Tag: European Union

A flicker of bipartisanship

The House has reached bipartisan agreement on a sanctions bill that will make it harder for President Trump undo sanctions on Russia (as well as North Korea and Iran), unless he can present evidence that Moscow’s behavior has changed. That’s extraordinary: it has been a long time since Congress has reached a bipartisan agreement on anything important, much less something on which Trump disagrees.

There are still pitfalls. The House version of the bill will be voted on this week and then needs to be reconciled with the Senate’s version, which did not include North Korea. The Administration will do everything possible to water it down, threatening to veto it if it passes in its current form. But if the bill makes it through to approval in both Houses with veto-proof majorities (more than two-thirds), the White House will hesitate to undermine its already weakened president by vetoing and risking an override.

If and when the legislation passes, the US will have something resembling a tough-minded policy on Russian misbehavior, including its election hacking, its annexation of Crimea, and its invasion of eastern Ukraine (but not Syria). The legislation would also toughen policies on North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs as well as Iran’s missile program and regional interventions.

None of this however should be expected to have an immediate impact. Unilateral sanctions, even “secondary” ones that punish other countries’ companies for doing business with Russia, Iran, and North Korea, are rarely effective in the short-term. Their impact is felt when you negotiate relief from them, not when you impose them. And the fact that the legislation makes it hard to provide relief will be a disincentive to Trump to use the authority the legislation provides, in particular on Russia.

We should of course expect retaliation from the countries sanctioned. Russia will of course maintain the prohibition on adoptions that the Trump campaign and Administration have repeatedly discussed with Moscow’s various representatives. Putin may expel some American spies and diplomats or prohibit American imports. North Korea will likely launch more missiles. Iran will too. Tehran can also target Americans in Iraq or Syria, though doing so risks an American military reaction.

Sanctions would be more effective if multilateral, in particular if the Europeans would join in imposing and implementing their own, comparable measures. That isn’t likely with respect to Iran, where the Europeans are doing good business since the nuclear deal. They may be more likely to act against Russia, though the Italians and others are already chafing at existing sanctions. North Korea is easy for the Europeans, though they are unlikely to join in secondary sanctions against Chinese banks and other companies.

The Trump Administration lacks the rapport with Europe (and most of the rest of the world) to get the kind of multilateral cooperation required to make sanctions bite against Russia, Iran, and North Korea. The President may have enjoyed Bastille Day in France with newly elected President Macron, but he has stiff-armed German Chancellor Merkel, who has the real clout. His pal British Prime Minister May is preoccupied now with Brexit, hasn’t been able to form a new government after suffering serious election losses, and in any event carries little weight any longer with the rest of Europe.

So, yes, this flicker of bipartisanship is good news, as it is a counterweight to some of President Trump’s worst instincts, in particular towards Russia. But it does not change international equation. Defiance will continue, as Trump has weakened the United States by offending its allies.

PS: While I was working on this piece, my colleague at SAIS Mike Haltzel published similar but more far-reaching views: A Ray of Hope on our Russia Policy | HuffPost

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Vučić@Pence

I am getting inquiries about Serbian President Vučić’s meeting yesterday with Vice President Pence. The White House readout is short but includes some detail:

Vice President Mike Pence met today with President of Serbia Aleksandar Vučić. The leaders agreed on the importance of the bilateral relationship and expressed the desire to deepen the partnership between the United States and Serbia. The Vice President expressed U.S. support for Serbia’s efforts to join the European Union, the need for continued reforms, and further progress in normalizing the relationship with Kosovo. The leaders discussed the Vice President’s upcoming trip to Podgorica, Montenegro, where he will participate in an Adriatic Charter Summit with leaders from across the Western Balkans region. The Vice President also announced that the United States will provide an additional $10 million contribution to the Regional Housing  Program, an internationally funded, joint initiative by Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, and Montenegro that provides housing to those displaced during the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

Vučić has emphasized establishment of a direct channel with the Vice President.

None of this is particularly new or interesting. It is easy enough for the US to support Serbia’s EU prospects, the necessary reforms, and the dialogue with Pristina. A “direct channel” can mean many things: Washington has direct telecommunications links (that bypass the State Department and Foreign Ministries) with a number of countries, but it could also just mean a commitment to answer the phone.

