The Road to Hell Is Paved with Good Intentions

Recently the Syrian military downed a Turkish reconnaissance plan. Turkey is now urging NATO to contemplate attacking Syria. Although there are many arguments against an invasion, including the danger of a regional war, threat of greater chaos in Syria, and the difficulty of fighting Bashar Assad’s well-armed and positioned forces, few have looked at a how an invasion would bring the entire world closer to greater instability and a weakened ability to protect human rights.

The past two American presidents have been actively using the military to threaten and invade other countries, sometimes for good reasons and sometimes for poor ones. To defend human rights, President Obama “led from behind” military operations in Libya, whose leader was threatening to massacre an entire city, and the US is threatening to do the same with Syria. Only now Turkey will be leading NATO into battle and not France. The US is also threatening Iran with attack if it continues developing nuclear weapons. This policy sounds disturbingly similar to the Bush Administration’s policy of pre-emption, where or countries, for example Iraq, that were thought to be likely to become threats were threatened or neutralized. The result of consistently and frequently using the military to invade and wage war across the globe for the past decade is, understandably, fear of invasion.

Two of the US’s traditional enemies are especially wary: Iran and North Korea. As a result, they are working to develop nuclear weapons partly to defend themselves from an aggressive US military. And in the case of a nuclear Iran or a North Korea with a more developed nuclear weapons program, there would not just be two more nuclear-weapon-armed countries in the world. Regional competitors in South East Asia and the Middle East would also seek nuclear weapons out of fear of Iran and North Korea, leading to nuclear proliferation throughout these already volatile regions.

In general, nuclear proliferation is a danger to the US for a number of reasons. First, it creates a world where nuclear war is more likely. Second, and most important, enriched uranium and plutonium, materials that are the main barrier to terrorists’ obtaining weapons, will spread. As a result, a terrorist attack using a nuclear weapon would become more likely.

To stop proliferation, any actions that threaten the existence of governments should be shelved for the time being. This means that the US and NATO absolutely should not attack Syria. Fear of US invasion has been pushed too high over the past decade. And if the US wants any hope of negotiating an end to North Korea’s and Iran’s nuclear weapons programs, it has to act more passively. Diplomatic and economic pressure to protect human rights and stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons while preserving military action for only extreme cases of human rights violations, for example of genocide, is the policy the US needs to institute.

In the long run, this policy will create a world where human rights can be more easily defended. Invading only in extreme, large-scale cases of systematic human rights violations will make these sorts of invasions possible in the future. If a country has nuclear weapon and is committing genocide, it would be impossible for outside powers to intervene to save innocents.

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Viva la Evolución

Photo credit:Freedom House

In March, the uprising in Syria turned one. So far, it has claimed over 9,000 lives according to the United Nations.  And although diplomats are seeking to end the violence, they are failing. The Syrian government has continued its inhumane campaign against the rebels. Diplomatically shielding Syria over the past year, Russia has given Bashar Assad time to re-establish stability. However, he has also failed. The uprising looks likely to continue and to intensify. If Russia wants to protect its interests, the main reason for its support of Bashar Assad’s government, it is time for a policy change. 

Russia has many reasons to want Bashar Assad and his Alawites to remain in power. Most important, the Assad government protects the Middle East from complete US hegemony. In the Middle East, before 2003, there were anti-American governments in Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Iran.  Now there are two. And if Syria falls, the last, Iran, will be easier to bring down.

Syria would weaken Iran for several reasons. Syria is Iran’s political ally and provides political support in the region. Also Syria’s falling would damage Iran’s offensive capabilities. Iran uses Syria to pressure and attack Israel and cause chaos throughout the region. With a new government in Damascus it would be harder for Iran to wage a proxy war against Israel through Hezbollah and make problems for the US in Iraq.   

Russia is opposed to US hegemony because, according to Russia, it leads to aggressive actions. Russia points to the US invasion into Iraq, which was supposedly the result of the US’s post-Cold War hubris, as the reason for why American power needs to be limited. This is a policy that Putin holds dear. The goal of creating a “multi-polar world”, in which American power is counterbalanced, has long be an important part of Russian foreign policy.

