A Modern Monarchy

30 april 2006

For some, monarchies might look somewhat anachronistic in our modern world.

But the reality is often different. And Sweden is certainly a case to that point.

That’s been very obvious these days as we have been celebrating the 60th birthday of King Carl XIV Gustaf.

It’s been somewhat hectic.

A major private party at Drottningholm Castle yesterday – well, into the very early hours of today. Truly great party! And then a big official luncheon in Stockholm City Hall given by the Parliament and government.

Tonight there is a more formal dinner at Stockholm Palace, but I’m not there. I’m at more traditional Swedish celebration of the arrival of spring. A remnant, I would guess, from long gone pre-Christian days.

Carl Gustaf become king at the age of 27 in 1973. His grandfather – the previous king Gustav VI Adolf – had died the evening before the general election of that year. As a very young man, Carl Gustaf had to take the throne in a age of uncertainty and a mood of radical changes.

The role of the head of state was also changed into a more ceremonial one as the new constitution come into force in 1975.

Much has happened since then, and today there are hardly any divided views on the way in which the king has been performing his role as head of state. It is fair to say that he is widely both respected and popular.

Presidential system are not necessarily bad, but there is no doubt that it has a value when it is possible to keep the institution of monarchy and make it comptible with all the institutions and princples of modern democratic governance.

Sweden has succeeded.

And a lot of the credit undoubtedly goes to King Carl Gustaf.

In addition, he’s a truly decent and nice guy.


Brussels Forum

30 april 2006

Due to the fact that we here in Stockholm are busy celebrating the 60th year birthday of our king Gustav Adolf I had to leave the Brussels Forum before its ending today Sunday.

But there is no doubt that the meeting was a success. A new forum for dialogue and discussion across the Atlantic has been established.

Senator John McCain set the tone with his keynote speech on Friday evening. It was a robust presentation of what could be described as the Washington consensus on key issues, notably on Iran.

He repeated his mantra that the only thing that’s worse than a military strike against Iran is Iran managing to develop a nuclear arsenal.

But whether this is also the Brussels consensus wasn’t clear when I had to leave the discussions mid-day Saturday.

On Russia, John McCain was as critical as the Washington consensus nowadays is, b ut went somewhat too far in attacking the Russian position on Iran.

It so happens that Washington and Moscow are in complete agreement as to the aim of policy on the issue, but differ on the means, notably on whether sanctions could really work. That’s a perfectly legitimate debate.

In a follow-up discussion, much of the attention went to the situation in Darfur, although I have to confess that the amount of empty posturing was rather large. Particularly on the US side there is a tendency to say that it is genocide – and that someone else should do something.

It sounded great when John McCain and Richard Holbrooke said that NATO had the assets there and ready.

Well, the fact is that NATO has only a single-digit figure of people in Darfur, and even the robust options now under discussion does not take that up to more than in the low two-digit range. Darfur is on the size of Iraq – and there it is painfully obvious that 130 000 soldiers are having a hard time.

Javier Solana was right in pointing out that there has to be a political solution, and that the EU is playing an active role in the Abuja talks.

But Richard Holbrooke was equally right in pointing at the imperative need of financing the humanitarian efforts there. At the moment, the World Food Programme efforts there are short of money.

So the discussion continued on the one issue after the other, with all the others taking part in the Brussels Forum also active.

A session Saturday morning dealt with the economic challenges we have to deal with. As soon as I find a link to some of the good speeches there I’ll write a few words about that.

The Big Benefit

28 april 2006

During discussions in Berlin yesterday I was truly amazed about the level of ignorance even among well-informed Europeans about the enormous benefits of enlargement.

A well-established and respected academic argued that a problem with enlargement was that there were short-term costs while the benefits where more long-term.

This, he argued, made it difficult for the political leaders to argue for enlargement.

But this is pure – if I’m excused for the expression – bullshit.

The Eastern enlargement from Estonia to Bulgaria is probably the most succesful thing the process of European integration so far has achieved. Ten countries with a 100 million people have managed a change of system that has contributed to the peace and prosperity not only of their countries but of Europe as a whole.

If this is not a short-term benefit, I fail to see what a benefit could be.

This applies also in purely economic terms.

On my flight earlier today from Stockholm to Brussels I come across an interesting article on the subject in the Danish business daily Börsen.

It’s a report presented jointly by Danish Federation of Industries and the Danish Metalworkers Federation, and it is based on a study done by Katinka Barysch at the Centre for European Reform in London.

The conclusion is that enlargement has created approximately 35 000 new jobs in the Danish economy. While Danish exports in general have increased by 17 % since 2004, exports to the new member states have increased by 42 %.

