The Great and The Good of Brussels

30 november 2005

So it was the great and the good of Europe and Brussels getting together for the annual EV50 dinner.

Black tie in Palace d’Egmont as tradition dictates. Candidates and hopefulls mingled with the general crowd in anticipation of the results of the vote.

Some years ago I remember that a substantial number of the awards were collected by different Irish representatives. The fact that the entire thing is presided over by former European Parliament president Pat Cox of course then added to the Celtic dominance of the evening.

This year was different. If there was a tendency here, then it was in the Eastern direction. An awareness of a new Europe is slowly coming to Brussels, even if there were tendencies in the other direction as well.

There were Polish, Ukrainian, Lithuanian and Finnish names all over the place this evening. With Poland emerging as the star performer.

The Statesmen of the Year award went to outgoing President of Poland Alexandr Kwasniewski. During his last week of his ten year presidency, he was undoubtedly in a good mood this evening, thankning everyone for what had been achieved, and noting that these were the years when his country had been able to enter both NATO and the European Union.

But he didn’t stop with this, but delivered political pointers for the future as well.

Most importantly, he made a passionate appeal for a membership perspective for Ukraine in the years to come. ”Ukraine needs Europe and Europe needs Ukraine.

And he went on speaking about the need to see Europe as much more than the sum of the national self-interest of the member countries. ”Europe is not only a combination of nations – Europe is a value in itself, and our common great opportunity for the future.

Needless to say, words like these are distinct crowd-pleasers at a gathering like the one yesterday evening.

But Poland was also honoured with Journalist of the Year with Anna Marszalek.

Non-European of the Year become President of the Ukraine Viktor Yushenko, which of course added to the impact of the Kwasniewski appeal.

And the Baltic touch was certainly there with former President of Finland Martti Ahtisaari becoming Diplomat of the Year for the peace agreement on Aceh, and Dalia Grybarskaite from Lithuania becoming Commissioner of the Year for her struggle with the budget of the Union. Among the nominated commissioners was also Finland’s Olli Rehn.

If there was another tendency it was one that might not have been entirely to the liking of Microsoft in spite of the company belong to the sponsors of the evening. Michael Richard become Member of the European Parliament for his opposition to too stringent software patents, and Florian Mueller Campaigner of the Year for his campaign on the very same issue.

The intellectual property issues are obviously as keenly felt as the Eastern enlargement issues.

As European of the Year emerged non other than Prime Minister Jean-Claude Junker of Luxembourg¨. Fresh from a battle earlier in the day with the European Central Bank he conceded that it has been ”a very difficult year”, but he at the least was grateful to the voters of Luxembourg that they had said Yes to the constitutional treaty when everyone else had voted no, and dedicated his price to them all. That they also preserved him in office went unmentioned.

And after all these words of wisdom we headed for the drinks, the gossip and the much too late beer with further gossip in the delightful athmosphere of the Place Sablon.

Another year. Another dinner. Another bunch of European contributions.


Nuclear Come-Back in Europe?

29 november 2005

In all sorts of different ways, energy policy will be high up on the agenda of Europe in the years to come.

In a sure sign of this, UK Prime Minister Tony Blair has now announced that he would look at the possibility of building new nuclear plants in order to replace those that are beginning to age, and that accordingly will have to be replaced with something.

In fact there are few good alternatives to using nuclear power. To replace nuclear power with some version of fossil power would clearly endanger the Kyoto objectives that not the least the Blair government has attacked such importance to.

So what Blair is doing now is sending up a trial ballon. If it flies OK, then I guess he will forge ahead with what would then be the most significant new program of nuclear energy in Europe for decades. And this is bound to influence other countries.

Finland is already building a fifth nuclear plant. Sweden is upgrading its existing ten units as much as it can. And throughout Central and Eastern Europe there will be a need to look anew at the nuclear option in the years ahead.

Europe needs to face reality also in terms of its energy policies.

