Sunday, December 30, 2007

Gorbachev on Kosovo

Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, has weighed in on the brewing situation in Kosovo.

According to the RIA Novosti news service, Gorbachev stated that neither the European Union nor NATO has the authority to push for Kosovo's independence from Serbia.

"For the first time in history, two organizations are trying to assume responsibility for the future of a country -- Serbia -- which is not a member of either of them," Gorbachev said.

Key members of the European Union have promised to recognize Kosovo's declaration of independence, while NATO will act as a regional security force. Action from the United Nations is not expected because Russia has vowed to block any recognition of Kosovo in the UN Security Council where Russia has veto power.

Serbia, and Russia, argue that recognition of Kosovo would be against current international law.
Sphere: Related Content

A Bhutto Successor? - TIME

Time magazine is reporting that Benazir Bhutto's son Bilawal is likely to be named her successor.

Benazir Bhutto apparently made this request in her will, which will be formally read on Sunday. The Bhutto family is the driving force behind the Pakistan People's Party. Benazir herself took control of the party in 1979 when her father, then the prime minister, was deposed and then hung.

Bilawal, 19, is currently a student at Oxford University.
Sphere: Related Content

Putin Wants Smooth Transition of Power

In an address on Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin urged the government to work for a smooth transition of power when he leaves presidency in 2008.

Putin again talked about the possibility of his taking over the role of prime minister. His chosen successor, Dmitry Medvedev, has promised to name Putin prime minister should he win the March 2 presidential elections.

Critics have said this is merely ploy for Putin to maintain power once his presidency ends. But Putin again pledged not to interfere with the current division of power in Russia. Under the constitution, much of the political power in the country lies with the president; the prime minister’s role is limited largely to domestic affairs. Putin has said his goal as prime minister is to ensure that Russia remains stable and continues to grow. He announced that Russia’s gross domestic product (GDP) grew by 7.6 percent in 2007, and that the country has a budget surplus.

Meanwhile, the Times of London took the journalistic low-road in talking about some new members of the Russian Duma. The Times noted the seating of several prominent Russian women athletes in the new parliament under the headline “Putin’s Babes Sex Up Duma.” According to the Times Putin complained, “there were not enough beautiful women in his United Russia party.”
Sphere: Related Content

Russia Launches GPS System

Vladimir Putin used his dog as a prop to tout the completion of Russia’s global positioning satellite system, GLONASS. The launch of three satellites earlier this week meant that the system now covers the entire Russian Federation. Putin suggested he would buy a collar for his black lab, Connie, so that she would not run away.

The GLONASS system was first completed in 1995. For global positioning systems to work, a receiver on Earth needs to be in contact with a number of orbiting satellites. Because of the poor economic conditions in Russia in the 1990s, the Russians were not able to replace GLONASS satellites as they reached the end of their operational lives and the system soon did not have enough satellites in orbit to function.

Russia now has 18 GLONASS satellites in orbit, enough to provide service to the entire country. By 2010, Russia plans to launch 6 additional satellites, extending coverage anywhere in the world.

Global positioning satellite service has long been dominated by the American-run GPS system. In addition to GLONASS, the European Union (with support from China) is establishing their own GPS system, Galileo, which they hope to have operational by 2013.
Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, December 29, 2007

More Trouble Brewing in Kosovo

Tensions over Kosovo’s impending declaration of independence are increasing. The declaration is expected to take place in early 2008, with the United States and key members of the European Union already promising to recognize the new state once it splits from Serbia.

Serbia is now saying that if EU members recognize Kosovo as an independent state, Serbia will abandon its bid to join the European Union. Serbia has actively been pursuing membership in the European Union for he past several years, seeing it as a way to put behind them the civil wars that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990’s.

Whether Serbia will make good on the threats remains to be seen, but exclusion from the EU, which now includes almost all of western and central Europe, would likely harm Serbia’s long-term prospects for economic growth and development. At the same time, it is understandable how a nation would not seek membership in a group that is carving away a piece of your country.

The possibility for armed conflict over Kosovo’s independence also seems to be increasing. At the same time Serbia was threatening to abandon their EU membership bid, they also told Serbs living in Kosovo to ignore any declarations of independence made by the Kosovo government.

Approximately 120,000 Serbs live in Kosovo, among 2 million Kosovars who are of Albanian descent. In the late 1990s Serbian militias attempted to drive the Kosovars out of Kosovo. Now those Serbs who remain behind fear a similar campaign will be launched against them, and that Kosovo’s government will do nothing to halt it. Serbia has even raised the possibility of using its military to protect Serbs in Kosovo.

Much of the Serbian population is concentrated in the north of Kosovo, along the Serbian border. But the EU and NATO have ruled out the possibility of partition – allowing these regions to leave Kosovo and join Serbia. It is an odd position considering that the are supporting the opposite action in terms of Kosovo – allowing the Kosovar population to partition themselves away from Serbia. As I discussed in an earlier post, it is the most troubling aspect of the Serbia-Kosovo situation. The European Union and NATO are supporting Kosovo’s bid for independence without making a case for it based in international law. The rationale is that a civil war was fought and since then Kosovo has, in practice, been independent, so why not recognize them as a state? Its an approach that causes more problems then it solves since the Kosovo/Serbia situation is not unique in the world, yet the EU, or NATO, or the UN are not supporting independence in these other cases.

Kosovo’s formal declaration of independence could come within the next few weeks.
Sphere: Related Content

Pakistan: Blitzer Scores Coup

Wolf Blitzer scored a coup for CNN when he was selected to read a letter from Benazir Bhutto that was to be made public only after her death. In the letter Bhutto said if she were to be killed the current president Pervez Musharraf should be held accountable for failing to provide her with adequate security, despite an earlier assassination attempt in September.

In the letter, Bhutto said the Pakistani authorites failed to provide her with armored vehicles and devices to jam the detonation of roadside bombs. Other security precautions, like police escorts to political rallies, were inconsistent in their size and effectivness.

The video of Bhutto’s assassination seems to support her claim. At the moment of her attack, Bhutto’s vehicle is surrounded by a large crowd. No uniformed security can be seen, nor do any security agents attempt to intercept the assassin. Given that the assassination attempt against her in September came as an attack on her motorcade, it is hard to believe that such a crowd was allowed to gather around her vehicle.


Just a day after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, Pakistani officials have said they have proof the attack was ordered and carried out by al-Qaeda.

