Opinion

The Great Debate

Why Russia won’t deal on NATO missile defense

President Barack Obama meets with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin in Mexico, June 18, 2012. REUTERS/Jason Reed

President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin are expected to discuss missile defense, their thorniest bilateral problem, at the G8 summit in Ireland on June 17 and 18. Previous talks between Russia and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization have floundered over the alliance’s refusal to give Moscow legal guarantees that the system would not undermine Russian nuclear forces.

But the diplomatic dance around missile defense cooperation has always been like Kabuki theater — with officials playing out their designated roles. There is only the illusion of real engagement.

Thirty years after President Ronald Reagan’s famous “Star Wars” speech, Washington is still light years away from developing technology capable of distinguishing missile decoys from real warheads. Yet the United States is again talking about this expensive missile defense program as a viable system.

To allay Moscow’s concerns, Washington has invited Russia to participate in the defensive system, helping NATO guard against Iran. But Moscow is unlikely to cooperate on a flawed system against a threat it doesn’t see as imminent.

Civil wars and Syria: lessons from history

A man at a site recently hit by what activists said was a Scud missile in Aleppo’s Ard al-Hamra neighborhood, February 23, 2013. REUTERS/Muzaffar Salman

Most of the international debate about Syria policy focuses on how to remove President Bashar al-Assad from power.

Options for NATO states and key Arab League partners include everything from enlisting Russia’s help in a diplomatic approach, with a conference now envisioned for early June, to arming the rebels to perhaps even supporting them with limited amounts of airpower. Removing Assad, however, would no more end the Syrian conflict than overthrowing Saddam Hussein in 2003 brought stability to Iraq. The United States must create a more integrated overall strategy.

Obama, Romney missing the point on Libya

President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney in Monday’s foreign policy debate are again likely to examine the administration’s handling of an Islamic militia’s murderous attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, and its significance for U.S. policy in the Middle East.

Unfortunately, they may again miss the crucial question raised by the murder of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans: Why is Libya at the mercy of hundreds of lawless militias and without a functioning state one year after U.S. and NATO support enabled rebels to overthrow dictator Muammar Ghadaffi?

What both presidential nominees fail to see is that the United States and its allies went beyond their (and the U.N.’s) declared objective of protecting civilian areas under threat of attack to promoting rapid and violent regime change. This left the country in the hands of a fledgling rebel political leadership, which has tenuous control over the country’s militia groups.

from Commentaries:

Shelved missile shield tests NATO unity

foghAfter just six weeks as NATO secretary-general, Anders Fogh Rasmussen has his first crisis. The alliance may be slowly bleeding in an intractable war in Afghanistan, but the immediate cause is the U.S. administration's decision to shelve a planned missile shield due to have been built in Poland and the Czech Republic.

The shield, energetically promoted by former President George W. Bush, was designed to intercept a small number of missiles fired by Iran or some other "rogue state". But Russia saw it as a threat to its own nuclear deterrent and NATO's new east European members saw it as a useful deterrent against Russian bullying, by putting U.S. strategic assets on their soil.

President Barack Obama's decision to drop plans to install it on Polish and Czech territory leaves those former Soviet satellites feeling betrayed -- because they expended political capital to win parliamentary support -- and more exposed to a resurgent Russia, especially after its use of force against Georgia last year.

from The Great Debate UK:

Brown must create Afghanistan war cabinet

richard-kemp2- Col. Richard Kemp is a former commander of British Forces in Afghanistan and the author of Attack State Red, an account of British military operations in Afghanistan published by Penguin. The opinions expressed are his own. -

Disillusionment with the inability of the Kabul administration to govern fairly or to significantly reduce violence played a role in the reportedly low turnout at the polls in Helmand.

It is critical that this changes if we are to avoid another Vietnam. The South Vietnamese Army, well trained and equipped, lost heart once the U.S. withdrew, collapsing at the first push, partly because their corrupt and ineffective administration was not worth fighting for.

Obama’s plea to EU on Turkey carries risks

Paul Taylor Great Debate– Paul Taylor is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own –

Basking in adulation across Europe, U.S. President Barack Obama chose to expend some of his political capital to urge the European Union to open its doors to Turkey.

This public reaffirmation of long-standing U.S. policy fits in with Obama’s attempt to restore the United States’ standing in the Muslim world, using Turkey as a platform for his first state visit to a Muslim country. It also helps rebuild strategic ties with Ankara that sank to a low ebb under George W. Bush, when Turkey refused to allow U.S. forces to use its territory and airspace to invade Iraq.

NATO and Russia

geadBy Gareth Evans, President, and Alain Délétroz Vice President (Europe) of the International Crisis Group. Any views expressed are the authors’ alone.

The biggest unresolved challenge facing the NATO countries’ leaders when they meet on the Rhine this week is how to manage the organization’s relationship with Russia. Nobody wants to relive the Cold War, but habits of mind from that era persist on both sides, continuing to influence behaviour and inhibiting the clean break from the past that would be in everyone’s interest.

Russia’s invasion of Georgian territory last year seemed to confirm every latent NATO fear about the aggressive resurgence of the beast-from-the-east which the organization was formed sixty years ago to counter. And it is hard to argue that Moscow’s response to the situation in South Ossetia was not an indefensible overreaction, whatever judgment one makes about President Saakashvili’s contribution to the course of events. But what was missing from nearly all the Western reaction was any thoughtful reflection on what its own leaders’ contribution might have been, over the years since the USSR collapsed, to Russia’s newly assertive posture.

Obama honeymoon ends in Europe

Robin Shepherd

– Robin Shepherd is Director, International Affairs at the Henry Jackson Society. His areas of expertise are transatlantic relations, American foreign policy, Middle Eastern relations with the West, Russia, eastern Europe, NATO and the European Union. The views expressed are his own. –

It is to be hoped that President Obama has a developed sense of humour. The man heralded by many as the new Messiah of political renewal lands in London this week not to the chorus of approval he might have expected on his first official trip to Europe but to crowds roaring with anger and frustration at the global economic system which his country underpins.

It isn’t personal – yet. Few but the most unreasonable would hold the new American president responsible for woes that he inherited. Nonetheless, Obama campaigned on a platform of change. The implicit claim that his election was a grand, indeed poetic, instance of the time finding the man will be explicitly rejected – in Europe as well as at home – if he fails to deliver. We know he can give a pretty speech. But at the G-20 summit in London this week, that simply won’t be enough. For the first time at a major international gathering the blinding lights of international scrutiny will pour over Obama’s credentials on substance. His mettle is about to be tested.

Obama and the Afghan narco-state

Bernd Debusmann - Great Debate– Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own. –

To understand why the war in Afghanistan, now in its eighth year, is not going well for the United States and its NATO allies, take a look at two statistics.

One is Afghanistan’s ranking on an international index measuring corruption: 176 out of 180 countries. (Somalia is 180th). The other is Afghanistan’s position as the world’s Number 1 producer of illicit opium, the raw material for heroin.

Obama: plus ça change?

Robin Shepherd is a senior research fellow at Chatham House in London. The opinions expressed are his own.

robinshepherd-cropped1Which part of the word “change” did Barack Obama not understand? A year from now it is a question that many outside America will be asking about his foreign policy.

American forces will still be in Afghanistan; the handover in Iraq will continue, with some  troops coming home as they would have under President Bush; U.S. support for Israel will remain unchanged, while the Annapolis process begun under Obama’s predecessor continues to take its course.

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