Month: February 2012

Kim Jong-un tries diplomacy

There are things wrong with the U.S./North Korea nuclear deal announced in parallel by both sides (but not published) today:

  • The North Koreans are unreliable and unlikely to implement the agreement fully.
  • Badly needed food was withheld from the North Korean population to get Pyongyang to agree.

The United States does not generally use humanitarian assistance as leverage, and I suppose we’ll deny that is what we did in this instance. But we did.

Still, the agreement is a lot better than no agreement at all, which was the alternative.  The agreement allegedly gets North Korea (DPRK) to suspend uranium enrichment and begin a moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile tests.  The Americans say it includes International Atomic Energy Agency verification of the enrichment moratorium and disablement of a worrisome plutonium-production reactor at Yongbyon (Pyongyang failed to mention that).

What did the U.S. give to get?  The DPRK statement includes this:

The U.S. reaffirmed that it no longer has hostile intent toward the DPRK and that it is prepared to take steps to improve the bilateral relations in the spirit of mutual respect for sovereignty and equality….

Once the six-party talks are resumed, priority will be given to the discussion of issues concerning the lifting of sanctions on the DPRK and provision of light water reactors.

Both the DPRK and the U.S. affirmed that it is in mutual interest to ensure peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula, improve the relations between the DPRK and the U.S., and push ahead with the denuclearization through dialogue and negotiations.

What this sounds like to me is the beginnings of a broader quid pro quo: Washington accepts (maybe even recognizes?) the DPRK and they agree to give up nuclear weapons but keep their enrichment technology. I’ll believe the light water reactors when I see them.  Odious though the DPRK regime unquestionably is, if anything like this results we can count ourselves ahead of where we would have gotten without an agreement.

Do I think this will help us with Iran?  Unlikely, and only if we are willing to do the same kind of deal:  they keep enrichment technology, allow IAEA verification, but give up on nuclear weapons.  We give up on regime change.  Are we willing to do that?


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A serious military option

Chalk up one more for arming Syria’s rebels and creating safe corridors.  To his credit, Roger Cohen also cites the counter-argument:

I hear the outcry already: Arming Assad’s opponents will only exacerbate the fears of Syria’s minorities and unite them, ensure greater bloodshed, and undermine diplomatic efforts now being led by Kofi Annan, a gifted and astute peacemaker. It risks turning a proxy war into a proxy conflagration.

What he does not do is consider a serious military option: decapitating the Syrian regime with a forceful strike against its command and control.

This mystifies me. Safe areas, enclaves, humanitarian corridors–whatever you call them–have consistently and repeatedly failed. They create target-rich environments, which in this case means the Syrian armed forces will attack them vigorously.  Nor is arming the Free Syria Army likely to produce a balance of forces, as Cohen suggests.  Just ask the Libyans:  they’ll tell you they would have lost to Muammar Qaddafi had NATO not intervened from the air.

There is another option: once you’ve taken down the air defenses, a necessary first step no matter what, you can proceed to take down the command, control and communications of the regime. This was what changed the tide of war in Bosnia in the summer of 1995. Specifically, it was when NATO hit the communications nodes of the Bosnian Serb Army that it became incapable of defending the long confrontation line with the Bosnian Army. Something similar happened in the NATO/Yugoslavia war: hitting various security force headquarters in Belgrade and dual-use infrastructure signaled the kind of seriousness that convinced Slobodan Milosevic his regime was in peril.  He yielded in Kosovo.

The problem is that you don’t know what will come next.  Milosevic survived for more than another year, though he then fell to his own miscalculation in calling elections.  There is no guarantee that you’ll get Bashar al Assad in a military attack, and even less certainty about what will happen if you do.  He might well survive and would be unlikely to allow any serious electoral competition thereafter.  These guys do learn from each other.

So here’s a thought:  combine the threat of such a direct attack on the regime with Kofi Annan’s diplomatic efforts, offering Bashar a choice between a punishing attack on his security forces’ command, control and communications and a ceasefire with free access to all areas in Syria for humanitarian relief and international journalists.  If he fails to deliver, you’ve still got the trump card in your pocket.

