Friday, March 31, 2006

Rejected by Europe?

Suddenly there is an outburst of violence in Southeastern Turkey.

It looks like the Kurdish terrorist organisation PKK has resumed some kind of offensive. They have already officially ended their cease-fire and organized a series of more isolated attacks, but this seems to be a new attempt to stir up more major trouble in these Kurdish-dominated parts of Turkey.

This comes only days after there has been further progress on issues that should be of concern to them. Kurdish-language TV and radio broadcast have now started in Turkey.

It might not be significant as such in view of the fact that satellite TV is available anyhow, including the Kurdish TV station broadcasting from Denmark. But if you see it against the background Kemalist principles and the history of the Turkish state it is a very large step indeed.

During the past years, the process of European integration has contributed to taking much of the wind out of the sails of the Marxist terrorists of PKK. Many Kurds have seen a Turkey in Europe as the means towards fulfilling their different demands.

There are probably multiple reasons for what the PKK is now trying to provoke, but the weakening of the European perspective of Turkey caused by the rather negative debate in a number of European countries is most probably playing its role.

A Turkey that feels betrayed by the United States over Iraq and rejected by parts of European public opinion might well see a rise of nationalism.

The efforts of PKK might well be part of that rise of the forces of nationalism. It's a profoundly dangereous development.

Does Europe see its responsibility?

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Israeli Has Spoken

To interpret the political consequences of the results of the Israeli election isn't entirely easy. The people have spoken - although not necessarily with a very clear voice.

One thing, however, seems clear.

The election showed that decades after the delusions created by the victory in the 1967 war, it has been realized that the dream of Greater Israel has turned into the nightmare of occupation, and that it is high time to wake up.

As it was put in a commentary to the result by the newspaper Haaretz:

"The people have spoken: The land will be divided. Thirty-nine years after the start of the occupation, the Israeli nation decided this week to significantly minimize it. After decades of sharp argument, the State of Israel has fully adopted the two-state solution. There's no way back: It's the end of the twilight period of disengagement, yes or no. It's the end of the controversial legitimacy of the separation maneuver. From now on, the question is not if, but when, to where, and how. The Greater Land of Israel is over and done with."

But at the same time as this is the case, the election did not result in a clear endorsement of the disengagement plan of Prime Minister Olmert. The Kadima party created by Ariel Sharon did not do as well as predicted, although it naturally come out on top of the crowd.

So, we are faced with a somewhat uncertain situation.

An end to the dream of Greater Israel. But no clear plan for how to get out of the occupation that is the consequence of this dream.

We will have to wait and see what kind of government is formed and what kind of program on these issues it will announce.

It will be of great importance for the entire region.

And accordingly for us as well.

Europe Against Change?

When I left Amsterdam yesterday morning the big headline in morning paper De Volkskrant announced that Europe was in the streets against change.

"Europeanen protesteren tegen verandering" was the text all of the first page.

And my Dutch was enough to understand what that meant.

It was of course primarily concerning the French protests against the rather minor changes in labour law introduced by the French government, but the story tied them also to other protests in other European countries at the moment.

Most of yesterday, however, I spent in Paris, partly discussing these very issues.

There is little doubt that there is a deep-seated malaise in French society. It might not entirely be a coincidence that malaise is indeed a French word.

The reasons are deep-seated.

De Volkskrant speculated that we now have a situation in which the young generation in numerous European countries now fear that they will fare less well than their parents did. This then in stark contrast to what has been the case during a very long time.

Indeed, on the labour markers you can see signs of this. Youth unemployment is very high in a number of European economies, with it approaching a quarter in France at the moment.

To this should be added a number of more specific French factors.

A political class that it seen as too detached. A feelings that France is losing its position in Europe. A fear of globalisation that is constantly fed by the national debate on these issues. The ever-present issue of immigration and its consequences for society.

And the mood on some of these issues are different in France than in many other countries.

A recent global poll revealed that only 36% in France saw free markets as the best way of organizing an economy and handling the future. This was well below most other significant countries.

Indeed, the corresponding figures for the United States was 71%, for the UK 66% and for Germany 65%.

At the very top was actually China, where the figure was 77%.

So France is a country where attitudes to the market economy are more sceptical than even in China, and where liberalism - no to speak about so called neoliberalism - is a distinctly dirty word.

The changes that the de Villepin government want to do in the labour laws concerning young people are minor and eminently sensible. It would bring France in line with several other European Union countries.

Their future is now in doubt after the massive protests.

What we see in France illustrates that there is a profound malaise there, but we should also be aware that this is only a part of a wider malaise in the political debate across Europe.

Whether this will prevent further structural reforms or not is an open question.

The real world is still driving reforms.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Ukrainian Democratic Indecision

With more than 90% of the votes counted in the Ukrainian election this Sunday, we can now be fairly certain on the result.

As expected, the Party of Regions come out on top with 31% of the vote, heavily dominating the Eastern parts of the country.

But Yulia Tymoshenko did somewhat better than expected with her 23%, and the Our Ukraine party of President Yushenko did somewhat worse than 15%.

One thing remains very important: Ukraine performed a free and fair election according to the standards of Europe. With Belarus being little more than a joke in terms of democracy, and with Russia moving in the wrong direction, this remains of strategic importance.

But the question is of course what sort of government will eventually to emerge out of this.

One can be absolutely certain that Yulia Tumoshenko is dead determined to come back as Prime Minister, particularly since the powers of that position has now been considerably enhanced.

And one can be equally certain that numerous others will do their utmost to try to stop this. Her populist and revenge-oriented policies when she was Prime Minister did obvious damage to the economic development of the country, and there are few signs that she has changed her colours.

Her card is of course to say that the old Orange coalition together with 38% is significantly stronger than Regions, and should accordingly claim the post of Prime Minister. And then it should obviously go to her.

Maneuvering is certain to go on for a considerable amount of time. And the 6% of the Socialists and 4% of the Communists are also parts of the equation.

But whichever the outcome, it is a victory for continued democracy in Ukrainel.

Monday, March 27, 2006

The New Week

Another week has started. Still winter in Stockholm.

Today the Club of Madrid of former Prime Ministers is having its Executive Committee meeting here in Stockholm.

Former President of Chile Ricardo Lagos is assuming the chairmanship.

But tomorrow and Wednesday I'm off to Brussels, Amsterdam and Paris for speeches primarily in the prospects for Turkey in the dedcades ahead.

In Paris there will alo be the possibility for somewhat wider talks. And in Brussels concerning the results of the European Council late last week. I would assume that there would also be numereous discussions on how to look at the results of the elections yesterday in Ukraine, although the preliminary results seems to be roughly in line with what I wrote about here last week.

Tomorrow is of course the day of the important post-Sharon election in Israel. And this week the Hamas-lead government is supposed to take over the running of the Palestine Authority.

Thursday I'm back here in Stockholm, but on Friday off to Copenhagen for a speech to the Baltic Development Forum on political and economic prospects in the Baltic world in the decades ahead.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Aitäh, Lennart! Ja huvasti.

In Estonian, this means Farewell, Lennart, and Thank You.

This was the day of the state funeral in Tallinn of former Estonian president Lennart Meri.

In a beutiful Nordic weather, Estonia took farwell of its greatest son in modern times.

Together with the President of Finland Tarja Halonen I was honoured to be asked to speak at the farewell ceremony outside the presidential palace.

Unlike Tarja Halonen, who spoke in Estonians, I spoke in English, not only because of the fact that for me there were few other options, but also because I spoke on behalf of many friends across the world.

Here are my remarks at the national farewell ceremony today:

Your Excellencies, Dear Friends,

The re-establishment of the Republic of Estonia after your nations decades of darkness, and its emergence as one of the most vital and dynamic nations of our new Europe, will forever be associated with the ideas, the work and the personality of Lennart Meri.

He was a man out of history who also made and shaped history.

His personal journey – the deportation, the long years when very little was possible, his deep roots in the cultures of Europe – made him uniquely qualified to give the nation of Estonia its moral voice in the world as it again could sign the songs of freedom, of independence and of democracy.

