Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Coming Clash of Mitrovica?

I'm getting increasingly worried over where the talks over the future status of Kosovo are really heading.

Over the course of the process so far, there have been very little done to try to build some sort of confidence across the ethnic divide in Kosovo and the region.

On the contrary, it is my impression that the divide has recently deepened even further.

A grenade attack against some Serbs by an Albanian in northern Mitrovica in northern Kosovo the other day lead to a further escalation of feelings. There are reports of an increasing number of weapons in the area.

With time now running fast, there seems to be very limited possibilities of some sort of agreed or semi-agreed outcome before the end of the year. If the so called international community sticks to its timetable, there are increasing signs that we are heading for trouble.

And it could easily get very nasty.

If the independence of Kosovo is just imposed by diktat, I believe there are two possible scenarios for Serb-dominated northern Kosovo.

The first is that they simply refuse to go along and block the access of Prishtina authorities to the area, in extreme case with armed violence.

In that case, NATO could of course escort Kosovo Albanian officials in the area, as well as try to block all borders with Serbia. But such a NATO occupation and military rule of the area can't last for long.

And in the course of it, there would be a high risk both of violence in that area itself - primarily by the Serbs - as well as by Albanians against Serbs in more exposed locations in central and southern Kosovo.

The second scenario would be that the Serbs simply see themselves as betrayed, and there is an immediate and massive exodus of both them and other minorities from Kosovo.

We will get an ethnically pure Kosovo, as well as perhaps 100 000 new refugees in Serbia with all the political consequences this might have.

And then there is of course the - perhaps most likely - scenario of first the first and then the second scenario being played out.

Violence, ethnic cleansing and mass refugee movements...

On present trends, I fear that's where the present process is heading.

The Real London Story

As we approach the 5th anniversary of September 11, there will be numerous attempts to take stock on where we are in what in the United States is often referred to as the Global War on Terrorism.

And I will certainly also have reason to return to the subject of "GWOT" in the weeks to come.

Fears of the resurgence of large-scale terrorism were rekindled by the dramatic arrests in the United Kingdom recently. Suddenly, the threat looked very real again.

UK pre-trial secrecy rules have since then prevented much information of relevance from leaking out, but a recent major story in the New York Times gives an amazing amount of details concerning what it was all about.

Access to this article was blocked in the United Kingdom due to their special legal rules in cases like these.

Although there might not have been the risk of an "imminent" attack, the information in the NYT article clearly shows that it was a determined group working on a rather advanced scheme. Whether they would have had the capability to carry it out is another matter - there seems little doubt that they had the intention.

Their motivation seems to have been less general ideological, and more what they saw as the West's "war against Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq." Whether they had any links with the original al-Qaeda network is uncertain, although there is little doubt that they saw it as a source of inspiration.

This, then, is likely to be the new threat.

Not a world-wide and centrally-directed fanatical terrorist movement of "Islamic fascism" bent on setting up a new khalifate from Andalucia to Indonesia.

But rather copy-cat attempts by third-generation immigrants in Europe or elsewhere to revenge what they see as grave injusticies committed against different Muslim population.

It's a different, and perhaps more difficult, challenge.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Rotten Governance of Rosenbad

Right in the middle of the election campaign, the Constitutional Ombudsman JO has published his report on the behaviour of the Prime Minister's State Secretary Lars Danielsson.

Some might remember that I have written about this several times during the years. In my opinion, it was obvious that Mr Danielsson had lied to the Parliamentary Commission set up to clarify the governments handling of the December 2004 Tsunami disaster.

But Mr Danielsson was consistently protected by the Prime Minister.

Gradually during the Spring the media pressure on the issue intensified. There were extensive revelation of how Mr Danielsson had used the Gulfstream IV executive jet of the government on missions that certainly did not require it.

When the Constitutional Ombudsman JO decided to take up the issue, Mr Danielsson asked for an extended vacation. He has now been on vacation for 14 weeks, and is scheduled to go back to work in the Cabinet Office on Monday.

That is now unthinkable.

Without using those words, the JO is saying that it is highly likely that Mr Danielsson has been lying throughout the different investigations, and sums up that he has seriously hindered the review and investigation of the governments conduct.

In my opinion, Mr Danielsson has to be relieved of his duties immediately.

I don't think it has ever happened that a person on this high level has been so harshly critized on such a central issue by such an authoritative body.

It isn't the rotten governance of Sweden - it's the rotten governance of Rosenbad; the Prime Minister's Office.

Monday, August 28, 2006

An Estonian Model?

If we are in the business of models in Europe, it does not hurt to take a look at the performance of Estonia.

Leading the Baltic "tiger economies", it has also served as an inspiration to the debate about economic policy elsewhere.

Indeed, it was Estonia that championed the concept of the flat tax- since then adopted even by Russia.

The other day the IMF published its annual review of the performance of the Estonian economy. It points to some of the challenges of extremely high growth, but very clearly applauds the main lines of policy:

"Estonia's rapid economic growth stems from its liberal economic institutions and conservative financial policies. Real living standards now surpass those in most new member states of the European Union. Increasing trade and financial integration are offering new opportunities, but also creating imbalances. The challenge now is to implement policies that minimize the resulting risks to macroeconomic stability while continuing to profit from access to foreign markets and technologies."

Not bad for an economy that little more than 15 years ago had little else but empty grey shelves in the stores.

Model For Whom?

Although nowadays the so called Swedish model is primarily talked about in Sweden - in the rest of Europe it´s rather the Danish model that's on the agenda - it has a resurgence now and then.

In the latest issue of National Interest, Johan Norberg has published a piece that tries to correct the record somewhat.

Highly critical, broadly correct, and certainly worth reading by those that take an active interest in Sweden.

A Role For Europe?

Although I´m sitting in Bled discussing Caucasus and the Caspian region, the issues of the Middle East continue to be in focus.

In the shadow of the developments around the Lebanon conflict, there is a dramatically changed situation in Ramallah and on the West Bank. And I would argue that for all the importance of handling the aftermath of the Lebanon war, it's now imperative not the least for the European Union to start to address the Palestinian issues.

The situation there is simply not sustainable. A stat of collapse and chaos is drawing nearer.

There seems to two alternatives.

One is to accept a new Hamas-Fatah coalition government of the Palestinian Authority and an end to the Israeli and international sanctions against it.

The other might well lead to a dissolution of the Palestinian Authority - since it is collapsed by the sanctions anyhow - and going back to direct Israeli occupation rule as it was before the Oslo agreement.

An article in Egyptian Al-Ahram spells out the options that are on the table, and if you strip the text of some of the hyperbole it seems like a good summary of the situation.

This clearly calls for concerted international diplomacy. And with the US have locked itself in a situation of supporting nearly whatever Tel Aviv does, there is a new opening for the European Union.

Next weekend, all the foreign ministers of the European Union are heading for Lappeenranta in Finland for their informal so called Gymnich meeting.

This is a subject they can't avoid. Europe has a responsibility.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Energy Security In Focus

Sunday morning I'm flying off to Ljubjana in Slovenia, and from there go to beutiful Bled for the Bled Strategic Forum.