What applies to Denmark would apply to an even higher degree to economies as the German and the Austrian one.

Not the least Austria – which in political terms has always dragged its feet over enlargement – has made enormous economic gains. Its economy has benefited very substantially, as can be clearly seen in the development of the Austrian stock market.

Other studies published in the last few weeks have shown the advantages of free labour markets.

Ireland has seen a very large influx of people from the new member countries – but unemployment has been sinking in spite of this. There has been a noticeable boost to the already impressive Irish growth rates as a consequence of its decision to go for the full benefits of enlargement.

That’s the way it is. The figures are clear.

Enlargement has been an enormous and immediate benefit also to the old member states.

It is high time that political leaders started to communicate this to their respective electorates.

Securing Elections in Congo

27 april 2006

Now, we are rapidly moving towards the first deployment of the so called ”battle groups” that the European Union decided on a couple of years ago.

Most of them are still in the process of being formed. It’s a rather demanding process to create quick-intervention battle groups of this sort.

But the demand for them is obviously there. Now, the UN Security Council has voted unanimously to ask for the sending of 1 500 EU soldiers to help securing the elections in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Their task is to be a back-up force for the 17 000 UN soldiers in the MONUC force as Congo undertakes its first fully democratic elections for 40 years. This is necessary in views of the fact that there are still rebel forces active in different parts of the country, and they must be deterred from trying to wreck the election.

On the ground in Kinshasa the elements of the force that will be there will be under French command, but the overall command will be with the German military Hq in Potsdam not very far from where I’m sitting in southwestern Berlin at the moment.

Germany will be, in the language used, the framework nation for this mission.

It’s been a rather long and complicated story to get this force agreed to. There was considerable reluctance in Germany for a long time. Others where also slow in committing the necessary forces.

But now it’s moving ahead.

And it demonstrates again the important role that the EU military capabilities can play in backing up demanding UN operations in different parts of the world. We have learnt by rather bitter experience that there is a need for a hard edge also to softer operations – we are often dealing with evil forces.

The Congo elections – date not yet set – are likely to be held in late June or early July, and the EU mission will last approximately four months.

Hopefully the EU force will remain just a back-up force for deterrence – securing the elections just by being there.

A most important mission for the European Union. Supporting the United Nations. And democracy.

Trouble in Tomsk?

26 april 2006

Having arriving in Berlin for different discussions, the themes here are not too different from those in London.

Chancellor Merkel and six members of the government have gone off to Tomsk in Siberia for the first big summit with Russia of her govermment.

Together with a large business delegation, they are meeting President Putin and a sizeable chunk of the Russian government.

Issue number one of the rather large agenda – judging by the media reports – seems to be energy. Surprise, surprise.

And the first round of talks centered around these issues seems to have been rather difficult. Seeing Merkel and Putin briefly meeting the press after the talks, it was obvious that there were distinct limits to their agreement on the issue.

Before meeting Merkel, Putin had taken the occasion of a speech to local representatives to repeat the message that if Russian demands are not meet then the gas will be sold to China rather than Europe.

If that is not pressure, then I don’t know what pressure is.

Tomorrow will bring more information. Chancellor Merkel flies back to Berlin. And we will all have to listen carefully to her assessment of the talks.

In the meantime we are continuing our discussions on the future of Europe in the lovely green surroundings of Gruenewald in southwestern Berlin.

The Gas Battle Ahead

25 april 2006

It’s a major battle that is shaping up between the Russian gas giant Gazprom and the European Commission.

And it will have major ramifications for both the European Union and Russia.

In London yesterday and today I have been discussing these issues and what is likely to happen.

When Gazprom CEO Alexey Miller meet the EU Ambassadors last week he was clear in developing the vision that guides the development of Gazprom.

He is undoubtedly genuine in his wish to develop close links with the major West European markets. In much the same way as we want supply security, he naturally wants demand security. This is a necessity also in view of the enormous investment needs that Gazprom faces in the decades ahead.

But it is obvious that when we want as open, transparent and competitive markets as possible, Gazprom wants to establish a position where it can use monopoly pricing powers in the future. And here we obviously have sharply diverging interests.

You can see this in three different facts.

First: They want to get control of the distribution networks as much as possible. That control they have in Russia through Transneft and are now aggressively seeking in other parts of the CIS area. They are manoeuvring to get control in Ukraine, recently succeeding in getting it in Armenia and are now putting heavy pressure on Belarus. And there are clear signs of them wanting to gradually push this approach as far towards the West as they can.

