Commentary Magazine


Topic: Sergei Lavrov

What Russia Gets Out of the Syria Deal

One way to tell how abrupt and unexpected was the change in plans toward Syria is the fact that no one seems completely sure who gets credit for the idea of having Bashar al-Assad give up his chemical weapons. It is being pitched as the Russian proposal, which is true enough. But it’s also true that the idea seemed to have been sparked by Secretary of State John Kerry at a press conference yesterday. Then again it is also true that no one expected Kerry to say that, least of all the president.

In fact, President Obama was pushing for military action yesterday as the administration sent out key players to make the case publicly. Susan Rice, the national security advisor, gave a major speech justifying the administration’s plans. Harry Reid, the Democratic Senate majority leader, compared Syria to Nazi Germany. He’ll now have to temper that indictment ever so slightly, one suspects. The New York Times attempts to reconcile this discrepancy by crediting both the Russians and Kerry. The Times describes Russia as leading this diplomatic initiative, but buried in the story is this acknowledgement of its provenance:

Mr. Kerry returned to Washington on Monday after first raising the idea in a dismissive way in London on Monday, making clear that the idea of Mr. Assad giving up Syria’s weapons seemed improbable.

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One way to tell how abrupt and unexpected was the change in plans toward Syria is the fact that no one seems completely sure who gets credit for the idea of having Bashar al-Assad give up his chemical weapons. It is being pitched as the Russian proposal, which is true enough. But it’s also true that the idea seemed to have been sparked by Secretary of State John Kerry at a press conference yesterday. Then again it is also true that no one expected Kerry to say that, least of all the president.

In fact, President Obama was pushing for military action yesterday as the administration sent out key players to make the case publicly. Susan Rice, the national security advisor, gave a major speech justifying the administration’s plans. Harry Reid, the Democratic Senate majority leader, compared Syria to Nazi Germany. He’ll now have to temper that indictment ever so slightly, one suspects. The New York Times attempts to reconcile this discrepancy by crediting both the Russians and Kerry. The Times describes Russia as leading this diplomatic initiative, but buried in the story is this acknowledgement of its provenance:

Mr. Kerry returned to Washington on Monday after first raising the idea in a dismissive way in London on Monday, making clear that the idea of Mr. Assad giving up Syria’s weapons seemed improbable.

I doubt this will get much pushback from the Obama administration. If the effort to secure Syria’s chemical weapons succeeds, the administration can credit diplomacy while playing up Kerry’s role. If the effort fails, the White House can recall that everyone knew Kerry didn’t mean for it to be a serious proposal anyway.

That raises another question: the consensus is that since the president had no idea this was coming the Russians are “saving” him from congressional defeat; why would they do so? The answer seems to be that they have nothing to lose one way or the other. This isn’t regime change; in fact it leans against it for the time being. It’s unclear exactly what the plan will be, as Max noted this morning, but it would depend heavily on Russian cooperation and at least partially on cooperation with Assad. The Russian government, then, looks like a bunch of geniuses who simultaneously prevented the expansion of war in Syria while keeping their preferred Syrian client in office, all the while banking some American goodwill.

What about the role of a credible threat of force? As the votes line up against it and Kerry insists any strike, even if authorized, would be modest and telegraphed, there hasn’t been much of a threat and it certainly hasn’t been credible. Are the Russians actually increasing the chances of a strike by giving the administration an excuse to argue that all other options have failed? Perhaps, but the mere scent of a diplomatic solution–likely to be drawn out–inspired relief in both parties’ congressional delegations as public support for such a strike continued to drop.

In the interim, Assad will have time to solidify his recent gains against the rebels and the Russians can continue to help Assad stack the deck. It’s worth pointing out that the Russian government is flatly opposed to removing Assad if it means he is replaced by his current opposition. As Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, whose stock is surely on the rise this week, told Foreign Policy for an interview published in late April:

Military solution can have only two options: The government wins, or the opposition wins. If the opposition wins on the ground militarily, I am afraid the people who have been selected for this national coalition, the people who compose the Syrian National Council, they will not be invited to Syria because the people with the guns, the extremists, would have the day….

So we really have to understand what we are doing when we support one side or another. The people whom the French and the Africans are fighting in Mali now, those are the same people which Europeans supported in Libya. Some of the arms used against the French apparently are the arms the Libyan opposition received from France. So we must take a broader look at the situation. We cannot say, well, Libya is not Syria, Syria is not Mali, Mali is not Tunis, Tunis is not Egypt. This is absolutely true. Each country is different, but the process which is under way in the context of this Arab Spring is certainly a comprehensive issue involving so many aspects that we cannot afford the luxury of just limiting ourselves at every given moment by a situation in country X, forgetting about the ramifications.

Lavrov’s position is that the West would regret Assad’s fall, and that recent history is sufficient to justify Russia’s decision that it will not let the West make its own “mistakes” anymore. This is different from the concern that the Putin regime opposes military action in Syria because it believes it was snookered into regime change in Libya and cannot trust the Obama administration. Lavrov has made it clear this isn’t really about trust; it’s about saving the West from itself and the world from the West.

That is not exactly a ringing endorsement of America’s reputation in the world right now. But as much as the Obama administration has bungled the Syria issue from the beginning, it should be noted that congressional Republicans were happy about this proposed chemical-weapons deal too. Indeed, the Russian support for it probably signaled the end of the possibility of support for military action, at least for the moment, in this Congress. If Obama got played by Putin, so did they.

Throughout this crisis, the administration did not appear to have anything resembling a strategy. Now would be a good time to formulate one.

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The Russians Are Happy with John Kerry

Last week John Kerry went to Moscow to persuade the Russians to play nice with the rest of the international community on Syria. While he would have liked to have them join in the effort to force the Assad regime out of office, his hope was to at least get the authoritarian regime of Vladimir Putin to not further strengthen their Syrian client. The only bone Putin was prepared to throw Kerry was backing a proposal to hold a peace conference on Syria next month. But within a few days, the Russian contempt for the Obama administration and its new secretary of state was made all too clear with the news that they were shipping advanced missiles to Damascus that would be perfectly suited to threaten any Western ships or bases in the region that might resupply the Syrian rebels or enforce a no-fly zone in the country. In other words, the Russians demonstrated that when it comes to Syria, they have more in common with Iran and Hezbollah than the United States.