The conference this year will focus on the Black Sea and Caspian Sea areas and the challenges we will be facing there.

I'll take part in a discussion Sunday afternoon on Europe's geostrategy and energy security and the relevance of the the Caspian Basin in these respects.

But I guess there will be plenty of discussions also on other aspects than security.

With some sort of decision on the future status of Kosovo coming up soon, it will be necessary to discuss the impact this might have on the secessionist areas in both Georgia and Moldova. To say that a Kosovo decision will have no impact on these issues is just trying to stick the head into the sand.

But no doubt energy will be important. Independent access to the energy resources of the Caspian Basin has to be an important part in the overall energy strategy of the European Union.

There will no doubt be interesting discussions on the subject. And for me it's only the first in a series of international meetings focusing on energy security issues during the next few months.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Yeltsin and 1991

I did write about Boris Yeltsin going to Riga to receive the Latvin state decoration.

He did. And it was an event worth noticing.

In her speech, Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga pointed at his key role in restoring Latvia’s independence.

The world saw a man who has understood the course of history, showed himself not only as a democrat but also as a brave politician.

And Yeltsin acknowledged that he had seen the necessity of recognizing the independence of the Baltic countries.

In 1991, Mikhail Gorbachev, the head of the Soviet Union, was very surprised about my actions and made a large mistake by ordering the Soviet military to storm strategic points in Latvia. I called him from my car and said, ‘If you do not withdraw the army from Latvia, I will go there and offer them to shoot their president.” Y

Commenting on the failed coup in Moscow that started August 19th in 1991, Yeltsin correctly noted that “if reactionary forces had won at that time, both Latvia and Russia would have been back in the Soviet swamp.

An honourable and brave Russian.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Swedish Heroism

Well, I can only note that Sweden now seems to be ready to join the heroic nations offering to send naval units to Southern Lebanon.

The offer is to send one of the multi-purpose missile corvettes of the Swedish navy.

They are indeed very capable ships, with a multitude of different capabilities, and have proven themselves over the years.

But it has to be confessed that they were not optimized for patrolling villages, securing bridges, clearing landmines or inspecting lorries, to name just a few of the day-to-day tasks that the UNIFIL forces would have to undertake.

At least we did not offer a submarine...

Rush to Judgment?

During the Lebanon war, it was often argued that there was a direct operational link between Hezbollah and Teheran.

It was seen as Hezbollah attacking Israel on the instructions of Teheran, and the counterstrike just being an attack on the "Western front" of the coming confrontation with Iran.

Now, doubts are beginning to emerge.

Some of those propagating these theories are displeased with the US intelligence agencies, since these do not seem to be giving much support to the thesis.

According to an article in The Washington Post today:

"Several intelligence officials said that American spy agencies had made assessments in recent weeks that despite established ties between Iran and Hezbollah and a well-documented history of Iran arming the organization, there was no credible evidence to suggest either that Iran ordered the Hezbollah raid that touched off the recent fighting or that Iran was directly controlling attacks against Israel."

The fact seems to be that we don't know the fact.

And we should have learnt that a rush to judgement is not a particularly good basis for policy decisions.

Neither in the Middle East nor elsewhere. But perhaps particularly in the Middle East.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Nuclear Birth?

So far, there haven't been any official reactions to the Iranian answer to the offer by the so called 5+1 to start wide-ranging negotiations if Iran suspends the enrichment of uranium.

It's obvious that one is seeking as coordinated an assessment of the answer as possible. And that might indeer require some discussions.

In the meantime, there are signs that there are those in Teheran that are interested in inflaming the situation even further.

We are rapidly approaching the first anniversary of the forming of the president Ahmadinejad government.

And there are now press reports in Teheran that this will be celebrated with "the governments 'nuclear birth'."

What this could mean is far from clear, but we can safely expect a major tirade from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that will do very little indeed to defuse the already dangereous situation.

Not what is needed at this point in time - to put it very mildly.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Lebanon Force Uncertainties

There seems to be mounting uncertainities concerning the building up of the UNIFIL force in Lebanon towards 15 000 persons.

A meeting in Brussels tomorrow will - at French request - look at the combined European contribution.

It's not difficult to see the reasons for the hesitancy that is there in different countries concerning the sending of soldiers.

Exactly what the force is expected to do is not entirely clear. It will be under great pressue to disarm Hezbollah, but that does not really seems to be in its mandate, although the requirement that it will be done is very clear in the UN Security Council resolution.

Then there is the situation that has been demonstrated in the last few days, with Israel claiming that it has the right to undertake different military operations in Lebanon. If this continues, it's not difficult to see the cease-fire starting to deterioate even before a proper UN force is in place.

A third consideration - not publicly expressed, as far as I have seen - concerns the risks associated with a coming possible military confrontation with Iran.

If - at some point in time - the US decides to take military action against Iran, it is highly likely that Western forces in Lebanon will immediately be in the firing line, being caught up in a war over which they have no control whatsoever.

For all the complaining in Washington about France not supplying more troops, there are solid reasons beyond availability of force why neither the US nor Britain is keen to put boots on the ground in the area.

One consequence of the uncertainty is that we now see a rush to provide naval forces to UNIFIL. Germany will do it, Norway will do it and others are also certain to do it. I bet we'll soon have someone offering submarines to UNIFIL.

It's a way of minimizing risks as well as providing a very quick exit possibility - but it does not really contribute that much to the uncertain mission of the UN in Southern Lebanon.

Three Stars to Yeltsin

There was the expected official silence in Moscow over the anniversary of the defeat of the reactionary coup in 1991.

But others see things differently.

In a remarkable move today, the president of Latvia, Vaira Vike-Freiberga, will honour former Russian president Boris Yeltsin with Latvia's highest honour - the Order of the Three Stars.

The ceremony will take place in the old castle of Riga.

The reason is obvious. Without the courageous stand of Yeltsin during those days, blood might have flowed on the streets of the then Soviet Union, and not the least the Baltic countries.

But instead he defeated the plotters, and went on to recognize the independence of the Baltic nations.

It was when the independence of the three Baltic states was recognized by the Russian Federation that the way was suddenly open for a more general recognition. And there had been an indirect alliance between Yeltsin and the Baltic reformers all through the reform process.

So it's certainly a significant step that is now taken at Riga Castle.

And one worth noting more widely than what so far has been the case.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Paris, Stockholm, Belgrad and Bled

 Another week starting up, and after some meetings in Stockholm in the morning I'm off to Paris.

It's for a meeting of the President's Strategy Committee of ICANN.

We are there in order to give strategic advice to the President of ICANN. And ICANN, of course, is the body that is the key to the global governance of the Internet.

These issues have been much in the debate in the last few years. A major UN conference in Tunis last year spent a long time discussing the global Internet governance issues, and the debate certainly hasn't gone away.

There are also important issues on the table between ICANN and the US government - some very technical, but all seen as having profound political implications.

So it will be interesting - and informal - discussions in Paris. Our task is only to give advice to the Board of ICANN - they are the ones to take the decisions.

From Paris I'm back in Stockholm for two days. It will be interesting to see how the work with a common election manifesto for the four parties in the centre-right alliance progresses.