We can not increase our dependence on non-renewable and fossil fuels beyond present levels.

And that makes nuclear power an almost unavoidable option for the future.

äSpeech to the CBI Conference 29 November


Best Tax System in the World?

28 november 2005

Is the Estonian flat tax system ”the best tax system in the world”, as claimed by Prime Minister Andrus Ansip when he hosted the visiting Prime Minister of Finland Matti Vanhanen a couple of days ago.

Ansip even thought that it would be a good idea to have the system introduced in Finland, and although Vanhanen did not reject the idea outright, it’s obviously not imminent.

But whether it is the best system in the world or not, there is no doubt that the model once introduced by Mart Laar in Estonia is gaining ground very fast.

The impressive growth record of Estonia, and its attractiveness for investments, is certainly a contributing factor to this. Success invites imitation.

The idea was somewhat prematurely injected in the German election campaign. Although it did electrify the CDU campaign for a while, it eventually backfired as one wasn’t really prepared for the debate. It did not score that well in the Polish election campaign either, although it was not a major issue.

Nevertheless, there is no mistaking the idea gathering ground around Europe.

It will be one of the hottest topic of debate, primarily in Northwestern Europe, in the next few years. And it might well be one of the most significant chances of major success of these countries in the decades ahead.
Helsingin Sanomat – International Edition – Foreign


Euromediterranean Future

28 november 2005

There are evidently problems at the Euromediterranean Summit still under way in Barcelona in Spain. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has a tendency to make itself known more or less everywhere.

Whether the Barcelona meeting now will go down in history as an important one or not remains to be seen, but the relationwship that it discusses is certainly one of the most important.

Once upon a time the Mediterranean united what was then the civilized European world. You could argue that it had the Eastern rather than the Western Mediterranean as its core, and it was certainly as present on its southern as on its northern shores.

But that was a long time ago.

Today, across the Mediterranean runs one of the greatest gaps in wealth to be found in the present world. And while its northern shores are in demographic decline, population along its southern shore is more or less exploding. Add to that the difference between the stable democracies on the one shore and the unstable and more or less authoritarian regimes on the other.

It’s a relationship not without its challenges.

It was a decade ago that the European Union launched its so called Barcelona process. The aim was to further the economic and political development in the wider area. Later, it has to some extent been included in the new Neighbourhood Policy of the Union.

And the summit these days is supposed to take stock of the relationship.

Euromediterranean summit of Barcelona- THE MEDITERRANEAN, A POINT OF ENCOUNTER


Europeans Of The Year

28 november 2005

Among the things on my agenda this week is the dinner in Brussels at which the Europeans of the year will be announced.

It’s an annual thing organized under the auspicies of the newspaper European Voice. And I happen to be one of the members of the advisory panel since a couple of years back.

We put up the names, and then its a system of online voting that decides which persons get the different awards in the different categories.

And all comes together in a dinner that brings together the great and the good of the Brussels-centered European political system for a nice evening.

:: EV50 – The Europeans Of The Year ::


Anniversary in Kiev

27 november 2005

Last week saw the one year anniversary of the Orange Revolution in Ukraine. A mass meeting in Kiev evidently turned into a rather bittersweet affair, if the account in Kyiv Post is to be believed.

Now all eyes are on the upcoming March elections. They will decide whether the politics of the Ukraine will get stuck in a populism more interested in the past or whether it will truly enter a path of reform aiming for a European future.

The coming week will see important meetings in Kiev. It includes a summit meeting between Ukraine and the European Union.

Over the coming weekend I will be heading both to Kiev – rather briefly – and to Donets in Eastern Ukraine in order to get a better feel for the mood in the country.

It was the East that voted against the Orange Revolution a year ago, but Ukraine can hardly go forward decisively if not also the political forces dominating there become part of the process in the one way or the other.

It will be an interesting week in Kiev – and for me an interesting weekend in Donets.

