Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Need for Balkan Strategy

The European Commission has just published its ideas for the meeting between the European Union and the Western Balkan countries that will be held in Salzburg in early March.

It's supposed to set new directions for European policy in the area.

The next few months are crucial for the future of the Balkans. If EU leaders refuse to discuss realistic strategies for enlargement, the region will be more likely to suffer a new cycle of instability than enjoy enduring stability.

My own views of what should and could be done is set out in the linked article from the latest issue of the Bulletin from Centre for European Reform in London.

A somewhat more offensive approach - which I do think is called for.

The EU needs a bolder Balkan strategy by Carl Bildt

Change in Sarajevo

Today marks the departure from Sarajevo of Paddy Ashdown after his service there as High Representative. Tomorrow it is Christian Schwarz-Schilling that takes over.

Paddy was the fourth High Representative under the provisions in Annex 10 of the Dayton Peace Agreement for Bosnia. I had the honour of being the first in the series, but he's the one who has served the longest, and probably the one who has sought to maintain the highest political profile.

Much has changed during the years. When I arrived in the winter of 1995/96 we had absolutely nothing in a city heavily scarred by the war that had just ended. I brought a bunch of D-Marks in an envelope from Brussels and we started to set up whatever we could in the middle of acuta political tensions and enormous humanitarian challenges.

That was then. My own view has been that the entire Office of the High Representative - now in the order of 500 persons all over the country - should have been closed down 10 years after Dayton and replaced with a more low-profile European Union mission.

With its high profile and its intrusive powers the OHR has certainly done much good in Bosnia over the years, but the cumulative effect has increasingly been one of fostering a climate of irresponsibility in the domestic Bosnian political environment.

It's been too easy to just abstain from taking difficult decisions and instead ask the High Representative to sort things out - only to blame him when he tries to get things going.

Paddy was less than happy when criticism along these lines started to become more prominent some years ago, but today he essentially agrees.

That one - in spite of this - decided to appoint a new High Representative was in my opinion a mistake. But Christian Schwarz-Schilling knows the country well and will in all probability take a somewhat lower political profile than what Paddy did.

At the end of the day, it is the citizens and politicians of Bosnia themselves that should prove that their country has a future.

Office of the High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina

You Will Hear More About Natanz

Natanz is a place we will hear more about in the next few months. It's the location in Iran where they are building their uranium enrichment facility.

And it's really around activities at Natanz that the entire controversy is now concentrated.

It takes some time to build a properly functiong enrichment facility. There are no signs of the Iranians being close to it. It is even more complex to take the process to the high enrichment needed for nuclear weapons.

What the Iranians have done now is to restart some undefined "research activities" at Natanz. Most probably that means work on a centrifugte for enrichment, which crosses a distinct red line of the international community.

Even if it - even if they went all out for it - in all probability would take some time for them to get close to a weapons capability - IISS says at the least five years - it's still a rather massive faculity they are building.

The linked series of satellite images gives a good picture of the entire thing and how it has evolved.

Not in particular the fairly large underground structures.

Stay tuned, as they say.
Natanz - Iran Special Weapons Facilities

Quartet Balancing Act

Well, the Quartet dinner in London yesterday did manage to produce a fairly comprehensive policy response to the elections in Palestine.

It obviously repeats some of the key demands on the future Palestine government, but doesn't say that all aid will be cut immediately if all of these demands are not fulfilled immediately.

It will "review" the issue. Fine. There is an element of flexibility in the choice of words that's obviously highle deliberate.

The key issue is to get distinct movement in the right direction, but it's hardly realistic to expect that all the conditions can be met immediately.

Interesting was that the Quartet in the same statement put demands also in the Israeli side:

"The Quartet reiterated its view that settlement expansion must stop, reiterated its concern regarding the route of the barrier, and noted Acting Prime Minister Olmert's recent statements that Israel will continue the process of removing unauthorized outposts. "

These were not new policies, but the fact that they were repeated in the same statement might make it somewhat more easy to get a receptive audience for the other parts of the message.

Good work, Quartet!

Quartet says aid to Palestinian government will be reviewed in light of key conditions

Monday, January 30, 2006

A Nation At War?

Sometimes the contrast between the United States and Europe come out in a rather striking way.

This morning I attended a breakfast briefing here in Washington by the Vice-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on the so called Quadrennial Defence Review due to be released to the public on Monday. The QDR is a major multi-annual defence planning exercise.

I was struck by him saying that this was the first QDR made "with the nation at war".

At war?

There is no denying the complexities of Iraq, and a poll in one of the newspapers of issues which the public are most concerned about puts Iraq on top of the list. And there are certainly serious challenges in both Afghanistan and elsewhere.

To say that "the nation is at war" seems to me to carry it too far. War for Europeans is a far more all-encompassing challenge and task than the operations now carried out, and requires far more fundamental changes in society.

But we are dealing not with objective realities but with subjective perceptions that are shaped by different cultural and political perspectives. That's simply the way it is.

In today's New York Times one finds a full-page ad signed by a distinguished group of Americans across the political spectrum claiming that "America is still dangereously vulnerable."

A nation at war. A nation that sess itself as dangereously vulnerable.

Is this the confident superpower? Or a nerveous nation not really understanding what's happening?

Partnership for a Secure America

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Europe Slipping Behind? (2)

The blog of Business Week has taken up my earlier blog entry on whether Europe is slipping behind the United States in terms of research and development.

And it has lead to a series of rather interesting contributions on the subject.

Well worth looking at for the interested.

Is Europe Slipping Behind?

The Washington Week

After nearly a week based in Jerusalem - at a very pivotal time in the modern history of the region - and a day in Stockholm I'm now heading over the North Atlantic in the direction of Washington.

I'm there primarily for a board meeting of Legg Mason in Baltimore, but as usual these trips combine a number of different elements. There will be ample of political discussions in Washington before I'm back home towards the end of the week.

It's a week with a heavy political agenda.

On Tuesday, President Bush adresses Congress with his annual State of the Union speech, setting out the priorities and policies of his presidency one year into it's four-year term.

Whether that will be the most important event of the day, or whether more attention will be given to Alan Greenspan's last day as Chairman of the Federal Reserve after 18 years of very distinguished service remains to be seen. On Wednesday, Bed Bernankie takes over.

Be sure that President Bush will pay tribute to Greenspan, and that he will use this also to highlight the rather extraordinary dynamism of the American economy at this time.

The figures are truly impressive.

When Greenspan took over from Paul Volcker in 1987, the US GDP was around 5 trillion dollars. Since then rapid growth has taken it to today's level of around 13 billion dollars. In absolute terms, no country throughout history has ever created so much new wealth during a corresponding span of time.

But there will obviously be a restatement of the administrations foreign policy priorities that will be keenly watched.

Will it be dominated by an effort to give a positive picture of developments in Iraq? Or will it be the escalating conflict with Iran that will dominate? And how will he treat the fact that democracy in the Arab world seems to mean that Islamist forces are gaining ground at the expense of more moderate ones, with the Palestine election just days behind us?

All of these issues will be the subject of important activities elsewhere during this week.

