By Peter Zeihan
Ukrainians go to the polls Feb. 7 to choose their next president. The last time they did this, in November 2004, the result was the prolonged international incident that became known as the Orange Revolution. That event saw Ukraine cleaved off from the Russian sphere of influence, triggering a chain of events that rekindled the Russian-Western Cold War. Next week’s runoff election seals the Orange Revolution’s reversal. Russia owns the first candidate, Viktor Yanukovich, outright and has a workable agreement with the other, Yulia Timoshenko. The next few months will therefore see the de facto folding of Ukraine back into the Russian sphere of influence; discussion in Ukraine now consists of debate over the speed and depth of that reintegration.
The Centrality of Ukraine
Russia has been working to arrest its slide for several years. Next week’s election in Ukraine marks not so much the end of the post-Cold War period of Russian retreat as the beginning of a new era of Russian aggressiveness. To understand why, one must first absorb the Russian view of Ukraine.
Since the break-up of the Soviet Union, most of the former Soviet republics and satellites found themselves cast adrift, not part of the Russian orbit and not really part of any other grouping. Moscow still held links to all of them, but it exercised few of its levers of control over them during Russia’s internal meltdown during the 1990s. During that period, a number of these states — Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and the former Czechoslovakia to be exact — managed to spin themselves out of the Russian orbit and attach themselves to the European Union and NATO. Others — Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Ukraine — attempted to follow the path Westward, but have not succeeded at this point. Of these six, Ukraine is by far the most critical. It is not simply the most populous of Russia’s former possessions or the birthplace of the Russian ethnicity, it is the most important province of the former Russian Empire and holds the key to the future of Eurasia.
First, the incidental reasons. Ukraine is the Russian Empire’s breadbasket. It is also the location of nearly all of Russia’s infrastructure links not only to Europe, but also to the Caucasus, making it critical for both trade and internal coherence; it is central to the existence of a state as multiethnic and chronically poor as Russia. The Ukrainian port of Sevastopol is home to Russia’s Black Sea fleet, and Ukrainian ports are the only well-developed warm-water ports Russia has ever had. Belarus’ only waterborne exports traverse the Dnieper River, which empties into the Black Sea via Ukraine. Therefore, as goes Ukraine, so goes Belarus. Not only is Ukraine home to some 15 million ethnic Russians — the largest concentration of Russians outside Russia proper — they reside in a zone geographically identical and contiguous to Russia itself. That zone is also the Ukrainian agricultural and industrial heartland, which again is integrated tightly into the Russian core.
These are all important factors for Moscow, but ultimately they pale before the only rationale that really matters: Ukraine is the only former Russian imperial territory that is both useful and has a natural barrier protecting it. Belarus is on the Northern European Plain, aka the invasion highway of Europe. The Baltics are all easily accessible by sea. The Caucasian states of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia are on the wrong side of the Caucasus Mountains (and Russia’s northern Caucasus republics — remember Chechnya? — aren’t exactly the cream of the crop of Russian possessions). It is true that Central Asia is anchored in mountains to the south, but the region is so large and boasts so few Slavs that it cannot be controlled reliably or cheaply. And Siberia is too huge to be useful.
Without Ukraine, Russia is a desperately defensive power, lacking any natural defenses aside from sheer distance. Moscow and Volgograd, two of Russia’s critically strategic cities, are within 300 miles of Ukraine’s eastern border. Russia lacks any natural internal transport options — its rivers neither interconnect nor flow anywhere useful, and are frozen much of the year — so it must preposition defensive forces everywhere, a burden that has been beyond Russia’s capacity to sustain even in the best of times. The (quite realistic) Russian fear is that without Ukraine, the Europeans will pressure Russia along its entire western periphery, the Islamic world will pressure Russia along its entire southern periphery, the Chinese will pressure Russia along its southeastern periphery, and the Americans will pressure Russia wherever opportunity presents itself.