Kyiv Post. Orange Revolution anniversary protests turns bittersweet


Lessons of War and Peace in Bosnia

27 november 2005

On Friday, we had a most interesting and well-attended discussion at the European Policy Center in Brussels on the lessons of war and peace of the war in Bosnia.

A more detailed account of the rich discussion will follow, but in the meantime this newswire from AFP gives at the least a summary of the discussion.

BRUSSELS, Nov 25 (AFP) – Europe must learn the tough lessons from the war in Bosnia or be doomed to repeat them elsewhere, senior diplomats involved in the Balkan conflict 10 years ago warned on Friday.
A decade after a war that claimed some 200,000 lives and left more than two million homeless, the diplomats emphasised the need for focused diplomacy backed by force, then robust peacekeeping and concerted rebuilding efforts.
”There are new challenges around the corner of the same nature waiting for us,” Carl Bildt, EU special representative to the region in 1995, told experts, reporters and other participants at a conference in Brussels on Bosnia’s 1992-1995 war.
”From Bihac (Bosnia) in the northwest down to Basra (Iraq) in the southeast, the struggle between the forces of integration and the forces of disintegration goes on, that might be Kosovo or it might be Kurdistan,” he said.
Bildt, talking at the invitation of the European Policy Centre, with EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and former EU peace negotiator Lord Owen, said politicians had badly under-estimated the horror the war would bring.
”This was a fundamental, a tragic mistake of historic proportions,” he said. ”Always do everything that can be done to avoid war breaking out, because when it breaks out you are out of control.”
”We need to learn the lessons from Bosnia: be very assertive in preventing the conflicts from breaking out, looking at the underlying currents, trying to settle with reasonable political deals, and the possibility to deploy military force to support diplomacy,” he went on.
”Then have the resources, the commitment, the patience and the time that is going to be needed for the state-building projects … all through this period.”
Owen, speaking as Bosnia marks the 10th anniversary of the Dayton Peace Accords, agreed on November 21, 1995 and signed that December 14, said Europe must not allow itself to be insulted by people like former Bosnian Serb military chief Ratko Mladic.
”If you are serious … you can’t allow a warlord to cock a snook at you. We didn’t learn that in Somalia, and now we are seeing it in Darfur,” he said.
Mladic and former Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic have been indicted for war crimes and still remain at large, 10 years on, which Owen described as ”a disgrace”.
The former British foreign secretary said that ”hard peacekeeping” — in which a robust military presence enforces peace and exits quickly to be replaced by traditional peacekeepeers — was also vital in dealing with conflicts.
”Hard peacekeeping must be done when you’re really serious and I doubt that it’s something for the EU or for the UN. I believe that is really going to be done by NATO or other regional military alliances,” he said.
Solana, who was Spanish foreign minister at the time and later led NATO, said that politicians need to act together closely with the military as soon as a potential conflict is identified.
”A clear lesson from the Balkan dramas is that when the European Union, the United States and NATO are united and work together, they can achieve great things,” he said.
He said the fact that this was done so late in Bosnia resulted in tens of thousands of needless deaths.
”The price of nationalism and our collective failure to end the fighting was very high,” he said. ”We got peace, yes, and ended the nightmare, yes, but a peace that came late and was full of painful compromises.”
And on the day that Bosnia begins talks on a stabilisation accord with the EU, a first step on the long road to joining the bloc, he said hopes for membership had been a decisive factor.
”The prospect of eventual European Union membership has been no doubt the overwhelming transformational force in Bosnia,” he said.
In the end though, Bildt said, prevention is far better than a cure.
”In retrospect the number one lesson of the Bosnian war is that we should have done more in order to prevent it from starting at all,” he said.


Shimon Peres and Ariel Sharon

27 november 2005

The drama now played out in Israel is perhaps the beginning of the last great effort of those from the founding generation of the state of Israel.

Ariel Sharon and Shimon Peres share a common background in the underground organisation Haganah during the years prior to the founding of the state. They evidently forged a friendship that has lasted to this day.