This ought to have been understood to be a sobering development for the administration that calls into question not just Kerry’s competence but a strategy that envisions leveraging a reset of relations with Russia into progress on Syria as well as dealing with the Iranian nuclear threat. But as the New York Times reports, Kerry is undaunted by the evidence of his failure and is instead concentrating on making friends with Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Lavrov. The result is, as the Times says, a “change in tone” in the relations between the two countries even if it has not actually advanced American interests.

While there is a case to be made for diplomats keeping the lines of communication open, what recent events have shown is that Kerry is not so much keeping the Russians informed of American positions as he has signaled to them that the U.S. is ready to bow to Moscow’s will. The news that, as the Times makes clear, the Russians are well pleased with Kerry ought to set off alarms in Washington.

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Last week John Kerry went to Moscow to persuade the Russians to play nice with the rest of the international community on Syria. While he would have liked to have them join in the effort to force the Assad regime out of office, his hope was to at least get the authoritarian regime of Vladimir Putin to not further strengthen their Syrian client. The only bone Putin was prepared to throw Kerry was backing a proposal to hold a peace conference on Syria next month. But within a few days, the Russian contempt for the Obama administration and its new secretary of state was made all too clear with the news that they were shipping advanced missiles to Damascus that would be perfectly suited to threaten any Western ships or bases in the region that might resupply the Syrian rebels or enforce a no-fly zone in the country. In other words, the Russians demonstrated that when it comes to Syria, they have more in common with Iran and Hezbollah than the United States.

This ought to have been understood to be a sobering development for the administration that calls into question not just Kerry’s competence but a strategy that envisions leveraging a reset of relations with Russia into progress on Syria as well as dealing with the Iranian nuclear threat. But as the New York Times reports, Kerry is undaunted by the evidence of his failure and is instead concentrating on making friends with Russian Foreign Affairs Minister Sergei Lavrov. The result is, as the Times says, a “change in tone” in the relations between the two countries even if it has not actually advanced American interests.

While there is a case to be made for diplomats keeping the lines of communication open, what recent events have shown is that Kerry is not so much keeping the Russians informed of American positions as he has signaled to them that the U.S. is ready to bow to Moscow’s will. The news that, as the Times makes clear, the Russians are well pleased with Kerry ought to set off alarms in Washington.

The premise of the Times feature is quite clear. While Kerry’s predecessor Hillary Clinton worked hard to butter up the Russians and get them to play ball, Putin and his minions were displeased by her occasional willingness to speak up about human rights violations as well as her assertive statements about Iran and Syria. But in Kerry Moscow has found its perfect American secretary of state: a man willing to both appease them on policy as well as one determined not to offend their sensibilities. As the Times notes, Putin and Lavrov like Kerry a lot more than they did Clinton, let alone her predecessor Condoleezza Rice.

Lavrov appears to have Kerry’s number. It is hardly surprising that Kerry, who once embraced Assad as a moderate, would turn out to be a spineless secretary of state on this front. Sweet-talking the secretary and appealing to his delusions about his diplomatic skill have enabled them to double down on their efforts to strengthen Assad without incurring much American outrage. Kerry is so happy with the idea of a conference where he can play Metternich that he doesn’t seem to have noticed that the plans for this conclave are serving to delay any American action to punish Assad for crossing President Obama’s red lines about the use of chemical weapons. And Assad is using the time the Russians have helped buy him well, as his forces have gained considerable ground in recent weeks making it more likely than ever that Obama and Kerry’s predictions about his fall were wrong.

Yet Kerry seems satisfied by what, as one source told the Times, is his rapport with Lavrov. We are told the two have bonded over “their mutual love for hockey and the grace of the older school style.”

But the main result of all this schmoozing is the stark fact that the bottom line here is that the United States has buckled under to Moscow:

Mikhail V. Margelov, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the upper chamber of the Russian Parliament, said that Russia’s position on Syria had been consistent and that Mr. Kerry had finally accepted it.

John Kerry isn’t the first American to be taken to the cleaners by the Russians, but it’s doubtful that any of his predecessors were fleeced so effortlessly. 

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How Invested Is Russia in Assad’s Survival?

Early on in the uprising against Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, the emerging consensus on Russia’s efforts to stall Western intervention–even with so much as a sternly worded Security Council resolution–was that Vladimir Putin’s interests could be addressed. He wanted, according to observers, guarantees Russia’s navy would not be expelled from its access to the Syrian port of Tartus and to have a say in Assad’s replacement.

These suggestions were probably true at the time, and may even remain as elements of the Kremlin’s Syria strategy. But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov seems to have upped the ante, and offered Russia’s clearest declaration yet that it is protecting not just its own interests–which could be granted by the West through negotiations–but Assad himself. The New York Times reports:

Mr. Lavrov, who has strongly defended Russia’s support for Syria’s government but has been increasingly critical of Mr. Assad’s behavior, said during a visit to Azerbaijan on Wednesday that he must comply with the cease-fire plan. But he also admonished the so-called “Friends of Syria” group of anti-Assad countries, which met in Turkey with exile Syrian opposition groups this past weekend, not to provide weapons to rebel combatants, as some of those countries have suggested.

“Even if the Syrian opposition were armed to the teeth, it would not be able to beat the government’s forces,” Mr. Lavrov said in remarks carried by Russian news agencies.

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Early on in the uprising against Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, the emerging consensus on Russia’s efforts to stall Western intervention–even with so much as a sternly worded Security Council resolution–was that Vladimir Putin’s interests could be addressed. He wanted, according to observers, guarantees Russia’s navy would not be expelled from its access to the Syrian port of Tartus and to have a say in Assad’s replacement.