Tonight German Chancellor Angela Merkel - who's quickly achieved a superstar status in her country - will arrive in Jerudsalem for talks with Acting Prime Minister Olmert before she tomorrow proceeds to Ramallah and to see President Abu Mazen.

With her new weight both in Europe and in the White House, the impression that she gets will obviously be important in shaping Western policy.

And tomorrow the EU Foreign Ministers will meet in Brussels to look at the new situation. They are however likely to defer major policy conclusion until the dinner in London that brings in also UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, US Secretary of State Condolezza Rice and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

The London meetings will not only deal with the new situation in the Middle East.

The Iran issue will be on the agenda as well, as will the question of how to proceed with the search for a Kosovo solution. President Ahtisaari, who leads the international effort, is likely not to get support for the approach that he has recommended.

And the big issue - bringing representatives of 60 or so states to London tomorrow - will be to get money for the different peace efforts in Afghanistan. Things are not going too badly there - but neither are they going particularly well. State-building takes time - and costs money.

On Thursday the Iran issue is likely to be at the top of the global political agenda as the Governing Board of the IAEA convenes in Vienna to deal with the EU requst thar the Iranian issue the one way or the other be sent to the UN Security Council.

There is likely to be heavy maneuvering prior to and at the meeting. Evidently Teheran has suddenly accepted to let IAEA inspectors visit the Lavizan facility in Teheran which is suspected of having housed unreported nuclear activities in previous years. But the critical vote might well be delayed by the fact that the IAEA isn't fully ready to report their full conclusions on Iran. Another months or so might be needed.

In the meantime, the Chinese are busy celebrating that they have now entered the Year of the Dogs.


Saturday, January 28, 2006

Palestine's Likud

The debate continues to rage over the consequences of the election in Palestine.

A bit of historical perspective never hurts when dealing with issues like this.

A commentator in Haaretz draws an interesting comparison between the sudden appearance of Likud on the political scene of Israel in 1977 and what we see in Palestine today.

In both cases it was a fundamental challenge to the existing order - Labour in Israel and Fatah in Palestine. In both cases it was parties advocating expansionist ideas - Likud wanted a Greater Israel that left no room for any Palestinians, and the Charter of Hamas certainly has no room for Israel.

Over time, Likud changed. As a matter of fact it was Begin who received Sadat in Jerusalem and concluded the peace with Egypt that also meant the evacuation of a town the Israelis has built in northern Sinai.

It was most traumatic.

And the change among some of the Likud leaders, notably Ariel Sharon, continued. When he stood before the UN General Assembly last year and supported the creation of a Palestine state it was an endorsement of a policy that had nothing with the text of the Likud Charter to do.

And since then he and many others have broken off from Likud to form the Kadima party. A confrontational rump is left.

Will Hamas go the way of Likud?

History seldom repeats itself. But neither does it just stand still. To some extent we can even shape it.

That will be the big discussion when the leaders of the Quartet sit down for dinner in London on Monday.

They will not have much time for the food.

Haaretz - Israel News - Article

The Sauli Success

Tomorrow is the second and final round in the election for President of Finland in the coming years.

The powers of the president in Finland aren't what they used to be, but it's still a sought-after position that commands a moral authority. By tradition, relations with Russia are also to a large extent handled by the president.

It was generally assumed that it wouldn't be much of a race, with incumbent Tarja Halonen having poll ratings well ahead of every possible contender.

But that was some time ago. The challenger Sauli Niinistö has made a very good campaign, and the race now seems to close to call.

Sauli was for a long time chairman of the Finnish
conservative party and served succesfully as Minister of Finance during a period of reforms. But then he stepped down and left for a position at the European Investment Bank in Luxembourg, only to be called home when there was a need to give some life to the rather dormant presidential race.

If he wins it will be no less than a sensation. Not quite like Hamas in Palestine, but by Nordic standards...

If he loses, he will still have done much better than anyone expected, and will have improved his standing on the Finnish as well as wider scene even further.

I have no vote in Finland, but if I had, I certainly know what I would do.

Helsingin Sanomat - International Edition - Home

Friday, January 27, 2006

The Day After in Jerusalem

It's the day after the earthquake in Jerusalem. Some clouds, some sun, the possibility of rain and fairly cold.

Yesterday evening the town was as filled with speculation, bewilderment and utter confusion as one could imagine as different politicians, analysts and observers tried to understand the consequences of the new realities of the region.

In East Jerusalem, Hamas captured all the four seats that were there for taking. Two further seats are, according to an arrangement dating back to Jordanian times, reserved for Christians.

A special session of the Israeli cabinet yesterday discussed what could be done. The defence and security services argued moderation, saying that they saw no reason for Hamas to break the cease-fire and arguing that Israel had an interest in keeping the Palestinian authority afloat.

Prime Minister Omert seems to have concluded that one shouldn't rush into any conclusions, that close international consultation was necessary and that one should await and see what actually happens in Ramallah.

Sounds wise to me.

There are, however, some immediate issues on the table. And they can hardly wait.

The Palestinian Authority is more or less bankcrupt. If Israel were to withhold the VAT and customs money that it collects on behalf of the PA, there is no way it can pay salaries even for this month. It's easy to see a scenario in which financial collapse causes political and security collapse.

This issue will be very much on the table when the Quartet meets in London Monday evening. Can economic support for the Palestinian Authority be continued? And which could be the consequences of a financial collapse?

This is to some extent related to the security issues.

There are app 60 000 people employed in the different Palestinian security structures, although most of these without weapons and much of training. They are to an overwhelming extent a Fatah force - and they are now likely to be fearful of their future.

In terms of violence it's hardly the fighters of Hamas that are the issue at the moment. They are likely to be the forces of order.

The risk is rather that the Fatah-linked forces inside and outside the security structures will be the new rogue element of instability and violence. And this in particular if suddenly they don't even get paid.

It's hardly surprising that the Israeli security agencies are advocating caution and moderation. The occupaion is difficult as it is for them, and a collapse that leads to a cycle of confrontations will make everything worse for everyone.

But for this to be avoided, there is a need for money. Transfers from Israel and aid from the European Union and others. Will it happen?

There might of course be alternatives. Washington could press the Saudis or the Gulf states into paying the bills at the least for a while.

And then the nightmare alternative of a Western cut-off followed by Teheran genereously stepping in and offering to pay everything in order to avoid a break-down of public order and social services.

Talk comes cheap these days. But the real issues that are there on the urgent agenda are far from easy.

They will not go away.

Jerusalem Post | Breaking News from Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish World

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Earthquake in Palestine

It is now obvious that Hamas emerges at the great winner in the Palestinian election. Official preliminary results are not expected until early evening, but the broad outlines of the result are already clear.

That Hamas emerged as the winner does not surprise us that experiences the campaign and election day. Their campaign seemed superior in every respect to anything Fatah could offer.

But is must be recognized that the Hamas vote was less a vote for its Islamist social program, or for its refusal to recognize the reality of Israel, than a protest against a Fatah rule seen as inefficient and corrupt. Fatahs inability to secure order or to deliver result in the peace process undoubtedly played in, as did a reaction against the daily injustices of life under occupation.

