In examining possible approaches to Iran policy in my last several columns, I concluded that “focusing on deterrence in the short run while increasing efforts to promote regime modification — by internal means — over the long haul” might end up being the most effective one. Some of the feedback I received suggested that I was being too pessimistic about current efforts to bring about a new round of punitive sanctions on Iran, and that there were signs that even Russia and China were moving closer to the U.S. position. Those hopes received a serious setback on Thursday, when Russia […]

Noted with Comment

Well, as you can see, I’ve changed the title a bit, because I can’t seem to limit myself to links. So think of it as “links plus.” – U.S.-Syria rapprochement off to a bumpy start. This sort of strategic reassurance to established friends is inevitable in a shifting playing field, so expectations management in the short term is in order here, especially with regard to Syria’s relations with Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas. The potential payoff is in the mid-term timeframe, if domestic politics allows the Obama administration to hold course. – The head of Russia’s ground forces said that they […]

Global Insights: Moscow Goes Ballistic Again over U.S. Missile Defense

Just when it looked like Russia and the United States were about to finalize the terms of a bilateral nuclear arms reduction agreement to replace the START I Treaty that expired last December, their longstanding bilateral missile defense dispute has exploded again. The latest crisis arose after the president of Romania, apparently for domestic political reasons, gratuitously revealed that his government would allow the United States to station ground-based interceptor missiles on Romanian territory. A week later, Bulgarian officials confirmed that they, too, were contemplating hosting U.S. missile interceptors, although no formal talks had begun. Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov […]

The Saudis’ S-300 Connection

At the risk of venturing pretty far down Speculation Boulevard, here’s a quick follow-up to yesterday’s post on the sale of Russian S-300 air defense systems to Iran. I mentioned that the timing of Russia trotting out its long-time political line could be meant to drive up the price of any bargain struck over UNSC sanctions. Today, a spokesman for Russian President Dmitry Medvedev refused to rule out Iran sanctions — again, nothing more than the standard Russian line. But at the same time, a Russian defense industry official stated that Russia and Saudi Arabia are finalizing an array of […]

The Group of Experts assisting with the drafting of NATO’s new Strategic Concept traveled to Moscow last week, in an effort to reassure Russia about NATO and its activities. The Feb 9-11 visit followed the release of Russia’s new military doctrine, adopted on Feb. 5, which characterizes the alliance’s activities as threatening to Russia. Led by former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, the group, consisting of a dozen members, consulted with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, National Security Secretary Nikolay Patrushev, and members of the Russian parliament, and held additional meetings with other Russian security experts. Albright also delivered […]

A large-scale deployment of clean energy technology is gaining speed on the global stage, causing shifts of significant geopolitical consequence. As clean energy moves from margin to mainstream, it is set to alter the balance of energy security and energy power among key regions of the world. Nations will redraw the energy map, both by assessing access to renewable resources and evaluating their traditional alliances. The degree to which frameworks are established so that clean energy drives not just competition, but also cooperation, will be key to determining the impact it ultimately has on international relations. Energy transitions take time. […]

Don’t Believe the S-300 Hype

At some point I’m going to make a list of foreign policy non-story stories (in which “Fatah-Hamas Agreement Imminent” will feature prominently). For now, I’ll just direct your attention to the Russian national security adviser’s declaration that nothing is “restricting” delivery of S-300 air defense systems to Iran. This is nothing more than Russia’s political line, unchanged and often-repeated ever since the contract for the sale was signed. “Unrestricted” in this case means that the S-300 system is not covered by any relevant international arms sales agreements because it is a defensive weapon. This does not suggest that delivery is […]

Whenever I ponder some of the challenges U.S. foreign policy faces today in Afghanistan, Somalia, or Yemen, I inevitably return to a passage in Bob Woodward’s “Veil,” describing how Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, after an attempt to assassinate him had failed, was persuaded to restrain his followers in Lebanon from launching attacks on U.S. interests: The Saudis approached him and asked whether . . . he would act as their early-warning system for terrorist attacks on Saudi and American facilities. They would pay $2 million cash. Fadlallah accepted, but said he wanted the payment in food, medicine and education expenses for […]

Is the CTBT D.O.A.?