Of course if he calls your bluff, you’ll have to go ahead with the military attack, even without a UN Security Council resolution.  A bit of diplomacy might at least generate an Arab League request, but it is hard to picture the Russians coming on board.  If they do, well and good–I doubt Bashar survives even 48 hours once Moscow abandons him.  If they don’t, you’ve still got to go ahead.

If you are not willing to do that, you are thrown back, as I am, to diplomatic means, wisely discussed this morning by David Ignatius in the Washington Post.  Let’s not waste analytical talent and high-priced real estate in America’s leading newspapers on half-hearted military propositions that just won’t work.  If you want war, go to war, not to humanitarian corridors.


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The military also uses the term “goat rope,” which might be more appropriate to Afghan conditions.  Whichever.  This war has endured beyond the point at which we can expect results commensurate with the enormous effort involved.

The weekend’s news is particularly discouraging.  Afghans killed two Americans advising the Interior Ministry.  Ambassador Crocker has sent a back channel cable calling for more troops and military effort to deal with safe havens in Pakistan.  Violent, even deadly, protests of the burning of Korans by American troops continue.

But it is not just today.  These incidents are symbolic.  We haven’t got the kind of relationship with the government in Afghanistan required for a proper counter-insurgency effort.  That would require a clean, authoritative regime ready to risk its own and fully committed to the fight.  Karzai and his minions are lacking in all those respects.  It would also require the Americans to know something about Afghan sensitivities.  We are manifestly lacking in this important respect.  The Afghans are tired of the foreign presence.  Nor have we got the kind of backing in Pakistan that war requires of an ally and massive aid recipient.

It is not, as Ryan Crocker suggests, a question of fatigue.  He is right to say we shouldn’t quit because we are tired of the effort, provided the effort can produce the results we want.  I don’t see much chance of that any longer.

It is time to cut our losses.  This is what the Administration is trying to do under the guise of negotiations with the Taliban, but on a timeline that would waste the better part of another three more years and who knows how many hundreds of American lives.  Accelerating the turnover of primary security responsibilities to the Afghans will still leave many Americans exposed to the kind of murderous impulse or plan that led to the losses at the Ministry of Interior.  Embedded advisers are the most exposed of all our personnel.

There are two main arguments against accelerating the withdrawal to the end of this year:  the Afghans need the time to prepare, and the President needs to avoid an American retreat/defeat before the November election.  Both arguments are so reminiscent of Vietnam that it is hard for someone like me who opposed that war to give them a fair hearing.  I’ll leave that to others.

Still, we have to recognize that early withdrawal from Afghanistan could have highly negative consequences.  These include renewal of the civil war, with the Uzbeks and Tajiks of the Northern Alliance clashing with Pushtun Taliban in the south, a fight that the Taliban won in the 1990s.  Assuming the Northern Alliance attracts most of the Afghanistan National Army and gets U.S. and Indian support while Pakistan backs the Taliban, the outcome might be different this time.  Stalemate and partition would be a distinct possibility.

There is also a real possibility that early withdrawal will put Pakistan’s stability at risk, as the Taliban move their safe havens into Afghanistan and Al Qaeda takes up the cudgels against Islamabad, whose nuclear weapons are both an attractive target and a good reason for the Americans to stay involved.  If I really thought staying almost three more years would improve our odds in managing this problem, I suppose I might try to get us to stay longer.  But the problem could arise no matter how long we stay in Afghanistan, which seems either unwilling or unable to protect itself from extremist dominance in parts of the south and east.

I don’t really think we’ll “abandon” Afghanistan, if only because the Republicans would make a lot of political hay out of an early withdrawal and whatever chaos ensues.  But I’ve yet to meet an ordinary citizen who cares much about our troops or civilians in Afghanistan, including those politicians who see Islamic terror behind every tree.  I do care, and it is hard to avoid the conclusion that we are wasting their courage in an effort that is bound to fail.