Ukraine by contrast has the Carpathians to its west, a handy little barrier that has deflected invaders of all stripes for millennia. These mountains defend Ukraine against tanks coming from the west as effectively as they protected the Balkans against Mongols attacking from the east. Having the Carpathians as a western border reduces Russia’s massive defensive burden. Most important, if Russia can redirect the resources it would have used for defensive purposes on the Ukrainian frontier — whether those resources be economic, intelligence, industrial, diplomatic or military — then Russia retains at least a modicum of offensive capability. And that modicum of offensive ability is more than enough to overmatch any of Russia’s neighbors (with the exception of China).
When Retreat Ends, the Neighbors Get Nervous
This view of Ukraine is not alien to countries in Russia’s neighborhood. They fully understand the difference between a Russia with Ukraine and a Russia without Ukraine, and understand that so long as Ukraine remains independent they have a great deal of maneuvering room. Now that all that remains is the result of an election with no strategic choice at stake, the former Soviet states and satellites realize that their world has just changed.
Georgia traditionally has been the most resistant to Russian influence regardless of its leadership, so defiant that Moscow felt it necessary to trounce Georgia in a brief war in August 2008. Georgia’s poor strategic position is nothing new, but a Russia that can redirect efforts from Ukraine is one that can crush Georgia as an afterthought. That is turning the normally rambunctious Georgians pensive, and nudging them toward pragmatism. An opposition group, the Conservative Party, is launching a movement to moderate policy toward Russia, which among other things would mean abandoning Georgia’s bid for NATO membership and re-establishing formal political ties with Moscow.
A recent Lithuanian power struggle has resulted in the forced resignation of Foreign Minister Minister Vygaudas Usackas. The main public point of contention was the foreign minister’s previous participation in facilitating U.S. renditions. Vygaudas, like most in the Lithuanian leadership, saw such participation as critical to maintaining the tiny country’s alliance with the United States. President Dalia Grybauskaite, however, saw the writing on the wall in Ukraine, and feels the need to foster a more conciliatory view of Russia. Part of that meant offering up a sacrificial lamb in the form of the foreign minister.
Poland is in a unique position. It knows that should the Russians turn seriously aggressive, its position on the Northern European Plain makes it the focal point of Russian attention. Its location and vulnerability makes Warsaw very sensitive to Russian moves, so it has been watching Ukraine with alarm for several months.
As a result, the Poles have come up with some (admittedly small) olive branches, including an offer for Putin to visit Gdansk last September in an attempt to foster warmer (read: slightly less overtly hostile) relations. Putin not only seized upon the offer, but issued a public letter denouncing the World War II-era Molotov-Ribbentrop Treaty, long considered by Poles as the most outrageous Russian offense to Poland. Warsaw has since replied with invitations for future visits. As with Georgia, Poland will never be pro-Russian — Poland is not only a NATO member but also hopes to host an American Patriot battery and participate in Washington’s developing ballistic missile defense program. But if Warsaw cannot hold Washington’s attention — and it has pulled out all the stops in trying to — it fears the writing might already be on the wall, and it must plan accordingly.
Azerbaijan has always attempted to walk a fine line between Russia and the West, knowing that any serious bid for membership in something like the European Union or NATO was contingent upon Georgia’s first succeeding in joining up. Baku would prefer a more independent arrangement, but it knows that it is too far from Russia’s western frontier to achieve such unless the stars are somewhat aligned. As Georgia’s plans have met with what can best be described as abject failure, and with Ukraine now appearing headed toward Russian suzerainty, Azerbaijan has in essence resigned itself to the inevitable. Baku is well into negotiations that would redirect much of its natural gas output north to Russia rather than west to Turkey and Europe. And Azerbaijan simply has little else to bargain with.
