Tag: U.S.-European relations

Restoring Conventional Deterrence in Europe: How to Climb Out of the Joint Security Trap


Russia is currently riding high on the geostrategic landscape, despite a trove of domestic economic woes that stem partly from Western sanctions. But Vladimir Putin has successfully wagged the dog and distracted Russians from this by illegally annexing Crimea by force, occupying eastern Ukraine with a proxy force upheld by Russia, and successfully keeping the Assad regime in force in Syria with a surprise intervention that has not only sent cruise missiles through an airspace with U.S. aircraft in it, but also wiped out the efforts on behalf of the anti-regime rebel forces by Western intelligence services on the ground.

Russia continues to be undeterred in its use of force, which was reinforced last week by a Russian fighter plane buzzing a U.S. reconnaissance aircraft within 50 feet and multiple Russian fighters buzzing a U.S. destroyer ship within 30 feet, both in the Baltic Sea. Russia is in fact so sufficiently undeterred at present that the Baltic members of NATO are once again in fear of direct Russian intervention. All of this comes as NATO members are getting prepared to hold a crucial summit in Warsaw—perhaps the most pivotal Alliance summit since the end of the Cold War.

Its number one task is straight forward: restoring conventional deterrence in Europe. NATO’s previous summit in Wales was supposed to accomplish this task, but it fell short in its attempt at providing sufficient reassurance to the East Central European members of the Alliance. NATO suspended its relationship with Russia, warned it, and through a series of small-scale maneuvers and exercises sought not only to reassure threatened members but also restore conventional deterrence with regard to Russian threats. It failed. This became clear even before NATO officials had departed from Wales, as Russian intelligence operatives kidnapped an Estonian intelligence operative in a successful attempt by Russia to thumb its nose at NATO.

NATO must compensate for this by beginning to restore deterrence and increase contributions from NATO members to the Alliance’s collective defense. Otherwise it risks a consequential slide into a two-tier alliance and a collection of allies that even in the face of a dramatic newfound series of threats from Russia cannot manage to climb out of the joint security trap they fell into over the past five years. Continue reading


(Head of) State Secrets

As I’ve already noted, former President George W. Bush is apparently settling some scores in his new memoir. In Europe, his passages about former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder are attracting a good deal of attention.

According to press reports, Bush says Schroder was for the Iraq war before it was against it. Because of his own electoral problems, Bush implies, Schroeder flip-flopped.

The former president writes that when he said he was considering the use of force in Iraq, Schroder said, “‘What is true of Afghanistan is true of Iraq. Nations that sponsor terror must face consequences. If you make it fast and make it decisive, I will be with you.'”

Mr. Bush writes that he “took that as a statement of support. But when the German election arrived later that year, Schroder had a different take. He denounced the possibility of force against Iraq.”

…Mr. Bush writes in “Decision Points” that though he continued to work with the German leader on some issues, “as someone who valued personal diplomacy, I put a high premium on trust. Once that trust was violated, it was hard to have a constructive relationship again.”

Unlike Bush’s former domestic ally Mitch McConnell, who has remained mum about Bush’s similar accusations, Schroeder says Bush is lying:

Schroder said Tuesday that former President George W. Bush “is not telling the truth” in his new memoir “Decision Points,” according to the German magazine Der Spiegel.

…Schroder says Mr. Bush’s description of the exchange is false. He said in that meeting and in others he told Mr. Bush that Germany would stand by the United States if Iraq is shown “to have provided protection and hospitality to al-Qaida fighters.” He added, however, that it became clear in 2002 that the alleged connection between Iraq and al-Qaida “was false and constructed.”

Obviously, one of these former leaders has the facts wrong.

Throughout Europe, if press reports are accurate, most people side with Schroeder.

Bush skeptics certainly have history on their side. The most hawkish supporters of the Iraq-war simply did not countenance conditional support — and have often accused political opponents of simple and hypocritical “flip flops” when something more complicated was at work. I’ve pointed this out before in regard to the “pro-war” votes in the Congress and UN Security Council in fall 2002. Lots of people labeled “war supporters” were simply trying to give the U.S. enough leverage to force Iraq to yield to weapons inspections and assure disarmament.

In this case, Schroeder’s support was contingent upon the evidence of a link between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda:

“Schroeder’s support (for the invasion of Iraq) was conditional on evidence being found of terrorists being harbored in Iraq, so when there was no evidence delivered, he withdrew his support,” LSE professor [Dr. Henning] Meyer told Deutsche Welle. “Bush is attempting to polish his own picture of this situation with the Germans by saying that the breakdown in relations was not his fault and that it was Schroeder who turned opinion against him.”