Second: They are very firm in their efforts to block other European states from independently accessing the considerable gas reserves of Central Asia, notably Turkmenistan. This was a key part of their dispute with Ukraine earlier this year, and we see how they are now repeating that position in more general terms. There is no doubt that this is very important to them.

Third: They have reacted very aggressively to the recent message by European Commission President Barroso to President Putin that, in much the same way as the Commission is applying European competition rules to Microsoft, it reserves the right to do so against Gazprom.

According to Gazprom CEO Alexey Miller, it was these words of Barroso that lead President Putin to rush to China and to seek to sell the gas to them instead of to Europe.

When he meet the Ambassadors of the European Union in Moscow last week, he explicitly said that if the European Commission intended to apply the competition rules against Gazprom they would simply not sell to the European Markets. It was as blunt as it was clear.

These three facts together of course add up to a rather worrying picture. The energy-political complex of Russia is seeking to extend a situation of virtual monopoly control of gas supply and distribution as far to the West as they can.

Although their ambitions are clear enough, their chances of success are far less so. But ultimately it will depend on the policies that the countries of the European Union adopt.

And that will be the subject of further discussions.

We want as open, free and transparent market for energy in as large parts of Europe as possible.

Certainly within the European Union. But preferably also beyond.

And there is no reason why the European Union should not use its existing acquire the new instruments necessary to assure this.

That’s truly in the interest of everyone – not the least of Russia.

Tomorrow I’m off to Berlin. Rest assured the issue is high on the agenda there as well.

A Week of Europe

24 april 2006

Monday morning, and very soon I’m off from Stockholm in the direction of London. Again.

Now it is primarily energy security that is on the agenda.

After the latest rumblings from Gazprom in Moscow the issue has increased even further in importance on the European political agenda.

What Gazprom is saying is, effectively, that if we are not allowed to develop structures on the European gas markets that will give us monopolizing pricing power, we are not interested, and we’ll sell our gas to the Chinese.

A fairly blunt message.

In London I’m part of a meeting that is part of the policy review undertaken by the new Conservative Party leadership. Today it’s international issues that are in focus, and I have been asked to address the different energy security challenges ahead.

And that I will continue to do at another meeting in London on Tuesday before returning home to Stockholm.

That will however be a brief visit. On Wednesday morning I’m off to Berlin for a two day session of a Strategy Group on the Future of Europe organized by the Bertelsmann Foundation and bringing in, among others, Austrian Chancellor and present EU Presidency Wolfgang Schuessel.

Here, I have been asked to address the different emerging challenges on the periphery of Europe. Of which there are not few.

After spending Thursday evening in Stockholm it’s Brussels that’s on the agenda for Friday and Saturday.

There is the first meeting of what is called The Brussels Forum. It’s meant to be an annual high-level gathering dealing with different trans-Atlantic issues. Senator John McCain is one of the US keynote speakers, and Commission President Barroso another.

Although not on the formal agenda, it’s unavoidable that there will be discussions on Iran as well. It is on Friday that the IAEA will issue its report on Iranian compliance to the UN Security Council.

The Brussels Forum goes on until Sunday, but for other reasons I’ll have to get back to Stockholm on Saturday afternoon.

It will be a week of Europe and European issues.

A Story of True Success

23 april 2006

The late 1980’s and early 1990’s was a truly remarkable period in European history.

The collapse of the Soviet Union opened up both the past and the future of the continent in a dramatic way. We were shaping a new future while dealing with the horrible legacies of the past.

In my view, there were two outstanding successes and one outstanding failure.

The two successes were the peaceful reunification of Germany and the re-establishment of the independence of the three Baltic states. The one outstanding failure was the descent of Yugoslavia into conflict and war.

I happened to be closely involved in one of the successes and in the one failure.

But among the true success sories of those years was un doubtedly the way in which the three Baltic countries that had been occupied by Stalin in 1940 and then annexed to the Soviet Union were able to regain their independence, secure the peaceful withdrawal of massive ex-Soviet military forces and installations and safeguard the rights also of their non-Baltic residents.

This was a time of very active Swedish diplomacy on these issues.

Much of what happened was not really available to the public at the time, but in two highly interesting and welldocumented books the diplomat Lars Fredén has now documented and analyzed this highly important part of the shaping of post-Soviet Europe.

Lars Fredén was also a most active participant in these events. The books are a true eye-witness accounts of crucial diplomacy at a critical time in European history.

The second volume, which is just out, deals primarily with the efforts to secure the withdrawal of ex-Soviet military forces and installations from the three Baltic States. In some cases, this came about not the least to a high-level diplomatic interaction that involved not the least Stockholm and Washington.