For a long time Israeli politics was dominated by the Labour party and its different leaders. In the one way or the other, they all had their background in the ghettos of Eastern Europe.

It was David Ben-Gurion that picked up young Shimon Peres, who become very important in shaping the Israeli Defence Forces, and who should be credited with lots of the efforts to give it also a secret nuclear capability.

It was in 1973 that Likud was set up, and in 1977 it come to power under Menachem Begin, establishing a ”counter-establishment” that started to integrate not the least the Jews with more of a background in the Middle East into the political system.

Although the warrior Sharon was key in Likud, there was always an element of distrust between him and the even more hard-line core of the party. It had its origins in the more militant Stern and Irgun armed groups, and relations between them and Haganah in the underground were not always the best.

Now Sharon is breaking away from Likud, and Peres is breaking away from Labour, with a new political group seeing the light of the day and intending to complete the work of creating a secure and free Israel.

They do this in a situation in which it is other groups that are taking over in Israel. No longer are the leading persons having their background in old Eastern Europe. Now, it’s more often than not the Middle East, and further down the road will come the million or so recent immigrants from Russia.

It’s still old Israel that is now regrouping and perhaps preparing for a true peace. But behind them comes a new Israel with sometimes different perspectives and values.


Death to Civil Society in Russia

24 november 2005

It is highly disturbing to see the speed with which the Duma in the first reading decided on the new law putting serious restrictions on non-governmental organisations in Russia, and in practical terms forcing all foreign such to close down operations in the country.

Independent Duma member Vladimir Ryzjkov is clear in his view about the law:

”This bill will put an end to civil society in Russia”.

In Moscow over last weekend, different representatives of the presidential administration brushed aside criticism of the draft law by saying that it would be very substantially modified.

Well, there is still room for this to be done. But we have learnt over the past few years that the nationalist and the security factions more often than not get the last word on issues like these.

I understand that the issue was raised by President Bush when hne saw President Putin in Busan last week. That’s excellent. One wonder if Europe has done anything. I haven’t heard anything.

Silence from Europe would be highly disturbing.

We should not silently accept the silencing of Russia.

Duma Gives Nod to Tough NGO Bill


Dayton Drama Produces Very Little

23 november 2005

I missed the Dayton anniversary celebrationens in Washington yesterday. Previous commitments in Athens – where weather is as bad as you get – had to be honoured.

It was all built up as a very major thing to get the Bosnian parties to agree to major constitutional revisions and reforms. Not a bad thing in itself, although I’m always somewhat hesitant against anything that takes focus away from the necessary economic and social reforms.

At the end of the day, very little was achieved. There was plenty of smoke and sound, but precious little of fire and substance.

The Bosnian party leaders assembled in Washington agreed in the most general terms possible to undertake constitutional reforms to strengthen the government and to streamline the presidency and parliament.

They could evidently not be brought to agree on what that actually would entail, but undertook to have some answer ready by March 2006.

We’ll see what that means. Some will undoubtedly interpret it in a maximalist way, and others in a minimalist. That was the critical gap that Washington obviously failed to bridge.

It’s high time for the European Union to take charge of the process. After all, it should be related to the process of European integration, even if that is likely to be a rather slow one.

The Dayton anniversary drama of Washington achieved very little. Europe has a somewhat more long-term view.

That is likely to achieve more.


Bosnia Towards Europe

22 november 2005

On the day of the tenth anniversary of the deal in Dayton the EU Council of Ministers decided on the opening of negotiations for a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with Bosnia.

Good. But there is a risk that one would believe in Bosnia that this will solve everything. It will not.

At the end of the day the problems of Bosnia will have to be tackled by the politicians of Bosnia – although the European Union will provide a framework and a model of great importance.