These suggestions were probably true at the time, and may even remain as elements of the Kremlin’s Syria strategy. But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov seems to have upped the ante, and offered Russia’s clearest declaration yet that it is protecting not just its own interests–which could be granted by the West through negotiations–but Assad himself. The New York Times reports:

Mr. Lavrov, who has strongly defended Russia’s support for Syria’s government but has been increasingly critical of Mr. Assad’s behavior, said during a visit to Azerbaijan on Wednesday that he must comply with the cease-fire plan. But he also admonished the so-called “Friends of Syria” group of anti-Assad countries, which met in Turkey with exile Syrian opposition groups this past weekend, not to provide weapons to rebel combatants, as some of those countries have suggested.

“Even if the Syrian opposition were armed to the teeth, it would not be able to beat the government’s forces,” Mr. Lavrov said in remarks carried by Russian news agencies.

What Russia wants, first and foremost, is an end to the uprising. If Assad were on the edge, Russia would probably consider pushing him over in exchange for a continued presence at Tartus and confirmation that its economic interests in Syria would remain in place post-Assad. But in classic “strong horse” fashion, Russia is volubly siding with Assad because it increasingly looks as though he has regained the upper hand–or at least that the odds are in his favor.

Admonishing the West and the Arab world that Assad cannot be defeated militarily, even with outside help, is also Russia’s way of suggesting they will not stop arming Assad’s forces, something the State Department has been criticizing for quite some time now.

Russia continues to be the linchpin of the Assad regime’s fight for survival. If Western diplomacy has been premised on the idea that Russia is willing to let Assad fall, it’s time to adjust the calculus.

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Re: Obama’s Revealing Comments to Medvedev

To add to Pete’s post on President Obama’s revealing exchange with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, it should be noted that we now have two such incidents from the president. His first saw him insulting Benjamin Netanyahu with his French counterpart when he thought the microphones were off. In this regard, Obama fares quite poorly when compared with his predecessor, George W. Bush.

Bush had a memorable hot-mic moment during his presidency. It occurred as the Second Lebanon War raged on and the international community was hoping for a cease-fire. Bush was talking to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, both of whom suggested, while they thought their microphones were off, that they didn’t much like UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s plan for a cease-fire, as it would not actually solve anything. Bush said to Blair:

The irony is, what they really need to do is to get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this sh–, and it’s over.

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To add to Pete’s post on President Obama’s revealing exchange with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, it should be noted that we now have two such incidents from the president. His first saw him insulting Benjamin Netanyahu with his French counterpart when he thought the microphones were off. In this regard, Obama fares quite poorly when compared with his predecessor, George W. Bush.

Bush had a memorable hot-mic moment during his presidency. It occurred as the Second Lebanon War raged on and the international community was hoping for a cease-fire. Bush was talking to British Prime Minister Tony Blair, both of whom suggested, while they thought their microphones were off, that they didn’t much like UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s plan for a cease-fire, as it would not actually solve anything. Bush said to Blair:

The irony is, what they really need to do is to get Syria to get Hezbollah to stop doing this sh–, and it’s over.

He was, of course, correct. But the point is that when the microphones were off, Bush was–to no one’s surprise–just as supportive of our allies and as tough on our adversaries as he was in public. These moments might seem insignificant, but they reveal why some presidents are able to win the trust of our allies, and others are not. Our most candid moments will always play an outsized role in others’ approximations of our moral compass. This is even more so when they confirm a pattern of behavior.

I don’t remember if Bush had any hot-mic incidents with his Russian counterpart, but Condoleezza Rice had a famous one with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in 2006. The two were arguing about Russia’s lack of support for the American-led aid effort in Iraq. Here is the UK Telegraph’s writeup of the exchange:

Mr Lavrov tried to explain that the international community should not become involved in Iraq’s political process – something that Miss Rice opposes – but should be involved “in support of the political process.”

“What does that mean?” Miss Rice demanded.

After a long pause, Mr Lavrov replied with a sneer: “I think you understand.”

“No, I don’t,” she shot back. As Mr Lavrov refused to lend Russian support to the new aid programme, Miss Rice grew increasingly irritated.

“I just want to register that I think it’s a pity that we can’t endorse something that’s been endorsed by the Iraqis and by the UN,” she said. “But if that’s how Russia sees it, that’s fine.”

The article notes that the other foreign ministers barely spoke at all during the exchange. That’s because they usually rely on the Americans to register the West’s disapproval of Russia’s mischief making.

Well, they used to.

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Georgian Prime Minister: New START Will Help Make Russia ‘More Civilized’

As President Obama prepared to sign the final paperwork for New START today,  Georgian Prime Minister Nikoloz Gilauri publicly praised the treaty and the U.S.-Russia reset at a breakfast with reporters.

“Whatever makes Russia more civilized, we’ll be happy to see,” said Gilauri. “And I think this move by President Obama was to make Russia more civilized.”

The prime minister also seemed satisfied with the small victories Georgia has achieved so far. For example, he noted that, despite the reset, President Obama has voiced his disapproval of the Russian occupation of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

“The whole world right now admits that the Russian forces in Georgia are occupying forces,” he said. “And occupation cannot last long.”

Some foreign-policy experts have been critical of the U.S.’s position on Russia’s occupation of Georgia, saying that the Obama administration has offered lip service and little else.

“Beyond symbolism and semantics … the change does not seem to reflect any pro-active U.S. policy to reverse Russia’s conquests,” Jamestown Foundation senior fellow Vladimir Socor wrote in the Eurasia Daily Monitor last summer, in reference to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of the term “occupation” to describe the situation in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

But Georgia’s praise of New START and the reset shows that the country is eager to do what it can to prove itself a reliable ally of the U.S. — in contrast to its unpredictable neighbor.

“We feel like the leaders of democracy and western values in that part of the world,” said Gilauri.

New START is expected to take effect on Feb. 5, when Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov exchange ratification documents at a security conference in Munich.

As President Obama prepared to sign the final paperwork for New START today,  Georgian Prime Minister Nikoloz Gilauri publicly praised the treaty and the U.S.-Russia reset at a breakfast with reporters.

“Whatever makes Russia more civilized, we’ll be happy to see,” said Gilauri. “And I think this move by President Obama was to make Russia more civilized.”