Many of us became his friends during the dramatic years when he served as foreign minister, first of a state that did not exist, and then of a nation that had been born again.

His were seldom the words of classical diplomacy. He was hardly a man primarily of protocol. But he knew better than us all the broad lines of history, the true nature of the changes we were living through and the immense force of standing for what was right.

And these were dramatic years. An old order was coming to its end, although it was by no means self-evident how, and a new order was starting to emerge, although its contours then were not always easy to see.

Lennart Meri gave voice, strength and stability to your nation as§you came out in the light again. He was among those that set you on a direction which today is increasingly making you a model of success far beyond these Baltic lands.

For many of us outside Estonia he was already your President before he was elected as such. And for many I’m convinced he remained that until the very last of his days. He was the foremost of Estonians in our time.

He was the foremost of Estonians and among the foremost of Europeans. He knew only too well that the fate of a small nation is always linked to what happens well beyond its immediate boundaries.

For him, Europe wasn’t only the richness of its diverse cultural heritage, within which his Estonia had its proud place.

For him – in this time of ours - it was also the imperative of building of freedom and democracy and security together, with firm bonds also stretching across the wide Atlantic Ocean and – let that not be forgotten – reaching out to the Russia whose culture he cherished so deeply.

We many, individuals from many nations, who were honoured to be among his friends, will always remember his days.

We shared moments of immense joy as freedom started to break forward, of deep concern when there were dangers of it all being turned back, of true determination when challenges had to be confronted and deep sorrow when deep tragedy struck our two nations of Estonia and Sweden.

In every situation, the voice of Lennart Meri was always the voice of moral clarity, of historical conviction and of a deep commitment to his Estonia and his Europe.

His voice is no longer. But his words and his deeds will be with Estonia and with us for ever.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

More than 50 %?

In Istanbul I caused a minor stir by saying that I estimated that the risks of both a disintegration of Iraq and a military confrontation with Iran is now somewhat above 50 %.

It’s was not a welcome message – and I would be the first to agree that it is a most unwelcome situation.

But it is always important to be able to look the facts straight in the eye.

Wherever I have discussed the issue in the last weeks – Washington or Moscow – there is profound gloom. Details in assessment can vary, but remarkably little does when it comes to the core of the argument.

There is no disagreement that the Iranians are pursuing a nuclear program which is designed to give them the option of getting also nuclear weapon.

Whether there is a weapons program or not is to a large extent a matter of definition – the program that is there is dual-use in every single part. But it does not seem to have passed the point where elements of it can for certain be described as only military in nature.

That they also want to pursue civilian nuclear power is clear. And in spite of what is sometimes said, there is a logic in this. The country’s vast oil and gas reserves will be used primarily for exports in order to gain hard currency, while domestic uranium could eventually by a useful source of power for the nation itself.

But the quest for a weapons option has deep roots back to the days of the Shah. The program was in fact slowed down after the Khomeini revolution. It’s in recent years it has been given new priority and new resources.

It is undoubtedly linked to the regimes since of insecurity in a world in which it feels itself surrounded by American power. But one should not overlook the fact that it seems to have broad support even among those fiercely opposed to the regime.

Whether diplomacy can convince the regime that it should abstain from pursuing those elements of its programmed deemed unacceptable to an outside world deeply suspicious of its motives is still an open question.

There seems to be numerous talks going on. But there are very few signs of them having any hope of bringing a resolution. Indeed, whoever of insight I ask sinks down into deep pessimism about the prospects for a political solution.

Washington as well as Moscow is determined to prevent Iran from mastering the technology of the centrifuges necessary to enrich uranium. To build and operate one of these centrifuges is a highly complex undertaking, but once one has learnt to build and successfully run one, it’s only a matter of time and scale until one can assemble the perhaps 50 000 necessary for a full production facility.

That’s why the red line laid down by the European trio doing the negotiations has been that enrichment –even on the research scale – should not be permitted. Research could well mean learning to build and run the centrifuges.

And that’s exactly what seems to have happened.

There are now reports that Iran has built a small facility with a small cascade of 164 centrifuges. If true, that points at faster progress than also most intelligence agencies had believed.

A new sense of alarm can clearly be felt around the issue. The question now tops the list of issues of any more important trans-Atlantic political consultation.

Buying time in order to continue to explore the political option is certainly still the by far best policy. Every effort must be done to try to get at least parts of the Iranian leadership off the course towards catastrophe that they are on.

They might think that they have strong cards in any confrontation. That’s also true to a certain extent. But over time there is no reason whatsoever that it is their country that will pay the heaviest price in any long-term confrontation.

The price others will have to pay might also be very substantial, but that does not alter the eventual outcome.

But with the Iranians pushing ahead, and if the new information can be seen as correct and later on verified by the IAEA, it is more likely to be a matter of months rather than years until the issue is brought to its head.

Senator John McCain says that the only thing worse than a military strike is Iran acquiring nuclear weapons. That seems to be the view of many places.

Thus, I stand by my assessment.

And it most certainly add to my general worries about a deteriorating geostrategic situation and deepening worries about developments in the entire area between Jerusalem and Jalalabad.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Bridges Trembling?

Are the bridges between Europe and Turkey starting to tremble?

It's a rainy day in Istanbul, and many of my discussions here have been on the rain that might well be ahead of us.

The European Union has yet to overcome the loss of strategic confidence that occured with the referendum defeats last year. More wrongly that rightly, these defeats were by many blamed on reluctance towards enlargement, and a result has been a substantial weakening of the political energy sustaining the enlargement process.

It still goes on, but the lack of energy is still very obvious. The oxygen supply is far from sufficient to ensure that the challenges ahead can be handled properly.

This isn't primarily related to Turkey and its accession process, but to the fact that in many countries we haven't won the debate concerning the enlargement that has already occured, not to speak about the ones that are and should be ahead of us.

In my opinion it is imperative that we address that issue and win that debate.

It's not only a question of the stability, peace and security of our part of the world, important as that is. Increasingly it should be obvious that enlargement is the injection of new dynamism that is contributing to increasing the dynamism of our different economies, thus making us better able to be winners in the great process of globalisation.

But so far that dimension has not been very prominent in the debate.

This is particularly so when we look ahead at the great debate on Turkey that will come. With growth rates of 5 - 7 % and a young, dynamic and growing population, the addition of Turkey would be a boost to the combined economy of Europe when it occurs.

It's really the choice between a stagnating and a dynamic vision of the future European economy.

This I have discussed here today both at the large conference with East Capital, at a roundtable discussion under the auspicies of the Turkish Political Quarterly and the ARI Movement bringing together different opinion-leaders, in a number of newspaper interviews and in a lengthy interview on CNN Turk that is broadcast as I'm writing this.

Tonight discussions will continue at one of the delightful restaurants down by the Bosphorous.

Tomorrow I'm heading again to a different part of Europe for a different occasion.

I'm going to Tallinn in Estonia for the funeral service of late President Lennart Meri.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

What's Going On In Russia?

After some days by the banks of the Moscow River, having an unfortunate view of the hideous new monument to Peter the Great, I’m now enjoying a view over the Bosphoreous instead.

Some days in Moscow gives cause for some reflections.

What is really happening in Russia today?

Its political and economic system is increasingly preoccupied with the issue of the 2008 transition. Yes, there will be Duma elections already in 2007, but it is nowadays a rather marginalized body, and practically all power now flows through the so called vertical structures from the President and his immediate staff in the Kremlin.

A new president is thus not only a new person and the possibility of new policies, but really a question of the future of the entire system. Russia does not have the institutional stability that most other countries have.

But what then is the president system of Putin?

Well, during his first term he sought to create some stability after the rather turbulent 1990’s, as well as to enact some significant economic reforms.

Among other things, he took the Estonian rather than the Swedish model for tax policy and introduced the 13 % flat rate income tax.

But the second term has been very different. Economic reforms have stalled more or less completely, and authoritarian tendencies have multiplied. One can not today describe Russia as a country in transition to full democracy – it’s moving backwards.

The trend of this term is the gradual re-nationalisation of significant parts of the economy and the grabbing of huge resources by a group of Kremlin insiders determined to get rich very quick.