Other states that have long been closer to Russia, but have attempted to balance Russia against other powers in hopes of preserving some measure of sovereignty, are giving up. Of the remaining former Soviet republics Belarus has the most educated workforce and even a functioning information technology industry, while Kazakhstan has a booming energy industry; both are reasonable candidates for integration into Western systems. But both have this month agreed instead to throw their lots in with Russia. The specific method is an economic agreement that is more akin to shackles than a customs union. The deal effectively will gut both countries’ industries in favor of Russian producers. Moscow hopes the union in time will form the foundation of a true successor to the Soviet Union.
Other places continue to show resistance. The new Moldovan prime minister, Vlad Filat, is speaking with the Americans about energy security and is even flirting with the Romanians about reunification. The Latvians are as defiant as ever. The Estonians, too, are holding fast, although they are quietly polling regional powers to at least assess where the next Russian hammer might fall. But for every state that decides it had best accede to Russia’s wishes, Russia has that much more bandwidth to dedicate to the poorly positioned holdouts.
Russia also has the opportunity. The United States is bogged down in its economic and health care debates, two wars and the Iran question — all of which mean Washington’s attention is occupied well away from the former Soviet sphere. With the United States distracted, Russia has a freer hand in re-establishing control over states that would like to be under the American security umbrella.
There is one final factor that is pushing Russia to resurge: It feels the pressure of time. The post-Cold War collapse may well have mortally wounded the Russian nation. The collapse in Russian births has halved the size of the 0-20 age group in comparison to their predecessors born in the 1970s and 1980s. Consequently, Russian demographics are among the worst in the world.
Even if Russia manages an economic renaissance, in a decade its population will have aged and shrunk to the point that the Russians will find holding together Russia proper a huge challenge. Moscow’s plan, therefore, is simple: entrench its influence while it is in a position of relative strength in preparation for when it must trade that influence for additional time. Ultimately, Russia is indeed going into that good night. But not gently. And not today.
"This report is republished with permission of STRATFOR"
Tuesday, 26 January 2010
Monday, 3 August 2009
Amid the rhetoric of U.S. President Barack Obama’s speech June 4 in Cairo, there was one substantial indication of change, not in the U.S. relationship to the Islamic world but in the U.S. relationship to Israel. This shift actually emerged prior to the speech, and the speech merely touched on it. But it is not a minor change and it must not be underestimated. It has every opportunity of growing into a major breach between Israel and the United States.
The immediate issue concerns Israeli settlements on the West Bank. The United States has long expressed opposition to increasing settlements but has not moved much beyond rhetoric. Certainly the continued expansion and development of new settlements on the West Bank did not cause prior administrations to shift their policies toward Israel. And while the Israelis have occasionally modified their policies, they have continued to build settlements. The basic understanding between the two sides has been that the United States would oppose settlements formally but that this would not evolve into a fundamental disagreement.
The United States has clearly decided to change the game. Obama has said that, “The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has agreed to stop building new settlements, but not to halt what he called the “natural growth” of existing settlements.
Obama has positioned the settlement issue in such a way that it would be difficult for him to back down. He has repeated it several times, including in his speech to the Islamic world. It is an issue on which he is simply following the formal positions of prior administrations. It is an issue on which prior Israeli governments made commitments. What Obama has done is restated formal U.S. policy, on which there are prior Israeli agreements, and demanded Israeli compliance. Given his initiative in the Islamic world, Obama, having elevated the issue to this level, is going to have problems backing off.
Obama is also aware that Netanyahu is not in a political position to comply with the demand, even if he were inclined to. Netanyahu is leading a patchwork coalition in which support from the right is critical. For the Israeli right, settling in what it calls Samaria and Judea is a fundamental principle on which it cannot bend. Unlike Ariel Sharon, a man of the right who was politically powerful, Netanyahu is a man of the right who is politically weak. Netanyahu gave all he could give on this issue when he said there would be no new settlements created. Netanyahu doesn’t have the political ability to give Obama what he is demanding. Netanyahu is locked into place, unless he wants to try to restructure his Cabinet or persuade people like Avigdor Lieberman, his right-wing foreign minister, to change their fundamental view of the world.