The prime minister also seemed satisfied with the small victories Georgia has achieved so far. For example, he noted that, despite the reset, President Obama has voiced his disapproval of the Russian occupation of South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

“The whole world right now admits that the Russian forces in Georgia are occupying forces,” he said. “And occupation cannot last long.”

Some foreign-policy experts have been critical of the U.S.’s position on Russia’s occupation of Georgia, saying that the Obama administration has offered lip service and little else.

“Beyond symbolism and semantics … the change does not seem to reflect any pro-active U.S. policy to reverse Russia’s conquests,” Jamestown Foundation senior fellow Vladimir Socor wrote in the Eurasia Daily Monitor last summer, in reference to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s use of the term “occupation” to describe the situation in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

But Georgia’s praise of New START and the reset shows that the country is eager to do what it can to prove itself a reliable ally of the U.S. — in contrast to its unpredictable neighbor.

“We feel like the leaders of democracy and western values in that part of the world,” said Gilauri.

New START is expected to take effect on Feb. 5, when Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov exchange ratification documents at a security conference in Munich.

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Welcome Back, MAD

The New START treaty signed today does what critics have feared: it gives Russia an out should it conclude that any evolving situation is destabilized by America’s missile defenses, and it prohibits the U.S. from expanding our missile-defense capability by converting decommissioned ICBM silos in North America.

The language in the ninth paragraph of the treaty preamble gives the Russians whatever latitude they choose to object to U.S. missile defenses:

Recognizing the existence of the interrelationship between strategic offensive arms and strategic defensive arms, that this interrelationship will become more important as strategic nuclear arms are reduced, and that current strategic defensive arms do not undermine the viability and effectiveness of the strategic offensive arms of the Parties.

As Keith B. Payne points out in the Wall Street Journal, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has already clarified the Russian interpretation of this passage:

[Lavrov] stated at a press conference in Moscow on March 26 that “The treaty is signed against the backdrop of particular levels of strategic defensive systems. A change of these levels will give each side the right to consider its further participation in the reduction of strategic offensive armaments.”

Meanwhile, Paragraph 3 of Article V, on page 10, specifically prohibits either side from converting ballistic-missile launchers (including silos) to missile-defense launchers. There was no valid reason to accept this unconscionable restraint on our national defense: a limitation that will bind us while the treaty is in effect no matter where threats may emerge.

Obama’s September 2009 cancellation of the Bush missile-defense deployment in Europe has already shown us how he reacts when Russia objects to U.S. missile-defense plans. Moreover, last fall’s decision was made without any implied threat of Russia’s opting out of its arms treaties. Now that such a threat hovers expressly over Moscow’s commitment to the New START treaty, it seems unlikely we can expect more backbone in Obama’s missile-defense posture.

This passage from the Obama Nuclear Posture Review (page 16) is certainly suggestive about our prospects:

A strategic dialogue with Russia will allow the United States to explain that our missile defenses and any future U.S. conventionally-armed long-range ballistic missile systems are designed to address newly emerging regional threats, and are not intended to affect the strategic balance with Russia.

But the premise of this is false. An effective missile defense is, in fact, intended to affect the strategic balance, not just with Russia but also with any other nuclear power. The purpose of missile defense is precisely to obviate the old calculations of Mutual Assured Destruction. This was the reason George W. Bush withdrew from the ABM treaty in 2002 and divorced the negotiation of the Moscow SORT treaty from any haggling over missile defense. His intent was to predicate our security and that of our allies on defense, not on the mutual hostage situation — what we used to call the “balance of terror” — inherent in MAD.

Russian leaders have repeatedly rejected America’s offers to cooperate and share technology for strategic missile defenses. They have remained determined instead to hold American and allied populations at risk as the guarantee of Russian security. With the New START treaty, they have prevailed on that point, placing America’s missile-defense program under limitations both implicit and explicit. Obama is effectively returning us to the MAD regime.

The New START treaty signed today does what critics have feared: it gives Russia an out should it conclude that any evolving situation is destabilized by America’s missile defenses, and it prohibits the U.S. from expanding our missile-defense capability by converting decommissioned ICBM silos in North America.

The language in the ninth paragraph of the treaty preamble gives the Russians whatever latitude they choose to object to U.S. missile defenses:

Recognizing the existence of the interrelationship between strategic offensive arms and strategic defensive arms, that this interrelationship will become more important as strategic nuclear arms are reduced, and that current strategic defensive arms do not undermine the viability and effectiveness of the strategic offensive arms of the Parties.

As Keith B. Payne points out in the Wall Street Journal, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has already clarified the Russian interpretation of this passage:

[Lavrov] stated at a press conference in Moscow on March 26 that “The treaty is signed against the backdrop of particular levels of strategic defensive systems. A change of these levels will give each side the right to consider its further participation in the reduction of strategic offensive armaments.”

Meanwhile, Paragraph 3 of Article V, on page 10, specifically prohibits either side from converting ballistic-missile launchers (including silos) to missile-defense launchers. There was no valid reason to accept this unconscionable restraint on our national defense: a limitation that will bind us while the treaty is in effect no matter where threats may emerge.

Obama’s September 2009 cancellation of the Bush missile-defense deployment in Europe has already shown us how he reacts when Russia objects to U.S. missile-defense plans. Moreover, last fall’s decision was made without any implied threat of Russia’s opting out of its arms treaties. Now that such a threat hovers expressly over Moscow’s commitment to the New START treaty, it seems unlikely we can expect more backbone in Obama’s missile-defense posture.

This passage from the Obama Nuclear Posture Review (page 16) is certainly suggestive about our prospects:

A strategic dialogue with Russia will allow the United States to explain that our missile defenses and any future U.S. conventionally-armed long-range ballistic missile systems are designed to address newly emerging regional threats, and are not intended to affect the strategic balance with Russia.

But the premise of this is false. An effective missile defense is, in fact, intended to affect the strategic balance, not just with Russia but also with any other nuclear power. The purpose of missile defense is precisely to obviate the old calculations of Mutual Assured Destruction. This was the reason George W. Bush withdrew from the ABM treaty in 2002 and divorced the negotiation of the Moscow SORT treaty from any haggling over missile defense. His intent was to predicate our security and that of our allies on defense, not on the mutual hostage situation — what we used to call the “balance of terror” — inherent in MAD.