In some ways this can be seen as a reaction against the emergence of the so called oligarchs and their wealth during the Yeltsin years. The aim seems to be both to cut them down to size and to transfer vast wealth to a new group of Putin oligarchs.

We might not see more leading businessmen dramatically arrested and sent off to Siberia as is the case with Mikhail Khordokovsky. Everyone could see what that was all about.

But what is happening is that different businessman are suddenly “encouraged” to “sell” parts of or their entire assets at low prices to new Kremlin-controlled state bodies. If they were to resist, there tends to be difficult tax cases and other legal difficulties arriving very fast.

This is happening with increasing frequency.

In today’s Moscow Times one can read that Viktor Vekselberg is now intending to sell his part of VSMPO-Avisma, the world’s biggest titanium miner, to state-controlled Rosoboronexport which wants to take control of the company.

Rosoboronexport is the state military export company. It recently used means like the ones described to grab control over one of the country’s carmakers as well. And you can rest assured that as part of these transactions the Putin circle ends up with very substantial private assets.

And now it evidently intends to grab the large aluminum industry as well.

That's just an example from today's newspaper.

Where will all this end?

It will certainly not be to the benefit of the competitiveness of Russia’s economy. I can say that with some force after having stayed the last few days at a Moscow hotel run by the Kremlin administration.

It wasn't the Soviet mismanagment any longer. That's worth noting. But neither was it the modern world. Something in between...

And the long-term political effects?

Will it make a new group of oligarchs interested in preserving private property, since it is now suddenly theirs? Or will it just initiate a new wave of asset-grabbing and stealing when a new group at some time climbs to the height of power in the country?

No one really knows.

Least of all the Russians. There is uncertainty in the country.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Something Rotten in the State of Sweden (3)

Yesterday brought new drama in the rot at the top of the governance of Sweden.

At a press conference obviously laden with anger Prime Minister Göran Persson said that he had accepted the resignation of the Foreign Minister Laila Freivalds. It was a very short affair - neither was keen to answer any questions.

The atmosphere was such that one wonders whether the two will ever like to meet again.

The reason for the resignation was little more than trivial. The Foreign Minister claimed that at a press conference in Brussels the day before no one had been interested in her views on Belarus - but instead in her mishandling of the issue of contacts with a web service provider on the infamous Mohammed cartoons.

But the plain fact is that very few people had been interested in her views on subjects like that before either. Sweden did not have much of a foreign policy profile in the last few years.

The core reason for the clash that resulted in the resignation is the almost non-existent relations between the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the Prime Minister and his kitchen cabinet.

The later rules with medieval arrogance and moves around in the world at their leisure and, from the policy point of view, seemingly at random. You can suddenly have State Secretary Danielsson - the man who has been caught lying to Parliament, but is still protected by the Prime Minister - turning up in different parts of the world with his female assistant for foreign affairs.

And the Ministry for Foreign Affairs is mostly left completely in the dark.

Swedish diplomats have got used to getting one foreign policy - or what should go for such - from the Prime Minister and another one from the Foreign Minister. Communication between the two seems to have been very limited indeed.

This was of course the recipe for a series of disasters, and it is the latest of these that has now brought this dramatic crisis.

Laila Frevalds says that it was she who decided to resign, but the evening papers in Stockholm today are saying that it was Göran Persson who decided to fire her.

I wouldn't be surprised if the later stories are based on controlled leaks from the PM's office designed to put him in a somewhat better and her in a somewhat worse light. That’s been happening before. It’s part of the immoral style of leadership that we are seeing.

As said before, there is something rotten in the state of Sweden...

Repression in Minsk and European Challenge in Kiev

The Orange Revolution in Ukraine might not have resulted in everything its adherents had hoped for, and its coalition has clearly fallen to pieces, but without it the coming elections the coming weekend in Ukraine might well have been a sham along the lines of what we saw in Belarus last weekend.

So far, manifestations are continuing in Minsk against the sham elections and the repression that has followed.

But while the Orange Revolution could succeed against a regime that was demoralized, in Minsk there is a regime obviously determined to use all the instruments of repression to preserve their powers.

The picture shows how it looked Sunday evening in the midst of Minsk.

The Ukraine parliamentary election is unlikely to result in an outright victory for any of the three major blocs that are now competing for power.

My tip would be that we will see the Party of Regions headed by last years election falsifier Viktor Yanukovich but dominated by old-style “red directors” and some younger ambitious tycoons coming out on top of the race.

And then there will be President Viktor Yushenko’s Our Ukraine probably followed by the Bloc of Yulia Timoshenko.

Those will be the three – and then there are likely to be three-four other parties making it into the Rada.

With the constitution now changed to give far greater role to the Rada as well as to the government, it is a safe bet that it will take a rather long time to set up a government that can work after the election. It might not be as lengthy as it is in Iraq – but it will be far from easy.

For the West it will be important to seek assurances that whichever government emerges in Kiev sticks to the commitment of the Orange Revolution to an open and democratic society, the rule of the law and determined economic reforms.

This should not be impossible, although it will require concerted diplomacy by the European Union and the United States. Poland, which played an important part last year, seems to be out of the circle as serious European diplomacy is concerned, but that places an increased burden on other actors.

It might well turn into the key test for the European Neighbourhood Policy that Brussels has started to implement.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Mixed Moscow

Fifteen years since Russia started its transition from a communist to a market economy the debate over what’s been done and where the country is heading is as intense as ever.

These days numerous economists and political leaders involved in this and other transition processes are assembling in Moscow for the 15th year anniversary of the Institute for Economies in Transition.

It is headed by Yegor Gaidar, who was the radically reforming Acting Prime Minister of Russia in 1991 and 1992. And it so happens that it coincides with his own 50th year birthday.

It’s been two days of intense debates on the different experiences of Armenia, Estonia, Poland, Kazakhstan, Serbia and – above all – Russia.

Much has certainly been achieved, but the tone of the debate is still dominated by worries for the future.

The curse of Russia’s economy is its oil and gas resources. Many are flowing at such rate as to make further reforms seem unnecessary, and after having achieved an impressive macroeconomic stabilisation it’s obvious that pressures are now building up for spending all the oil money on numerous things.

Inflation is picking up. Investments are clearly insufficient. And growth in Russia – while certainly robust at 5-6 % annually – is still below other reform economies and the potential that should be there.

More worrying are the obvious trends towards re-nationalisation of different resources. Already app a third of oil production has been taken back into state hands, and now other industries are also starting to feel the long arm of the Kremlin extending to get the power over their money.

It’s a vast money-grabbing exercise going on – obviously primarily to the benefit of the small elite that happens to be in control of the Russian state at the moment. Whenever Mr Putin leaves the Kremlin, it sounds unlikely that he will do it as a poor man.

And politics doesn’t look that much better.

Yesterday the office of Open Society Foundation was brutally closed down by the authorities. There is very little of organised civil society that remains after the rolling clamp-down of the last few months.

An important and virulently pro-Putin American economic analysts was the other day informed that because of national security concerns he will be banned from entering the country again. For all his pro-Putin writings, he has also been busy exposing some of the more shady deals done in his surroundings.

And television brings back memories from Milosevic’s days in Serbia. Programming is overtly nationalistic with obvious militaristic overtones as well.

But Russia is a land of contrast.

There is an amazing vitality among its entrepreneurs, impressive skills among its scientist and a refreshing and open debates among young people and students. And it’s really in the middle of that Russia that I’m spending my days here in Moscow.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Moscow, Istanbul and Tallinn

Another week soon starting, and I'm rushing in order to get to the Sunday afternoon flight from Stockholm to Moscow.

From one snowy place to one that promises to be even more snowy.

It's a seminar - very much in honour of Yegor Gaidar - on the challenges of economic transformation that takes me to there during the next few days. It will be a fairly big international gathering of persons with some sort of experience of these situations.

You could perhaps call it a seminar on the experience of building capitalism.

How it will be received in the present political setting of Russia will be most interesting to see. But irrespectively of that it will be a great gathering of great people with great possibilities of interesting meetings and talks.

And I will of course take the opportunity of visiting the Kremlin to get the mood of the powers of the day.

