global realities. The more democratic solidarity there is in the world, the more influential democratic Europe will be.

Some critics complain that it is too hard to decide which nations are democracies and which are not. This is an especially odd objection coming from anyone in the EU, the most exclusive club of democracies in the world. When Europeans consider whether to admit a new member they do not shrug their shoulders and ruminate on the hopelessly complex meaning of the term “democracy”. They employ precise and stringent criteria for deciding whether a possible entrant is or is not a democracy. A new league of democracies could simply borrow the EU’s admissions form.

Will the mere fact of democracies working together produce a new cold war? That is unduly alarmist. But ideological competition is already under way. Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, notes that: “For the first time in many years, a real competitive environment has emerged on the market of ideas” between different “value systems and development models”. The good news, he believes, is that “the west is losing its monopoly on the globalisation process”. True or not, democracies should not be embarrassed about holding up their side of this competition. Neither Beijing nor Moscow would expect them to do anything else.

Here is a final reason not to worry about a league of democracies. It will not come into being unless the world’s great democracies want it to. This is one idea that the US cannot impose.

The writer is senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, senior transatlantic fellow at the German Marshall Fund and an informal adviser to Senator John McCain. His new book is The Return of History and the End of Dreams


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Re: Geo Political matters
« Reply #173 on: May 15, 2008, 02:32:39 PM »
IMHO a very good idea, Doug.

Unfortunately, IIRC McCain recently has backed off from it in response to the caterwalling of the usual suspects.


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Stratfor Intel Guidance
« Reply #174 on: May 16, 2008, 10:19:39 PM »
All guidance from last week remains in place. Supplemental guidance:

1. Russia: Russia’s new president, Dmitri Medvedev, makes his first foreign trips next week: to Kazakhstan and China. Russian policy since the Cold War’s end regarding Central Asia has been myopic at best, arrogantly assuming that China would never dare do anything but blindly obey the Russian whim. The reality is somewhat different, with Beijing aggressively seeding its influence in an effort to dominate the region economically — a domination that would rob Russia of any pretense of security to its south. Medvedev might be a Putin patsy, but he is no fool. Is this the trip where Russia finally starts acting to arrest its fading influence in the region?

2. Colombia and Chavez: Interpol has ruled that the computer hardware Colombia’s military seized during a raid on a Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) camp in March is genuine and has not been tampered with. The files gained indicate, among other things, that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is a FARC weapons supplier. This places Chavez in a horribly awkward position and robs him of what support he has been able to gain from most of his Latin American neighbors. He will have to react to this if he is to have any hope of retaining the initiative. What steps will he take?

3. Bolivia: The Bolivian lowland region of Santa Cruz is implementing its autonomy plan. One aspect involves directly defying the central government’s efforts to grab control of Santa Cruz’s financial flows. Should Santa Cruz be allowed to have its way, Bolivian President Evo Morales would lose the bulk of his country’s economic heft. He must act strongly, and he must act soon. Why is he not acting?

4. Pakistan, India and the United States: The United States is fed up with waiting for Pakistan to act against the Taliban and is becoming bolder in taking actions against the militia on Pakistani soil. Such actions enrage the Pakistanis and make Islamabad even more reluctant to act. And there is another player, too: India has moved 5,000 troops to the Line of Control with Pakistan in response to this week’s militant bombing attacks. India is not about to invade — New Delhi has not even canceled upcoming bilateral peace talks — but neither can the Congress government afford to seem weak. Washington is subtly encouraging Indian actions in order to up the pressure on Pakistan — subtly, because a public request for India to do anything would likely result in an oppositional response. Meanwhile, if anything, the Pakistani government is losing control over the country’s Islamist militants. No one is entertaining the idea of an Indian-Pakistani military conflict, but sooner or later something — American patience or the unstable governing coalitions in Pakistan or India — is going to snap.

