Greater Surbiton

The perfect is the enemy of the good

A Russian war against Israel ?

Hezbollah’s secretary-general, Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah, has reportedly gloated over the Russian crushing of Georgia as a defeat for Israel. ‘[Israeli brigadier-general] Gal Hirsch, who was defeated in Lebanon, went to Georgia and they too lost because of him’, said Nasrallah; ‘Relying on Israeli experts and weapons, Georgia learned why the Israeli generals failed… what happened in Georgia is a message to all those the Americans are seeking to entangle in dangerous adventures.’ This opinion is endorsed by Ali Abunimah of Electronic Intifada, who writes in the Tehran Times : ‘The collapse of the Georgian offensive represents not only a disaster for that country and its U.S.-backed leaders, but another blow to the myth of Israel’s military prestige and prowess.’

Nasrallah is not the only sworn enemy of Israel and the US to feel heartened by the Russian victory. According to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: ‘It is not possible for the United States, which even failed to protect its ally Georgia, to attack Iran. The US could not even protect its own ally. US clout in world politics is decreasing. Moreover, it is in a major economic depression.’ He went on: ‘We will see that the US empire will crack and eventually collapse. There is nothing that the US can do against Iran.’

Meanwhile, Moscow is reportedly planning to establish large-scale military, naval and air-bases in Syria, including nuclear-capable Iskander missiles, and to supply previously withheld advanced weapons systems to Iran.

Until the outbreak of the current conflict in the Caucasus, Israel and Georgia had enjoyed close, friendly relations. Israel armed and trained Georgia’s armed forces, apparently supplying Georgia with some $200 million worth of equipment since 2000. Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, for his part, has been a staunch ally of Israel. As Brenda Shaffer, an expert on the Caucasus at Haifa University, writes in Haaretz : ‘One of the first telephone calls I received from overseas in the summer of 2006, while missiles were showering on Haifa and the north, was from a senior adviser in Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili’s bureau. He said the president had instructed him to call me and say he was willing to fly over immediately to display solidarity with Israel in its hour of need.’

Now, however, Russia appears to have scared Israel away from continued support for Georgia, by the threat of increased military support for Iran and Syria. The Israeli foreign ministry has recommended suspending further military cooperation with Georgia, reportedly on the grounds that ‘The Russians are selling many arms to Iran and Syria and there is no need to offer them an excuse to sell even more advanced weapons’, in the words of an Israeli official. This, indeed, was the Russian intention. According to Theodore Karasik, director for research and development at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis, ‘with immense strategic implications, Russia is also trying to send Israel a clear message that Tel Aviv’s military support for Tbilisi in organizing, training and equipping Georgia’s army will no longer be tolerated… Further, Israel’s interest in Caspian oil and gas pipelines is growing and Russia seeks to stop this activity at this time.’

The failure of the West to respond effectively to the Russian assault on Georgia, and Israel’s retreat before Russia’s threats, are nevertheless likely only to strengthen the confidence of other enemies of the US and Israel, including the regime in Tehran. As Shaffer writes: ‘Tehran is learning from the crisis in the Caucasus. If the U.S. fails to help its ally in Tbilisi, Tehran’s power will increase. On the other hand, serious American activity in Moscow’s back yard would teach Tehran a completely different lesson.’

Quite. Russia has opted to fight a new Cold War against the West, so there is no point in labouring under the delusion that it will join with us to contain the Iranian nuclear threat, while our failure to resist Russia in Georgia is emboldening Iran. To sacrifice Georgia – a loyal ally of Britain, the US and Israel, and the third-largest contributor of allied troops to Iraq – in the naive belief that a sufficient amount of grovelling will dissuade one sworn enemy from joining with another, can only strengthen and encourage both enemies.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008 Posted by | Abkhazia, Anti-Semitism, Caucasus, Former Soviet Union, Georgia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jews, Middle East, Red-Brown Alliance, Russia, South Ossetia | 1 Comment

Czechoslovakia 1938 – Georgia 2008 ?

This autumn will mark the seventieth anniversary of the Munich Agreement, when the democratic powers of Western Europe, Britain and France, weakened as they were by the self-hating, ‘anti-war’ defeatism of wide sections of the Western chattering classes – on the left as well as of the right – allowed a fascist, expansionist imperial power to carve up a much smaller and weaker multinational state, using the excuse that it wanted to protect the rights of its co-nationals. Of course, Hitler analogies are very tired, and ‘anti-war’ activists are fond of complaining that all our enemies are ‘Hitler’ – from Nasser through Galtieri to Saddam and Milosevic. But in the case of Vladimir Putin of Russia, their best legitimate counter-argument no longer applies: that however brutal these despots may have been, the states that they ruled were not nearly as powerful as Nazi Germany.

Now, for the first time since World War II, the democratic West is faced by a brutal, neo-fascist, expansionist regime in command of an imperial state whose military might is comparable to that of Hitler’s Third Reich. Putin is an aggressive despot who came to power determined to reverse the defeat and perceived humiliation of Russia in the Cold War, much as Hitler aimed to reverse Germany’s humiliation in World War I (Putin even employed a stunt to cement his power that was highly reminiscent of the 1933 Reichstag fire – the stage-managed ‘terrorist’ bombing of Russian cities by his security services, that could be conveniently blamed on the Chechens). He then used weapons of mass destruction against his own Chechen civilians, destroying the European city of Grozny. He has waged campaigns of persecution against Jewish magnates (‘oligarchs’) and Caucasian ethnic minorities. He has established a fascist-style youth movement (‘Nashi‘). He has suppressed the free Russian media, murdered independent journalists and effectively abolished Russian democracy. He has threatened and bullied his neighbours – even NATO-member Estonia. His state assassins are the likely culprits in the murder of his critic, the British citizen Alexander Litvinenko. And now he has invaded a sovereign state in an attempt both to overthrow its democratically elected government and to annex part of its territory. His own supporters view this act of military aggression as a strike against the US; The Independent‘s Matt Siegel quotes one Russian volunteer: ‘This war is absolutely a war between Russia and America. The biggest mistake was in underestimating us. Now you’ll see what happens.’

At this moment of danger, democratic Europe is paralysed by the same kind of political, intellectual and moral malaise that brought our continent to ruin in the 1930s. Today, fashionable left-liberal hatred of the liberal-democratic order expresses itself not merely in opposition to military intervention abroad and to our own governments, but frequently in a readiness to solidarise with anyone with whom our governments come into conflict – be they Iraqi and Afghan Islamist rebels, Sudanese genocidal murderers, Iranian and Venezuelan demagogues, Chinese Communist apparatchiks, Serb nationalists, Lebanese Shia fundamentalists, and so on. All this is filtered through a self-indulgent anti-Americanism of unparalelled virulence – naturally, the concerns about invading a sovereign state without UN Security Council authorisation that have so fired our left-liberal intelligentsia over Iraq are not being manifested quite so strongly over Russia and Georgia. Meanwhile, our armies are stretched in Iraq and Afghanistan and our publics are war-weary.

