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Is Russia a Superpower? Cold War II?

Ronald Steel, professor of international relations at the University of Southern California, argues that Russia's strong hand against Georgia signals that, “A Superpower Is Reborn” (NYT):
THE psychodrama playing out in the Caucasus is not the first act of World War III, as some hyperventilating politicians and commentators would like to portray it. Rather, it is the delayed final act of the cold war. And while the Soviet Union lost that epic conflict, Russia won this curtain call in a way that ensures Washington will have to take it far more seriously in the future.

This is not just because, as some foreign-policy “realists” have argued, Moscow has enough troops and oil to force us to take into consideration its supposedly irrational fears. Rather, the conflict in Georgia showed how rational Russia’s concerns over American meddling in its traditional sphere of influence are, and that Washington had better start treating it like the great power it still is.
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Germany's Federal Minister of Economics Visited Baghdad

Do we have to apologize to The Wall Street Journal for not covering this?

The most remarkable aspect about the German economics minister's trip to Baghdad Saturday [July 13, 2008] was how unremarkable it was. The "surprise visit" by Michael Glos to Iraq, which only last year was deemed irrevocably lost, hardly made the front pages even in his own country. "The security situation has improved," Mr. Glos said, "and democracy is progressing." [...] "I have numerous companies with me," Mr. Glos told a German radio station from Baghdad. "They are practically the advance party for others who will hopefully soon come to Iraq to participate especially in the privatization."

Political Segregation Increases Culture Wars in America

"Americans are increasingly choosing to live among like-minded neighbours. This makes the culture war more bitter and politics harder," writes The Economist
Residential segregation is not the only force Balkanising American politics, frets Mr Bishop. Multiple cable channels allow viewers to watch only news that reinforces their prejudices. The internet offers an even finer filter. Websites such as or help Americans find ideologically predictable mates. And the home-schooling movement, which has grown rapidly in recent decades, shields more than 1m American children from almost any ideas their parents dislike.

Why is this voluntary segregation bad for politics? Because:

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California: Today Gay Marriage, Tomorrow Meteors and Volcanoes

The California Supreme Court made a 4-3 decision this week that will legalize gay marriage in California, most likely effective within 30 days.  As reported by the New York Times:
This decision will give Americans the lived experience that ending exclusion from marriage helps families and harms no one,” said Evan Wolfson, executive director of Freedom to Marry, who noted that same-sex marriages were legal in Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands, South Africa and Spain.
The timing of this action, coming only months before the US presidential elections in November, have led to speculation on whether or not it will hurt the Democratic nominee.  Alex Altman wrote an article in Time Magazine asking, “Will Gay Marriage Help the GOP?”:
California Republicans are hoping that history will prove instructive. After Massachusetts became the first state to codify marriage equality in 2003, the G.O.P. spent the ensuing general election wielding the issue as a potent weapon. Thirteen states passed ballot initiatives to ban same-sex marriage — including Ohio, the battleground that tipped the 2004 election in George W. Bush's favor. Opponents of gay marriage in California have generated more than 1 million signatures to place on November ballots an initiative amending the state's constitution to prohibit same-sex marriage.
Kai Stinchcombe, a PhD candidate in political science at Stanford University, and a very good friend of mine, created the popular Facebook group Gay Marriage Killed the Dinosaurs.  In his thoughtful analysis, Kai identifies 17 reasons gay marriage should remain illegal: Continue reading "California: Today Gay Marriage, Tomorrow Meteors and Volcanoes"

John McCain's League of Democracies

Senator and presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain has repeated his calls for a 'league of democracies' in a Financial Times op-ed directed at Europe.
We need to renew and revitalise our democratic solidarity. We need to strengthen our transatlantic alliance as the core of a new global compact – a League of Democracies – that can harness the great power of the more than 100 democratic nations around the world to advance our values and defend our shared interests.

At the heart of this new compact must be mutual respect and trust. We Americans recall the words of our founders in the Declaration of Independence, that we must pay “decent respect to the opinions of mankind”. Our great power does not mean we can do whatever we want whenever we want, nor should we assume we have all the wisdom and knowledge necessary to succeed.