Likely more interesting is what Belgrade and Washington haven’t yet said. There is the specific issue of the three Kosovar American Bytyqi brothers, apparently murdered by Serb police after the war in Kosovo. Vučić long ago promised prosecutions of those responsible but hasn’t delivered. Did Pence raise this case? There is also the general issue of Belgrade’s relationship with Moscow, which has included establishment of a Russian logistics base in Nis, exercises with the Russian military, free Russian arms transfers, and refusal of Serbia to go along with EU sanctions levied because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. While President Trump himself is soft on Russia, for many Americans Serbia’s behavior towards Moscow raises questions about its suitability as a US partner.

The most important aspect of this meeting is likely that it occurred at all. No doubt Vučić sought it now primarily because Pence is heading for Montenegro in early August for a multilateral meeting at which Serbia will only be an observer. No Serbian president would want to be upstaged, least of all by Belgrade’s erstwhile junior partner. The Americans likely saw reason in making it clear they want a good relationship with Serbia as well.

But it is also significant that the meeting was with Pence. The Trump Administration apparently wants to continue Obama’s habit of keeping the Vice President out front on Balkans issues, leaving the President to more important tasks. Plus ça change…

PS: Whether or not the White House is interested in the Russia connection, the House of Representatives is. It is requiring the Pentagon to report on Russia/Serbia military cooperation.

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The world in 2394 words

I spoke this afternoon at the 10th Summer School for Young Diplomats in Kolasin, Montenegro. Here are the speaking notes I prepared on “Global Security Challenges: New Developments and Future Trends.”

 

  1. It’s a pleasure to be here, especially in these beautiful mountains. While I’ve been to Montenegro a few times in the past, this is my first visit since it became a NATO ally. That betokens enormous progress. I can only wish all your countries as much success as Montenegro has had over the past twenty years or so.
  1. That teaches an important lesson in international affairs: if you keep going in the right direction, you will eventually get there.
  1. I’ve been asked to talk about geopolitical challenges. I’ve got my own ideas about what they are, but I’d like your ideas as well. So let me ask you to write one on each stickie—no more than a phrase is needed.
  1. My own list of current geopolitical challenges from a Washington perspective is this: the United States, the Middle East, Islamist extremism, Russia, and China as well as nuclear nonproliferation and climate change. That should keep us busy for the next hour and a half.

Washington

  1. First Washington. It is a geopolitical challenge for many countries, because of its global political and economic influence, its enormous capacity for power projection and because of its still ongoing political transition.
  1. Many of you will wonder how the new Administration will affect your country’s interests. I can’t hope to cover the entire world, but let me say a few things that may help you to work out the implications for your own country.
  1. President Trump was elected on an explicit promise to “make America great again,” which implies greater attention to American interests in dealing with the rest of the world.
  1. It also implies reduced attention to American values, especially democracy and human rights. The Administration appears to be applying a double standard: if you are America’s friend, you need not fear Washington will criticize your internal political behavior.
  1. Presidents Erdogan, Sisi, and Duterte can testify to that, as can Kings Salman of Saudi Arabia and Abdullah of Jordan.
  1. But if you are President Castro of Cuba or Supreme Leader Khamenei, you can anticipate sharp rebukes from the U.S., and possibly sanctions or other restrictive measures.
  1. The new Administration has also prioritized the use of military instruments over diplomacy and international aid. While its budget proposal was dead on arrival in Congress, where at least some aspects of diplomacy and aid have strong supporters, you can still expect less diplomacy and less money.
  1. The only exceptions to this rule so far have been North Korea, where the conventional artillery threat to Seoul and much of South Korea makes American military action unlikely, and the Middle East, where the president has committed his son-in-law and two of his personal lawyers to negotiating peace. I don’t know anyone in Washington who thinks they will be successful, but they may make some progress on confidence-building measures. I’ll return to North Korea later.

Middle East

  1. As I am already wandering into the Middle East, let me go there. It has been clear for some time, though few will say it out loud, that American interests there are declining. We need less oil from the Middle East while other countries are taking more, the top non-proliferation issue there is under control for a decade or more, and our allies there want military assistance but not much more.
  1. By far the most important interest the U.S. has today in the Middle East is terrorism. The current Administration wants to deal with it as a military problem: the objective is to kill Al Qaeda and the Islamic State and get out.
  1. This was precisely the approach intended by George W. Bush in Afghanistan: kill Al Qaeda and get out. It failed because we couldn’t find all of Al Qaeda. The President changed his mind because we were sure it would return if we left.
  1. In Syria, this approach faces the same difficulty, as it virtually guarantees that there will be a continuing Sunni insurgency, not to mention its metastases elsewhere in the world.
  1. That’s where all of you come in: with ISIS on the verge of defeat in Iraq and Syria, it is not attracting so many foreign fighters, who were the focus of much attention in recent years. Nor is the question of terrorist financing as important as once it was.
  1. The bigger issue is now home-grown terrorism, perhaps inspired or encouraged by fighters returning from Iraq or Syria. In the Balkans, for example, I would now regard this as a big problem, as it is in Europe and the U.S. as well.
  1. There are two important strategies in dealing with homegrown terrorism: making sure that people are not marginalized but rather have a stake in their own governance and society; and not overreacting to terrorist threats or attacks, as overreaction is precisely what they intend to provoke.
  1. Right-wing terrorism kills more Americans than Islamic extremism, even counting 9/11.
  1. We need to avoid the kind of overreaction that the Administration’s travel ban on 6 Muslim countries represents.