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The coming week’s peace picks

Too  much this week, and most of it happening Wednesday:

1.  Are economic sanctions the key to resolving the nuclear dispute? CSIS, February 27, 6-8 pm.

The Project on Nuclear Issues (PONI) is pleased to invite you to a debate on the recent sanctions imposed on Iran. These sanctions target Iran’s banking sector and are widely believed to have had significant effects not just on Iran’s ability to acquire materials for its nuclear program, but also its energy sector and economy as a whole. Although many agree that Iranian development of a nuclear weapon would have serious security implications for the Middle East, questions about whether or not this is truly Iran’s intent and what the United States should do about it remain hotly contested. Does diplomacy still offer a means of resolving this issue and, if so, are the economic sanctions being passed on Iran making a diplomatic solution harder or easier to achieve?

Two highly distinguished scholars will come to CSIS to present opposing views on this issue and debate the policy of sanctioning Iran on its merits. The debate will feature:

Dr. Suzanne Maloney,

Senior Fellow, Saban Center for Middle East Policy, Brookings Institution


Mr. Michael Rubin,

Resident Scholar, American Enterprise Institute

Dr. Maloney will present her argument that sanctioning Iran has become counterproductive and that the U.S. “cannot hope to bargain with a country whose economy it is trying to disrupt and destroy.” Mr. Rubin will take the opposing view that “only overwhelming pain” will convince the Iranian leadership to cooperate fully with the IAEA.

A cocktail reception with appetizers will begin at 6:00pm and the debate will commence at 6:30pm. 

RSVP to David Slungaard at

Webast: For those that cannot attend, the debate will live streamed. A link to the webcast will posted on this page on the day of the debate.

This event is the 13th installment of PONI’s ongoing Live Debate Series, which is an extension of the PONI Debates the Issues blog. The objective of the series is to provide a forum for in-depth exploration of the arguments on both sides of key nuclear policy issues. Please join us for what promises to be an exciting debate on a crucial issue of concern for the nonproliferation community, international security analysts, and regional specialists focusing on the Middle East.

2. Policing Iraq, USIP, February 29, 9:30-11:30 am

Under Saddam Hussein, a complex web of intelligence and security institutions protected the regime and repressed the Iraqi people.  Underfunded and mismanaged, the Iraqi police were least among those institutions and unprepared to secure the streets when Coalition Forces arrived in 2003 and disbanded the rest of the security apparatus.  Iraq’s police forces have made important strides, and some 400,000 Iraqi police have been trained and stationed across the country.  However, with the U.S. drawdown in Iraq, the future of the Iraqi police and U.S. police assistance is uncertain.

On February 29, the United States Institute of Peace and the Institute for the Study of War will co-host a panel of distinguished experts who will discuss the history of the Iraqi police and the U.S. police assistance program in Iraq.  This public event will introduce a new USIP Special Report by Robert Perito on “The Iraq Federal Police: U.S. Police Building under Fire.”


  • General Jim Dubik (U.S. Army, ret.), Panelist
    Senior Fellow, Institute for the Study of War
    Former Commander, Multi National Security Transition Command-Iraq
  • Dr. Austin Long, Panelist
    Assistant Professor, Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs
  • Ginger Cruz, Panelist
    Former Deputy Inspector General, Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR)
  • Robert Perito, Moderator
    Director, Security Sector Governance Center, U.S. Institute of Peace
    Author, USIP Special Report, “The Iraq Federal Police: U.S. Police Building under Fire
  • Tara Sonenshine, Introduction
    Executive Vice President, U.S. Institute of Peace
  • Marisa Cochrane Sullivan,Introduction
    Deputy Director, Institute for the Study of War

3. Webs of Conflict and Pathways to Peace in the Horn of Africa: A New Approach? Woodrow Wilson Center, 6th floor auditorium, February 29, 10-11:30 am

The Horn of Africa is one of the world’s most conflicted regions, experiencing over 200 armed conflicts since 1990. In recent months, the region has been afflicted with drought, famine, refugee migrations and military confrontations. All of these dynamics have catapulted the Horn of Africa upwards on the priority list for US policymakers.

