British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, it is widely accepted, has had a good credit crunch. A couple of months ago, just a year after taking over from the charismatic Tony Blair, Brown was virtually dead in the water. His support, it seemed, did not extend much beyond his own family. The only question was whether he could survive until Christmas. Last weekend, the opinion polls confirmed in public what the opposition Conservative Party had already conceded in private: Brown had dramatically returned from the dead. He was still trailing in the polls, but his opponent’s seemingly unassailable 20 percent lead […]

When Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert traveled to Moscow earlier this month, he hoped to achieve three objectives: to ensure that Israel’s pre-August military ties with Georgia had not unduly damaged Russian-Israeli relations, to convince Russian policy makers not to provide Syria or Iran with advanced weapons that could be used against Israel, and to induce Russian leaders to pressure Tehran to moderate its nuclear ambitions. Olmert did not mention the Georgia issue at his public cabinet meeting prior to departure, saying only that he would discuss several subjects “that cause deep concern and require immediate action,” including Russian “arms […]

How the EU Got Its Groove Back

Funny what a couple of crises can do for a continent’s reputation. LastJune, following Ireland’s rejection of the Lisbon Treaty, the EU seemedlike a dead man walking, hobbled by its decade-long institutionalparalysis but unable to find its way forward. But the Georgia War andthe financial bailout have demonstrated that not only is it possible for the EU to be an effective actor on the global stage, it is necessary. Combined, both crises will go a long way to convincing Europeans thatdespite its sometimes burdensome complications, the Union gives them acomforting weight that they otherwise would not have. I haven’t seenany […]

RUSSIAN RIGHTS DEFENSE A POISONOUS AFFAIR — In a twist that could have been lifted from the plot of a dime store spy novel, a Russian human rights lawyer prosecuting the case of an assassinated journalist missed pretrial hearings last week when she and members of her family fell ill after discovering a suspicious substance in their car. Karina Moskalenko has built a career participating in some of Russia’s most notorious cases, defending some of the Kremlin’s harshest critics along the way. Last week, she and her children fell ill with bouts of dizziness, headaches and nausea after discovering balls […]

Taking Credit for the Credit Bailout

I mentioned yesterday that the two big winners of the EU’s financial bailout plan were Gordon Brown and the EU. Here’s Le Figaro on Brown: The markets are crumbling, the British banks are at the edge of the abyss, but the crisis seems to have had a reinvigorating effect on at least one man: Gordon Brown. For the past year, the prime minister has never seemed as at ease, as sure of himself and as convincing. . . His radical bailout plan of the financial sector was hailed in every capital, from Paris to Washington, before being taken as an […]

The Impact of the Financial Crisis

For an idea of some of the very concrete effects the financial crisis has already had on global trade, try this Economist article: Since the early summer the price of steel has fallen by 20-70% and thekey rate for bulk shipping of commodities is down by more thanfour-fifths. There are even stories of grain cargoes piling up in portsin the Americas. Their buyers’ letters of credit have not beenhonoured, because of a lack of confidence in the banks that underwritethem. At least one Australian producer has had the same problem withiron ore shipments to China. And shipowners are having trouble […]

The Freeze After the Fall

Expect a lot of noise from the neo-Cold War alarmists about the Russia-Georgia talks in Geneva breaking down before they even started. Not a big deal, though. They’re rescheduled for a month form now, and time isn’t on the Russians’ side. Should they insist on holding onto the provinces, they will open themselves up to very easy asymmetric strikes (last week’s, for instance), of the sort that will eventually necessitate a full-scale invasion and occupation of all of Georgia. In other words, a total waste of resources while they’re trying to reestablish their rusting military (see Richard Weitz’ WPR column […]

Germany Raises Afghanistan Troop Levels

Worth noting, given my repeated warnings over fading European commitment to the NATO Afghanistan mission: the German parliament just formally approved the plan to add a thousand troops over the next fourteen months, bringing Germany’s total deployment to 4500, third behind the U.S. and Britain. Behind that silver lining, however, lurks a cloud: Merkel, supported by the Defense Ministry, did not want the mission tobe used by her political opponents during the federal election campaignnext year, particularly since there is growing public opposition tocontinuing German military involvement inAfghanistan. Apparently when we export democracy, it leaves less to go around back […]