This already toxic brew contains another dangerous ingredient – the most likely candidate for a twenty-first century Neville Chamberlain in the form of France’s Nicolas Sarkozy. With France holding the EU presidency, Sarkozy travelled to Moscow to reassure the Russians: ‘It’s perfectly normal that Russia would want to defend the interests both of Russians in Russia and Russophones outside Russia.’ No doubt the French president would have been equally tactful if Putin had invaded France to protect ‘Russophones’ in Marseilles or Nice, but this kind of language highlights the EU’s unreadiness to oppose Russian aggression. This is particularly so given Sarkozy’s disgraceful record of pursuing narrow French national interests at South East Europe’s expense, which involved, among other things, denying Georgia a NATO Membership Action Plan in order to appease Moscow. Sarkozy has joined with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to impose a six-point plan on Georgia, that requires Tbilisi to ‘agree to the start of international talks on the future status of South Ossetia and Abkhazia’, as the Moscow Times puts it, but which makes no reference to Georgian territorial integrity. With Medvedev openly advocating the dismemberment of Georgia, Sarkozy may be preparing the ground for a new Munich Agreement.

Some may ask whether we have any choice but to acquiesce in Russia’s geostrategic coup, given our existing military entanglements in Iraq and Afghanistan, and our concerns with Iran, North Korea, Zimbabwe, etc. Some may ask why we should care about distant Georgia and its territorial integrity. The best way to respond is to turn this question around, and ask whether we can afford not to care, and not to respond to Russian aggression. If we cannot afford to defend Georgia because of our existing military commitments, we presumably cannot afford to defend Ukraine, or NATO-member Estonia, should Putin decide to build upon his success by moving against one of these countries – something which, given his past record, is not unlikely. At what point do we decide that, however costly it may be, we cannot afford to stand idly by as Russia rampages across Eurasia ?

As was the case in the late 1930s, the longer democratic Europe waits before responding to the aggressor, the more difficult and costly the eventual confrontation will be. Putin has successfully crushed and humiliated a staunch Western ally that contributed two thousand troops to Iraq. We cannot legitimately expect our allies to stand by us in Iraq, or in Afghanistan, if we do not stand by them when they are under attack. The states of Eastern and South Eastern Europe – both those inside NATO, and those wanting to join it – are closely watching the Russian operation against Georgia. They may decide that a NATO unable or unwilling to protect a country whose desired future membership it has itself loudly declared is a NATO it cannot rely on, and which is not worth joining or upholding. The Balkans are finally drifting toward stability, as the dominant elements of the Serbian political classes appear finally to have turned away from destructive nationalism – a turn spectacularly demonstrated by the arrest of Radovan Karadzic. Some of them may now feel, as they witness the West’s weak response to the crushing of Georgia, that their turn has been premature, and that they can afford to be a bit more aggressive than they had thought until a week ago. In which case, we may be faced with another front opening up against us in the Balkans.

I write these words, not with any confidence that democratic Europe is likely to take an appropriately firm stance against Russian aggression in the immediate future, but with full confidence that the attack on Georgia is only the beginning, and that we will see further acts of Russian aggression in the months and years to come. Putin is an unreconstructed product of the Soviet intelligence services; a sworn enemy of the liberal-democratic order at home and abroad; an autocrat whose mission it is to reverse Moscow’s defeat in the Cold War.

Let there be no mistake: we are in for the long haul. It is time to prepare a long-term strategy of resistance to the new Russian imperialism so that, if we were caught unprepared this time, we will not be unable to respond next time. Britain must join with the US in sending troops to Georgia, even if these troops at the present time have a purely symbolic deterrent value. We must massively increase our financial and military assistance to our beleaguered ally, and reassure it that it is not being abandoned. Georgia’s accession to NATO and the EU must be accelerated – as, indeed, must the EU accession of Turkey, which will be a crucial ally in the coming confrontation; one that we cannot afford not to have on our side. We must insist that the precondition for any negotiations over the disputed territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia is an acceptance by Moscow of Georgia’s territorial integrity. But this conflict is not just about Georgia, and it will not just be played out over Georgia.

Cold War II has begun. Western leaders must begin to prepare their publics for this reality, which means countering the defeatist and anti-Western currents of thought that are popular among wide sections of the chattering classes, and preparing the publics for the consequences of economic warfare with an enemy that supplies a large part of our energy. Full-scale sanctions against Russia may soon be necessary, and though this will hurt Moscow more than it will hurt us, it will hurt us too. Western leaders must state very loudly and clearly that any further military attack by Moscow against any other state in Eastern or South Eastern Europe will invite a military response from us.

There are several ways in which Moscow’s aggression can be immediately punished. We should expel Russia from the G8 group of industrialised nations, veto its accession to the World Trade Organisation and the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development, suspend the EU’s Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with Russia, abandon all negotiations for a new EU-Russia agreement, suspend the NATO-Russia Council and announce a boycott of the 2014 Winter Olympics at Sochi. Given Moscow’s shameless promotion of the secession of Abkhazia and South Ossetia from Georgia, it is time to raise openly the question of Chechnya which, in terms of size, national homogeneity and viability as an entity, has a much stronger case for independence than either of Georgia’s enclaves. Since Moscow is demanding ‘self-determination’ for South Ossetia, let us openly challenge it to recognise the same right for the much larger Ossetian population in North Ossetia. Finally, our strategy vis-a-vis Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and other trouble-spots must be modified to take account of the new geopolitical front-line; this does not mean we should surrender the battle on any of these fronts, but we cannot continue to fight them as if the Russian threat did not exist.

Dangerous ? The real danger will come from burying our heads in the sand and hoping Putin will go away and leave us alone. It is better to adopt a tough but non-violent stance against Moscow now, than to encourage further Russian expansionism that will compel us to adopt more drastic measures in the future, measures that we may not be able to limit to the non-violent. Toughness in 1938 might have stopped Hitler without war; appeasement in 1938 led to war in 1939.

This article was published today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.

See also John McCain’s excellent article, We are all Georgians

Thursday, 14 August 2008 Posted by | Abkhazia, Afghanistan, Balkans, Caucasus, Former Soviet Union, Former Yugoslavia, France, Georgia, Iran, Iraq, Jews, Kosovo, Middle East, NATO, Red-Brown Alliance, Russia, Serbia, South Ossetia, Transnistria, Turkey | 3 Comments

Three cheers for brave Georgia !

Almost exactly thirteen years after Croatia, with its ‘Operation Storm’, successfully liberated itself from Serbian imperialist occupation, Georgia has attempted an ‘Operation Storm’ of its own. Yet while Croatia was fortunate enough to be faced by a relatively weak oppressor, little Georgia must face the might of the world’s territorially largest country, and one of the world’s most powerful military machines. Although I have recently written here that military means are not a feasible way of reversing the Russian Anschluss with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and though I fear Tbilisi has been provoked into behaving rashly and entering a battle it cannot win, yet my solidarity is entirely with Georgia, her government and her people as they fight for their freedom.

When Georgia won its independence from the Soviet empire in the early 1990s, it paid the heavy price of territorial dismemberment, as Russia punished Georgia by assisting Abkhazian and South Ossetian separatists to break away from Tbilisi’s control. It is, of course, legitimate to ask what the noble principle of ‘national self-determination’ means for the compound land of Georgia, with its (now severed) autonomous entities of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, and what sort of national rights the latter should enjoy. But certain things should be spelled out. Firstly, until they were ethnically cleansed in the early 1990s, there were two and a half times as many ethnic Georgians as ethnic Abkhaz living in Abkhazia, and their right to self-determination is certainly not being respected. Secondly, there are approximately five times as many ethnic Ossetians living in North Ossetia in the Russian Federation as there are in Georgia’s South Ossetia, but North Ossetia’s independence is certainly not on offer from Moscow. Thirdly, freedom for the Caucasian nations requires the end of Russian colonial domination of the region, something that can only be set back by the Russian crushing of Georgia. And fourthly, if Russia is allowed to annex de facto what are effectively its irredentas – in Abkhazia and South Ossetia – it will be encouraged to annex other irredentas: in Moldova’s Transnistria; Ukraine’s Sevastopol; northern Kazakhstan; and so on.

