Coming Clash of Mitrovica?

30 augusti 2006

I’m getting increasingly worried over where the talks over the future status of Kosovo are really heading.

Over the course of the process so far, there have been very little done to try to build some sort of confidence across the ethnic divide in Kosovo and the region.

On the contrary, it is my impression that the divide has recently deepened even further.

A grenade attack against some Serbs by an Albanian in northern Mitrovica in northern Kosovo the other day lead to a further escalation of feelings. There are reports of an increasing number of weapons in the area.

With time now running fast, there seems to be very limited possibilities of some sort of agreed or semi-agreed outcome before the end of the year. If the so called international community sticks to its timetable, there are increasing signs that we are heading for trouble.

And it could easily get very nasty.

If the independence of Kosovo is just imposed by diktat, I believe there are two possible scenarios for Serb-dominated northern Kosovo.

The first is that they simply refuse to go along and block the access of Prishtina authorities to the area, in extreme case with armed violence.

In that case, NATO could of course escort Kosovo Albanian officials in the area, as well as try to block all borders with Serbia. But such a NATO occupation and military rule of the area can’t last for long.

And in the course of it, there would be a high risk both of violence in that area itself – primarily by the Serbs – as well as by Albanians against Serbs in more exposed locations in central and southern Kosovo.

The second scenario would be that the Serbs simply see themselves as betrayed, and there is an immediate and massive exodus of both them and other minorities from Kosovo.

We will get an ethnically pure Kosovo, as well as perhaps 100 000 new refugees in Serbia with all the political consequences this might have.

And then there is of course the – perhaps most likely – scenario of first the first and then the second scenario being played out.

Violence, ethnic cleansing and mass refugee movements…

On present trends, I fear that’s where the present process is heading.


The Real London Story

30 augusti 2006

As we approach the 5th anniversary of September 11, there will be numerous attempts to take stock on where we are in what in the United States is often referred to as the Global War on Terrorism.

And I will certainly also have reason to return to the subject of ”GWOT” in the weeks to come.

Fears of the resurgence of large-scale terrorism were rekindled by the dramatic arrests in the United Kingdom recently. Suddenly, the threat looked very real again.

UK pre-trial secrecy rules have since then prevented much information of relevance from leaking out, but a recent major story in the New York Times gives an amazing amount of details concerning what it was all about.

Access to this article was blocked in the United Kingdom due to their special legal rules in cases like these.

Although there might not have been the risk of an ”imminent” attack, the information in the NYT article clearly shows that it was a determined group working on a rather advanced scheme. Whether they would have had the capability to carry it out is another matter – there seems little doubt that they had the intention.

Their motivation seems to have been less general ideological, and more what they saw as the West’s ”war against Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq.” Whether they had any links with the original al-Qaeda network is uncertain, although there is little doubt that they saw it as a source of inspiration.

This, then, is likely to be the new threat.

Not a world-wide and centrally-directed fanatical terrorist movement of ”Islamic fascism” bent on setting up a new khalifate from Andalucia to Indonesia.

But rather copy-cat attempts by third-generation immigrants in Europe or elsewhere to revenge what they see as grave injusticies committed against different Muslim population.

It’s a different, and perhaps more difficult, challenge.


The Rotten Governance of Rosenbad

29 augusti 2006

Right in the middle of the election campaign, the Constitutional Ombudsman JO has published his report on the behaviour of the Prime Minister’s State Secretary Lars Danielsson.

Some might remember that I have written about this several times during the years. In my opinion, it was obvious that Mr Danielsson had lied to the Parliamentary Commission set up to clarify the governments handling of the December 2004 Tsunami disaster.

But Mr Danielsson was consistently protected by the Prime Minister.

Gradually during the Spring the media pressure on the issue intensified. There were extensive revelation of how Mr Danielsson had used the Gulfstream IV executive jet of the government on missions that certainly did not require it.

When the Constitutional Ombudsman JO decided to take up the issue, Mr Danielsson asked for an extended vacation. He has now been on vacation for 14 weeks, and is scheduled to go back to work in the Cabinet Office on Monday.

