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Senate Report: NATO Countries Should Resume Arms Sales to Georgia

A report released by the staff of Senator Richard Lugar (R-IN) has sparked controversy from Russia and Georgia.  Titled “Striking the Balance: U.S. Policy and Stability in Georgia,” (PDF) the report argues NATO Allies need a coordinated policy toward Georgia, and suggests it should include a resumption of arms sales that halted following the 2008 Georgia-Russia war:

The United States and NATO allies must reconcile a policy that leaves a dedicated NATO partner unable to provide for its basic defense requirements. These efforts will be most effective if they are undertaken on a multilateral basis. The Alliance must come to grips with the reality that Georgia will require coordinated security support from America and European nations for some years to come.

Particularly in the realm of security assistance, such coordination is critical. While Georgia finds itself under a de facto arms embargo, other NATO allies are pursuing record military deals with the Russian Federation. Georgia has become an exceptional contributor to international security through its contributions to missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. A strategy to enable Georgia to similarly provide for its own territorial defense will require close cooperation with NATO allies to preserve stability in the region. 

Following the war between Georgia and Russia, both Europe and the United States have largely stopped selling lethal military equipment to Georgia.  The United States has nonetheless continued training Georgian forces for operations in Afghanistan and Iraq under a program titled the “International Military Education and Training Program” (IMET), and funding appears to have increased for this training.  Relatively speaking, military equipment sales to Georgia were much higher than training funding up to 2008, but have dropped to zero in 2009 (see charts based on data from the Lugar report).

Georgia has embraced the report while Russia and the breakaway territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia argue arms sales to Georgia could lead to another outbreak of violence in the region. 

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Georgia Started the South Ossetia War

Map of GeorgiaOver a year after the fact, that is the central conclusion of a report commissioned by the Council of the European Union, which was released today. To a fair amount of international attention. The BBC has a write-up, including a pdf of the report. And even the Wall Street Journal, which has published a fair amount of columns by the Georgian President Saakashvili, had a headline that reads 'Report: Georgia Triggered War With Russia' (via Jerome).

The report itself is readable, and contains a useful timeline of the events. It is also critical of Russia, which is found to have reacted disproportionally to the attacks. In fact, no one comes away well from the report. It even ventures into some muted criticism of the support for the buildup of the Georgian army by the United States, which it calls a 'sensitive issue', while calling for such military support to 'stay within the boundaries set by common sense and due diligence'.

But, wait a second, no one? Well, there is one French President...
After five days of fighting, a ceasefire agreement was negotiated on 12 August 2008 between Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the latter acting on behalf of the European Union. An implementation agreement followed on 8 September 2008, again largely due to the persistent efforts of the French President. This successful political action stood in contrast to the failure of the international community, including the UN Security Council, to act swiftly and resolutely enough in order to control the ever-mounting tensions prior the outbreak of armed conflict.
That is actually clear language. Continue reading "Georgia Started the South Ossetia War"

Is it just Joe?

That is what the Russians must be wondering these days. Let's recap.

Three weeks ago, President Obama goes to Moscow and holds a speech saying that he recognizes "the future benefit that will come from a strong and vibrant Russia", talks about Russia's "rightful place as a great power", and states: "The pursuit of power is no longer a zero-sum game". He offers a few words about the right of Russia's neighbours to set their own foreign policy, but follows up by saying that NATO seeks "collaboration, not confrontation" with Russia.

To the ever-suspicious Russians, this should have sounded like an actual attempt to improve relations.

Cue Joe Biden. The VP was sent on a quick tour to Ukraine and Georgia to assuage fears that the US would change its stance on their possible future membership of NATO. Biden did that part of the job well enough, giving some combative language that the US would "stand by" Georgia, but also making it clear that there was no military way for the country to regain control over Abkhazia and South Ossetia. However, Biden then decided to give an interview to the Wall Street Journal in which he managed to insult just about everyone - even the Georgians - but most of all the Russians. The WSJ headline 'Biden Says Weakened Russia Will Bend To US' is hardly an exaggeration.

When Biden recently made some silly remarks about Israel striking Iran, Mickey Kaus pointed out that this might be a useful form of strategic ambiguity. You might want that kind of thing with regard to Iran, but don't think strategic ambiguity would be useful with regard to Russia, especially in the context of trying to improve relations. So if the White House was ever serious about that, it will have to find a way to communicate that its really only Joe, you know.

NATO 2.0: Five ways Obama should bring "change" to Alliance

It is time for Obama to bring his change campaign to NATO, writes James Jay Carafano of the Heritage Foundation in Washington Times. Carafano argues Obama should use NATO's 60th anniversary to launch a new vision for the military alliance, which he refers to as NATO 2.0. Specifically NATO needs to take action on five major issues:

1. Identify common threats; 
2. Reaffirm NATO's commitment to an open-door policy that does not give Russia veto-power;
3. Establish a more flexible decision-making process;
4. Clearly identify roles between EU and NATO, with NATO doing military and EU doing more of the constabulary non-military “soft power” missions that it excels at;
5. Develop new burden-sharing rules.