But then it's onwards to Belgrade for discussions on the Balkan strategy of the European Union in general and the possibilities of Serbia in particular.

The country is in a somewhat difficult situation at the moment, but at the same time its potential is obvious. It is the key to the long-term European prospects for the region as a whole.

And from there I will go - the one way or the other - to Bled in Slovenia for a major conference on strategic prospects in the Black and Caspian Sea areas. It's a discussion not the least on energy possibilities and strategies.

Once upon a time, Belgrade and Bled was part of the same country, and I guess communication between them was fairly straightforward. But that was then. Now it's a different situations, and I'm still not certain of the least inconvenient way of getting from B to B.

An interesting week ahead. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, August 20, 2006

The Escalation with Iran

We are now entering some weeks in which the Iranian issue very rapidly will move up on the international agenda.

Tuesday the 22nd is the first critical day.

That's when Iran has promised to give its official answer to the offer that was put on the table by the EU3 as well as the US, Russia and China before the summer.

It's a rather genereous one - but an absolute precondition for moving ahead with it is that Iran suspends its ongoing enrichment of uranium. There is an ultimatum from the UN Security Council on that issue as well, and that expires Thursday August 31st - next week.

Then, on Monday September 18th there is the meeting of the IAEA in Vienna which will assess whether Iran has fulfilled the requirements of the Security Council.

And with the UN General Assembly beginning in New York the day after, there is little doubt that the consequences of the IAEA assessment will dominate the discussions in the corridors in New York.

It's unlikely - to put it mildly - that the Lebanon war has improved the climate on the issue.

From the Washington perspective, support for Israel's strike at Hezbollah was very much seen as a strike at "the Western front" of the power of Iran.

Some obviously saw the need to reduce the striking capabilities of that "Western front" in the light of the possibility of a coming military conflict with Iran, in which one of the risks is that Iran will answer a US strike also with using Hezbollah to attack Israel.

Rightly or wrongly - but those are the concerns.

But the problem was of course that this strike wasn't overwhelmingly succesful - although we don´t know what's really behind the words, there is a serious risk that Teheran believes that it has come out rather well of that confrontation.

Indications are that Iran will continue with a policy of brinkmanship on the issue, trying to buy time and create divisions in the now rather solid international front on the issue.

My guess would be that Iran will say that it is ready to negotiate and talk about the entire package - including the suspension of enrichment. But talking about and doing are two very different things, and it is unlikely in the extreme that the US and the EU3 will be satisfied with such an approach.

Anyhow, it is most unlikely to pass the examination of the IAEA, since that will have to follow the strict wording of the Security Council resolution.

If I'm right, we will then see a further move up the ladder of escalation in the conflict with Iran.

The world is becoming an increasingly uncertain place.

Swedish Election - Also In Swedish

It's less than a month to the Swedish parliamentary election on September 17th.

We will elect the 349 members of the Riksdag, and its composition will decide who will be able to form the next government when the new Riksdag convenes on October 3rd.

This Sunday is the official start of the campaign, with the parties having put up their election posters.

As I biked back from a meeting downtown, the posters were already up everywhere. It's been the usual battle to secure the best positions.

I will obviously return to the issues of the Swedish campaign somewhat on this blog in the weeks to come, but in addition I have set up a Swedish-language blog where comments will be somewhat more frequent.

You can easily access it at this address -

At the moment, the opinion polls are giving the ruling Social Democrats 34-35% support.

When they lost power in 1976 they achieved 42,7% and when they lost in 1991 they achieved 37,7% - so obviously, they are in a rather difficult situation.

As they had 39,9% in the 2002 election, it looks very likely indeed that Prime Minister Göran Persson will finish his political career with a rather substantial defeat for the party.

If, in fact, they end up with an election result along the lines of what the polls are indicating at the present - but four weeks is a very long time in politics - it would be the worst result for the Social Democrats in a parliamentary election since the Spring of 1914 (!).

It will be a campaign worth watching.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Russian Drama of August 19

Early in the morning 15 years ago - it was Tuesday August 19, 1991 - a TV announcement in the Soviet Union said that emergency rule had been declared, that Michael Gorbachov was sick and that power was now in the hands of an emergency committee namned GKChP.

The day after had been supposed to be the signing of the new union treaty. But for the conspirators - the KGB, parts of the army, the interior ministry, conservative communists - it was seen as the death of the Soviet Union.

That's why they decided to strike.

The evening before they had detained Gorbachev at his vacation place on the Crimea. Now tanks were rolling into Moscow from all directions to enforce the clamp-down that had been decided and announced.

In some way, it was supposed to be the repetition of what we had seen in Hungary in 1956, Czechoslovakia in 1968 and Poland in 1981.

Now, the tanks were needed to save Soviet power in the Soviet Union itself.

More or less the same group of conspirators had tried to clamp-down violently on the Baltic countries earlier in the year. At that time, they must have had at least the passive support of Gorbachev himself.

But in spite of extensive preparations in all three countries they had failed. Tanks against people didn't work in the age of television, but 13 people had been killed in the battle for the TV tower in Vilnius in Lithuania.

Now they were determined to take power in the country as a whole to prevent the Soviet Union from disintegrating.

But they made one absolutely critical mistake: they forgot to immediately arrest the President of the Russian Federation Boris Yeltsin.

Very soon after the dramatic announcement, Yeltsin´s car had raced into Moscow past the columns of tanks, and within hours he climbed up on a tank outside the so called White House and read out his defiant statement. He was accompanied by a Russian rather than a Soviet flag.

It was an act that changed history.

With massive popular support for Yeltsin, even the KGB's elite Alpha Group of soldiers hesitated to attack the White House through the crowds. And soon the key paratroopers and some other army units began having their doubts as well.

Within two days it was clear that the coup had failed - and that Boris Yeltsin was the new leader of a new Russia. Soon he were to take the bold move of recognizing the independence of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Soon he would outlaw the Communist Party and dissolve the Soviet Union as a whole.

We can only speculate on what would have happen if the conspirators had arrested Yeltsin in the early morning hours of that August 19th. It would have been easy.

Without a forceful opposition, they would have taken control of all of Moscow. And there would have been tanks rolling into also Vilnius, Riga and Tallinn - as well as other cities - very soon. There would have been violence and deaths throughout the area. We can not know how the army units still remaining in Central Europe would have reacted. It would have been profoundly dangereous.

But Boris Yeltsin saved us and Russia.

What Vladimir Putin thought - and which side he was really on - during those dramatic days I do not know.

But there are certainly no celebrations in the Kremlin on this important day in the history of Russia and Europe.

Friday, August 18, 2006

On The Path To Defeat

Today, the governing Social Democrats produced their manifesto for the September 17th general election.

It was their chance to set the agenda for the debate in the days and weeks ahead.

It's too early for a definitive judgment, but the initial one could only be that they blew it.

There was certainly the usual avalanche of different hand-outs and expensive promises. Massive new amounts are to be spent on making it somewhat better to be unemployed.

But the nearly universal reaction by commentators was that instead of spending resources on making it somewhat better to be unemployed, the focus should have been on creating the conditions for new jobs.

The Social Democrats seems to have lost the priviligie to formulate the agenda of the political debate.