South Ossetia is, unlike the former ‘Republic of Serb Krajina’ in Croatia, a legitimate entity representing a genuine national minority, with a right to enjoy very extensive autonomy – which Tbilisi has offered it. But with an ethnic Ossetian population at the start of the 1990s of only about 65,000 and a total population of about 100,000, South Ossetia is more on the scale of a town or enclave than of a nation: its resident population is approximately one thirtieth the size of Kosova’s; smaller than the Muslim Bosniak population of Serbia’s Sanjak region or the Albanian population of Macedonia (neither of whose right to secede, incidentally, I would recognise); smaller than any European nation other than the mini-states of Monaco, Andorra, Liechtenstein and San Marino. The ‘independence’ of this tiny region means, effectively, its annexation by Russia – which is, in effect, a process that is underway, and which the desperate Georgian offensive is attempting to halt. I have already explained at length why South Ossetia is in no way equivalent to Kosova, either in terms of its constitutional or legal status, or in terms of its actual credentials as a ‘nation’. ‘Self-determination’ does not mean the right of a former colonial power – in this case Russia – to annex enclaves in its former colonies.

This is not a case of Moscow supporting the right of national majorities to secede – the Abkhaz have no majority, not even a plurality, in Abkhazia. Nor is it a case of Moscow supporting the right of autonomous entities of the former Soviet Union to secede – Moscow has extended the same support to the separatists of Transnistria, which enjoyed no autonomous status in the USSR, while denying the right to secede of the Chechen Republic. This is simply a case of naked Russian imperialist expansionism. It is Georgia which is fighting to establish its independence, and Georgia which deserves our support. Georgia is a staunch ally of the West; the third largest contributor of troops to the allied coalition in Iraq. A Russian defeat of Georgia would be a tremendous setback for the West’s credibility and moral standing; it would increase Russian control of our energy supplies and encourage further Russian acts of aggression in the former Soviet Union.

We cannot afford to back down before this act of Russian imperialist aggression. We should defend Georgia with all the means at our disposal. We should send troops to bolster her. We should threaten Russia with sanctions. Heroic Georgia is fighting our fight; she is defending the freedom and security of democratic Europe.

Saturday, 9 August 2008 Posted by | Abkhazia, Caucasus, Croatia, Former Soviet Union, Georgia, Kosovo, Russia, Serbia, South Ossetia, Transnistria | 6 Comments

Why South East Europe should fear President Obama

The presidential contest currently under way in the US has generated unprecedented interest in the UK and Europe. Were it left to us on this side of the pond, Barack Obama would win with a landslide. On account of his youth, his colour and his relatively liberal views, Obama is the darling of Europe’s liberals, while not only they, but also European conservatives widely look forward to his presidency as a welcome departure from the hawkish, abrasive unilateralism of George W. Bush’s administration. Yet while Obama as US president would be likely to go down well with the European and, indeed, the world public, this would above all be for the negative reason that – like Clinton before him – he probably would not do very much in the field of foreign affairs. By not rocking the boat or rapping knuckles, a President Obama would appease European liberals and conservatives alike. But by the same token, he may prove inadequate in meeting very real threats to peace and stability in Europe. Nowhere are these threats more real than in the south-eastern borderlands of our continent: the Balkans, Turkey and the Caucasus…

[The rest of this article can be read at Standpoint.Online]

Thursday, 24 July 2008 Posted by | Abkhazia, Armenians, Balkans, Bosnia, Caucasus, Former Soviet Union, Former Yugoslavia, France, Genocide, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Kosovo, Macedonia, Middle East, Russia, Serbia, South Ossetia, Turkey | 1 Comment

Nicolas Sarkozy – a sorry excuse for a European

When Nicolas Sarkozy defeated Segolene Royal in last year’s French presidential election, there were some grounds for optimism that French foreign policy might take a turn for the better. Indeed, Sarkozy – no anti-American – has taken the important step of opting to bring France back into NATO’s integrated command, thereby reversing one of Charles de Gaulle’s most symbolic acts of Gallic independence vis-a-vis the US. Yet where South East Europe is concerned, Sarkozy has on at least five counts proven himself to be as obstructive and destructive as French presidents come; an enemy of the region and of the cause of European unity.

1) Sarkozy argued against Turkey’s entry into the EU on the grounds that ‘Turkey is in Asia Minor’ and that ‘I won’t be able to explain to French school kids that Europe’s border neighbors are Iraq and Syria.’ He is, meanwhile, no doubt aware that the state of which he is head includes territories in the Caribbean, South America and the Indian Ocean as its integral parts or ‘overseas departments’. It is difficult to believe that the French president genuinely has difficulty with the concept of an EU including Turkey, which was part of the Ancient Greek world and the Roman Empire and whose largest city was for a time the Roman capital, but has no difficulty with the concept of a France that borders on Brazil. Or that he is unaware that EU member Cyprus is, geographically, more wholly Asian than Turkey. Either Sarkozy really is spectacularly ignorant – which I find difficult to believe – or he is cynically playing up to the popular ignorance and chauvinism of his citizens in the most vulgar manner.

2) At the NATO summit in Bucharest in April, Sarkozy vetoed the granting of a Membership Action Plan to Georgia and Ukraine; for all his denial, he appears to have done so because he did not want to offend Russia. This makes no sense in terms of principles; it is as if Norway should have been denied NATO membership so as not to offend Sweden; or Poland, so as not to offend Belarus. A sovereign state’s right to join a military alliance cannot be the subject of a veto by one of its neighbours; otherwise it ceases to be sovereign. The deference to Russia harks back to an era of imperial spheres of influence. Sarkozy appears less interested in the principle of European unity than in pursuing old-style imperial diplomacy on the European continent.

3) Sarkozy has long supported Greece in its dispute with Macedonia without pretending that this has anything to do with principles: ‘I always stressed that we support the Greek position in the name issue. Greeks are our friends.’ In his most recent statement, however, Sarkozy not only argues that Macedonia should back down because ‘the newcomer is the one that should make efforts’, but reportedly also on the grounds that Macedonia is a ‘non-democratic country’. This marks a new low in French efforts to destabilise a fragile country that was deemed sufficiently democratic by the international community to warrant international recognition back in 1992, and whose provisions for minority rights are incomparably better than that of Greece, which does not even recognise the existence of its Macedonian and Turkish minorities. The consequences of a Macedonian collapse for peace and stability in Europe should not need emphasising; Sarkozy is playing his cynical, Gaullist game in the most irresponsible manner possible.

4) While denying Macedonia’s democratic credentials, France under Sarkozy is reverting to the traditional French policy of supporting Serbia, the country primarily responsible for the catastrophes in the Balkans in the 1990s, and whose attempts to undermine Kosova’s independence are endangering peace and stability in the Balkans more than anything else. France’s ambassador in Belgrade, Jean Francois Terral, is reported to have described Serbia as ‘the country with the greatest possibilities in the Balkans’. He is quoted as saying that ‘as far as France is concerned, Serbia has the priority among Western Balkan states’. After all the efforts in which the West has engaged in this decade, to encourage Serbia to change its ways and behave in a responsible manner, France now appears to be reinforcing the old, destructive belief of Serbia’s – that it is a natural regional hegemon with a right to preeminence over its smaller and weaker neighbours. And this without demanding any commensurate change in Serbian policy toward Kosova.