Russian leaders have repeatedly rejected America’s offers to cooperate and share technology for strategic missile defenses. They have remained determined instead to hold American and allied populations at risk as the guarantee of Russian security. With the New START treaty, they have prevailed on that point, placing America’s missile-defense program under limitations both implicit and explicit. Obama is effectively returning us to the MAD regime.

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Peace in Our Time: Patriots in Poland

As negotiators resume the START talks, Poland’s defense minister announced this week that a Patriot missile battery scheduled for deployment in Poland in 2011 will be placed in the northeastern town of Morag. This will put the Patriots near Russia’s Kaliningrad enclave, a strip of land on the Baltic Sea sandwiched between Lithuania and Poland. It also will put U.S. Army troops there to operate the missiles.

Poland says the decision to site the battery in Morag is based on its quality of infrastructure and not on concern about Russia. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says he doesn’t understand the need to “create the impression as if Poland is bracing itself against Russia.” Both are being coy: putting the Patriots in Morag is Warsaw’s response to the huge military exercise in September in which the Russians postulated a Polish attack on Kaliningrad and simulated nuclear-missile launches against Poland.

We need not expect Russia to overreact to this development, for the simple reason that the Patriot battery’s defensive radius is limited. It can’t interfere with Russian ICBMs launched at North America. The area of Europe it can defend is small. These factors make it a proposition different from Bush’s silo-based interceptors. But a Russian military official has already stated that the Patriot deployment will prompt Russia to enlarge its Baltic Sea fleet. That statement was “clarified” only hours later with the explanation that fleet improvements in the Baltic would not be contingent on the status of the Patriots.

These disclosures, which have been trotted out with remarkable efficiency, are directed at the European audience that will be made uneasy by growing Russian power in the Baltic. The Patriot deployment presents an opportunity for Russia to justify ratcheting up its own military presence in the area. Having the battery removed won’t be an urgent objective for Moscow; indeed, the Patriots will serve a purpose for Russian policy as long as they are there.

Russia can’t enlarge its military footprint overnight, but it can have at least some of its forces on a new footing before the end of Obama’s first term. The American soldiers manning the Patriot battery in Morag, meanwhile, will be a very small contingent in a forward location performing a somewhat politically ambiguous function. U.S. officials need to be vigilant and proactive in defining the policy we are pursuing with this Patriot deployment. Eastern Europe, perennially the target of Russian aggression, is already thinking along the lines of General Ferdinand Foch in the months before World War I. When asked by a British counterpart what would be the smallest British military force of practical assistance to France, Foch replied: “A single British soldier — and we will see to it that he is killed.”

As negotiators resume the START talks, Poland’s defense minister announced this week that a Patriot missile battery scheduled for deployment in Poland in 2011 will be placed in the northeastern town of Morag. This will put the Patriots near Russia’s Kaliningrad enclave, a strip of land on the Baltic Sea sandwiched between Lithuania and Poland. It also will put U.S. Army troops there to operate the missiles.

Poland says the decision to site the battery in Morag is based on its quality of infrastructure and not on concern about Russia. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov says he doesn’t understand the need to “create the impression as if Poland is bracing itself against Russia.” Both are being coy: putting the Patriots in Morag is Warsaw’s response to the huge military exercise in September in which the Russians postulated a Polish attack on Kaliningrad and simulated nuclear-missile launches against Poland.

We need not expect Russia to overreact to this development, for the simple reason that the Patriot battery’s defensive radius is limited. It can’t interfere with Russian ICBMs launched at North America. The area of Europe it can defend is small. These factors make it a proposition different from Bush’s silo-based interceptors. But a Russian military official has already stated that the Patriot deployment will prompt Russia to enlarge its Baltic Sea fleet. That statement was “clarified” only hours later with the explanation that fleet improvements in the Baltic would not be contingent on the status of the Patriots.

These disclosures, which have been trotted out with remarkable efficiency, are directed at the European audience that will be made uneasy by growing Russian power in the Baltic. The Patriot deployment presents an opportunity for Russia to justify ratcheting up its own military presence in the area. Having the battery removed won’t be an urgent objective for Moscow; indeed, the Patriots will serve a purpose for Russian policy as long as they are there.

Russia can’t enlarge its military footprint overnight, but it can have at least some of its forces on a new footing before the end of Obama’s first term. The American soldiers manning the Patriot battery in Morag, meanwhile, will be a very small contingent in a forward location performing a somewhat politically ambiguous function. U.S. officials need to be vigilant and proactive in defining the policy we are pursuing with this Patriot deployment. Eastern Europe, perennially the target of Russian aggression, is already thinking along the lines of General Ferdinand Foch in the months before World War I. When asked by a British counterpart what would be the smallest British military force of practical assistance to France, Foch replied: “A single British soldier — and we will see to it that he is killed.”

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Russia to the West: Please Don’t Defend Yourself

Russia and the United States are no closer to agreement on a missile shield for Europe after a high-level meeting in Moscow on Tuesday. “On the matter of principle the positions of our two sides have not changed,” said Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov. There has not been much movement on details either. Serdyukov made his remarks after conferring with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and Russia’s Foreign Minster Sergei Lavrov.

In order to allay Moscow’s concerns, Washington has offered to allow Russian inspection of the Polish and Czech sites for the shield and agreed not to switch on the system until Iran more fully develops its missile-launch capabilities. Moreover, the Washington Post’s Jim Hoagland reported today that Rice and Gates this month delivered to the Kremlin a “Strategic Framework Declaration” offering participation in both existing missile defenses and future development of defensive technology.

The fundamental question is why the Bush administration, at this late date, is still seeking Russian approval of our efforts to defend ourselves. The American plan of ten interceptors to be based in Poland poses no practical threat to Moscow’s 800 missiles. Even with qualitative and quantitative improvements in the American-designed system, there is no possibility that, during the lifetime of any living Russian, interceptors will be able to destroy sufficient number of missiles in flight so as to eliminate the deterrent effect of Moscow’s arsenal.