The Commissioner for Enlargement and the Western Balkans Olli Rehn was very clear in his statement:

Bosnia and Herzegovina has a clear European perspective. This perspective will be even more tangible when negotiations start on a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the European Union. This agreement provides new opportunities for all citizens of the country. In terms of trade and economic developments but also in more cooperation in various policy areas, such as, tackling organised crime and trafficking across borders, as well as to improve environmental standards.”

”The reforms in the country must continue, to further improve the citizen rights and economic opportunities of the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina. They also help to meet the conditions of approaching the EU. Clear conditionality is the basis of the EU’s soft power of transformation that turns potential candidates to ripe member states over the years.”

Conditionality remains the name of the game. For Turkey. For Serbia. For Bosnia.

Ultimately for the benfit of the citizens of those countries.

EUROPA – Rapid – Press Releases


Angela Takes Power

22 november 2005

Today is the Big Day in Berlin. More than two months after the federal election, a new government will formally be formed.

At 10:00 the Bundestag will vote on the proposal to make Angela Merkel the new Chancellor of Germany. Outgoing Chancellor Gerhard Schröder will cast his vote for the woman he did his utmost to block, and is then scheduled to give up his seat un the Bundestag tomorrow. But a critical question is how many SPD members will not give Angela their votes.

Then, at 14:00, she will be sworn into office, after which the entire new cabinet will be sworn into office at 16:00.

Then starts to business of reforming Germany and changing Europa.

Nothing more and nothing less…

href=”http://www.bundestag.de/”>Deutscher Bundestag – German Parliament – Bundestag Allemand


National Responsibility in Israel

21 november 2005

Today Prime Minister Ariel Sharon left the Likud party in Israel that he himself to a large extent had created back in 1973. Instead, he decided to set up a new ”National Responsibility” party with a profoundly different core agenda.

While Likud was the party that was formed around the idea of Greater Israel, National Responsibility will be the party that de facto abandons this idea and instead continues the policies for a realistic peace started with the unilateral disengagement from Gaza.

It is a move of historic significance for Israel – and possible for the entire Middle East.

The country is heading for new elections by March at the latest. March 8 looks like a possibility.

It will be a bitter struggle not the least between the old and the new party of Ariel Sharon. Israeli politics is being redefined in a way that will have consequences for years to come.

There has also been the upheaval in the Labour party and the emergence of its new and very different leader The new leader Amir Peretz is from a very different mould than the old ones, and seems destined to strike a cord with the electorate. It looks as if the old leader Shimon Peres is about to abandon Labour and join the new party that Sharon is setting up.

It will be turmoil on all fronts. But the end result is likely to be a Knesset majority for a continuation of the present policies of realism and peace.

You never really know, but at the moment it seems to be good news coming out of the Middle East.

Haaretz – Israel News – Sharon officially quits Likud to set up new party


Bosnia 10 Years After Dayton

21 november 2005

Today it’s a decade since we managed to get final agreement on a peace agreement that ended the brutal and more than three years long war in Bosnia.

We spent three weeks at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton in Ohio in the US trying to get all the details right. But in the early morning of November 21 it still looked as if it was all going to fail. Only last-minute concessions made the deal possible.

When looking back at the decade that has passed it’s obvious that Dayton was a success in ending the war and setting Bosnia on the path to a sustainable peace.

But as the country today is on the verge of a transition from international semi-protectorate to European integration, it is a more open question whether Bosnia has been a success.

The greatest challenge that Bosnia faces is the economic and social one. Official figures speak about an unemployment over 40 %, but this applies only to the app. third of the adukt population that is to be found in the labour force. In spite of the the revival of Sarajevo, poverty remains widespread.

The politicians of Bosnia have been far to tempted to blame all their problems on the international community, or to descend into different constitutional squabbles, and far too little ready to tackle the hard realities of profound economic reform.

It’s by giving its people a better prospect of the future that Bosnia can really make itself a success in the years to come. The road towards European integration will be a powerful help, but will not in itself solve the challenges that are there.