5) While rewarding the two Balkan states – Greece and Serbia – that are pursuing the most destructive, nationalistic policies at the expense of the wider region, Sarkozy has taken efforts to punish Croatia, a state that has turned its back on extreme nationalism. In contrast to Serbia, Croatia since 2000 has abandoned expansionism vis-a-vis Bosnia, abandoned support for anti-Bosnian separatists and come round to full cooperation with the war-crimes tribunal in the Hague. Yet in response to the Irish rejection of the Lisbon Treaty, Sarkozy has announced that France will veto further EU enlargement until the treaty is ratified – a step that above all punishes Croatia, which is the next state slated for EU membership. Showing scant regard for the democratic will of his fellow Europeans, he appears to be willing to punish Croatia and other EU aspirants for the fact that votes within the EU have not gone his way.

Nicolas Sarkozy is a sorry excuse for a European. His foreign policy makes no pretence at being guided by any principles or consistency, and he appears to revel in its selfish, nationally egotistical character. Nevertheless, at a certain level, one must admire his readiness to behave so unreasonably: the EU is a body that rewards the unreasonable and the selfish and that punishes the well behaved. If an EU member – or indeed a non-member – wishes to get its way, it pays for it to be stubborn and obstructive, as then the EU’s spineless, amoral bureaucrats will pander to it with talk about a ‘compromise acceptable to both sides’ or other such cliches designed to conceal appeasement. It is difficult to see that Sarkozy’s policy toward South East Europe is inspired by anything other than short-term, tactical and narrowly national considerations, but he is at least prepared to go about trying to get what he wants.

It would be encouraging if our own British government were to be similarly stubborn and obstructive in pursuit of goals where, justifiably, our policies have diverged from France’s: over EU and NATO expansion; Turkey; Macedonia; etc. Were it to do so, it would achieve more than it does. But I’m not holding my breath.

Friday, 4 July 2008 Posted by | Balkans, Bosnia, Caucasus, Croatia, Former Soviet Union, Former Yugoslavia, France, Georgia, Greece, Kosovo, Macedonia, NATO, Russia, Serbia, Turkey | 1 Comment

Gordon Brown blunders over Cyprus

Following Gordon Brown’s failure, at the NATO summit in Bucharest in April, to support the US on the question of Macedonia’s, Ukraine’s and Georgia’s NATO integration and to oppose the French and German appeasement of Russia and pandering to Greek nationalist megalomania, one might be forgiven for wondering if our new prime minister has any vision whatsoever in the field of foreign affairs. Unfortunately, his latest initiative vis-a-vis Cyprus does not give much ground for optimism. On the 5th of this month, Brown received the President of Cyprus, Dimitris Christofias (pictured), and signed with him a Memorandum of Common Understanding. The text commits Britain and Cyprus to the common goal of a bi-zonal, bi-communal federal Cypriot state based on a single sovereignty as a solution to the long-running Cyprus dispute. The agreement was immediately condemned by Mehmet Ali Talat, the moderate leader of the internationally unrecognised Turkish Cypriot entity, because it pledged Britain to a model for a resolution of the Cyprus dispute that went beyond what Talat’s administration is prepared to concede, at least openly. As Ilter Turkmen of the Turkish Daily News writes, ‘One feels an urge to ask whether the support that the Gordon Brown government gives Turkey is weakened, compared to that of Tony Blair.’

Brown’s move is a blunder on every count. Christofias and Talat are both moderate leaders who seemed genuinely committed to reaching a mutually acceptable settlement; Britain has now helped to drive a wedge between them. However laudable the model for a Cyprus settlement outlined in the Memorandum may be, it is difficult to see how simply affirming support for it, in a manner that alienates one of the sides whose consent would be essential for its realisation, in any way helps to promote a settlement. The Memorandum has damaged the moderate Talat’s own domestic standing; he has now come under fire at home for having prepared the ground for it by allowing his Greek Cypriot counterpart to set the agenda in the reunification talks. The Greek Cypriot side was the one responsible for torpedoing the 2004 Annan Plan for Cyprus’s reunification; by undermining the moderate Turkish Cypriot leader and encouraging Greek Cypriot intransigence, Brown is making a solution to the Cyprus dispute less, rather than more likely.

Talat is the protege of the reformist, pro-European regime of the Justice and Development Party, currently in power in Turkey in the form of President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The undemocratic, ultra-nationalist elements that control the Turkish state apparatus are currently attempting to oust this regime through a judicial coup d’etat; any regime that replaces it is likely to be less democratic, more oppressive of the Turkish Kurds, more aggressive vis-a-vis northern Iraq and, indeed, less cooperative over Cyprus. Brown’s Memorandum with Christofias represents a further blow to our beleaguered friends in Istanbul. With France and Germany working to keep Turkey out of the EU while appeasing Russia in the Black Sea region, a region where we need Turkey’s cooperation, Brown’s blow against Istanbul is simply nonsensical.

Finally, and most inexplicably of all, Brown has chosen to reward Cyprus, a country that, relative to its size, is pursuing the most selfishly and destructively anti-European policy of any EU member. Although Christofias is undoubtedly an improvement on his bone-headed predecessor Tassos Papadopoulos, Cyprus under his presidency nevertheless remains committed to undermining, for its own petty nationalistic reasons, the two most threatened states in the Balkans (aside from Bosnia) – Kosova and Macedonia. Britain really ought to be punishing Cyprus, not rewarding it.

Nice one, Gordon.

Thursday, 12 June 2008 Posted by | Balkans, Caucasus, Cyprus, Former Yugoslavia, Georgia, Greece, Kosovo, Macedonia, NATO, Russia, Serbia, Turkey | Leave a comment

We can and must reverse the Caucasian Anschluss

Nobody should be surprised that Moscow’s mayor Yuri Luzhkov has called for Russia to annex the Ukrainian port of Sevastopol. Such a move would be the logical next step to the effective Anschluss with the secessionist Georgian territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia that Russia has carried out since March. Russia has lifted sanctions against Abkhazia, established diplomatic relations with both Abkhazia and South Ossetia, unilaterally increased its military presence in Abkhazia – in violation of its 1994 peacekeeping treaty with Georgia – and shot down at least one Georgian spy plane over Abkhazia, according to the UN. Russia had already granted citizenship to most Abkhazians and South Ossetians, and the Russian rouble is the de facto currency of both break-away territories. This Anschluss punishes the Georgia of President Mikheil Saakashvili for its attempts to draw closer to the West. A Russian annexation of Sevastopol, as called for by Luzhkov, would similarly punish Ukraine. Through this form of territorial expansion and the dismemberment of neighbouring states, Russia seeks to exert control over its former empire in the ex-USSR. So long as it meets no effective resistance from the West, there is every reason to believe that this expansionist, imperialistic policy – reminiscent, in a somewhat more measured form, of that practised by the regime of Slobodan Milosevic in the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s – will only escalate in the years to come.