A transcript of intercepted phone calls has Baitullah Mehsud, a pro-al-Qaeda militia leader from Waziristan (part of the largely uncontrolled border between Pakistan and Afghanistan), congratulating another militia leader on the successful operation. Pakistani officials offered the transcripts as proof of al-Qaeda’s involvment. A spokesman for Mehsud, meanwhile, dismissed the claims as “government propaganda.”

The security forces’ announcement only begs the question: if they could intercept messages and gather information so quickly after her death, then where were they before she was killed? Are we to believe that they had no idea, had intercepted no “chatter” about an assassination attempt, but then in mere hours after the event found proof not only that al-Qaeda was behind the hit, but also identified the individual who arranged it?

It is too neat a picture to be readily believed. And one that already has Bhutto’s supporters pointing to a government conspiracy. Further fueling their beliefs are claims, again from Pakistan’s government, that Bhutto died from striking her head on the sunroof of the SUV she was riding in, not from bullet or shrapnel wounds. This is contrary to the eyewitness accounts of her aides who claim that Bhutto suffered bullet/shrapnel wounds to the neck and chest.

Bhutto's supporters already do not trust Musharraf's government. Putting out information that contradicts eyewitness testimony, or quickly provides culprits in her assassination will do nothing to bring stability to the situation in the country.
Sphere: Related Content

Pakistan, US Candidates React

With the Iowa presidential caucus only days away, it’s not surprising that many of the candidates quickly chimed in on the situation in Pakistan. Even though this blog is focused on international affairs, since one of these people will be the next president – and in charge of US foreign policy – its worth a quick look at who said what; the good, the bad and the indifferent.

The best comments came from a pair of senators. Democrat Christopher Dodd, though not giving any soundbite-worthy one-liners, had some very well thought out statements that reflected a deep understanding of the chaotic situation in Pakistan. He was willing to express some unconventional ideas, including the suggestion that the January 8 elections should be delayed in the best interests of democracy in Pakistan. While it may seem like a contradiction, Dodd argued that the political opposition to Musharraf needed time to rally round a new candidate in the absence of Bhutto.

On the Republican side, Senator John McCain came off as the best of the crowd. He argued that he had the judgment and experience to lead in the face of foreign policy challenges. He noted that, unlike other candidates, he had actually been to Pakistan’s Waziristan province and personally knew Musharraf.

Then there were the not so good performances. Perhaps predictably, Rudy Giuliani attempted to tie the assassination of Benazir Bhutto to the 9/11 attacks – though the only possible similarity between the two is that al-Queda has been cited in early reports as possibly having provided Bhutto’s assassin. Giuliani also said that the assassination was further proof that the US needed to be on the offense in the War on Terror (US soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan might argue that America already is playing offense).

Meanwhile, when Mitt Romney was asked what was more important in Pakistan democracy or stability, his answer was “both.” If Romney can’t make a simple choice in a reporter’s question one wonders what he will do when he has to make a real choice in foreign policy.

Current favorite Mike Huckabee had an unfortunate moment on MSNBC during an interview on Friday’s “Morning Joe” when he talked about the Islamic extremists on Pakistan’s eastern border. The frontier provinces suspected of harboring the extremists are actually in western Pakistan. My first notion is to give Huckabee a pass on this one since I myself sometimes mix up by lefts and rights, but its not the first time Mike hasn’t seemed to know what’s going on in foreign policy. Earlier this month Huckabee could not answer questions National Intelligence Estimate on Iran (which indicated Iran had suspended their pursuit of nuclear weapons) after it had been dominating the news for more than two days. Huckabee had another odd statement on Saturday when he suggested that the Pakistan situation showed the need for US border security. Even the friendly crowd he was addressing seemed not to know what to make of that comment.

Finally on the Democrats side Bill Richardson said that Musharraf should resign immediately and be replaced by a multi-party “unity” government. It’s a fine idea in theory, but in reality there is no way Musharraf will resign, and where the multi-party government will come from is a mystery, especially since the head of the main opposition party has just been killed and the head of the only other opposition party of any importance announced that he will boycott the January elections. It was a statement that made Richardson seem out of touch.

A number of the other candidates, including the three democratic front-runners, issued statements that were fairly unremarkable. Hillary Clinton’s was a little better since she was able to say she knew Bhutto and had discussed issues regarding the role of women in Pakistan with her while First Lady in the 1990’s. Barack Obama’s meanwhile was not at all memorable, and delivered so blandly that one wonders if he truly grasps the importance of what is happening in Pakistan.

Finally, outsider Ron Paul was perhaps the most interesting of the bunch. Paul used the event to push his belief that the United States should withdraw from many of its international engagements. Paul questioned why the United States had military bases in 130 countries around the world, including having thousands of troops based in places like Germany. Paul suggests the need for an important discussion - namely what is America’s role in the world? Are we the global policeman? The last remaining superpower? Do we even want these roles? They are interesting questions to discuss, though Paul himself seems to display a real tendency towards isolationism.
Sphere: Related Content

Bhutto Assassinated

I woke up on Thursday to the news that Benazir Bhutto had been assassinated. I’m not Pakistani, I have no connection to that nation, yet I still felt a sense of loss. Her death is a reminder of how a single event can affect the entire world.

In the two days since, I have read a number of articles about her, some elevating her to martyr’s status, others not so flattering – pointing out the charges of corruption tainted her two terms as Prime Minister, and even suggesting she was a far better self-promoter than she was a national leader. The truth, as usual, is probably somewhere in between. But one thing that can’t be disputed is her bravery – her willingness to run for office against a military dictator, and to persist without adequate security even after a failed suicide attempt is remarkable.

It is a good lesson for those of us in America, to see the commitment some people have to the idea of democracy. Right now presidential candidates are criss-crossing Iowa, but what is the worst calamity they face? Indigestion from one too many pot-luck dinners? Cramps from shaking too many hands? It’s important sometimes to see what people in other countries have to endure to represent their people or simply for the right to vote.
Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Mt. Santa Claus

Recently a Swedish consulting firm suggested that Kyrgyzstan, not the North Pole, would be the optimal starting point for Santa Claus. Now Kyrgyz officials are naming a peak after Santa.

A team of climbers will scale the soon-to-be "Mount Santa Claus" on Christmas Eve. Krygyz officials are hoping that the move will spur a wave of holiday-related tourism to the former Soviet republic located in central Asia.
Sphere: Related Content

Missile Base Delay?

United States plans to base missiles in Poland may have hit a snag.

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk has announced Poland will not allow the installation of the missiles unless the United States can offer a "100 percent guarantee" that the base will serve Polish national interests.