As RFE/RL reviewer Christian Caryl notes, Bush’s memoir “passes over in silence…how his administration’s repeated declarations of a link between Al-Qaeda and Hussein’s regime warped the work of the intelligence agencies, who had been told all too clearly what their masters wanted to hear.”


The new neighbors

Imagine for a moment that the world is a community of states. For decades, European states have lived just across the pond from some of the richest and most powerful people in the world: the Americans. While the Europeans have generally been on good terms with their neighbors, they often admit in private that the Americans can be loud, bullying, and inconsiderate of community needs.

For example, Americans produce more pollution than anyone else in the community, but have been mostly uninterested in viewing global climate change as a problem that requires immediate remedial action. In this case, Venus imagines herself to be “awake and alert” while Mars is sleeping. Alone, Venus cannot prevent climate change; she needs Mars.

This year, the (White) House is of course newly occupied by a young family that is quite different from the prior occupants — hipper, younger, more urban, and racially diverse.

Will the Europeans across the pond like them as much as neighbors as they did when the Obamas were mere tourists?

As we’ve come to expect from Barack Obama, he’s trying to instill hope.

While most of the media is focusing on Obama’s visit to Europe, the real action on U.S.-European relations may be happening out of the limelight.

Consider the latest negotiations to stem global warming. Todd Stern, the new U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change began his March 29 speech in Bonn with these words:

I want to say on behalf of President Obama and his entire team that we are very glad to be back, we want to make up for lost time, and we are seized with the urgency of the task before us.

Mars stirs! Stern continued:

I look forward to working with all of you and listening to your ideas so that we can chart a new and more effective course forward.

You will not hear anyone on my team cast doubt upon or downplay the threat of global climate change. The science is clear, and the threat is real. The facts on the ground are outstripping the worst case scenarios. The costs of inaction—or inadequate actions—are unacceptable.

Political scientists like me have for years explained that the climate change negotiations cannot readily borrow from the Montreal Protocol process that virtually eliminated man-made products containing CFCs. It was relatively easy and inexpensive to replace a chemical that was not integral to the world economy, partly because those products were mostly produced and consumed in the affluent countries that agreed to the environmental treaty. Newly developed technologies could be sold to states in the Global South as soon as they demanded (and could afford) air conditioning, refrigeration, etc.

By contrast, oil and coal are vital to the international political economy and any transition away from them is bound to be difficult and expensive for the entire world. It will be tempting to burn cheap fossil fuels, especially if relatively poorer countries have vast reserves. China has enormous supplies of coal, oil is distributed throughout the Middle East, in Mexico and Venezuela, and in Nigeria.

Yet, in his Bonn address, Stern explicitly embraced Montreal as a model for the climate change negotiations. Affluent states like the U.S. will have to invest in new technologies so as to convert a low carbon economy even while helping developing countries skip fossil fuel technologies. India, for example, successfully used cell phone technology to leap-frog wired phone service and expanded access to this basic communication device from 55 million to 350 million users in less than a decade.

Neither Stern nor his boss are a Pollyanna. They expect the Copenhagen negotiations to be difficult, but both now say the U.S. is committed to pragmatism, not political ideology.

The new tenants in Washington say they will work with the neighbors across the pond to find workable solutions to a central problem for the 21st century. That’s an interesting development with tremendous potential geopolitical implications.


When Worlds Collide

With all of the excellent almost-real-time analysis going on around here lately, I haven’t felt the need to chime in myself; my Duck colleagues are doing an excellent job, and they are more up-to-date on the specifics of Russian-Georgian relations and the various on-the-ground issues. So I’ve been a consumer like the rest of our readers, watching events unfold out of the corner of one eye as I struggle to get some book chapters cranked out before the academic year starts up again. I told myself that I’d only post if I had anything distinctive to add.

And now I think I do. Not about the interests or goals of any of the parties involved in the conflict, and certainly not about their relative war material and strategic effectiveness; others can do and have done that better than I could. And I think it’s perhaps too early for the blame game; we won’t know which counterfactual scenarios were plausible, and therefore which might have come to pass if certain things had been different, until analysts have a chance to work over the relevant material a bit more thoroughly. Rather, I want to highlight what the Georgian situation says about the relative strengths of two rather different logics for organizing world politics — two candidates for global order that seem to have collided, not so much in Georgia as in the responses offered to both Georgia and Russia by third parties, especially the United States.