All of these are important issues that should be considered; in fact, most are  already being debated within the Alliance.  However, each of them will also face an uphill battle in the reform process.

Consider proposition five, developing new burden-sharing rules.  Carafano argues that a country should lose voting powers if it fails to match the two-percent defense spending requirement set by NATO.  At this time, only five European countries meet this requirement, three of those with declining defense budgets, according to 2007 numbers released by NATO (pdf).
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Europe's very cold war: Russia cuts gas to Ukraine

Ukraine enters 2009 stuck between a bear and a hard place. 

The hard place is the west, who is like a friend who always says your invitation to the party is in the mail, but it never shows up.  Since the 2004 Orange Revolution Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko has pushed and pulled to move Ukraine toward EU and NATO membership, and yet its prospects remain shrouded in ambiguity.  While NATO has promised future membership someday, the Alliance decided to not move forward with Membership Action Plans for either Ukraine or Georgia at a NATO summit in December, again leaving them in limbo.  

And then there is the bear: Ukraine’s slow push west is a thorn in the toe of Russia who considers Ukraine part of its sphere of influence, and is increasingly tenacious in bearing its chilling grizzly teeth.
2009 is not likely to bring much warmer relations for Ukraine with either the west or Russia.  I wrote about Ukraine’s improbable 2009 NATO prospects in a post titled "Why Ukrainian’s don’t want NATO".  Regarding Ukraine’s easterly neighbor, Russia has launched the new year with a cut off of gas to Ukraine leaving it and a baker's dozen of European countries with (in some cases drastically) reduced gas supplies at a time when it is cold in Europe, very cold.

The reasons for Russia’s gas power play are both economic and political

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Sarkozy pilots Middle East cease-fire talks, fills US power vacuum

Israel’s land invasion continues with the Jewish state showing little sign it is ready to negotiate a truce.  While Hamas has indicated it is prepared to begin negotiations, Israel does not intend to sit at the table with Hamas in any future negotiations, reports Haaretz:
Israel will instead seek separate agreements with moderate Arab states, with the Palestinian Authority and with the international community.

"The international community will initiate the agreements and will impose it on Hamas," [a Haaretz] source said. "The agreements will be with both the PA and Egypt and then if Hamas will not agree it will pay the price, mostly by even greater [diplomatic] isolation."
Despite disallowing signals from Israel about the prospects of their short-term success, the ever-ambitious Sarkozy is taking advantage of the US power vacuum to assume diplomatic leadership in the talks, hoping to capitalize on France’s controversially reinvigorated ties with Syria, Time reports:   
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Strobe Talbott: Obama 'Gets' it 'Big Time'

SPIEGEL Online has a long, somewhat scrappy interview with Strobe Talbott, the former US deputy Secretary of State under the Clinton administration. Talbott isn't straightforward in answering all of the questions, but it's still a worthwhile read for the glimpses into what a foreign policy under Obama and Secretary of State Clinton would look like. Here's a telling response:
I think Obama gets this big time. There are strong indications that he has an acute understanding of these problems. Just think of his remarkable election night speech at Grant Park in Chicago. He basically said, "We have some tough problems, do not expect them to be handled quickly, not in a year and maybe not in four years." He summed it up in three phrases: two wars, a planet in peril and an international financial crisis. I checked with people familiar with the way his mind works, and the order in which he put those was no accident.
On a question how the Obama administration would approach Europe for support in Afghanistan, Talbott said that Obama would 'practice politics as the art of the possible'. Which seems more conducive to getting greater participation than making unrealistic demands and hammering on the table. But unfortunately we have to try to read between the lines what Talbott thinks is possible. It appears that he thinks a fundamental change in the rules of engagement for German troops is not in the cards.

On Russia policy, Talbott thinks that a thaw in relations is likely, and excludes the possibility of Georgian entry into NATO on the short term. The reason he gives is that Georgia would not further the security of the alliance as it is 'divided against itself'. This rationale would also hold for the Ukraine. On the missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic, Talbott equivocates, so on that topic there is no enlightenment of Obama's possible policies.

NATO foreign ministers meeting press round-up

NATO foreign ministers gathered in Brussels on December 2 for a two-day meeting.  The full final communiqué released by NATO can be found here

The ministerial focused primarily on the future of NATO enlargement (particularly Ukraine and Georgia), US plans for missile defense in Europe, relations with Russia (strongly related to the previous two issues), and ongoing operations (mostly on Afghanistan and to a lesser degree Kosovo). Here is a roundup of articles that address the key outcomes of the ministerial:

Continue reading "NATO foreign ministers meeting press round-up"