Tag: Poland

An East-West Bridge for Ukraine

[Note: This is a guest post by Joshua B. Spero, Associate Professor of International Politics and Coordinator of International Studies at Fitchburg State University.]

Since the Russia-Ukraine crisis accelerated with Russia’s territorial consolidation in Ukraine, Europe is back on the radar screen as great powers and international institutions struggle to de-escalate this security dilemma. After President Obama’s European trip and coordination with European Union (EU) and NATO leaders on 26 March, the international community should pause to consider that, unlike classic power politics regarding heartland Europe, there might still be ways to avoid zero-sum decisions. Virtually lost in the Russia-Ukraine crisis remains the post-Cold War partnership in the heart of Central-East Europe – the Poland-Germany bridge for East and West. Given the U.S. President’s admonition in Brussels that Russia’s actions in Ukraine underscore its “regional power” status and illustrate its “weakness” toward its neighbors not its “strength,” the quarter century-old Poland-Germany crisis management mechanism anchors heartland Europe’s integration, promotes key consultation with Russia and Ukraine, and helps reduce America’s European role while still tying the U.S. to Europe. Continue reading

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Romney’s Poland Obsession

Associated Press

Although he doesn’t get the European Phased Adapted Approach (EPAA) quite right, Mark Adomanis at Forbes makes the right point about the BMD portion of the Romney foreign-policy memo:

I don’t think I’m being uncharitable, but if you read this paragraph and didn’t have any background knowledge about US missile defense in Eastern Europe you would come away with at least two very clear conclusions 

1) Obama canceled a missile defense system planned for Poland and the Czech Republic
2) Obama did not replace this planned missile defense system with anything else

Conclusion 1) is accurate, Obama really did kibosh the Czech/Polish system that had been planned by George W. Bush. Conclusion 2), however, is absolutely, categorically false. Obama , you see, replaced the system planned for Poland and the Czech Republic with a system in Romania. The United States is, right this second, continuing with a play to deploy land-based interceptors in Romania by 2015. Even the Heritage Foundation, hardly an Obama fan club, has recognized this

You can criticize Obama for pulling the system out of Poland and the Czech Republic, you can criticize him for needling the always sensitive Poles, you can criticize him for not moving quickly enough with the system in Romania, you can criticize him for being overly accommodative of the Russians, you can, truthfully if not compellingly, criticize him for an awful lot of things regarding foreign policy in general and missile defense in particular. But what you absolutely cannot criticize Obama for is “canceling” or “abandoning” ballistic missile defense in Europe. By any minimally honest reckoning, Obama has not done that.

This provides an excuse for me to peddle my current theory of the “you betrayed Poland on BMD” argument: former Bush administration officials are just really and truly pissed off that the Obama team undid their hard work on the third-site negotiations with Warsaw.

Recall that Polish public opinion was against the BMD agreement. The negotiations were difficult and took an enormous amount of work. The Bush administration scrambled to complete the agreement before leaving office. The fact that Obama’s people botched the announcement and upset the Polish government just rubbed salt in the wound.

Of course, Romney’s advisors also don’t like the Russians, arms control, and all that. Clearly “abandoning allies” is one of the few lines of attack the Romney campaign considers potentially potent against Obama when it comes to foreign affairs. But I suspect a lot of this comes down to a much more mundane emotion: frustration as seeing difficult work tossed into the proverbial garbage can.

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Truth Will Win


For those keeping score on where the revolutions in North Africa and the Middle East are headed and how to understand it all, it is worth noting that today marked the 30th anniversary of Solidarity’s first national warning strike. On March 27, 1981, more than 12 million Poles took to the streets in a peaceful protest action and in defiance of the Communist regime — a testimony of the power of non-violence. At the time, it was the largest protest action in the Soviet bloc history. The Poles did not have the internet, or Facebook, or Twitter — but they were still able to mobilize on an unprecedented scale. They had antiquated hand crank mimeograph machines (and red ink-stained hands) and an extensive informal network of laborers, students, and intellectuals that distributed posters throughout the country. This was the main poster plastered around the country on March 27, 1981 (the caption reads: “Truth Will Win”):

After the strike, the government never really did regain its footing — it moved back and forth over the next eight years from periods of excessive coercion (Martial Law) to accommodation looking for some recipe to reclaim popular support, revitalize a corrupt economic system, and restore its legitimacy. It couldn’t.

