Sunday, April 30, 2006

A Modern Monarchy

For some, monarchies might look somewhat anachronistic in our modern world.

But the reality is often different. And Sweden is certainly a case to that point.

That's been very obvious these days as we have been celebrating the 60th birthday of King Carl XIV Gustaf.

It's been somewhat hectic.

A major private party at Drottningholm Castle yesterday - well, into the very early hours of today. Truly great party! And then a big official luncheon in Stockholm City Hall given by the Parliament and government.

Tonight there is a more formal dinner at Stockholm Palace, but I'm not there. I'm at more traditional Swedish celebration of the arrival of spring. A remnant, I would guess, from long gone pre-Christian days.

Carl Gustaf become king at the age of 27 in 1973. His grandfather - the previous king Gustav VI Adolf - had died the evening before the general election of that year. As a very young man, Carl Gustaf had to take the throne in a age of uncertainty and a mood of radical changes.

The role of the head of state was also changed into a more ceremonial one as the new constitution come into force in 1975.

Much has happened since then, and today there are hardly any divided views on the way in which the king has been performing his role as head of state. It is fair to say that he is widely both respected and popular.

Presidential system are not necessarily bad, but there is no doubt that it has a value when it is possible to keep the institution of monarchy and make it comptible with all the institutions and princples of modern democratic governance.

Sweden has succeeded.

And a lot of the credit undoubtedly goes to King Carl Gustaf.

In addition, he's a truly decent and nice guy.


Brussels Forum

Due to the fact that we here in Stockholm are busy celebrating the 60th year birthday of our king Gustav Adolf I had to leave the Brussels Forum before its ending today Sunday.

But there is no doubt that the meeting was a success. A new forum for dialogue and discussion across the Atlantic has been established.

Senator John McCain set the tone with his keynote speech on Friday evening. It was a robust presentation of what could be described as the Washington consensus on key issues, notably on Iran.

He repeated his mantra that the only thing that's worse than a military strike against Iran is Iran managing to develop a nuclear arsenal.

But whether this is also the Brussels consensus wasn't clear when I had to leave the discussions mid-day Saturday.

On Russia, John McCain was as critical as the Washington consensus nowadays is, b ut went somewhat too far in attacking the Russian position on Iran.

It so happens that Washington and Moscow are in complete agreement as to the aim of policy on the issue, but differ on the means, notably on whether sanctions could really work. That's a perfectly legitimate debate.

In a follow-up discussion, much of the attention went to the situation in Darfur, although I have to confess that the amount of empty posturing was rather large. Particularly on the US side there is a tendency to say that it is genocide - and that someone else should do something.

It sounded great when John McCain and Richard Holbrooke said that NATO had the assets there and ready.

Well, the fact is that NATO has only a single-digit figure of people in Darfur, and even the robust options now under discussion does not take that up to more than in the low two-digit range. Darfur is on the size of Iraq - and there it is painfully obvious that 130 000 soldiers are having a hard time.

Javier Solana was right in pointing out that there has to be a political solution, and that the EU is playing an active role in the Abuja talks.

But Richard Holbrooke was equally right in pointing at the imperative need of financing the humanitarian efforts there. At the moment, the World Food Programme efforts there are short of money.

So the discussion continued on the one issue after the other, with all the others taking part in the Brussels Forum also active.

A session Saturday morning dealt with the economic challenges we have to deal with. As soon as I find a link to some of the good speeches there I'll write a few words about that.

Friday, April 28, 2006

The Big Benefit

During discussions in Berlin yesterday I was truly amazed about the level of ignorance even among well-informed Europeans about the enormous benefits of enlargement.

A well-established and respected academic argued that a problem with enlargement was that there were short-term costs while the benefits where more long-term.

This, he argued, made it difficult for the political leaders to argue for enlargement.

But this is pure – if I’m excused for the expression – bullshit.

The Eastern enlargement from Estonia to Bulgaria is probably the most succesful thing the process of European integration so far has achieved. Ten countries with a 100 million people have managed a change of system that has contributed to the peace and prosperity not only of their countries but of Europe as a whole.

If this is not a short-term benefit, I fail to see what a benefit could be.

This applies also in purely economic terms.

On my flight earlier today from Stockholm to Brussels I come across an interesting article on the subject in the Danish business daily Börsen.

It’s a report presented jointly by Danish Federation of Industries and the Danish Metalworkers Federation, and it is based on a study done by Katinka Barysch at the Centre for European Reform in London.

The conclusion is that enlargement has created approximately 35 000 new jobs in the Danish economy. While Danish exports in general have increased by 17 % since 2004, exports to the new member states have increased by 42 %.

What applies to Denmark would apply to an even higher degree to economies as the German and the Austrian one.

Not the least Austria – which in political terms has always dragged its feet over enlargement – has made enormous economic gains. Its economy has benefited very substantially, as can be clearly seen in the development of the Austrian stock market.

Other studies published in the last few weeks have shown the advantages of free labour markets.

Ireland has seen a very large influx of people from the new member countries – but unemployment has been sinking in spite of this. There has been a noticeable boost to the already impressive Irish growth rates as a consequence of its decision to go for the full benefits of enlargement.

That’s the way it is. The figures are clear.

Enlargement has been an enormous and immediate benefit also to the old member states.

It is high time that political leaders started to communicate this to their respective electorates.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Securing Elections in Congo

Now, we are rapidly moving towards the first deployment of the so called "battle groups" that the European Union decided on a couple of years ago.

Most of them are still in the process of being formed. It's a rather demanding process to create quick-intervention battle groups of this sort.

But the demand for them is obviously there. Now, the UN Security Council has voted unanimously to ask for the sending of 1 500 EU soldiers to help securing the elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Their task is to be a back-up force for the 17 000 UN soldiers in the MONUC force as Congo undertakes its first fully democratic elections for 40 years. This is necessary in views of the fact that there are still rebel forces active in different parts of the country, and they must be deterred from trying to wreck the election.

On the ground in Kinshasa the elements of the force that will be there will be under French command, but the overall command will be with the German military Hq in Potsdam not very far from where I'm sitting in southwestern Berlin at the moment.

Germany will be, in the language used, the framework nation for this mission.

It's been a rather long and complicated story to get this force agreed to. There was considerable reluctance in Germany for a long time. Others where also slow in committing the necessary forces.

But now it's moving ahead.

And it demonstrates again the important role that the EU military capabilities can play in backing up demanding UN operations in different parts of the world. We have learnt by rather bitter experience that there is a need for a hard edge also to softer operations - we are often dealing with evil forces.

The Congo elections - date not yet set - are likely to be held in late June or early July, and the EU mission will last approximately four months.

Hopefully the EU force will remain just a back-up force for deterrence - securing the elections just by being there.

A most important mission for the European Union. Supporting the United Nations. And democracy.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Trouble in Tomsk?

Having arriving in Berlin for different discussions, the themes here are not too different from those in London.

Chancellor Merkel and six members of the government have gone off to Tomsk in Siberia for the first big summit with Russia of her govermment.

Together with a large business delegation, they are meeting President Putin and a sizeable chunk of the Russian government.

Issue number one of the rather large agenda - judging by the media reports - seems to be energy. Surprise, surprise.

And the first round of talks centered around these issues seems to have been rather difficult. Seeing Merkel and Putin briefly meeting the press after the talks, it was obvious that there were distinct limits to their agreement on the issue.

Before meeting Merkel, Putin had taken the occasion of a speech to local representatives to repeat the message that if Russian demands are not meet then the gas will be sold to China rather than Europe.

If that is not pressure, then I don't know what pressure is.

Tomorrow will bring more information. Chancellor Merkel flies back to Berlin. And we will all have to listen carefully to her assessment of the talks.

In the meantime we are continuing our discussions on the future of Europe in the lovely green surroundings of Gruenewald in southwestern Berlin.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Gas Battle Ahead

It's a major battle that is shaping up between the Russian gas giant Gazprom and the European Commission.

And it will have major ramifications for both the European Union and Russia.

In London yesterday and today I have been discussing these issues and what is likely to happen.