The picture above shows the demolition of the huge strategic early warning radar installation that the Soviet Union had built at Skrunda in Latvia. Negotiations on the Skrunda issue was among the most complicated at the time, but ended with an agreement that allowed Russia to keep part of the installation until 1998.

And that agreement was honoured by Russia down to the very last detail of the complete withdrawal in that year.

But there were also a number of other critical issues during that period.

We went through what could have developed into a serious crisis over the Russian-dominated northeastern part of Estonia centred on the old town of Narva. And there were numerous difficulties associated with the many Russians that had been brought to these countries as a part of thre occupation regime.

And all had to be done against the background of a Moscow where the forces of reform and the forces of reaction where fighting for power. Remember how there were tanks in the street of Moscow.

Today, we see only the success that was achieved. Today, the three Baltic countries are full members of both the European Union and NATO. It’s wasn’t that long ago that they were totally integrated republics of the Soviet Union.

It’s a fascinating story – also for me to read more than a decade later.

The books are unfortunately in Swedish, as is the major review of it in Dagenws Nyheter by its chief commentator today.

But at some point in time I’m convined it will be available also in other languages.

It’s truly a part of modern European history.

The Israel Lobby Controversy

22 april 2006

Few things have generated as much controversy in the US lately as a study by two Harvard academics of considerable repute attacking what they see as an Israeli lobby that drives the US towards policies that are genuinely not in its interest.

The study by Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer starts with a very blunt assessment of the situation that they see:

For the past several decades, and especially since the Six-Day War in 1967, the centrepiece of US Middle Eastern policy has been its relationship with Israel. The combination of unwavering support for Israel and the related effort to spread ‘democracy’ throughout the region has inflamed Arab and Islamic opinion and jeopardised not only US security but that of much of the rest of the world. This situation has no equal in American political history.

Why has the US been willing to set aside its own security and that of many of its allies in order to advance the interests of another state? One might assume that the bond between the two countries was based on shared strategic interests or compelling moral imperatives, but neither explanation can account for the remarkable level of material and diplomatic support that the US provides.

The answer to them lies in the great influence of what they describe as the Israeli lobby in the US public debate and policy making circles.

First published for a wider audience in the London Review of Books, the study has generated an enormous amount of debate, naturally including major pieces in the New York Review of Books.

As could be expected, the authors have been accused of being anti-Semitic, although that charge has rather had the tendency of strengthening their argument that a rational debate on these issues have become increasingly difficult during the last few years.

Among those taking part in the debate has been Anne-Marie Slaughter, and both her contribution as well as others on that blog are worth reading. You can easily see the heat the debate has generated.

That there are strong bonds between the US and Israel is one thing. Sympathy and support for Israel as a democracy is and should be strong in all of our societies. And threats to the future of Israel are threats to values that are dear and important to all of us.

That’s one thing.

But Israel has been investing heavily in influencing policy in the US so that it tolerates the more hard-line approach that has been taken by different Likud-lead governments on the occupied territories. Israel has been able to expand settlements, confiscate land and continue its occupation policies with only the feeblest of protest from the United States.

It can be argued that if it hadn’t been for this tacit acceptance by the United States, some of these policies would hardly have been possible.

So it’s not illogical that great effort has gone into building up and strengthening the Israeli lobby in the United States.

The question put by the study is whether this has been so succesful as to de facto endanger wider United States national interests in the region and in the wider world.

The debate is certain to continue.

BNP Against The World

20 april 2006

Today is a day of celebration in Great Britain – it’s the Queen’s 80th birthday. And there is little doubt that she is a genuinely popular and respected monarch.

Otherwise it’s politics as usual. Conservative leader David Cameron has been to Svalbard to show that he cares about global climate change. And Gordon Brown is making the rounds in Washington as part of both the IMF meetings there and his preparations to take over after Tony Blair.

But otherwise it’s the run-up to the local elections on May 4 that are attracting increasing attention.

I’m not thinking about the obvious question of how well the newly re-styled Conservative party will do, although that will obviously be of some interest.

The real storý seems to be the rise in support for the ultra-nationalist and xenophobic British National Party. Some recent opinion polls indicate that up to a quarter of the electorate could consider voting for the BNP this time, although the actual figure will probably stay below ten percent.

That’s still a horrific number. And mostly it seems to be traditional Labour supporters in traditional Labour areas that are contemplating to give their vote to the BNP. Less, I would guess, because they wholehearthedl support all in its program, and more in order to send a signal on these issues to Downing Street.

Great Britain is among the most open and tolerant European societies. London is the most global city of Europe. The diversity has been an enormous advantage to the development of the British economy and society.

Among wide sectors of British society this is both recognized and appreciated. Not the least the urban middle class has appreciated ”its curries, carnivals, Ukrainian nannies, Bosnian cleaners and cut-price Polish plumbers.

