Saturday, 19 April 2014

A one state solution?

Paradoxically, the discerning Palestinian observer may find comfort in America’s failure to stop Israel from expanding its settlements (and thus effectively annexing a growing share of Palestinian land), for it ends the charade on which the peace process has been based. The most likely outcome now is the establishment of a single unified country within the borders of the 1922 British Mandate for Palestine, including all of present-day Israel and the occupied territories.
In other words, Israel and Palestine are moving inexorably toward the establishment of a binational state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Such a state will be based on one of two mutually exclusive principles: equal rights for all of its inhabitants or some form of apartheid, characterized by Jewish control and Palestinian subordination.
That is the view from where Mahammed Ayoob stands.  

Friday, 18 April 2014

Obama ignores Canada

The Obama administration announced today that a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline would be delayed for an indefinite period; most likely till after the November mid-term elections. The Harper government was adamant that a decision be made soon; Obama decided that his party's prospects in the mid-term elections were more important. No one is surprised. The simple lessons are:

  • An export industry is dependent on policy decisions in a foreign market over which it and the government in the exporting state may have little influence. It's future is subject to the whims of others. So you can guess what that means for an export oriented economy. 
  • The Harper government is the enemy the environmentalists opposing Keystone want. Putin is the great defender of human rights; Benjamin Netanyahu the friend of the Palestinians and Stephen Harper a climate change crusader.  
  • The US election cycle opens and closes windows to achieve policy objectives.  It imposes its own rhythm on America's foreign relations. 
  • The American political system is far more susceptible to interest group pressure than Westminster parliamentary systems. How else can anyone explain the softwood lumber issue?
  • The decision to defer generally suits both parties political interests therefore a deferral was all the more likely. 
  • Canada has no way of imposing any costs on the US that isn't self defeating , in a case like that, US domestic politics dominates the decision making process. 

Sometimes empathy gets in the way

Matt Waldman rues America's failure to take Atticus Finch's advice in Afghanistan -- climb into someone else's skin and walk around it:
Empathy, in this sense, is rational and cognitive. Is a tool for understanding the way another person thinks, feels or perceives. It enables us to comprehend another’s mindset, driving emotions or outlook, without requiring us to share the other’s thoughts, feelings and perceptions, or, indeed, approve of them. An empathic approach involves the assimilation of diverse information, including social, historical and psychological details, and a conscious effort to see the world through that person’s eyes. Thus, it serves the first demand of strategy: know your enemy. Crucially, empathy can help leaders anticipate how enemies and perceived allies are likely to act and react, and help avoid strategic errors.
The CIA understood. The Taliban had to be defeated by Afghans with US forces acting in support only.  But then the mission transformed into an occupation and when has an occupation ever been conducted with empathy? 

Thursday, 17 April 2014

RIP Gabriel Garcia Marquez

He was 87 and was suffering from dementia. His autobiography, Living to Tell the Tale , - true or not - is among the finest books one can ever hope to read; on a level with One Hundred Years of Solitude. The Montreal Gazette's obituary is here.  

Edward Snowden: Putin's useful idiot

Edward Snowden had a question for Vladimir Putin :
"Does Russia intercept or store or analyse the communication of millions of individuals?" He went on to ask whether increasing the effectiveness of internal security systems could ever justify such actions.
To applause from the studio audience, Putin responded: "Mr Snowden you are a former agent, a spy, I used to work for a intelligence service, we are going to talk the same language."
He said Russia did not have a comparable programme, stating: "Our agents are controlled by law. You have to get court permission to put an individual under surveillance. We don't have mass permission, and our law makes it impossible for that kind of mass permission to exist."
He said he was aware that "criminals and terrorists" relied on this kind of interception, and that their actions demanded a response from the security services. "We have to use technical means to respond to their crimes, including those of a terrorist nature, we do have some efforts like that. We don't have a mass control. I hope we don't do that," he said.
This is the kind of performance that really does make one hope that Snowden was acting against his will.  Truth to power it's not. 

Over at Arms Control Wonk, Jeffrey Lewis, lays out this chronology :
 - In 2007, Snowden is working for the CIA in Geneva, where he sours on the methods of the United States intelligence community. He considers leaking some information.
- In 2009, Snowden takes a job working for an NSA contractor in Japan. His disappointment with Obama hardens his resolve to leak information.
- In 2013, he took a job with Booz Allen in Hawaii for the express purpose of collecting US secrets that he will leak.
- After three months, in May 2013, he fled to Hong Kong because it has a strong commitment to free speech.
- After Hong Kong made it clear he must leave, Wikileaks arranged asylum and travel documents to Ecuador.  But the United States canceled his passport, which meant Moscow was legally bound to prevent his transit to safe harbor in Ecuador.
- After being stranded in the transit zone by the United States cancellation of his passport, he has no choice but to ask the Russians for asylum.
- His travel companion, Sarah Harrison, who does have valid travel documents, is allowed to remain in Russia indefinitely.
Lewis agrees with Edward Lucas - Snowden was a Russian asset.  I'm not convinced. Only because I don't think we should convict on weak circumstantial evidence. 