When Gazprom CEO Alexey Miller meet the EU Ambassadors last week he was clear in developing the vision that guides the development of Gazprom.

He is undoubtedly genuine in his wish to develop close links with the major West European markets. In much the same way as we want supply security, he naturally wants demand security. This is a necessity also in view of the enormous investment needs that Gazprom faces in the decades ahead.

But it is obvious that when we want as open, transparent and competitive markets as possible, Gazprom wants to establish a position where it can use monopoly pricing powers in the future. And here we obviously have sharply diverging interests.

You can see this in three different facts.

First: They want to get control of the distribution networks as much as possible. That control they have in Russia through Transneft and are now aggressively seeking in other parts of the CIS area. They are manoeuvring to get control in Ukraine, recently succeeding in getting it in Armenia and are now putting heavy pressure on Belarus. And there are clear signs of them wanting to gradually push this approach as far towards the West as they can.

Second: They are very firm in their efforts to block other European states from independently accessing the considerable gas reserves of Central Asia, notably Turkmenistan. This was a key part of their dispute with Ukraine earlier this year, and we see how they are now repeating that position in more general terms. There is no doubt that this is very important to them.

Third: They have reacted very aggressively to the recent message by European Commission President Barroso to President Putin that, in much the same way as the Commission is applying European competition rules to Microsoft, it reserves the right to do so against Gazprom.

According to Gazprom CEO Alexey Miller, it was these words of Barroso that lead President Putin to rush to China and to seek to sell the gas to them instead of to Europe.

When he meet the Ambassadors of the European Union in Moscow last week, he explicitly said that if the European Commission intended to apply the competition rules against Gazprom they would simply not sell to the European Markets. It was as blunt as it was clear.

These three facts together of course add up to a rather worrying picture. The energy-political complex of Russia is seeking to extend a situation of virtual monopoly control of gas supply and distribution as far to the West as they can.

Although their ambitions are clear enough, their chances of success are far less so. But ultimately it will depend on the policies that the countries of the European Union adopt.

And that will be the subject of further discussions.

We want as open, free and transparent market for energy in as large parts of Europe as possible.

Certainly within the European Union. But preferably also beyond.

And there is no reason why the European Union should not use its existing acquire the new instruments necessary to assure this.

That's truly in the interest of everyone - not the least of Russia.

Tomorrow I'm off to Berlin. Rest assured the issue is high on the agenda there as well.

Monday, April 24, 2006

A Week of Europe

Monday morning, and very soon I'm off from Stockholm in the direction of London. Again.

Now it is primarily energy security that is on the agenda.

After the latest rumblings from Gazprom in Moscow the issue has increased even further in importance on the European political agenda.

What Gazprom is saying is, effectively, that if we are not allowed to develop structures on the European gas markets that will give us monopolizing pricing power, we are not interested, and we'll sell our gas to the Chinese.

A fairly blunt message.

In London I'm part of a meeting that is part of the policy review undertaken by the new Conservative Party leadership. Today it's international issues that are in focus, and I have been asked to address the different energy security challenges ahead.

And that I will continue to do at another meeting in London on Tuesday before returning home to Stockholm.

That will however be a brief visit. On Wednesday morning I'm off to Berlin for a two day session of a Strategy Group on the Future of Europe organized by the Bertelsmann Foundation and bringing in, among others, Austrian Chancellor and present EU Presidency Wolfgang Schuessel.

Here, I have been asked to address the different emerging challenges on the periphery of Europe. Of which there are not few.

After spending Thursday evening in Stockholm it's Brussels that's on the agenda for Friday and Saturday.

There is the first meeting of what is called The Brussels Forum. It's meant to be an annual high-level gathering dealing with different trans-Atlantic issues. Senator John McCain is one of the US keynote speakers, and Commission President Barroso another.

Although not on the formal agenda, it's unavoidable that there will be discussions on Iran as well. It is on Friday that the IAEA will issue its report on Iranian compliance to the UN Security Council.

The Brussels Forum goes on until Sunday, but for other reasons I'll have to get back to Stockholm on Saturday afternoon.

It will be a week of Europe and European issues.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

A Story of True Success

The late 1980's and early 1990's was a truly remarkable period in European history.

The collapse of the Soviet Union opened up both the past and the future of the continent in a dramatic way. We were shaping a new future while dealing with the horrible legacies of the past.

In my view, there were two outstanding successes and one outstanding failure.

The two successes were the peaceful reunification of Germany and the re-establishment of the independence of the three Baltic states. The one outstanding failure was the descent of Yugoslavia into conflict and war.

I happened to be closely involved in one of the successes and in the one failure.

But among the true success sories of those years was un doubtedly the way in which the three Baltic countries that had been occupied by Stalin in 1940 and then annexed to the Soviet Union were able to regain their independence, secure the peaceful withdrawal of massive ex-Soviet military forces and installations and safeguard the rights also of their non-Baltic residents.

This was a time of very active Swedish diplomacy on these issues.

Much of what happened was not really available to the public at the time, but in two highly interesting and welldocumented books the diplomat Lars Fredén has now documented and analyzed this highly important part of the shaping of post-Soviet Europe.

Lars Fredén was also a most active participant in these events. The books are a true eye-witness accounts of crucial diplomacy at a critical time in European history.

The second volume, which is just out, deals primarily with the efforts to secure the withdrawal of ex-Soviet military forces and installations from the three Baltic States. In some cases, this came about not the least to a high-level diplomatic interaction that involved not the least Stockholm and Washington.

The picture above shows the demolition of the huge strategic early warning radar installation that the Soviet Union had built at Skrunda in Latvia. Negotiations on the Skrunda issue was among the most complicated at the time, but ended with an agreement that allowed Russia to keep part of the installation until 1998.

And that agreement was honoured by Russia down to the very last detail of the complete withdrawal in that year.

But there were also a number of other critical issues during that period.

We went through what could have developed into a serious crisis over the Russian-dominated northeastern part of Estonia centred on the old town of Narva. And there were numerous difficulties associated with the many Russians that had been brought to these countries as a part of thre occupation regime.

And all had to be done against the background of a Moscow where the forces of reform and the forces of reaction where fighting for power. Remember how there were tanks in the street of Moscow.

Today, we see only the success that was achieved. Today, the three Baltic countries are full members of both the European Union and NATO. It's wasn't that long ago that they were totally integrated republics of the Soviet Union.

It's a fascinating story - also for me to read more than a decade later.

The books are unfortunately in Swedish, as is the major review of it in Dagenws Nyheter by its chief commentator today.

But at some point in time I'm convined it will be available also in other languages.

It's truly a part of modern European history.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

The Israel Lobby Controversy

Few things have generated as much controversy in the US lately as a study by two Harvard academics of considerable repute attacking what they see as an Israeli lobby that drives the US towards policies that are genuinely not in its interest.

The study by Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer starts with a very blunt assessment of the situation that they see:

"For the past several decades, and especially since the Six-Day War in 1967, the centrepiece of US Middle Eastern policy has been its relationship with Israel. The combination of unwavering support for Israel and the related effort to spread ‘democracy’ throughout the region has inflamed Arab and Islamic opinion and jeopardised not only US security but that of much of the rest of the world. This situation has no equal in American political history."

"Why has the US been willing to set aside its own security and that of many of its allies in order to advance the interests of another state? One might assume that the bond between the two countries was based on shared strategic interests or compelling moral imperatives, but neither explanation can account for the remarkable level of material and diplomatic support that the US provides."

The answer to them lies in the great influence of what they describe as the Israeli lobby in the US public debate and policy making circles.

First published for a wider audience in the London Review of Books, the study has generated an enormous amount of debate, naturally including major pieces in the New York Review of Books.

As could be expected, the authors have been accused of being anti-Semitic, although that charge has rather had the tendency of strengthening their argument that a rational debate on these issues have become increasingly difficult during the last few years.

Among those taking part in the debate has been Anne-Marie Slaughter, and both her contribution as well as others on that blog are worth reading. You can easily see the heat the debate has generated.