While coercion may keep the threatened regimes in the Middle East and North Africa in power in the short/medium term as happened in Poland (the Poles had to endure 19 months of Martial Law from Dec. 1981 to July 1983), I don’t see how these corrupt autocratic regimes will be able to reclaim public support, manage collapsing economies and restore legitimacy. OK, so 1989 probably is an oversimplified (and overused analogy) — I get it. But, I still think these regimes will eventually fall…

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Is Putin the Right Man to Head Smolensk Crash Investigation?

Vladminir Putin has personally taken charge of the investigation of the plane crash that killed Polish President Lech Kaczynski and most of his upper government and top brass this weekend.

I’m sure this is meant to signal solidarity with and support for the Polish people and government. But how likely is it to be perceived as such? Conspiracy theories about Russia’s possible involvement in the crash began swirling about shortly after news broke and seem to have been exacerbated by this announcement.* Of course, suggestions of foul play are likely unfounded: though one can argue Russia may well gain from a destabilized Poland, all evidence points toward human error and aggravating weather.

But from a PR perspective, that’s hardly the point. Symbolically, the tragedy could not have occurred at a worse time or place in terms of exacerbating tensions between Russia and Poland. For that reason, Polish officials themselves should be involved in heading the official investigation, rather than simply running one in parallel, to allay suspicions and fears and turn this terrible tragedy into an opportunity for mutual cooperation, rather than a return to decades-old recriminations and mistrust.

*As of today, members of Hubdub are staking virtual dollars on whether or not the Polish government will formally lodge an accusation within the next couple of weeks. So far, most predict no – a healthy sign that calmer heads will prevail.

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Cold War III? The state of Russian-US relations

I received a very thoughtful email on the current chill in US-Russian relations:

The timing certainly makes a clear statement, but haven’t we basically told the Russians that we are deploying these systems whether they like it or not? At least in public statements, it hasn’t seemed like this was even remotely negotiable.

Given Lavrov’s comments Thursday about WTO membership, it seems like they are willing to write this stuff off–we weren’t going to budge anyway, so what’s the difference? The carrot can only be snatched out of reach so many times before the donkey decides he’s never going to get it so why budge another inch.

We can certainly argue that Russia is a bad actor (and I don’t disagree that they are often up to no good), but we haven’t treated them with much respect either. In a genuine partnership, there’s give and take, and mutual sacrifice. We seem to expect them to constantly fold to our policy goals whenever there is divergence. In other words, we had a big hand in creating this angry, bitter power with revisionist goals. When they were weak, we bossed them around and treated them like a Third World country (which, in 1992, they kind of were). They have always resented this tutelary relationship, and we seem to have done little in the last eight years to shift our attitude as conditions in Russia have changed.

Sure, we were all buddy-buddy after 9/11 on terrorism, but we are only interested in partnerships that serve our needs. Obviously, we shouldn’t accede to policies that are completely contrary to our interests, but “our way or the highway” seems to be our mantra.

So, if missile launchers in Poland seemed inevitable, what’s the big loss for Russia? The Poles seem like the big winners, as we folded on the Patriots. But as much as the Poles hate and fear the Russians, they aren’t totally stupid, and they ARE protected by Article V. Russia may monkey with their oil and gas supplies, but there will not be Russian tanks in Warsaw or Krakow, no matter how you slice it. I am very interested, though, to see how the Stans will react to all of this. The only thing I’ve seen so far is that the Kazakhs have been generally supportive of Russia.