And still there is the risk of a serious backlash in the local elections. Primarily in the rural areas or in the formerly solid working-class areas.

It’s still not there, and hopefully the debate that the opinion polls have generated can reduce BNP support down to more marginal levels.

But it is a warning sign.

Our open world and our open societies can never be taken for granted. Their values must constantly be defended and anchored in every sector of our societies.

Dialogue in London

20 april 2006

It wasn’t long in Stockholm. Now I’m off to London for two days of informal European – US discussions on different political issues.

These meetings twice a year have been going on for some time, and in their informality have developed into one of the premier informal foras of this sort. It’s not the only one – but it’s the best.

It brings together some of the key policyshapers from the administrations in Washington, Brussels, Berlin, London and Paris with more independent voices and thinkers.

On the agenda?

Well, energy security, Russia, non-proliferation and developments in the broader Middle East.

How to handle the challenge of Iran will obviously hover over many of the discussions.

That will keep us going until Friday afternoon. And then I’m back to Stockholm again.

Hu Comes to Town

19 april 2006

Finally back in Stockholm after a week in Washington and Baltimore.

But tomorrow will be important over there as Chinese President Hu Jintao arrives in Washington on a visit of some importance.

It’s not the great drama around these visits that it used to be. Meetings with the President of China are fairly common occurences these days. It wasn’t long since President Bush was in Beijing.

Nevertheless it looks as if a minor diplomatic battle has been going on concerning the formal nature of this visit. The Chinese wants it to be a ”state visit”, but the Americans insist it’s only an ”official visit”.

But as a compromise President Hu will be given a 21-gun salute when he arerives aty the White House – although no state dinner.

It’s primarily in the monetary and trade field that the visit will be important.

During the decades of the cold war, relations between the United States and the Soviet Union was based on the mutual fear of total physical destruction. Both had the capability to totally destroyed the other within, say, 30 minutes.

With China it’s obviously different. Here there is the fear of mutual financial destruction that comes into the picture. It’s perhaps not the ability to destroy the other, but at the least to make substantial harm.

The prevailing view here in the US is that the Chinese policy of keeping its currency at a fixed exchange rate with the dollar is doing serious harm to the US economy. The theory is that it keeps the currency undervalued, thus making Chinese exports to the US even more competitive than they otherwise would have been.

In the prevailing semi-protectionist mood in the US, that has political consequences. There is strong pressure on the President Hu to announce some increase in the very limited exchange rate flexibility, but real expectations that he will bow to US pressure on this point are low.

If the results of the meeting are seen to be too limited, there is a risk that this will trigger different US countermoves. This might not be driven by the White House, but by a Congress where the November election prospects are starting to dominate everything.

And if this were to happen, there is a very real risk of a trade war between the United States and China with potentially very serious consequences for the ongoing Doha global trade talks as well as the overall sentiments on the free trade issues.

President Hu is primarily concerned with his domestic agenda of stability, in a way not too dissimilar to the preoccupation with his domestic agenda that President Bush has at the moment.

One would hope that they would both raise over these agendas and see the responsibility they share for not starting a circle of actions that might descend into a trade war with very negativa consequences.

We should wish them good luck in those efforts.

Does Russia Belong?

18 april 2006

Andrei Illiaronov is no longer the adviser of President Putin of Russia.

But that does not mean that he is not worth listening to. On the contrary, he speaks with a certain background in terms of experience and information.

For years he was the person representing Russia in the preparations for the different G8 meetings. Now, he’s questioning whether the Russia he sees emerging really belongs to this club.

Since 2005, Russia has ceased to be a politically free country. According to Freedom House’s index of political rights, Russia is 168th out of 192 countries. Transparency International’s corruption index places Russia at 126 out of 159 countries.”

That’s the result of the Putin regime policies during the last few years.

It’s really not an argument for expelling Russia from the G8, as is advocated by some in the debate here in the United States. We need to be engaged with Russia over a broad range of different issues.

But we should be critically engaged.

And it’s wise to listen to the words of Andrei Illiaronov on what’s happening in the country.

Late – But First!

17 april 2006

 It took a long time for the lead boat in the Volvo Ocean Race to get out of the weak winds and make the finish into Baltimore harbour.

But ABN Amro One did it – after sailing for nearly three weeks from Rio de Janeiro.

A good boat and an excellent crew I was told by Swedes there awaiting the arrival of the Ericsson boat.

That boat is still out there on Chesapeake Bay, and will have to try to sail through the night.

Sevel o’clock tomorrow morning is when it is presently expected to cross the finishing line.