That there are strong bonds between the US and Israel is one thing. Sympathy and support for Israel as a democracy is and should be strong in all of our societies. And threats to the future of Israel are threats to values that are dear and important to all of us.

That's one thing.

But Israel has been investing heavily in influencing policy in the US so that it tolerates the more hard-line approach that has been taken by different Likud-lead governments on the occupied territories. Israel has been able to expand settlements, confiscate land and continue its occupation policies with only the feeblest of protest from the United States.

It can be argued that if it hadn't been for this tacit acceptance by the United States, some of these policies would hardly have been possible.

So it's not illogical that great effort has gone into building up and strengthening the Israeli lobby in the United States.

The question put by the study is whether this has been so succesful as to de facto endanger wider United States national interests in the region and in the wider world.

The debate is certain to continue.

Friday, April 21, 2006

BNP Against The World

Today is a day of celebration in Great Britain - it's the Queen's 80th birthday. And there is little doubt that she is a genuinely popular and respected monarch.

Otherwise it's politics as usual. Conservative leader David Cameron has been to Svalbard to show that he cares about global climate change. And Gordon Brown is making the rounds in Washington as part of both the IMF meetings there and his preparations to take over after Tony Blair.

But otherwise it's the run-up to the local elections on May 4 that are attracting increasing attention.

I'm not thinking about the obvious question of how well the newly re-styled Conservative party will do, although that will obviously be of some interest.

The real storý seems to be the rise in support for the ultra-nationalist and xenophobic British National Party. Some recent opinion polls indicate that up to a quarter of the electorate could consider voting for the BNP this time, although the actual figure will probably stay below ten percent.

That's still a horrific number. And mostly it seems to be traditional Labour supporters in traditional Labour areas that are contemplating to give their vote to the BNP. Less, I would guess, because they wholehearthedl support all in its program, and more in order to send a signal on these issues to Downing Street.

Great Britain is among the most open and tolerant European societies. London is the most global city of Europe. The diversity has been an enormous advantage to the development of the British economy and society.

Among wide sectors of British society this is both recognized and appreciated. Not the least the urban middle class has appreciated "its curries, carnivals, Ukrainian nannies, Bosnian cleaners and cut-price Polish plumbers."

And still there is the risk of a serious backlash in the local elections. Primarily in the rural areas or in the formerly solid working-class areas.

It's still not there, and hopefully the debate that the opinion polls have generated can reduce BNP support down to more marginal levels.

But it is a warning sign.

Our open world and our open societies can never be taken for granted. Their values must constantly be defended and anchored in every sector of our societies.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Dialogue in London

It wasn't long in Stockholm. Now I'm off to London for two days of informal European - US discussions on different political issues.

These meetings twice a year have been going on for some time, and in their informality have developed into one of the premier informal foras of this sort. It's not the only one - but it's the best.

It brings together some of the key policyshapers from the administrations in Washington, Brussels, Berlin, London and Paris with more independent voices and thinkers.

On the agenda?

Well, energy security, Russia, non-proliferation and developments in the broader Middle East.

How to handle the challenge of Iran will obviously hover over many of the discussions.

That will keep us going until Friday afternoon. And then I'm back to Stockholm again.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Hu Comes to Town

Finally back in Stockholm after a week in Washington and Baltimore.

But tomorrow will be important over there as Chinese President Hu Jintao arrives in Washington on a visit of some importance.

It's not the great drama around these visits that it used to be. Meetings with the President of China are fairly common occurences these days. It wasn't long since President Bush was in Beijing.

Nevertheless it looks as if a minor diplomatic battle has been going on concerning the formal nature of this visit. The Chinese wants it to be a "state visit", but the Americans insist it's only an "official visit".

But as a compromise President Hu will be given a 21-gun salute when he arerives aty the White House - although no state dinner.

It's primarily in the monetary and trade field that the visit will be important.

During the decades of the cold war, relations between the United States and the Soviet Union was based on the mutual fear of total physical destruction. Both had the capability to totally destroyed the other within, say, 30 minutes.

With China it's obviously different. Here there is the fear of mutual financial destruction that comes into the picture. It's perhaps not the ability to destroy the other, but at the least to make substantial harm.

The prevailing view here in the US is that the Chinese policy of keeping its currency at a fixed exchange rate with the dollar is doing serious harm to the US economy. The theory is that it keeps the currency undervalued, thus making Chinese exports to the US even more competitive than they otherwise would have been.

In the prevailing semi-protectionist mood in the US, that has political consequences. There is strong pressure on the President Hu to announce some increase in the very limited exchange rate flexibility, but real expectations that he will bow to US pressure on this point are low.

If the results of the meeting are seen to be too limited, there is a risk that this will trigger different US countermoves. This might not be driven by the White House, but by a Congress where the November election prospects are starting to dominate everything.

And if this were to happen, there is a very real risk of a trade war between the United States and China with potentially very serious consequences for the ongoing Doha global trade talks as well as the overall sentiments on the free trade issues.

President Hu is primarily concerned with his domestic agenda of stability, in a way not too dissimilar to the preoccupation with his domestic agenda that President Bush has at the moment.

One would hope that they would both raise over these agendas and see the responsibility they share for not starting a circle of actions that might descend into a trade war with very negativa consequences.

We should wish them good luck in those efforts.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Does Russia Belong?

Andrei Illiaronov is no longer the adviser of President Putin of Russia.

But that does not mean that he is not worth listening to. On the contrary, he speaks with a certain background in terms of experience and information.

For years he was the person representing Russia in the preparations for the different G8 meetings. Now, he's questioning whether the Russia he sees emerging really belongs to this club.

"Since 2005, Russia has ceased to be a politically free country. According to Freedom House's index of political rights, Russia is 168th out of 192 countries. Transparency International's corruption index places Russia at 126 out of 159 countries."

That's the result of the Putin regime policies during the last few years.

It's really not an argument for expelling Russia from the G8, as is advocated by some in the debate here in the United States. We need to be engaged with Russia over a broad range of different issues.

But we should be critically engaged.

And it's wise to listen to the words of Andrei Illiaronov on what's happening in the country.

Late - But First!

 It took a long time for the lead boat in the Volvo Ocean Race to get out of the weak winds and make the finish into Baltimore harbour.

But ABN Amro One did it - after sailing for nearly three weeks from Rio de Janeiro.

A good boat and an excellent crew I was told by Swedes there awaiting the arrival of the Ericsson boat.

That boat is still out there on Chesapeake Bay, and will have to try to sail through the night.

Sevel o'clock tomorrow morning is when it is presently expected to cross the finishing line.

But sailing remains an uncertain business. Posted by Picasa

Monday, April 17, 2006

Around the World to Baltimore

Arriving in Baltimore for different things one suddenly finds that arriving here starting today are also the six ocean racing boats of the Volvo Ocean Race.

I'm here for a meeting of the board of Baltimore-based financial firm Legg Mason.

Its headquarters building towers over the attractive inner harbour area.

Racing up the Chesapeake Bay towards Baltimore harbour are the boats completing their two-week run from Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.

They have been going from Vigo in Spain via Cape Town in South Africa, Melbourne in Austrialia and Rio de Janeiro for six months by now.

At the time of writing this, winds have died away out in the bay, and the lead boat ABN Amro One is struggling a couple of miles from the finishing line, making the occasional knot and most probably hoping that the wind problem has affected those coming after it as well.

On present trends, ABN Amro One probaby has another hour or so before it appears in the inner harbour, meeting the champagne and the crowds.

It's a big PR event for Swedish business as well. Both Volvo - well, nowadays of course a part of Ford Motor Corporation - and Ericsson have put up exhibition buildings in the harbour.

Volvo sponsors the entire event - it will end up Gothenburg in mid-June - while Ericssons sponsors a boat. That the boat seems to be trailing all others at the moment is a regrettable fact, but doesn't really impact on the value of the sponsoring.

And it's a big event for the entire area of Baltimore and Annapolis.

Expectations are that there will come more than half a million visitors during the three weeks the boats will spend here, spending perhaps 50 million dollars to benefit the local economy.

But right now, we are awaiting the winner on this leg...

Nuclear Salvation?