From this the Third Rome I'm heading straight to the Second Rome - to Istanbul on the Bosphorous.

Another conference where I will speak about the relationship between Turkey and Europe, as well as some more informal discussions on what can be done in order to handle the crisis in the European accession negotiations that now look almost inevitable towards the second half of the year.

And I certainly don't expect any snow there. It should be spring by now.

From there I go to Tallinn in Estonia to attend the funeral next Sunday of late President Lennart Meri.

Otherwise this will be the week dominated by the meeting of the European Council in Brussels on Thursday and Friday.

Economic reforms and energy policy will be at the centre of the discussions there. It remains to be seen if there will be much progress.

I will certainly have a reason to come back to both subjects - now I have to make sure I don't miss the flight.

There is a good dinner with good friends waiting in Moscow.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Three Years Later

Tomorrow it's three years on the day since Washington and London and some others started the invasion of Iraq.

It was a Wednesday. Everything was already ready to go. Special forces were already starting to discreetly get into the country and into their respective positions.

But suddenly intelligence came in to Washington that Saddam Hussein had been located at a bunker complex called Dora Farm at a bend in the Tigris in the outskirts of Baghdad.

It was a chance that could not be missed. After pondering the options the attack plans were hastily revised. Two F117's with bunker-busting bombs and no less than 36 cruise missiles were sent towards the new target in a major change of the plans for the beginning of the war.

And then the President went on television and announced that it had all started.

Now we know that all of that was wrong. The intelligence on Dora Faem was false. Huge holes in the ground were created at the location, but there were no bunkers, and there had never been any Saddam Hussein.

I mentioning this incident since it is in many ways typical of what happened. Faulty intelligence and hasty decision-making combined. There were, after all, no weapons of mass destruction.

I remember how I before the war predicted four years of difficult war followed by four years of difficult occupation regime of some sort.

The war went faster. It took three weeks to reach and conquer Baghdad. Towards the end Saddam's elite divisions around the capital just melted away. It was a most impressive military campaign.

But then most things went wrong. Washington wasn't ready to confront the realities of taking care of a country after having crushed virtually all its state structures. Regime building was simply not in the handbooks.

Reading the different more detailed accounts published recently, one is shocked by the amateurism of much of the approach. Planeloads of ignorant amateurs were deposited in the Green Zone of Baghdad, micromanaged by equally ignorant amateurs in the Pentagon and with little real knowledge of what they were doing.

I'm saying this with respect for the challenges - we were not necessarily perfect with everything in the Balkans either. But there is little doubt that we were better.

After three years everything in Iraq it is still highly uncertain where it will all end. The ongoing insurgency in parts of the country might be the least of the problems, although it's certainly serious.

Whether the country runs the risk of a civil war or not is largely a matter of definition. Iyad Allawi, the former Prime Minister, the other day noted that "we are losing each day as an average 50 to 60 people throughout the country, if not more - if this is not civil war, then God knows what civil war is."

The really crucial issue, however, is whether the state of Iraq that was created in 1920 can survive - and what will happen if it does not.

Before the war I remember preaching to all that I met in Washington the importance of immediately trying to settle the constitutional issues. Based on Balkan experience, it was obvious that this was the key to the future of the state.

This did not happen. There is a constitution now, but it leaves most of the key issues open. And the window for sorting them out in a matter that will be acceptable to all three of the main groups of the country is closing very rapidly. A few more months, perhaps, but in all probability no more.

For all the mistakes, failures and problems we must honestly ask if keeping Saddam Hussein in place was much of an option.

My view at the time was that we were heading for war sooner or later under any scenario.

There was simply no way that the UN Security Council would lift its all-encompassing economic sanctions against the country as long as Saddam Hussein was in power. The effect of these were clear: they impoverish the country, deepened division between its Arab and Kurdish parts and stengthened the regime.

It was worth trying everything possible to get rid of Saddam Hussein and his regime. The alternative was to accept a continued slide towards a catastrophe that might have been even bigger.

Absent a coup, it was obvious that the entire situation was slipping towards a war, probably later rather than sooner.

9/11 and the Bush presidency changed the equation. To this day a majority of the Iraqis seems to think that the invasion was more good than bad.

But the same Iraqis seem to have an increasingly worried or negative view of what has happened thereafter.

To me, they seem to be right - on both counts.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Change in Sweden?

Six months from now - on September 17th - the voters will decide whether there will be a change of government in Sweden and not.

Since whenever I travel abroad I get questions on what might happen I might just as well write a tentative answer here.

Six month on the day before polling day is a good time to assess how things stand.

Since the last election in 2002 the most noticeable change oin the political scene is a significant improvement in the cooperation between the three parties of the centre-right in the present opposition alliance.

In fact, they have never ever been as united as they are today. And this been made possible by political changes within these parties, most notably within the Centre Party, which previously was the least enthusiastic about going far in pre-electoral commitments.

If there is now a more united centre-right, we have seen the opposite development on the centre-left and the left.

The present Social Democratic government is a minority one dependent on the support in the Riksdag of the Left Party - former Communists - as well as the Green Party. But relations between them are far from close, and it's increasingly uncertain whether they would have any possibility of actually sticking together after the election.

There is thus one certain government alternative - the present opposition - and one highly uncertain - indeed faltering - one.

If we look at the opinion polls, an attempt in Aftonbladet today to merge the different opinion polls produced an average of 50,1 % for the opposition alliance and 46,5 % for the red-green mess that is there at the moment.

That's a significant lead - but not enough to create too much certainty concerning the outcome of the election.

The Social Democrats are likely to lose significantly, and the Moderates to gain significantly. In the case of the Moderates it is from its catastrophic and out-of-trend result four years ago.

At present, the Moderate leader Fredrik Reinfeldt is significantly more thrusted by public opinion than is the Prime Minister Göran Persson.

If one where to look only at the economic data it looks not too bad for the government.

Growth is good, and although the very significant unemployment figures are a real problem, it might well be that we will see employment increased somewhat. It will not be enough to address the problems of substance - but perhaps enough to make a political difference.

The Social Democrats are bound to do their utmost to present the country as a case of success in a Europe of more mixed performance.

But if one looks at other factors of relevance, it is difficult not to be struck by the series of semi-scandals now surrounding the ruling Social Democratic caste. Some I have highlighted here earlier - most I have spared my readers from.

If one adds them up I believe that the average voter is beginning to get the impression that this caste is more interested in its perks and priviligies, and increasingly don't even shy away from lying and cheating in order to increase and preserve them.

I have to say that this picture is beginning to resemble reality as well. It's a ruling caste that's been there for too long - for themselves as well as for the country.

As for issues of substance, the debate six months before the election is remarkably timid and uncertain.

The leader of the Liberal Party has - this so far is the exception to the rule - produces a good book on the challenge and opportunity of globalisation on Sweden, but otherwise the debate tends towards the technical, the immediate and the timid. The famous "vision thing" is notably absent from the scene.

With good growth due also to very loose fiscal and monetary policies, there is a disturbing tendency to offer the voters the one expensive package of promises after the other, while downplaying the structural reform pressures that are rapidly building up.

The risk is that this competition in expensive promises will increase even further during the remaining months. Eventually, the bills will have to be paid.

The outcome of the election will be decided in the few weeks of campaigning after the summer. In recent elections, approximately a third of the electorate finally made up its mind during the campaign, and a significant portion even during the very last days.

All in all, it seems likely that Sweden is heading for a new government in October.

The opposition alliance is ahead, and it has more energy and more coherence. And it has none of the scandals.

The election is really theirs to lose.

Appeal to European Muslims

Mustafa Ceric is the religious head of the Muslim community of Bosnia, and has been so since some time in the midst of the Bosnian war in the early 1990's.

He is certainly a man with firm reigious, social and political beliefs. But as educated at the University of Chicago and with his work in a European nation his outlooks are shaped by an experience somewhat different from many other Muslim leaders.

I kow him as a good and interesting man, although I have not always agreed with everything he has said. I'm certain that he would say the same about me.

At the end of February he issued an appeal to the Muslims of Europe that is actually worth reading.