Today the European Union in Brussels will give ahead for the start of talks on a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with Bosnia. That’s significant, but doesn’t automatically solve anything. There is even a risk that it lulls the leaders of Bosnia into a sense of complacency.

In parallel, talks in Washington are likely to result in a limited agreement on limited constitutional changes. That’s also a good step, although one that in itself does not address the core challenge of the country at this time. And there is always the risk that continued squabbles over its implementation will deflect them from the key tasks.

We do see important progress in the region. Croatia is negotiating for membership in the European Union. Serbia is making progress in economic reforms. Macedonia has been recommended for candidate status for EU membership by the European Commission.

There is a risk of Bosnia falling behind.

A decade after Dayton, it is high time that the leaders of Bosnia concentrated on the real challenges of peace.

y10 years after Dayton I: Bosnia still has a way to go – Editorials & Commentary – International Herald Tribune


Coming Week

20 november 2005

Just back from a week in Beijing and Moscow, it’s not bad to spend a day and a half in the beginning of this week in Stockholm.

But then I’m off to Athens to deliver a speech on innovation and change in the European economy. For some reason people often ask me to come and deliver a somewhat more upbeat message on the prospects for the European economy.

I’ll do my best. Certainly there is a pick-up in the economy at the moment. The eurozone might well grow by more than 2 % next year. But in terms of R & D spending there is no going around the fact that trends are not going in the right direction.

Then I’m back in Stockholm Thursday for a regular meeting of the Nordic Venture Forum. That’s the thirteen or so leading venture capitals firms in the high-tech area in the Nordic region coming together to exchange experiences and to discuss where the markets are heading.

It’s normally highly enjoyable meetings. And useful.

On Friday it’s off early to Brussels for a series of Bosna- and Balkans-related meetings.

First there is a conference at the European Policy Center where we will discuss the lessons to be drawn from the war in Bosnia and how it was ended in 1995. I think it will be highly interesting.

First Javier Solana will speak. In the critical autumn of 1995 he was Foreign Minister of Spain and in that capacity the Presidency of the European Union. He was highly involved in the events of those important months.

Then there is David Owen, Rupert Smith and myself.

David Owen was of course the EU Balkan negotiator from the summer of 1992 until he was replaced by me in the late spring of 1995. His is the story of the constantly undermined efforts to end the war in Bosnia. He is a man worth listening to.

Rupert Smith was the commander of the UN forces in Bosnia during 1995 and later went on to become, among others things, Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe in NATO, i e the highest European military position in NATO. He’s a superb military man with a most interesting story to tell.

And then myself.

There will also be – on a somewhat separate track – the present Prime Minister of Bosnia Terzic to discuss the future of the country.

From there I go directly to speak to an internal meeting with the European Commission on its future policies versus the Balkan countries.

And on Saturday it is back to Stockholm again.


Moscow Snow and Succession Speculation

20 november 2005

Snow is falling heavily over Moscow this Sunday morning. There are white caps on the golden cupolas of the Kremlin churches and palaces.

Within the ringways it’s still last weeks personel changes in the government and the Kremlin that is the subject of conversation number one. Everything is judged as part of the preparations for the 2008 presidential elections and the transition then from the present Putin period to some other period.

It is now taken for granted that Vladimir Putin will in fact respect the provisions of the constitution and step down after two periods and ten years in the office. But it is equally taken for granted not only that he will control the succession but that he would also seek to be in some sort of control thereafter.

To remain in control can be done in different ways. Present speculation seems to be centered on him building up the existing United Russia political party into a more coherent group that establishes a virtual monopoly and then de facto rules the state institutions in a way reminiscent of the old Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

Putin would then exercise power as head of this political force. And he could well combine that with occupying a lucrative and powerful position as, for example, chairman of the board of the gas and energy giant Gazprom. He would then be in control of the source of money and the source of political power in the country.

Who would then move into the position of power in the Kremlin?