With concern over the increasing emissions of CO2 into the atmosphere increasing fast, there is a rise in the interest in the use of nuclear power.

In the Sunday edition of Washington Post, one of the co-founders of Greenpeace Patrick Moore describes his reluctant conversion to the need for a rapid expansion of nuclear power both in the United States and elsewhere.

When the emissions of the US are discussed it is often the use of cars that is in focus. And often cars consuming more gas than in many other parts of the world.

But it is often forgotten how important coal for power production is in the US. And it's here that nuclear power can make a very major contribution in the years ahead.

As Patrick Moore writes:

"More than 600 coal-fired electric plants in the United States produce 36 percent of U.S. emissions -- or nearly 10 percent of global emissions -- of CO2, the primary greenhouse gas responsible for climate change. Nuclear energy is the only large-scale, cost-effective energy source that can reduce these emissions while continuing to satisfy a growing demand for power. And these days it can do so safely."

Nuclear power is already making its contribution towards the reduction of CO2 emissions, but of course much more could be done:

"The 103 nuclear plants operating in the United States effectively avoid the release of 700 million tons of CO2emissions annually -- the equivalent of the exhaust from more than 100 million automobiles. Imagine if the ratio of coal to nuclear were reversed so that only 20 percent of our electricity was generated from coal and 60 percent from nuclear. This would go a long way toward cleaning the air and reducing greenhouse gas emissions."

"Every responsible environmentalist should support a move in that direction.

The same logic of course applies in many other parts of the world.

China and India are two important examples. Both are now planning a major expansion of nuclear power.

Russia is obviously another. Also here there is a new discussion on the nuclear option for power production.

And then there is Western Europe.

The discussion will intensify in the years ahead.

In the meantime, Patrick Moore's article is worth reading. He seek to make a balance sheet out of the pluses and the minuses.

But arrives at a distinct plus.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

The Immigrant Nation

 Apart from the debate in the media about the generals rebelling against Rumsfeld, I guess it's immigration that is the big issue preoccupying the American nation at the moment.

Hardly original. In the one way or the other, the issue is one of those defining politics in many democracies these days.

America is a nation of immigrants. They came on the Mayflower or on Kalmar Nyckel, conquered the land and gradually made it theirs. Fleeing poverty and persecution in Europe, but deeply inspired by its ideals and visions, they built their own unique state.

And although there have been periods of very restrictive immigrant policies, it's still immigration that defines the nation.

That makes the debate about the between 8 and 15 million illegal immigrants that are to be found in the country today even more difficult.

For all practical purposes we are talking about Mexicans - although when arrived in the US they are normally included in the broader category of Hispanics. They are coming across the long border seeking jobs, doing the things most other people don't, in many cases working hard and sending money back home to support their families.

They are part of a larger story of demographic change in this country. Numbering over 40 millions today, Hispanics are growing by more than 1,5 million annually, from both the continuing immigration and higher birth rate.

If current demographic trends continue, nearly 1 in 4 US resident will be Hispanic, or of Hispanic ancestry, by 2030 - just a generation hence - up from 1 in 7 in 2000.

It's a big change. And the immigration debate is part of the debate sbout that change in the character of the nation.

The influx of often illegal immigrants is creating strains all over the country. And now the Senate and the House of Representatives is trying to regulate the entire thing.

To throw all that have arrived illegaly out of the country simply isn't feasible. In addition, the US economy can't really do without them. California and Texas - to mention just two examples - would just cease to function.

So there will have to be some sort of amnesty, although that word evokes strong passions. An amnesty - or arrangement - that could perhaps pave the way for them eventually even becoming citizens of the US.

But demands are strong that this is combined with a much harsher border regimes, perhaps even the building of a wall along most of the border with Mexico.

But, as a businessman put it to me, in order to build such a wall there would be the need to import many more illegal workers. There simply aren't the workers available in the US today.

Remember - this is a booming economy.

And the fact of the matter is that nothing can seal that long border. The one way or the other the United States must live with its character as an immigrant nation, attracting those that want to seek a better life.

I think it is a fair guess that there will be no clean-cut solution coming out of the Congress.

With elections coming up, and the issue being a very emotional one, we are likely to see something that its propents say will solve everything although everyone will know that it probably sorts out very little.

Meanwhile, the discussion will go on.

Over breakfast with a blueberry muffin in the sun at Starbucks in Pentagon City.

Or wherever people meet and have the time. Posted by Picasa

Friday, April 14, 2006

Future in Palazzo Chigi

Slowly, it looks as if it will be Romano Prodi moving into Palazzo Chigi in Rome. But it will take its time - late May seems to be the earliest possibility as things stand now.

But this Prodi government is unlikely to be the answer to the challenges that Italy is facing.

It will be too weak in terms of its support and to divided in terms of its policies. It will approach a caretaker government awaiting... yes, awaiting what?

The last decade has seen a genuine two-party system emerging in Italy, which has made it possible to break the virtual monopoly on power that was exercised by the old-style Christian Democrats for decades.

There is no doubt that this has been healthy for Italian democracy. It stands stronger and more vital today than two decades ago.

But this has come at the price of both of the two coalition alternatives beding dependent on parties on the extreme fringes of the political spectrum.

The old-style Communists have handicapped the centre-left, and the populist Lega Nord in the same way the centre-left.

After a time of Prodi government it might be time for Italy to move beyond the Berlusconi- and Prodi-coalitions and look at the possibilities of getting rid of the extremes and concentrating on true reforms.

In theory, the Forza Italia and the moderate centre-left ought to be able to get together around a reform program. If the moderate centre-left of Margerita would be willing to enter a coalition with Forza Italia, UDC and Alianza Nationale that would be a clear majority. Or if Alianza Nationale is excluded and the Democratic Socialists are included.

Indeed, Berlusconi after the election called for a German-type big coalition, although probably more in order to save himself than for anything else.

It did, however, open a mental door to the future.

The next year or so will show if there is a possibility of sufficiently credible and strong Italian politicians being willing to walk through that door.

It would be good if it happened before an economic crisis makes it necessary anyhow.

Rebellion and Rumsfeld

One of the big stories around Washington these days is the on-going semi-rebellion by military commanders against Donald Rumsfeld.

The last few days have seen six generals of different sorts - all recently in retirement - coming out and asking for his replacement. All have been actively involved in the Iraq war the one way or the other.

Their criticism has been augmented by recent books giving more detailed descriptions on the run-up to the war. In focus are the obvious attempt by Rumsfeld and his close environment to severely limit the number of forces involved in the war.

In combination with the near-total absence of planning for what is referred to as Phase IV - what happens after the war - this paved the way for the chaos immediately after the fall of Saddam and many of the difficulties one has been struggling with in Iraq ever since.

There is no doubt whatsoever that this criticism against Donald Rumsfeld is highly justified.

But at the same time it is difficult not to feel slightly uneasy over military commanders criticizing the political leadership for involving themselves in their decisions.

The use of force in international relations is a supremely political affair. It's certainly not something that can be left to military logic alone. In that sense, the Secretary of Defense should have all the rights in the world to "interfere" in decision-making.

And in the US system it is in fact the President who is the ultimate commander of the armed forces. The command line goes from the President to what used to be called the CINC - Commander in Chief - of one of the regional commands, in this particular case the Central Command in Tampa, Florida.

But there is a myth in the US that war is something best left to the generals. President Bush has said time after time that he will support what the military commanders say. That's in line with the political culture.

Donald Rumsfeld has, however, been operating according to another principle. He hasn't really thrusted the generals.

In principle, I believe that the basic attitude of Rumsfeld towards political responsibility for the use of force in international relations has been the right one.

But in practise, he has been using this authority to take decisions that were obviously seriously wrong.

So the generals are right in practise but wrong in principle. And Rumsfeld the other way around.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Grim Days Ahead?

As the Iran debate continues to heat up, there is a tendency to forget that also Iraq is entering a critical period.

It has been decided to convene the Iraqi parliament on Monday to see if there is any way of forming a government. The election, widely portrayed as an important step in the evolution of the country, was held December 15, but since then there has been a complete blockage of attempts to move forward.