What we are seeing here, I think, is a clash between universal claims and civilizational claims. And what’s most striking to me is that the United States seems incapable of making up its collective mind about which logic to follow.

First, some definitions. By “universal claims” I mean the appeal to transcendent, globally-binding principles that are supposed to set the standards for everyone> regardless of their particular histories or situations. Universal claims brook no compromises — one either adheres to them or one explains one’s deviation from them in apologetic tones, usually accompanying the apology with a promise to do better. The usual form a such an apology is “we know we ought to do X, but here are a set of idiosyncratic reasons why we can’t at the moment…and we’re working on alleviating them.” So the important thing about a universal claim is that it is in some sense non-negotiable, as there are no valid grounds on which to explain one’s permanent deviation from it. At least no grounds that would be considered valid by the claim-maker.

Not all claims are universal, however — not even all claims that are made on state action are made in universal terms. Indeed, many claims on a state are made in more particularist or even ethnocentric terms: we ought to do this because it’s right for us, irrespective of whether it’s right for anyone else. In fact, a particularist claim leaves open, at least implicitly if not explicitly, the possibility that what might be right for one state representing one community might not be right for another state. “Civilizational” claims are a subset of particularist claims, since they posit only that some course of action is right for members of a given civilization, and refrain from making a claim that is in principle binding on everyone, even those outside of a given civilization. “Democracy is the right form of government for Western countries” is a civilizational claim, not a universal one; “democracy is the right form of government” is a universal claim.

Note that we’re operating in the realm of political claims about identity here, and not in the realm of social-scientific propositions that can be evaluated empirically. There’s no way to empirically ascertain whether democracy is the “right” form of government, either in general or for a given civilization; the best one might hope to do is to demonstrate that given certain goals and values, democracy is the best means for reaching those goals. And while one might argue that democracy is or is not most congruent with some set of values, doing so would necessitate specifying that set of values — no problem if one is trying to make a normative argument, but empirically specifying a set of values shared either by everyone or by the supposed members of a given civilization is a considerably trickier endeavor. So let’s just save ourselves the trouble and ask, not about the truth or falsity of these claims, but about their practical political efficacy.

So with the distinction between universal and civilizational claims in mind, let’s think through a stylized sequence of events involving Russia, Georgia, and the United States. First of all, even though the United States has been making universal claims and placing its foreign policy on universal grounds for centuries, not all universalisms are the same — and the differences between them are significant. As I’ve said on this blog before, we have to be particularly careful to differentiate the kind of universalism in US foreign policy that comes from a celebration of American exceptionalism from the kind of universalism that comes from a subordination of the United States to transcendent standards: ‘civilization’, or its equivalent. The former is neoconservatism, and claims for the US the right to decide what counts as a universal value; the latter is the TR/Wilson/FDR (and arguably Bush I) commitment to a global order based on values that transcend the United States and therefore require the willing, multilateral participation of other countries and other voices. These two universalisms have very different policy prescriptions: ‘coalitions of the willing’ for neocons, broad-based global coalitions defending international law for the other universalism. Gulf War II and Gulf War I, respectively, exemplify these two alternatives.

So when the current Bush administration talks about “democracy” it does so in a neoconservative register — becoming a democracy means choosing light over darkness, salvation over sin. All of the praise heaped on the Rose Revolution by the Administration has that tone: congratulations for choosing the right path, now you’re on the side of the angels. But because this is a neoconservative perspective, becoming a democracy doesn’t carry any obligations for the US, but simply takes a country off of the list of places to be redeemed by force if necessary. Similarly, the Georgian contribution to US military operations carries no obligations for the US, because coalitions of the willing are by definition short-term hook-ups of mutual convenience, not marriages.

Shift the camera a bit, to the Georgian and Russian view. “Democracy” in that context doesn’t play as a universal value, but as a civilizational one, and in particular as one associated (for generations, going back to the old Slavophile/Westernizer debates) with ‘the West’. Hence becoming a democracy means moving closer not to some universal ideal, but to a concrete cultural community — and that does carry obligations for other community-members. A civilizational claim is in that sense more like a marriage, or maybe a courtship: we’re joining the club, we’re on the team, we’re joined to you in fundamental ways. Note that this is not just how Georgians see things, but it’s also how the Russians see these things, including NATO expansion, which of course Georgia has long been pressing for.