Therefore, Obama has decided to create a crisis with Israel. He has chosen a subject on which Republican and Democratic administrations have had the same formal position. He has also picked a subject that does not affect Israeli national security in any immediate sense (he has not made demands for changes of policy toward Gaza, for example). Obama struck at an issue where he had precedent on his side, and where Israel’s immediate safety is not at stake. He also picked an issue on which he would have substantial support in the United States, and he has done this to have a symbolic showdown with Israel. The more Netanyahu resists, the more Obama gets what he wants.
Obama’s read of the Arab-Israeli situation is that it is not insoluble. He believes in the two-state solution, for better or worse. In order to institute the two-state solution, Obama must establish the principle that the West Bank is Palestinian territory by right and not Israeli territory on which the Israelis might make concessions. The settlements issue is fundamental to establishing this principle. Israel has previously agreed both to the two-state solution and to not expanding settlements. If Obama can force Netanyahu to concede on the settlements issue, then he will break the back of the Israeli right and open the door to a rightist-negotiated settlement of the two-state solution.
In the course of all of this, Obama is opening doors in the Islamic world a little wider by demonstrating that the United States is prepared to force Israel to make concessions. By subtext, he wants to drive home the idea that Israel does not control U.S. policy but that, in fact, Israel and the United States are two separate countries with different and sometimes conflicting views. Obama wouldn’t mind an open battle on the settlements one bit.
For Netanyahu, this is the worst terrain on which to fight. If he could have gotten Obama to attack by demanding that Israel not respond to missiles launched from Gaza or Lebanon, Netanyahu would have had the upper hand in the United States. Israel has support in the United States and in Congress, and any action that would appear to leave Israel’s security at risk would trigger an instant strengthening of that support.
But there is not much support in the United States for settlements on the West Bank. This is not a subject around which Israel’s supporters are going to rally very intensely, in large part because there is substantial support for a two-state solution and very little understanding or sympathy for the historic claim of Jews to Judea and Samaria. Obama has picked a topic on which he has political room for maneuver and on which Netanyahu is politically locked in.
Given that, the question is where Obama is going with this. From Obama’s point of view, he wins no matter what Netanyahu decides to do. If Netanyahu gives in, then he has established the principle that the United States can demand concessions from a Likud-controlled government in Israel and get them. There will be more demands. If Netanyahu doesn’t give in, Obama can create a split with Israel over the one issue he can get public support for in the United States (a halt to settlement expansion in the West Bank), and use that split as a lever with Islamic states.
Thus, the question is what Netanyahu is going to do. His best move is to say that this is just a disagreement between friends and assume that the rest of the U.S.-Israeli relationship is intact, from aid to technology transfer to intelligence sharing. That’s where Obama is going to have to make his decision. He has elevated the issue to the forefront of U.S.-Israeli relations. The Israelis have refused to comply. If Obama proceeds with the relationship as if nothing has happened, then he is back where he began.
Obama did not start this confrontation to wind up there. He calculated carefully when he raised this issue and knew perfectly well that Netanyahu couldn’t make concessions on it, so he had to have known that he was going to come to this point. Obviously, he could have made this confrontation as a part of his initiative to the Islamic world. But it is unlikely that he saw that initiative as ending with the speech, and he understands that, for the Islamic world, his relation to Israel is important. Even Islamic countries not warmly inclined toward Palestinians, like Jordan or Egypt, don’t want the United States to back off on this issue.
Netanyahu has argued in the past that Israel’s relationship to the United States was not as important to Israel as it once was. U.S. aid as a percentage of Israel’s gross domestic product has plunged. Israel is not facing powerful states, and it is not facing a situation like 1973, when Israeli survival depended on aid being rushed in from the United States. The technology transfer now runs both ways, and the United States relies on Israeli intelligence quite a bit. In other words, over the past generation, Israel has moved from a dependent relationship with the United States to one of mutual dependence.