It was, he said, first and foremost "a personal appeal to the European audience not to make a mistake in generalizing all Muslims and not to spread Islamophobia. "

But "the second message was to the Muslims who live in Europe to take seriously these events and debates that may have great consequences for their stay in Europe and their status in Europe."

"And the third message is to the Muslim world at large to ask them to help us in the West, and especially in Europe, to develop a kind of dialogue that is acceptable to us as Muslims, as well as to our European neighbors

A worthy initiative from Sarajevo.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Repression in Belarus

It's starting to get rough in the election campaign in Belarus. Hardly surprising, but certainly worth calling attention to.

The presidential election is on Sunday. With massive support from every state instrument in sight - and some more - it's virtually certain that the authoritarian Mr Lukaskenko will be re-elected. He rules Europe's last authoritarian regime.

But it looks as if he starting to be somewhat nerveous.

It's difficult to find any other explanation to the fact that repression seems to be increasing dramatically during these final days of the campaign. Lukasjenko evidently feels that he can't rely only on state propaganda - he also needs state repression to win over challenges Alexander Milinkevich.

That's the man on the picture.

Lukashenko's challengers have been hobbled by arrests and other measures against supporters. Milinkevich is now saying that more than 300 opposition activists had been detained or otherwise punished and more than 50 remained behind bars in police stations and in jails.

What's happening in Belarus is truly a disgrace to Europe.

There is a need to intensifu discussions on how Europe should react to obvious repression in Belarus.

And to possible election fraud. We are awaiting the report of the OSCE election observers that will be issued after the election.

Open World Under Attack

Back to the snow after a few days in the nearly summer-like weather of Washington, although it will get somewhat cooler there as well in the next few days.

It was a Washington still in a state of semi-shock after the political stampede that forced Dubai-based DP World to withdraw part of the deal that would have given it ownership of a company running also some port operations in the United States.

It wasn't difficult to detect how embarrased persons like Vice President Cheney or Senator McCain was when the subject come up in conversations. All sought explanations in circumstances that were unique to the case - but all also seemed genuinely worried by the political trend it might represent.

And many were clear in their views on what had happened. New York Times columnist David Brook, whom I also met there, wrote about it in no uncertain terms:

"This Dubai port deal has unleashed a kind of collective mania we haven't seen in decades ... a xenophobia tsunami ... a nativist, isolationist mass hysteria. ... God must love Hamas and Muqtada al-Sadr. He has given them the America First brigades of Capitol Hill."

And his NYT colleauge Thomas Friedman wasn't less clear in his views.

This is "borderline racist. ... There's a poison loose. ... If we go Dark Ages, if we go down the road of pitchfork-wielding xenophobes, then the whole world will go Dark Ages."

Was it just anti-Arab? Was it anti-foreign in general? Does it show that protectionist sentiments are on the rise in the United States?

Well, my tentative answer would be that it was a bit of all of this - which certainly does not make things better.

The xenophobic reaction to the thought of any Arab coming close to the ports of the United States runs totally contrary to the fact that outside the US itself there are no facilities used as frequently by the US Navy as those of Dubai.

Someone said that the very newest aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan is on its way to the Dubai port. In addition, Dubai houses an airbase of critical importance to the US in the entire region. Dubai has been among the most loyal of allies to the United States for years.

More generally, it is highly disturbing that it is not understood that any "war on terrorism" can only be won by strengthening moderate Arab regimes and developing and broadening cooperation with them. It's by building alliance with the moderates and the modernisers of the Islamic world that the fundamentalists can be isolated and defeated.

But five years after 9/11, it seems as if the critically important distinction between anti-fundamentalists and anti-Arab is difficult to uphold even on Capitol Hill in the United States. It's certainly not a good sign for the future.

There was also a significant general anti-foreign element in the entire thing.

On the Hill there are now different pieces of legislation being prepared that would prevent foreign ownership of numerous things. It seems as if "foreign" is equal with dangereous" or even "hostile" - and that even for Senators with wide international experience like Hillary Clinton.

Add to this that with a trade deficit that is increasing by the minute there is bound to be an increase in protectionist sentiments and you get a breed that is deeply worrying for the future.

Late April will see thed visit to the United States of Chinese President Hu Jintao, and that is likely to lead to new discussions on these sensitie trade issues. A trade war between China and the United States, triggered by legislation on the Hill, is a distinct possibility if there is not a change in the present trends.

If the United States can not hold the ideals of an open world high - who will then be able to do it?

It's just a question so far. I hope it stays with that.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Lennart Meri

Early this morning, former President Lennart Meri passed away in Tallinn.

He was an Estonian and a European of dimensions we find much too seldom. He played a critical role in the emergence of the free and succesful Estonia that we are having today as member of both the European Union and NATO.

He was a true statesman, as well as a highly educated intellectual and a man deeply rooteed in European culture and history.

As a young boy, his family belong to those deported to Siberia as the Soviet Union occupied his country. In a speech in Stockholm in 1999 he described the experience:

"When I climbed into it with my mother and my brother, it was full of women and children already. Space was made for us on a dark lower bunk. At times, I was allowed up to the window. The sparse chain of the Red Army soldiers stood with their backs to the wagon, arms grounded with the rods on. In the evening, a bucket full of water was handed into the wagon."

"I remembered my father’s last words: 'Take care of your mother and brother, you are now the eldest man in the family.' After that we had been separated. I was twelve years old."

The losses of his Estonia during the dark years of war and Soviet occupation were staggering. In that speech - which I highly recommend reading; it's now on my webpage that is linked to - he pointed out that if Sweden would have lost an equal proportion of its population we would have lost 1,65 million people.

After returning from his years in Russia, and spending decades at the University of Tartu, Lennart Meri was at the forefront of the struggle to re-establish the independence of his country. He was Foreign Minister during the most critical period when the Soviet tanks tried to turn everything back, but when their failure paved the way for the recognition of the independence of Estonia in 1991.

He naturally become the free country's first new President.

His experience and vision was instrumental in giving stability to the country as it entered a new era. The complexities of history made for a complexity of backgrounds:

"Most of us today have some relative who died in Siberia; someone who was killed in the World War II on the German side and someone on the Soviet side; someone who belonged to the communist party and someone who fled to the West from the communist occupation."

That's why the European vision become so important to him. It was a question of overcoming the past, but it was also a question of returning to the richness of the European culture within which he wanted to be able to be proud of his Estonia.

During these years, Estonia had the oldest - and most certainly the wisest - president of Europe in combination with the youngest prime minister and government. The combination laid the ground for the extraordinary success story that his Estonia has been since then.

For me, he become a good friend in days that were not only easy.

And as he had left the Presidency, he continued to live, write and discuss with friends in the house on the very edge of the Gulf of Finland that he built where there has previously been a Soviet guardpost.

He was a great European. And the foremost of Estonians.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Did She Blow It?

In different interviews during the last day or two I have been openly critical of the way the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia (ICTY) has handled primarily the case against Milosevic, and the serious risks that this has undermined the confidence in war crimes justice generally.

First, I believe it was a serious mistake to roll all the charges relating to Kosovo, Bosnia and Croatia – in total 66 - into one single trial.

I’m not alone in this view. It is often forgotten that in 2001, the lower chamber of the tribunal ruled that the Kosovo indictment merited a separate trial because the allegations were sufficiently distinct from events earlier in the 1990s in Croatia and Bosnia.

My view at the time was that Bosnia merited a separate trial. If it should be combined with anything, then with Croatia, but definitely not with the in many respects different Kosovo conflict.

I was keen to get a verdict on the Bosnia indictments as soon as possible – and to get a decent and good trial on its different issues.

But the prosecution didn’t like this approach and appealed against it. At the end the decision was overturned. Their approach was to throw everything together in one mammoth trial that would last for many years.

As late as December 2005, the issue of severing the Kosovo indictment from the rest of the charges was dealt with again. The judges deciding against doing so because they felt it would merely be an invitation to Mr Milosevic to seek additional time and further delay proceedings.

In the light of his death, the tribunal has got the worst of all possible outcomes - no verdict on any of the indictments.