In response to this on-going crisis, the Wilson Center’s Project on Leadership and Building State Capacity established a Horn of Africa Steering Committee in 2010 that focused on developing a regional US policy framework for the Horn. A conflict mapping report that analyses the major patterns, cross-cutting issues, and interrelationships in the Horn’s ongoing armed conflicts was subsequently commissioned, as well as a set of recommendations for US policy in the region going forward.

On February 29, 2012, the Leadership Project, in partnership with Alliance for Peacebuilding and Institute for Horn of Africa Studies and Analysis (IHASA) The overall objective of the recommendations publication is to employ a conflict resolution-oriented approach to a US regional framework for the Horn, including the need to promote good governance, increase human security (not just state or regime security), strengthen regional cooperation, and boost economic development and regional economic integration.

This event will be taking place at the Woodrow Wilson Center in the 6th Floor Auditorium on February 29th from 10:00am-11:30am.  Please RSVP to

Program Agenda


Paul Williams, Associate Professor, George Washington University


Akwe Amosu, Director, Africa Advocacy, Open Society Institute (Invited)

Chic Dambach, Chief of Staff, Congressman John Garamendi, CA

Raja Jandhyala, Deputy Assistant Administrator, Bureau for Africa, US Agency for International Development

Ambassador David Shinn, Former Ambassador to Ethiopia and Professor, George Washington University


6th Floor, Woodrow Wilson Center
4.  Iran and Israel: The Politics of War, Brookings,  February 29, 10:30 am- 12 noon
Israel and Iran have already been trading covert punches and the overheated rhetoric on both sides raises the potential for further escalation. While much has been said about Israeli military options, cautions from the Obama administration, and the Iranian response, the role of internal politics in both countries is typically left out of the discussion. How do domestic political concerns inside Israel and Iran shape their relationship and the chance of war? Does Israel’s perception of the Iranian threat put it at odds with Washington?

Event Information


Wednesday, February 29, 2012
10:30 AM to 12:00 PM


Falk Auditorium
The Brookings Institution
1775 Massachusetts Ave., NW
Washington, DC

Contact: Brookings Office of Communications


Phone: 202.797.6105

Register Now



Suzanne Maloney

Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy, Saban Center for Middle East Policy

Natan B. Sachs

Fellow, Foreign Policy, Saban Center for Middle East Policy

Shibley Telhami

Nonresident Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy, Saban Center for Middle East Policy

5. Presidential Elections in Russia – What’s Next?, Carnegie Endowment, February 29, 12:30-2 pm

Dmitri Trenin, James F. Collins

Register to attend

With Russia’s presidential election less than a month away, Vladimir Putin is facing the most serious challenge since the establishment of his “power vertical.” Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets across Russia, undeterred by plunging winter temperatures. Moscow is also facing challenges abroad—its recent veto of the United Nations Security Council resolution condemning the Syrian regime has threatened its relations with much of the Arab world, and the U.S.-Russia “reset” appears stuck in neutral.

Dmitri Trenin and Ambassador James F. Collins will discuss how Russia’s presidential elections will influence its policies.
6. China’s International Energy Strategies: Global and Regional Implications, Elliott School (Lindner Family Commons) February 29, 12:30-1:45 pm

Philip Andrews-Speed, Fellow, Transatlantic Academy, the German Marshall Fund of the United States; Associate Fellow, Chatham House

Discussant: Llewelyn Hughes, Assistant Professor of Political Science and International Affairs, GW

China is now a major player in the international energy arena. Imports of all forms of energy are increasing; national energy companies are investing around the world; and the government is active in different forms of energy diplomacy. These behaviors are driven by a range of interests from within and outside China. The external political consequences are rather greater than the economic ones, and vary around the world. China is a key player, along with Japan, in the progress of energy cooperation in East Asia.