One must now hope that the Hamas leadership will recognize the true nature of the support that they got. They did not seek support for, and neither did they get it, for an agenda of Islamisation and conflict. Their main slogan in the campaign was reform – not revenge.

There will now have to be formed a new government for the Palestinian authority. It will be the heavy responsibility of President Abbas to assure a government truly in the interest of his country.

There is a clear need for a strong new Prime Minister truly committed to change and reform. The issues are obvious. After years of fiscal mismanagement the Palestinian Authority is near bankruptcy, and it should not expect the international community to bankroll failure for ever. It must also take further decisive step to reform and strengthen the dysfunctional security system, making the dismantling of existing terrorist infrastructures possible.

All eyes are now on Hamas. That it decided to enter the democratic political process is clearly positive, as is the fact that it has declared and kept a cease-fire during the last year. But if Hamas really wants to distance itself from its terrorist past, and assume real responsibility, it must do so more unequivocally than we have seen so far. The burden of proof as concerns its peaceful and democratic intentions is with them.

I would expect the European Union and others to follow this process as closely as possible, respect the democratic choice made, remain engaged and be ready to work with whatever government and whichever individuals that are truly committed to embrace reform and distance themselves from terrorism.

We have dealt before with political forces making a transition from terror and violence to democracy. But we have learnt that we must be firm in insisting that the transition really occurs.

We can not run away from a democratic success - because that is what we have seen in Palestine - because we did not like the result.

But neither can we be indifferent to the result simply because the procedure was impeccable.


Wednesday, January 25, 2006

A Good Day For Democracy

Voting stations have now closed throughout the West Bank and Gaza, and although the different election monitoring organisation will not provide their respective assesments until tomorrow afternoon - it takes time to process all the detailed data - some preliminary observations are certainly possible.

It was a joyful, calm and well-organized day wherever I and my team of observers went - and that seems to have been the general impression.

In a way, this is hardly surprising. After the presidential elections last January, one has since then also had local elections practically everywhere.

To run elections in a proper way is starting to become routine in Palestine - and that's truly unique throughout the Arab world.

After first having gone with President Carter to a polling stations just outside East Jerusalem - the same we went to a year ago - I have spent most of my time in the area northwest and west of the city of Ramallah, often close or on the other side of the famous "separation barrier" Israel is building.

It's been a day of observering, chatting with election officials, drinking coffe with schoolteachers, comparing note with other observers, mingling with flag-waving young boys and maneuvering the small roads along the hills and valleys of a land holy to so many.

And then some media interviews on top of that.

Now back in Jerusalem I'm heading for a meeting with Senator Biden from the US to compare notes and impressions.

Still waiting for the first exit polls...

psr-Ramallah, Palestine

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Israel Prime Minister anti-Semitic?

It was indeed a major policy speech acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert delivered to the Herzliya conference some hours ago.

There is no doubt that he wants to move on with a peace process.

Although he talked about "Judea and Samaria" as culturally and historically part of Israel, he also talked about the need to divide the land into what he sees as two different "homelands" - one for the Jewish people and one for the Palestine people.

But he was hardline on wanting a united Jerusalem as part of Israel. 120 000 Palestinians living in Eastern Jerusalem might have another view of that.

Nevertheless, his speech meet with immediate harsh opposition from the Jewish settlers in the West Bank. The settlers' Yesha Council went so far as saying that "Olmert's speech was sown with anti-Semitic overtones vis a vis the settlers."

That says more about them than about Prime Minister Olmert.

To accuse a Prime Minister of Israel of anti-Semitism because he talks about peace with the Palestinians is indeed rather thick.l

propceEhu7Haaretz - Israel News

Democracy in Arab World

Tomorrow is election day in Palestine, and so far everything seems to be running smoothly in spite of all of the difficulties caused by the fact that the country is under Israeli occupation.

I think it is worth noting that what we are seeing - and have been seeing since the death of Arafat - in Palestine is without parallel in the Arab world in terms of free and fair elections and an evolving pluralist democratic systems.

Tomorrow will of course be of particular importance in view of the decision by Hamas to take part. Having previously refused to have anything with a democratic political process to do, they are now for the first time testing their strength in a democratic contest.

That's of course positive.

Once upon a time, the ruling Fatah party of today was seen by the outside world - rightly, by the way - as a terrorist organisation. There was no doubt that violence and terror was part of its arsenal.

But those days are effectively gone.

Now the major question is what support the Hamas alternative really has - and long term whether they over time can develop in some sort of direction similar to what Fatah has done.

It's been a sunny and lovely day in Jerusalem and the West Bank today.

Let's hope for a good day for democracy tomorrow. In Palestine - and with a signal to the entire Arab world.

Central Elections Commission

Lessons from Canada?

Are there are lessons to be learnt from the change coming out of the election in Canada?

Probably. In my view it shows that after having had the same party in government for 13 years, people simply think that it's time for change.

They also see that over time power has a tendency to corrupt. In the case of the Liberal government, that become obvious over time.

It also demonstrate that there is always the possibility of a come-back - although it can take its time.

It was in 1993 that the Progressive Conservatives suffered one of the worst electoral defeats in modern Western political history. After having dominated the politics of Canada during the 1980's, they in 1993 ended up with only two (2) seats in Parliament.

There were many reasons for this, perhaps primarily a split that meant that a new party emerged in the western parts of Canada.

Gradually, that split was overcome, and in combination with people simply being tired of what they saw as a scandal-ridden administration, this paved the way for the come-back of the Progressive Conservatives.

It wasn't the economy. It was healing divisions in the opposition, being on the attack all the time and focusing on the scandals of a tired government.

Stephen Harper is to be congratulated for his achievement.

Others can learn from what he has done.

CBC News: Harper vows to get down to work with first focus on accountability

Cold War Coming Back?

It's really like the worst days of the Cold War again...

The Russian security service FSB is now announcing a major spy scandal, with British "spies" trying to subvert Russia. Indignation seems to be running high.

Theor alleged "crime" is to have given money to different non-governmental associations dealing with human rights and capacity-building among local journalists, to take just two examples.

Without knowing any details in this particular case I can affirm that such money is certainly given - and that it is certainly not done in secret.

I happen to be on the board of the New Eurasia Foundation in Moscow, and we certainly operate with grants from both the British, the Swedish and other governments and with full transparency for the Russian authorities.

So it's obvious what this affair is all about.

The dark forces and trying to close down the possibilities for a more open Russia.

It's truly sad for the future of Russia - but it's certainly worth taking note.

Kommersant: Politicians to Decide on Spying

Monday, January 23, 2006

Palestine Campaigns

My day today has mainly been spent in Ramallah - the city just north of Jerusalem which serves as the administrative and economic centre of the West Bank - going through all of the details for the election to the Palestine Legislative Council on Wednesday.

So far everything seems to be running smoothly. There are posters everywhere, and the media is filled with the messages of the different candidates.

Israeli checkpoints are a nuisance, and one can only hope that they will follow the model from last year and easy restrictions on polling day.

The big subject of speculation is of course how well Hamas - campaign under the slogan of Reform and Change - will do, and which will be the consequences if they were to win or join the government.

