Gligorov’s model is still relevant

Kiro Gligorov is not the last of the presidents of the former Yugoslav republics to die.  Milan Kučan of Slovenia is still with us.

But Gligorov’s death certainly marks a milestone.  He presided over independence without war, guided Macedonia through its difficult first years when Greece was most hostile and its own Albanian population unwilling to take part fully in political life, suffered an assassination attempt that scarred him with a bizarre indentation in his forehead, and left office in dignity to pursue a peaceful and productive retirement.  None of the former Yugoslav leaders who have preceded him have more to tote up on the positive side of their ledgers.

I met a couple of times with Gligorov while he was president, and once after his retirement. Rarely has a politician impressed me so definitively as benign, but still profoundly determined.  He had his eye on what counted:  ensuring a safe and more prosperous future for Macedonia.  A man of few words, he chose them carefully and did not wax eloquent, at least not with me in private conversation.  But you could feel the determination and commitment.

The people who lead Macedonia today are many decades younger than Gligorov.  Many were still students or young adults at independence in 1991.  I hope they have inherited from Gligorov his sense of proportion, willingness to go out of his way to avoid violence, and openness to compromise on non-critical issues even with those who do not wish the country well.  Macedonia still faces serious challenges.  Gligorov’s model is still relevant.

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Not time to withdraw the observers

The Guardian reports:

An Arab League advisory body has called for the immediate withdrawal of the organisation’s monitoring mission in Syria, saying it is allowing Damascus to cover up violence and abuses.

This is well meaning, but wrong. Here’s one reason why:

“I saw the snipers with my own eyes,” the Arab League observer says. Shocking, but not surprising. At least some the observers, rather than following the bad example of their Sudanese leader, are trying to restrain the authorities in Syria by saying plainly what they are seeing. Friday’s demonstrations, which the Western press thinks brought out as many as 500,000 people, were large and energetic precisely because the observers were present.  Withdrawing them prematurely would be a serious error and give the regime another opportunity for a massive crackdown against reduced numbers of protesters.

No, the observers should stay, at least for now.  They should be encouraged to go wherever the regime tries to prevent them from going and to document abuses, communicating as directly as possible with the world beyond Syria.  So long as they function as the eyes and ears of the international community, their presence will encourage larger numbers of protesters and discourage (not end) the overt use of force against them.

The day may well come when the observers act more as a fig leaf for the regime than protection for protesters.  But that day has not come yet.  Withdrawing the observers now would encourage more violence–both by the regime and by those among the protesters who are inclined in that direction–and push Syria farther down the path towards civil war.

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Happy new year, Balkans!

I seem to have developed the habit of doing a piece for Kosova Sot‘s New Year’s edition.  Here is what I sent Magarita Kadriu on December 20:

Friends in Kosovo and the Balkans often ask me what I think about events there.  The truth, if I care to tell it, is that people in Washington don’t think much about the Balkans these days.  The Council on Foreign Relations recently published a list of 30 conflict prevention challenges for the United States in 2012.  None involved the Balkans.  I follow events there—mainly from B92’s coverage and many Balkans visitors—but only with peripheral vision.  I am far more focused on the Arab spring, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq.  And this week North Korea.

I am well aware that there are still war and peace issues in the Balkans, especially in Bosnia and in Kosovo.  But they are relatively small ones subject to a lot of international monitoring:  Milorad Dodik is not going to be able to take Republika Srpska in the direction of independence without a lot pressure being brought to bear against the idea, and Belgrade is not going to be able to formally annex northern Kosovo without suffering substantial consequences.

That does not mean however that the underlying problems can be resolved.  Resolution really depends on the Europeans, who have often shown little stomach for using their leverage to good effect.   I say that, and yet just yesterday German Chancellor Merkel made it clear, once again, that the European Union will not accept partition of Kosovo (or the persistence of the parallel structures in the north) and expects Belgrade and Pristina to collaborate in finding solutions.  Her steadfastness is a great contribution.

I only wish we were seeing the same strong European voice in Bosnia, where Catherine Ashton has been far more tolerant of Dodik’s antics than I would like.  This is partly because the Europeans don’t take him seriously.  They know he knows there will be no recognition if Republika Srpska makes the mistake of declaring independence.  But they underestimate the frustration and annoyance on the Bosniak side of the equation.  Bosnia is stagnating, a condition that is not good for peace and security.

That said, I don’t expect dramatic developments in 2012.  Pristina and Belgrade need to continue their dialogue and the search for mutually acceptable solutions, which can be found in implementation of the Ahtisaari plan.  Bosnia is reaching the end of its financial rope, which may encourage at least formation of the new state government, so long overdue.  Much of the rest of the Balkans is enjoying a relatively good holiday season:  Croatia is entering the EU, Macedonia won its case in the International Court of Justice against Greece, Montenegro is moving faster than most thought possible towards the EU and NATO.