But sailing remains an uncertain business. Posted by Picasa

Around the World to Baltimore

17 april 2006

Arriving in Baltimore for different things one suddenly finds that arriving here starting today are also the six ocean racing boats of the Volvo Ocean Race.

I’m here for a meeting of the board of Baltimore-based financial firm Legg Mason.

Its headquarters building towers over the attractive inner harbour area.

Racing up the Chesapeake Bay towards Baltimore harbour are the boats completing their two-week run from Rio de Janeiro in Brazil.

They have been going from Vigo in Spain via Cape Town in South Africa, Melbourne in Austrialia and Rio de Janeiro for six months by now.

At the time of writing this, winds have died away out in the bay, and the lead boat ABN Amro One is struggling a couple of miles from the finishing line, making the occasional knot and most probably hoping that the wind problem has affected those coming after it as well.

On present trends, ABN Amro One probaby has another hour or so before it appears in the inner harbour, meeting the champagne and the crowds.

It’s a big PR event for Swedish business as well. Both Volvo – well, nowadays of course a part of Ford Motor Corporation – and Ericsson have put up exhibition buildings in the harbour.

Volvo sponsors the entire event – it will end up Gothenburg in mid-June – while Ericssons sponsors a boat. That the boat seems to be trailing all others at the moment is a regrettable fact, but doesn’t really impact on the value of the sponsoring.

And it’s a big event for the entire area of Baltimore and Annapolis.

Expectations are that there will come more than half a million visitors during the three weeks the boats will spend here, spending perhaps 50 million dollars to benefit the local economy.

But right now, we are awaiting the winner on this leg…

Nuclear Salvation?

17 april 2006

With concern over the increasing emissions of CO2 into the atmosphere increasing fast, there is a rise in the interest in the use of nuclear power.

In the Sunday edition of Washington Post, one of the co-founders of Greenpeace Patrick Moore describes his reluctant conversion to the need for a rapid expansion of nuclear power both in the United States and elsewhere.

When the emissions of the US are discussed it is often the use of cars that is in focus. And often cars consuming more gas than in many other parts of the world.

But it is often forgotten how important coal for power production is in the US. And it’s here that nuclear power can make a very major contribution in the years ahead.

As Patrick Moore writes:

More than 600 coal-fired electric plants in the United States produce 36 percent of U.S. emissions — or nearly 10 percent of global emissions — of CO2, the primary greenhouse gas responsible for climate change. Nuclear energy is the only large-scale, cost-effective energy source that can reduce these emissions while continuing to satisfy a growing demand for power. And these days it can do so safely.

Nuclear power is already making its contribution towards the reduction of CO2 emissions, but of course much more could be done:

The 103 nuclear plants operating in the United States effectively avoid the release of 700 million tons of CO2emissions annually — the equivalent of the exhaust from more than 100 million automobiles. Imagine if the ratio of coal to nuclear were reversed so that only 20 percent of our electricity was generated from coal and 60 percent from nuclear. This would go a long way toward cleaning the air and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Every responsible environmentalist should support a move in that direction.

The same logic of course applies in many other parts of the world.

China and India are two important examples. Both are now planning a major expansion of nuclear power.

Russia is obviously another. Also here there is a new discussion on the nuclear option for power production.

And then there is Western Europe.

The discussion will intensify in the years ahead.

In the meantime, Patrick Moore’s article is worth reading. He seek to make a balance sheet out of the pluses and the minuses.

But arrives at a distinct plus.

The Immigrant Nation

15 april 2006

 Apart from the debate in the media about the generals rebelling against Rumsfeld, I guess it’s immigration that is the big issue preoccupying the American nation at the moment.

Hardly original. In the one way or the other, the issue is one of those defining politics in many democracies these days.

America is a nation of immigrants. They came on the Mayflower or on Kalmar Nyckel, conquered the land and gradually made it theirs. Fleeing poverty and persecution in Europe, but deeply inspired by its ideals and visions, they built their own unique state.

And although there have been periods of very restrictive immigrant policies, it’s still immigration that defines the nation.

That makes the debate about the between 8 and 15 million illegal immigrants that are to be found in the country today even more difficult.

For all practical purposes we are talking about Mexicans – although when arrived in the US they are normally included in the broader category of Hispanics. They are coming across the long border seeking jobs, doing the things most other people don’t, in many cases working hard and sending money back home to support their families.

They are part of a larger story of demographic change in this country. Numbering over 40 millions today, Hispanics are growing by more than 1,5 million annually, from both the continuing immigration and higher birth rate.

If current demographic trends continue, nearly 1 in 4 US resident will be Hispanic, or of Hispanic ancestry, by 2030 – just a generation hence – up from 1 in 7 in 2000.