It’s probably too early to tell. But it certainly looks as if the field of candidates now consists of Dmitry Medvedev, Sergey Ivanov and Sergej Sobjanin.

The big move of last week was the move of Medvedev from his past position as Chief of Staff of the Kremlin to the new one as First Deputy Prime Minister. At the same time, Defence Minister Sergey Ivanov was accorded the additional function of Deputy Prime Minister, thus elevating him, and the regional givernor from Tuymen province Sergej Sobjanin was made Kremlin Chief of Staff.

People who know says that Medvedev is now convinced that everything is pointing to him as the man who at some time will be appointed Prime Minister and from that position, very much as once happened with Vladimir Putin, will be put forward as the candidate of power at the 2008 election. Presently Chairman of the Gazprom board, he will then hand over that position to Vladimir Putin.

But it’s too early to be certain of that. The one who’s in the lead too early only seldom makes it all the way to the finish of the race. And it’s obvious that Sergey Ivanov is still very much in the race with his impeccable security credentials, as well as that Sobjanin might well emerge as a skilled political contender.

He’s the only one of the three ever having been elected to anything – to the extent that such things still matter in Russia – and has evidently proven to be a rather popular and competent governor of the oil-rich and important Tuymen region.

It’s in all probability still an open race – but it is a race, although within a very confined circle.

Kremlinology is back in business – it’s succession within the heavily restricted political system of Russia of today.


Is The US Home Front Collapsing?

19 november 2005

Will this be remembered as the week when President Bush started to lose control over the Iraq war debate in the United States?

The signs are certainly there. It’s not only that the Democrats are stepping up the attack, but the vote in the Senate last Tuesday clearly showed an increasing amount of nervousness in the Republican ranks.

Looking at how the US domestic scene is developing, the Bush administration has perhaps six months to get things right in Iraq. If the situation there fails to improve significantly, making some orderly troop withdrawals possible, political pressure for a more disorderly and larger withdrawal might well become irresistible.

Next year there are mid-terms elections in the fall, and then starts the run-up to the 2008 presidential elections.

There are clearly parallels to what happen in Vietnam some decades ago when it was the home front that collapsed first. In the latest issue of Foreign Affairs, Melvin Laird has written an essay on that situation which has rapidly become mandatory reading for anyone wanting to be serious in this debate.

Laird was President Nixon’s Secretary of Defence 1969 – 1973 and had the task of getting the United States out of the mess in Southeast Asia. In the article, he claims that the policy of handing over to the South Vietnamese was an overall success. Had only the US beeen able to back up the South Vietnamese army when the large North Vietnamese army assualt came in April 1975 things would have been different.

Perhaps. But the problem in Vietnam wasn’t purely a military one. At the end of the day it was the failure to build up a sufficiently broad-based and credible regime in South Vietnam that doomed the war to failure. When the large North Vietnamese attack came, it wasn’t only the absence of US support, but also the weakness in Saigon, that caused the morale and the fighting strength of the South Vietnamese forces to disappear.

Where Mr Laird is undoubtedly correct is in pointing out the consequences of a cut-and-run strategy, reminding us of what happened in Vietnam:

”In Vietnam, the voices of the ‘cut-and-run’ crowd ultimately prevailed, and our allies were betrayed after all of our work to set them on their feet. Those same voices would now have us cut and run from Iraq, assuring the failure of the fledgling democracy there and damning the rest of the Islamic world to chaos fomented by extremists.”

”Those who look only at the rosy side of what defeat did to help South Vietnam get to where it is today see a growing economy there and a warming of relations with the West. They forget the immediate costs of the United States’ betrayal. Two million refugees were driven out of the country, 65,000 more were executed, and 250,000 were sent to ‘reeducation camps’.”

”Given the nature of the insurgents in Iraq and the catastrophic goals of militant Islam, we can expect no better there.”

In all probability it would be worse. If Iraq were to descend into a civil war the consequences would not be limited to Iraq itself, but would affect this entire volatile region.