The Russians can, if they want, convince the West not to deploy any missile defense system in Europe. How? They can cooperate with Washington and Brussels in stopping Iran from developing nuclear weapons. To date, however, the Kremlin’s leaders are intent on helping Tehran build its horrible instruments of destruction while complaining about Washington’s efforts to protect Europe. Russians are building Iran’s first nuclear generating station, supplying the uranium fuel to Tehran, selling air-defense systems to protect Iranian nuclear sites, providing underpinning to the failing Iranian economy, and giving Tehran crucial diplomatic support in the United Nations Security Council and the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

So what is the United States doing in response? On Wednesday, the White House announced that President Bush had accepted a last-minute invitation to go to the Black Sea resort of Sochi to meet with President Vladimir Putin after next week’s NATO summit in Bucharest and his visit to Croatia. The American leader is expected to try to obtain the Kremlin’s cooperation on, among other things, missile defense. “I’m optimistic we can reach accord on very important matters,” Bush said on Wednesday at a meeting with foreign reporters in Washington.

Let’s not complicate things, Mr. President. You don’t need to go all the way to Putin’s dacha in Sochi next month. Get on the phone today and tell the Russian this: “We will take all steps to defend ourselves and our allies as long as you help arm an adversary that threatens the international community.” It should be as simple as that.

Russia and the United States are no closer to agreement on a missile shield for Europe after a high-level meeting in Moscow on Tuesday. “On the matter of principle the positions of our two sides have not changed,” said Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov. There has not been much movement on details either. Serdyukov made his remarks after conferring with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and Russia’s Foreign Minster Sergei Lavrov.

In order to allay Moscow’s concerns, Washington has offered to allow Russian inspection of the Polish and Czech sites for the shield and agreed not to switch on the system until Iran more fully develops its missile-launch capabilities. Moreover, the Washington Post’s Jim Hoagland reported today that Rice and Gates this month delivered to the Kremlin a “Strategic Framework Declaration” offering participation in both existing missile defenses and future development of defensive technology.

The fundamental question is why the Bush administration, at this late date, is still seeking Russian approval of our efforts to defend ourselves. The American plan of ten interceptors to be based in Poland poses no practical threat to Moscow’s 800 missiles. Even with qualitative and quantitative improvements in the American-designed system, there is no possibility that, during the lifetime of any living Russian, interceptors will be able to destroy sufficient number of missiles in flight so as to eliminate the deterrent effect of Moscow’s arsenal.

The Russians can, if they want, convince the West not to deploy any missile defense system in Europe. How? They can cooperate with Washington and Brussels in stopping Iran from developing nuclear weapons. To date, however, the Kremlin’s leaders are intent on helping Tehran build its horrible instruments of destruction while complaining about Washington’s efforts to protect Europe. Russians are building Iran’s first nuclear generating station, supplying the uranium fuel to Tehran, selling air-defense systems to protect Iranian nuclear sites, providing underpinning to the failing Iranian economy, and giving Tehran crucial diplomatic support in the United Nations Security Council and the Board of Governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

So what is the United States doing in response? On Wednesday, the White House announced that President Bush had accepted a last-minute invitation to go to the Black Sea resort of Sochi to meet with President Vladimir Putin after next week’s NATO summit in Bucharest and his visit to Croatia. The American leader is expected to try to obtain the Kremlin’s cooperation on, among other things, missile defense. “I’m optimistic we can reach accord on very important matters,” Bush said on Wednesday at a meeting with foreign reporters in Washington.

Let’s not complicate things, Mr. President. You don’t need to go all the way to Putin’s dacha in Sochi next month. Get on the phone today and tell the Russian this: “We will take all steps to defend ourselves and our allies as long as you help arm an adversary that threatens the international community.” It should be as simple as that.

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Nuking Ukraine

On Tuesday, Vladimir Putin threatened to nuke Ukraine over the deployment of America’s missile defense systems. “It is horrible to say and even horrible to think that, in response to the deployment of such facilities in Ukrainian territory, which cannot theoretically be ruled out, Russia could target its missile systems at Ukraine,” the outgoing Russian president said. “Imagine this just for a second.”

Talk about imagining things. Ukraine is not yet a member of NATO, and Washington has not asked Kiev to host missile shield facilities. Yet it’s not too hard for us to imagine that the Kremlin would raise the prospect of incinerating nearby countries. Putin has already threatened to obliterate Poland and the Czech Republic over their tentative agreements to host missile defense radars and interceptors.

We say missile defense is intended to stop Iran, but the Russians seem to think our ten-interceptor system is aimed only at them and that it can bring down every one of their almost 800 missiles. In order to convince us that we are the ones who are being duplicitous, Moscow is now saying that Iran poses no threat to anybody. Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated that the Iranians will need ten years to develop a long-range missile. “Our position is based on facts, and the facts are as follows: Iran, which is thought to be the main threat, does not have and will not have missiles from which one has to protect itself in the long term.”

Thanks, Sergei, but Iran hopes to put a satellite into orbit by next March and has been testing its intermediate-range missiles with distressing regularity. And just yesterday you said this: “We do not approve of Iran’s action in constantly demonstrating its intentions to develop its rocket sector and continue enriching uranium.”

So don’t look for consistency in Kremlin pronouncements. Russia, which is helping Iran arm itself with the ultimate weapon, does not want us to try to protect ourselves. In a campaign reminiscent of its efforts to stop the deployment of the Pershing missile in Europe in the 1980s, it is willing to say anything, no matter how ludicrous. It is, therefore, time for the Bush administration to stop trying to placate Putin and force him to make a choice: either accept missile defense in Europe or help us stop the Iranian nuclear weapons program. It is not surprising that he is trying to make inconsistent arguments to get whatever he wants, but it is not acceptable that we let him.

And one more thing. We need to tell Putin, in public, that he must stop threatening Ukraine—or others—with his nukes. And if he should continue, it is up to us to remind him of our ability and willingness to use all the weapons we possess. The best way to slide into worldwide war is to ignore autocrats when they make unprovoked threats of unimaginable devastation.