Whether things can be brought forward next week or not remains to be seen. But even if they are, there are massive political issues ahead, as I have been writing about numerous times here.

One of the most knowledgable observers of the scene is undoubtedly Anthony Cordesmann of the CSIS here in Washington.

I take the liberty of quoting from one of his latest notes on the subject:

"Bad as the present political uncertainties are in Iraq, they can only be the prelude to an even worse set of divisive debates and issues. The creation of a new government can only make the official opening of Pandora's box.

Whatever happens to Jafaari, it will not bring political unity to Iraq. Better leaders are clearly available. Jafaari was broadly recognized as a failure in his last government, not just for his politics but for his inability to govern or bring political progress. His current survival is not a product of democracy, but rather the result of the fact Sadr was bribed with 30 seats to stay in the Shi'ite coalition, and could bully and threaten his way into forcing Jafaari on the Shi'ite coalition.

The problem now is the one leader with something approaching a proven track record, Mahdi, may be excluded because Sadr will not accept him. This means that either the negotiations drag on or an unproven prime minister is chosen as a compromise popular with no one. Good leaders are hard to find in any nation, and compromises on an unproven figure depend on sheer luck for success.

It is nice to tout elections as progress, but the current political impasse in Iraq is a warning that democracy requires experienced leaders willing to compromise and give up power, political parties that stand for unity and not division, a political structure that can bring unity and progress, and governance and a rule of law that protect all the members of a political structure.

Regardless of what happens, an election that voted to divide the nation into Shi'ite, Sunni, and Kurd has been followed by months of divisive ethnic and sectarian bargaining. The tensions in the Shi'ite camp threaten its unity and to push part of the Shi'ites towards separatism and reprisals against the Sunnis (and other Shi'ites).

At best, it will be 30 more days before a new government is in place and the old one has been a partial lame duck since the campaigning for the constitution in September. A new round of divisive fighting must still take place over control of the Finance, Oil, Defense, Interior and other Ministries. A fight over the spoils for a host of lower level positions must also be fought and won.

Once this happens, the Iraqi political calendar calls for a four month debate over clarifying the constitution. This means divisive debates over "federalism" and separation of various provinces into federal entities, control of oil development and funds, national versus local authority, the level of Kurdish autonomy, taxes and state revenues, the role of religion in government and the law, control over the various aspects of the security structure, the status of militias, and virtually every other hot button issue.

If this effort to revise the constitution does produce a compromise the Assembly accepts, a new referendum must follow 60 days later. Iraqis must vote on how to divide or unify after at least five more months of sectarian and ethnic tension and conflict driven by a Sunni religious extremist insurgency seeking paralysis and civil war, Kurds seeking expanded control over Kirkuk and oil, and Shi'ites that mix their own extremism with militias and death squads.

This is a recipe for at least seven more months of constant debate and political division, power struggles and political jockeying, and raising issues the insurgency and hard-line Shi'ites and Kurdish nationalists can exploit.

If the process fails, the country divides further or moves towards civil war. If the process succeeds, no one can predict on what basis a new structure of Iraqi government will emerge. If a referendum does approve a revised constitution, it will take six more months to a year to put the process approved in the referendum in place.

None of this is necessarily a recipe for failure. Forging a new balance of power and political structure is never pretty, efficient, or without tension and the risk of failure. It is a warning, however, that democracy alone does not bring peace, progress, or effective government. It can simply mark a vote for division and paralysis.

It is the nature and quality of governance that counts, and it is all too clear that it will be well into 2007 at the earliest before Iraqis know what kind of government they are really going to have. Put simply, even when a new government finally does emerge, it will at best be the start of a bitter and divisive "tipping year." More realistically, it will take at least several years to fully define any workable national political compromise and the end result may well be a decade of occasional crises and instability.

It's worth noting that these issues should be handled at the same time as the Iranian issues must.

With - as I have written earlier - a more than 50% probability of a break-up of Iraq and also a more than 50% probability of conflict with Iran the prospects for the region are beginning to look disyinctly grim.

Iran Debate Continues

With the debate over what to do with Iran intensifying by the day, IAEA Director-General El Baradei has just arrived in Teheran in order to assess the situation on the spot.

That will be a highly important visit in a number of different respects. His report on the Iranian issue to the UN Security Council, due on April 28, might well be one of the most important document in the realm of international affairs this year.

We should have learnt from the Iraq experience that information from inspections, although not necessarily perfect, are the by far best source on nuclear or other programs. After the UN inspectors left Iraq in 1998, US intelligence was more or less blind about what was happening.

And if things are better now is debatable. US News & World Report today quotes a Member of Congress just having attended a secret briefing on the Iran issue without being overly impressed by the quality of the intelligence available.

But irrespective of this there is no doubt that the Iranians are intending to move forward with some form of nuclear options. You don't need an intelligence agency to see that - it's enough to listen to what they are saying.

They have just celebrated that they have managed to enrich uranium.

Certainly very limited quantities, and most certainly well below anything that would be even remote to what is called weapons grade, but still something that does represent a technological advance on their part.

So it all then boils down to whether this should be accepted or whether there is the readiness to do whatever it takes to stop or at the least slow them down.

El Baradei will certainly do what he can to convince them of ceasing all enrichment activities. But the chances of him succeeding are, realistically speaking, not very large.

And then we are back to the big debate about the military option.

Washington Post today has an interesting column by David Ignatius that looks at some of the big-picture issues that a military strike would be associated with.

Among others, he quotes Zbigniew Brzezinski, the former national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter:

"I think of war with Iran as the ending of America's present role in the world. Iraq may have been a preview of that, but it's still redeemable if we get out fast. In a war with Iran, we'll get dragged down for 20 or 30 years. The world will condemn us. We will lose our position in the world."

That might well be the case. But that's not necessarily an argument that cuts too much ice in the American debate.

Invading additional countries is definitely not an option after the Iraq experience. But the bombing myth is still strong in the political culture. Remember how the Clinton administration used bombing fairly frequently without that causing much of a debate.

So the debate goes on.

The role of El Baradei will be most important.

And voices like those of Zbig Brezinski definitely should be listened to.

It will be a momenteous decision when it comes.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Washington Perspectives

Arrived in Washington and arrived in a weather far more summer than anything.

From here, Europe at the moment looks like a rather messy place.

The Italians don't seem to agree on who lost the election. Well, looks like Florida, I suppose. And the French look totally lost on what to do with their economy.

And in the media here todaÿ one reads about US worries about the possibilities of terrorism coming out of the Muslim populations of Europe.

Here it's the immigration legalislation that's been thed big issues during the last few weeks. Yesterday saw massive demonstrations in favour of giving rights to illegal immigrants.

But in terms of politics the news is dominated by Iraq and Iran.

President Bush is in Des Moines talking about Medicare. That's a question of mobilizing the elderly in view of the upcoming mid-term elections in November. The ratings for his presidency has hit a new low, and the Democrats are - by default, primarily - ahead on most issues.

Still, it's Iraq and Iran that dominates the news.

Senior military commanders questioning thed judgement and leadership of Donald Rumsfeld.

And speculations concerning what to do with Iran.

Familiar issues. Will become even more so.

Monday, April 10, 2006

First Class Thinking

Departure very early tomorrow morning for Washington. Again. I think it's my third time this year.

I'm there the next few days for one of the two meetings every year of the Board of Trustees of the RAND Corporation.

It is the world's first, finest and probably foremost think-thank. It's first class thinking.

For some years I have been proud to be the first and only non-American on its Board of Trustees. But now I'm even more proud that RAND is continuing its evolution from being not only an American but also a global resource by moving towards appointing a second non-American trustee.

From India. That's the new world.

So it will be two intense days discussing the different activities of RAND as well as reviewing some of the most interesting of the research products RAND has produced during the past six months.

And then it onwards to other activities in the Washington area.

More about that later.

Instability and Intrigue in Italy

There was a long time when few really cared about the politics of Italy. Most of the Italians certainly did not. But the economy went from strength to strength, and few really cared about the intrigues of Rome.