The base in Poland, along with a radar installation in the Czech Republic, are part of an anti-missile defense system designed to protect the United States from rocket attack by "rogue states", most notably Iran. The Polish base would host up to 10 anti-ballistic missiles.

Tusk took power in October and promised to review the controversial missile base plan. Russia has been particularly vocal in their opposition to the base, saying that it threatens regional security. One possible compromise floated by Poland is to base US-made Patriot missiles in Poland to guard against any attacks from Russia.
Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

News Item - Hamas seeks truce talks with Israel

Officials with the Hamas-led government in the Gaza Strip have appealed for a cease-fire with Israel ahead of a possible truce.

Hamas, and Gaza, were not included in the recent Annapolis talks between Israel and the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose Fatah government controls the West Bank portion of the Palestinian Territories. In the past Israel has refused negotiations with Hamas unless the organization refutes terrorism and acknowledges Israel's right to exist.
Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Putin's New Job

It looks like Vladimir Putin will have a job once his term as President ends: Prime Minister.

Putin has accepted the offer from Dmitri Medvedev, his designated successor, to take the prime minister’s job if, as expected, Medvedev wins the March 2 presidential elections.

So what does all this mean? Conspiracy theorists say that it’s a dance where Medvedev will win the presidency, name Putin as his prime minister, then resign from office, allowing Putin to bypass the term limit laws and once again become president. It’s a great theory, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense. There were suggestions earlier in the year to simply amend the constitution to remove the term limits and let Putin stand for a third term. Putin himself squashed the idea.

Assuming then that Medvedev serves as president, many analysts believe he will merely be a figurehead with the real power lying in the hands of Prime Minister Putin. Its definitely possible, but this theory too has flaws. In the Russian parliamentary system, unlike that of Great Britain for example, the president – not the prime minister – holds the real power. In addition, the duties of the Russian Prime Minister are largely domestic. Much of Putin’s appeal within Russia has come from his image as a tough statesman, rebuilding Russia’s image as a world power. As prime minister though, this role would be denied him. It will be President Medvedev, even if he is only a figurehead, going to the UN, the White House, and meetings of the G8 nations, not Putin.

Perhaps then there is another possibility to the Medvedev-Putin partnership.

The Kremlin is a shadowy place where, as they did in the time of the Czars, factions jockey for power behind the scenes. The Moscow Times recently ran a column saying that Medvedev was doomed to failure because he does not have any ties to the Russian federal security services (the FSB, the successor to the Soviet-era KGB). Putin and many of his inner circle came up through the KGB and FSB. Former FSB officials make up one of the powerful factions within the Kremlin. Medvedev belongs to the other faction, one generally seen as more liberal and more democratic. The FSB is responsible for Russia’s security, without a connection into this world the Moscow Times argues, Medvedev will be a weak and ineffective leader.

This ties in with an article from Russia’s ITAR-TASS news agency about the potential “dual-power arrangement” between Medvedev and Putin. In this scenario Putin takes the prime minister position to leverage his wild popularity with the public and control over the squabbling Kremlin factions to give Medvedev the chance to become a strong leader in his own right. Most importantly (for Russia’s continued stability and growth), Putin’s presence will mean a continuation of his financial policies. The Russian stock market, for example, reacted very positively to the news of his nomination as prime minister.

I think this scenario is the most plausible explanation for the extended drama surrounding the end of Putin’s presidency. If his goal is merely to stay in power, Putin could have easily had the constitution amended on his behalf so he could stand in the upcoming elections. Given his approval ratings consistently cited as being between 70 and 80 percent, it is hard to imagine his not being re-elected. There likely would have been many protests from the West, accusing him of becoming a “president for life”, but its hard to imagine these protests not coming if Medvedev gets himself elected for the sole purpose of stepping down. Providing political cover for his protégé by becoming prime minister then makes a lot more sense.
Sphere: Related Content

Monday, December 17, 2007

Roadblock on the Roadmap?

An international group overseeing peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine has issued an official statement of concern over Israel's plan to build 300 homes on disputed land in Jerusalem.

The "Quartet" (the United States, Russia, European Union and United Nations) has overseen the negotiations - often called "the roadmap" - since 2003. Their statement came at a donor's meeting in Paris where $7.4 billion in aid was pledged to Palestine.

Palestinian officials have said the construction of the houses in a disputed East Jerusalem neighborhood known to the Israelis as Har Homa and the Palestinians as Jabal Abu Ghneimi could derail the roadmap talks, making Israel's decision to announce the construction of the housing units at this time all the more puzzling. Both Israel and Palestine committed to serious negotiations to the creation of a Palestinian state by the end of 2008 at a public conference last month in Annapolis Maryland.

In the past four years the two sides have been unable to move beyond step one in the roadmap, a commitment by the Palestinians to control terror attacks against Israel, and for Israel halt the construction of "settlements" in the West Bank, land that would make up the bulk of a future Palestinian state.
Sphere: Related Content

More on Bali

Today's Guardian (UK) ran a coulmn critical of the climate talks in Bali. "There are still two years to go, but so far the new agreement is even worse than the Kyoto protocol," according to George Monbiot. "It contains no targets and no dates."

Most interesting is the quote Monbiot uses to start his column, which sounds like it could have been written about Bali, yet was written 10 years earlier regarding the Kyoto talks. It illustrates the fact that even before the Bush administration, the United States did not support agressive moves to curb greenhouse gas emissions, a fact Monbiot blames, in large part, on campaign financing of American elections. Candidates know much of their support will come from major corporations who are opposed to emission limits, so when elected - the argument goes - they don't back treaties like Kyoto.
Sphere: Related Content

Iraq, North and South

With Christmas and the first presidential primaries quickly approaching, Iraq seems to have been pushed to the media’s back burner. But that does not mean that important things aren’t happening there.

On Sunday the Turkish military launched a series of air strikes in the far north of Iraq against suspected hideouts of Kurdish militant groups. Kurdish groups (most notably the Kurdish Workers Party or PKK) have long been fighting for an autonomous region in southeastern Turkey. PKK guerillas have used Iraq as a safe haven from which to launch attacks across the border into Turkey.

Skirmishes in this border area are not uncommon, but Sunday’s air strikes involved more than 50 Turkish planes and were the largest action since the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. Turkey’s prime minister said that further military action was likely. Turkey has thousands of troops massed along the Turkey-Iraq border, and a large-scale invasion was recently averted when President Bush personally asked Turkey to hold off.

Meanwhile at the southern end of Iraq British troops formally handed control of the province of Basra over to Iraqi forces, a move likely to lead to a sharp reduction in Britain’s 5,500-strong force currently deployed in Iraq.