They have been sweeping to power in the local elections during last year, and are now running even a city like Betlehem with its significant Christian population. So far, however, there are no indications that this has presented any problems.

The international position remains that they are a terrorist organisation committed to the destruction of Israel.

People close to them that one can talk to reiterate that they are ready for a very long-term cease-fire based on acceptance of Israel within the 1967 borders, but confirm that they don't believe that anyone has a mandate to give away holy land that is theirs. The similarity between these views and some of the very religious voices on the Israeli side are obvious.

So far they have been running a good campaign, significantly assisted by the perception that both Israel and the US wants Fatah to win.

In discussions today, representatives or interpreters for both sides said that they were confident of winning the vote on Wednesday.

It will be the most important vote ever in Palestine.

Bloomberg.com: Top Worldwide

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Israel Discussing Iran

The Herzliya Conference has emerged as the key event on the Israeli scene when it comes to discussing not the least foreign and security issues.

There isn't really anyone of significance on the Israeli scene that does not ascend the stairs of the Daniel Hotel during the conference days.

Yesterday and today it was really the Iranian situation that was at the hearth of the discussion. And it wasn't too hard to see the nuances that are there in the discussion.

Defence Minister Mofaz yesterday evening was in as high gear as you can ask for, talking about a nuclear-armed Iran as an "existential threat" to Israel that simply could not be accepted. Although he did not say so explicitly, he left the distinct impression that everything was rather imminent.

Today, the Chief of Staff of the Israel Defence Force Halutz clearly had a somewhat different view of the issue, particularly as concerns the urgency of it.

Describing 2006, he did not list the Iran issue as one of the issues facing the IDF, but rather stressed a number of other ones, notably those of local/Palestinian, global/Al Qaeda and regional/Hezbollah terrorism, and was noticeable worried by what could happen on the West Bank and Gaza in the wake of the elections.

But while certainly sharing the broad assessment on the dangers of a nuclear-armed Iran, it was obvious that he saw the issue in a somewhat longer time perspective.

In Israel, the military is effectively commanded by the government, and notably by the Prime Minister, as the title Chief of Staff for the top person in the IDF indicates.

But it's still interesting to note that it seems as if the IDF assessment would give further diplomacy as well as political and economic action somewhat more time than what some political words coming out of here sometimes indicates.

Haaretz - English

Ibrahim Rugova

With the loss of Ibrahim Rugova, Kosovo loses the one person that at critical times could unite and moderate its otherwise very divided political scene.

Rugova was an elusive but impressive personality. Never really comfortable with the world of politics, he nevertheless emerged as the major political force in Kosovo in modern times.

During the years when Kosovo was ruled by Serbia, it was Ibrahim Rugova that become the symbol for the peaceful struggle of the people of Kosovo for their rights. Always opposed to using violence, he emerged as a strong moral force, and caught the attention of the world.

It was when Milosevic revoked the autonomy of Kosovo that the writer Ibrahim Rugova emerged as the unofficial leader of the province. He founded the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK, refused to take part in the elections of Yugoslavia although the Albanian votes might well have tipped the balance against Milosevic and instead set up an elaborate system of parallel institutions, notably in education.

Whether he could ever have achieved a lasting settlement between Kosovo and Serbia is a question we will never know the answer of. There were certainly attempts from both sides that did not look entirely unpromising at the time.

But eventually a younger, more militant and less patient generation took over and took up arms. When the UCK - the Kosovo Liberation Army - appeared, they did so also in opposition to the policies of Rugova and his political group. We might have forgotten it by now, but there was also what in effect was a savage civil war among the Kosovo Albanians.

What happened during the Kosovo war with him has never been entirely clear to me. He stayed in Prishtina, but then wanted to leave, and Milosevic let him leave with a plane from Belgrade to Rome, although only after a public meeting between the two.

When Serbia had to leave Kosovo, the forces making up the UCK expected to take over completely, and really wanted nothing to do with Rugova.

But they miscalculated. Far from discredited, he returned as the person most respected by the population, and in March 2002 was elected President of Kosovo without much of real competition.

As such, he hovered above and moderated the political scene of the country, although hardly ruling it. He was philosophical rather than practical, moral rather than political.

At times, he seemed more at home collecting his precious stones, and occasionally giving them away to people that he meet and talked to.

I will keep the stones I got from him in memory of a man of morality, dignity and integrity in a time and a region where these qualities were often in desperately short supply.

There is no doubt that Kosovo will be a more difficult place without him.


Friday, January 20, 2006

A Very Real Election

When Palestine went to the polls a year ago to elect a new president after Yaser Arafat it was in reality more a coronation than an election. The outcome was never really in doubt - there were no real contenders.

When they will now go to vote for the Palestine Legislative Council on January 25 it's a very different story.

This is a very real election in every sense of the word. It's democracy in action - although not everyone in the action can necessarily be classified as a democrat.

Opinion polls are now predicting a very close race between the Fatah party that now dominates everything - the rather corrupt and inefficient lot being part of old PLO - and the more efficient but terrorist-inclined Islamist Hamas party.

I can well foresee that emotions will run very high around Palestine as the campaign is reaching its crescendo. In Gaza, violence does not seem to be far below the surface.

This makes it even more important that the elections is conducted in an orderly and impartial way. This is necessary if the result shall be accepted by everyone, and confrontation and perhaps even violence avoided.

To the outside world this might be seen as a choice being a moderate line inclined to negotiate with Israel and a confrontational line not shying away from using terrorism.

There is undoubtedly an element of that. But based on my discussions around the West Bank last year, it seen by many there also as a choice between the corrupt and the honest.

Many are fed-up after years of Fatah - although in many cases also fearing the Islamist agenda of Hamas.

It will be a very real election of very real importance for Palestine and the entire Middle East.

Haaretz - Israel News

An Innovative Europe

Although rarely reflected in the main media, there is a new debate across Europe on the necessity of doing more in the fields of research, development and higher education.

The brutal fact is that we are slipping behind in particular the United States.

It's not that our brains are inferior. That's unlikely - particular in view of the fact that some of the most stellar scientific advances in America have been done by men and women coming from Europe.

In the past they were fleeing from war and persecution in Europe. Hopefully those days are gone.

Now they are fleeing to the better resources and rewards in the United States. Before it was an issue of survival - now it's often a question of money.

These issues can and must be addressed by the leaders of Europe.

A report issues today by a high-level group chaired by the former Prime Minister of Finland Esko Aho will hopefully give some fuel to the debate.

It's worth reading.

EUROPA - Investing in European Research

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Crisis Coming?

The news that Russia intends to cut back on electricity exports to Finland by 30 % in order to avoid an acute crisis in St Petersburg really underscores the fragility of the energy situation in Russia.

We have already seen the reports of reduction in gas deliveries to Central Europe. Now it's the electricity system that is feeling the strain of the winter.

There is serious underinvestment throughout the entire Russian energy and power system.

Partly this is the result of energy prices being too low, not generating enough money for the necessary investments. Partly it's because of pure political neglect.

But the consequences could easily become serious. If major population centers start to lose heating and power in the middle of the winter it's very soon a humanitarian issue that rapidly turns into a political one.

And on the broader front it increases the question marks around the possibility of Russia to really deliver on its export promises.