That's normally just the beginning of even bigger losses ahead.

On the trends of today, they are heading for defeat.

But an election campaign is a long, changing and dramatic event.

After Month of Madness

There are few voices on the issues of the Middle East more worth listening to than that of Lakhdar Brahimi.

He negotiated the accord that ended the civil war in Lebanon, was key in the Bonn agreement setting Afghanistan on a new course and was called in at critical times in Iraq when everything was going wrong.

In the New York Times today, he makes no secret of what he feels for the "month of madness" that is behind us.

And he is explicit in describing the major setbeck the month has been:

"Rather than helping in the so-called global war on terror, recent events have benefited the enemies of peace, freedom and democracy. The region is boiling with resentment, anger and despair, feelings that are not leading young Arabs and Palestinians toward the so-called New Middle East."

Brahimi argues for talking to Hezbollah and trying to get it truly integrated in Lebanese society. To try to defeat it is to risk the destruction of Lebanon.

And he argues strongly - and rightly - for turning attention to the Palestinian issue. Here, he sounds much like Tony Blair did in his recent speech in Los Angeles.

I agree fully.

If the month of madness can produce a wider recognition of the need to look anew at the Palestinian conflict, and get away from some of the policies of the past months, there might be some hope.

If not - then there is not.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Back To Stockholm

After absence more or less continously since late June, I'm now back in Stockholm.

I just landed from Italy after having gone there from Croatia yesterday.

It's a Stockholm which in terms of weather has definitely left the summer months, but which is in the early phases of the campaigns before its September 17th general election.

There will be reason to return to that subjects as the weeks progress.

But for the moment it's the more global agenda that dominates. We are heading towards a very complex couple of weeks and months.

The war in Lebanon is over, but there is certainly not peace, and all over the region passions are running higher than before.

It's in this athmosphere - also influence by the arrest of the terrorist plotters in Britain and Pakistan - that the Iran issue is very rapidly moving up on the international agenda.

There is profound drama and danger ahead.

There is every reason to fast the seat belts.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Was It Worth It?

With the cease-fire in Lebanon in effect, and the conflict thus entering a new and less violent stage, different actors must ask themselves what the war achieved.

It was Hezbollah that started by kidnapping two Israeli soldiers at a small cross-border raid. Why? Well, the declared purpose was to bring about a prisoner's exchange with Israel, but the more political one was in all probability to give indirect support to the Hamas militants in Gaza who had kidnapped another soldier and entered into a conflict over that.

It was then that Israel decided on a very major escalation. The decision was taken to bomb and isolate all of Lebanon. The first attack was against Beirut airport to stop Lebanon's airlinks with the outside world. The IDF Chief of Staff said that they should bomb Lebanon 20 years back in time.

This unleashed the rockets of Hezbollah in retaliation. Indeed, since 1996 there has been an informal understanding that Hezbollah would not fire rockets if Israel did not bomb Lebanon.

But now that understanding was gone. And the carnage started.

Israel has as the immediate aim to get its two soldiers back unconditionally and as the more general aim to break the back of Hezbollah. When Washington gave its support, it was with the more ambitious goal of destroying Hezbollah and sending a strong signal to Iran.

The goal of achieving a release of the two soldiers has not been reached so far, and is not in the operative part of the UN resolution. In all probability, we will see a UN- or Red Cross-negotiated mutual prisoner release within the not too distant future.

That's what was the initial and stated Hezbollah objective.

Whether Hezbollah has been broken remains to be seen. It has undertaken to disarm itself, and has declared that it is ready to do so when Israel totally leaves what they consider Lebanon's territory.

In itself, this is not a new position. Hezbollah has kept its weapons with the Sheba Farm issue as the pretext.

How fast this can happen might well be decided by how fast the IDF leaves Lebanon. It seems as if it was uncertainty over this that prevented the Lebanese government from reaching a decision at its meeting yesterday.

And it should be said that the UN resolution is not crystal clear on the sequencing of these different steps. There is an ambiguity that might have been seen as diplomatic in New York but could well turn out to be dangereous on the ground.

But the overall position of Hezbollah in Lebanon remains to be seen. That it's overall prestige in the Arab and the Muslim world has increased is beyond doubt.

Overall, there is little doubt first that the confidence of Israeli's in their armed forces have taken a heavy beating, and second that the standing of Israel in the world has been negatively affected by what has been seen as a grossly disproportionate use of force, also against civilians.

A million refugees is indeed a lot.

Washington has hardly covered itself in glory during the war.

But that's a separate story.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Another War Starting

In the wake of the Lebanon and Connecticut wars, a new war is opening up in the US foreign policy debate.

By the Connecticut war I mean the defeat of Senator Lieberman in the Democratic primary election. It's an event that will have a significant impact on the way the US foreign policy debates shapes up.

Yesterday, Richard Holbrooke said some sensible things in an OpEd in Washinton Post that I referred to here.

It wasn't too sensational - but uit certainly hinted that a more active and constructive US political approach wouldn't hurt.

Today, Holbrooke is blasted on the same pages by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who makes it abundantly clear that he will seek a domestic battle over foreign policy along very different lines.

He represents a rather stark version of the policy line that have led Washington to give diplomatic cover to every aspect of Prime Minister Olmert's less than spectacularly succesful policies during the past month.

He attacks Holbrook's what he calls "diplomacy first - diplomacy always" school.

And instead makes it clear that "if violence is necessary to defeat the terrorists, the Iranians and the North Koreans, then it is regrettably necessary."

It is unfair to accuse Holbrook of never being willing to use force, but if Holbrooke can be desdribed as "diplomacy first", Gingrichj sounds very much like "violence first".

The Gingrich line is very much the line I warned of yesterday - seeing everything as just one great war, seeing the enemy as evil beyond evil, and seeing only violent confrontation leading to the defeat of the enemy as a defensible policy.

It's recipe for an accelerating number of wars, which much sooner than later will completely overwhelm the capacity also of the United States, and which will certainly put Europe in the danger zone even more than would otherwise be the case.

But Newt Gingrich most probably see things also in domestic political terms.

With a democratic party tearing itself to pieces over Iraq, and clear and present terrorist dangers out there, an increasingly hysterical tone in the security debate might perhaps bring some domestic policy dividends.

But as foreign policy, it is profoundly dangereous.

We have all a stake in the war starting over the direction of US policy.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

As Dangereous As 1962?

Now, it’s beginning to get really dangerous. The guns of August are firing all over the place.

The consequences if the security agencies had not managed to stop the plot to blow up a number of jumbo jets in mid-Atlantic would have been tremendous.

I’m saying that also as a rather frequent flyer on precisely the London – Washington route.

But even now they will be large.

There is a risk of US opinion even more seeing everything that happens everywhere through the prism of the “global war against terrorism”.

Iraq, Hezbollah, Iran, al-Qaeda, Hamas – everything seems to merge into some sort of super-plot that requires a super-response by the world’s superpower. And that super-response by definition has to be military.

The upcoming midterm elections in the US in November might well have the tendency of moving the White House even more in this direction.

But such an approach risks making a very risky situation even more dangerous.