The British press was largely downbeat in their view of the handover. The Times stated that while "security has improved markedly, and investment is beginning to make a difference in Basra city ... it is a fragile peace, and despite glowing tributes at yesterday's handover ceremony.” The Daily Mail took a more negative tone saying: “it is right that we leave Basra ... but let us not regard withdrawal as anything other than a forced retreat."

British troops first withdrew from bases within the city of Basra to a more remote location at an airbase outside of the city due to increasing attacks on their troops. As the British moved out, Shiite militias – with backing from Iran – began exercising more control over the city and province.
Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Bali Climate Talks End, Finally

It took longer than expected, but finally a deal was reached in the international climate talks in Bali. The Bali talks were part of the process of negotiating a successor treaty to the Kyoto Protocols that expire in 2012.

But like many agreements involving dozens of nations, the final deal signed in Bali is a watered down agreement that pushes the hard work of compromise off to future negotiations.

The European Union went into the Bali talks wanting an agreement that would compel nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 to 40 percent by 2020. In the end, Bali does not set any hard emissions-reduction targets. The United States, Canada and Japan were widely criticized as blocking the inclusion of target numbers.

What nearly scuttled the Bali talks though was an agreement that wealthy nations would aid developing nations with financial and technical help in developing emission-reducing technologies. Here the United States was singled out as blocking the final deal, with the delegate from Papua New Guinea using (for a meeting of diplomats) some very harsh language. According to the AP report delegate Kevin Conrad said, “We seek your leadership. But if for some reason you are not willing to lead, leave it to the rest of us. Please get out of the way.” The US dropped its opposition and the Bali agreement was soon approved.

The value of the Bali agreement is probably very little. In reality the hard work of negotiating a climate treaty has only been pushed off until 2009, when the adoption of a blueprint for the 2012 agreement is scheduled. The volume of greenhouse gases pumped into the atmosphere increases every day. Reductions in those emissions, with specific percentages set and penalties for violators established, will have to be part of the 2012 treaty. These will be tough negotiations; Bali has only put them off until another day.

It’s also time to move China and India out of the “developing nations” column. There are legitimate developing nations out there, countries struggling to establish themselves as stable states. Their economies are fragile and not up to “First World” standards, so adopting cleaner, more expensive, green technologies would be quite difficult. For these states it’s a tough calculus that says some environmental damage today is worth the prospect of long-term development and stability in the future.

India and China do not fall into this category. They cloak themselves in the “developing nations” language of Kyoto and Bali in order to boost their bottom line, not protect an economy on the edge. China could pursue cleaner, more expensive, energy production technologies, but it’s easier (and cheaper) to invoke the developing nation’s tag and open up more coal-fueled power plants (China is said to fire up a new coal-burning energy plant every few days). It’s this strategy that has China on the brink of surpassing the United States as the world’s top greenhouse gas emitter.

Hopefully when the hard work of the next round of climate talks begin China and India will find themselves in their proper place – among the world’s top economies and not conveniently hiding behind the cloak of the developing nation.
Sphere: Related Content

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Two States, or Three?

Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip portion of the Palestinian Territories, is warning of a new intifada (or uprising) against Israel. The claim came during a massive rally to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the group’s founding. Hamas also used the event to condemned the Israel-Palestine peace talks held last month in Annapolis, Maryland.

Annapolis brought together Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who committed to serious peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine. The negotiations are based on the “two-state solution” where the Palestinians agree to recognize Israel and commit to peace in return for an independent state of their own.

But the two state solution is really a three state problem. Abbas in reality is president only of the West Bank portion of Palestine. Since this summer, the Gaza Strip has been firmly in control of Hamas, which does not support Abbas. The Israelis, meanwhile, have steadfastly refused to include Hamas in peace negotiations because Hamas remains dedicated to the destruction of the state of Israel.

On the surface it’s hard to quarrel with Israel’s position. But here it’s wise to remember the sage words of the noted Israeli statesman Yitzhak Rabin: “You don’t make peace with your friends, you make peace with your enemies.” In other words, any peace process requires you to sit down with someone you detest, and someone who detests you in return. Its difficult work, and goes against some very basic elements of human nature, but if peace is the goal, it is what’s required.

Once Egypt and Jordan held views similar to those of Hamas and fought wars against Israel. Then the parties talked. Today these nations have been at peace for decades.

The two state solution is designed to provide hope to the Palestinians and security to the Israelis. But by excluding Hamas from any negotiations, we win up with three states, not two: Israel, the West Bank portion of Palestine (presumably at peace with Israel), and an isolated, resentful Palestinian Gaza. Given Hamas’ belligerent tone, they will not abide by any agreements signed by President Abbas in their absence, their attacks will continue - if not increase. There will be no security for Israel – their motivation for engaging in negotiations.

The only solution then, as distasteful to Israel as it may be, is to include Hamas in the peace negotiations. Anything else only condemns the plan to failure.
Sphere: Related Content

One Hundred Years of Imperial Bluster

I came across this column: One Hundred Years of Imperial Bluster on The Huffington Post yesterday. If you didn't know (which I didn't), Sunday was the 100th anniversary of the departure of the Great White Fleet from Hampton Roads, Virginia.

The brainchild of President Teddy Roosevelt, the 16 warships of the fleet would spend 14 months circling the globe. It was one of America's first forays onto the world stage, and was a signal that the United States was to be considered a world power.

The column is an interesting view of a forgotten piece of American history, and shows how much the world has changed in just 100 years. For instance the Sacramento Union newspaper feared that the fleet would be wrecked sailing through the Magellan Straits at the tip of South America and its sailors would be "eaten by cannibals."

The column also shows the contradiction often found in the projection of American power - warships sailing on what was dubbed a "peace mission." It is a contradiction still found in foreign policy today.
Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Presidential Polls #2 - Russian edition

Meanwhile the first presidential poll since Vladimir Putin named his chosen successor was conducted this week in Russia. Not surprisingly Putin's candidate to succeed him as president, First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev took the top spot by a wide margin, with the support of 35% of those polled.

Several other prominent Russian politicians were cited in the poll. Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the often controversial leader of Russia's Liberal Democratic party finished with 11 percent, while Gennady Zyuganov, leader of the Communist party received 15 percent. Zhirinovsky has already declared his candidacy in the March 2 election, while Zyuganov has not.

Two other noted political figures - First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov and Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov - received 21 and 17 percent respectively in the poll, though since both are also members of Medvedev's Untied Russia party, it is unlikely that they would challenge him in the presidential election.