Georgia and Ukraine are not alone in being threatened in this way. Through its support for the separatist territory of Transnistria, Russia exerts a degree of influence over Moldova. But the familiar cases of Georgia and Moldova could be only the start of a potentially limitless Russian policy of expansionism and trouble-making. There are about eight million ethnic Russians in the Ukraine; over four million in Kazakhstan; and smaller Russian populations in every former Soviet state – potential irredentas, should Moscow choose to activate them. Then there are existing or potential conflicts between different non-Russian nationalities. The Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh is the most actual, but Central Asia’s patchwork quilt of ethnic groups cutting across arbitrary borders provides the scope for plenty more such conflicts, should a Central Asian state be in danger of drifting too far out of Moscow’s orbit. Why should an increasingly powerful and aggressive Russia restrain itself in this regard if the method turns out to work well in Georgia ? A Western alliance that cannot muster itself to defend with any unity or resolution a NATO aspirant that borders on an existing NATO member, and on the Black Sea, is unlikely to act as a deterrent in more distant Central Asia.

The idea that Russia might limit its destructive policy to its own ‘backyard’ has been comprehensively discredited by the fact that Moscow has pursued exactly the same policy toward Serbia and Kosovo – which were not even in the Soviet sphere during the Cold War – as it has toward Georgia. In other words, Moscow has prevented a resolution to the Kosovo question, and dangerously heightened tension and instability in the Balkans, in order to hinder Serbia’s Euro-Atlantic integration, destabilise the newly independent pro-Western state of Kosovo and disrupt NATO and EU expansion more generally. This has been our payback for the Western support of Russia’s assault on Chehnya in 1999, which took place soon after NATO’s liberation of Kosovo. We should expect a similar payback for our weak response to the Caucasian Anschluss.

Georgia in the late 2000s is, therefore, equivalent to the Czechoslovakia of the late 1930s; at our peril, we treat it as a far-away country of which we know nothing. But just as there were very serious practical obstacles to defending post-Munich Czechoslovakia, so there are obstacles to defending rump Georgia. On the one hand, a NATO-backed Georgian military offensive to liberate Abkhazia – in the tradition of the US-backed Croatian offensive that successfully liberated Serbian-occupied central Croatia in 1995 – is not militarily feasible. Furthermore, like Czechoslovakia in the 1930s and Bosnia in the 1990s, Georgia is a country apparently deemed expendable by a large part of democratic Western Europe, as suggested by the successful German-led resistance to granting Georgia a Membership Action Plan at the NATO summit in Bucharest in April. The US, Georgia’s staunchest Western ally, faces a tough Russian opponent, and it has only feeble backup.

Yet for all the obstacles in the way of a successful defence of Georgia, the strongest cards are ultimately in our hands. For all that Georgia is partially occupied, it is also partially liberated. And it is partially liberated thanks to the Western victory over the Soviet Union in the Cold War, a victory that did not involve any direct fighting between Soviet troops and the troops of the Western alliance. We won the Cold War because ultimately our political and socio-economic system was more attractive to the peoples of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union than was the Communist system, and because the Soviets’ greatly inferior economic power did not ultimately allow them to sustain their military confrontation with us. Essentially the same factors can enable us to defend Georgia and win back Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

The ‘us’, in this instance, means the US, the UK, and other democratic states willing to support us in defending Georgia. The NATO summit in Bucharest showed that our leading West European allies are less than committed to the cause of Ukrainian and Georgian membership of NATO. With German Chancellor Andrea Merkel’s Social Democratic coalition partners veering toward a policy of ‘equidistance’ between Washington and Moscow, Germany is unlikely to be a pillar of support for the defence of Georgia. France’s Nicolas Sarkozy supported the German position on Georgia and Ukraine at Bucharest and even supported Greece’s veto of Macedonia’s NATO membership, but still managed to come under fire from domestic opponents who accused him of ‘Atlanticism’. The UK’s own Gordon Brown failed to stand by the US, Ukraine and Georgia at Bucharest, a failure that can most charitably be attributed to his inexperience as a prime minister but, more worryingly, may be an expression of a Brownite departure from Blairism that would bode ill for the Atlantic alliance and British security. It is essetial that Brown not allow fashionable anti-Americanism or the narrow national agendas being pursued by some of our West European allies to damage relations with our most important ally. Georgia is an issue over which British interests are at stake and which is close to the heart of John McCain, the person most likely to be the next US president. It is an issue over which we can reaffirm the Atlantic alliance.

The US is already building closer bilateral relations with former Communist countries over and above those which they enjoy through NATO. Poland seeks a stronger bilateral military relationship with the US because it understandably feels that NATO and the EU alone are insufficent to meet its security needs. The US has signed a Declaration of Strategic Partnership and Cooperation with Macedonia as a response to NATO’s failure at Bucharest to invite Macedonia to join the alliance. The US’s military support for Georgia has long been very close. Britain should fully support all these relationships and participate in them as much as possible. Closer relations with East European states, both those that are in the EU and those that want to join, promoted in partnership with the US, is one way that the UK can match the plans of France’s Nicolas Sarkozy for a Mediterranean Union.

Increased US-UK support for Georgia, ideally involving Turkey and other NATO members, is one way that we can promote Georgian security. But actually to reunify Georgia involves taking this policy a step further. It means fighting the battle for Abkhazia and South Ossetia, not through force, but through persuasion, as we fought and won the battle for Eastern Europe during the Cold War. The US and UK should promote visa-free travel for Georgian citizens in the US and EU. We should provide scholarships for Georgian students to study at universities in the West and subsidised internships for young Georgian professionals to work in Western institutions and companies. We should extend these benefits to the people of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, with the promise that they will eventually enjoy all the benefits of EU membership. And we should establish information services in Abkhaz, Ossetian and other languages spoken in Georgia’s two break-away regions, to ensure that the Abkhazian and South Ossetian people are made aware of all the present and future benefits that will accrue to them if they choose the European path.

Meanwhile, Georgia’s membership of the EU should be brought about as quickly as possible. The Turkish Cypriots were once as implacably opposed to the reunification of Cyprus as the Abkhazians and South Ossetians are to the reunification of Georgia. That they endorsed overwhelmingly the 2004 Annan Plan for Cyprus’s reunification was above all due to the economic promise of EU membership and to the desire to share in the prosperity enjoyed by the internationally recognised Cypriot state. Georgia’s salvation lies ultimately in its ability to attract the Abkhazians and South Ossetians in this way, which is why its EU membership should not be held hostage to the progress of its reunification.

We cannot compromise on the principle of Georgian territorial integrity. But that does not mean that we cannot play the role of honest broker, and offer the Abkhazians and South Ossetians very real guarantees in exchange for their readiness to embrace the process of European integration within the Georgian framework. With the ultimate aim being a form of ‘broad internal sovereignty’ for Abkhazia and South Ossetia within a united Georgia, in line with existing Georgian government proposals, we can initiate the dual processes of reconciliation without preconditions between Georgia and its break-away regions, and of integration of Abkhazia and South Ossetia into the Euro-Atlantic framework. The launching of the processes of reconciliation and Euro-Atlantic integration will realistically have to come before any Abkhazian or South Ossetian acceptance of inclusion within Georgia, as the leaderships and populations of both break-away regions will not accept any such inclusion at this stage. But the ultimate goal would be, that as they begin to accrue the benefits of association with the EU and US, and as they gain confidence in the readiness of the Western alliance to guarantee their security, they would ultimately accept inclusion within Georgia. Of course, we would simultaneously need to reassure Tbilisi that the process of Abkhazian and South Ossetian Euro-Atlantic integration is the path to Georgia’s reunification, not to the formalisation of its partition. Our readiness to work with Abkhazian and South Ossetian separatists need not imply any recognition of the legitimacy of their separatist goals, any more than the British government’s readiness to work with Sinn Fein implies support for the Irish Republican goal of a united Ireland.