Added to these geo-political concerns is the fact that the Assad government is a Russian ally. With the Syrian government’s help, Russia can exert mild political influence in the Middle East and project naval power thanks to a recently renovated Russian military base in Tartus, a city on the Mediterranean. If Bashar Assad’s government falls, its replacement is unlikely to want to be an ally who would welcome a Russian naval presence.

Finally, and least important, there are commercial interests. Russia sells Assad weapons and is paid sometimes. Syria is relatively poor in comparison with other countries in the region. The New York Times reported that in 2005 Russia was forced to write off 75% of USD13.5 billion of Syria’s debt. Accordingly, because Syria is poor, it is not one of Russia’s more important clients like, for example, India, Algeria, China, and Vietnam. As a result, if Assad’s regime falls, the losses will be bearable. Russia’s arms industry has other, wealthier clients who are likely to actually pay for their weapons.   

To protect these interests, Russia needs to make sure the Alawites remain in power. Towards this end, from the conflict’s start, Russia has defended the Assad government from diplomatic pressure. This has given Bashar Assad time to suppress the uprising. Even Russia’s sudden signal that it was ready to finally sign a UN resolution was made to calm countries that were getting closer to directly supplying the rebels with weapons and more aid.

Unfortunately for Russia, it seems that Bashar Assad needs more than time to crush the rebellion. Since the Syrian government captured several rebel strongholds, the threat to Bashar Assad’s government has lessened. However, despite these victories, the uprising has lasted over a year and shows no signs of stopping. And the longer the conflict goes on, the more likely countries like Turkey are to directly support the rebels and to pressure Bashar Assad’s regime. Instead of making Bashard Assad’s government more stable, time will make it only less so. Russia needs to change its policy towards Syria.

Russia should push for Assad to step down and to institute limited reforms immediately.  Because of the recent military victories, Assad’s Alawites are in a good negotiating position. From this position, they can control reform and maintain power while calming the populace. Also, because countries all over the world are desperate to end the conflict, they will be more amenable to Russian solutions even if the changes that Russia proposes to implement are modest.

And if this policy does work, it would be a diplomatic and even ideological victory for Russia. It could point to its success in ending the conflict in Syria and contrast it with the US’s failures in other countries, foremost among them, Iraq. Evolution is better than revolution! This has been Russia’s unofficial slogan for the past couple of months. They should welcome the chance to prove it in Syria, while also defending their regional interests. Viva la evolución.

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The Hotline

 

In August 2008, Georgia attacked Tskhinvali, Southern Ossetia, a Georgian city filled with Russian  ‘peacekeepers’ and Ossetians to whom Russia recently granted citizenship. Because Russian citizens were in danger, Putin had no choice: He counterattacked and rescued them. Then the Russian military mauled Georgia’s forces and pushed them back to Tbilisi, Georgia’s capital. Russia worked to instigate Georgia and give justification for defending Ossetia but did not attack first. Georgia did. It is strange, then, that the US president thought otherwise. Recently, at United Russia’s party convention, a possible reason for this confusion was revealed: Just months before Georgia’s attack, on the day of Medvedev’s inauguration, the Washington-Moscow Hotline, the direct line between the American president and the Russian leader Putin was redirected. Medvedev began to answer calls instead of his boss.

The Hotline was originally established to allow Russian and American leaders to directly communicate without intermediaries. As a result, relations became more transparent and misunderstanding less likely. With Medvedev, an intermediary, answering the Hotline, Obama no longer has a direct line to Putin and confusion has resulted.  To re-establish this important means of communication, we have created a new Hotline that is modeled after the old.

The original Hotline, called the Red Telephone in the Soviet Union and the “linchpin of planetary megadeath” by Wired, connected the White House and the Kremlin. Using terminals placed in Moscow and Washington, American and Soviet/Russian leaders were able to communicate directly. The Soviet Union claimed to have dreamed up the idea during the Korean War, though it did not catch on until after the Cuban Missile Crisis. The line’s need became apparent because tensions were high between the US and USSR and nuclear war threatened. And to diffuse this situation, Kennedy and Khrushchev were exchanging letters. After signing an agreement on “creating a direct line of communication between the US and USSR”, the Hotline was installed on August 30, 1963.