If there are not very major increases in investment as well as structural reform.

Neither of which looks very likely at the moment.

But a crisis could change everything.

YLE uutiset

Bosnia Moving

Prior to the 10th anniversary of the Dayton Agreement, US representatives were telling everyone in sight that a major new constitutional deal was going to be signed in Washington at that occasion.

Out of that came very little. A short paper that could be interpreted as either everything or nothing was eventually signed. The grandiose initiative didn't end to grand.

But at the least talks continued, as had been agreed, and has now evidently resulted in something. Without having seen the text it's difficult to judge it in detail, but to me it seems as if it represents a sensible small step forward.

American representatives are disappointed, but the European Commission representative is more positive:

"If everything which was agreed with regard to the Council of Ministers was implemented, Bosnia and Herzegovina will get a strong and functioning government with a full responsibility for the European integration process."

That's not bad.

In discussions on these issues I often stress two points:

The first is that most things that is needed as part of the European integration process can be achieved within the broad framework of the existing constitution. Some evolution is called for - not rvolution.

The second is that I'm afraid of the politicians of Bosnia spending too much time quarrelling over constitutional issues and too little time adressing the fundamental economic and social issues.

At the end of theday, it is on the economic and social issues they will be judged.

So - in spite of the negative headlines - it might have been a good day for Bosnia.

EUobserver.com: "

To Jerusalem

The Carter Center in Atlanta has now officially announced the multinational election observation mission that will oversee the Legislative Council elections in Palestine January 25th.

There will be President Carter, myself, former Albanian President Meidani and former Spanish Foreign Minister Palacio.

All, I have to say, good friends that I enjoy working with. President Carter remains amazing in his knowledge of the area and its issues - we spent nearly a week there together a year ago for the presidential elections.

Important times. I hope we can make a small difference.

Jimmy Carter to Lead Multinational Carter Center/NDI Delegation to Observe Jan. 25 Legislative Council Elections in Palestinian Territories

Can Russia Deliver?

Now the spell of very cold whether is injecting a new dimension in the discussion on the energy security of Europe.

Suddenly customers in Central Europe is seeing their gas deliveries from Russia reduced by 20 percent as the network is under heavy strain by increased demand.

And for some countries it might be even worse. Serbia, Montenegro and Bosnia could be much worse affected, and they have hardly any gas storage facilities to handle the situation.

Sarajevo can be a very cold place during the winter. It's heating is dependent on the pipelines coming from Russia.

The situation now underlines the enormous need for Russia to invest in new production if it should have any possibility of actually meeting all the commitments it is now entering into.

It's one thing to build pipelines - it's another thing to fill them with gas from very remote and difficult locations.

And with a Kremlin policy that seems more interested in playing politics and creating personal wealth for key individuals, the room for bringing in needed massive foreign investment will remain limited.

All the more reason to think hard and long about the future energy security of Europe.

Russian Gas Cut to Europe Again

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Nuclear Come-Back in Baltics?

As the leading growth region of Europe, the Baltic area has every reason to look carefully at its nuclear security.

Finland is already starting to build its 5th nuclear unit. The country simply does not want to become too dependent on imported energy. Pipelines to Russia have, as has recently been demonstrated, some limitations if you become too dependent on them.

And now the debate has reached the Baltic countries. It's only the beginning.

Ignalina in Lithuania is the location for one of the Soviet RBMK-type nuclear power plants. More modern than Chernobyl, it still has some characteristics that were doubtful, and this lead to extensive safety enhancement of it during the 1990's.

As part of the process of joining the European Union, Lithuania had to promise to close down Ignalina. Its first unit is already closed, and the second is planned to be closed in 2009.

Now, however, the wisdom of this is widely questioned, and not only in Lithuania.

There are probably two options for the future.

One is to continue with Ignalina 2 for the foreseeable future. The other is to build a brand new nuclear power plant using some of the infrastructure at the location. Since this will take time, extensions of Ignalina 2 and the building of a new station might be the realistic alternative.

There are certain to be wide interest in such a scheme. It could make a substantial contribution to the economy of Lithuania in the future, and it would increase the energy security of the region.

It might well be that there will be a need even for Russia to import electricity in a decades time or so.


War Drums Beating

It is difficult not to hear the sound of the war drums starting to beat in certain quarters.

Charles Krauthammer is an influential columnist in the Washington Post who is now one of the leading drummers.

Part of the show is naturally to pour scorn on the European diplomatic efforts. They have certainly not been fully succesful, but they have at the least managed the issue for some time. US diplomatic efforts with North Korea are hardly known for their immediate success either.

Now the policy line favoured by Krauthammer and others are sanctions of whatsoever sorts. But they are honest enough to acknowledge the distinct limitations of Europe imposing even total sanctions:

"A cutoff of investment and high-tech trade from Europe would be a minor irritant to a country of 70 million people with the second-largest oil reserves in the world and with oil at $60 a barrel. North Korea tolerated 2 million dead from starvation to get its nuclear weapons. Iran will tolerate a shortage of flat-screen TVs."

But this leaves little else than the war option if Iran persists in its policy, more or less irrespectively of what that policy is.

Krauthammar assumes that they are only month away from a nuclear weapon - US intelligence assessments seems to put that more than five years and perhaps as much as a decade away. We can't be certain.

That Europeans care about what happens after an initial military attack is something Krauthammar dislikes. One should have believed that Iraq should have thought some lessons in that regard.

It's always easy to start a war, but it's always good to have at the least an idea of how to conclude them.

Wars have an unfortunate tendency of always becoming bigger than what those that initiated them originally thought.

The Iran Charade, Part II

Monday, January 16, 2006

War With Iran?

It's not a very comfortable conclusion, but it would be irresponsible not to acknowledge that we have seen the risk of a rather major war during the next few years rising rather substantially during the last few weeks.

I don't think anyone really wants it. But war often comes when everyone has locked themselves into position they can not get out of, and where the one seemingly logical steps leads to a profoundly unlogical outcome.

A major war wsith Iran is suddenly a realistic possibility. Not imminent, but not unlikely within the next two years or so.

There is now an escalation of political steps in order to increase pressure on Iran on the nuclear issue. The IAEA Governing Board will be followed by the UN Security Council.

In the best of world's this at some stage leads to the resumption of real negotiations that leads to a real deal. There are certainly formulaes that should be possible to use.

But the problem is that we don't seem to know very much about what the different parts of the Iranian leadership wants. Some are likely to be deliberately seeking a confrontation with the West - some most certainly not.

At some point in time the reluctance against using military instruments to at the least slow down Iranian efforts to develop and to deploy nuclear weapons as well as more long-range missiles might be overcome.

Not because there are any good military alternatives. There are not. But because at some stage it might be that there are no real political alternatives left - and failure is not an option.

Some evenings ago I ended up in a discussion with some very experienced and informed Western military leaders.

None of them believed that there were any light or easy options. No one wanted to use military means - but all had been doing thinking on what could be done if an order after all was given.

One believed that the only real alternative was to descend on the key installation with an airborne brigade or so, clear everything out and then get out as soon as possible. This would involve establishing air supremacy over a fairly large area, and mounting the entire operation from a considerabled distance.