A peaceful, bloodless policy of this kind cannot legitimately be accused by anyone of being ‘aggressive’ toward Russia. Yet by extending the benefits offered by the Euro-Atlantic community to territories considered by Moscow to lie within its sphere, we would be forcing it to compete with us in a civilised manner, in the realm of economic incentives and civic progress. This might serve to deter future Russian adventures of the kind in which it has engaged in the South Caucasus. It might even provide a little catalyst to the process of democratic change within Russia itself.

This article was published today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008 Posted by | Abkhazia, Caucasus, Former Soviet Union, Georgia, NATO, Russia, South Ossetia, Transnistria, Turkey | Leave a comment

NATO’s double disgrace

An old joke goes, Q: What’s the first thing you learn in French military academy ? A: How to say ‘I surrender’ in German.

Now that France, Germany, Britain and the best part of Europe are united in the NATO alliance, however, it’s probably time we adopted a more uniform military system, and all learned how to say ‘I surrender’ in Russian simultaneously. At this week’s NATO summit in Bucharest, the leaders of France, Germany and other NATO countries rejected the US proposal to invite Ukraine and Georgia into the Membership Action Plan for NATO, in order to appease Russia. George W. Bush was virtually alone at the summit in arguing that welcoming new East European states into the alliance would both encourage them in the path of democratic reform and affirm support for their independence: ‘Welcoming them into the Membership Action Plan would send a signal to their citizens that if they continue on the path to democracy and reform they will be welcomed into the institutions of Europe. It would send a signal throughout the region that these two nations are, and will remain, sovereign and independent states.’ But this enlightened view was trumped by the grubby calculations of realpolitik. As French Prime Minister Francois Fillon has made clear, ‘We are opposed to the entry of Georgia and Ukraine because we think it is not the right response to the balance of power in Europe and between Europe and Russia, and we want to have a dialogue on this subject with Russia.’

It is not clear why the right of Ukraine and Georgia to join NATO should be held hostage to relations with Russia. Supposedly, they are independent states, not simply part of Russia’s imperial backyard – a backyard which, presumably, we no longer recognise in this enlightened, post-imperial, post-Cold-War age. If NATO is not directed against Russia, then Russia can have no possible objection to NATO expansion, and there is no point in recognising any such objection as legitimate. But if NATO really is directed against Russia, then it is a pretty puny alliance which allows the enemy a veto over its expansion. Ultimately, every sovereign state, from Russia to Ukraine and Georgia, has the right to form alliances with other sovereign states. To deny a smaller state this right in order to appease a larger, stronger state is shamefully disrespectful of the first state’s sovereignty.

If the NATO powers lack the will to stand up to Russia, it raises the question of what precise purpose NATO serves. The alliance has proved less than adequate in mobilising troops from member states to fight the Taliban. The very same states that wish to appease Russia in Europe – France and Germany – have been less than forthcoming when it is a question of providing troops to fight the enemies of humanity in Afghanistan. France has now belatedly agreed to provide the minimum additional number of troops to Afghanistan to avoid the threatened Canadian withdrawal from Kandahar. But even this move faces stiff domestic opposition in France.

Nor has the Bucharest summit upheld the noble principle that NATO should serve as a framework within which the states of ‘new Europe’, along with ‘old Europe’, can coexist and cooperate. Not only did the NATO states let down Ukraine and Georgia, but they could not even muster the will to pressurise Greece into allowing Macedonia to join the alliance without first having to change its name. Macedonia’s membership in NATO is crucial for the stability of South East Europe, and Greece’s policy of trying to crush the sovereignty and national identity of a European country has nothing to do with democratic values, and much more in common with fascist traditions – it was Greece’s 1930s fascist dictator Ioannis Metaxas who pioneered the most extreme measures to forcibly Hellenise the Macedonian national minority in Greek Macedonia.

This point was amply reaffirmed by recent Greek attempt to interfere with freedom of expression in Macedonia, by pressurising the latter over the appearance of billboards in the Macedonian capital of Skopje, showing a swastika superimposed on a Greek flag. The billboards were private advertisements for which the Macedonian government was not responsible; the Greek regime’s attempt to link Macedonia’s NATO bid to its removal of these billboards puts it on a par with the Muslim fundamentalists who rioted over the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammed. Greece has been a very poor member of NATO; it has only about 130 troops in Afghanistan – the same number as Macedonia, a non-member with one-fifth its population. Nevertheless, a senior NATO source apparently blamed Macedonia for Greece’s veto of its NATO bid.

The sad truth is that the widely reviled Bush has shown himself to be a much better European than France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy. Although Sarkozy is an improvement on the last two French presidents, is at least relatively pro-American, and has agreed to bring France back into the NATO integrated command structure, yet he has persistently shown himself ready to put considerations of narrow national interest above higher principles – and to justify it in the crudest terms. He argued against Turkey’s entry into the EU on the grounds that ‘Turkey is in Asia Minor’ and that ‘I won’t be able to explain to French school kids that Europe’s border neighbors are Iraq and Syria.’ (This from the president of a republic that includes territories in the Caribbean, South America and the Indian Ocean as its integral parts or ‘overseas departments’). He supports Greece against Macedonia in the ‘name dispute’ on similarly principled grounds: ‘I always stressed that we support the Greek position in the name issue. Greeks are our friends.’

The US has shown itself to be more principled and more pro-European than France. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has contradicted NATO’s source, and stated unambiguously that Macedonia was not to blame for the failure of its NATO bid. The US has now promised to boost assistance to, and bilateral relations with Macedonia; one source suggests that this may even take the form of a strategic partnership similar to the one that the US has with Israel. It is a sad day for NATO when the US must bypass it to support the more youthful and vulnerable members of the European family.

One of the sorriest aspects of this dismal NATO summit was the failure of our own Prime Minister Gordon Brown to support the US, either over Ukraine and Georgia or over Macedonia. The charitable explanation is that this was the inaction of a PM inexperienced in foreign affairs who still has not found his feet. The more worrying possibility is that Brown is reacting to Tony Blair’s controversial experience by attempting to be less pro-American and more ‘pro-European’ (i.e. anti-European but pro-Franco-German). This would be a mistake. If it is left to the US, alone of all the major NATO countries, to stand up for the East Europeans, this will not be good for European unity.

Saturday, 5 April 2008 Posted by | Balkans, Caucasus, Croatia, Former Soviet Union, Former Yugoslavia, France, Georgia, Greece, Macedonia, NATO, Russia, Turkey | Leave a comment

A united Cyprus: First fruit of Kosova’s independence ?