It’s a big change. And the immigration debate is part of the debate sbout that change in the character of the nation.

The influx of often illegal immigrants is creating strains all over the country. And now the Senate and the House of Representatives is trying to regulate the entire thing.

To throw all that have arrived illegaly out of the country simply isn’t feasible. In addition, the US economy can’t really do without them. California and Texas – to mention just two examples – would just cease to function.

So there will have to be some sort of amnesty, although that word evokes strong passions. An amnesty – or arrangement – that could perhaps pave the way for them eventually even becoming citizens of the US.

But demands are strong that this is combined with a much harsher border regimes, perhaps even the building of a wall along most of the border with Mexico.

But, as a businessman put it to me, in order to build such a wall there would be the need to import many more illegal workers. There simply aren’t the workers available in the US today.

Remember – this is a booming economy.

And the fact of the matter is that nothing can seal that long border. The one way or the other the United States must live with its character as an immigrant nation, attracting those that want to seek a better life.

I think it is a fair guess that there will be no clean-cut solution coming out of the Congress.

With elections coming up, and the issue being a very emotional one, we are likely to see something that its propents say will solve everything although everyone will know that it probably sorts out very little.

Meanwhile, the discussion will go on.

Over breakfast with a blueberry muffin in the sun at Starbucks in Pentagon City.

Or wherever people meet and have the time. Posted by Picasa

Future in Palazzo Chigi

14 april 2006

Slowly, it looks as if it will be Romano Prodi moving into Palazzo Chigi in Rome. But it will take its time – late May seems to be the earliest possibility as things stand now.

But this Prodi government is unlikely to be the answer to the challenges that Italy is facing.

It will be too weak in terms of its support and to divided in terms of its policies. It will approach a caretaker government awaiting… yes, awaiting what?

The last decade has seen a genuine two-party system emerging in Italy, which has made it possible to break the virtual monopoly on power that was exercised by the old-style Christian Democrats for decades.

There is no doubt that this has been healthy for Italian democracy. It stands stronger and more vital today than two decades ago.

But this has come at the price of both of the two coalition alternatives beding dependent on parties on the extreme fringes of the political spectrum.

The old-style Communists have handicapped the centre-left, and the populist Lega Nord in the same way the centre-left.

After a time of Prodi government it might be time for Italy to move beyond the Berlusconi- and Prodi-coalitions and look at the possibilities of getting rid of the extremes and concentrating on true reforms.

In theory, the Forza Italia and the moderate centre-left ought to be able to get together around a reform program. If the moderate centre-left of Margerita would be willing to enter a coalition with Forza Italia, UDC and Alianza Nationale that would be a clear majority. Or if Alianza Nationale is excluded and the Democratic Socialists are included.

Indeed, Berlusconi after the election called for a German-type big coalition, although probably more in order to save himself than for anything else.

It did, however, open a mental door to the future.

The next year or so will show if there is a possibility of sufficiently credible and strong Italian politicians being willing to walk through that door.

It would be good if it happened before an economic crisis makes it necessary anyhow.

Rebellion and Rumsfeld

14 april 2006

One of the big stories around Washington these days is the on-going semi-rebellion by military commanders against Donald Rumsfeld.

The last few days have seen six generals of different sorts – all recently in retirement – coming out and asking for his replacement. All have been actively involved in the Iraq war the one way or the other.

Their criticism has been augmented by recent books giving more detailed descriptions on the run-up to the war. In focus are the obvious attempt by Rumsfeld and his close environment to severely limit the number of forces involved in the war.

In combination with the near-total absence of planning for what is referred to as Phase IV – what happens after the war – this paved the way for the chaos immediately after the fall of Saddam and many of the difficulties one has been struggling with in Iraq ever since.

There is no doubt whatsoever that this criticism against Donald Rumsfeld is highly justified.

But at the same time it is difficult not to feel slightly uneasy over military commanders criticizing the political leadership for involving themselves in their decisions.

The use of force in international relations is a supremely political affair. It’s certainly not something that can be left to military logic alone. In that sense, the Secretary of Defense should have all the rights in the world to ”interfere” in decision-making.

And in the US system it is in fact the President who is the ultimate commander of the armed forces. The command line goes from the President to what used to be called the CINC – Commander in Chief – of one of the regional commands, in this particular case the Central Command in Tampa, Florida.

But there is a myth in the US that war is something best left to the generals. President Bush has said time after time that he will support what the military commanders say. That’s in line with the political culture.

Donald Rumsfeld has, however, been operating according to another principle. He hasn’t really thrusted the generals.