RSVP at:

Sponsored by Sigur Center for Asian Studies

7.   Assessing U.S. Foreign Policy Priorities Amidst Economic Challenges:  The Foreign Relations Budget for Fiscal Year 2013, 2172 Rayburn, February 29, 1:30 pm

Full Committee

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Chairman

You are respectfully requested to attend the following open hearing of the Full Committee to be held in Room 2172 of the Rayburn House Office Building.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012
1:30 PM
Room 2172 of the Rayburn House Office Building

The Honorable Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State

8.  To What Extent Is Iran a Threat to Israel?  1055 Thomas Jefferson Street NW, Suite M100 February 29, 4-6 pm

9.   Measuring and Combating Corruption in the 21st Century, SAIS Rome building rm 200, March 2, 12:30-2 pm

Hosted By: International Development Program
Time: 12:30 PM – 2:00 PM
Location: Room 200, The Rome Building

Summary: Nathaniel Heller, co-founder and executive director of Global Integrity, will discuss this topic. For more information and to RSVP, contact

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Kofi time

Huffington Post has just published my latest on Syria:

With Kofi Annan chosen to be the joint UN/Arab League Special Envoy and today’s Friends of Syria meeting in Tunis, the stage is set for a more serious diplomatic effort to bring the Syrian crisis to a close. Kofi’s marching orders include:

The Special Envoy will provide good offices aimed at bringing an end to all violence and human rights violations, and promoting a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis.The Special Envoy will be guided in this endeavor by the provisions of the General Assembly resolution A/RES/66/253 and the relevant resolutions of the League of Arab States. He will consult broadly and engage with all relevant interlocutors within and outside Syria in order to end the violence and the humanitarian crisis, and facilitate a peaceful Syrian-led and inclusive political solution that meets the democratic aspirations of the Syrian people through a comprehensive political dialogue between the Syrian government and the whole spectrum of the Syrian opposition.

This broad mandate, which the five permanent members of the UN Security Council have approved, implicitly points in the direction of the Arab League plan that Russia and China previously vetoed, even if it does not explicitly mention the need for Bashar al-Assad to step aside. The ambiguity is intended to hide the differences of view on the UNSC, but clearly no political solution can meet the democratic aspirations of the Syrian people with Bashar still in office.

Kofi will surely meet with Bashar al-Assad. The question is whether he will be able to tell him that the P5 want him out. Colum Lynch notes that in his last trouble-shooting effort Kofi arranged for power-sharing in Kenya. Bashar has spilled far too much blood in Syria for the opposition to accept sharing power with him. The Russians should by now be wondering whether their best bet for holding on to port access and arms sales in Syria is Bashar. Once they decide differently, Kofi will have the support he needs for defenestration.

Anne-Marie Slaughter today in the New York Times calls for “no-kill” zones established by the Free Syria Army (FSA) near Syria’s borders with Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan. This would require a major effort to arm the FSA and provide it with special forces advisors. The notion that this can be done “to protect all Syrians regardless of creed, ethnicity or political allegiance” without precipitating the chaotic ethnic and sectarian civil war that Anne-Marie herself recognizes as the worst outcome is unrealistic. And doing it without taking down Syria’s air defenses would condemn the effort to failure.

Only the U.S. can quickly and effectively destroy Syria’s Russian-supplied air defense and severely damage his artillery, which is bombarding his opponents. At yesterday’s Syria event at the Center for National Policy, colleagues evoked the image of President Clinton reacting to the shelling of Sarajevo, suggesting that President Obama might do likewise.

We too readily forget that Clinton waited three and half years — until Republican presidential candidate Bob Dole started taking him to task for not carrying out his campaign promise to bomb the Serbs — before initiating the military action that ended the war in Bosnia. I doubt even a Republican candidate bemoaning what is happening in Syria would get the White House to drop other priorities in favor of another Middle East war.

The Syrian opposition doesn’t have years, or even months. It needs protection quickly. The best bet is a vigorous diplomatic effort by Kofi Annan.