Gary Kasparov, the chess champion turned fierce critic of Vladimir Putin, gave up on his bid for the presidency when local officials backed out of an agreement to give him the use of a hall for a nominating rally. Under Russian law, candidates who are not part of a recognized political party must receive a formal nomination at a meeting of at least 500 people. Kasparov said this was the latest in a long string of attempts to silence his criticism of Putin.
Sphere: Related Content

Presidential Polls - Pakistan

While President Bush's approval ratings may remain mired in the low 30's, he's doing much better than his fellow world leader, Pervez Musharraf. A recent poll conducted in Pakistan showed that two-thirds of Pakistanis want President Musharraf to resign, immediately.

The poll was taken after Musharraf declared a state of emergency in Pakistan. A power-sharing proposal with former prime minister Benazir Bhutto also proved unpopular, with 60 percent of respondents opposing it. A partnership between Bhutto and another former prime minister Nawaz Sharif though was supported by 58 percent of those polled.

Bhutto fears that Musharraf may rig the presidential elections on January 8 in a bid to stay in power.

The news from Pakistan has not been all bad. On Saturday lifted the state of emergency he imposed six weeks ago. Musharraf claimed the state of emergency was needed to fight a growing Islamic militant movement, though critics said the move was to put down his political opponents.
Sphere: Related Content

Monday, December 10, 2007

News Item - Cargo trains begin between Koreas

For the first time in more than 50 years, regular cargo trains have begun running between the two Koreas. The freight train will run each weekday between the South Korean border and the North Korean city of Kaesong.

The two countries have established a free enterprise zone in Kaesong, where now more than 60 South Korean companies operate factories, capitalizing on cheap labor in the North. The regular train service is the result of a summit between the two nations aimed at normalizing relations.

South Korea hopes that a rail link can be established through North Korea to join up with the Trans-Siberian Railroad at the Russian border. A rail link would allow South Korea to shave weeks off transporting goods to markets in Europe, goods that currently must travel by ship.
Sphere: Related Content

Ahmadinejad, President and Blogger

Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is himself a blogger, according to the New York Times. Ahmadinejad comments on a range of topics from politics to his thoughts on Islam.

“He has a very keen understanding of publicity,” said Karim Arghandehpour, a political scientist and journalist in Tehran, in the Times article. “His Web log shows how he believes in modern publicity instruments and wants to use them."

Ahmadinejad even allows comments to his posts on his blog (in four languages, including English). Though while posting his own blog, Ahmadinejad has cracked down on other bloggers within Iran, with the Iranian government shutting down hundreds of sites critical of official policies.

His blog can be found at
Sphere: Related Content

Tis the season...

According to a Swedish research firm, Santa Claus should forget about the North Pole and move to Kyrgyzstan. The Swedish engineering consulting firm Sweco found that Kyrgyzstan provided the most optimal starting point for Santa's 2.25 billion Christmas deliveries. And no, I'm not making this up...
Sphere: Related Content

And the winner is...

Russian President Vladimir Putin has ended months of speculation by naming Dmitry Medvedev as his pick to succeed him as the president of Russia. The 42-year old Medvedev is currently serving as the first deputy prime minister.

Medvedev was considered an early favorite to succeed Putin, but recent political moves – such as the elevation of another Putin ally, Viktor Zubkov to the position of prime minister in September - cast doubt on his eventual selection. Like many of Putin's inner circle, Medvedev began his political career in St. Petersburg, Putin's hometown. Medvedev is described as one of the most liberal of the Kremlin insiders. He does not have a background with the state security services - the KGB, or its successor the FSB, as do a number of the other members of Putin's inner circle.

Medvedev's election could lead to improved relations with the West. In a BBC profile Medvedev expressed his belief in democracy, saying "we are well aware that no non-democratic state has ever become truly prosperous for one simple reason: freedom is better than non-freedom."

The Russian presidential election is scheduled for March 2.
Sphere: Related Content

Sunday, December 9, 2007

News Item - Putin's party to name 'successor'

United Russia will choose a successor for President Vladimir Putin at a party meeting on December 17, according to a report by the BBC. It was also announced that United Russia leader Boris Gryzlov will be nominated as Prime Minister, ending speculation that Putin would take the PM job for himself.

Trying to guess whom United Russia will nominate for president has been one of the most popular games in Russia for the past several months. The recent favorite to succeed Putin is current Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov, who Putin was a little-known bureaucrat until Putin named him prime minister in September. Zubkov is considered a close personal confidant of Putin, whom he has worked with since the early 1990's.

The Times of India though is reporting that Putin may consider selecting the current governor of St. Petersburg, Valentina Matviyenko, as his successor. Matviyenko was elected the governor of Russia's second-largest city in 2003, and had previously served as the deputy prime minister, the highest political office obtained by a woman in post-Soviet Russia.

The nominee of United Russia, especially if endorsed by Putin, is expected to easily win the presidential election on March 2.
Sphere: Related Content

News Item - Major Battle Set for Afghanistan

The Guardian (UK) is reporting that United States, United Kingdom and Afghani troops are preparing for a final assault on the Taliban-held city of Musa Qala.

The battle will be the first test for the NATO-trained Afghan Army. Musa Qala is in the troubled Helmand province. The Taliban controls much of Helmand, which is also the center of Afghanistan's opium production.
Sphere: Related Content

News Item - World views on free press mixed

A BBC poll on different nations attitudes towards freedom of the press gave mixed results. Overall, 56% of the people surveyed felt that a free press was vital to maintaining a free society, while 40% believed that maintaining social harmony and stability was more important than maintaining a free press. North America and Western Europe ranked freedom of the press highest among all regions of the world surveyed.
Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, December 6, 2007

News Item - Tymoshenko nominated as Ukraine PM

The BBC is reporting that Yulia Tymoshenko has been nominated to again become that nation’s prime minister. Tymoshenko and current Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko were the driving force behind the Orange Revolution that swept their pro-western government into power in 2005.

Managing power though has proven to be far more difficult in Ukraine than obtaining it. Yushchenko and Tymoshenko during their first partnership quickly had a falling out, leading to her being forced out of the PM’s job after only a few months. Since then the wide-ranging reforms promised in the Orange Revolution (including membership in both NATO and the European Union) have largely failed to materialize.