In principle, I believe that the basic attitude of Rumsfeld towards political responsibility for the use of force in international relations has been the right one.

But in practise, he has been using this authority to take decisions that were obviously seriously wrong.

So the generals are right in practise but wrong in principle. And Rumsfeld the other way around.

Grim Days Ahead?

13 april 2006

As the Iran debate continues to heat up, there is a tendency to forget that also Iraq is entering a critical period.

It has been decided to convene the Iraqi parliament on Monday to see if there is any way of forming a government. The election, widely portrayed as an important step in the evolution of the country, was held December 15, but since then there has been a complete blockage of attempts to move forward.

Whether things can be brought forward next week or not remains to be seen. But even if they are, there are massive political issues ahead, as I have been writing about numerous times here.

One of the most knowledgable observers of the scene is undoubtedly Anthony Cordesmann of the CSIS here in Washington.

I take the liberty of quoting from one of his latest notes on the subject:

Bad as the present political uncertainties are in Iraq, they can only be the prelude to an even worse set of divisive debates and issues. The creation of a new government can only make the official opening of Pandora’s box.

Whatever happens to Jafaari, it will not bring political unity to Iraq. Better leaders are clearly available. Jafaari was broadly recognized as a failure in his last government, not just for his politics but for his inability to govern or bring political progress. His current survival is not a product of democracy, but rather the result of the fact Sadr was bribed with 30 seats to stay in the Shi’ite coalition, and could bully and threaten his way into forcing Jafaari on the Shi’ite coalition.

The problem now is the one leader with something approaching a proven track record, Mahdi, may be excluded because Sadr will not accept him. This means that either the negotiations drag on or an unproven prime minister is chosen as a compromise popular with no one. Good leaders are hard to find in any nation, and compromises on an unproven figure depend on sheer luck for success.

It is nice to tout elections as progress, but the current political impasse in Iraq is a warning that democracy requires experienced leaders willing to compromise and give up power, political parties that stand for unity and not division, a political structure that can bring unity and progress, and governance and a rule of law that protect all the members of a political structure.

Regardless of what happens, an election that voted to divide the nation into Shi’ite, Sunni, and Kurd has been followed by months of divisive ethnic and sectarian bargaining. The tensions in the Shi’ite camp threaten its unity and to push part of the Shi’ites towards separatism and reprisals against the Sunnis (and other Shi’ites).

At best, it will be 30 more days before a new government is in place and the old one has been a partial lame duck since the campaigning for the constitution in September. A new round of divisive fighting must still take place over control of the Finance, Oil, Defense, Interior and other Ministries. A fight over the spoils for a host of lower level positions must also be fought and won.

Once this happens, the Iraqi political calendar calls for a four month debate over clarifying the constitution. This means divisive debates over ”federalism” and separation of various provinces into federal entities, control of oil development and funds, national versus local authority, the level of Kurdish autonomy, taxes and state revenues, the role of religion in government and the law, control over the various aspects of the security structure, the status of militias, and virtually every other hot button issue.

If this effort to revise the constitution does produce a compromise the Assembly accepts, a new referendum must follow 60 days later. Iraqis must vote on how to divide or unify after at least five more months of sectarian and ethnic tension and conflict driven by a Sunni religious extremist insurgency seeking paralysis and civil war, Kurds seeking expanded control over Kirkuk and oil, and Shi’ites that mix their own extremism with militias and death squads.

This is a recipe for at least seven more months of constant debate and political division, power struggles and political jockeying, and raising issues the insurgency and hard-line Shi’ites and Kurdish nationalists can exploit.

If the process fails, the country divides further or moves towards civil war. If the process succeeds, no one can predict on what basis a new structure of Iraqi government will emerge. If a referendum does approve a revised constitution, it will take six more months to a year to put the process approved in the referendum in place.

None of this is necessarily a recipe for failure. Forging a new balance of power and political structure is never pretty, efficient, or without tension and the risk of failure. It is a warning, however, that democracy alone does not bring peace, progress, or effective government. It can simply mark a vote for division and paralysis.

It is the nature and quality of governance that counts, and it is all too clear that it will be well into 2007 at the earliest before Iraqis know what kind of government they are really going to have. Put simply, even when a new government finally does emerge, it will at best be the start of a bitter and divisive ”tipping year.” More realistically, it will take at least several years to fully define any workable national political compromise and the end result may well be a decade of occasional crises and instability.”

It’s worth noting that these issues should be handled at the same time as the Iranian issues must.

With – as I have written earlier – a more than 50% probability of a break-up of Iraq and also a more than 50% probability of conflict with Iran the prospects for the region are beginning to look disyinctly grim.