We were warned that recognising Kosova’s independence would open a Pandora’s box, triggering global chaos by encouraging innumerable other secessionist territories across the world to declare their own independence in the hope of recognition. The threatened consequence was always something of a non-sequitur, since the secessionist territories most frequently cited – Northern Cyprus, South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Transnistria – had all already seceded from the countries to which they formally belong. How could recognition of Kosova’s independence spark the secession of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), when the TRNC had already declared independence from Cyprus back in 1983, twenty-five years before Kosova was recognised ? It’s a riddle to which President Vladimir Putin of Eurasia no doubt has the answer, one that he may reveal to us in the course of his current propaganda war against Oceania. Putin is himself fond of the supposed Kosova – TRNC parallel. It is therefore particularly poignant that the recognition of Kosova’s independence appears to be having the exact opposite result to the one that he and other prophets of doom predicted. Namely, on Friday, the Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat and Cyprus’s newly elected president Dimitris Christofias met and agreed to restart negotiations on reunifying the country.

There is reason to believe that this positive development is not unrelated to the independence of Kosova, as Professor Mehmet Ozcan of the International Strategic Research Organisation has persuasively suggested. Under Christofias’s hardline nationalist predecessor Tassos Papadopoulos, it was the Greek Cypriots, not the Turkish Cypriots, who were most to blame for obstructing Cypriot unity. In a referendum in 2004, the UN’s Annan Plan for Cyprus’s reunification was overwhelmingly approved by the Turkish Cypriot electorate but, on Papadopoulos’s urging, overwhelmingly rejected by the Greek Cypriot electorate. Papadopoulos believed that, with Cyprus entering the EU and able to veto Turkey’s entry, he would eventually be able to extract more favourable terms from the Turks than those represented by the Annan Plan. It is also entirely possible that he actually preferred a permanently divided Cyprus to one reunited on the basis of an Annan-style compromise; at the very least, he was prepared to postpone reunification for the forseeable future. From the perspective of most Greek Cypriots who would like in principle to see their country reunited, this strategy only made sense if it was indeed going to lead to unity on favourable terms in the long run. But the upcoming recognition of Kosova’s independence showed them that the international community could not be relied upon to uphold the principle of the inviolability of state borders indefinitely, particularly when it was a question of a country, such as Serbia or Cyprus, whose leaders were behaving consistently unreasonably. Hence the surprise electoral victory of the moderate Christofias last month. Symbolically, the first round of Cyprus’s presidential election, in which Papadopoulos came third and was therefore knocked out, took place on 17 February – Kosova’s independence day.

As leader of the Communist AKEL party, Christofias represented the non-nationalist option. AKEL has long upheld a cross-national ideology of brotherhood and unity between Greek and Turkish Cypriots and has a history of persecution at the hands of both Greek and Turkish extremists. When, prior to his meeting with Talat, Christofias was asked by a reporter whether they would be drinking Greek or Turkish coffee (they are the same drink), Christofias replied ‘Cypriot coffee, we will both be having Cypriot coffee’. Christofias and AKEL should not be viewed through rose-tinted spectacles; they opportunistically collaborated with Papadopoulos, helping to bring him to power and defeat the Annan Plan. Christofias continues to follow the Greek-nationalist line of insisting that Macedonia change its name. Nevertheless, under his leadership, Cyprus’s prospects for reunification seem incomparably better than they did barely more than a month ago.

The other element of the equation is that Talat did not respond to Kosova’s recognition by launching a new separatist drive, as the anti-Kosovar prophets of doom had predicted. Indeed, he explicitly rejected a parallel between Kosova and the TRNC: ‘We do not see a direct link between the situation in Kosovo and the Cyprus Problem. These problems have come up through different conditions.’ And he is right. Although it was the Greek side that was primarily responsible for provoking the crisis that culminated in the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974, and although Turkey arguably had a legal basis for its invasion, nevertheless the form that this invasion took, involving as it did the dismemberment of the country and the ethnic-cleansing of the Greek population of the north, constituted an act of aggression and conquest. The Turkish Cypriot entity that became the TRNC in 1983 was therefore an artificial product of foreign invasion and ethnic cleansing – in contrast to Kosova, which was established as an autonomous region under the legitimate Yugoslav authorities, and whose Albanian demographic majority predated its conquest by Serbia in 1912.

Talat may or may not recognise this distinction between Kosova and the TRNC. But he is undoubtedly aware of something of which the prophets of doom are not, but which is blindingly obvious: the fact that Kosova is being recognised internationally does not mean that other secessionist territories will be recognised internationally. The ‘Pandora’s box’ model would only hold true if a secessionist territory, encouraged by Kosova’s recognition, could translate this sense of encouragement into international recognition. As there is no way for a secessionist territory to do this, the model does not hold. The prospects of South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Transnistria for recognition by Russia may have improved, but this would be because of a conscious policy decision on Moscow’s part, not because the territories in question felt ‘inspired’ by Kosova’s recognition. Talat is no knee-jerk separatist but a rational, moderate politician who supported the Annan Plan; he has no reason to jeopardise the Turkish Cypriot community’s chance to enter the EU because of Kosova.

There is a final lesson to be learned from this. Although Cyprus has much more justice on its side vis-a-vis the TRNC than Serbia has vis-a-vis Kosova, yet it is Christofias who speaks the language of reconciliation and ‘Cypriot coffee’. Serbia’s leaders have never been able to speak in this way to the Kosova Albanians; they did not speak of Kosova and Serbia as lands that belonged alike to Serbs and Albanians, or speak of the fraternity of the two peoples. Christofias may understand something that Serbia’s Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica and President Boris Tadic clearly do not: that if you want to keep your country united and prevent one of its peoples from seceding, you need to treat the latter as your fellow countrymen and women, not as the enemy.

This is a lesson that should be learned by all regimes around the world whose oppression drives subject peoples to secede: if you want to avoid losing part of your territory, it pays to be reasonable. Meanwhile, the leaders of the Western alliance may congratulate themselves on having, with their decision to recognise Kosova, helped to promote stability and reconciliation in South East Europe and the resolution of an old conflict in their ranks.

This article was published today on the website of the Henry Jackson Society.

Monday, 24 March 2008 Posted by | Abkhazia, Balkans, Caucasus, Cyprus, Former Yugoslavia, Greece, Kosovo, Macedonia, Russia, Serbia, South Ossetia, Transnistria, Turkey | Leave a comment

John McCain would be best for South East Europe

mccainThe democratic choice is an easier one for progressives to make in the UK than it is in the US. Over here, the ruling Labour Party is more progressive than the Conservative opposition on both foreign and domestic issues. But in the US, things are not so simple. Were I an American citizen, I would be inclined to vote Democrat over domestic issues – abortion, taxation, etc. But I have no doubt that the interests of South East Europe would be better served by John McCain as president than by either Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama.

Bill Clinton bears a very large share of responsibility for the problems faced by the Balkans and Caucasus today. These are, in particular, a dismembered, non-functioning Bosnia; an anti-Western, disruptive Serbia; and a dismembered Georgia. The problem was not that Clinton was a particularly reactionary president in world affairs, but that he simply was not very interested in them, something that resulted in a failure of leadership. The mess in Bosnia is above all the fault of the former British Conservative government of John Major and the former French Socialist regime of the late Francois Mitterand; they were the champions of appeasement and the architects, along with Serbia’s Slobodan Milosevic and Croatia’s Franjo Tudjman, of Bosnia’s dismemberment. Clinton could and should have insisted upon a change in Western policy vis-a-vis Bosnia upon becoming president. Instead, he chose to defer to his pro-Belgrade European allies, Britain and France, not wishing to fall out with them over something trivial like genocide in the heart of Europe. This was not only a moral failing, but a betrayal of US interests; the disastrous Anglo-French policy and Clinton’s vacillating support for it greatly damaged both transatlantic relations and the Balkans. There are times when Europe needs American leadership; Bosnia was one of them.