Iran

  1. In the Middle East, the Americans will focus next on the Iranian threat.
  1. That threat is real. Iran has vastly expanded its influence in the region, not so much because of the nuclear agreement but rather due to its support for proxy forces, which long predates the nuclear deal: Hizbollah in Syria as well as Lebanon, Hashd al Shaabi in Iraq, the Houthis in Yemen, Hamas in Palestine.
  1. The reaction, led by the Saudis, has also been vigorous, making much of the Middle East a battleground for sectarian conflict and even splitting the Gulf Cooperation Council. Qatar just won’t give up the good relations with Iran that enable both countries to exploit the largest natural gas field in the Middle East.
  1. Turkey’s Muslim Brotherhood leadership has chosen to side with Qatar and Iran, undermining the American effort to construct an anti-Iran alliance that includes the majority Sunni states of the Middle East as well as Israel.
  1. To sum up on Iran: it has gained a lot of ground in recent years, not least due to the American invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the civil wars it has exploited in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. The Americans have not yet figured out what they want to do about it, though my best guess is that they will in due course want to confront Iranian ambitions.

Russia

  1. Russia is another geopolitical challenge, not only in the Middle East.
  1. Putin’s Russia is using all the instruments of national power at its disposal to challenge the Americans and re-assert its status as a superpower, except for a direct force-on-force military clash that Moscow knows it would lose.
  1. The Russians are sending ships and planes to provoke NATO allies and sympathetic neutrals, they have invaded Ukraine with only a thin veneer of deniability, they are bombing Syrian moderate opposition, they are selling weapons to Egypt, supporting General Haftar in Libya, and using Sputnik News and Russia Today as propaganda tools.
  1. They are also interfering in elections, conducting cyberattacks, and plotting and conducting assassinations.
  1. None of this has provoked much reaction yet from either the Americans or Europeans, apart from Ukraine-related sanctions and a few tit-for-tat aircraft incidents.
  1. Inexplicably to me, Putin has a lot of admirers in the US, especially among the Republicans and certainly in the Trump Administration, which has made no secret of its desire to get along better with Moscow.
  1. We’ll have to wait and see what comes of the first Trump/Putin meeting on the margins of the G20 Summit tomorrow and Saturday in Hamburg.
  1. The American receptiveness to Putin may surprise many of you. It surprises me. I can’t really explain it in conventional national interest terms.
  1. I think it is related to ethnic nationalism: Trump is what we are calling these days “white nationalist”; Putin is a Russian nationalist. The two admire each other.
  1. But Russia is a declining regional power with an economy no larger than Spain’s and based largely on energy resources whose value has declined dramatically. It’s only real international capability is to make life difficult for people who want to run serious democracies.
  1. We are going to need to learn to live with that, responding to it in ways that block the worst consequences and nudge Moscow in more productive directions, but at the same time not accepting the Russian claim to superpower status.