The death of Mr Milosevic will place a spotlight on his legal adversary, the chief war crimes prosecutor, Carla del Ponte. Apart from insisting on the lengthy mammoth trial – although she knew as well as anyone about his hearth condition and that serious people at ICTY doubted that he could take it for long – she was also the one that decided to charge him genocide in relation to Bosnia.

Well, the end result of escalating indictments and the throwing all the accusations into one basked and one trials is that it lasted year after year after year until Milosevic’s hearth failed and we ended up without the final verdict.

It is not something Ms. Carla del Ponte has any reason to be proud of.
On the contrary.

History might say that she blew it.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Washington and Helsinki Week

After a hectic day commenting on the death of Milosevic and the direction - or rather lack thereof - of Balkan policy in the European Union, I have now arrived in Washington on the other side of the Atlantic.

The view from my hotel is only marginally different from the picture.

And after having left the deep winter in Stockholm, it certainly nice to arrive in the spring of Washington.

It's a town in slight pre-election mood - and in a rather bewildered state as concerns its relations to the outside world.

The recent de facto rejection of a deal under which a British operator of some US ports would be aquired by a Dubai company of great reputation in the area - serving the US Navy on a daily basis, among other things - has highlighted the state of the political system here.

In effect, we saw the White House defeated by a mad scramble of politicians and others trying to outdo each other on what was perceived as an issue of national security. It was xenophobia in action.

Practically all of the Democrats joined the rampage, which in this election year caused a not insignificant number of Republicans to do the same.

And that effectively decided the matter.

For all the tendencies that we are seeing towards "economic nationalism" in different parts of the European Union at the moment, this must be said to have been worse.

I'll be here for three days discussing a rather wide range of issues before heading home again.

But the stay home will be short. I'm heading off to Helsinki for a meeting with the board of the Finnish-Swedish center at Hanaholmen.

Not the most significant institution of the world, but a significant one in terms of cooperation between our two Nordic nations. And that cooperation is difficult for our position in the world of today.

So, it will be a week between Washington and Helsinki.

All Gone...

In connection with the death of Milosevic, I stumbled on this photo showing the opening of the Bosnia peace negotiation in Dayton in the US in late 1995.

It was little more than ten years ago, but now all the three main Balkan leaders of the period are gone.

Croat President Franjo Tudjmam died in December 1999 after a lengthy struggle with cancer. When Milosevic lost power in Serbia in October 2000, the departure of both of them was seen as the beginning of a new era in the region.

Alija Izetbegovic, the leader of the Bosnian Muslims, was a very different man from the two others. Tudjman was the committed nationalist, Milosevic the fanatical opportunist, but Izetbegovic was a decent man of decent and deep religious beliefs who felt somewhat uncomfortable with the realities of power.

He died in Sarajevo in October of 2003.

And now Slobodan Milosevic has died in The Hague.

New generations everywhere are carrying their countries forward.

The picture is really a picture of history.

Although Richard Holbrook, myself and Pauline Neville-Jones seen with our backs to the camera are distinctly still around.

Failure in Salzburg

The Salzburg meeting on the Balkans policy of the European Union resulted in a less than brilliant and certainly not very forward-looking compromise.

It was a rather short communique, the most significant part of which was this:

"In this respect, the EU confirms that the future of the Western Balkans lies in the European Union. The EU recalled that a debate on the enlargement strategy is due in 2006 as set out by the Council conclusions of 12 December 2005. The EU also notes that its absorption capacity has to be taken into account."

Although I note that the Austrian presidency is trying to spin it more positively, noting that the word "membership" wasn't totally banned, this text is still a more of a victory for the blocking forces inside the Union.

Previous commitments are repeated in the vaguest possible form. Then one refers to something the French invented in order to block further debate for the time being. And then one adds the catch-phrase of "the absorption capacity" to it all, meaning that this all could be too much for us.

This phrase is particularly worrisome. Although it's been around for a long time, it has resurfaced in the debate about Turkey, being repeated time after time primarily by some Germans and the Austrians.

But while the issue might be a real one with Turkey, it has never been one before with the Western Balkans. We have now seen the introduction of a new possible blocking element in the deliberations - and in the official texts.

And if one had hoped that there would be the readiness to go forward with other steps, there isn't much of that in the communique.

A support for consolidating the patchwork of bilateral free trade agreements in the region into a multilateral one is good, but will not make much of a difference and falls far short of what really could have been done.

On the important issue of reducing the impact of the high visa barriers that have gone up across the region, and between it and the European Union, there is only a non-committal reference to coming proposals.

One would have thought that the death of Milosevic should have concentrated the minds of the ministers on the need for a more forward-looking policy.

It did not. A failure.

Much of this is blamed by individual ministers on the problem of getting their respective electorates to accept further enlargement or other steps that take the Union forward.

This would have been a more respectable point of view if there had been any signs of them really trying. But there isn't. They are declaring defeat before even attempting to achieve something.

It's not the lack of support that is the problem - it's the lack of political will, courage and leadership.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Slobodan Milosevic

The death of Slobodan Milosevic in his cell in the UN detention unit in Schveningen in The Hague isn’t entirely surprising.

His health wasn’t the best, and I remember hearing people years ago fearing that he wouldn’t survive too extended a trial.

He did not, and we will now never get the verdict that was an important purpose of the entire exercise. Too many questions will be left hanging in the air – and that is never good in situations like these.

The story of Slobodan Milosevic is the story of a communist appartschnik in old socialist Yugoslavia who saw that the system was collapsing and decided to ride the tiger of nationalism in order to get to and preserve power.

He wasn’t really much of a nationalist. I dealt with him extensively during a number of years. He had his prejudices, but probably somewhat less than the regional average.

He was an opportunist and a tactician. He was a man of power and ambition. He was never much of a man of principles, and history shows that he was an extremely poor strategists. He was extremely keen in winning the small battles – but he failed to see that he was losing the wars.

It all started in Kosovo when he saw the power of a raw Serbian nationalism that was driven by a no less raw Albanian nationalism. Communism was disappearing – but nationalism was rising.

In the dying days of communism, he made rising nationalism his instrument of power.

There followed the different wars of Yugoslav dissolution. He manoeuvred from the one to the other, trying to be the master of every game.

Whether some peace could have been preserved, and all wars avoided, if he hadn’t been there is one of these questions that history will never be able to answer.

Perhaps - but perhaps not. There was a powerful breed of nationalist fears and nationalist dreams that might have been beyond the control of anyone.

But there is little doubt that he made things worse. He played on the fears. His was the propaganda of fear and prejudice.

His duel with Croatia’s Franjo Tudjman brought war first to Croatia and then, most fatefully, to Bosnia in 1992. They both tried to carve out their own pieces of that complex country at the centre of the Balkans. More than 100 000 people are likely to have died in the carnage, and millions had to flee their homes.

Once the hounds of war had been unleashed, they were not easy to control. Once started, the Bosnia war went on longer than he wished. But in late 1995 it was brought to its end in Dayton, and there was the possibility of a new start for Serbia. Sanctions were lifted.

But then came Kosovo. It was in reality an Albanian insurrection in 1998 and 1999 that he tried to suppress with a brutality that brought upon him the reaction of the world. Another war, and another loss.

He was brought down by his own exaggerated view of his own position. Somewhat strengthened in relation to the democratic opposition by the 1999 war with NATO over Kosovo, he in 2000 called an election in order to make himself president of Yugoslavia. He was convinced that he would win.

But he lost, and tried to save the situation by falsifying the results, thus causing the popular uproar that on the dramatic October 5th deprived him of his power.

From then on it was all downhill. Within a year he was in The Hague. Even there he has remained chairman of his Socialist Party, but the party has lost a lot of its standing in today’s Serbia.

I saw him for the last time in a corridor in Schveningen a couple of years ago. We just said a few words.

Now he’s dead. He will not get his judgment from the UN tribunal in The Hague.

He will be judged by history. Harshly.

He brought disaster to his own Serbia.

Balkan Failure in Salzburg?

Yesterday and today the Foreign Ministers of the European Union are meeting informally in Salzburg in Austria under Ulrika Plassnik, the Austrian Foreign Minister.