5. Lebanon: Lebanon is fractured both within and across its many religious groups, its army is a joke and the government is a talk-shop at best. Yet if the Israeli-Syrian peace progress is going to go anywhere, it will have to include a deep bilateral understanding of those countries’ respective roles in Lebanon. Which means that everyone who has an opinion on the idea of an Israeli-Syrian peace deal is pulling strings in Lebanon to push their own agenda. In this mess, the largest uncommitted militant forces are Islamist militants. Most of these reserve groups are Sunni and are tied in one way or another to foreign intelligence services. It is not so important which faction goes with which service; what matters is which faction is actually able to injure Syrian and Israeli interests to the degree that their talks would be damaged. Everything else is just background noise (unless you are Lebanese).

6. Mexico: The Mexican army is moving toward a showdown with the Sinaloa drug cartel in Sinaloa state itself. Neither side is pulling punches, with Sinaloa targeting high ranking officials that could even include the president, and the army positioned to perhaps not only disrupt drug supply routes and financial holdings, but potentially splinter the cartel itself. It’s showdown time.


May 18- 20: Russian Federation Council Speaker Sergei Mironov will pay an official visit to Moldova with the intent of wrapping up transnational discussions
May 19- 20: Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimukhammedov, along with an energy delegation, will visit Azerbaijani President İlham Aliyev to most likely discuss energy issues
May 21: Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev will visit Ukraine to discuss bilateral ties and prospects for cooperation and is expected to meet Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko and parliament speaker Arseniy Yatsenyuk
May 22- 24: Russian President Dmitri Medvedev will begin his first international trip by paying visits for talks with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev and Chinese President Hu Jintao
May 22: The Dalai Lama will addresses the United Kingdom’s House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee and give several talks in London


May 17: Kuwait holds the first parliamentary elections since Kuwait’s emir Sheikh Ahmad al-Sabah dissolved parliament in March. There is an anticipated gain in parliamentary seats for Shia and Sunni Islamist groups.
May 18: The World Economic Forum begins in Sharm el-Sheikh. Among the planned 1,500 guests from 55 countries, 12 heads of state will attend. Among those attending are U.S. President George W. Bush, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and leaders from Jordan and the Palestinian National Authority. Bush is set to meet with leaders from all three Arab countries.
May 20: The trial of eight Iraqi defendants resumes over the execution of 42 Baghdad merchants accused of profiteering. Former President Saddam Hussein’s cousin, Ali Hasan al-Majid, and former Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz are among the accused.
May 21-23: The Palestinian National Authority hosts an investment conference in an effort to stimulate the local economy.
May 21: India’s Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee visits Pakistan to hold talks on bilateral ties.
May 24: Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi visits Afghanistan to hold talks over bilateral ties.


This week (date unpublished): Chief nuclear negotiators from South Korea, the United States and Japan will gather to discuss the North Korean nuclear issue in the run up to the resumption of the formal six-way talks in Beijing
May 17: Construction ministers from South Korea, Japan and China will hold a meeting later this week to discuss measures for boosting cooperation in the logistical sector in Okayama, Japan
May 19: Thai parliament in session until this date; before May 19, the ruling People’s Power Party can still rewrite the constitution to avoid being disbanded by the courts for electoral fraud
May 20: BEA to launch yuan-based debit card on mainland
May 23: Date after which Indonesia is planning to raise the price of subsidized fuel by an average of 30 percent


May 19: Brazilian government auctions off right to build and operate the large Jirau hydroelectric dam on the Rio Madeira.
May 19: Around 1,000 Indians from around Brazil kick off a week-long protest against a huge dam planned for the Xingu River.
May 23: South American presidents meet in Brasilia to form Union of South American Nations (Unasur).

May 17 (ongoing): Djibouti government hosts the Somalia peace conference including Somalian government officials and representatives from the Supreme Islamist Courts Council
May 24: State governor elections will be held in Nigeria’s Bayelsa state, one of the country’s leading oil producing states in the Niger Delta region. Timipre Sylva, the candidate from the ruling People’s Democratic Party, is expected to win.