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Peace picks June 19-23

  1. Losing An Enemy: Can the Iran Nuclear Deal Survive Trump? | Monday, June 19 | 12 pm | Atlantic Council | Register Here | The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was an unlikely diplomatic collaboration initiated by three European countries and realized only after the United States took a leading role. Join founder and president of the National Iranian American Council (NIAC) Trita Parsi for a conversation about the history, success, and challenges facing the Iran nuclear deal. Parsi is the author of three books about U.S.-Iran relations. The discussion will be moderated by career journalist and Acting Director for the Future of Iran Initiative at the Atlantic Council Barbara Slavin.
  2. The Origins and Evolution of ISIS in Libya | Tuesday, June 20 | 12:30 pm | Atlantic Council | Register Here | The Rafik Hariri Center will convene a discussion on its new report, The Origins and Evolution of ISIS in Libya, shedding light on the rise of jihadist actors in Libya and the dangers they pose for post-conflict state-building. As Libya continues to hold an important position in the global jihadist network, understanding the trajectories of groups like ISIS will be crucial to understanding the fate of the country and sources of its instability. The report, co-authored by panelists Jason Pack, Rhiannon Smith, and Karim Mezran, examines jihadist dynamics in Libya and offers recommendations to address this threat. RAND Corporation’s Christopher Chivvis will also join the discussion.
  3. Indian Prime Minister Modi visits the U.S. and Israel | Wednesday, June 21 | 9:30 am – 12 pm | Brookings Institute | Register Here | On June 25-26, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will meet with President Trump for the first time. Shortly after, he will travel to Israel for the first-ever visit by an Indian premier. Join The India Project and the Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings for one panel each focused on India’s relationship with the United States and Israel – two countries with which it enjoys close partnerships. Panelists will discuss prospects for bilateral, trilateral, and international cooperation. After each session, panelists will take audience questions.
  4. Securing Stability in the Middle East and North Africa: How Should the U.S. and the European Union Work Together? | Wednesday, June 21 5:30-6:30 pm | Hudson Institute | Register Here | As war rages on in Syria and Yemen, instability persists in the Sinai and Libya, and the recent Qatar crisis underscores rivalries and animosities in the Middle East and North Africa, American and European actors search for ways to bring stability to the MENA region. Hudson Institute Senior Fellow Mike Doran welcomes Nick Westcott, European External Action Service Managing Director for the MENA, for a discussion about European policy and cooperation moving forward. Doors open at 5:00 pm.
  5. The Refugee Crisis: Dispelling Myths and Misconceptions | Wednesday, June 21 | 6:30-8 pm | United Nations Association – National Capital Area | Register Here | Since President Trump’s inauguration in January 2017, negative perceptions of immigrants and refugees have been on the rise. Against this climate, the UNA-NCA presents personal accounts of refugees in the D.C. area and a panel discussion featuring Niemat Ahmadi, president of the Darfur Women Action Group; Faith Akovi Cooper, regional advisor at the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre; Larry Yungk, Senior Resettlement Officer for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees; and Daniel Sullivan, senior advocate at Refugees International, to dispel myths and misconceptions. The panel will be moderated by Patrick Realiza, chair of the UNA-NCA Sustainable Development Committee.
  6. Settlements at 50 Years – An Obstacle to Peace and Democracy | Friday, June 23 | 12:30-1:45 pm | Middle East Institute | Register Here | This month marks 50 years of Israeli control over the West Bank. Although most Israelis support peace negotiations with the Palestinians and oppose annexing large parts of the Palestinian Territories, the Israeli government continues to expand settlements and is considering annexing portions of the West Bank. What drives the Israeli government in this regard? What are the implications for future peace? Join president of the New Israel Fund (NIF) Talia Sasson for a conversation moderated by Haaretz‘s Washington correspondent Amir Tibon.
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Self defeating

I’ve been off enjoying wife Jackie’s Sarah Lawrence reunion, which followed hard on my own Haverford festivities. But I’ve not been completely out of touch. By now, it should be obvious to all that

  1. The President of the United States has inappropriate and counterproductive reactions to terrorist events.
  2. His withdrawal of the United States from the Paris climate accord is inane.

Let us consider these two propositions.

The London attacks on Saturday provoked Trump to tweets that called his own travel ban a Travel Ban (thus removing any doubt about its intentions), suggested that current American security measures are inadequate (who, pray tell, is responsible for that?), criticized the (Muslim) mayor of London for trying to reassure the city’s population that the appropriate security measures had been taken, retweeted an exaggerated report of the number killed from a notoriously unreliable source, and suggested that the use of knives by the attackers has somehow silenced the gun debate in the US.

I can’t imagine anyone I know having any one of these reactions to an attack in which the police reacted quickly and effectively to prevent what might otherwise have been a much more serious loss of life. Terrorists seek to create terror. Trump’s reactions were fearful, amplified the magnitude of the attack, and brought him to bizarre conclusions. Contrast this with his personal failure to react to the murder by a white supremacist of two men trying to defend a Muslim and a black woman in Portland, Oregon on Friday. That didn’t fit the Islamic extremism narrative Trump is trying to promote. Hence the silence, even though two Americans were murdered. Homicidal white supremacist attacks in America have been almost three times frequent as Islamist attacks since 9/11.

As for climate change, the President sought to justify his decision on the basis of falsehoods. That of course made no difference to him. Nor did support for the Paris climate agreement from American industry. He preferred to claim to be saving the relatively few coal miner jobs that remain, which won’t happen, and to be serving the interests of the citizens of Pittsburgh, which gave up coal and steel as its primary industrial activities decades ago and voted 75% for Hillary Clinton (not quite the 80% the mayor claimed).