But that was another time. With the euro and with globalisation, Italy is facing a huge need to reform its economic governance structure. Suddenly politics is starting to become an issue of some consequence.

As the results of the Italian election are now coming in, it seems like the country is heading for the worst of all possible worlds.

A clear victory for the one or the other would have been the best - not that I'm overly impressed with either. But there would have been a clear responsibility for what would be done - and not done.

Now we seem to be heading towards a Berlusconi coalition hanging in there by the thinnest of margins.

It will certainly test the mental tolerance of many other Europeans. It is a fact that for many his style is an affront to decency in general and to the standing of Italy in particular.

But it seems as if he has managed to convince a part of the electorate that a vote for Prodi would mean giving real power to the real communists of Bertinoti. Unfortunately, there was an element of thruth in this.

But now he is sitting with a total dependence on the provincial populists of Lega Nord. Previously, he could have asked them to go to hell if they tried to blackmail him into even stranger politics.

With this result he can't. There is a risk of provincialists driving populists.

That means a weak government, perhaps openly populistic, and not very likely to last for the full parliamentary terms.

Rome will return to its intrigues and instabilities. The burning economic issues will be defered to another day.

Not good. Mildly speaking.

Policy for Disaster?

As Israeli artillery sends their rounds into Gaza in respons to recent rocket attacks, the foreign ministers of the European Union meet in Luxembourg to discuss what to do with aid to the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority.

There is a deep irony with what is now happening around Gaza. This is how the situation is described by Israeli security officials at the moment:

"Hamas is close to a decision on initial steps aimed at restraining the terror organizations that are launching Qassam rockets at Israeli targets, Israeli security officials said yesterday.The planned Hamas move comes on the backdrop of an Israeli military response that has killed more than a dozen Palestinians in Gaza since Friday."

"The Qassam attacks on Israeli targets over the last week have been carried out by various Fatah groups. Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Hamas-supported Popular Resistance Committees have not been participating in the rocket fire, the security sources said."

Suddenly we have a situation in which Hamas is trying to stop attacks against Israel, while it is Fatah-affiliated groups that are continuing them.

Still, the European Commission on Friday decided to suspend all payments to the PA. Israel has previously decided not to give the PA the tx income that rightly is theirs. And on Sunday Norway decided to follow the European lead and stop all payments.

If carried through fully this policy will lead to an economic and social meltdown in the occupied territories. Different forms of humanitarian aid will simply not be able to compensate for the collapse of the public authorities and their services.

The political consequences of such a meltdown are of course highly uncertain, but the chance that it will lead to popular opinion loving Israel and the Western world more is, to put it mildly, not too large. In all probability, the contrary will be the case.

We might well be fuelling precisely those sentiments in the occupied territories and in the Arab world that we instead should seek to marginalize.

It would be far better to have a more graduated response that awaits and judges the policies actually carried out by the Hamas-lead government. With such a policy we would also retain leverage and influence over the process. At the moment there is a serious risk that we are shooting ourselves in the foot also by taking away our leverage.

To me it all seems rather ill-considered and short-sighted.

I can understand that the European Commission took a more precautionary position on Friday awaiting the final word from the Council of Ministers today. And in that situation Norway probably didn't have much of a choice in taking its decision.

But to do nothing more than this would be a stupidity.

We have enough of problems in the Middle East not to be interested in creating additional ones.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Something Rotten in the State of Sweden (4)

I have to confess that I never thought this series of comments about the state of the politics of Sweden would have to be that long.

But we are where we are. And the politics of Sweden continues to be the politics of the scandals.

The last week was one that I suspect few Social Democrats would like to live to see again.

Legal cases were opened - with considerable publicity associated with them - against three prominent representatives of the party.

The first is against no lesser person than Prime Minister Göran Persson himself.

For the time after he is Prime Minister he is busy building a rather impressive manor house in the countryside south of Stockholm. It is obviously more feudal than proletarian in inspiration. That fact in itself has been the subject of lots of comments.

But it now turns out that the building works - done by a firm run by his brother - has not been respecting elementary parts of the legislation for the protection and safety of the workers. And infringements are so serious that he will now be prosecuted for the violations of the law.

Needless to say, these laws are a key part of what the Social Democrats consider their contribution to a good society.

In my opinion, the case says more about the complicated laws than it says about the Prime Minister, but that's not necessarily the way the media sees it.

The second legal case was opened against the Social Democratic leader in Malmö in the southernmost part of Sweden. Being the third largest city, it's also the one of the major cities that is Social Democratic.

He is now accused of having taken a bribe in the form of a safari trip to Africa two years ago.Mediawise, that does not look too good either.

But it's the third case that's the most spectacular - and competition is fierce.

Anna Sjödin is the ambitious and up-and-coming leader of the youth organisation SSU.

Together with her entourage, she was caught in a fist fight of the first order in a bar in Stockholm some weeks ago. She was so drunk and so aggressive that she had to be taken away by the police and spent the night in their custody.

Now the public prosecutor is indicting her on no less than five different counts for what happened. And the indictment does not make nice reading.

Apart from all the time threatening the local guards as well as the police with their higher level connections with the Minister of Justice and the Social Democratic Party, she is said to have been screaming rascist insults to some of the guards. There are several witnesses to this.

To say that this points to a character flaw is one thing.

But more serious is the attitude of contempt for others, of being above, of being part of some type of new nobility that can do whatever it wants.

In that respect, there is a link between the Sjödin affair and all the other ones.

Lying to parliament, building mansion houses without checking the law, contempt for law and order etc, etc...

Power does corrupt.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Nuke the Nukes?

Seymour Hersh in The New Yorker magazine is a reporter with good connections and a good track record of reporting.

His piece now on planning in Washington for a possible military strike against Iran is bound to be widely debated.

He claims that using nuclear weapons to strike at deep underground sites used by the Iranians is one of the options in the different plans.

Perhaps. Military planners have a tendency to include all sorts of options in their papers in order to explore them more fully.

But even if I consider the possibility of a strike against Iran as more than 50%, I would consider the possibility of them using nuclear weapons to take out the nuclear facilities to be in the one-digit range at the very most.

The political arguments against are much too overwhelming.

Whenever in the past different nuclear options have been on the table - and it has happened repeatedly - they have fairly rapidly been taken off the same table.

Add to that the fact that I'm not certain that they have nuclear warheads that are suitable for what is called deep earth penetration. Funds to develop such have been stopped by Congress repeatedly.

It's not easy to have a nuclear warhead diving and digging itself deep down in a mountain before exploding. They tend to disintegrate and break up fairly fast when crashed into the ground.

Of course you could compensate for the absence of that capability by having a much higher yield on a ground-burst warhead.

But not even the nuttiest planner would put that even as an option.

The unlikely nature of the nuclear part of the story apart, the story is certainly worth reading.

Nothing too sensational.

But - apart from the nuclear weapons part - nothing too unlikely.

Towards Post-Blair Britain

With new flights serving London City Airport from Stockholm, the distance to London has suddenly been somewhat reduced.

Good. Although it's still shorter from Stockholm to Moscow than fram Stockholm to London.

The politics of the United Kingdom is distinctly in a mood of transition. New Labour is fading, and it might well be that New Conservatives are rising.

There was a telling little piece of information from Tony Blair's press conference in Armagh. It was the one on Northern Ireland that I have written on earlier.

Just before the press conference was to start, it was suddenly decided to block over all the Exit signs that are normal in any room used for public gatherings.


Well, of course to prevent a clever photographer from getting a photo of Tony Blair with the Exit sign immediately above him. For certain - they would have tried.

That's the big issue at the moment: when will Tony Blair hand over to Gordon Brown?

Everyone expects it to happen well within a year. Reports are already talking about people in the Cabinet talking more to Brown that to Blair. The Prime Minister isn't quite a dying swan, but looks increasingly like a dead duck.

This naturally has implications for all sorts of issues. In Washington they will be thinking about the implications for Iran policy. In Brussels they are thinking about a whole series of other issues.

What will it mean if the New Labour of Tony Blair is replaced with more of Old Labour in the form of Gordon Brown?

