Need for Balkan Strategy

31 januari 2006

The European Commission has just published its ideas for the meeting between the European Union and the Western Balkan countries that will be held in Salzburg in early March.

It’s supposed to set new directions for European policy in the area.

The next few months are crucial for the future of the Balkans. If EU leaders refuse to discuss realistic strategies for enlargement, the region will be more likely to suffer a new cycle of instability than enjoy enduring stability.

My own views of what should and could be done is set out in the linked article from the latest issue of the Bulletin from Centre for European Reform in London.

A somewhat more offensive approach – which I do think is called for.

The EU needs a bolder Balkan strategy by Carl Bildt

Change in Sarajevo

31 januari 2006

Today marks the departure from Sarajevo of Paddy Ashdown after his service there as High Representative. Tomorrow it is Christian Schwarz-Schilling that takes over.

Paddy was the fourth High Representative under the provisions in Annex 10 of the Dayton Peace Agreement for Bosnia. I had the honour of being the first in the series, but he’s the one who has served the longest, and probably the one who has sought to maintain the highest political profile.

Much has changed during the years. When I arrived in the winter of 1995/96 we had absolutely nothing in a city heavily scarred by the war that had just ended. I brought a bunch of D-Marks in an envelope from Brussels and we started to set up whatever we could in the middle of acuta political tensions and enormous humanitarian challenges.

That was then. My own view has been that the entire Office of the High Representative – now in the order of 500 persons all over the country – should have been closed down 10 years after Dayton and replaced with a more low-profile European Union mission.

With its high profile and its intrusive powers the OHR has certainly done much good in Bosnia over the years, but the cumulative effect has increasingly been one of fostering a climate of irresponsibility in the domestic Bosnian political environment.

It’s been too easy to just abstain from taking difficult decisions and instead ask the High Representative to sort things out – only to blame him when he tries to get things going.

Paddy was less than happy when criticism along these lines started to become more prominent some years ago, but today he essentially agrees.

That one – in spite of this – decided to appoint a new High Representative was in my opinion a mistake. But Christian Schwarz-Schilling knows the country well and will in all probability take a somewhat lower political profile than what Paddy did.

At the end of the day, it is the citizens and politicians of Bosnia themselves that should prove that their country has a future.

Office of the High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina

You Will Hear More About Natanz

31 januari 2006

Natanz is a place we will hear more about in the next few months. It’s the location in Iran where they are building their uranium enrichment facility.

And it’s really around activities at Natanz that the entire controversy is now concentrated.

It takes some time to build a properly functiong enrichment facility. There are no signs of the Iranians being close to it. It is even more complex to take the process to the high enrichment needed for nuclear weapons.

What the Iranians have done now is to restart some undefined ”research activities” at Natanz. Most probably that means work on a centrifugte for enrichment, which crosses a distinct red line of the international community.

Even if it – even if they went all out for it – in all probability would take some time for them to get close to a weapons capability – IISS says at the least five years – it’s still a rather massive faculity they are building.

The linked series of satellite images gives a good picture of the entire thing and how it has evolved.

Not in particular the fairly large underground structures.

Stay tuned, as they say.
Natanz – Iran Special Weapons Facilities

Quartet Balancing Act

31 januari 2006

Well, the Quartet dinner in London yesterday did manage to produce a fairly comprehensive policy response to the elections in Palestine.

It obviously repeats some of the key demands on the future Palestine government, but doesn’t say that all aid will be cut immediately if all of these demands are not fulfilled immediately.

It will ”review” the issue. Fine. There is an element of flexibility in the choice of words that’s obviously highle deliberate.

The key issue is to get distinct movement in the right direction, but it’s hardly realistic to expect that all the conditions can be met immediately.

Interesting was that the Quartet in the same statement put demands also in the Israeli side:

The Quartet reiterated its view that settlement expansion must stop, reiterated its concern regarding the route of the barrier, and noted Acting Prime Minister Olmert’s recent statements that Israel will continue the process of removing unauthorized outposts.

These were not new policies, but the fact that they were repeated in the same statement might make it somewhat more easy to get a receptive audience for the other parts of the message.

Good work, Quartet!

Quartet says aid to Palestinian government will be reviewed in light of key conditions

A Nation At War?

30 januari 2006

Sometimes the contrast between the United States and Europe come out in a rather striking way.

This morning I attended a breakfast briefing here in Washington by the Vice-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff on the so called Quadrennial Defence Review due to be released to the public on Monday. The QDR is a major multi-annual defence planning exercise.