Not easy.

Another talked about striking at 30 - 40 different target sets, a substantial number of which would be air defence installations to assure access to the targets.

Here, success in achieving the desired destriction was far less certain than in the first case.

And everyone was most concerned with what would be the next steps.

That the Iranians would try to close the Strait of Hormuz was taken for granted. They might succeed for a week or so, with profound effects on oil prices. But at the end the US Navy was likely to win that fight.

Then they would in all probability use political allies to launch major attacks against all sorts of American and Western presence in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Southern Iraq and Baghdad would very suddenly become very dangereous places.

And then there were other possibilities discussed.

Each of these possible Iranian counter-moves would obviously lead to another American or Western counter-counter move.

And this is where it all risks descending into a rather major war engulfing the region from Herat to Baghdad and dragging in the Gulf states as well.

There is no guarantee that such a war can be won easily. Iran is a nation of 70 million people and inheritors of the second-oldest civilisation on Earth.

This development is a far less unlikely development now than only some weeks ago.

We might be facing years of war.

Will Iran Be Next?

The Week Ahead

Just back from a weekend of discussions on European and internaional security affairs in Switzerland I'm facing a week of work in a wintry Stockholm.

On the wider stage, I would expect that the Moscow visit of Angela Merkel will attract much attention. And later during the week the French Prime Minister comes to Berlin for talks, as well as for presenting his vision of Europe. In Strasbourg, the European Parliament will be hearing the Austrian Presidency presents its plans for the coming months.

And on Saturday I'm off again in the direction of Jerusalem.

The Hotbed of Hebron

If you want to experience true political tension, Hebron is clearly the place to go.

The West Bank city is the final resting place of no lesser authority than the prophet Abraham. But it is also a city where Palestinian and Jewish ambitions and fundamentalists claims meet more clearly than in many others.

The city's Jewish settlements - including one heavily guarded right in the city center - has attracted an unusually fundamentalist population, wih few if any pretentions of wishing to live in peace with their neighbours.

The last few days have seen tensions escalating between these fundamentalist settlers and the Israeli soldiers there to guard them.

An officer is saying that "we are facing Jews who are conducting pogroms against Arab property." And that is something the Israel Defence Force will prevent as being illegal.

The Hebron tension illustrate the increasing tensions between a fundamentalist minority in Israel bent on confrontation at any cost, and a majority that is ready for a more realistic political course in the years ahead.

And on the Palestinian side there are the same divisions. Tensions have made Hebron a hotbed also for the Hamas political forces.

A place to watch.
Haaretz - Israel News - IDF, police gird for 1000s of Jews coming to Hebron

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Merkel Making Her Mark

There is no doubt that Angela Merkels first months as Chancellor of Germany have been good ones.

Opinion polls have shown not only a remarkable increase in her popularity¨, but also an equally remarkable surge in confidence in the prospects of the German economy. The "Angst" of the past few years seems - at the least for the time being - to be gone.

These days she's making her mark on the wider international stage. In the last few days she has been to Washington seeing President Bush, and tomorrow she will be in Moscow seeing President Putin.

The Washington visit seems to have gone very well. She certainly did rise issues on which there are divided opinions - notably Guantanamo - but did this within the context of a strengthened relationship overall.

If the media reporting is to be believed, it was to a large extent the Iran issue that dominated the talks, although one would expect that they spanned over a rather broad area.

The talks lasted three hours - almost unique in Bush's Washington.

Moscow will be different. The girl from former GDR meets the spy from former GDR. They can converse in either German or Russian.

The basic lines of German policy will hardly change, but we are likely to see a clear distancing towards the rather naive camaraderei that characterized the Schröder years. Putin will encounter a lade of firmness.

Here, Iran is as likely to be an important subject. Merkel can give fresh messages and impressions from Washington, as well as representing the policy line agreed byt the EU3 in their discussions in Berlin a few days ago.

But we should expect also the issues of energy security to figure rather prominently. The gas dispute has had its effects on German perceptïons as well.

It's the Merkel months on the European scene.

"A Very Good Start" | Germany | Deutsche Welle | 14.01.2006

Jerusalem Go Ahead

Today, the Israeli cabinet finally formally decided to allow voting for the Palestinians in East Jerusalem in the upcoming January 25 parliamentary elections.

There are some restrictions on Hamas which might create problems, but overall there is now no reason to assume that these important elections will not go ahead as planned.

That also means that a week from today I will be in Jerusalem as co-leader of an international group monitoring the elections. I did the same last year for the presidential elections.

So you can count on some comments on the issue over the coming weeks on this place.


Friday, January 13, 2006

No Good Options

It was hardly unexpected that the EU3 at their meeting in Berlin yesterday called for an emergency meeting of the Governing Board of the IAEA to discuss the latest nuclear moves by Iran, and that they now advocate that the issue the one way or the other should be brought before the UN Security Council.

But it is important to read the fine print as well.

There is considerable uneasiness in European policy circles over where we are heading. The latest maneuvers of Teheran left the EU3 with no real alternative, but the move they are now taking is a move they would have preferred to avoid.

The reason is that it is very unclear what a discussion at the Security Council could achieve.

It will certainly give Iran a public platform that is rather effective. And one shouldn't overlook the fact that Teheran does have some arguments on its side.

Why is everyone increasing cooperation with an India that never even adhered to the Non-Proliferation Treaty and that went on and acquired nuclear weapons? We might argue that India, after all, is a democracy, while Teheran is a regime of a very different character and orientation. But part of the world will see it as us applying double standards.

And then there is the issue of the application of sanctions. Can it be done? And - if it is done - what effect will it have?

Will they drive the regime into a desperate rush to get nuclear weapons as it develops a fortress mentality even more acute than at the moment? Or will it force it to open up, perhaps under the pressure of an increasingly frustrated middle class of the country?

There is simply no way of knowing.

Add to that the risk that a failure by a UN Security Council process to secure a rapid resolution of the issue might be used as a pretext by those advocating taking unilateral military action against Iran.

And on that point there is a unanimous view in Europe that it would be disastrous.

The possibilities for Iran to strike back are numerous - the fragile states of Iraq and Afghanistan, or the energy supply line of Asia and Europe through the Strait of Hormuz. Add to this that a military strike is most unlikely to stop the nuclear ambitions of the country - it might slow them down technically, but will certainly solidify a political determination to eventually get there.

When Israel attacked the nuclear reactor Saddam Hussein was building at Osirak, it certainly destroyed that facility, but caused the overall program to accelerate using different and more hidden facilities.

It is however in the nature of foreign affairs that you have to play the hand that you have. There are sometimes no good options.

As I head for a weekend in Switzerland with discussions about the international security challenges of the year, I'm as certain as can be that this will be the issue that will be at the very top of the agenda of our talks.

Iran’s Present Government Is Stranger To Compromise and Detente (Iran Press Service)

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Skype Part of the Great Firewall of China?

Has Skype now joined the companies that de faco have become part of the Chinese censorship system? The question is certainly a serious one.

In the latest issue of Business Week one finds a detailed story of the Great Firewall of China. It's nothing revolutionary new, but a good summary of the sorry state of affairs.