At the same time the New Conservatives under David Cameron are continuing their extended honeymoon with the media. Opinion polls have weakened slightly, but four months is a very short time.

The Cameron crowd is deliberately thin on policies. Too thin, it is beginning to be said in circles that count.

But the ongoing Spring Meeting 2006 could partly change that.

One has descended on Manchester in order to try to demonstrate that the Conservatives isn't only a party for the rural foxhunters and the wealthy suburbanites, but also for inner city people. There are local elections coming up May 4th, and in the last ones the Conservatives didn't manage to win a single council seat in Manchester.

Old warriors are being brought back under the flag.

Michael Heseltine was once the darling of the party and the not unlikely successor to Margaret Thatcher, although it did not work out that way. But his credibility when it comes to inner city issues is beyond doubt.

He's now leading the charge in Manchester.

But when looking at what's happening within both parties, one can not avoid the suspicion that the post-Blair era now slowly starting will be a more inward-looking one in the politics of Britain.

And that's not necessarily good for the rest of the world.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Another Clash of Civilisations

Less than half a century ago, Europe was tearing itself apart in a great clash of religious beliefs.

Wars lasted for more than a century, and for all that has happened since, the Thirty Years War is still the most devastating of conflicts to have affected the centre of Europe.

But there are areas where it still seems to go on.

The media in London this morning is mainly about a dead swan in Scotland having found to have had the H5N1 bird flue. And then there is Great Ascot tomorrow and the Queen's approaching 80th birthday.

But there is also reporting on the Prime Ministers of the UK and Ireland meeting yesterday in ecclisiastical capital of all Ireland Armagh in order to try to save the peace process in Northern Ireland.

There is peace in the sense that the violent IRA campaign is over, as are the also Protestant counter-campaigns. But to get a peace that means coming together in a common democratic system in Northern Ireland has not proved possible yet.

It was in 1998 that the Good Friday Agreement was concluded. And between 1999 and 2002 there was power-sharing in the Stormont Northern Ireland assembly between the Sinn Fein - seen as the political arm of the IRA - and the Ulster Unionist party.

But then it all collapsed due to a murky story of an alleged IRA spy ring in the assembly. And since then it has not been possible to resurrect any sort of power-sharing executive in Northern Ireland.

Not everything of what's been happening is crystal clear. The alleged IRA was spring should have been run by Denis Donaldson, who was one of the key men in the Sinn Fein leadership. But everything come out in a different light when it was later disclosed that he had been a British agent inside the IRA for two decades.

Then, of course, come his brutal execution in the remote cottage in a remote place in Ireland where he was hiding earlier this week.

Against this not entirely uncomplicated background the two Prime Ministers declared that they will recalled the suspended Stormont Northern Ireland assembly in May and then attempt to elect a First and FDeputy First Minister and form a power-sharing executive.

They will give that process until November. If nothing has happened by then they'll give up and try some other route.

Tony Blair explained the difficulties of a peace process of this sort:

"The problem is that the Good Friday Agreement can provide procedures, mechanisms and laws. What it can't do is to enforce a belief in the other's good faith. It can only come through a genuine conviction."

And that genuine conviction isn't there as yet.

Tranquility has been returned to the divided cities of Ulster very much through a separation of the two communities. In Londonderry - or Derry - a "peace wall" has been erected to separate the Protestant and Catholic - Unionist and Republican - communities.

Yesterday was the 80th birthday of the firebrand presbytarian preacher Ian Paisley who is now leading the DUP party that is the largest on Northern Ireland. He should be the First Minister, sharing power with the Sinn Fein he considers just a cover for the terrorists in the IRA.

Will it happen? Yesterday he was firm:

"The DUP will in no circumstances be in the business of putting terrorists and criminals into the government of Northern Ireland."

For him, it's all a question of preventing Ulster from ever being ruled by the Catholics of the South or - by implication - the Vatican and the "anti-Christ" that he has declared the Pope to be.

The two Prime Ministers yesterday sought to put discreet pressure on Mr Paislry by hinting that the alternative they saw if the present approached failed would be to give Dublin a greater say also in Northern Ireland.

That, for Mr Paislay, is of course more or less like the Devil hemself descending into their daily lives.

The threat did not seem to change him that much. He declared that "I can't be bought, I can't be borrowed and I'm not going to bend."

It's a true clash of civilisations. In his view.

But slowly, slowly the ground is shifting in favour of a real peace.

But clashes of civilisation are not sorted out easily.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Global Cooling?

In the middle of everything else that is happening, one might note what is not happening.

The arrival of spring.

Today should have been the day when Vaxholmsbolaget - the company whose boats are serving the wide Stockholm archipelago - should have switched from their winter to their spring timetable.

In practical terms, the heavier and slower boats able to go also through the ice would have been joined by the lighter and faster and more numerous boats piling over the open waters.

But that has not proved possible this year.

There is still too much ice in different parts of the archipelago for the more regular boats to be able to resume their services to the numerous islands.

Global cooling setting in?

Or the Gulf Stream disappearing from the North Atlantic?

Or simply one of these things that nature does?

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Strategy in London

After some days of work in Stockholm I'm heading off to London for the rest of the week.

It's primarily for a meeting of the Council of the International Institute for Strategic Studies that is headquartered there.

We normally meet twice a year or so to review and plan the activities of the Institute. I think it's fair to say that it is considered one of the most respected - if not the most respected - in this area in the world.

The IISS is perhaps best known for its flagship publications in the form of the annual Military Balance and its sister publication Strategic Review. There are also a stream of interesting so called Adelphi Papers. One launched tomorrow by Professor Lawrence Freedom promises to be interesting.

But then there are the highly significant major meetings that the IISS is running.

For decades there has been an annual conference. These are now called Global Strategic Review, and will this year be held in Geneva in September.

In more recent years, two major new conference series have started.

The first was theso called Shangri-La Dialogues. They are held in Singapore, and is really the only occasion where senior defense and security officials from all parts of the region as well as from the United States are sitting down for informal discussions.

The 5th conference in this series will be held in Singapore in June.

Then there has been started a Gulf Dialogue along the same lines, centered aroundthe Arabian or Persian Gulf and all the security challenges there. It has obviously got far more topical, and promises to become even more so.

The next Gulf Dialogue will be held in Bahrain in December.

So it's fair to say that the IISS is keeping itself at the centre of some of the most critical of the strategic issues of our times.

This we will certainly discuss. But in the usual way I believe we Council members will spend some time in informal discussions on the issues most topical on the global agenda. And it's not too difficult to guess which one that would be - Iran.

But then I'm home in Stockholm over the weekend before proceeding early next week to Washington for a more than week-long stay in that area.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Danubian Deficit Drama

It's not only Italy that faces a certain drama as it goes to the polls on Sunday.

This will also be the day of the first round of the Hungarian parliamentary elections.

For a long time opposition centre-right Fidesz had a commanding lead in the opinion poll.

But during the election campaign the ruling Socialists - descendents of the old Communists - have gradually improved their standing and the latest opinion polls allowed showed them with an extremely marginal lead.

It was 32 versus 31% - well within any margin of error. And it was more than a week before polling day.

In fact, the outcome might well be decided by which of the minor potential coalition parties that manages to pass the 5% threshold. The Socialists rely on their present coalition partner Free Democrats, and the opposition on the Hungarian Democratic Forum MDF.

If the Italians should be genuinely worried about their deficit situation, the Hungarians should be positively alarmed.

Their budget deficit is now approaching 9% of GDP after an avalanche of spending by the Socialist government. At the same time, it continues to claim that it intends to meet the Maastricht criteria and join the Euro currency by 2010.

That's hardly credible. It would require a very substantial fiscal tightening. And the election campaigns have given no indications of such. Instead the Socialists have promised to raise all wages by 25% during the next four years.

Populism is what such things are normally called. Certainly not responsible politics.

This could spell a rather rough ride for Hungary during the next few years.

If markets lose faith in the Euro possibilities of Hungary, at the same time as money on the international markets will be less cheap, the country might well be heading for a repetition of its 1995 financial crisis.