The uncertainty that characterizes the current global financial crisis extends beyond the markets, and its drama beyond the erratic moves of securities prices. When the dust settles after this economic storm, power relations will also have changed. One of the great unknowns — and one that will mark the character of the post-crisis era — is whether the new Russia will emerge from the crisis fortified or weakened. To hear Russia’s current prime minister and still-strongman, Vladimir Putin, tell it, this dire predicament is a well-deserved rebuke of American power. Speaking to Communist Party members of the Russian Parliament, a […]

The EU’s Financial Crisis Approach

Art Goldhammer at French Politics wonders: How is it that Europe, with its divided leadership, was able to achieve coordination so quickly, whereas the U.S., with decisive power concentrated in the Federal Reserve and Treasury, has struggled for months to do the same and has finally arrived, it seems, only by copying the European model? Art goes on to answer his question, in a follow up post, with a list of thought-provoking hypotheses that are worth a read. Implicit in them, though, are a couple of points that I thought I’d tease out. To begin with, he points out that, […]

The EU’s Russia Approach

It’s impossible to assess the longterm impact of Russia’s invasion of Georgia, but at least one immediate outcome is certain: increased European travel privileges for Eurasian and Central Asian dictators. Uzbekistan’s EU travel ban for government officials was lifted and that of Belarus’ President Lukashenko and his government suspended, due to the vast improvement in each country’s human rights record, obviously. (For background, see Marianna Gurtovnik’s WPR piece on Belarus’ recent parliamentary elections.) Irony aside, new circumstances call for new measures, and the Georgia War certainly qualifies as a new circumstance. I think the EU’s handling of the crisis has […]

The Russian government may not yet describe itself as a superpower, but its latest military exercise, “Stability 2008,” clearly aims to affirm Russia’s global military reach. The exercise’s hypothetical scenario posited a local conflict (e.g., over Georgia) that escalates into a world war, pitting Russia and its ally, Belarus, in a conflict with the West in which both sides employ land, air, maritime, and eventually nuclear forces. All three components of Russia’s strategic nuclear deterrent (bombers, submarines, and land forces) participated in the maneuvers, which were the largest conducted on Russian territory since the collapse of the Soviet Union in […]

CONFRONTING THE CRISIS — An EU financial doctrine and a new set of EU regulations for executive compensation in the banking and financial sector have emerged out of the financial chaos of the last week, French Finance Minister Christine Lagarde said in Washington on Friday. The new doctrine says EU governments will protect their financial institutions, safeguard the taxpayers’ interests, put in motion a reform of the financial sector, guarantee bank deposits, and take a short term stake in financial institutions to help their recovery. The European Union’s 27 member states will apply the financial doctrine according to their needs […]

Last week, when the financial system threatened to unravel in the United States, European Union leaders called an emergency summit to devise a common approach to the crisis. In Washington, unseemly bickering between political parties had already defeated one attempt to pass a $700 billion rescue package. The American political and economic system looked seriously wounded. This might have marked the moment for a unified Europe, viewed by many as a counter-balance to the U.S., to act decisively and effectively in a time of peril. As it happened, however, the “fraternité” long dreamed of by some in the EU vaporized […]

French Desertion Rumors Unfounded

To follow up on an earlier post on rumors of desertion among French troops deploying to Afghanistan, Jean-Dominique Merchet at Secret Défense has done some digging and decided that the evidence doesn’t back them up. Going through the numbers for the 8th RPIMa, he found only two cases of confirmed AWOL: The 8th is an elite regiment with highly motivated personnel, so it’s likely those numbers are higher in other units. But for now, it would not be honest to talk of a troubling phenomenon. (Translated from the French.) There are still a lot of troubling phenomena about the NATO […]

On Sept. 28, Belarus, a country branded by the U.S. government as “the last true dictatorship” in Europe, held elections for its 110-seat lower house of parliament. Despite some improvements, independent observers said the voting was neither free, nor fair. In an attempt to mend fences with the West, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko had invited more than 900 international observers to monitor the voting, stressing his commitment to a democratic ballot. Seventy-six out of 276 registered candidates represented parties critical of the ruling regime, and a few opposition representatives were placed in precinct electoral committees — a clear departure from […]

Channeling the Rise of the Rest

As sometimes happens when blogging, I read a Fareed Zakaria article on the two presidential candidates’ vision of the world, had a quick thought about whether the U.S. can counter or only channel the emerging powers, dashed it off and largely forgot about it. Then Nikolas Gvosdev happened across my post, had a less hurried thought about the relative “brittleness” of Russia and China and the implications for countering vs. channeling them, and developed it. And before you know it, Kal at The Moor Next Door has a leisurely and very well formulated thought about the limits of both China […]

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