Much is at stake in the US domestic debate over Iraq. Even Europeans who were critical of the US invasion of the country are now apprehensive as to the consequences of a collapse of US will to carry through what it has set out to do.

Then we might end up in the worst of all possible worlds. And Europe is far closer to the consequences than is the United States.

Foreign Affairs – Iraq: Learning the Lessons of Vietnam – Melvin R. Laird


Busan versus Europe

19 november 2005

The 21 leaders of the Asian-Pacific Economic Community have just concluded their meeting in Busan in South Korea.

Most things seems to have been on the agenda, with APEC going through the same process of deterioation through expansion that we have previously seen with the G7/G8 meetings. If you try with much, you normally succeed with little.

Apart from the obvious discussion on avian flu, the meeting was dominated by the upcoming WTO Ministerial Meeting in Hong Kong December 13 – 18.

The APEC countries together represent nearly 50 % of global trade and close to 60 % of global GDP. The great missing economic and trade power is of course the European Union, which is in fact the world’s largest single entity in both these respects.

In its declaration on the trade issues, it was fairly obvious that the leaders in Busan set their sights on the European Union and its agricultural policies:

We call for breaking the current impasse in agricultural negotiations, in particular in market access, which will unblock other key areas, including non-agricultural products and services. Unless progress is made in this area, we cannot make progress in the Round as a whole. Avoiding or compromising our ambition on this issue would mean that we would lower expectations for the Round as a whole.”

To achieve agreements in Busan on this was of course as easy as it gets. But it was also to take the easy route in more general terms.

Trying just to corner the European Union while not making much of an effort to sort out the other complex issues is not necessarily the most constructive approach at this period of time.

The EU has made a substantial offer on agricultural trade, and in fact the developing countries are already exporting more of agricultural products to the Union than to anywhere else. Barriers to agricultural trade with the EU are lower than barriers to trade between the developing countries themselves.

This being said, every negotiation has to be a process in which all of the parties demonstrate flexibility.

It’s already unlikely that Hong Kong will bring a break-through in the further trade liberalisation process. But neither is there likely to be a complete break-down. The risks are simply to great.

But it’s far more than just agriculture that’s on the table. To concentrate on that issue and that issue alone does not seem to be the most constructive thing right now.

Busan versus Europe is not a good signal.

The official website of APEC 2005 KOREA.


Internet Victory in Tunis

19 november 2005

The World Information Society Summit in Tunis ended up with a compromise on the controversial issue of Internet governance that wasn’t too bad.

Attempts to diminish the authority of the existing system of global self-regulation of the Internet centered on ICANN seems to have failed, and that was really the good thing. The ill-advised earlier attempts also by the European Commission at the end of the day come to very little indeed.

A new international forum to discuss Internet issues will be set up. That could well be useful. It will meet for the first time in Athens in mid-2006.

In the meantime, the work of ICANN goes on, and it remains to be seen if there will be increased interest in its work or the work of its Governmental Advisory Committee. The next meeting of the ICANN Board will be in Vancouver in Canada.

The Tunis meeting was a victory for common sense. The Internet works. There was no reason to mess things up.

At the end of the day that was the Tunis conclusion.

Freedom of the net is safe – for the time being


Soft and Hard European Powers

19 november 2005

There is no doubt that a key asset of the European Union is its so called soft powers, notably through the process of enlargement, but also wider through the magnetism of its model of cooperation and integration.

But now and then there is also the need for harder intervention powers, perhaps in particular in order to support efforts by the United Nations in different parts of the world.

That’s the background to the efforts underway to build up the so called battle groups.

And during the week to come the European Union will conduct its first military exercise to train some of the operational headquarters that would be involved in an operation with one of these so called battle groups.

It’s a small step for mankind, but a fairly significant one for the European Union.

Slowly but surely, the Union evolves into a more credible force for stability, freedom and democracy not only in its most immediate vicinity.

87034.pdf (application/pdf objekt)


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