There are strong reasons to keep a watchful eye on the populist tendencies in the different ongoing elections.

Italy is certainly worrying - but it looks far worse by the Danube.

Monday, April 03, 2006

The Borders of Europe

It has become increasingly popular to ask for the European Union to start to define the borders of Europe.

Sounds somewhat strange, but it's all part of the efforts underway to try to limit the future enlargement of the Union.

Now it was French party leader Nicolas Sarkozy who voiced these thoughts at the EPP Congress in Rome:

"We have to ask: should Europe have borders? And the answer is yes, it should. A Europe without borders will become a subset of the United Nations."

Of course Europe has borders. It will never become the United Nations - the notion is just silly.

Morocco in 1987 applied for membership in the then European Community, but found its letter of application coming back with the information that Morocco is not in Europe. The Mediterranean is the boundary towards the South.

To the West the situation is also fairly straighforward.

Greenland is America and comes under the sovereignity of Denmark, but there is a special agreement that says that although Greenland is part of Denmark it is not part of the European Union. Iceland is clearly Europe.

The French overseas territories in Latin America - there are such! - are however seen as fully part of France and accordingly part of the European Union. In the middle of the Atlantic, the Azores are part of the European Union by being a part of Portugal.

The North can't be much of a problem either.

Norway? Well, some of them might not see it that way, but even they are undoubtedly Europeans.

It's obviously the East that is the problem.

Well, Turkey has been defined as part of Europe at the least since the setting up of the Council of Europe immediately after World War II, and the fact that a unanimous decision has been taken by the 25 member countries to open accession negotiations with Turkey should also close the debate on that one.

Cyprus is an island more or less off the coast of Lebanon. The closest other capital to Nicosia is Beiruth. And also Damascus, Jerusalem, Amman and Cairo are geographically closer to Nicosia than Athens is.

But it is a member of the European Union. So, it's European as well.


Well, it's territory lies well within all classical definitions of Europe, and for those seeing that as important it's a country with strong Christian roots. Those however being Orthodox - same as Greece and Cyprus.

So, on which grounds could Ukraine be classified as not being a European country? It's difficult to see.

And then there is Moldava in between Romania and Ukraine. Much the same applies there.

Russia and Belarus are somewhat special cases. I would argue that they are both European, but that the probability of either of them seriously contemplating membership of the European Union is virtually nil.

But to define Russia as not European - Asian? - would be difficult indeed. Different? Yes. Non-European? No.

That really takes us down to Caucasus, and here I agree that it becomes somewhat tricky. The classical boundary of Europe was seen as running along the Caucasus mountain ridge, and Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan are clearly beyond this.

This we can debate for a long time.

But is this really a relevant debate? To try to bloc the states of Transcaucasus from ever even contemplating membership in the European Union?

Those asking for the debate about the boundaries of Europe aren´t probably aiming at this.

But instead of asking the questions they should be ready to try to start providing the answers.

It will not be easy.

And hardly politically productive.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Italy Between No Alternatives

Next Sunday and Monday the Italian voters go to the polls. And we are now entering the final week of a very heated campaign.

On the surface of it, it is Silvio Berlusconi against Romano Prodi. But in reality it is two rather complex coalition alternatives. And how they shape up will determine the extent to which a coalition can actually implement the necessary measures.

So far, the election campaign has been called a "carnival of populism" by the Chairman of the Confindustria business association. With the Italian economy facing obvious structural problems, neither side has really tried to address them properly.

Berlusconi is warning that the Communist will tear a Prodi coalition to pieces as they did after the 1996 election, and Prodi points out that Berlusconi has been delivering practically nothing of what he had promised.

Neither accusation is wrong. In a sense, it's a campaign of competing weaknesses that we are witnessing in Italy.

The Prodi coalition has been ahead in the opinion polls, although no such are published during the final week. But in the last few days it seems to have been suffering from confusion concerning its tax policies.

There is little doubt that it would be good for Europe and for Italy if a Berlusconi who often turns his performance into pure disgrace would disappear from the scene. His inflated ego and lack of seriousness on serious issue is making harm to his party as well as to his Italy.

But that does not mean that there are reasons to be particularly optimistic concerning the possibilities of a Prodi coalition. It will know what it is against - but will it know what it is in favour of? And some of its proposals are clearly going go be detrimental to the reform potential of the economy.

What Italy would really need is a party that dares to produce a strong package of pro-growth reforms. Sooner or later that will be called for anyhow.

Absence of reforms now means decline of the growth potential in future years.

And this will affect not only Italy, but all of Europe.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Turks in Baltics

Four F16 fighters of the Turkish Air Force have now arrived in Siauliai in Lithuania.

They are there to take over responsibility for air policing over the three Baltic countries.

In that role they are replacing four MiG-29's from the Polish Air Force that have been conducting this NATO mission for the past six months.

It's a different Europe indeed.

Siauliai was once a major Soviet airbase. It was part of the extensive system as such throughout the then Baltic Soviet republics.

But now it's a base used by NATO for patrolling and protecting the skies of the area.

It's not really air defence. No one sees any threat of that sort. But in the post-September 11 environment there is an increased need for air policing missions. And since the three Baltic nations don't have any aircrafts that can conduct even the most rudimentary missions of this sort, NATO has stepped in with units from different air forces rotating to the base in northern Lithuania.

It's an example of the new security arrangements in Europe.

For the first time it is planes from the Turkish Air Force coming to the area. It's not their natural environment.

And it's worth noting that they are also bringing the first female fighter pilot to the mission and to the area.

It's modern Turkey in the new Europe.

Is EPP Blocking the Balkans?

It's far from clear what the centre-right European People's Party at its Congress in Rome in the last few days really wanted to say concerning the further enlargement of the European Union.

But the combination of a muddled text from the congress and very clear language from primarily German CSU leader Edmund Stoiber unfortunately invites the suspicion that there are significant voices that want to bloc the rest of the Balkans from becoming members.

They are playing around with the future stability of Europe.

Croatia is in a separate leauge since accession negotiations with the European Union have already started. But also here EPP says that there has to be treaty revisions before any new members beyond Bulgaria and Romania can be let in. And the EPP seems to say that nothing less than the full Constitutional Treaty will do.

This is an impossible position. Croatia is on its way, and the full Constitutional Treaty is dead. The EPP will have to eat its words.

But it's when it comes to what happens thereafter that it becomes really muddled and dangereous.

The final declaration sets out to describe some sort of alternative to membership that will be offered the undisclosed aspirants that the EPP isn't very keen on letting in:

"By the means of an especially close partnership, a common economic area could be created to the benefit of both the countries concerned and the EU itself. However, it should be more than a “European Economic Area”. It should include close political consultation, especially in the areas of Justice and Home Affairs (border control, cooperation in juridical affairs, the protection of human rights, exchange of information about human trafficking and drugs), as well as Foreign and Security Policy (especially the common fight against terrorism) and respect of the external borders of the Union. The EU should encourage these states to commit themselves to stronger regional cooperation amongst themselves. This would enable Europe to strengthen peace and stability as well as economic prosperity, throughout the continent, by alternative means to membership."

The fact that one speaks about stronger regional cooperation strongly implies that it is the rest of the Western Balkans one is talking about.

It can't really be Turkey, and it can't really be asking Ukraine to cooperate more closely with Russia.

What will be offered here is a satellite relationship without any right of influence over the decisions.

I do not think that this is an offer that will be easily taken up. The nationalist forces will see it as Europe rejecting their countries - which will be a correct interpretation - and go for their own way of shaping the future.

And with more nationalist forces then dominating the politics of the Balkans - rest assured that we are heading for more of trouble.

Well before that, we will see the policies of conditionality of the European Union losing their impact. At the moment we can demand changes of actions since these are necessary in order to move towards membership.

But what can we demand when we say that we would reject them as members? The risk is that they will laugh at us...

I find it highly regrettable that the EPP is turning into a more inward-looking group, less concerned with Europe as a whole or its standing in the world than with bowing to the pressures of the day.

It's a deeply muddled text they have produced.

I expect them to explain what they really mean.