That is now unthinkable.

Without using those words, the JO is saying that it is highly likely that Mr Danielsson has been lying throughout the different investigations, and sums up that he has seriously hindered the review and investigation of the governments conduct.

In my opinion, Mr Danielsson has to be relieved of his duties immediately.

I don’t think it has ever happened that a person on this high level has been so harshly critized on such a central issue by such an authoritative body.

It isn’t the rotten governance of Sweden – it’s the rotten governance of Rosenbad; the Prime Minister’s Office.


An Estonian Model?

28 augusti 2006

If we are in the business of models in Europe, it does not hurt to take a look at the performance of Estonia.

Leading the Baltic ”tiger economies”, it has also served as an inspiration to the debate about economic policy elsewhere.

Indeed, it was Estonia that championed the concept of the flat tax- since then adopted even by Russia.

The other day the IMF published its annual review of the performance of the Estonian economy. It points to some of the challenges of extremely high growth, but very clearly applauds the main lines of policy:

Estonia’s rapid economic growth stems from its liberal economic institutions and conservative financial policies. Real living standards now surpass those in most new member states of the European Union. Increasing trade and financial integration are offering new opportunities, but also creating imbalances. The challenge now is to implement policies that minimize the resulting risks to macroeconomic stability while continuing to profit from access to foreign markets and technologies.”

Not bad for an economy that little more than 15 years ago had little else but empty grey shelves in the stores.


Model For Whom?

28 augusti 2006

Although nowadays the so called Swedish model is primarily talked about in Sweden – in the rest of Europe it´s rather the Danish model that’s on the agenda – it has a resurgence now and then.

In the latest issue of National Interest, Johan Norberg has published a piece that tries to correct the record somewhat.

Highly critical, broadly correct, and certainly worth reading by those that take an active interest in Sweden.


A Role For Europe?

28 augusti 2006

Although I´m sitting in Bled discussing Caucasus and the Caspian region, the issues of the Middle East continue to be in focus.

In the shadow of the developments around the Lebanon conflict, there is a dramatically changed situation in Ramallah and on the West Bank. And I would argue that for all the importance of handling the aftermath of the Lebanon war, it’s now imperative not the least for the European Union to start to address the Palestinian issues.

The situation there is simply not sustainable. A stat of collapse and chaos is drawing nearer.

There seems to two alternatives.

One is to accept a new Hamas-Fatah coalition government of the Palestinian Authority and an end to the Israeli and international sanctions against it.

The other might well lead to a dissolution of the Palestinian Authority – since it is collapsed by the sanctions anyhow – and going back to direct Israeli occupation rule as it was before the Oslo agreement.

An article in Egyptian Al-Ahram spells out the options that are on the table, and if you strip the text of some of the hyperbole it seems like a good summary of the situation.

This clearly calls for concerted international diplomacy. And with the US have locked itself in a situation of supporting nearly whatever Tel Aviv does, there is a new opening for the European Union.

Next weekend, all the foreign ministers of the European Union are heading for Lappeenranta in Finland for their informal so called Gymnich meeting.

This is a subject they can’t avoid. Europe has a responsibility.


Energy Security In Focus

26 augusti 2006

Sunday morning I’m flying off to Ljubjana in Slovenia, and from there go to beutiful Bled for the Bled Strategic Forum.

The conference this year will focus on the Black Sea and Caspian Sea areas and the challenges we will be facing there.

I’ll take part in a discussion Sunday afternoon on Europe’s geostrategy and energy security and the relevance of the the Caspian Basin in these respects.

But I guess there will be plenty of discussions also on other aspects than security.

With some sort of decision on the future status of Kosovo coming up soon, it will be necessary to discuss the impact this might have on the secessionist areas in both Georgia and Moldova. To say that a Kosovo decision will have no impact on these issues is just trying to stick the head into the sand.

But no doubt energy will be important. Independent access to the energy resources of the Caspian Basin has to be an important part in the overall energy strategy of the European Union.

There will no doubt be interesting discussions on the subject. And for me it’s only the first in a series of international meetings focusing on energy security issues during the next few months.