May 17-18: Opposition groups plan a “national assembly” in Moscow, which will likely lead to scuffles and police crackdowns
May 21: UEFA Champions League final between English soccer teams Chelsea and Manchester United in Moscow’s Luzhniki stadium; the United Kingdom and Russia have had strained relations recently and soccer matches are always a good outlet for general frustration with hooligan fans acting out in violence in the past. Security should be tight.
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Stratfor: China & Russia
« Reply #175 on: July 22, 2008, 06:09:23 PM »
China and Russia’s Geographic Divide
July 22, 2008
By Peter Zeihan

Related Theme Page
Central Asian Energy: Circumventing Russia
Since the Soviet fall, Russian generals, intelligence chiefs and foreign policy personnel have often waxed philosophic about the inevitability of a global alliance to hem in U.S. power — often using the rhetoric of a “multipolar world.” Central in all of these plans has been not only the implied leadership of Russia, but the implied presence of China. At first glance, the two seem natural partners. China has a booming manufacturing economy, while Russia boasts growing exports of raw materials. But a closer look at the geography of the two paints a very different picture, while the history of the two tells an extraordinarily different story. If anything, it is no small miracle that the two have never found themselves facing each other in a brutal war.

A Hostile Geography
Russia east of the Urals and the Chinese interior are empty, forbidding places. Nearly all of Russia’s population is hard up on its western border, while China’s is in snug against its eastern and southern coasts. There is an ocean’s worth of nothing between them. But while ships can ply the actual ocean cheaply, potentially boosting economic activity, trade between Russia and China does not come easy. Moscow and Beijing are farther apart than Washington and London, and the cost of building meaningful infrastructure between the two would run in the hundreds of billions. With the exception of some resource development and sales in the border region, integration between the two simply does not make economic sense.

Yet, distance aside, there are no real barriers between the two. Southwestern Siberia is a long stretch of flatness that flows seamlessly into the steppes of Central Asia and the highlands of western China. This open expanse is the eastern end of the old Silk Road — proof that luxury trade is often feasible where more conventional trade simply cannot pay the transport bill. But where caravans bearing spice and silk can pass, so can armies bearing less desirable “goods and services.”

Ominously for Russia, there is little to separate the Russian Far East — where most of the Russian population east of the Urals resides — from Manchuria. And not only is there a 15:1 population imbalance here in favor of the Chinese (and not only has Beijing quietly encouraged Chinese immigration across its border with Russia since the Soviet breakup), but the Russian Far East is blocked from easy access to the rest of Russia by the towering mountains surrounding Lake Baikal. So while the two parts of Russia have minimal barriers separating them from China, they do have barriers separating them from each other. Russia can thus only hold its Far East so long as China lacks the desire to take it.

Geography also drives the two in different directions for economic reasons. For the same reason that trade between the two is unlikely, developing Russia would be an intimidating task. Unlike China or the United States, Russia’s rivers for the most part do not interconnect, and none of the major rivers go anywhere useful. Russia has loads of coastline, but nowhere does coast meld with population centers and ice-free ocean access. The best the country has is remote Murmansk.

So Russia’s development — doubly so east of the Urals — largely mirrors Africa’s: limited infrastructure primarily concerned with exploiting mineral deposits. Anything more holistic is simply too expensive to justify.

In contrast, China boasts substantial populations along its warm coasts. This access to transport allows China to industrialize more readily than Russia, but China shares easily crossed land borders with no natural trading partner. Its only serious option for international trade lies in maritime shipping. Yet, because land transport is “merely” difficult and not impossible, China must dedicate resources to a land-based military. This makes China militarily both vulnerable to — yet economically dependent upon — sea powers, both for access to raw materials and to ship its goods to market. The dominant naval power of today is not land-centric Russia, but the United States. To be economically successful China must at least have a civil and neutral relationship with the $14-trillion-economy-wielding and 11-aircraft-carrier-strike-group-toting United States. Russia barely even enters into China’s economic equation.

And the way Russia does figure into that equation — Central Asia — is not a positive, because there is an additional complication.