I was struck by him saying that this was the first QDR made ”with the nation at war”.

At war?

There is no denying the complexities of Iraq, and a poll in one of the newspapers of issues which the public are most concerned about puts Iraq on top of the list. And there are certainly serious challenges in both Afghanistan and elsewhere.

To say that ”the nation is at war” seems to me to carry it too far. War for Europeans is a far more all-encompassing challenge and task than the operations now carried out, and requires far more fundamental changes in society.

But we are dealing not with objective realities but with subjective perceptions that are shaped by different cultural and political perspectives. That’s simply the way it is.

In today’s New York Times one finds a full-page ad signed by a distinguished group of Americans across the political spectrum claiming that ”America is still dangereously vulnerable.”

A nation at war. A nation that sess itself as dangereously vulnerable.

Is this the confident superpower? Or a nerveous nation not really understanding what’s happening?

Partnership for a Secure America

Europe Slipping Behind? (2)

29 januari 2006

The blog of Business Week has taken up my earlier blog entry on whether Europe is slipping behind the United States in terms of research and development.

And it has lead to a series of rather interesting contributions on the subject.

Well worth looking at for the interested.

Is Europe Slipping Behind?

The Washington Week

29 januari 2006

After nearly a week based in Jerusalem – at a very pivotal time in the modern history of the region – and a day in Stockholm I’m now heading over the North Atlantic in the direction of Washington.

I’m there primarily for a board meeting of Legg Mason in Baltimore, but as usual these trips combine a number of different elements. There will be ample of political discussions in Washington before I’m back home towards the end of the week.

It’s a week with a heavy political agenda.

On Tuesday, President Bush adresses Congress with his annual State of the Union speech, setting out the priorities and policies of his presidency one year into it’s four-year term.

Whether that will be the most important event of the day, or whether more attention will be given to Alan Greenspan’s last day as Chairman of the Federal Reserve after 18 years of very distinguished service remains to be seen. On Wednesday, Bed Bernankie takes over.

Be sure that President Bush will pay tribute to Greenspan, and that he will use this also to highlight the rather extraordinary dynamism of the American economy at this time.

The figures are truly impressive.

When Greenspan took over from Paul Volcker in 1987, the US GDP was around 5 trillion dollars. Since then rapid growth has taken it to today’s level of around 13 billion dollars. In absolute terms, no country throughout history has ever created so much new wealth during a corresponding span of time.

But there will obviously be a restatement of the administrations foreign policy priorities that will be keenly watched.

Will it be dominated by an effort to give a positive picture of developments in Iraq? Or will it be the escalating conflict with Iran that will dominate? And how will he treat the fact that democracy in the Arab world seems to mean that Islamist forces are gaining ground at the expense of more moderate ones, with the Palestine election just days behind us?

All of these issues will be the subject of important activities elsewhere during this week.

Tonight German Chancellor Angela Merkel – who’s quickly achieved a superstar status in her country – will arrive in Jerudsalem for talks with Acting Prime Minister Olmert before she tomorrow proceeds to Ramallah and to see President Abu Mazen.

With her new weight both in Europe and in the White House, the impression that she gets will obviously be important in shaping Western policy.

And tomorrow the EU Foreign Ministers will meet in Brussels to look at the new situation. They are however likely to defer major policy conclusion until the dinner in London that brings in also UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, US Secretary of State Condolezza Rice and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

The London meetings will not only deal with the new situation in the Middle East.

The Iran issue will be on the agenda as well, as will the question of how to proceed with the search for a Kosovo solution. President Ahtisaari, who leads the international effort, is likely not to get support for the approach that he has recommended.

And the big issue – bringing representatives of 60 or so states to London tomorrow – will be to get money for the different peace efforts in Afghanistan. Things are not going too badly there – but neither are they going particularly well. State-building takes time – and costs money.

On Thursday the Iran issue is likely to be at the top of the global political agenda as the Governing Board of the IAEA convenes in Vienna to deal with the EU requst thar the Iranian issue the one way or the other be sent to the UN Security Council.

There is likely to be heavy maneuvering prior to and at the meeting. Evidently Teheran has suddenly accepted to let IAEA inspectors visit the Lavizan facility in Teheran which is suspected of having housed unreported nuclear activities in previous years. But the critical vote might well be delayed by the fact that the IAEA isn’t fully ready to report their full conclusions on Iran. Another months or so might be needed.

In the meantime, the Chinese are busy celebrating that they have now entered the Year of the Dogs.