Yeltsin and 1991

24 augusti 2006

I did write about Boris Yeltsin going to Riga to receive the Latvin state decoration.

He did. And it was an event worth noticing.

In her speech, Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga pointed at his key role in restoring Latvia’s independence.

The world saw a man who has understood the course of history, showed himself not only as a democrat but also as a brave politician.

And Yeltsin acknowledged that he had seen the necessity of recognizing the independence of the Baltic countries.

In 1991, Mikhail Gorbachev, the head of the Soviet Union, was very surprised about my actions and made a large mistake by ordering the Soviet military to storm strategic points in Latvia. I called him from my car and said, ‘If you do not withdraw the army from Latvia, I will go there and offer them to shoot their president.” Y

Commenting on the failed coup in Moscow that started August 19th in 1991, Yeltsin correctly noted that “if reactionary forces had won at that time, both Latvia and Russia would have been back in the Soviet swamp.

An honourable and brave Russian.


Swedish Heroism

24 augusti 2006

Well, I can only note that Sweden now seems to be ready to join the heroic nations offering to send naval units to Southern Lebanon.

The offer is to send one of the multi-purpose missile corvettes of the Swedish navy.

They are indeed very capable ships, with a multitude of different capabilities, and have proven themselves over the years.

But it has to be confessed that they were not optimized for patrolling villages, securing bridges, clearing landmines or inspecting lorries, to name just a few of the day-to-day tasks that the UNIFIL forces would have to undertake.

At least we did not offer a submarine…


Rush to Judgment?

24 augusti 2006

During the Lebanon war, it was often argued that there was a direct operational link between Hezbollah and Teheran.

It was seen as Hezbollah attacking Israel on the instructions of Teheran, and the counterstrike just being an attack on the ”Western front” of the coming confrontation with Iran.

Now, doubts are beginning to emerge.

Some of those propagating these theories are displeased with the US intelligence agencies, since these do not seem to be giving much support to the thesis.

According to an article in The Washington Post today:

Several intelligence officials said that American spy agencies had made assessments in recent weeks that despite established ties between Iran and Hezbollah and a well-documented history of Iran arming the organization, there was no credible evidence to suggest either that Iran ordered the Hezbollah raid that touched off the recent fighting or that Iran was directly controlling attacks against Israel.

The fact seems to be that we don’t know the fact.

And we should have learnt that a rush to judgement is not a particularly good basis for policy decisions.

Neither in the Middle East nor elsewhere. But perhaps particularly in the Middle East.


Nuclear Birth?

23 augusti 2006

So far, there haven’t been any official reactions to the Iranian answer to the offer by the so called 5+1 to start wide-ranging negotiations if Iran suspends the enrichment of uranium.

It’s obvious that one is seeking as coordinated an assessment of the answer as possible. And that might indeer require some discussions.

In the meantime, there are signs that there are those in Teheran that are interested in inflaming the situation even further.

We are rapidly approaching the first anniversary of the forming of the president Ahmadinejad government.

And there are now press reports in Teheran that this will be celebrated with ”the governments ‘nuclear birth’.

What this could mean is far from clear, but we can safely expect a major tirade from Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that will do very little indeed to defuse the already dangereous situation.

Not what is needed at this point in time – to put it very mildly.


Lebanon Force Uncertainties

22 augusti 2006

There seems to be mounting uncertainities concerning the building up of the UNIFIL force in Lebanon towards 15 000 persons.

A meeting in Brussels tomorrow will – at French request – look at the combined European contribution.

It’s not difficult to see the reasons for the hesitancy that is there in different countries concerning the sending of soldiers.

Exactly what the force is expected to do is not entirely clear. It will be under great pressue to disarm Hezbollah, but that does not really seems to be in its mandate, although the requirement that it will be done is very clear in the UN Security Council resolution.

Then there is the situation that has been demonstrated in the last few days, with Israel claiming that it has the right to undertake different military operations in Lebanon. If this continues, it’s not difficult to see the cease-fire starting to deterioate even before a proper UN force is in place.