Natural gas produced in the Central Asian states until recently was part and parcel of overall Soviet production. Since those states’ infrastructure ran exclusively north into Russia, Moscow could count on this captive output to sign European supply contracts at a pittance. The Kremlin then uses those contracts as an anvil over Europe to extract political concessions.

“China” has been around a long time, but the borders of today represent the largest that the Chinese state has ever been. To prevent its outer provinces from breaking away (as they have many times in China’s past), one of Beijing’s geopolitical imperatives is to lash those provinces to the center as firmly as possible. Beijing has done this in two ways. First, it has stocked these outlying regions with Han Chinese to dilute the identity of the indigenous populations and culturally lash the regions to the center. Second, it has physically and economically lashed them to the center via building loads of infrastructure. So, in the past 15 years, China has engaged in a flurry of road, pipeline and rail construction to places such as Tibet and Xinjiang.

Merge these two seemingly minor details and it suddenly becomes clear that much of the mineral and energy riches of formerly Soviet Central Asia — resources that Russia must have to maintain its energy leverage over Europe — are now just as close to China’s infrastructure network as they are to Russia’s. And obtaining those resources is one of the few possible means China has of mitigating its vulnerability to U.S. naval power.

All that is needed are some pieces of connecting infrastructure to allow those resources to flow east to China instead of north to Russia. Those connections — road, pipe and rail — are already under construction. The Russians suddenly have some very active competition in a region they have thought of as their exclusive playground, not to mention a potential highway to Russia proper, for the past quarter millennia. Control of Central Asia is now a strategic imperative for both.

A Cold History
The history of the two powers — rarely warm, oftentimes bitter — meshes well with the characteristics of the region’s geography.

From the Chinese point of view, Russia is a relative newcomer to Asia, having started claiming territory east of the Urals only in the late 1500s, and having spent most of its blood, sweat and tears in the region in Central Asia rather than the Far East. Russian efforts in the Far East amounted to little more than a string of small outposts even when Moscow began claiming Pacific territory in the late 1700s. Still, by 1700, Russian strength was climbing while Chinese power was waning under the onslaught of European colonialism, enabling a still-militarily weak Russian force to begin occupying chunks of northeastern China. With a bit of bluff and guile, Russia formally annexed what is now Amur province from Qing China in the 1858 Treaty of Aigun, and shortly thereafter the Chinese-Russian border of today was established.

China attempted to resist even after Aigun — lumping the document with the other “unequal treaties” that weakened Chinese sovereignty and territorial integrity — and indeed the Russians had more or less swindled China out of a million square miles of territory. But Beijing simply had too many other issues going on to mount a serious resistance (the Opium Wars come to mind). Once the Trans-Siberian Railway was completed early in the 20th century, Russia was able to back up its claims with troops, and the issue definitively moved to the back burner — especially as the rising colonial aspirations of Japan occupied more attention than China had to spare.

The bilateral relationship warmed somewhat after the end of World War II, with Russian energy and weapons critical to Mao’s consolidation of power (although notably, Stalin originally backed Mao’s rival, Chiang Kai-shek). But this camaraderie was not to last. Stalin did everything he could first to egg on the North Korean government to invade South Korea, and then to nudge the Chinese into backing the North Koreans against the U.S.-led U.N. counterattack. But while the USSR provided weapons to China in the Korean War, Moscow never sent troops — and when the war ended, Stalin had the temerity to submit a bill to Bejing for services rendered.

Sino-Soviet relations never really improved after that. As part of Cold War maneuvers, Russia allied with India and North Vietnam, both longtime Chinese rivals. Therein lay the groundwork of a U.S.-Chinese rapprochement, and rapid-fire events quickly drove the Chinese and Soviets apart. The United States and China both backed Pakistan in the Indo-Pakistani wars. Some 60,000 Uighurs — a Muslim minority that the Chinese still fear hold separatist aspirations — fled across the Soviet border in 1962. In 1965, the Chinese energy industry matured to the point that Soviet oil was no longer required to keep the Chinese economy afloat. Later, Washington turned a blind eye to the horrors of the Chinese-bankrolled Khmer Rouge in Cambodia to destabilize Soviet-backed Vietnam. When all was said and done, the Soviet Union faced a foe to its south every bit as implacable as those on its western and eastern flanks.

