Saturday, April 25, 2015

Land for Peace, Euro Style

I hate comparisons to Munich--don't appease aggressors--as appeasement can work, and in some ways did for the British as it gave them a bit more time. 

BUT I cannot help but notice that those in West Europe tend to be comfy about trading other people's land for their peace.  During the first several years of the wars in Yugoslavia, those from the west were quite willing to give the Serbs what they wanted--division of Bosnia, ceding gains to the aggressors--as long as it meant an end to violence and, perhaps their highest priority, the return of refugees.

These days, the deal that Germany negotiated with Russia at Minsk essentially gives Russia de facto control over Ukraine's future and creates a failed state within Ukraine.  This is not just recognition that Ukraine is not getting Crimea back, but is not likely to gain control over the parts that currently are occupied by "separatists." 

I am not saying that Russia will engage in further aggression because of getting what it wants now.  I am just saying that West Europe is very casual with the lands belonging to others, giving off hunks that do not belong to the west whenever it is convenient.

Of course, the other pattern here is the US delegating to the Europeans... so the Americans cannot really complain. 

Friday, April 24, 2015

Mad Men Dead Pool Belated but No One is

I just watched the recent episode of Mad Men thanks to my trip to Brussels.  It was a delightful one since any Sally episode is a delightful one.  Spoilers dwell below:

Brussels Conclusion

After more than a week in Brussels, it is time for me to come home.  What did I learn along the way other than the European Union has a heap of big, shiny buildings?
  1. That the Common Agriculture Policy has its own ads?  On the side of its building(s).... okaayy.
  2. Brussels has the pickiest cab drivers--you tell them where you want to go and then decide to let you in the car or not.  Good times.  
  3. They strike like other Europeans.  General strike on one of my last days turned out not to be too inconvenient despite blocking one street and closing the train station.  Cabs became hard to find but not impossible.
    closed train station.
  4. Crowdsourcing dessert on twitter is amusing--apple tart or waffle?  Nearly everyone chose the latter, but I was full so I just bought candy/chocolate on the way back to the hotel.
  5. My attempts at French in restaurants here are mostly silly as everyone speaks English pretty well, and I don't want my stuff served rare or medium rare....
  6. The NATO community still rocks.  Had very interesting conversations with folks from a variety of delegations, but mostly with US and Canada (double identity pays off again).  
  7. Lousy TV options means grading efficiency.  Maybe I should always head out of the country when I have to grade a stack of papers.  Of course, I haven't transcribed my notes from interviews, but that is too much like.... grading.
Thanks again to all the folks who tolerated my pesky questions and hawkish opinions (trip-wire, please).  

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Beer Tourism FTW!

Today is my last full day in Belgium, and then back home for a month before going to the Netherlands for a workshop and then some research.  The interviewing was kind of thin on this visit--just didn't snowball as much as I would have liked.  This did let me finish my grading, and then I went out to enjoy a bit of Brussels before I went home.

The last time I was here was for interviewing folks at NATO so I stayed on the outskirts of town.  The time before that?  Just a pit stop on the way to Afghanistan.  The time before that?  When I was a college student and Brussels was my last stop after seven weeks in London and four weeks railing it through West Europe.

In those days and many times since, my tourist strategy was to pick out a few key spots I wanted to see and then walk between them so that I could see much of the city (plus metros/subways intimidated me--how to pay and all that).  Today, the target was a brewery/museum, and I saw much along the way.

What did I learn?
  • That it is not good to be stuck behind a French tour in a brewery--very long explanations require me to wait, and I am not patient.
  • That the brewery is still very much in the family as the person telling us about the place is the great granddaughter of the founder.
  • That Lambic beers are not my thing--at least those that are classic/purest.  Trappist stuff is more my taste.
  • The idea of spontaneous fermentation is surprisingly new to me.  I should have heard of it before since this is how we got all of our booze before the 1800s apparently.  
  • I learned all week that Brussels (and NATO) is at a higher level of alert due to foiled terrorist attack.  I saw pairs (and more) of Belgian army soldiers around town, guarding various places. In many cases, I had no clue about the targets they were protecting.  At the Belgian Jewish Museum, it was easier to figure out since they had an attack just last year that killed two people there.   
And as always, I love my job.  The tourism is accidental byproduct of doing the research and being invited to conferences.  I got to have very interesting conversations with Canadians I see rarely, with German scholars, policy makers and media folks, and with Canadian and American folks working at NATO either as part of their national delegations or on the International Staff.  This did lead to an outburst of NATO related blogging as the week forced me to think about stuff and worry.

