Foreign Policy

Guess who is coming to Washington

Surprise! Foreign lobbying in the U.S. is on the rise despite the slightly declining role of the U.S. in the world economy. Additionally its face has changed. A decade ago, the majority of foreign clients of Washington, DC powerhouses were governments, embassies, and political parties. Nowadays, corporations, banks, trade associations, and NGOs bring most of the foreign cash to lobbying shops. This circumstance has serious policy implications. The State Department has tried to adjust to the change by introducing public diplomacy, but who cares?


P5+1 talks with Iran are a first step in long process

The U.S. and its European allies are set to begin a new round of negotiations with Iran this weekend, but while the U.S. enters the discussion in a position of strength, it is unclear whether real progress can be achieved in the near term. The talks, which will take place in Istanbul, mark the first direct negotiations on Tehran’s nuclear program since previous talks collapsed more than 14 months ago. But though the reopening of dialogue is a clear first step, and may present a unique opportunity on the road to a final solution, the U.S. and its allies will need to pursue further diplomatic efforts in order to achieve a breakthrough.

There is some reason to believe that these talks may hold more promise than those of the past. Burdened by ever-tightening sanctions and the increasing threat of attack,Tehran may be more willing to negotiate. Early this week, Iran’s nuclear chief, Fereidoun Abbasi, indicated that Iran might stop its production of 20 percent enriched uranium, but would prefer to continue to enrich uranium to lower levels for power generation. The enrichment issue lies at the heart of the dispute, since weapons-grade enrichment can be achieved more easily from 20 percent, fueling Western concerns that Tehran may be seeking an atomic weapon.


To change Cuba, stick with the Burma model

Advocates of “normalizing” relations with Cuba’s Castro regime continue to cite China and Vietnam as models of what can be gained by changing U.S. policy. Their argument is: Economic reform leads to political reform and America should be doing business with Cuba as nonchalantly as we do with China and Vietnam. 

Ironically Cuba’s dictator du jour, Raul Castro agrees, albeit his rationale is a bit different: Vietnam and China are “model states” proving that economic stability can be attained while preserving political absolutism. 

The time has come for reasonable people to admit that the China and Vietnam models have failed completely in achieving political reform and protecting the human rights of the repressed populations of both nations. 

There is, however, another Asian model that does seem to be working.


A real opportunity to remold nuclear policies for this century

The Obama Administration is currently preparing to review the size of America's
nuclear force -- and develop a plan for its future.

The Department of Defense will present the president with three options for
the size of our arsenal: high, medium, and low. The current stock of 1,550
deployed weapons mandated by the recently ratified New START Treaty will
represent the highest option.


Iranian-American Détente

A date finally has been set for a new round of talks between Iran and the permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany (P-5+1) – April 13th. This is good news, but it begs the broader question of how to resolve Iran’s conflict-prone relationships with the rest of the world.  There is an eerie similarity between the Islamic Republic’s now 33-year conflict with the US and its allies and the 45-year long US-Soviet Cold War. Eerily similar, but different in one major respect. Throughout the Cold War, the US and the USSR maintained a rich menu of negotiations, exchanges, and agreements. With rare exceptions, representatives of the US and Iran don’t even speak to one another – even when they’re in the same room. Current US policy makers would be well advised to learn the lesson of victory in the Cold War. Be tough when necessary, but conflicts only end through negotiations.
In the early years of the Cold War, the ideological struggle between the US and the Soviet Union was expressed by military confrontations in Europe and mutual threats of nuclear annihilation. As the years passed, the conflict evolved into back alley confrontations between covert operatives, economic sanctions, and wars by proxy armies. Yet, the two superpowers always maintained diplomatic relations and a broad and deep dialogue, including at the highest levels of government. As early as 1956, General Nathan Twining led a delegation of Air Force officials to Moscow, beginning a rich variety of military exchanges that flourished in later years and put a human face on the “enemy.”