Robery Farley has a nice preliminary analysis of the military dimensions of the conflict. And Donald Douglas thinks talk of a new Cold War is premature (I agree).

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Speaking of signals, mixed and otherwise – updated (yet again)

… Big news just came down the pike.

Courtesy of a friend, I learn that Poland has agreed to host US ballistic-missile defenses.

As geopolitical lines harden, the question becomes if Russia’s actions will drive a wedge between NATO members that embrace a harder or a softer line towards Russia. Or will balance-of-threat dynamics lead to renewed NATO cohesion? I suspect the answer is far from preordained: a great deal depends on how US and European diplomacy plays out.

Oh, and forget the G8/G7. This is the kind of thing the Russians might actually see as a significant negative consequence of the Georgia conflict.

Oops. I forgot to mention the Patriots the US is giving Poland. I guess the US decided to “pay” what Poland wanted. Still, the Russians might be more upset about the Patriots than the BMD ….

Via a different friend, two excerpts from news reports. The first from Reuters:

President George W. Bush’s pledge to send aid to Georgia means that theU.S. military will take control of the ex-Soviet state’s ports andairports, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said on Wednesday.

But the Pentagon denied it planned any such action to proceed with deliveries of humanitarian aid.

“You have heard the statement by the U.S. president that the United States is starting a military-humanitarian operation in Georgia,” Saakashvili said in a television address.

“It means that Georgian ports and airports will be taken under the control of the U.S. defence ministry in order to conduct humanitarian and other missions. This is a very important statement for easing
tension.”

Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said: “We are not looking to, not do we need to, take control of any air or seaports to conduct this mission.

In his White House remarks, Bush said he had ordered the U.S. military to deliver humanitarian aid. A C-17 aircraft with supplies was on its way to Georgia and in the days to come Washington would use military aircraft and naval forces to make deliveries.

And, from the Washington Post:

Lavrov, in remarks broadcast on Russian radio, sounded unconcerned about White House threats that Russia could suffer a chill in relations with the West because of its incursion into Georgia.

“I don’t know how they are going to isolate us,” Lavrov said during an interview on radio station Echo Moskvy. “I have heard threats that we are not going to be admitted to the [World Trade Organization], but we see clearly that nobody is going to admit us there anyway,” he said. His remarks were translated by the Interfax news service. “Excuse my language, but they’re just stringing us along.”

I have a paper to finish, so analysis from me will be sparse for a bit. Maybe some of our readers can provide their own in comments?

… Itar-Tass reports that the South Ossetian and Abkhazian “foreign ministers” will soon be traveling to Moscow to discuss recognition of their independence (or, perhaps, their status as “republics” within Russia?).

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Base bargaining in the shadow of the 2008 election

Social-choice theory (or, in this context, public-choice theory) suggests that leaders sign international agreements as a way of “locking in” their preferred policies. Once a state signs such an agreement, the logic goes, future leaders will face greater costs if they want to change their predecessors’ policies.

It doesn’t take a fancy degree to recognize that’s what the Bush Administration has been up to in a number of arenas. Iraq is one of the most important, which is why they can’t be pleased that Maliki has, apparently, demanded a timetable for a US withdrawal from Iraq.

Iraq will not accept any security agreement with the United States unless it includes dates for the withdrawal of foreign forces, the government’s national security adviser said on Tuesday.

The comments by Mowaffaq al-Rubaie underscore the U.S.-backed government’s hardening stance toward a deal with Washington that will provide a legal basis for U.S. troops to operate when a U.N. mandate expires at the end of the year.

On Monday, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki appeared to catch Washington off-guard by suggesting for the first time that a timetable be set for the departure of U.S. forces under the deal being negotiated, which he called a memorandum of understanding.

Rubaie said Iraq was waiting “impatiently for the day when the last foreign soldier leaves Iraq”.