“The CTBT is in big, big trouble,” said Stephen Rademaker at an East West Institute roundtable on the ever-stalled Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty last Friday. The remark represented a rare area of consensus on what is otherwise a highly divisive issue. The EWI discussion of the CTBT and its likelihood of ratification by Congress came as a complement to a recently published report by the institute on the subject. With Rademaker, former U.S. assistant secretary of state (2002-2006) and currently senior counsel for BGR Group’s Government Affairs division, and Ambassador Robert T. Grey, Jr., director of the Bipartisan Security […]

Arctic Security and Russia

At the Halifax International Security Forum in November of last year, maritime experts came together to discuss Arctic security. Though traditionally portrayed as a threat, the panel of experts heralded Russia as leading innovators in the region, saying that cooperation, not competition should be stressed.

Global Insights: Russia’s New Military Doctrine Reaffirms Old Values

At a Feb. 5 session of the Russian Security Council, President Dmitry Medvedev finally approved Russia’s updated comprehensive military doctrine, which was published on the president’s Kremlin Web site the following day. But notwithstanding a lengthy period of discussion and consideration, and despite all the developments of the past decade — including the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Georgia — the latest version generally supports the same policies as the previous military doctrine adopted in 2000. The doctrine depicts Russia as the target of increasing military threats emanating from NATO collectively and its members individually. It also expresses unease at […]

TBILISI, Georgia — Former U.S. President George W. Bush has a highway named after him in Tbilisi, Georgia’s charming and gritty capital, to commemorate his lofty rhetoric in praise of the Caucasian republic’s Western turn in 2003. During Bush’s visit in 2005, the president even eschewed his famous early bedtime to dance the night away in the jubilant Georgian capital. Much has changed since 2005, though. When Russian tanks rolled into Georgian territory in August 2008, Bush chose not to rise to the defense of the West’s ally in the Caucasus. But that was just the beginning. From the indignity […]

France, Russia and the Mistral

The French sale of a Mistral-class amphibious attack vessel to Russia has gotten all sorts of attention Stateside over the past few weeks, culminating in Defense Secretary Robert Gates visiting Paris in part to energetically convey the U.S. administration’s disapproval of the deal. Curiously, the deal has gotten far less coverage in the French press, even following the announcement by a French Defense Ministry official that the sale had been approved, with a Russian request for three more also under consideration. The issue warrants attention, because it gets to the heart of the odd configuration that currently characterizes U.S.-Europe-Russia relations. […]

With Ukraine set to vote in the second round of its presidential election on Sunday, both candidates — Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych — have promised closer ties with Russia. Most foreign coverage of the campaign has focused on popular disillusionment with the Orange Revolution in particular, and with democracy in general, as the explanation for this dramatic shift since the heady days of 2004. Indeed, a survey of attitudes toward democracy in post-Soviet countries published by the Pew Research Center in November 2009 was sobering: The popularity of democracy had fallen in Ukraine by […]

“Iran engagement” is beginning to take on the attributes of kabuki theater, with all of the major participants engaging in pre-determined, stylized dance steps. The latest case in point is the announcement earlier this week by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that Tehran is now open to some form of the scheme proposed by the International Atomic Energy Agency last October, by which Iran would export its low-enriched uranium to France and Russia to be turned into fuel rods for its research reactor. As Howard LaFranchi reported, this “was received favorably by Russia, and it prompted Chinese officials to call for […]

Thawfare in the Arctic

After “lawfare,” it’s time to add “thawfare” to the lexicon of how to pursue politics by other means (especially since a quick Google scan indicates that I have indeed coined this neologism): Russia will invest some 1.5 billion rubles ($49.7 million) indefining the extent of its continental shelf in the Arctic in 2010, inorder to prove its right to more of the Arctic floor, the country’sNatural Resources Ministry has said. “These funds will be spent on additional hydrographic andgeophysical research in the Arctic Ocean,” the ministry said in astatement. For more background on what’s at stake in the Arctic as […]

The Economist recently broke the news that NATO would soon develop contingency plans to defend Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania against Russian attacks. In an unexpected shift in policy, the new plans would mark the first time since the end of the Cold War that the Atlantic Alliance has specifically pinpointed Russia as a threat. NATO has been down this road before. In October 2008, Gen. John Craddock, then NATO’s supreme commander, asked the members of the alliance for permission to draft Baltic defense plans. But at the time, France and Germany disapproved, out of fear that it would compromise NATO’s […]

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