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Markets and politics constrain foreign policy planning

The current crisis in Ukraine is , according to Nikolas Gvodsev, the manifestation of a perennial failure in American foreign policy - the inability to develop and implement strategic plans through successive administrations. Gvodsev argues that having set the objective of thwarting Russia's plans to "re-Sovietize" Ukraine via Russia's Eurasian Union , Washington needed to purse plans to wean Ukraine's industrial regions of their dependence on the Russian market as well as to work with the EU to diversify its sources of natural gas. The point is well made but it elides the role of markets and domestic politics in making foreign policy decisions. There are two distinct issues here: transforming Ukraine's economy and securing new sources of natural gas for the EU. Gvodsev sees one being used to support the other; contracts for proposed pipelines being awarded to Ukrainian firms. In the world of policymaking its not clear to me that the two can be bundled together. Decisions made about pipelines, trade and economic aid are not made ad hoc. Ultimately they have to be considered within an institutional framework both domestic and transnational. 

Domestic Politics:
Building pipelines is never easy. There are usually multiple routes proposed by competing consortia , each with their coterie of lobbyists representing the corporations and foreign governments. If it takes this long to get a final decision on the Keystone Pipeline what can you expect when multiple governments with a lesser degree of economic integration than Canada and the US are involved? A McCain presidency would in all likelihood have meant that the Keystone Pipeline would have been completed by this date. Which leads us to the point at which we acknowledge that domestic politics matters. The governments representing countries that will provide transit routes draw support from constituencies with a vested interest in the pipelines or in alternatives to the pipelines.

Foreign policy priorities also change during the transition from one administration to the next. The idea of permanent national interests is largely a myth.  Of course Realists have trouble accepting this. Where there cost of changing existing policy is low there will be strong incentives for the new administration to set its own priorities. Strategic planning across administration implies an issue that is so important that it seizes the attention of the foreign policy establishment and as with containment, a general consensus on a doctrine is developed. 

International Trade Rules:
Depending on the country and what trade agreements it is party to; the awarding of contracts can be mandated to be politically neutral i.e governments cannot determine who gets what jobs. Admittedly countries can find ways around these rules when their is a consensus among the relevant parties. 

Markets matter:
Before the fracking revolution took hold in the US , natural gas was being talked about as the new oil; the vital resource over which geopolitical competition would take place. Ironically I recall (but can't find a source) of a G-8 meeting in which Putin was asking the US to make a formal agreement for the import of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Russia. Now there is hype over exporting LNG to the EU. Just because plans are made for a project it doesn't mean that market price movements won't motivate producers to abandon their planned investments. 

The member states of the EU are ultimately the consumers of natural gas and the counties that among other things would be expected to provide direct economic assistance to Ukraine as well as access to their markets. Each of these is a matter of intra EU negotiation subject to the same constraints as US policymaking. If there really was a strategic plan to be developed that would secure alternatives to Russia for natural gas while reorienting Ukriane toward the West is was have to going to have to be EU led. Obviously , rhetoric aside , it wasn't that important to them. 

Planning in general is easiest when less people are consulted - it's an equation with fewer variables - and there is broad agreement among those involved as to what needs to be done. 

Who will rid me of this troublesome tsar?

Richard Haass calls for regime change in Russia, Really -- that is what he means when he writes this:
The strategy needed to resist Putin’s efforts to expand Russia’s influence beyond its borders – and to induce change within them – resembles nothing so much as the “containment” doctrine that guided Western policy for the four decades of the Cold War. Russia, a country of only 143 million people that lacks a modern economy, should be offered the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of international integration, but only if it acts with restraint.
He even wants to expose the magnitude of Putin's wealth. Maybe someone has read it somewhere - has Mr. Haass ever called for the U.S government to reveal to the people of Saudi Arabia the size of the fortunes of their rulers? Maybe USAID can fund a program : the Lifestyles of the Rich and Pious.  

Reassuring Nato allies in Europe and adding some teeth to the sanctions regimes is wise. However making it clear that it is the intention of the US government to facilitate the overthrow of the Putin regime risks losing any opportunity for cooperation with Russia on issues of mutual concern. Why would it make sense to encourage Russia to play a spoiler role? They already do when they think they have conflicting interests, but they could do more out of plain spite.  This is a recurrent feature of American foreign policy; the temptation to rid oneself of troublesome people rather than having to adapt policy to achieve on partially satisfactory outcomes