Serbian President Tadic yesterday acknowledged that neither partition nor restoration of Serbian sovereignty in Kosovo is possible.  Now he is talking “dual sovereignty.”  I’ll be glad to hear what he means by this—certainly dual citizenship is not only possible but desirable.  But I don’t know of any places that enjoy peace and stability without clarity about sovereignty.

Kosovo’s citizens have every right to be frustrated that their sovereignty and independence has not been recognized at the United Nations or by Belgrade.  But the best revenge is simply this:  govern well, improve the lot of all of Kosovo’s citizens, and enjoy freedom each and every day in 2012.

Ten days later, I don’t have much to add, but my message would be the same to Belgrade and Sarajevo:  govern well, improve the lot of your citizens and enjoy freedom each and every day in 2012.  The Bosnians have apparently reached agreement in principle on forming their government. So far as I know, everything else is more or less where it was before Christmas. Things move slowly in the Balkans, except when they move fast.

Slow is probably safer right now, but I do hope Serbia will make a decisive turn in 2012 in favor of a European future. Serbian Interior Minister Ivica Dačić gives me some hope this morning with this from B92:

We are going to the EU because of Serbia and only if it is in our interest. Serbia will not be destroyed if it loses Kosovo. That happened in the Serbian history before, that fanaticism about being in love with Europe or masochism that we cannot live without Kosovo or the Republic of Srpska.

Then he dashes my optimism with talk about “demarcation.” Hard to know what that means, but it presumably refers to his partition ambitions. Giving up on partition, both of Kosovo and Bosnia, is absolutely essential if Serbia and the rest of the Balkans is going to thrive.

I’ll be in Belgrade in mid-January and hope to get a feel for how likely that is. Stay tuned to for reports on what I find.

With very best wishes for the New Year to friends of all flavors in the Balkans,

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The Arab League monitors improve the odds

Two things are clear about the impact of the Arab League human rights monitors in Syria:  they have prompted the protesters to turn out in very large numbers, but they have not stopped the Assad regime from killing, which appears to be the only response the security forces can muster.

What we need now from the monitors is some serious reporting on what is going on.  Initial indications are not good.  Their Sudanese leader, Mustafa al Dabi, has already indicated he saw “nothing frightening” at Homs, where the security forces have been firing indiscriminately on peaceful protesters for months.  Much as I share concerns about his background and qualifications, I still hope we will find a few of the monitors willing to communicate clearly and directly about regime abuses.  It doesn’t have to be al Dabi.

At the same time, I am hoping we see a renewal of nonviolent discipline among the protesters.  The Free Syrian Army’s feeble attempts to harass the security forces are provocative and counterproductive:

They will reduce the numbers of people in the street and allow the regime excuses for violence.  I don’t like to see unprotected people who are standing up for their rights killed, but the toll will be far worse if Syria deteriorates to civil war.

On other fronts:  the Russians are still stalling UN Security Council action and the Iranians are pumping resources in to help Bashar al Assad.  There is little we can do to block the Iranian assistance, but we should take some satisfaction that they are being forced to spend precious coin at a time when their economy seems to be deteriorating rapidly.  Their threats to the strait of Hormuz may even be an effort to lift oil revenue at a time of pressing need.

The Russians must be beginning to wonder whether their interests in maintaining their naval facilities in Syria are best served by supporting the regime.  Contacts between Moscow and the Syrian National Council (SNC) last month were in principle a good sign.  The SNC has to keep at it.  It might also help if President Obama would tell Prime Minister Putin directly that Russia needs to get on the right side of history before it is too late.

Bashar al Assad is still trying to outlast the demonstrators.  His odds of doing so have gone down with the arrival of the Arab League monitors, however serious their limitations.  That is a good thing.

PS: This video purports to show observers running from gunfire, and the Syrian Free Army creating the excuse for the security forces to shoot.

PPS:  And this one memorializes a brave soul:

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The strait of Hormuz: go around

Tehran has been threatening this week to close the strait of Hormuz if sanctions are levied against its central bank, preventing export of Iranian crude.  I’m with Simon Henderson:  the right response to Iran’s threats is rapid development of alternative routes.  He long ago laid out the geography and suggested some options.