After the initialling of the Dayton Peace Accords in November 1995, Clinton continued to neglect Bosnia, allowing the indicted war-criminals Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic to escape arrest – primarily because he did not want to risk American casualties in arrest operations. Nor does Clinton deserve particular credit over Kosova; it is highly questionable whether the US would have acted to prevent the genocide there in 1999 had not Major and Mitterand been replaced in the meantime by Tony Blair and Jacques Chirac. NATO’s liberation of Kosova should have been followed up by the prompt recognition of its independence, while the Russians were in no position to cause such trouble for us as they are today. We could have ‘punished’ the Serbia of Milosevic with Kosova’s independence, instead of the Serbia of today, led as it is by the relatively pro-Western President Boris Tadic. But that problem, too, was allowed to fester; its resolution today is proving much more difficult than it need have been.

Over Russia and the Caucasus, too, Clinton, like George Bush Snr before him, showed a disastrous failure of leadership. With Russian politics in a state of flux, with the pro-Western Boris Yeltsin in power in Moscow and financially dependent on the West, a golden opportunity existed to push Russian policy in the Caucasus in a less imperialistic direction. The Western powers should have acted decisively to halt the dismemberment of Georgia in the early 1990s and prevent the break-away regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia from falling under Russia’s exclusive control. We should have recognised the independence of Chechnya, preempting Yeltsin’s violent assault on the country in 1994. But as is so often the case, the dovish policy is the one most likely to lead to confrontation in the long-run – think of Neville Chamberlain and Munich. Our failure to engage in the Caucasus, and Blair’s shameful support for Vladimir Putin over Chechnya in 1999, have been richly rewarded: Georgia, an aspiring NATO member, faces perpetual dismemberment, while an aggressive, ungrateful Putin has reentered the Balkans with a vengeance with the deliberate aim of derailing the region’s Euro-Atlantic integration. Chechnya proved to be the poison of Russian democracy and Russian-Western friendship; a Russian president willing and able to use weapons of mass destruction against his Chechen citizens is unlikely to respect democratic freedoms in Russia proper, and an undemocratic, authoritarian Russian regime is more likely to be hostile to the West.

In fairness, Russia is not solely responsible for the mess in the Caucasus; Georgia’s brutally chauvinistic former president Zviad Gamsakhurdia was one of the architects of his country’s dismemberment, as was the Chechen leader Dzhokhar Dudayev, who supported the Abkhazians. The people of Abkhazia and South Ossetia had legitimate grievances against Gamsakhurdia’s regime and its successors in Tbilisi. These are all issues that a more forward-looking US policy could have helped to resolve, but did not. 

I fear, therefore, the consequences for South East Europe of a US president who is dovish, uninterested in or unserious about foreign policy. Hillary Clinton has always worked hand-in-glove with Bill in the political sphere, and should share responsibility with him for his disastrous Bosnia policy. Indeed, the story is that her influence made it worse; that she read Robert Kaplan’s truly dreadful book ‘Balkan Ghosts’ and passed it on to her husband; this book, filled as it was with crude stereotypes about the Balkans (along the lines of ‘ancient ethnic hatreds’), encouraged the perception of the Bosnian war as an expression of intractable ethnic conflict in which no moral issues were at stake, militating against any intention Bill might have had to resist Serbian aggression. Be that as it may, Hillary was more frank in welcoming Kosovo’s independence than Obama, who appears to see Balkan politics largely through the prism of his need to win the goodwill of the Serbian and Greek lobbies in the US. Hence his letter to the Serbian Unity Congress, in which he stated: ‘I support and shall help in every possible way development of the dialog between all sides in Kosova because I believe that peace and stability can be reached only by solutions acceptable for all sides’ – not far from an endorsement of the Serbo-Russian position on Kosova, which insists on a Serbian veto on any settlement. Hence also Obama’s endorsement of the Greek-nationalist position on Macedonia. These acts may be motivated by simple electoral opportunism, but they do not bode well for a principled and forward-looking US policy toward the Balkans should Obama become president. In flirting with the US’s Serbian and Greek lobbies, Obama is flirting with groups that encompass ultra-right-wing, Christian-fundamentalist, Muslim-hating bigots.

There are several reasons to believe that McCain would follow a more serious and principled policy toward South East Europe than either Clinton or Obama. He is aware of the importance of what he calls a ‘progressive Turkey’ as a strategic partner of the US and a beacon of Muslim democracy, and of the mutual inter-relatedness of democracy and stability in Turkey and Iraq. Turkey is both the most important Balkan country in world affairs and a state that borders on Iraq; the Balkans and the Middle East are adjacent, interlocking regions; McCain’s commitment to staying the course in Iraq is therefore most likely to promote stability in the Balkans.

McCain was correct to oppose Congressional recognition of the Armenian Genocide (here I break ranks with Norman Geras). The Ottoman Empire in 1915 was undoubtedly guilty of genocide against the Armenians, and Turkey should recognise this genocide. But it is not for an outside power like the US to single out this historic crime as uniquely totemic and worthy of recognition, particularly given that the US Congress has taken no parallel steps to recognise the genocidal crimes carried out by Russia and the Balkan Christian states against Ottoman and Caucasian Muslims during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Why should the US recognise the Ottoman genocide of one million Armenians, but not the Balkan Christian genocide of over six-hundred thousand Ottoman Muslims in 1912-13, when the latter crime was an immediate catalyst of the former ? The Turks would be entirely justified in taking offence at such double standards, and McCain is entirely correct that the US should be developing its relationship with Ankara, not creating new barriers to it – though he is also far from uncritical in his support for Turkey.

McCain was an early supporter of Kosova’s independence. He stood by the oppressed Kosova Albanians before it became fashionable in Washington to do so, and continued to do so despite the support given by many right-wing Republicans – largely for anti-Clinton and anti-Islamic reasons – to the anti-Albanian policies of Milosevic and subsequent Serb-nationalist politicians. A Republican president who is ready to put a combination of US strategic interests and morality above petty sectarian domestic feuds and religious hatred is more likely to act in South East Europe’s best interests.

Finally, McCain led a delegation of US senators to Tbilisi in August 2006, to express unconditional support for Georgia’s territorial integrity and to challenge the presence of Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia, suggesting they be replaced by a UN or OSCE force. Although Moscow likes to draw a false parallel between Kosova and South Ossetia, in reality, secessionist South Ossetia is more like the Serb-controlled enclave in northern Kosova – an expression of the imperialism of a larger neighbour that seeks to punish a former colony for seeking independence by dismembering it. Georgia is not Russia’s backyard, and any policy that treats it as being so will only bolster the anti-Western Russian neo-empire that has arisen under Putin to become a dangerous enemy of the West. McCain is entirely correct in his belief that in defending Georgia, the West will be defending itself. His suggestion that Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia be replaced by a UN force should be welcomed by all multilateralist opponents of unilateral intervention by great powers in the internal affairs of other countries. But don’t hold your breath.

Thursday, 20 March 2008 Posted by | Abkhazia, Balkans, Bosnia, Caucasus, Former Soviet Union, Former Yugoslavia, Georgia, Greece, Iraq, Islam, Kosovo, Macedonia, Middle East, Russia, Serbia, South Ossetia, Turkey | 3 Comments