A third consideration – not publicly expressed, as far as I have seen – concerns the risks associated with a coming possible military confrontation with Iran.

If – at some point in time – the US decides to take military action against Iran, it is highly likely that Western forces in Lebanon will immediately be in the firing line, being caught up in a war over which they have no control whatsoever.

For all the complaining in Washington about France not supplying more troops, there are solid reasons beyond availability of force why neither the US nor Britain is keen to put boots on the ground in the area.

One consequence of the uncertainty is that we now see a rush to provide naval forces to UNIFIL. Germany will do it, Norway will do it and others are also certain to do it. I bet we’ll soon have someone offering submarines to UNIFIL.

It’s a way of minimizing risks as well as providing a very quick exit possibility – but it does not really contribute that much to the uncertain mission of the UN in Southern Lebanon.


Three Stars to Yeltsin

21 augusti 2006

There was the expected official silence in Moscow over the anniversary of the defeat of the reactionary coup in 1991.

But others see things differently.

In a remarkable move today, the president of Latvia, Vaira Vike-Freiberga, will honour former Russian president Boris Yeltsin with Latvia’s highest honour – the Order of the Three Stars.

The ceremony will take place in the old castle of Riga.

The reason is obvious. Without the courageous stand of Yeltsin during those days, blood might have flowed on the streets of the then Soviet Union, and not the least the Baltic countries.

But instead he defeated the plotters, and went on to recognize the independence of the Baltic nations.

It was when the independence of the three Baltic states was recognized by the Russian Federation that the way was suddenly open for a more general recognition. And there had been an indirect alliance between Yeltsin and the Baltic reformers all through the reform process.

So it’s certainly a significant step that is now taken at Riga Castle.

And one worth noting more widely than what so far has been the case.


Paris, Stockholm, Belgrad and Bled

21 augusti 2006

 Another week starting up, and after some meetings in Stockholm in the morning I’m off to Paris.

It’s for a meeting of the President’s Strategy Committee of ICANN.

We are there in order to give strategic advice to the President of ICANN. And ICANN, of course, is the body that is the key to the global governance of the Internet.

These issues have been much in the debate in the last few years. A major UN conference in Tunis last year spent a long time discussing the global Internet governance issues, and the debate certainly hasn’t gone away.

There are also important issues on the table between ICANN and the US government – some very technical, but all seen as having profound political implications.

So it will be interesting – and informal – discussions in Paris. Our task is only to give advice to the Board of ICANN – they are the ones to take the decisions.

From Paris I’m back in Stockholm for two days. It will be interesting to see how the work with a common election manifesto for the four parties in the centre-right alliance progresses.

But then it’s onwards to Belgrade for discussions on the Balkan strategy of the European Union in general and the possibilities of Serbia in particular.

The country is in a somewhat difficult situation at the moment, but at the same time its potential is obvious. It is the key to the long-term European prospects for the region as a whole.

And from there I will go – the one way or the other – to Bled in Slovenia for a major conference on strategic prospects in the Black and Caspian Sea areas. It’s a discussion not the least on energy possibilities and strategies.

Once upon a time, Belgrade and Bled was part of the same country, and I guess communication between them was fairly straightforward. But that was then. Now it’s a different situations, and I’m still not certain of the least inconvenient way of getting from B to B.

An interesting week ahead. Posted by Picasa


The Escalation with Iran

20 augusti 2006

We are now entering some weeks in which the Iranian issue very rapidly will move up on the international agenda.

Tuesday the 22nd is the first critical day.

That’s when Iran has promised to give its official answer to the offer that was put on the table by the EU3 as well as the US, Russia and China before the summer.

It’s a rather genereous one – but an absolute precondition for moving ahead with it is that Iran suspends its ongoing enrichment of uranium. There is an ultimatum from the UN Security Council on that issue as well, and that expires Thursday August 31st – next week.

Then, on Monday September 18th there is the meeting of the IAEA in Vienna which will assess whether Iran has fulfilled the requirements of the Security Council.