It's the informal meeting that happens twice each year. Originally ment to allow a more free-wheeling and less prepared discussion, these meetings have over time become more formal as well.

Originally, the Balkans was supposed to be the great issue at this meeting. All the Foreign Ministers of the Balkan states have been invited for a discussion. And there will be a communique issues afterwards - most unusual.

But what was supposed to take the Balkan policy of the EU forward now risks taking it backwards.

It was at the summit meeting in Thessaloniki in Greece in 2003 that one formally opened up a membership perspective for all the Balkan states. It was a most important step.

And there has been progress since then. Croatia is negotiating for membership. Macedonia has been given candidate status.

But in the discussions leading up to Salzburg there has been fierce resistance against spelling out a firmer membership perspective for the region. On the contrary, new conditions have been added, and the language on the European perspective watered down and watered down.

It's primarily driven by France, although there are some others following in its wake.

What the French really want is beyond me. They are not saying that enlargement will never happen, but they are putting brakes on every single little step that could conceivable take the Union in that direction.

It's a policy without an aim. It's tactics without a strategy.

The discussion during the day will show the extent to which other member states are prepared to accept that the entire European policy in the region is dragged down by this.

Salzburg will be an important debate.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Coming Jerusalem War?

In the midst of the election campaign, acting Israeli Prime Minister Olmert has spelled out his plans for the future.

They are - let's be clear about that - plans not only for a continuation but for a serious aggrevation of the conflict between Israel and Palestine.

In the longer term, there is no doubt that they will create grave new dangers for the state of Israel.

He doesn't want to negotiate with the Palestinians any longer. His Foreign Minister has said that Abu Mazen is "no longer relevant". Not that there was a great eagerness to negiotiate with him before...

Insteas there will be a unilateral demarcation of a new border and a forced separation of Israel from Palestine, although with a continued Israeli military presence thoughout the West Bank.

That some settlements will be evacuated could of course be described as good. What will happen with Hebron and the very militant settlements there will be most interesting to see.

But as some form of compensation Olmert plans to get total control of all of East Jerusalem and the area East of it by building up the so-called E1 area. This is something Washington has previously stopped Israel from doing, and it will be interesting to see which stand they will take now.

For those interested in the situation in more detail the leaked report from the European Union Heads of Mission in Jerusalem is well worth reading. It's linked to above.

E1 is the end of any possibility of building a functioning Palestinian state. It ends the road map and it ends the two state possibility of peace.

The reason is that it cuts the West Bank into two areas virtually out of communication with each other. And it cuts the Palestinians of East Jerusalem off from contacts with the West Bank. It's truly a decisive strategic shift in the entire situation.

A reasonable peace between Israel and Palestine would include some transfers of territory and border adjustments. That has been accepted by the Palestinian side. But E1 is the end of that consensus. It means a perpetuation of the conflict - in all probability an aggrevation of it.

There is no doubt that this will be publicly opposed by the European Union. And there is no question that it violates international law and resolutions by the UN Security Council. It also goes against US policy as it has been expressed until now.

Certainly a serious step.

Certainly not a step towards peace. Certainly a step towards conflict.

Perhaps even war. Of some sort.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Finland Commenting and Debating

It's been a fairly hectic Nordic day for me today.

Breakfast in Stockholm. Lunch in Helsinki. And dinner in Oslo. And useful discussions - at least in Helsinki and Oslo.

A deecade or two ago the Commander of the Finnish Armed Forces Admiral Kaskeala would have been in great trouble indeed.

Now it's little more than a debate about political etiquette.

On a visit to the United States in connection with a crisis managment exercise, he has been fairly explicit concerning developments in the great country neighbouring Finland to the East.

That's Russia.

The reason was some reports that the Russians are strenthening their military capabilities in areas adjacent to Finland. And issues like these used to be rather sensitive in Finland - for very obvious historical reasons.

Admiral Kaskeala said that these rumours were "greatly exaggarated". The Russian armed forces have been in decline for a long time, and the fact that there is now the beginning of some modernisation was not something to be unduly worried by.

So far so good.

But then he went on to say that this wasn't the real problem concerning Russia. The real problem was the political developments in the country:

"All power now tends to be concentrated in the hands of president Putin, and neither in the Duma nor anywhere else in the country does there seem to be any balancing power. This is not the promising development towards democracy that we had hoped for."

Hardly too sensational a statement. You would find it difficult to find a well-informed Russian who would disagree.

But it still caused a small stir when these words were uttered by the Commander of the Armed Forces. Political statements of this sort used to be made by the political leadership. In particular in Finland.

Neither the President nor the Prime Minister or the Foreign Minister has chosen to comment on Admiral Kaskealas views. The Minister of Defence disagreed mildly - unclear why - but said that the Admiral had the right to express his view. The Social Democratic Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Parliament praised what he has said.

It's a breeze in a teapot - these days.

And essentially you don't really find anyone in Helsinki disagreeing with the Admiral.

You do find quite a number that find it refreshing that someome actually said it.

Finland is a normal European country.

It's a different and better Europe nowadays.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Earthquake in Norway

Politics in the Nordic countries is normally a rather slow-moving affair, with political shifts happening gradually and over time rather than very suddenly.

But now it looks like we will be witnessing a minor political earthquake in Norway.

The election last autumn brought to power a leftist coalition government dominated by the Social Democrats but including the Socialist Left Party as well as the very nationalistic Centre Party. Together, they formed a majority government.

But now there is suddenly drama in the opinion polls.

A recent poll - so far the only one - suddenly showed the rightist populist Progress Party, which established itself as the country's second largest in the election, overtaking the Social Democrats and becoming the largest party in Norway at the moment.

With 22% in the election, they now climed to no less than 33%. And the Social Democrats, with 33% in the election, registred 29% support.

Opinion polls are only opinion polls, and the only thing absolutely certain with them is that the next one will be different.

But still...

There seems to be wide agreement that the key reason for this sudden surge of inward-looking populism in Norway is the recent cartoon-crisis in the relations with the Muslim world. The Progress Party has a history of being anti-immigrant.

A secondary factor could be the fact that they are changing party leader - pictured Siv Jensen taking over.

But it is striking that this surge in support for them mirrors developments in more directly affected Denmark, where there has been a significant strengthening of the rightist populist Danish People's Party and a weakening of the opposition Social Democrats.

It's undoubtedly worrying.

Forces of prejudices are storming forward both among us - and most probably in the Muslim world as well.

It's the least that we need at the moment.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

These Small Conflicts...

There are a number of small conflicts in or around Europe that have the potential of having wider repercussions - and that have to be solved sooner or later.

The last few days have suddenly seen renewed tension around the break-away statelet of Transdniestria in Moldova.

We will hear more about the place later in the year, I believe.

When Moldova - once a Soviet Republic - acquired its independence, the small Russian-dominated area on the Eastern bank of the Dniestr river refused to accept the authority of the capital Chisianu.

And they certainly had the force to assert their position. Theirs was the main staging area for the 14th Army of the old Soviet Union, with huge stocks of arms and ammunition geared to support - in the old days - a Soviet offensive down towards Turkey and the Bosphorous.

Since then there has been an effective stalemate. App 550 000 mainly Russians have persisted in living in a socialist and smuggling economy, being the source of both illegal arms and the trafficing of women. And they have had the support of people in Moscow as well.

You get the flair of the place by its distinctly Soviet-style coat of arms.

Moscow still keeps some remnants of the 14th army - app 1 500 soldiers - there to protect the break-away statelet. Within the OSCE they have committed themselves to withdrawing these, but nothing has happened.

But gradually the European Union is increasing its pressure for some sort of solution. Customs monitors have been deployed along the border between Transdniestria and Ukraine, creating problems for thre lucrative smuggling that often use the near-by Black Sea port of Odessa.

And on Friday Ukraine said that it will only allow goods to enter from Transdniestria that had the stamp of approval from the Moldovan authorities in Chsinau. If properly enforced, this would effectively pull the rug from under the feet of the rebel authorities in Tiraspol.