On Tuesday, Vladimir Putin threatened to nuke Ukraine over the deployment of America’s missile defense systems. “It is horrible to say and even horrible to think that, in response to the deployment of such facilities in Ukrainian territory, which cannot theoretically be ruled out, Russia could target its missile systems at Ukraine,” the outgoing Russian president said. “Imagine this just for a second.”

Talk about imagining things. Ukraine is not yet a member of NATO, and Washington has not asked Kiev to host missile shield facilities. Yet it’s not too hard for us to imagine that the Kremlin would raise the prospect of incinerating nearby countries. Putin has already threatened to obliterate Poland and the Czech Republic over their tentative agreements to host missile defense radars and interceptors.

We say missile defense is intended to stop Iran, but the Russians seem to think our ten-interceptor system is aimed only at them and that it can bring down every one of their almost 800 missiles. In order to convince us that we are the ones who are being duplicitous, Moscow is now saying that Iran poses no threat to anybody. Tuesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stated that the Iranians will need ten years to develop a long-range missile. “Our position is based on facts, and the facts are as follows: Iran, which is thought to be the main threat, does not have and will not have missiles from which one has to protect itself in the long term.”

Thanks, Sergei, but Iran hopes to put a satellite into orbit by next March and has been testing its intermediate-range missiles with distressing regularity. And just yesterday you said this: “We do not approve of Iran’s action in constantly demonstrating its intentions to develop its rocket sector and continue enriching uranium.”

So don’t look for consistency in Kremlin pronouncements. Russia, which is helping Iran arm itself with the ultimate weapon, does not want us to try to protect ourselves. In a campaign reminiscent of its efforts to stop the deployment of the Pershing missile in Europe in the 1980s, it is willing to say anything, no matter how ludicrous. It is, therefore, time for the Bush administration to stop trying to placate Putin and force him to make a choice: either accept missile defense in Europe or help us stop the Iranian nuclear weapons program. It is not surprising that he is trying to make inconsistent arguments to get whatever he wants, but it is not acceptable that we let him.

And one more thing. We need to tell Putin, in public, that he must stop threatening Ukraine—or others—with his nukes. And if he should continue, it is up to us to remind him of our ability and willingness to use all the weapons we possess. The best way to slide into worldwide war is to ignore autocrats when they make unprovoked threats of unimaginable devastation.

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Squeezing Iran

On Tuesday, the five members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany agreed to a new round of sanctions, including a travel ban on key Iranian individuals, limits on businesses and military branches involved in nuclear activities, and the monitoring of banks and other institutions implicated in Iran’s nuclear program. While the forthcoming resolution merely adds stronger monitoring to previous sanctions, it achieves a unified western front against Iran and establishes a diplomatic platform for future resolutions, as necessary.

This represents progress. (I disagree with Gordon on this point.) As Norman Podhoretz argues, it indicates that the National Intelligence Estimate may not be as damaging as previously thought. Indeed, rather than derailing the U.S.-led effort to thwart Iran’s pursuit of nuclear capabilities, the NIE simply convinced our allies that a military strategy against Tehran had been put on the back-burner, thus refocusing efforts towards a strengthened diplomatic strategy.

Yet two key hurdles remain in insuring the effectiveness of these new sanctions. First, Russia has downplayed their seriousness, with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov saying that the forthcoming resolution will not require tough measures against Tehran other than calling for “countries to be vigilant in developing trade, economic, transport and other relations with Iran so that these relations are not used to transfer illegal, banned materials that can be used in nuclear affairs.”

Second, the new sanctions may have little consequence for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s domestic standing, which will face a major test when Iranians vote in the March parliamentary elections. Over 70 percent of the reformist candidates have been disqualified, making it difficult for Iranians to hold Ahmadinejad accountable for his failed economic policies. It is thus hardly surprising that Ahmadinejad’s response to the announcement of new sanctions was typically defiant, indicating that increased isolation might yield few domestic consequences.

Still, courting the Iranian public provides one strategy forward. As the Washington Institute’s Mehdi Khalaji reports, a low voter turnout will significantly undercut the regime’s legitimacy. At Davos, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice thus wisely declared Iranians “a proud people with a great culture,” vowing expanded trade should Iran end its enrichment of uranium. Yet Russia’s narrow interpretation of the sanctions threatens to undermine the authority of these appeals, mitigating the political damage that Ahmadinejad might incur on account of them. Bottom line: keep an eye on Moscow.

On Tuesday, the five members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany agreed to a new round of sanctions, including a travel ban on key Iranian individuals, limits on businesses and military branches involved in nuclear activities, and the monitoring of banks and other institutions implicated in Iran’s nuclear program. While the forthcoming resolution merely adds stronger monitoring to previous sanctions, it achieves a unified western front against Iran and establishes a diplomatic platform for future resolutions, as necessary.

This represents progress. (I disagree with Gordon on this point.) As Norman Podhoretz argues, it indicates that the National Intelligence Estimate may not be as damaging as previously thought. Indeed, rather than derailing the U.S.-led effort to thwart Iran’s pursuit of nuclear capabilities, the NIE simply convinced our allies that a military strategy against Tehran had been put on the back-burner, thus refocusing efforts towards a strengthened diplomatic strategy.

Yet two key hurdles remain in insuring the effectiveness of these new sanctions. First, Russia has downplayed their seriousness, with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov saying that the forthcoming resolution will not require tough measures against Tehran other than calling for “countries to be vigilant in developing trade, economic, transport and other relations with Iran so that these relations are not used to transfer illegal, banned materials that can be used in nuclear affairs.”

Second, the new sanctions may have little consequence for Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s domestic standing, which will face a major test when Iranians vote in the March parliamentary elections. Over 70 percent of the reformist candidates have been disqualified, making it difficult for Iranians to hold Ahmadinejad accountable for his failed economic policies. It is thus hardly surprising that Ahmadinejad’s response to the announcement of new sanctions was typically defiant, indicating that increased isolation might yield few domestic consequences.