Set it in motion: Georgia and Russia get into a military confrontation on Georgian territory, Georgia appeals to ‘the West’ for assistance, and all of a sudden it becomes clear that ‘the West’ doesn’t seem to feel itself to be under any particular obligation to intervene. Sure, in part this is probably because not enough cultural and discursive work preceded that appeal, so that Georgia’s ‘Western’ identity didn’t resonate with enough domestic populations to enable any kind of rhetorical coercion — there was no public outcry of the sort that we might expect to see if Russian troops showed up in Warsaw or Prague, because those places are more securely ‘Western’ in the public imagination and the US and its ‘Western’ allies do have a civilizational obligation to defend them. Even if leaders didn’t want to for whatever instrumental reasons they might have, I think they could probably be rhetorically coerced pretty easily into having to intervene in Poland or the Czech Republic — but not in Georgia, apparently. But this is only part of the story, and I think that the other part is that what the Georgians and Russians understood as a set of civilizational claims was understood by the US as a set of universal claims, and neoconservative universal at that. They thus carried no particular obligation to saddle up a posse and ride into Georgia with guns blazing.

But it’s not quite that simple, because the US — in the form of its ambassador to the UN — also deployed a civilizational claim about its response to the conflict. To wit, Zalmay Khalizad declared that “the days of overthrowing leaders by military means in Europe — those days are gone.” “In Europe” is of course the key phrase here, but not so much because of its deft exclusion of the US actions in Iraq (which it certainly does do) as because of its exception-making for “Europe.” The logic here is a civilizational one: there are certain courses of action that are unacceptable in Europe or for Europeans, but that says nothing about the global status of the actions. And by implication, by the fact that it’s the US making that claim, a special connection between the US and Europe is also asserted, so ‘the West’ remains in evidence. In this light, the calls for a cease-fire and some kind of international monitoring are placed into a civilizational context: we should do these things not becuase they’re universally right or correct, but because they’re right for our civilization.

It seems that the US can’t decide which way to frame this. One the one hand, neoconservative universalism, carrying no obligations for the US beyond its own unilateral strategic calculations. On the other hand, ‘Western’ solidarity, and a return to the cultural logic of the Cold War, which is also the cultural logic of Samuel Huntington and civilizational balancing. What’s fascinating here is that the Georgians and the Russians are much less undecided about this, as both are pretty unambiguously invoking the civilizational strategy. It remains to be seen which world will ultimately prevail in US debates.


Bush: still alone on climate change

Secretary of State Condi Rice and President George Bush made news this week by calling for global action to prevent global warming. However, neither one even really hinted at caps, limits, or mandatory cuts in so-called greenhouse gases.

Secretary Rice kicked off the White House’s climate summit by declaring “it is our responsibility as global leaders to forge a new international consensus on how to address climate change.” In the end, however, Rice sounded like a confirmed libertarian — or maybe an “artiste”, or gnarly surfer dude — unwilling to be bound by any rules, man:

“Every country will make its own decisions, reflecting its own needs and its own interests…all nations should tackle climate change in the ways that they deem best.”

Righteous, girl.

In his speech, Bush embraced the pollyanna principle to explain how unilateral voluntary approach would solve the problem:

We will set a long-term goal for reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. By setting this goal, we acknowledge there is a problem. And by setting this goal, we commit ourselves to doing something about it.

Something about that sounded familiar to me….hmmm.

In any event, the President has arguably advanced a long way from 2001. He’s now confident that some concerted effort can bring the world all the way up to the status quo, 1992.

The Europeans are quite openly fed up with the US on this issue. From the Washington Post September 29:

“This here was a great step for the Americans and a small step for mankind,” Germany’s environment minister, Sigmar Gabriel, said after Bush’s speech at the State Department before representatives of the nations that are the world’s biggest emitters of greenhouse gases. “In substance, we are still far apart.”

The anonymous complaints were far more critical. This is from The Guardian from the 29th:

“It was a total charade and has been exposed as a charade,” the [senior European] diplomat said. “I have never heard a more humiliating speech by a major leader. He [Mr Bush] was trying to present himself as a leader while showing no sign of leadership. It was a total failure.”

The diplomat, as they say, was “speaking on condition of anonymity.”

Even the British, with whom the United States has a “special relationship,” are quite angry at Bush. The Post story again:

John Ashton, a special representative on climate change for the British foreign secretary, said: “One of the striking features of this meeting is how isolated this administration has become. There is absolutely no support that I can see in the international community that we can drive this effort on the basis of voluntary efforts.”

C. Boyden Gray, the U.S. ambassador to the E.U. had the audacity to say in response that “The British might be isolating themselves.”

One concrete policy measure Bush touted — though it too is a voluntary “coalition of the willing” — was the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership. The GNEP promotes nuclear energy and has been framed as an anti-proliferation measure by the administration.


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