This is very much Netanyahu’s point of view, and from this point of view follows the idea that he might simply say no to the United States on the settlements issue and live easily with the consequences. The weakness in this argument is that, while Israel does not now face strategic issues it can’t handle, it could in the future. Indeed, while Netanyahu is urging action on Iran, he knows that action is impossible without U.S. involvement.
This leads to a political problem. As much as the right would like to blow off the United States, the center and the left would be appalled. For Israel, the United States has been the centerpiece of the national psyche since 1967. A breach with the United States would create a massive crisis on the left and could well bring the government down if Ehud Barak and his Labor Party, for example, bolted from the ruling coalition. Netanyahu’s problem is the problem Israel has continually had. It is a politically fragmented country, and there is never an Israeli government that does not consist of fragments. A government that contains Lieberman and Barak is not one likely to be able to make bold moves.
It is therefore difficult to see how Netanyahu can both deal with Obama and hold his government together. It is even harder to see how Obama can reduce the pressure. Indeed, we would expect to see him increase the pressure by suspending minor exchanges and programs. Obama is playing to the Israeli center and left, who would oppose any breach with the United States.
Obama has the strong hand and the options. Netanyahu has the weak hand and fewer options. It is hard to see how he will solve the problem. And that’s what Obama wants. He wants Netanyahu struggling with the problem. In the end, he wants Netanyahu to fold on the settlements issue and keep on folding until he presides over a political settlement with the Palestinians. Obama wants Netanyahu and the right to be responsible for the agreement, as Menachem Begin was responsible for the treaty with Egypt and withdrawal from the Sinai.
We find it difficult to imagine how a two-state solution would work, but that concept is at the heart of U.S. policy and Obama wants the victory. He has put into motion processes to create that solution, first of all, by backing Netanyahu into a corner. Left out of Obama’s equation is the Palestinian interest, willingness and ability to reach a treaty with Israel, but from Obama’s point of view, if the Palestinians reject or undermine an agreement, he will still have leverage in the Islamic world. Right now, given Iraq and Afghanistan, that is where he wants leverage, and backing Netanyahu into a corner is more important than where it all leads in the end.
Monday, 27 April 2009
By Fred Burton and Ben West
For several years now, STRATFOR has been closely monitoring the growing violence in Mexico and its links to the drug trade. In December, our cartel report assessed the situation in Mexico, and two weeks ago we looked closely at the networks that control the flow of drugs through Central America. This week, we turn our attention to the border to see the dynamics at work there and how U.S. gangs are involved in the action.
The nature of narcotics trafficking changes as shipments near the border. As in any supply chain, shipments become smaller as they reach the retail level, requiring more people to be involved in the operation. While Mexican cartels do have representatives in cities across the United States to oversee networks there, local gangs get involved in the actual distribution of the narcotics.
While there are still many gaps in the understanding of how U.S. gangs interface with Mexican cartels to move drugs around the United States and finally sell them on the retail market, we do know some of the details of gang involvement.
Trafficking vs. Distribution
Though the drug trade as a whole is highly complex, the underlying concept is as simple as getting narcotics from South America to the consuming markets — chief among them the United States, which is the world’s largest drug market. Traffickers use Central America and Mexico as a pipeline to move their goods north. The objective of the Latin American smuggler is to get as much tonnage as possible from Colombia, Peru and Bolivia to the lucrative American market and avoid interdictions by authorities along the way.
However, as narcotic shipments near the U.S.-Mexican border, wholesale trafficking turns into the more micro process of retail distribution. In southern Mexico, drug traffickers move product north in bulk, but as shipments cross the U.S. border, wholesale shipments are broken down into smaller parcels in order to hedge against interdiction and prepare the product for the end user. One way to think about the difference in tactics between trafficking drugs in Central America and Mexico and distributing drugs in the United States is to imagine a company like UPS or FedEx. Shipping air cargo from, say, New York to Los Angeles requires different resources than delivering packages to individual homes in southern California. Several tons of freight from the New York area can be quickly flown to the Los Angeles area. But as the cargo gets closer to its final destination, it is broken up into smaller loads that are shipped via tractor trailer to distribution centers around the region, and finally divided further into discrete packages carried in parcel trucks to individual homes.