Syria's unfolding tragedy and its impending spillover

As yet another diplomatic deadline passes with no compliance, Syria’s unfolding tragedy accelerates into a vicious downward cycle. Even a nominal cease-fire will only provide a temporary respite to fighting. Since the uprising’s start in March 2011, the Assad regime and opposition forces are further apart than ever. The conflict’s intensification is likely to shift to a bloodier phase, from relatively low intensity civil war to protracted conflict.

In retrospect, the crisis reached its point of no return some time ago. The narrow window of opportunity required a negotiated settlement from the very beginning. With more than 9,000 dead, too much blood has been shed. Arguably, the conflict is irreversible.

The standard pattern of buying diplomatic time to employ armed force to weaken opponents continues. Ultimately, the regime will acquiesce to negotiations solely requiring rhetorical concessions designed to placate international opinion and provide a face saving outlet for opponents. In exchange, Assad will accept nothing less than full compliance with his demands.


What new Passenger Name Record agreement means for U.S. travelers

On 27 March 2012, European lawmakers gave the green light to the Passenger Name Record agreement between the EU and the US. They supported the draft recommendation of the new agreement that would replace the agreement from 2007 that is currently still in force. The European Parliament is scheduled to vote on the final text on April 19. If legislators reject it, the 2007 provisional agreement would continue to apply until it expires in July 2014.

The Passenger Name Record stores traveller’s journey information and allows all the different agents within the air industry (from travel agents and the computer reservation systems to the carrier and the handling agents at the airports) to have access to all relevant information related to his/her trip. This includes sensitive personal details, such as departure and return flights, connecting flights and special services required on board. The nature of information in a Passenger Name Record system will vary from airline to airline and from passenger to passenger and could expand to approximately 60 fields and sub-fields.


Nuclear non-proliferation in the Middle East: Why not now?

When it comes to nuclear non-proliferation, the Middle East has somehow fallen between the cracks. On the one hand, Iran (a party to the 1970 Non-Proliferation Treaty) may or may not be weaponizing its nuclear material. On the other hand, Israel (a non-party to the NPT) may or may not possess a stockpile of between 250 and 500 nuclear weapons.  

Israel’s distrust of Iranian intentions has heightened the prospect of a preemptive strike on Iran’s nuclear sites. Meanwhile, U.S. military experts say such an attack would lead to “a wider regional war, which could draw in the United States.” While Israel successfully managed a surgical strike on Iraq’s  Osirak nuclear plant in 1981, it would be hard pressed to contain attacks on Iran’s geographically separated nuclear sites. 


Averting a showdown with Iran

Despite a possible new round of nuclear talks with Iran, it’s increasingly difficult to understand exactly what the U.S. administration’s policy is toward that country.

As ever it’s all tough talk from President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton – sanctions, warnings and demands for other nations to fall into line. Obama’s latest pronouncement suggests that the U.S. will even impose restrictions on U.S. allies, who buy oil from Iran. That ultimatum to the mullahs in Tehran is obviously intended to convey, “Give up on your nuclear ambitions or you will not be able to participate in the world’s financial marketplace”. The intention is to weaken the mullahs’ internal authority at home and to create a situation where the populace will get more restless as domestic conditions worsen.


NATO can’t let Macedonia fall by the wayside at Chicago

The 2012 NATO summit, set to take place in Chicago in late May, is almost upon us – and the agenda will help define the shape of transatlantic cooperation for the coming years. Important topics for discussion include a new “smart defense” strategy, terrorism, and the ongoing transformation of the allied mission in Afghanistan. 

Yet a central pillar of NATO – the enlargement and strengthening of the alliance – has fallen off the agenda. This must be remedied. When countries such as Macedonia, which have met all necessary requirements and continually contribute to the alliance’s collective defense, are denied access, it weakens the core regional goals of security, stability, and prosperity.

Recently, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen gave an impassioned defense of the alliance, arguing that the key to achieving its ambitious collective goals requires “renewing the bond” between allies based on their membership in an “extended family of values”. He is right -- such bonds ensure not only mutual security, but also a broader feedback loop of peace, democratic institutions, and economic prosperity. Unfortunately, he fails to mention that progress on strengthening those very bonds, through the accession process, has largely stalled.