It is really rather extraordinary that nothing has been done about this in the several decades since the strait of Hormuz became a key choke point for world oil supplies and a major (and expensive) preoccupation of the U.S. Navy.  America spends something like $100 billion per year on military capabilities to protect oil routes.  Easily a quarter of that is attributable to the strait of Hormuz.  A pipeline from the UAE through Oman that circumnavigates the strait, another through Iraq to Turkey and a couple to get Saudi oil out to the Red Sea are all that is needed to devalue Iran’s geographic trump card. Put one through Yemen and the transit fees will be enough to solve that country’s economic troubles for decades.

I find it puzzling that none of this ever gets done.  I was in charge of our preparations for an oil supply disruption in the State Department in the mid 1980s.  We spent a small fortune accumulating the Strategic Petroleum Reserve and considerable diplomatic coin getting a few allies to do likewise.  We also got them to commit to coordinated, early drawdown, a policy that has been implemented several times successfully over the last couple of decades.

But somehow we have never managed to get oil suppliers to use some of their gigantic flow of cash to circumnavigate the strait of Hormuz.  I have to wonder whether we’ve got a moral hazard here:  we protect the sea lanes and guarantee that the strait remains open, so Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and others conclude there is no need to invest in the pipelines that would make the strait less critical.  We are hard-strapped now and need to reduce many commitments.   Some even propose that we withdraw entirely from the Gulf.  That is a a flaky idea in my book, but it is perfectly reasonable to expect oil producers–and other consumers–to carry more of the burden of ensuring that Gulf oil continues to flow.

PS:  Michael Rubin views the Iranian threat as a hollow because Tehran needs to import gasoline and American military superiority more than suffices to keep the strait open.  But he neglects the economic damage that even ineffective military action in the strait (or anywhere in the Gulf) will cause worldwide.  He also emphasizes Iraqi vulnerability, which would be significantly reduced if  oil could be exported in larger volumes to Turkey.


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Ten places ICG neglects

I don’t entirely agree with ICG’s “Next Year’s Wars,” their choice of conflicts is idiosyncratic, and they don’t really predict anything, but it is hard to compete with an organization that has smart people on the ground in difficult places.  I’ll focus on 10 places they don’t mention:

1.  Russia:  Putin doesn’t make it over 50% in the March 4 election but wins the second round.  Demonstrations continue but he resists new parliamentary polls.  Weakened, Putin lashes out at his opposition and makes things worse.  Who knows where this ends, but it will probably not be in 2012.

2.  Saudi Arabia:  Crown Prince Nayef succeeds to the throne and tries to roll back King Abdullah’s modest reforms.  Demonstrations break out but are brutally repressed.  Oil prices, already high due to Iran’s threats to the strait of Hormuz, skyrocket.

3.  Iraq:  The Sadr bloc’s call for new elections in Iraq is echoed by the Kurds and eventually Iraqiyya.  Maliki tries to avoid it, but he eventually falls to a vote of no confidence in parliament and elections are held towards the end of the year.  I’m not going to predict the outcome.

4.  Egypt:  The constitutional process is difficult and delayed, but presidential elections are held in the fall (postponed from June).  Secularist candidates split their constituency, the Muslim Brotherhood blows its lead by pressing social conservatism and Abdel Fotouh, a relatively moderate Islamist, wins.

5.  Libya:  Continues to implement its established roadmap, elects the “National Public Conference,” prepares a constitution and succeeds in disarming, demobilizing and reintegrating most militias.

6.  Bahrain:   The Americans continue to support the regime.  Iran, stung by tightened sanctions, sponsors demonstrations against the Fifth Fleet.

7.  Sudan:   War, between north and south.  South wins, takes back Abyei and part of South Kordofan.  President Bashir is shipped off to The Hague by his generals.

8.  Zimbabwe:  Mugabe dies, his loyalists hang on but can’t manage the economic collapse.  The opposition takes over.

9.  Balkans:  Serbia gets candidacy status for the EU but that fails to save President Tadic’s Democratic Party from a parliamentary election defeat.  Kosovo meets all the requirements but continues to be denied the European Union visa waiver.  Bosnia gets a new government but no constitutional reform.

10.  United States:  Republicans nominate Mitt Romney. Economy continues slow recovery.  Barack Obama is reelected, by a smaller margin than in 2008.  Al Qaeda succeeds post-election in mounting a non-devastating suicide bombing.

And for extra measure:

11.  China:  Big real estate crash late in the year cripples Chinese banks and causes bigger problems for the world economy than the euro, which muddles through.

12.  Israel/Palestine:  Big but largely nonviolent demonstrations on the West Bank.  Israelis say “genug ist genug” and unilaterally withdraw from Palestinian population centers.

That should give me something to write about a year from now!  None of it should be mistaken for advocacy, and a good bit of it is based on feel rather than analysis.

I reviewed last year’s predictions yesterday.

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