The good news is that the worries were assuaged by much wonderful beer and food.  If only the ISIS folks could sit down and chat over a beer and frites....

Raising the Right Alarm

This piece raises the question I have been asking for the past week in Brussels: can we credibly commit to the defense of the Baltics?  Without a permanent NATO (or at least American) presence, is our Article V commitment (an attack upon one is an attack upon all) believable?

There are two ways to look at it.  First, to be clear, any nuclear threat is incredible.  That is--not to be believed.  At any single point, it really is not that believable that country x will use nuclear weapons since they are always so disproportional and always raise the question of a global exchange and mutual destruction.  So, the NATO commitment to use nuclear weapons to defend the Baltics is not to be believed.

However, if you summon the ghost of Thomas Schelling, he would remind us all that it is not so much the threat of global thermonuclear war that deters but "the threat that leaves something to chance."  That is, that one does enough to create a credible possibility that if the other side escalates, it may start a process by which the two sides keep reacting to other that ultimately unleashes the nuclear weapons.  Because nuclear war is so very destructive, one just needs a very, very small chance of it happening to deter.  Perhaps the mere extension of Article V is sufficient to put this into play--that attacking a NATO member has a decent probability of leading to conventional war and that might lead to escalation, making that attack too costly.

This leads us to the second way to look at this.  That NATO has not done enough to ties its hands to escalation.  That the presentation of a fait accompli, such as Russia seizing the Baltics in a day or less, may freeze NATO into not responding, putting the onus of responding and risking the escalation that ultimately leads to nuclear war in NATO's hands.  Yuck. 

Which is why I have been calling for NATO, and if not NATO then the US, to forget the obligations made under the NATO Russia Founding Act of 1997.  Since Russia has abrogated it, we should not feel bound by it.  We should have significant numbers of troops based in Poland and especially the Baltics.  These should be permanent bases and not continuous or persistent.  We need to make it clear to Putin that an attack upon the Baltics would not lead to the possibility of decisions in Brussels but an automatic reaction in Washington, DC.  That an attack upon the Baltics would more clearly be the start of a process that would leave something to chance.  The way we used to make that most credible was by putting American bodies in the way--a trip wire that would force American decision-making. 

Of course, this would make the situation seem like a new cold war.  Ok and?  More importantly, our NATO allies, especially those in the middle of Europe--far enough not to be directly threatened, close enough to have economic ties to Russia and a deep desire for the situation to return to normal--resist such steps.  The US can and should move anyway. 

Yes, this would escalate things with Russia, but it would then leave to the Russians the responsibility of not escalating further.  In this game of chicken, it is best to make sure that one's threats are credible and that the responsibility of avoiding disaster is in the hands of the other side. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Clear Eyes, Full Heart

and don't rape:

Excellent use of Friday Night Lights to make a key point. 

Thanks Coach Taylor-knockoff and Mrs. Coach.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

When Realists are Bad Realists, Part XIV

I have addressed this theme before, but a discussion at a conference in Brussels made me look at this whole "Realists are lousy realists" line of thought in a different way.  Yes, I am going to pick on Mearsheimer again for his take on Ukraine

I realized as people lamented the cuts in NATO forces in Europe over the past twenty years that anyone arguing that Russia is motivated by the threat posed by NATO must not care about conventional military balances.  After all, the balance in Europe after the Soviet Union fell apart was strongly in Europe's favor with all of that spiffy American hardware recently proven in Iraq (1991) and all of that other stuff that NATO countries had accumulated.  Ever since then, the Europeans have fully taken advantage of the peace dividend to cut their forces.  The Germans have cut back so far that few of their planes and helos can fly. 

So, this is scary to Russia?  Well, the irony here is that Mearsheimer spent much of the 1980s researching and writing about force to space ratios and other ways to measure the balance of forces in Europe.  If Mearsheimer stuck to his original expertise, he might be arguing something different now--that Putin is not threatened by NATO enlargement but rather encouraged by NATO weakness. 

The second irony is that Mearsheimer is giving a heap of value to NATO.  This is a man who blasted international institutions as being irrelevant--or false promises.*  If institutions are epiphemenonal and otherwise not so important, why should enlargement matter?  It shouldn't.  Not to Mearsheimer.  Same goes for the European Union--why should Putin care about this toothless organization.  I mean: ESDP?  Really?  Europe has made little progress on developing as a security and defense organization, so how can it threaten Russia? 