As products move through the supply chain, they require more specific handling and detailed knowledge of an area, which requires more manpower. The same, more or less, can be said for drug shipments. This can be seen in interdiction reports. When narcotics are intercepted traversing South America into Mexico, they can be measured in tons; as they cross the border into the United States, seizures are reported in kilograms; and by the time products are picked up on the streets of U.S. cities, the narcotics have been divided into packages measured in grams. To reflect this difference, we will refer to the movement of drugs south of the border as trafficking and the movement of drugs north of the border as distributing.
As narcotics approach the border, law enforcement scrutiny and the risk of interdiction also increase, so drug traffickers have to be creative when it comes to moving their products. The constant game of cat-and-mouse makes drug trafficking a very dynamic business, with tactics and specific routes constantly changing to take advantage of any angle that presents itself.
The only certainties are that drugs and people will move from south to north, and that money and weapons will move from north to south. But the specific nature and corridors of those movements are constantly in flux as traffickers innovate in their attempts to stay ahead of the police in a very Darwinian environment. The traffickers employ all forms of movement imaginable, including:
Tunneling under border fences into safe houses on the U.S. side.
Traversing the desert on foot with 50-pound packs of narcotics. (Dirt bikes, ATVs and pack mules are also used.)
Driving across the border by fording the Rio Grande, using ramps to get over fences, cutting through fences or driving through open areas.
Using densely vegetated portions of the riverbank as dead drops.
Floating narcotics across isolated stretches of the river.
Flying small aircraft near the ground to avoid radar.
Concealing narcotics in private vehicles, personal possessions and in or on the bodies of persons who are crossing legally at ports of entry.
Bribing border officials in order to pass through checkpoints.
Hiding narcotics on cross-border trains.
Hiding narcotics in tractor trailers carrying otherwise legitimate loads.
Using boats along the Gulf coast.
Using human “mules” to smuggle narcotics aboard commercial aircraft in their luggage or bodies.
Shipping narcotics via mail or parcel service.
These methods are not mutually exclusive, and organizations may use any combination at the same time. New ways to move the product are constantly emerging.
Once the narcotics are moved into the United States, drug distributors use networks of safe houses, which are sometimes operated by people with direct connections to the Mexican cartels, sometimes by local or regional gang members, and sometimes by individual entrepreneurs. North of the border, distributors still must maneuver around checkpoints, either by avoiding them or by bribing the officials who work there. While these checkpoints certainly result in seizures, they can only slow or reroute the flow of drugs. Hub cities like Atlanta service a large region of smaller drug dealers who act as individual couriers in delivering small amounts of narcotics to their customers.
It is a numbers game for drug traffickers and distributors alike, since it is inevitable that smugglers and shipments will be intercepted by law enforcement somewhere along the supply chain. Those whose loads are interdicted more often struggle to keep prices low and stay competitive. On the other hand, paying heavy corruption fees or taking extra precautions to ensure that more of your product makes it through also raises the cost of moving the product. Successful traffickers and distributors must be able to strike a balance between protecting their shipments and accepting losses. This requires a high degree of pragmatism and rationality.
While the Mexican cartels do have people in the United States, they do not have enough people so positioned to handle the increased workload of distributing narcotics at the retail level. A wide range of skill sets is required. Some of the tactics involved in moving shipments across the border require skilled workers, such as pilots, while U.S. gang members along the border serve as middlemen and retail distributors. Other aspects of the operation call for people with expertise in manipulating corrupt officials and recruiting human intelligence sources, while a large part of the process simply involves saturating the system with massive numbers of expendable, low-skilled smugglers who are desperate for the money.