Today in Tunis the Friends of Syria called for a ceasefire, humanitarian relief to the cities under attack, deployment of UN peacekeepers and the beginning of a dialogue process aimed at a political settlement. They also named the Syrian National Council “a” legitimate representative of the Syrian people and promised further sanctions and diplomatic isolation of Damascus. They did not call for arming of the opposition, which has been left up to individual states. The Saudis made it clear they thought it a good idea (and they will presumably do it).

Few believe Bashar al-Assad will cave. I won’t be surprised if he eventually does, though I’m not prepared to predict when. His army and other security forces are exhausted and won’t want to enter the cities they have been shelling from afar. If Bashar can get the international community to accept responsibility for feeding the inhabitants and maybe even maintaining law and order, he may count himself lucky. His security forces could then lick their wounds and prepare to fight another day, while blaming the internationals for anything that goes wrong.

Syria is showing us the limits of military force. It is a blunt tool that in this instance is likely to bring about the civil war that we should most want to avoid. Diplomacy won’t be pretty. It will require negotiations with Bashar al-Assad and acceptance of compromises that are odious. But it is our best bet for the moment. Kofi time.

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Serbia, Kosovo and 1244

1244 is the UN Security Council resolution that ended the NATO/Yugoslavia war over Kosovo in 1999.  Today in Brussels, Pristina and Belgrade agreed that Kosovo would be represented internationally as Kosovo, with a footnote referencing both UNSC resolution 1244 and the International Court of Justice (ICJ) decision that found no prohibition (in 1244 or anywhere else) on its declaration of independence.

Belgrade is anxious to portray this as a victory.  B92 quotes President Tadic:

Kosovo will not be presented in regional fora and institutions as an independent country, but in line with UN Resolution 1244 on Kosovo and the opinion of the International Court of Justice.

He is entitled to his interpretation of the agreement, but mine is different.  Let me explain.

Belgrade has long been anxious to drag 1244 into all discussions of Kosovo because it makes reference in the preamble to Yugoslav sovereignty.  But preambular language is not legally binding and the substantive text of the resolution clearly foresees a political process to decide Kosovo’s status.  It is the claim of those states that have recognized Kosovo as independent and sovereign that the Marti Ahtisaari-led negotiations, in which Russia and Serbia participated fully, constituted that political process.  The terms of 1244 have therefore been fulfilled, even if no new UNSC resolution has passed.  Last year’s ICJ opinion advised that Kosovo’s declaration of independence breached no international law, confirming that 1244 does not prevent Kosovo from sovereignty and independence, despite the preambular reference to Yugoslav sovereignty.

So I see no loss to Kosovo in a footnote requiring reference to 1244.  To the contrary, it seems to me Kosovo’s right to a political process that would determine final status is rooted in 1244–that is what makes Kosovo different from all those other provinces around the world that would like independence.  Coupled with the ICJ decision, the footnote should be read as a clear and unequivocal statement that Kosovo is entitled to seek recognition as a sovereign and independent state.

It now has that recognition from more than 85 other sovereign and independent states, which is more than have bilaterally recognized many other states on earth.  Bilateral recognitions generally stop once a state is a member of the United Nations.  That is the next hurdle for Kosovo.  It needs membership in the UN General Assembly, which requires a positive recommendation by the Security Council.

So far, Russia has put its veto at the disposal of Serbia to prevent Kosovo’s UN membership.  But I’ve got to wonder out loud how long that will last.  Russia’s recognition of Abhazia and South Ossetia deprives its stance of any moral rectitude.  Once Kosovo is accepted in Balkans circles, including by the five non-recognizing European Union states, as Kosovo* {that * is meant to represent the footnote referencing two things that together confirm Kosovo’s right to seek international recognition}, why would Moscow continue to block membership under the same formula in the UN General Assembly?

There is another aspect to this agreement that is positive for Pristina.  It opens the door to a “contractual” relationship between Kosovo* and the EU, one that should certainly include an agreement on trade, visas and other key items.  Pristina has good reason to celebrate, even if no one can enjoy having their state identity footnoted.


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