The third irony is that if Mearsheimer was being true to himself as an offensive Realist, he would be arguing that countries seek power and that Putin is doing that when the opportunity presents itself.  So, the blame should not be on NATO enlargement but a combination of NATO weakness and Putin's thirst for power. 

But for some reason, he wants to blame the US and NATO.  Again, if he were consistent, he would focus on their weakness--the defense budget cuts, the pivot--and not enlargement.  There is plenty of blame to go around.  Of course, if one blames the west for being weak, then perhaps one has to blame Putin for being aggressive.  And that, for whatever reason, just does not fit into Mearsheimer's narrative.

The funny thing is that Mearsheimer and I see NATO enlargement to Ukraine similarly in one respect--that it is an incredible commitment that should not be made.  But we diverge over where to point the finger for the current crisis.  I point to the east and he points to the west.

*  That piece demonstrates how good Mearsheimer is good at trolling: 2700+ cites for a piece that treats its opponents as the thinnest of strawmen. 

Monday, April 20, 2015

Always Bet on Xenophobia

I have been in Brussels for several days, and was amused to find our first meetings in the shadow of the European Union.  I tweeted thusly:

I am an ESDP skeptic because the EU tends not to move at all when there is a crisis.  Efforts to develop a common defence stance tend to fail.  Well, with one big exception.  It turns out the EU can move decisively when the threat would be migrants from North Africa.  This should not be that surprising as the Libyan mission in 2011 was shaped by the fear of Libyans fleeing Qaddafi and finding their way to European shores.  Italy and France even threatened the heart of the single market by suggesting they might suspend the Schengen border stuff.

As a scholar of xenophobia, I can only be pleased... buy our revised edition this August, please.  But as someone frustrated by the responses to the Ukraine/Russia crisis, I am, well, more frustrated.  There should be a straightforward division of labor on this: NATO does stuff to improve the credibility of the commitment to the Baltics (bases!) while the EU pours money into the Russian speaking areas of the Baltics so that the locals are unfriendly to any little green men who show up.  Alas, as far as I can tell, the EU ain't doing the latter while Germany and others are blocking the former.  FFS! 

I guess what we need to do is gin up a migration crisis--that thousands of Baltic residents are ready to flood into France.... that would do the trick, right?

Maybe not.   But it does remind me of what one person working at NATO suggested: that the US and Canada open up special immigration opportunities for the Baltics' Russian speaking populations--10-20k per year.  In ten years, the Russian speaking populations of the Baltics would not be a problem geostrategically-speaking.  Hmmm. 

So, maybe multiculturalism FTW in the long term?  Still, I would bet on xenophobia if I could.

Last Day of Canada-Germany Conference: Remaining Thoughts

Because of Chatham House rule, I cannot say what each person said, but it was very interesting to hear directly from Helga Schmid, who is the EU's negotiator at the Iran talks.  She also looked like my aunt, but that is neither here nor there.

Alas, she did not answer my question--she got a ton of them and didn't address my concern: what are the EU and Germany doing in the Baltics?  Given the threat of hybrid warfare--that Putin would stir up trouble in the Russian-speaking populations of Estonia and Latvia--shouldn't the folks with the biggest bags of cash be throwing some of it at the Russian speakers?  That is, give them a clearer/better stake in the status quo, reduce the resentment, and encourage the locals to report to their governments if there is any shenanigans going on. 

Thus far, the answer I can only infer is that the EU and Germany are not doing this.  It is bad enough that some folks are still abiding by the NATO-Russia Founding Act (that created a new council in which Russia could participate in exchange for NATO not basing troops in the east) even though that act is, how shall I say it, ....


Indeed, one of my greatest frustrations in my short time in Europe this week is that there seem to be plenty of people who think not much has changed.  Well, they are right for the wrong reasons--Russia has been futzing around in neighboring states at the expense of the sovereignty/human rights/etc of those places since .... 1991.  I was pleased and surprised that one of the speakers this week started with Nagorno Karabak, which was taken by Armenia in a fit of irredentism but abetted by Russia.  Transnistria came a bit later and then Abkhazia, South Ossetia and now Crimea and Ukraine. 

Perhaps Germans don't mind Russia's tossing out the Helsinki Accords (no violent border changes in Europe) since German irredentism reunification was somewhat counter to the intent of Helsinki.  Anyhow, in conversations at the conference and at NATO, it has become clear that concern with Russia is curvilinear--those closest and furthest (US/Canada) are far more serious than those in between (Germany, France). 

I have some ideas about what we should do, but I don't want to spoil a potential op-ed.  If it does not get published, I will post it here.  But the basic idea is that if multilateralism does not work, then let's try some minilateralism.