“We can’t have a memorandum of understanding with foreign forces unless it has dates and clear horizons determining the departure of foreign forces. We’re unambiguously talking about their departure,” Rubaie said in the holy Shi’ite city of Najaf.

Dr. iRack argues that:

This reflects Maliki’s newfound (over)confidence in the ISF as well as the growing Iraqi public sentiment against a long-term U.S.-Iraqi pact occurring outside the context of a time horizon for withdrawal.

Another possibility, of course, is that Maliki is (also) playing a signaling game of one kind or another.

1. Given how contentious the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) negotiations have been, this seems like a pretty good way to increase the pressure on the Bush Administration. Both sides know that the Administration may be running out of time to get the kind of deal they’d like to see between the US and Iraq, as the odds right now favor an Obama victory in November. Maliki’s statement also has political ramifications in the United States, and he may very well know it.

2. Any agreement will likely stoke nationalist sentiment in Iraq, as even a favorable SOFA will involve concessions of Iraqi sovereignty to the United States. Iraqi officials might be hoping that strong rhetoric on their part, and floating a parallel agreement for US “troop withdrawals” (whatever that means in practice), will provide them with some political insulation if and when the SOFA is finalized.

3. The Iraqi government almost certainly doesn’t want a total withdrawal of US forces. They are increasingly overconfident in their own forces; the US presence now most strongly serves Sunni interests. But the Iraqis also probably recognize that (a) they can’t defend the territorial integrity of Iraq on their own and (b) the US presence reduces the revenue and resources they need to divert towards defense and security. It is possible (albeit unlikely–or not so unlikely), therefore, that this is a very public signal towards the Obama camp, and the American electorate, at a point when Iraq policy has dominated the election news cycle for the last week or so.

Meanwhile, the US just secured a deal with the Czechs for BMD deployment:

The United States and the Czech Republic signed a treaty on Tuesday allowing Washington to build part of a missile defense shield in the central European state despite opposition from its former Cold War master Russia.

The deal to create a radar station southwest of Prague was marred by a failure to seal a corresponding pact with Poland, where Washington wants to put 10 interceptor rockets that would be guided by the Czech site (the Russians, predictably enough, aren’t happy either).

The deal is wildly unpopular in the Czech Republic:

he shield still faces hurdles, including heavy opposition in the Czech Republic, a country of 10.4 million that the Soviets occupied for two decades after invading in 1968.

It also faces obstacles to ratification in the Czech parliament, where the government has just 100 seats in the 200-seat chamber. Some deputies say they will oppose it along with the Social-Democrat opposition in a vote that could come after a new U.S. administration takes over in January.

An opinion poll last month showed 68 percent of Czechs were against the shield, while only 24 percent supported it.

Negotiations with the Poles, meanwhile, have stalled over the amount the US is willing to pay in rent (the US doesn’t officially pay “rent” as part of its basing and access agreements, but that line doesn’t fool anyone).

The Bush administration is trying to arrange deals with the young democratic governments in the host nations before President Bush leaves office in January.

The proposed U.S. missile defense system calls for a tracking radar in the Czech Republic and 10 interceptor missiles in Poland.

Talks with Poland had bogged down recently over Polish demands for billions of dollars worth of U.S. military aid, in part to deter a possible strike from a peeved Russia.

Moscow has threatened to aim its own missiles at any eventual base in Poland or the Czech Republic.

Flying to Prague, Rice said she had laid out the U.S. position at a hastily called meeting in Washington with Poland’s foreign minister. She would not go into details, but Poland is trying to sweeten or shore up U.S. pledges for millions in additional U.S. military aid. Rice said she explained what the United States can do and that the matter now rests with others for further discussion.

The immediate question is whether the deal with the Czechs will put pressure on the Poles to accept whatever is on the table.

On a final note, the politics of US basing remains one of the least-developed research agendas in contemporary security studies. Alex Cooley and I have a piece in peer-review limbo on the subject, but readers should check out his excellent bookon US bases and democratization in host countries.

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