Richard Holbrooke sometimes has a tendency to be somewhat hyperbolic in his statements, but I think he has it absolutely right now:

Two full-blown crises, in Lebanon and Iraq, are merging into a single emergency. A chain reaction could spread quickly almost anywhere between Cairo and Bombay.

Turkey is talking openly of invading northern Iraq to deal with Kurdish terrorists based there. Syria could easily be pulled into the war in southern Lebanon. Egypt and Saudi Arabia are under pressure from jihadists to support Hezbollah, even through governments in Cairo and Riyadh hate the organisation. Afghanistan accuses Pakistan of giving shelter to al-Qaeda and the Taliban; there is constant fighting on both sides of that border. NATO: s own war in Afghanistan is not going well. India talks of taking punitive action against Pakistan for allegedly being behind the Bombay bombings. Uzbekistan is a repressive dictatorship with a growing Islamist resistance.

His rather dark conclusion is that “this combination of combustible elements poses the greatest threat to global stability since the 1962 Cuban missile crisis.

Then it was one situation that required the acute attention of two men. Had they failed, a nuclear war might have resulted.

Now, it’s a far more diffused conflict, where it is difficult and demanding for policymakers to differentiate sufficiently between the different challenges and develop policy responses that don’t make things worse.

And it is vitally important not see everything as one super-plot, but rather as a number of extreme serious and mutually reinforcing challenges that have to be handled with policy responses that disaggregates rather than fuses together the challenges.

For all the attention given to the war in Lebanon, it seems as if more people have been killed in Baghdad in the last two weeks. And today’s deadly attack in Najaf takes Iraq even closer to the feared civil war.

The multiple crisis now exploding from Mogadishu to Kabul – and its terrorist extensions into London and everywhere – makes it even more imperative to calm down whatever can be calmed down.

For Washington to give Israel green light for a major ground invasion of southern Lebanon in this situation would be a very major mistake.

Minds that are burning all over the Muslim world will be inflamed even more – in London as well as in Baghdad.

The purpose of policy should not be make bad things even worse.

That's the least we need in this increasingly dangereous situation.

Voice That Should Be Heard

These days it's not difficult to be critical towards the policies of Israel - but it remains difficult not to admire Israel as a society.

It's an open, pluralistic and dynamic society in every sense of the world. It would have a lot to give to the rest of the region. It could be a model to be admired by the region - instead of a threat to be hated.

In the middle of this sixth war for modern Israel, it's remarkable how open and transpent the political process remains.

Yesterday's Cabinet meeting on strategy ahead seems to have been filled with dissent and controversy, although at the end of it a large majority gave their support to the Prime Minister. Everything else is unthinkable in a situation like these.

But divisions where there.

The IDF Chief of Staff - the man who said he was going to bomb Lebanon 20 years baqck in time after the Hezbollah kidnappning of two soldiers - wanted to bomb and destroy the entire power grip of Lebanon. Thankfully, that wasn't even supported by his minister.

After a short interval for diplomacy, the intention now seems to be to launch three divisions into southern Lebanon. Officially, it is said to take a month to achieve the objectives. Some ministers predict it might take two months.

Although this would not take away the rocket threat to Israel, it could initial a catastrophic series of events. It is not to be excluded that other Arab nations would feel compelled to start coming to the aid of Israel. The risk of a wider war increases substantially.

Among the three ministers at the meeting who did not support the plan was Shimon Peres.

He is by far the man with the most experience in the Israeli government, and the only link with the founder generation of the country. He was the protege of David Ben-Gurion - the founder and first President of Israel.

At the meeting - and according to media reports - Shimon Peres said that he did not support the move because it has already forfeited the element of surprise, may involve numerous fatalities and would endanger Israel's relations with Arab and Muslim states.

It's a tragedy that his words of experience and wisdom were overruled in a Cabinet that seems to be dominated by those with only a very limited experience.

But it's still the strength of Israel that there are voices like those of Shimon Peres.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Back to Bactria

Just days ago, NATO took over responsibility for the entire inernational security operation in Afghanistan.

It will be a far greater test of the stabilisation capabilities of the organisation than the previous less demanding Balkan missions.

Summer is also reading time, and I have just finished a fascinagting account of Alexander the Great’s struggles to control the province that was then called Bactria.

It encompassed much of present Afghanistan and stretched into the Central Asian countries.

During his short decades, Alexander crushed the armies of the Persian Empire, but never really managed to subdue Bactria. At the end, it was the campaigns and challenges at Bactria that broke the back of his armies.

In his book ”Into the Land of Bones” author Frank Holt – renowned scholar in the area - dwells also somewhat on the experiences of the Macedonian, British and Soviet armies in this region over the centuries.

He finds disturbing similarities in the challenges they faced – and eventually were overcome by.

For example, all these invasions of Afghanistan went well at first, but so far no superpower has found a workable alternative to what might be called the recipe for ruin in Afghanistan:

1. Estimate the time and resources necessary to conquer and control the region. 2. Double all estimates. 3. Repeat as needed.

This is certainly not an argument for not trying. Handing Afghanistan back to tribal turmoil and terrorist temptation can certainly not be a policy alternative.

But it’s an argument against complacency when discussing the challenges, and against underestimating the time and resources that will be needed.

It’s also an argument in favour of reading a good book.

End This Tragedy Now

The peace efforts in the war over Lebanon are obviously at a standstill as France and the US discusses changes to their draft UN Security Council resolution and the Israeli government is considering launching a more significant ground offensive into southern Lebanon.

The war is not going Israel's way.

Yesterday, the general in charge of IDF's Northern Command was de facto dismissed. There is obvious tension over military strategy.

But to launch a major ground offensive into Lebanon would be to enter a quagmire where Israel have been numerous times before - without ever really achieving its stated objectives.

It would effectively kill the possibility of an early cease-fire. The tragedy would be prolonged.

The ray of hope that is there is the 7-point plan presented by Lebanon's Prime Minister Faoud Siniora. The fact that is seems to have the support of Hezbollah is of the utmost importance.

Today, Siniora argues for his plan in an OpEd in Washington Post - hoping to reach political opinion makers there directly.

But no progress seems possible as long as Israel insists on holding on to positions in Lebanon until an international force arrives, and Hezbollah refusing any cease-fire as long as Israel does not leave Lebanon, thus also de facto blocking the arrival of any possible augmented international force.

To me, it seems reasonable that Israel leaves positions that serve no purpose anyhow ; they have not stopped the rocket attacks - while what is there of the Army of Lebanon in cooperation with what is there of UN forces takes over that limited area until an international force can arrive.

It's not the perfect way forward - bit still a way forward where others look like being blocked.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Olmert and Kosovo Lessons

There are indeed strange words coming out of Jerusalem these days.

In a German interview of the weekend, Prime Minister Olmert has said that the Europeans have no ground to lecture Israel on how to treat civilians in war, and uses Kosovo as an example of this.

Olmert said that "European countries attacked Kosovo and killed ten thousand civilians. Ten thousand! And none of these countries had to suffer a single rocket [attack] beforehand."

Well, I was not among the keenest supporters of the Kosovo war, but Olmert is wide off the mark in practically every respect.