In elections earlier this year the Party of Regions, led by the pro-Russian former President Viktor Yanukovych actually received the largest share of the votes, but did not win enough seats to form a government in the parliament. Tymoshenko and Yushchenko have now again joined their parties together to form a coalition government, though it is hard to see why the partnership will be successful now when it failed two years ago amid the hope and optimism of the Orange Revolution.
Sphere: Related Content

Olbermann on Bush and the NIE

The fallout continues over Monday's publication of the National Intelligence Estimate that showed Iran had suspended its nuclear weapons program in 2003. Tonight on MSNBC's Countdown, Keith Olbermann offered a special commentary on the growing controversy. President Bush has said that he only received the final version of the NIE last Wednesday, though the White House has also admitted a draft version of the report was presented to him in August. Olbermann's special commentary makes the point that during that time the administration continued to stress the threat of Iran building a nuclear bomb, leading Keith to assume the President was either lying about the Iranian threat, or is hopelessly ill-informed about matters within his own administration.
Sphere: Related Content

The Kosovo Conundrum

I read Timothy Garton Ash’s column in yesterday’s Guardian (UK) on the likely impending independence of Kosovo, and while I agree with his main point – Kosovo is a problem with no good, or simple solutions – he mentions in passing a point that deserves far more consideration.

Ash states: “who, under what circumstances, has the right to self-determination is a conundrum that liberals have spent 160 years failing to resolve.”

It is an important question that goes unanswered in Kosovo’s seeming march towards independence. The Kosovars suffered at the hands of the Serbs (as Ash describes in detail in his column), so therefor they deserve to be free from them. It’s an appeal that on an emotional level is hard to refute. But by the international community not addressing the question that Ash passes off as too tough to answer – namely under what circumstances do one people have the right to be independent of another – the seeds are sown for other conflicts.

Tucked away in the southeast corner of Europe is Abkhazia, a region in the nation of Georgia that for years has been seeking its own independence. Like the Kosovars, the Abkhaz claim to be an oppressed minority within their current nation, and like the Kosovars, the Abkhaz fought a war for independence. Like Kosovo, for years Abkhazia has been operating as a de facto state within a state (Abkhazia declared its independence in 1991, though no nation has yet to recognize their claim). Meanwhile the Georgians, like the Serbs, feel this breakaway region is an inherent part of their nation and do not want to give it up.

So if Kosovo is granted its independence, then shouldn’t Abkhazia get theirs as well?

Next to Kosovo is Bosnia and Herzegovina, which was the site of a brutal war between its main ethnic groups – Bosnian Muslims and Croats on one side, Bosnian Serbs on the other. Since 1995 the nation has been at peace. In reality Bosnia and Herzegovina is two states in one, a coalition of Bosnian Muslims and Croats and a separate Bosnian Serb state (Republika Srpska), bound together in a loose federal government. Recently some have said that should Kosovo break away from Serbia; the Republika Srpska should in turn break away from Bosnia and Herzegovina. Will the Bosnian Serbs have this right?

Even within Kosovo there are divisions. Kosovo Serbs make up about 5% of the population, with many concentrated in towns in the north of the region near the border with Serbia. The AP is reporting that these Serbs fear reprisals from the ethnic Albainian Kosovars should independence be granted, some have discussed breaking their northern region away from Kosovo and rejoining Serbia.

Would the Kosovo Serbs then be justified in declaring their independence? Or Republika Srpska? Or Abkhazia? Or any of the other troubled regions around the world? When do people get this elusive right to self-determination?

The problem, the one not being addressed by the UN, the European Union, the pundits, or by anyone else, is that Kosovo cannot exist in a vacuum. Other peoples who feel they are being oppressed, who long for a state of their own, will look to Kosovo and say if there, then why not here?

Perhaps there is a compelling case to be made for Kosovo’s independence; I am not trying to claim that there is not. What is the flaw in this situation - the flaw Ash points out so well - is that there is no process in place to illustrate why independence is the correct path in Kosovo's case, and to illustrate in what other cases independence would be justified, and conversely when it would not. International bodies like the United Nations and the European Union were created to deal with difficult questions like these. It’s not enough to say political theorists have been wrestling with the problem of self-determination for centuries leave it at that.
Sphere: Related Content

News Item - Putin to discuss union with Belarus

Discussions on a proposed union between Russia and Belarus appear to be on once again.

Talk of a union between the two nations has surfaced repeatedly since the break up of the Soviet Union in 1991. Unlike other former Soviet republics like Latvia and Georgia, Belarus has maintained close and relatively friendly relations with Russia. Belarus is also heavily dependent on Russia for trade and energy supplies.

Two reasons are commonly cited for the failure of union talks. One is a supposed deep personal dislike between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko, the other is Lukashenko’s belief that he should be the leader of any potential union, a condition unacceptable to Putin. In addition to having a far smaller economy, the population of Belarus is about one-fourteenth that of Russia.

The AP article linked above suggests that a Russia-Belarus Union could provide a way for Putin to remain in power after the Russian presidential elections in March. Putin, in theory, could become the leader of the new union, sidestepping the two-term limit currently in place for the president of Russia.

I think the prospects for such a union are small, at best. It seems like too cute of a political maneuver to actually work in the real world. Getting Lukashenko – who has been called “Europe’s last dictator” by critics - to voluntarily cede power now also seems unlikely. At the same time, discussion of the new state continues to surface every few years, indicating that it must have some appeal to all parties involved, so the prospect of a union cannot be ruled out entirely.

Putin is scheduled to visit Belarus on December 13.
Sphere: Related Content

News Item - Russia: US rollback on missile defense

Russia: US rollback on missile defense

Russia’s foreign minister Sergey Lavrov contends that the United States has not lived up to agreements made earlier in the year regarding a proposed US missile defense system to be based in Poland and the Czech Republic.

The system would put missiles in these countries to defend the United States against ICBM’s launched by “rogue states” (Iran and North Korea are usually mentioned as the rogues). The United States has assured Russia that the missiles are purely defensive and are designed to counteract a small number of missiles, meaning that they would be useless against Russia’s thousands of ICBMs.

The proposed bases though have greatly upset Russia. The United States’ position is that Russia is being needlessly stubborn on the matter and is simply annoyed that the Czech Republic and Poland, two nations once satellites of the Soviet Union, have turned their backs on them.

But the claims made about the missile defense bases are very similar to claims made about the expansion in NATO in the 1990’s. NATO was created after World War Two to defend Europe against an invasion by the Soviet Union. After the Soviet Union’s collapse, many Eastern European nations were eager to join NATO - membership serving as a symbolic breaking away from their communist pasts.