The Hotline rang for the first time during the 1967 six-day war between Israel and its neighbors. The USSR and USA planned to enter the conflict on opposite sides. The Soviets sailed their Black Sea Fleet into the Mediterranean to prepare to attack Israel. The US’s Sixth fleet was already in position and ready to bombard Egypt. The twenty messages that the US and Soviet Union exchanged prevented these attacks, keeping the conflict from escalating into World War III. Over the Hotline, Soviet and American leaders clearly stated their intents and goals. So the rival superpowers interpreted each other’s actions accurately, and negotiations were conducted quickly and smoothly. During the 1971 war between India and Pakistan and the 1973 war between Israel and Egypt, the Hotline was used similarly.

After the attacks on September 11, Putin called Bush. He became the first world leader to express his condolences. Afterwards the two presidents bonded. There are pictures of them laughing and chatting with the Hotline’s handsets pressed to their ears. Unfortunately, their relationship did not last. In 2003, the Rose Revolution removed Georgia’s president, Shevardnadze, from power. Putin blamed the success of Saakashvili, the revolution’s leader, on American aid. It did not help that Bush publicly lauded the revolution and had a Georgian highway named after him. Putin and George spoke over the Hotline less and less. Then, Putin unplugged it.

Originally, the line was made to directly connect the US’s and the Soviet Union’s then Russia’s most powerful politicians. Medvedev is and was Putin’s lackey. So as soon as Putin made Medvedev president and passed him the red phone, it no longer directly linked the US’s and Russia’s key decision makers. Possibly recognizing this in frustration masked as humor or sarcasm, Obama proposed tossing out the phones altogether. According to a televised statement, during a crisis, they could tweet instead (http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-20008776-503544.html).

 

Until Putin takes the presidency back, the Russian and American reset, Obama’s plan for improving relations, is in danger. Without a direct line of communication between Obama and Putin, misunderstandings grow more and more likely. This danger increases the closer we get to the parliamentary/congressional and presidential elections in Russia and the US. You can be sure that there will be xenophobic remarks grenaded between both countries’ politicians. During these dangerous times, we argue that a hotline is not only necessary but essential for continuing with the Reset. As such, up to Putin’s election and most likely afterwards, we will be working to provide Obama, Putin, and our other readers with news and analysis of Russian and American relations while encouraging direct discussions between Russians and Americans.

We have worked to ensure that the new Hotline’s features are similar to its predecessor’s. There are two sides that are modeled after the hotline terminals that were established in Washington and in the Kremlin.www.washline.wordpress.com is the US, English language site andwww.kremline.wordpress.com is the Russian site. Using these terminals, specifically by commenting on our articles, Putin and Obama can directly discuss the foreign policy issues and crises that we report and analyze. Any other readers who would like to participate can join them. To help those like Obama who do not speak both English and Russia, we will be translating and transmitting selected summaries of readers’ comments from one side of the line to the other.  Between communiqués, like the operators under Bush and Yeltsin, we will be posting quotes, jokes, and puns to keep the president, prime minister, and our readers from becoming bored. 

During the Cold War, the original hotline prevented nuclear holocaust and improved poor relations between the US and USSR. It is a shame that we have allowed three years to pass without it functioning. One result may have been less cooperation and colder relations after the Georgian-Russian war. The founding of the new hotline and the creation of the sites  www.kremline.wordpress.com and www.washline.wordpress.com puts an end to this dark period. It also marks a new era for the Hotline itself during which it will have expanded features. Most importantly, articles reporting on and analyzing Russian-US relations will be available on both terminals. Also, not only Russian and American leaders will be able to directly comment on our articles and discuss US-Russian relations but anyone who visits our sites. The Hotline will hopefully become a trusted source for information on US Russian relations and house lively discussions. We hope that through it, we will all gain greater understanding of each other’s policies.   

Background information on the Hotline 

http://www.cdi.org/russia/johnson/7222-7.cfm

http://www.nytimes.com/learning/general/onthisday/big/0830.html#article

http://www.cdi.org/russia/263-12.cfm

http://www.wired.com/beyond_the_beyond/2011/08/dead-media-beat-the-hotline/ (good picture)

http://www.voanews.com/russian/news/a-33-2007-06-20-voa4.html

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