It's probably the case that the Kosovo war killed app 10 000 people, and it's certainly true that the overwhelming majority of those were killed after the beginning of NATO airstrikes.

But more realistic assessments talk about the NATO airstrikes directly killing in the order of 500 civilians during the 78 days of bombing. Bad, indeed very bad, but less than 10 000.

What Olmert should learn from the Kosovo war are two things.

The first - which he might have learnt already - is that you can never rely on air power alone.

The NATO generals thought that a number of strikes during a couple of days would do, but had to engage in nearly three months of intense bombing, at the end of which the Serb forces left Kosovo in good order and with more of armoured vehicles than NATO had been aware of them having at the beginning of the conflict.

The second is that if you are seen as the one inflicting harm on the civilian population, you will be the one that loses the conflict.

Milosevic's big mistake was to answer the NATO air strikes with a massive increase in ethnic cleansing, which drove 800 000 people across the borders into other countries. NATO's awful mistakes paled in comparison, and the court of world public opinion condemned the former rather than the later.

There are lessons to be learnt from every conflict.

But if Olmert things that the lesson from Kosovo is that you can keep bombing until there are 10 000 civilian casualities - since that is what he believed was the case in Kosovo - then it will spell tragedy for Israel.

And there is a third lesson from Kosovo.

After NATO was starting to run out of military options, one had to enter into a political deal with Milosevic. The alternative had been to assemble an army for a ground invasion, which would have taken months.

And that deal - that stopped the carnage and made it possible for the refugees to return - handed the issue over to the UN awaiting a political settlement later on.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Lebanon Anger

It seems as if some of the critical questions I highlighted here today have caused a delay in the adoption of the UN Security Council Resolution on the Israel-Lebanon war.

The government of Lebanon and its Prime Minister Siniora have been critical in the extreme of the draft.

They had worked hard to produce a peace plan which, in their opinion, meet all the key concerns, including the disarming of Hezbollh, only to see it ignored by the international community.

And they were given support by a special meeting of Arab foreign ministers in Beirut earlier today.

An editorial in Beirut's English-language newspaper The Daily Star spells out what they consider the faults of the draft resolution:

"The aim of the Lebanese government is to reach a point of closure in the decades-long Lebanese-Israeli conflict and to create the required conditions for a lasting armistice. Siniora's plan ties up all loose ends, including the issues of the Shebaa Farms, Israeli incursions, and Hizbullah's weapons."

"But the UN's draft resolution leaves these issues open and sanctions new conditions that will prolong conflict. Instead of closing the door on the current war and on future conflicts, the resolution will open a pandora's box."

Under these conditions, it seems likely that there will be a further delay in New York while the possibility of further changes in the draft resolution are discussed.

This happens at the same time as there seems to be more active considerations in Israel of launching the three mobilized reserve divisions in a more major offensive into southern Lebanon.

It's all look very, very tense.

And very,very uncertain.

Ukraine Analysis

As the text of the political agreemenr in Kiev becomes available, its implicationbs can be analyzed better than in the first reactions.

But essentially the first generally positive assessments are confirmed by a more detailed reading of the text.

Early out is Anders Åslund with a commentary published today in The Moscow Times.

On the foreign policy side, he sees the document as mostly a victory for the reformers in Our Ukraine.

"Ukraine is to maintain its course toward European integration with the eventual aim of joining the European Union, including the beginning negotiations on a free trade zone between Ukraine and the EU. Again, this looks like a victory for Our Ukraine."

"The Party of the Regions insisted on adding a paragraph on the Common Economic Space, a proposed common market between Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine that has been pushed by Moscow. But the coalition addresses the Common Economic Space only as a free trade area and with certain reservations from Yushchenko that may make the deal much less attractive for the Russian side."

Good. But absolute key will be what happens with the economy.

On these issues as well, the words in the documents are reassuring.

But it's the deeds that will make the difference.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Critical Questions Ahead

Whether it will be easy to implement the resolution that is now on the table of the UN Security Council must be open to some considerable doubt.

It calls for the "immediate cessation by Hezbollah of all attacks" and the "immediate cessation by Israel of all offensive military operations", but leaves open the question whether Hezbollah will accept that Israel is seen to be given some room for continued attacks.

More difficult is what will happen on the ground in southern Lebanon.

Here, a zone between the Blue Line - the border between Lebanon and Israel - and the Litani River should be free of "any armed personnel, assets and weapons" other than those of the Lebanese government or authorized by the US.

Since the advance of the Israeli army so far seems to be rather limited, the resolution seems to be based on either Hezbollah voluntarily clearing out everything it has from this area or the coming international force undertaking the task of clearing the area.

The likelihood of either of these two options being realized imminently seems to me to be rather remote.

But answers to these and other questions might come in the second resolution that more specifically concerns the international force. This is however unlikely to be tabled until the government of Lebanon has given its assent, and that might not be fortvoming that easy or that fast.

Perhaps the idea is for a force to start entering the area and then ordering the withdrawal from the area of both the Israeli army and Hezbollah.

The problem is that it is not unlikely that fighting will continue in southern Lebanon up until that time since the Israeli army will not have been asked to withdraw and Hezbollah might not agree to vacate the area at the least until such time as the Israelis do it.

Well, the positive thing that can be said is that the focus of the conflict might shift from the ground and air of Lebanon and northern Israel to the corridors by the East River in New York.

But for the suffering peoples, the only thing that counts is an immediate cessation of all hostilities and military actions.

The next few days will show whether the resolution will be accep0tred in its present form and whether it can achieve these aims.

There are big question marks hanging over the process.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

France for Europe

It's obviously France that has carried the heavier of the diplomatic burdens in the present war.

Reports now speak about Washington having accepted an agreement with Paris that has just been tabled "in blue" in New York as a draft UN Security Council Resolution.

It's evidently first one resolution on an immediate cease-fire and associated arrangements and then a second one on the international security force.

Whether the second has also been tabled isn't entirely clear from the reporting.

This brings hope of a cessation of fighting within the next few days.

One would assume that the resolution will be respected by Israel, and one would also have to assume that French diplomacy acting also through the Lebanese government has secured the assent of Hezbollah.

Let's hope that there will soon be the possibility of the up towards one million refugees in Lebanon to start returning home, as well as those having fled the rockets attacks in northern Israel, as well as for the beginning of the painful destruction of Lebanon.

When everything is over it is likely that France will come out of it rather well among the European countries, while the United Kingdom by lining up so heavily with Washington effectively made itself a non-factor in the efforts to end the war.

But much more might have been achieved much earlier if the Europeans have acted together.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Washington Betrayed?

Slowly, Washington seems to be losing faith in Israeli PM Olmert and his conduct of the war.

It was expected that he could have the Israeli Air Force delivering a quick victory over Hezbollah, and that should be seen as an important defeat also for Iran.

It wasn't only that Washington backed what Israel was doing - there was in all probability an element even of encouragment.

But three weeks into the war things look very different.

The rockets are continuing to rain down on northern Israel - and the images of civilian victims of Israeli bombs in Lebanon increasingly agitates the Muslim world.

And on the diplomatic front is seems as if it will be the French that will be dictating the terms in the UN Security Council.