Accordingly, they have been screaming murder, and have appealed to Moscow for help. In addition, they have blocked train traffic on the direct route from Ukraine to Moldova since it passes through them.

So, it's an economic war that is rapidly escalating by the Dniestr.

It's an ouverture to what will happen later. Moscow has already started saying that if Kosovo gets independence they don't really see why not places like Transdniestr could not be given the same. And there are more places in the Caucasus that, in their opinion, would qualify.

These conflicts must not be forgotten - they need to be sorted out. If not, they might poison relationships and issues of far greater importance.

One would hope that the European Union will have the will and the persistence to continue to gradually increase the pressure on the issue.

That's in all probability the only way a solution can be reached.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Simplistic Xenophobia in Austria

It has to be a source of major embarrasment for the Austrian government that the FPÖ party this week is launching a massive campaign of xenophobia and anti-Muslim and anti-Europe sentiments.

It's part of them trying to get a profile on these issues prior to the national elections this autumn.

There are many strange aspects to the Austrian situation. On the one hand, it's one of the countries where public hostility to European Union enlargement, and in particular to Turkey, is strongest. The two major parties ÖVP and SPÖ are, sorry to say, competing in negativism concerning Turkey. It's only the Greens that dare to think otherwise.

But on the other hand, Austria is one of the countries that has profited the most from membership in the Union and in particular from enlargement.

Austrian exports have been growing by more than 10 % every year for the last decade, the stock markets belong to the best performing in Europe and Austrian companies are selling and exporting all over Central Europe.

Vienna is no longer a city surrounded by barbed wire - it's a metropolis right in the hearth of one of the most expansive economic areas of Europe. You see it and you feel it when you are there.

But still it's possible to wipe up xenophic sentiments. The pictured poster is only one of them at the moment. It's a crude attempt to play on the crudest prejudices. To portray the European Union as a coming islamist alliance threathening the freedom of Austrians is to go rather far...

I am convinced that there are many Austrian that feel positively ashamed.

I do hope that they make their views known - and that it preferably be heard outside their borders too.

Another Week Ahead

It's still distinctly winter in this part of Europe. We have seen heavy snowfall both in Stockholm and elsewhere during the weekend.

Spring seems to be far too long away. And I understand that the same is the case in most of Europe north of the Alps.

Today is the day of the IAEA Governing Board in Vienna with the Iran issue as the by far most dominant. The interesting thing will be the Iranian reaction to the expexted referral to the Security Council - as well as the reaction to the Iranian reaction.

Across the Atlantic, I guess President Bush will have to spend some time to brief congressional leaders and others on his trip to India and Pakistan. The nuclear deal with India requires congressional approval, and that will require some work.

But there will also be the arrival in Washington of Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov for talks with his US counterpart Rice. The topics are fairly obvious - Hamas, Iran, North Korea, Afghanistan, energy security, probably a little bit of Kosovo and possible some Caucasus as well.

Europe sees a new President coming into office on Thursday when Mr Cavaco de Silva takes over as President of Portugal. He was Prime Minister for nearly a decade, responsible for an impressive period of modernisation of his country, and is now coming back after a decades absence from the political scene.

I'm not there for the inauguration - nice as that would have been, but will spend parts of Wednesday and Thursday giving speeches on the past and future of Turkey in Stockholm, Helsinki and Oslo in connection with East Capital launching a new funds oriented towards the Turkish economy.

Over the weekend the Foreign Ministers of the European Union will meet for their twice-annual informal meeting, this time in Salzburg in Austria. Added to the meeting this time will be a summit with the Foreign Ministers of the countries of the so called Western Balkans.

I don't expect too much to come out of it, but I do hope that they manage to move policy somewhat forward. This will be a year that will as important as it will be difficult in the region, and in the absence of a clear and consistent EU policy line there is the risk of things going seriously wrong in several respects.

Salzburg will be important. I'm unfortunately not convinced that all going to that meetings are sufficiently aware of that fact.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Blessed Gas From Iran?

The President Bush visit to Pakistan was much shorter on most things than the days and nights spent in India.

But it was nevertheless of some importance.

In all probability, it was the first time President Bush and Usama bin-Laden shared the hospitality of the same country at the same time. The bombs outside the US consulate in Karachi served as a reminded of that fact.

Again it was energy that turned out to be an important subject.

The Pakistanis made it clear that they, too, needs new sources of energy in the years ahead, and that nuclear is an important option for them:

We have a holistic energy policy and, frankly speaking we are already pursuing it. We are pursuing nuclear energy for civilian use in the shape of Chashma Nuclear Power Plant-I and II. At the same time, we are also considering the Iran-Pakistan-India and Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan gas pipelines,” the Foreign Minister said.

In the one-to-one meeting between President Gen Pervez Musharraf and President Bush as well as the delegation-level talks, the Pakistani side stressed that the country’s economy had been growing at a robust pace for the past few years.

“We need energy to maintain our growth momentum. Few years back, we had a projected gas reserves for 40 years. But after the economic turnover these reserves are now going to last for only 10 to 15 years".

Obviously, a nuclear deal like the one with India was not in the cards, although there is very little doubt that Pakistan will from now on start to work for one in the future.

But the meetings seemes to have produced a no less important U-turn in US policy. It seems as if president Bush accepted the Pakistani arguments that there is a need to build a pipeline to be able to import natural gas from Iran in the future. That pipeline will also, by the way, serve the needs of India.

Previously, US policy to this project has been distinctly negative.

But now news report speaks about another attitude. Mistake? U-turn? New policy?

More will be heard about this.

When Will The Bomb Come?

The issue of the Iranian nuclear ambitions will back on the top of the international agenda the next few days.

On Monday, the Governing Board of the International Atomic Energy Authority meets in Vienna to consider the issue.

There seems little doubt that there will be some sort of referral of the issue to the UN Security Council. Different Iranian initiatives at talks in both Moscow and Brussels do not seem to have achieved enough of progress. The international community stays with the red lines it has indicated.

But once in New York, progress on the dossier will be deliberately slow.

And there isn't really that much of a rush. There are no real sign that the Iranians are moving forward particularly fast in their nuclear ambitions.

A report in the New York Times today tries to go to the bottom of the issue:

"Estimates of just when Iran might acquire a nuclear weapon range from alarmist views of only a few months to roughly 15 years. American intelligence agencies say it will take 5 to 10 years for Iran to manufacture the fuel for its first atomic bomb. Most forecasters acknowledge that secret Iranian advances or black market purchases could produce a technological surprise."

Of great importance would be to retain that degree of Iranian cooperation that allows regular IAEA inspections. We did learn from the somewhat painful Iraqi experience that intelligence without access to inspections on the ground and inside the facilities is hardly reliable.

We should not pursue a policy that blinds ourselves. And that means being careful to ensure continued Iranian cooperation.

Then there will be time for continued diplomacy. The only real alternative to an open and extremely dangereous conflict a couple of years down the road is some sort of grand bargain between Iran and the international community.

That's hardly possible today.

But time might create new possibilities. Playing for time is sometimes good politics.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

White House Flying European

Few things are as symbolic of US power as the aircrafts and helicopters transporting the President of the United States around.

Air Force One is the most famous. Actually, that's the designation of any aircraft that at any time carries the president, but normally it's a specially built and very specially equipped Boeing 747 that carries this designation.

And that is likely to remain the same for decades to come.

The helicopter version is called Marine One since it's operated by the Marine Corps. But here the helicopters - old Sikorsky S61's - are beginning to get rather old, and there has been a very major competition on the replacement.

That issue was decided last year, when a competition between a Sikorsky-based design and a European-based one was decided on favour of the later.

The final helicopter will of course have very major US component, not to speak of the special equipment associated with the special mission.

But basically it is a European-designed helicopter that for decades to come will serve as Marine One.

It's a joint British-Italian design originally called EH101 and geared for troop transport and anti-submarine operations. It's one of the very most modern helicopters around.

These are days when nationalism seems to be rising. European governments are blocking trans-European mergers, and the US political scene has gone bananas about a Abu Dabi firm buying the British firm operating a number of US ports.

In this athmosphere it's worth noting that there are exceptions.

The White House will fly European. Posted by Picasa