The international ramifications of withdrawal from the Paris accord are many:

  1. The US may still have a seat at the table, but it will no longer be able to speak with any moral authority on the issue of climate change.
  2. Leadership on that will shift to China, which is giving up a lot of coal-powered electrical plants, and to Europe, both of which are forging ahead with renewable sources of energy that will produce lots more jobs than those lost in the coal industry.
  3. No country will in the future accept any American push on environmental standards to be included in trade agreements–all will first require that the US re-commit to Paris.
  4. Trump’s personal standing with many world leaders, already shaky, will decline sharply.

America may still meet its Paris agreement goals, because natural gas is replacing coal rapidly due to market forces and American states and private industry will continue to try to limit greenhouse gases. That would be the ultimate irony: we pay the price for getting out of the agreement, but still meet its targets. That and Trump’s reaction to the London incident are self-defeating.

 

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From Bosnia to Iraq, with love

Some colleagues interested in Iraq asked what lessons had been learned from states that have emerged from a collapse of central authority. I was assigned Bosnia. Here is what I had to say:

  1. Central authority never completely collapsed in Bosnia. The internationally recognized government continued to exist in Sarajevo.
  1. But its authority did not extend during more than three years of the war to the three-quarters of the country controlled by unrecognized Croat and Serb military and governing structures, analogous in a way to Kurdistan under Saddam Hussein.
  1. Nor has central authority in Bosnia been fully restored, 22 years after the wars ended.
  1. Let me offer a short version of the story.
  1. After Croat (Catholic) and Bosniak (Muslim) “Federation” forces swept through western Bosnia in August and September 1995, the US peace initiative imposed a ceasefire.
  1. At Dayton, we rolled back the Federation forces from about 67% of the territory to 51% and accepted the governing authority of Republika Srpska on the remaining 49%. The Federation and Republika Srpska are two sub-state units of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
  1. This was done with the concurrence of Croatia and Serbia, Bosnia’s nearest neighbors. They were responsible for the war; peace could not be made without them.
  1. NATO initially deployed 60,000 troops, one-third Americans, to guarantee no reversion to war.
  1. We also created a thin central government with limited competences: foreign affairs, customs, currency, immigration, and a few other things like international communications and law enforcement.
  1. The currency used was the Deutschmark, as there was no possibility of agreement on anything else. As a consequence, there could be no: no printing of money and no devaluation.
  1. Under the Dayton constitution, this thin central government and the corresponding parliament were power-sharing arrangements: no important decisions could be made without all ethnic groups agreeing. This was repeated in the Federation down to the municipality level.
  1. Most responsibilities were devolved to the two “entities” created by the warring parties: the Federation and Republika Srpska. The Croat entity was to disappear.
  1. But that Dayton formula proved insufficient to create a functioning state. A civilian international community “High Representative,” designed at Dayton as powerless, was entrusted in 1997 with virtually dictatorial powers to fire officials and promulgate laws.
  1. From 1997 to 2006, he undertook the strengthening of the central government by fiat, with authority derived from a Peace Implementation Council in which the major powers were represented.
  1. With support from the NATO forces, he and the other civilian organizations he reigned over dismantled the separate Croat governing structures, organized elections, unified the army and defense ministries, the customs, the banking system, the license plates, and to some degree the courts, arrested war crime indictees, vetted the police, blocked broadcast of hate speech, instituted direct election of mayors, and beefed up the central government’s authority.
  1. This was vigorous international state-building backed by the stick of military force.
  1. The carrot was entry into Euro-Atlantic institutions.
  1. In 1999, four years after the war, a summit meeting in Sarajevo opened for all the countries of former Yugoslavia the prospect of membership in NATO and the European Union, a commitment that has been reiterated several times since.
  1. While Bosnia lags most of the rest of the Balkans in qualifying because of its still dysfunctional governing structure, incentives like a Stabilization and Association Agreement and a Schengen visa waiver have proven critical in thickening the authority of the central government.
  1. Present circumstances—which include Brexit, the refugee crisis, and a long recession as well as a decision not to admit any new EU members before 2020—have postponed the most important carrot and reduced its attractiveness, which accounts for a lot of the difficulties the Balkans, and Bosnia specifically, are facing right now.
  1. One other detail from Bosnia that may have some relevance to Iraq: the international community, in the person of an American “supervisor,” took on direct governing authority over the Brcko District, perhaps the most contested area during the war.

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