Not really what Washington expected Israel to deliver.

An OpEd by Charles Krauthammer in Washington Post today is undoubtedly of significance in this regard.

He's a standardbearer on the more neoconservative thinkers in Washington. For harsh words of criticism against Israel to come from him there really have to be serious reasons. And many are likely to follow his lead on these issues.

He feels betrayed by Israel.

They promised a quick victory. And they seem to be delivering a profound mess.

The cost in Washington - if this is perceived to be the outcome - will be very considerable indeed.

Batallions to and Pessimism over Baghdad

As the US is rushing its two advanced Stryker batallions to Baghdad in order to try to stem the upsurge in sectarian killing, a pessimistic British assessment is leaked to the press.

It's the final report of outgoing UK Ambassador to Iraq William Patey that has reached the media, including The Times.

"The prospect of a low intensity civil war and a de facto division of Iraq is probably more likely at this stage than a successful and substantial transition to a stable democracy," he wrote in his cable, which was addressed to the Prime Minister, Foreign Secretary, Defence Secretary, Leader of the House of Commons, and senior military officers.

"Even the lowered expectation of President Bush for Iraq — a government that can sustain itself, defend itself and govern itself and is an ally in the war on terror — must remain in doubt."

But in spite of this, the situation was not beyond hope, although he predicted that - at best - Iraq would be a very messy place for the next five to ten years.

This comes as the level of sectarian fighting is increasing dramatically in Baghdad.

The fact that the US is rushing its two advanced Stryker batallions from other critical parts of Iraq - one of them from Mosul - to Baghdad in order to reinforce the security operation there is a sign of the seriousness of the situation.

These are capable forces, but the batallions in question have never been to Baghdad, and what difference they can make in a city of 5-7 million people remains to be seen.

In the meantime, there is little doubt that what is seen on the ground as the Israeli-American war in Lebanon is complicating the situation even further. And that can not be corrected by rushing batallions to Baghdad.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

New Challenges on Dnepr

As predicted here, the political crisis in Ukraine ended with a de facto-coalition between Our Ukraine and the Party of Regions.

This afternoon, an official ceremony of signing of what is called Universal Of National Unity took place in Kiev, in which President of Ukraine Victor Yushchenko, speaker Oleksand Moroz, Prime Minister Yuri Yekhanurov and leaders of the other parliamentary factions took part.

The document was signed by Socialist party leader Vasyl Tsushko, Our Ukraine leader Roman Bezsmertny and Party of Regions leader Victor Yanukovich.

it certainly took a long time to reach this result - and the details of the agreements signed are still somewhat unclear.

Whether this will result in a sufficiently strong government remains to be seen. There is reason to be particularly concerned over the position of the Socialists and the small Communists - they are the true reform-blockers.

That there will be a strong opposition with Yulia Timoshenko is beyond doubt. She might well set her sights on challenging Yushenko in the next presidential election, although that position holds less powers now than in the past.

Does this means that all the gains of the Orange Revolution are gone?

Certainly not.

Ukraine is still a free and open - somewhat disorganized - democracy in contrast to what we see emerging in Russia. The elections that were held in March were free and fair.

And there is a certain value in a coalition that bridges the political gap that does exists between the East and the West of the country. It might well be that President Yushenko sees this as his possibility of becoming true President of all of the country.

There now seems to be a joint commitment to work towards closer integration with the rest of Europe in general and the European Union in particular.

It will now be up to the EU to test how far that commitment can carry them. The proposal that is on the table for "deep free trade" between the EU and Ukraine should certainly be explored.

Whether this arrangement will mean that Ukraine's moves towards NATO will be delayed is too early to tell. Mr Yanokovich has been eager to send signals to the West that he is not as opposed as he might have sounded, but that remains to be seen.

Reports talk about an agreement to have a referendum on the NATO issue. When that should be held would be an open question, and it would certainly require very major effort to turn public opinion around on this issue.

Absolute key will be whether the government can get back on track in terms of economic reforms. That's what's really needed after the debacle of the Timoshenko government last year and the long political crisis this year.

But economic growth has started to pick up markedly in the last few months, and that's a good signal that the economic slowdown might have been overcome.

Very important would be to send a signal on early resolution of the outstanding issues concerning membership of the WTO. It's here the role of the Socialists and Communists could be dangereous. Let's see.

Relations with Russia will are unlikely to be straightforward immediately. The issue of gas prices for next year remains to be sorted out, as well as the details on the ownership and managment of Ukraine's important gas distribution and transit infrastructure.

There is every reason to continue to follow and support developments in Kiev, Donetsk, Lvov and Odessa.

It's a key country for the future of the entire East of Europe.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Important Blair Messages

Tony Blair’s speech in Los Angeles has received publicity mainly for his remarks about “reactionary Islam”.

But its most significant and new parts where not really this.

Two things are particularly worth noting in the speech.

First, the emphasis that he places on the imperative of reconsidering and re-balancing the policy that has been pursued during the last few years.

He stressed that in the situation now this “require us to change dramatically the focus of our policy.

This he said without going more specifically into where responsibility for the focus that now needs to “change dramatically” lies. Probably wise.

Second, the importance in this context that he gave the situation between Israel and Palestine.

Although he uses his missionary way of speaking to paint the picture of a great battle of values between us and “reactionary Islam”, it is obvious that he does not fail to see the centrality of the Israel-Palestine issue to this battle.

Unless we re-appraise our strategy, unless we revitalize the broader global agenda on poverty, climate change, trade, and in respect of the Middle East, bend every sinew of our will to make peace between Israel and Palestine, we will not win.

In order to empower the moderates within Islam and start isolating the extremists, thus putting the Middle East on a modernising path, he urges us to tackle the Palestine issue.

This issue is “utterly fundamental to all we are trying to do.” And he says that “progress will not happen unless we change radically our degree of focus, effort and engagement, especially with the Palestinian side.

Somewhat more specifically, he calls for action “to put a viable Palestinian Government on its feet, to offer a vision of how the Roadmap to final status negotiations can happen and then pursue it, week in, week out, ‘til its done.

Nothing else will do. Nothing else is more important to the success of our foreign policy.

It’s undoubtedly an important speech in both these respects, particularly coming at this period in time.

It calls for reappraisal of policy. It places the Israel-Palestine issue at the centre of everything we are trying to do in the Middle East and the Muslim world. And it obviously calls for a shift in policies in order to make progress here.

There are important hints in the speech on what these could be.

I couldn’t agree more.

Olmert Confusion

Prime Minister Olmert is now saying that there will be no ceasefire in Lebanon until an international force is deployed in the south of the country.

This statement unfortunately hints at a large degree of naivety in the higher echelons of Israel.

There is very little possibility of nations committing troops to any peacekeeping force in Lebanon without knowing its mandate and the political base on which it will be deployed.

And this will scarcely be possible until there is an agreement with the government of Lebanon and inside Lebanon, and in all probability with Israel as well.

To believe that such an agreement can be hammered out, troops committed and deployed while the bombs and the rockets keep flying and the casualties mount is naïve.

In all probability, it will be the other way around.

There will be a cease-fire either as part of or rapidly followed by a broader political agreement.