The words about respect and trust are welcome. However, the idea of a leage of democracies is also likely to run into some opposition among America's European allies. The reasons McCain gives for his league of democracies, both in the FT and in a May 2007 speech reported on in the Washington Post, have much to do with America's perceived national interest. On issues like confronting the 'turn towards autocracy' in Russia, 'acting where the UN fails to act' on a problem like Darfur and providing 'unimpeded market access' to open market democracies, continental Europe has completely different perceived interests.

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Ronald Asmus' Strategy for the West: Expand East

Ronald Asmus has a new “grand strategy” for the west: it should continue to expand eastward (see Foreign Affairs, subscription only):
The challenge of securing Europe’s eastern border from the Baltics to the Black Sea has been replaced by the need to extend peace and stability along the southern rim of the Euro-Atlantic community—from the Balkans across the Black Sea and further into Eurasia, a region that connects Europe, Russia, and the Middle East and involves core security interests, including a critical energy corridor.  Working to consolidate democratic change and build stability in this area is as important for Western security today as consolidating democracy in central and eastern Europe was in the 1990s.
The west’s most important accomplishment following the Cold War has been its integration of central and eastern European countries that were previously part of the Soviet Union—countries that have undergone significant reforms to be accepted into NATO and the EU.  It is interesting that despite the ubiquitous negative publicity NATO is receiving these days, due largely to a perceived lack of teamwork in Afghanistan, there are several countries that continue to fervently seek membership—take the 71 percent of Georgian’s who endorsed NATO membership in a January referendum for example (see Today’s Zaman). 
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Military Leaders Outline Plan for New Transatlantic Bargain

A group of European and American military leaders co-authored a report that was released last week, titled Toward a Grand Strategy for an Uncertain World, Renewing Transatlantic Partnership (PDF version available from CSIS). The top brass – all with NATO experience – argue that the Alliance remains critical to both Europe and the US:
We are convinced that there is no security for Europe without the US, but we also dare to submit that there is no hope for the US to sustain its role as the world’s sole superpower without the Europeans as allies.
The manifesto begins by arguing that many current and future threats – such as terrorism, international crime, demographic shifts, energy security, climate change, etc. – cannot effectively be addressed by any single country on its own. Instead, NATO provides the best opportunity for western countries to address new threats because it "links together a group of countries that share the most important values and convictions and that took a decision to defend those values and convictions collectively."

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Russia's Elections 2: Russia Should Face Consequences

Helle Dale argues in the Washington Times that the elections in Russia were not legitimate, and Russia should face consequences for this.

Autocrats like Mr. Putin are trying to take back the reins of power carefully and one piece at a time. By international standards, Russia cannot be called a democracy anymore - as German Chancellor Angela Merkel remarked to her credit. She knows something about political repression, having grown up in East Germany. There should be consequences.

While most in Europe and the US have spoken out against the Russian elections, other countries (notably those in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, or SCO) have argued that western countries have no right to judge Russia's democracy. From the Washington Post:

"There is not just one category of democracy in the world. You cannot import, copy or buy democracy," said Gao Yusheng, a Chinese citizen who headed the [SCO's] observer mission in Moscow. Observer groups from other republics of the former Soviet Union reached similar conclusions.

So, who has the right to decide whether a democracy is legitimate or not? I certainly have trouble believing the SCO, with a membership composed of non-democracies to include Uzbekistan, Iran, and China among others, is a better arbiter of open government than European countries and the United States.

I also agree with Helle Dale that Russia should face consequences. Democracy is more than an abstract concept; as a form of governance it has important tangible implications for the internal and external peace of a country. Researchers have found substantial evidence that democratic governments have better human rights policies, and are significantly less likely to go to war. Knowing the merits of democracy, it is both a moral and practical objective to encourage democratic governance in other states.

The need for democracy is exceptionally relevant when it comes to Russia, because the world already knows how dangerous a nationalistic and centralized Russia can become-especially a Russia that seeks to exert influence over its former client states, as Putin does.