Watching NATO, their former adversary, quickly expand across Europe, often right up to their border, not surprisingly upset Russia. In response, the United States was quick to point out that NATO was solely a defensive alliance and was therefore nothing to be concerned about since our nations were now friends.

But in 1999 things changed. It was then that NATO forces conducted an 88-day bombing campaign against Serbia to compel them to stop their military action in Kosovo. Kosovo, however, was not a NATO member, nor had Serbia attacked any NATO forces. NATO’s bombing campaign was specifically designed to get Serbia to end their action in Kosovo. The defensive alliance had now gone on offense.

In politics perception is everything. It is something to consider as Russia raises objections to the defensive missile bases in Poland and the Czech Republic.
Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

On the Radar - Kosovo

Expect to hear a lot about Kosovo next week.

December 10 is the date that leaders of the largely Albanian province within Serbia have set for a final decision on their status. In the mid-1990s, the Kosovo Liberation Army launched a struggle for independence from Serbia. A bloody war followed, culminating in a NATO-led bombing campaign in 1999 against Serbia and the Serbian military.

Since then Kosovo has been a UN-managed protectorate, while still officially part of Serbia. After years of negotiations, the UN endorsed a plan for “managed independence” for Kosovo, a move bitterly opposed by Serbia, which views the province as an inherent part of their nation.

The United States and European Union have overseen negotiations between Serbia and Kosovo, with a deadline of December 10th set by the UN for a final determination. The United Great Britain and France back the UN plan for managed independence, the Russians though oppose Kosovo’s separation from Serbia and could block any such action in the UN Security Council. The Russians argue that allowing Kosovo to split from Serbia opens up the possibility of troubled regions in other countries pushing for independence rather than negotiating settlements.

Kosovo’s provincial government though has lost patience and is threatening to unilaterally declare independence if an agreement is not reached on the 10th. Stay tuned.
Sphere: Related Content

Random Though #1

I discovered this while writing my post on the Russian elections - how strange is it that Microsoft Word's spellchecker dictionary would include "Zhirinovsky", but not "Putin"? Does Bill Gates have some unique view into Russian politics? Hmmm...
Sphere: Related Content

Farewell Belgium?

Belgium, that quaint, quintessentially most European of nations, home to tasty waffles and craft-brewed beers, may be on the verge of something ugly – a divorce.

Once unthinkable, the talk of a split within the country is being discussed more and more as the country moves into its sixth month without a government. Since elections in June, Belgium’s political parties have been unable to form a government.

The trouble stems from historic tensions between the northern, Dutch-speaking region of Flanders and the southern, French-speaking region Wallonia. Flanders wants increased regional autonomy, a move opposed in the poorer region of Wallonia, which fears it will lose out on tax revenues and other national subsidies on which it relies.

To make matters more complicated, none of the ten political parties that would be in the Belgian parliament is a national one - each are regional parties representing either Flanders or Wallonia. So far the parties have been unwilling to reach a compromise that would allow a national government to form.

Belgium’s king has requested the former prime minister lead crisis talks on forming a government. Ironically, if Belgium does split, it may be due in part to a television broadcast . In December of last year, French-language television station RTBF ran a fictional report that Flanders unilaterally declared independence. The two-hour broadcast fooled thousands of viewers who called both the station and local politicians, shocked by the news. RTBF said it performed the fake newscast to prompt debate on regional issues. It seems to have worked.
Sphere: Related Content

Russia's Elections

Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party scored a resounding victory in Sunday’s parliamentary elections, taking approximately 64% of the vote. Three other parties won seats in the Duma: the Communists, the nationalist Liberal Democratic Party, and A Just Russia, a coalition of three smaller parties. None of the other 11 parties competing in the election received more than 7% of the total votes cast, the threshold for representation in the Duma.

The resounding win for United Russia was no surprise, though some political analysts believed that the Communists would be the only other party to break through the 7% threshold.

There have been numerous reports of voting irregularities – government employees told to vote for United Russia or risk losing their jobs and university students being told to take a picture of their ballot and passport while in the voting booth to confirm they voted for United Russia were among those circulated in the US and British press. The Communist party has stated they will challenge the results in the Supreme Court, while the US and several European governments have also called for an investigation.

A United Russia spokesman admitted that there might have been some irregularities, stating that there are a certain number of irregularities in any election, but that they would not affect the ultimate result of the election. And he is likely correct.

This fact makes the attempts at vote-fixing that have been reported, along with the Kremlin’s refusal to allow election monitors from Europe, to be, in a word, stupid.

Putin turned the parliamentary election into a referendum on his rule; a vote for United Russia became a vote of confidence in his policies of the last seven years. Given Putin’s widespread popularity (his approval rating is usually cited at somewhere above 70%), United Russia was bound to cruise to an easy victory.

And even for Russian voters looking for a change, the other parties offer few alternatives. The Communists are largely a party of pensioners who long for the return of the Soviet Union, the Liberal Democratic party is led by Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a fiery nationalist not seriously regarded as a national leader. Russia’s two main leftist parties, Yabloko and the Union of Right Forces (SPS is Russian), which shot to prominence in the 1990’s, have never recovered from the political chaos of that time.

So given the backing of a very popular president and facing a field of weak adversaries, a big United Russia victory was basically a sure thing. But by excluding election monitors and allowing (if not directing) actions to compel voters to choose United Russia, their victory has been undermined, at least in the eyes of the outside world. International relations between Russia and the United States/European Union will undoubtedly suffer as a result.

Domestically, in the short term at least, tensions between Russia and the West over the election will reinforce the idea that the West wants to meddle in Russia’s affairs and will likely boost Putin as he appears to once again stand up to western pressure. The longer term implications are harder to read – whether these elections inspire people looking for political change, or crush the opposition, and even if those looking for change decide it must come in the form of a revolution rather than an election – a theme too familiar in Russian history.

The result does serve as a confirmation of Putin’s power and popularity. What happens when his term as president ends next year remains to be seen.
Sphere: Related Content

Monday, December 3, 2007

Bush on Pakistan and Democracy

I wanted to check the CNN transcript before writing about President Bush’s appearance with Wolf Blitzer yesterday on “Late Edition” just to make sure I heard him correctly. In their brief, but wide-ranging, discussion Bush said the following about Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf:

“I’ve also said that President Musharraf is the person who has done a lot for Pakistan democracy.”


Musharraf has done a lot for democracy? How exactly? By ousting Pakistan’s democratically-elected government in a coup, installing himself as president, dismissing the country’s supreme court when it appeared they were about to rule his presidency unconstitutional, and then announcing a nationwide state of emergency to prevent presidential elections? Call me crazy, but these don’t exactly seem like the moves of someone promoting democracy.