From there a mandate for the international force emerges. Then nations have the basis to start to commit forces and for the UN – or whoever – to assemble the force.

Then – and only then – can the deployment of the force begin. And if we are talking about 10 000 to 20 000 men – as some do – then it will take weeks if not months to get the force as a whole properly deployed.

If Prime Minister Olmert believes that he can have his air force and artillery continue to hammer Lebanon during this time it really hints at him not having read the dossier properly.

Sorry to say.

Linguistic Innovations as Policy Substitute

The European Union foreign ministers meeting yesterday seems to have been more succesful in producing linguistic innovations than in agreeing on a forceful policy.

After much discussion, it was agreed to "call for an immediate cessation of hostilities to be followed by a sustainable cease-fire."

This was evidently a comprimise between those that wanted an immediate cease-fire and those that did not.

But the compromise is nothing but a linguistic exercise of an equally innovative and debatable character.

Any reader of the history of war and peace would argue that a cease-fire always comes first, that it's not really meant to be sustainable over a longer time, since it is just an end to ongoing military activities in the absence of the broader political deal or agreement that will have to follow.

To talk about a cease-fire being sustainable is to imply that it can substitute for a broader political deal. In my opinion, that's a highly debatable concept, unproven in the past and likely to fail also tomorrow.

It is sometimes argued that the Balkan wars saw numerous cease-fires that were not sustainable. True. But the problem was nearly always that they feel apart after a while because they were not followed by broader political ageeements and a broader cessation of hostilities.

It is when a cease-fire is then followed by a broader peace deal of some sort that you can really talk about a broader cessation of hostilies between the warring parties.

That's - in my opinion - the way the language is normally used.

But now it's the other way around.

It seems as now this war is starting to produce collateral damage also in the linguistic field.

That would be OK if this wasn't a reflecting of a profound muddling also of the political line.

But I fear it is.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Words of Wisdom from Carter

Jimmy Carter has an experience of the Middle East rivaled by very, very few.

He is the man who produced the most significant contribution to Israel's security in modern times in the form of the Camp David accords.

In recent years, I have followed him twice to the area in connection with the different Palestine elections and been profoundly impressed by his knowledge and wisdom.

With an OpEd in Washington Post today he joins those speaking up against both the Israeli and US policies.

And he is right in connection it all to the failure to move forward on the core issue of a peace agreement over the Palestine issue, and that in spite of broad majorities in all communities in favour of such an agreement.

"Traumatized Israelis cling to the false hope that their lives will be made safer by incremental unilateral withdrawals from occupied areas, while Palestinians see their remnant territories reduced to little more than human dumping grounds surrounded by a provocative "security barrier" that embarrasses Israel's friends and that fails to bring safety or stability."

Words of wisdom from a man of knowledge.

Tuomioja Thruths

As the foreign ministers of the European Union sit down together in the Council building in Brussels this afternoon, stakes are high.

It's a meeting that's been called by the Finnish Presidency of the Union, although not everyone has been overly keen on it.

On the agenda are the different aspects of the war in Lebanon, but also the situation in the Palestinian territrories, notably Gaza.

Although public opinion in Europe has been reasonably clear on these issues, governments have been divided, and the European Union the usual problem of too many voices have too little to say.

Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja might not be much of a diplomat, and that's why he has also been very blunt on what's at stake with, among other things, today's meeting.

"If the EU now is unable to act and to show leadership in this issue – the leadership that it is now being offered – we can say goodbye to EU power of influence for a long time,” Tuomioja has declared.

Somewhat exaggerated - the EU is still there after the profound debacle of the Iraq war - but worth saying anyhow.

Beginning of the End?

It is in all probability the beginning of the end.

The announcement that Fidel Castro has turned over power to his brother Raul after complicated surgery shows the inevitable.

Although said to be "temporary", the handing over of power to someone sooner or later will have to be permanent.

The charismatic Castro has been in power continuesly since taking power in the revolution of 1959.

He has duelled - in a political, and sometimes military sense - with every US President since Dwight Eisenhower.

Fidel and his brother took power New Year's Day 1959, after what at first was an unsuccessful attempt at toppling the dictator Fulgencio Batista.

The revolution began on July 26, 1953, after an attack on the Moncada army barracks. But in spite of being surrounded by much revolutionary mythology, that was a spectacular failure, and Castro was among those jailed.

But after having fled to Mexico, he came back and succeeded with ousting the widely unpopular Batista.

Since then, Raul as been close at to Fidel in every sense. But he is certainly not the charismatic leader that Fidel is, and there have been persistent rumours that he is too heavy a user of alcohol.

Although it sounds unlikely that a Raul regime would last long, there are those that see the possibility of him being somewhat less dogmatic. There is an urgent need for profound economic reforms.

Partucularly on the US side, some thought seems to have been given to the transition issues in Cuba. A 95-page report on what the administration would do to usher democracy into the island after Castro's demise was published only weeks ago.

The report by the multi-agency Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba pledges to help a transition government with humanitarian aid and organizing free and fair elections. It earmarked $80 million in assistance for Cuba's opposition.

But US law regulates that a transition government cannot include Fidel or Raul Castro, and must meet a number of rather reasonable conditions such as calling for free elections and releasing political prisoners.

Key for the economy of a future Cuba would of course be the lifting of the US economic sanctions that have been in force all these decades. It's Fidel Castro and the Communist Party that have ruled the place, but it's been the political effects of these sanctions that have helped them stay in power.

There was obviously rejoicing in the streets of Miami as the news came through, and the Miami Herald has extensive reporting as well as analysis of what might lie in story for the poor country.

Its to Miami that the large waves of refugees - the middle class of Havana - has gone over the decades.

Today, Cuba is a poor and desperate dictatorship.

It's economy has been destroyed by socialism and its politics by communism. Having lived off the subsidies of the Soviet Union, and seen them disappear, it has gone through a very hard time, only partly rescued by the new subsidies from Hugo Chavez's Venezuela.

When Castro goes there are numerous scenarios of which happen - ranging from open rebellion to a smooth transition to a similar leader. But it does look likely that the regime will disappear with the man.

Thus, we will be faced with the task of helping to manage a critical process of regime transition in the Caribbean.

We'd Europe has better get ready.

The Mistakes of Past and Present

It would not surprise me if Prime Minister Olmert is in for a rough time after the Lebanon war.

The number of voices raised against his conduct of the entire operation is increasing by the day.

And it's not really only the ones that you would believe.

Increasingly it's a highly professional criticism focusing on the obvious lack of any clear political-military strategy and equally clear lack of understanding of the political realities of warfare.

This is war among people's - and as such subject to very different rules of the game.

But Olmert believed that some quick use of air power would do. And he counted on the White House to give him all the time he needed for that campaign.

But air power could do little decisive but destroy the civilian infrastructure of Lebanon, and even the White House is now starting to feel the strain of a war that looks having no end.

The mistakes made are certainly grounded by mistakes done in the past by all concerned.

This analsys from Ami Isseroff, who is director of MidEastWeb, gives a good account of both the mistakes and the past and the more obvious mistakes in this campaign.

I guess we will hear much more along the lines in the days, weeks, and months ahead.