But the seminal event that made the Sino-Soviet split inevitable was a series of military clashes in the summer of 1969 over some riverine islands in the Amur.

China and Russia are anything but natural partners. While their economic interests may seem complementary, geography dictates that their actual connections will be sharply limited. Moreover, in their roles of resource provider versus producer, they actually have a commercial relationship analogous to that of Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries versus the United States — with all the angst and distrust that suggests.

Strategically, the two tend to swim in different pools, but they still share a borderland. Borderlands — where one great state flows into another — are dangerous places, as their precise locations ebb and flow with the geopolitical tides. And the only thing more likely to generate borderland friction than when one side is strong and the other weak is when both sides are strong. Currently, both China and Russia are becoming more powerful simultaneously, creating ample likelihood that the two will slide toward confrontation in regions of overlapping interest.

So why Stratfor’s interest in the topic? The primary reason the United States is the most powerful state in the international system is that it faces no challengers on its continent. (Canada is de facto integrated into the United States, and Mexico — even were it stable and rich — would still be separated from the United States by a sizable desert.) This allows the United States to develop in peace and focus its efforts on projecting its power outward rather than defending itself. For the United States to be threatened, a continental-sized power or coalition of similar or greater size would need to arise. So long as China and Russia remain at odds, the United States does not have to work very hard to maintain its position.

Which brings us back to the island battles that cemented the Sino-Soviet split: Russia is giving them back.

On July 21, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov put Russia’s final signature — in a deal already signed and ratified by both sides — to a deal that commits Russia to the imminent removal of its forces from 67 square miles of territory on a series of Amur riverine islands. The Russians call them Tarabarov and Bolshoi Ussuriysky, the Chinese call them Yinlong Dao and Heixiazi Dao. These are two of the islands over which the Chinese and Soviets battled in 1969, formalizing the Sino-Soviet split. The final pullout of Russian forces is expected within a month.

When two states enter into alliance, the first thing they must do is stop treating each other as foes. There is a bit of wiggle room if the two states do not border each other as the United States and Soviet Union did not during World War II. But in cases of a shared land border, it is devilishly difficult to believe that those on the other side of the line have your back if they are still gunning for a piece of your backyard. If China and Russia are going to stand together against the United States — or really, anyone — in any way, shape or form, the first thing they have to do is stop standing against each other. And that is just about to happen.

There are still plenty of reasons to doubt the durability of this development. In terms of modern warfare, the islands are strategic irrelevancies, so their surrender is not exactly a huge gesture of trust. Achieving any semblance of economic integration between the two powers still would be more trouble and expensive than it would be worth, making any deepening of the bilateral relationship difficult. Russia’s demographic slide instills a perfectly logical paranoia in the Kremlin; Russians are outnumbered 7 to 1 by their “partner” in terms of population and 3 to 1 in terms of economic size — something that Russian pride will find far harder to accept than merely handing over some islands. There is no substitute to the American market for China. Period. Sharing Central Asia is simply impossible because both sides need the same resources to achieve and maintain their strategic aims. And neither power has a particularly sterling reputation when it comes to confidence building.

Yet while Moscow is known for many, many things, sacrificing territory — especially territory over which blood has been shed — is not on that list. Swallowing some pride to raise the prospect of a Chinese-Russian alliance is something that should not pass unnoticed. Burying the hatchet in the islands of the Amur is the first step on the improbable road to a warmer bilateral relationship, and raises the possibility of a coalition of forces with the geographic foundation necessary to challenge the United States at its very core.

Such a Chinese-Russian alliance remains neither natural nor likely. But, with the territory handover, it has just become something that it was not a week ago: possible.