And if you think that Wolf Blitzer would ask these obvious questions, well…

I do find it odd though that the same day the White House calls on Russia to investigate irregularities in their elections, the President would say that a military dictator “has done a lot for democracy.”
Sphere: Related Content

News Item - Iran Nukes?

US spies give shock verdict on Iran threat | Iran | Guardian Unlimited

In brief, the newly-released National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) claims that Iran gave up its pursuit of nuclear weapons in late 2003. The NIE, a summary of information gathered by 16 US intelligence agencies, undermines the claims of many Bush administration officials that the threat of Iran aquiring a nuclear weapon was both serious and immediate.

One thing not mentioned in this, or other, web articles I read was a statement made this evening on MSNBC's "Countdown" that the administration delayed the release of the NIE for a year while pressure was put on its authors to amend the conclusion that Iran had suspended work on its nuclear weapons program.

President Bush is scheduled to hold a press conference tomorrow, it will be interesting to see how he deals with the topic of the new NIE.
Sphere: Related Content

News Item - Australia Ratifies Kyoto Treaty

Newly-elected Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has made good on his campaign promise of ratifying the Kyoto Treaty. Australia, along with the United States, were the only two of the world's wealthiest nations not to have ratified the Kyoto Protocols. At the time of the agreement in 1997, China and India, were not bound to the same targets for reduction in greenhouse gases because of their developing-nation status.
Sphere: Related Content

China Says No to US Navy

Three times in the past month China has refused to allow US Navy ships to enter the port of Hong Kong.

This article from Bloomberg <> gives an outline on the three events. What’s not mentioned in the article is that the navy minesweepers that were denied entry into the port of Hong Kong were seeking safe harbor from a typhoon. China’s refusal to let them into port put the crews of both ships at risk.

While not allowing ships to visit Hong Kong may be a small issue at this point, it is an indication both of China’s growing power and ambition. Since 2001 much of America’s international focus has been related to the War on Terror, many relationships, like those with China have been left on the back burner. In my opinion, this has been a mistake, and the greatest challenge to America’s place in the world in the 21st century will likely come not from fundamental Islam, but from China.
Sphere: Related Content

Czar Putin

This weekend CNN aired a special titled “Czar Putin”, with the tagline “the dark side of Putin’s Russia.” In reality, the report wasn’t quite as negative as the set-up would make you believe, mostly because CNN assigned the job to Christiane Amonpour, who is probably their best reporter on foreign affairs. She gave at least a somewhat balanced picture of political conditions in Russia, including talking to Russians who actually like and support Vladimir Putin and his policies.

The drumbeat of reporting about Russia in our press recently has been overwhelmingly negative. The storyline played out in the press is that Russia is once again our adversary, with Putin a Josef Stalin in training.

This is a symptom of a larger problem: that the West (particularly the United States) can’t figure out what to make of Russia. The problem started with the end of the Cold War. The right-wing in this country elevated Ronald Reagan to mythic status for leading us to victory (maybe this was a natural reaction since it had been awhile since we won a war). But when we defeated Germany and Japan in World War II, the evidence of our victory was clear to see, their armies were smashed; their cities lay in smoldering ruins. Russia at the end of the Cold War however, was still in one piece.

Russia’s economic collapse became a stand-in for our proof of victory. Stories of factory workers going unpaid for months, long queues for food and emergency loans from the IMF showed that we had indeed won a great victory. Boris Yeltsin’s drunken antics and poor health only added to the image.

But then in 2000 Vladimir Putin came to power. He was young, healthy and a crafty politician, all things that Yeltsin was not. He instituted economic reforms that were helped - some say greatly helped - by soaring prices paid for Russia’s abundant oil and natural gas exports. Russia quickly reversed its economic misfortunes – loans were repaid, Moscow and St. Petersburg boomed with new construction and wealth (Moscow is now home to more billionaires than any other city in the world). The signs of our victory quickly disappeared.

With his country’s economic turnaround, Putin became emboldened. He wanted to be treated as an equal in terms of world affairs. In practical terms this has meant everything from opposing the expansion of NATO and the EU into the former Soviet sphere, to opposing the war in Iraq and a host of other policy decisions; all aggressive steps it is hard to imagine Boris Yeltsin daring to undertake.

And recently the attitude towards Russia has changed; talk of a “new Cold War” has surfaced. It is true that there have been negative signs coming out of Russia, especially in the lead-in to this weekend’s parliamentary elections, where stories of vote-rigging and voter intimidation were widely reported. But a new Cold War simply isn’t in the cards. The Cold War was about a clash of ideologies Communism versus Democracy. Russia may be becoming more authoritarian, but it is not becoming communist. The worst-case scenario in Russia would be a system of state-managed capitalism (like is present in China), rather than the continuing embrace of western-style free-market capitalism. This is not the clash of ideologies though that fueled the Cold War.

The New Cold War is an inaccurate view of our relationship, just as the defeated foe view we held in the 1990’s was also inaccurate. Given its mineral wealth, strategic importance, and growing presence on the world stage, Russia is a power we will have to deal with. We need a view of their nation that rises above simplistic clichés if we ever hope to have a positive relationship.
Sphere: Related Content

First Post

If you have someone’s attention you better have something important to say. This was one of the first things I learned in journalism school, and words I now try to keep in mind as I start this blog. A couple of years ago I went back to school and earned a masters degree in International Affairs. While I became more engaged with the world beyond the United States, I realized our media was not. A lot of coverage was dedicated to Iraq, and a lesser amount to Afghanistan – naturally because of the war, but the rest of the world usually received only a passing mention in the nightly news.

If you have bought a tank of gasoline lately you realize how events on the other side of the world have a deep affect on our life here. Still, coverage of the larger world beyond our shores is lacking. Maybe it is because its assumed that as “the world’s only superpower” the rest of the world should pay attention to us, not the other way around; maybe the media outlets assume our lives are too busy to pay attention to a bunch of places with strange names; but whatever the reason, the result is a lack of knowledge about the world beyond our shores.

My goal with this blog is to talk about some of the places and events that should be making news, and to put them in a larger context than some 30-second mention you may hear before the sports and weather. It’s my intention to keep things light and (hopefully) enjoyable to read – unlike some of the international affairs texts I had to wade through.

Finally, the name of this blog is A World View, with emphasis on “A”. These are my views, my opinions - you may agree, you may not. It’s my hope though that in reading this blog you learn a few new things about the world and enjoy yourself while you do.
Sphere: Related Content