Still, courting the Iranian public provides one strategy forward. As the Washington Institute’s Mehdi Khalaji reports, a low voter turnout will significantly undercut the regime’s legitimacy. At Davos, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice thus wisely declared Iranians “a proud people with a great culture,” vowing expanded trade should Iran end its enrichment of uranium. Yet Russia’s narrow interpretation of the sanctions threatens to undermine the authority of these appeals, mitigating the political damage that Ahmadinejad might incur on account of them. Bottom line: keep an eye on Moscow.

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Missile Defense, Asian-Style

Yesterday, a Japanese destroyer, equipped with the Aegis battle-management system, shot down a dummy missile over the Pacific. This is the first time that an American ally has done so, according to Japanese and U.S. officials.

The medium-range missile destroyed in the test resembles ones in the North Korean arsenal. That was no coincidence: Pyongyang’s August 1998 launch of its Taepodong missile, which arced over Japan, spurred Tokyo to cooperate with the United States in building a defensive system. “This was a monumental event in the Japan-U.S. security relationship,” a Japanese Defense Ministry official said at a news conference in Hawaii, where the target was launched.

Yes, it is monumental. A layered defense will protect the United States from North Korea. Despite a failed launch last July—a Taepodong exploded about 40 seconds into its flight—this type of missile can hit Alaska and Hawaii today. With expected improvements, within five to seven years the Taepodong will be able to reach any portion of the United States. Japanese help on missile defense may enable the Pentagon to defeat an attack from North Korea, which is unlikely to develop an arsenal much larger than the one it has now.

Read More

Yesterday, a Japanese destroyer, equipped with the Aegis battle-management system, shot down a dummy missile over the Pacific. This is the first time that an American ally has done so, according to Japanese and U.S. officials.

The medium-range missile destroyed in the test resembles ones in the North Korean arsenal. That was no coincidence: Pyongyang’s August 1998 launch of its Taepodong missile, which arced over Japan, spurred Tokyo to cooperate with the United States in building a defensive system. “This was a monumental event in the Japan-U.S. security relationship,” a Japanese Defense Ministry official said at a news conference in Hawaii, where the target was launched.

Yes, it is monumental. A layered defense will protect the United States from North Korea. Despite a failed launch last July—a Taepodong exploded about 40 seconds into its flight—this type of missile can hit Alaska and Hawaii today. With expected improvements, within five to seven years the Taepodong will be able to reach any portion of the United States. Japanese help on missile defense may enable the Pentagon to defeat an attack from North Korea, which is unlikely to develop an arsenal much larger than the one it has now.

Russia, which possesses almost 800 missiles, can defeat any defense Japan and the United States can mount. Yet that has not stopped the Kremlin from complaining. “We are opposed to the construction of a missile defense system aimed at securing military superiority,” said Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on the eve of his trip to Japan. China, with many fewer ballistic missiles, has long voiced its opposition to joint U.S.-Japan cooperation.

The Chinese have two concerns. First, the People’s Liberation Army actually thinks about launching missiles against the American homeland. Its last public threat to incinerate the United States was made as late as July 2005. Second, Beijing worries that Washington may adapt defenses developed in Japan to protect Taiwan. This June the Taiwanese expressed their desire to join the American-Japanese system.

At present, the United States is merely upgrading Taiwan’s Patriot missiles. Yet yesterday’s successful test should persuade Washington to ask the Taiwanese to participate in the joint American-Japanese efforts. Taipei acknowledges that such an extension of missile defense would be “politically sensitive.” Yet why should we be concerned about offending autocrats who think nothing of threatening to destroy American cities?

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Russia’s Question

Yesterday, Moscow took one more step away from the West when it announced that it would not support tougher sanctions against Iran for failing to halt its efforts to enrich uranium. The U.N. Security Council is scheduled to discuss implementing a third set of coercive measures against Tehran. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said his country wants to give the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog, additional time to obtain cooperation from Iran pursuant to a deal arranged last month. On Friday, China announced its desire to see more negotiations with the Iranians, thereby supporting the Kremlin.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, at the conclusion of his meeting with Lavrov in Moscow, said yesterday that, should the Security Council fail to impose new measures, the European Union should create a sanctions regime similar to America’s. That set off Lavrov: “If we decided to act collectively on the basis of consensual decisions in the U.N. Security Council, what good does it do to take unilateral decisions?”

Read More

Yesterday, Moscow took one more step away from the West when it announced that it would not support tougher sanctions against Iran for failing to halt its efforts to enrich uranium. The U.N. Security Council is scheduled to discuss implementing a third set of coercive measures against Tehran. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said his country wants to give the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog, additional time to obtain cooperation from Iran pursuant to a deal arranged last month. On Friday, China announced its desire to see more negotiations with the Iranians, thereby supporting the Kremlin.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, at the conclusion of his meeting with Lavrov in Moscow, said yesterday that, should the Security Council fail to impose new measures, the European Union should create a sanctions regime similar to America’s. That set off Lavrov: “If we decided to act collectively on the basis of consensual decisions in the U.N. Security Council, what good does it do to take unilateral decisions?”

The assumption implicit in Lavrov’s question is that the world’s great powers, acting together, can solve the world’s great problems. It is the basis of Bush administration policy. It is the notion that all of us want to believe. It is, unfortunately, no longer true—if it ever was.

Why? On Monday, IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei, trying to forestall the talk of war over Iran, asked the West to remember the lessons of Iraq. I do, and here they are in ascending order of importance: the American military can destroy almost any adversary, democracy cannot be imposed by force, and the concept of collective security no longer works. Before President Bush talked about democracy in Iraq, even before he mentioned weapons of mass destruction, American diplomats discussed the failure of the United Nations to enforce its own resolutions against Saddam’s regime.

Russia and China this week have made it clear they will side with Iran until the theocrats announce they have the bomb—all the while saying they are defending the concept of joint action. As Thomas Friedman says, we are entering the post-post-cold-war period. And in that period the West has no choice but to realize that the world’s authoritarian nations are banding together, and Russia and China are undermining the concept of collective security. Whether we like it or not, we are now engaged in a series of global struggles, with neither Beijing nor Moscow on our side.

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