And with the UN General Assembly beginning in New York the day after, there is little doubt that the consequences of the IAEA assessment will dominate the discussions in the corridors in New York.

It’s unlikely – to put it mildly – that the Lebanon war has improved the climate on the issue.

From the Washington perspective, support for Israel’s strike at Hezbollah was very much seen as a strike at ”the Western front” of the power of Iran.

Some obviously saw the need to reduce the striking capabilities of that ”Western front” in the light of the possibility of a coming military conflict with Iran, in which one of the risks is that Iran will answer a US strike also with using Hezbollah to attack Israel.

Rightly or wrongly – but those are the concerns.

But the problem was of course that this strike wasn’t overwhelmingly succesful – although we don´t know what’s really behind the words, there is a serious risk that Teheran believes that it has come out rather well of that confrontation.

Indications are that Iran will continue with a policy of brinkmanship on the issue, trying to buy time and create divisions in the now rather solid international front on the issue.

My guess would be that Iran will say that it is ready to negotiate and talk about the entire package – including the suspension of enrichment. But talking about and doing are two very different things, and it is unlikely in the extreme that the US and the EU3 will be satisfied with such an approach.

Anyhow, it is most unlikely to pass the examination of the IAEA, since that will have to follow the strict wording of the Security Council resolution.

If I’m right, we will then see a further move up the ladder of escalation in the conflict with Iran.

The world is becoming an increasingly uncertain place.


Swedish Election – Also In Swedish

20 augusti 2006

It’s less than a month to the Swedish parliamentary election on September 17th.

We will elect the 349 members of the Riksdag, and its composition will decide who will be able to form the next government when the new Riksdag convenes on October 3rd.

This Sunday is the official start of the campaign, with the parties having put up their election posters.

As I biked back from a meeting downtown, the posters were already up everywhere. It’s been the usual battle to secure the best positions.

I will obviously return to the issues of the Swedish campaign somewhat on this blog in the weeks to come, but in addition I have set up a Swedish-language blog where comments will be somewhat more frequent.

You can easily access it at this address – www.dagsattbyta.blogspot.com.

At the moment, the opinion polls are giving the ruling Social Democrats 34-35% support.

When they lost power in 1976 they achieved 42,7% and when they lost in 1991 they achieved 37,7% – so obviously, they are in a rather difficult situation.

As they had 39,9% in the 2002 election, it looks very likely indeed that Prime Minister Göran Persson will finish his political career with a rather substantial defeat for the party.

If, in fact, they end up with an election result along the lines of what the polls are indicating at the present – but four weeks is a very long time in politics – it would be the worst result for the Social Democrats in a parliamentary election since the Spring of 1914 (!).

It will be a campaign worth watching.


Russian Drama of August 19

19 augusti 2006

Early in the morning 15 years ago – it was Tuesday August 19, 1991 – a TV announcement in the Soviet Union said that emergency rule had been declared, that Michael Gorbachov was sick and that power was now in the hands of an emergency committee namned GKChP.

The day after had been supposed to be the signing of the new union treaty. But for the conspirators – the KGB, parts of the army, the interior ministry, conservative communists – it was seen as the death of the Soviet Union.

That’s why they decided to strike.

The evening before they had detained Gorbachev at his vacation place on the Crimea. Now tanks were rolling into Moscow from all directions to enforce the clamp-down that had been decided and announced.

In some way, it was supposed to be the repetition of what we had seen in Hungary in 1956, Czechoslovakia in 1968 and Poland in 1981.

Now, the tanks were needed to save Soviet power in the Soviet Union itself.

More or less the same group of conspirators had tried to clamp-down violently on the Baltic countries earlier in the year. At that time, they must have had at least the passive support of Gorbachev himself.

But in spite of extensive preparations in all three countries they had failed. Tanks against people didn’t work in the age of television, but 13 people had been killed in the battle for the TV tower in Vilnius in Lithuania.

Now they were determined to take power in the country as a whole to prevent the Soviet Union from disintegrating.

But they made one absolutely critical mistake: they forgot to immediately arrest the President of the Russian Federation Boris Yeltsin.