"Beijing has a vast infrastructure of technology to keep an eye on any potential online dissent. It also applies lots of human eyeballs to monitoring. The agencies that watch over the Net employ more than 30,000 people to prowl Web sites, blogs, and chat rooms on the lookout for offensive content as well as scammers."

But worth noting is that the story says that Skype has now entered an agreement that effectively makes Skype part of the censorship authorities of China.

If that's the case, I'll certainly end my Skype account.

The Great Firewall of China

End of Fool's Paradise

Issues of energy continue to gain prominence on the European political agenda.

Yesterday there was a major public debate in Brussels over these and related issues in which I participated. The occasion was a presentation of and debate on the new version of its Global Scenarios that Shell has produced.

Coming out of a mandate from the European Council meeting in Hampton Court last year, the Commission is now working on a major proposal to be presented to the March meeting of the European Council.

Energy security will be very much in the focus of that report, the first ideas of which were discussed by the Commission at its regular meeting yesterday.

But it's not only the dispute between Russia and the Ukraine that has now focused the minds of policy-makers in Brussels and elsewhere. There are also very real energy-related issues involved in the now rapidly escalating dispute with Iran.

And some of us - including the key decision-makers in Brussels - spent most of the evening yesterday discussing what might happen and what can be done.

EUObserver quotes me from the public debate as saying that we so far have been living in a fool's paradise in which issues of energy were strikingly absent from the political agenda.

But those days are now definitely gone.


Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Turmoil between Moscow and Zug

Coming back to Europe - in this case Brussels - from China one immedately finds that the gas dispute issues are still very high on the agenda.

I expect them to figure rather prominently in different discussions in Brussels during the day.

But the most obvious turmoil is in Ukraine, where a coaliktion of more Russia-leaning forces and ex-Prime Minister Timoshenko are doing their best to unseat the government before the March elections.

The vot in the Rada yesterday opens a Pandoras Box of copmplicated constitutional issues. From the beginning of this year the constitutional regime of the country has changed.

In all probability the coalition of the dissatisfied will continue to try to unseat the government - and in all probability they will fail. But turmoil there will be - before as well as after the elections.

There are undoubtedly some aspects of the deal that look rather questionable.

One is that Ukraine seems to have accepted that it can no longer buy gas from Central Asia and transit it through Russia. While Ukraine must accept to transit Russian export gas to Western Europe, it has now accepted that Russia does not accept to transit Central Asian export gas to Ukraine.

This of course leaves Ukraine in a strategic sense in a more vulnerable position.

The other dubious element is that everything now gas to go through a company called RosUkrEnergo. This was evidently a key demand from the Russian side.

This small company is now heading for stratospheric profits, but exactly who stands to gain from these profits is unclear in the extreme.

It's a joint company between Gazprom and some individuals, and in order to assure that it is as non-transparent as possible it is registred in the Swiss municipality of Zug, known for its "letter-box companies". A law firm takes care of everything - Zug lives by beuing a cover for other things.

It might be noted that the joint Gazprom-German company that will build the discussed North European Gas Pipeline under the Baltic, and where former German Chancellor Schröder will be Chairman, is also registred in Zug.

Certainly in both cases to avoid taxes. But even more to avoid the transparency that would disclose which are the persons and interests to which the gas transit billions will now flow.

A certain amount of turmoil over that issue isn't surprising.

It might even be healthy.
Ukrainian News

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Persian Provocations

To make sense of what the regime in Teheran is doing these days is certainly not easy. An amount of both confusion and disagreement over policy seems almost certain to be there.

But the end result at the moment is a policy that is roughly as provocative against the international community as one can envisage. The resumption of certain nuclear activities only days before a planned meeting with the EU-3 that should explore the possibility of resuming negotiations can hardly be described in any other way.

The Iranian move also came in defiance of unusual separate messages delivered to the Tehran government over the weekend by Russia and China, as well as the United States, Britain and France. The messages warned Iran not to embark on further uranium activities.

Britain, France and the United States tried to have the five countries submit one joint declaration to Iran, but China, not wanting such a move to look like an attempt to gang up on Tehran, insisted that five separate messages be delivered.

But all the messages said much the same thing.

There is no knowing how this particular crisis will develop in the weeks and months ahead.

But unfortunately it is not too difficult to see scenarios which end up in very difficult and dangereous situation.

87899.pdf (application/pdf Object)

Sunday, January 08, 2006

The Freedom Battle in China

I mentioned in my previous entry the freedom of the media and otherwise that is there here in the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong.

The linked OpEd piece from today's The Standard is worth reading.

It takes issue with those that say that since economic development is so impressive one doesn't necessarily need to care that much of the issues of human rights and freedom of expression.

"Yet freedom of expression has played a vital role in creating the prosperity that exists in all the world's most successful economies. In China, the frontlines of the battle for freedom have moved uncomfortably in the direction of newspaper offices, radio studios and in the discreet environment of computer keyboards linked to the Internet."

That's the way it is.

The Standard - China's Business Newspaper

A Hong Kong Sunday

The Sunday edition of South China Morning Post didn’t contain too much this morning. The big local issue seems to be some fall-out of the disturbances during the WTO meeting here last month.

Hong Kong remains one of the most spectacular cities of the world. Even as Shanghai climbs up every ladder there is, Hong Kong remains in a category of its own.

I was certainly among those rather worried for its future as sovereignty was handed over from the United Kingdom to China. But in retrospect there is little doubt that Margaret Thatcher was right in handing it back.

In a China where repression rather seems to be on the increase, Hong Kong remains an island of the rule of the law, respect for human rights and freedom of expression, although certainly not a democracy in the proper sense of the world.

I can only judge the English-speaking press, but yesterday’s South China Morning Post certainly had a story highly critical of Microsoft for helping to censor the Internet in China, and in The Standard there was a vitriolic attack against what’s been happening to the journalists at Beijing News.

And the economy is doing very well again. Office rents in Hong Kong are up 150 % during the last two years, making it the third most expensive city in the world in this respect – after Washington and the London West End.

Today's Hong Kong is highly intregrated into the Chinese economy. And the surrounding area of Southern China - primarily the Pearl River Delta (PRD) - has been perhaps the most spectacular of the success stories of the country since it started to open up in 1978.

Then, Guangdong province was poor, and certainly not in the top in China. But growth has been spectacular. If growth in China during this period has been over 9 % as an average, growth in the PRD has been over 19 % as an average. Today the province tops China as concerns GDP per capita.

And Hong Kong has been transformed. Manufacturing has moved, and the city is now the logistics, service and financial hub for the Southern China and South China Sea region. It is undoubtedly one of the premier hubs of the increasingly globalized economy.

Its vast container port is the largest in the world. It is truly an impressive sight. The new Chek Lap Kok airport is the largest freight airport in the world as well as number five in terms of passenger traffic. 40 % of China's export passes through the area.

From Mainland China comes the news that the last of the infamous Gang of Four has passed away.

Yao Wenyuan was the Shanghai extremists whose review of a play in late 1965 was used by Mao Tsetung to launch that decade-long descent into terror and tragedy that was the so called Cultural Revolution. Its horrors continue to haunt the China of today.