Very soon after the dramatic announcement, Yeltsin´s car had raced into Moscow past the columns of tanks, and within hours he climbed up on a tank outside the so called White House and read out his defiant statement. He was accompanied by a Russian rather than a Soviet flag.

It was an act that changed history.

With massive popular support for Yeltsin, even the KGB’s elite Alpha Group of soldiers hesitated to attack the White House through the crowds. And soon the key paratroopers and some other army units began having their doubts as well.

Within two days it was clear that the coup had failed – and that Boris Yeltsin was the new leader of a new Russia. Soon he were to take the bold move of recognizing the independence of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Soon he would outlaw the Communist Party and dissolve the Soviet Union as a whole.

We can only speculate on what would have happen if the conspirators had arrested Yeltsin in the early morning hours of that August 19th. It would have been easy.

Without a forceful opposition, they would have taken control of all of Moscow. And there would have been tanks rolling into also Vilnius, Riga and Tallinn – as well as other cities – very soon. There would have been violence and deaths throughout the area. We can not know how the army units still remaining in Central Europe would have reacted. It would have been profoundly dangereous.

But Boris Yeltsin saved us and Russia.

What Vladimir Putin thought – and which side he was really on – during those dramatic days I do not know.

But there are certainly no celebrations in the Kremlin on this important day in the history of Russia and Europe.


On The Path To Defeat

18 augusti 2006

Today, the governing Social Democrats produced their manifesto for the September 17th general election.

It was their chance to set the agenda for the debate in the days and weeks ahead.

It’s too early for a definitive judgment, but the initial one could only be that they blew it.

There was certainly the usual avalanche of different hand-outs and expensive promises. Massive new amounts are to be spent on making it somewhat better to be unemployed.

But the nearly universal reaction by commentators was that instead of spending resources on making it somewhat better to be unemployed, the focus should have been on creating the conditions for new jobs.

The Social Democrats seems to have lost the priviligie to formulate the agenda of the political debate.

That’s normally just the beginning of even bigger losses ahead.

On the trends of today, they are heading for defeat.

But an election campaign is a long, changing and dramatic event.


After Month of Madness

18 augusti 2006

There are few voices on the issues of the Middle East more worth listening to than that of Lakhdar Brahimi.

He negotiated the accord that ended the civil war in Lebanon, was key in the Bonn agreement setting Afghanistan on a new course and was called in at critical times in Iraq when everything was going wrong.

In the New York Times today, he makes no secret of what he feels for the ”month of madness” that is behind us.

And he is explicit in describing the major setbeck the month has been:

Rather than helping in the so-called global war on terror, recent events have benefited the enemies of peace, freedom and democracy. The region is boiling with resentment, anger and despair, feelings that are not leading young Arabs and Palestinians toward the so-called New Middle East.

Brahimi argues for talking to Hezbollah and trying to get it truly integrated in Lebanese society. To try to defeat it is to risk the destruction of Lebanon.

And he argues strongly – and rightly – for turning attention to the Palestinian issue. Here, he sounds much like Tony Blair did in his recent speech in Los Angeles.

I agree fully.

If the month of madness can produce a wider recognition of the need to look anew at the Palestinian conflict, and get away from some of the policies of the past months, there might be some hope.

If not – then there is not.


Back To Stockholm

16 augusti 2006

After absence more or less continously since late June, I’m now back in Stockholm.

I just landed from Italy after having gone there from Croatia yesterday.

It’s a Stockholm which in terms of weather has definitely left the summer months, but which is in the early phases of the campaigns before its September 17th general election.

There will be reason to return to that subjects as the weeks progress.

But for the moment it’s the more global agenda that dominates. We are heading towards a very complex couple of weeks and months.

The war in Lebanon is over, but there is certainly not peace, and all over the region passions are running higher than before.

It’s in this athmosphere – also influence by the arrest of the terrorist plotters in Britain and Pakistan – that the Iran issue is very rapidly moving up on the international agenda.

There is profound drama and danger ahead.

There is every reason to fast the seat belts.


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