But my task here is more concerned with the globalized economy.

Tomorrow starts the large car show in Detroit in the US, and the day thereafter starts the large toy show here in Hong Kong. Factories are starting to hum with the new products that will reach the consumers during the year to come.

And I will head to the Guangdong province tomorrow to look at some of these factories.

SCMP.com - the online edition of South China Morning Post, Hong Kong's premier English-language newspaper

Friday, January 06, 2006

Is a Post-Sharon Peace Possible?

It is impossible not to reflect on the consequences for the Middle East of Ariel Sharon's almost certain departure from the political scene of Israel.

For all of his past, and the dubious nature also of some of his present policies, he was the man who opened up a realistic possibility of a peace in the years ahead.

He dared to break off from the dream of a Greater Israel - eventually understanding the nightmare that this would mean for the country - and start reorganizing the political scene of Israel accordingly.

The Gaza withdrawal, the break with Likud and the setting up of the Kadima party was the beginning - but only the beginning.

Now everything suddenly looks very uncertain. Can anyone assemble the strength and determination that will be required to take Israel to a realistic deal for peace?

Ehud Olmert will be the Prime Minister at the least up to the March Knesset elections, are there is little doubt that he wants to carry the recent Sharon line forward in the years ahead. Speaking last year, he phrased the task as this:

"We are tired of fighting. We are tired of being courageous. We are tired of winning. We are tired of defeating our enemies. We want that we will be able to live in an entirely different environment of relations with our enemies. We want them to be our friends, our partners, our good neighbors. And I believe that this is not impossible."

In all of the uncertainty now, that at the least bring some hope. But fighting the extremists intent on blocking every move towards accomodation and peace will require both courage and strength.

It should be noted that things are getting increasingly complicated on the Palestinian side as well.

The Election Commission has just resigned, since their work was subject of political interference. The East Jerusalem issue is still open. The militant groups are ending their cease-fire. Turmoil seems to be the order of the day in Gaza.

I am still supposed to head to Jerusalem towards the end of the month in connection primarily with the Palestinian elections.

But under these circumstances nothing is certain.

Haaretz - Israel News

New Europe and the High North

With a two days delay I have now posted the text of my remarks on New Europe and the High North in Oslo on Wednesday.

They were delivered immediately before the resolution of the immediate dispute over gas prices between Russia and Ukraine, but deal mainly with the long-term implications of that conflict.


Wednesday, January 04, 2006

New Russia? In Norway

In Oslo today the focus of the yearly meeting of the Confederation of Norwegian Industries NHO was all on the High North and a possible partnership with Russia in the development of its oil and gas resources.

I belong to the "outsiders" asked to speak, and spent some time on the not unimportant question of where Russia might be heading and the consequences this might have for Europe and Norway in the years ahead.

My speech will - as usual - be posted at www.bildt.net.

I'll certainly have reason to come back to the issue of Norway, the High North and Europe, but in the meantime I want to attract attention to the linked article from today's Kommersant in Moscow.

It notes that what we have been seeing during the last year in Russia is "the largest wave of industrial nationalization since the October Revolution." And it is distinctly sceptical on whether anything good for Russia will come out of this.

I can only agree - and refer to the perspectives in my speech in Oslo today.

Kommersant: RAO Gosprom

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Turkmenistan as a Weapon

There are some uncertainties on what's really happening with one very crucial part of Russia's gas war with the Ukraine.

Ukraine actually imports more gas from Turkmenistan than from Russia, although all of that comes through the pipelines running through Russia.

What seems certain is that Russia has refused to transit increased amounts that have been contracted by Ukraine. But in addition there are indications that they are trying to cut the Turkmen supply in much bigger ways.

If that is the case, then there is no question that we are seeing a classical case of economic warfare. Then all talk about a business dispute disappears very fast indeed.

Even more reason to follow what happens in this first major European crisis for a long time.


Monday, January 02, 2006

Elections? Or Not?

It looks very uncertain indeed whether it will be possible for the Palestinian legislative elecions to go forward on January 25th as planned.

It's the Jerusalem dispute that is holding up everything. Until now, the Israeli authorities has not allowed the Palestinians of East Jerusalem to take part in the vote.

And now it seems that there has been established a consensus among the Palestinian factions that without voting rights in East Jerusalem the entire election will be postponed.

On this, there is no doubt that the Palestinians are right. Neither the European Union nor the United States nor anyone else would accept if Israel forcibly tries to deny these Palestinians their voting rights.

The signals from Israel is that a final decision hasn't been taken.

Good. That still leaves some room. Let's hope that Israel sees what at the end of the day is in its own interest as well.

Haaretz - Israel News - Abbas threatens to delay PLC vote over Jerusalem dispute

The First Week

Well, I fear the holidays are now more or less over, and different activities are slowly starting up.

It's a beutiful day here in Stockholm. It's been snowing the last few days, and today the sky is as clear as it gets with the sun shining over the white. Stockholm looks like a postcard.

Tomorrow and on Wednesday I'm off to Oslo for the big annual conference of the Norwegian Federation of Industries. The theme of the discussions - with speakers ranging from different international representantatives to the Prime Minister - is the new challenges of the High North.

It's not only a question of the expected gas and oil resources of the North Atlantic and Barents Sea, but also the environmental challenges, the fisheries resources and not the least the legal and political challenges in the vast area where Norwegian interests are meeting Russian ones.

I would suspect that this discussion - as well as many others around Europe these days - will be influenced directly or indirectly by the way Russia is now handling its gas dispute with the Ukraine. The NHO conference is the same day as the energy ministers of the European Union are meeting in an emergence session to discuss the immediate impact of the Russian cut-off of gas to Ukraine.

Then I'm back to Stockholm on Friday, only to depart on Saturday in the direction of Hong Kong and the Southern China province of Guangdong.

There, it will be other challenges of this age of increased interdependence and globalisation that will be the centre of the discussion.

I will be visiting factories in the Guangdong province producing toys for the world markets in order to assess worker and other conditions there.

It's part of an effort to make certain that the globalisation of the production chains also leads to an improvement in living standards for everyone concerned. And the focus of the production chain of the global toy industry today very much lies in Southern China.

And from there I go to Brussels for discussions on the global prospects ahead. But that's next week - and another entry.

So the first week brings its pointers for the new year - energy issues, Russia, European Union, China and globalisation.

Sunday, January 01, 2006

A Better 2006?

As Austria takes over the Presidency of the European Union, there is a certain relief that Europe has now left the difficult year of 2005 behind.

Not that it was universally bad.

Germany got a real government, the possibility of a new start and a new voice in Europe. There was increased recognition of the need to do serious economic reform. And during the year there was a distinct improvement in the climate across the Atlantic.

And in the new member countries, growth continued at a vigorous pace. Estonia - the reform leader - ended the year with growth at an annual rate of app 11%.

But there is certainly reason to reflect on the lessons of the year.

In the linked piece, Martin Walker of the UPI in Washington starts his reflections on the subject with a think-piece produced a couple of months ago by the Friends of Europe, and which had me among the contributors.

United Press International - Intl. Intelligence - Walker's World: The EU's grim year