The U.S. gangs are crucial in filling the cartel gap north of the border. Members of these border gangs typically are young men who are willing to break the law, looking for quick cash and already plugged in to a network of similar young men, which enables them to recruit others to meet the manpower demand. They are also typically tied to Mexico through family connections, dual citizenship and the simple geographic fact that they live so close to the border. However, the U.S. gangs do not constitute formal extensions of the Mexican drug-trafficking organizations. Border gangs developed on their own, have their own histories, traditions, structures and turf, and they remain independent. They are also involved in more than just drug trafficking and distribution, including property crime, racketeering and kidnapping. Their involvement in narcotics is similar to that of a contractor who can provide certain services, such as labor and protection, while drugs move across gang territory, but drug money is not usually their sole source of income.
These gangs come in many shapes and sizes. Motorcycle gangs like the Mongols and Bandidos have chapters all along the southwestern U.S. border and, while not known to actually carry narcotics across the border into the United States, they are frequently involved in distributing smaller loads to various markets across the country to supplement their income from other illegal activities.
Street gangs are present in virtually every U.S. city and town of significant size along the border and are obvious pools of labor for distributing narcotics once they hit the United States. The largest of these street gangs are MS-13 and the Mexican Mafia. MS-13 has an estimated 30,000 to 50,000 members worldwide, about 25 percent of whom are in the United States. MS-13 is unique among U.S. gangs in that it is involved in trafficking narcotics through Central America and Mexico as well as in distributing narcotics in the United States. The Mexican Mafia works with allied gangs in the American Southwest to control large swaths of territory along both sides of the U.S.-Mexican border. These gangs are organized to interact directly with traffickers in Mexico and oversee transborder shipments as well as distribution inside the United States.
Prison gangs such as the Barrio Azteca and the Texas Syndicate reach far beyond the prison fence. Membership in a prison gang typically means that, at one point, the member was in prison, where he joined the gang. But there is a wide network of ex-prisoner gang members on the outside involved in criminal activities, including drug smuggling, which is one of the most accessible ways for a gang member to make money when he is released from prison.
Operating underneath the big gang players are hundreds of smaller city gangs in neighborhoods all along the border. These gangs are typically involved in property theft, drug dealing, turf battles and other forms of street crime that can be handled by local police. However, even these gangs can become involved in cross-border smuggling; for example, the Wonderboys in San Luis, Ariz., are known to smuggle marijuana, methamphetamine and cocaine across the border.
Gangs like the Wonderboys also target illegal immigrants coming across the border and steal any valuable personal items or cash they may have on them. The targeting of illegal immigrants coming into the United States is common all across the border, with many gangs specializing in kidnapping newly arrived immigrants and demanding ransoms from their families. These gangs are responsible for the record level of kidnapping reported in places like Phoenix, where 368 abductions were reported in 2008. Afraid to notify law enforcement out of a fear of being deported, many families of abducted immigrants somehow come up with the money to secure their family member’s release.
Drug distribution is by far the most lucrative illicit business along the border, and the competition for money leads to a very pragmatic interface between the U.S. border gangs and the drug cartels in Mexico. Handoffs from Mexican traffickers to U.S. distributors are made based upon reliability and price. While territorial rivalries between drug traffickers have led to thousands of deaths in Mexico, these Mexican rivalries do not appear to be spilling over into the U.S. border gangs, who are engaged in their own rivalries, feuds and acts of violence. Nor do the more gruesome aspects of violence in Mexico, such as torture and beheadings, although there are indications that grenades that were once part of cartel arsenals are finding their way to U.S. gangs. In dealing with the Mexican cartels, U.S. gangs — and cartels in turn — exhibit no small amount of business pragmatism. U.S. gangs can serve more than one cartel, which appears to be fine with the cartels, who really have no choice in the matter. They need these retail distribution services north of the border in order to make a profit.
Likewise, U.S. gangs are in the drug business to make money, not to enhance the power of any particular cartel in Mexico. As such, U.S. gangs do not want to limit their business opportunities by aligning themselves to any one cartel. Smaller city gangs that control less territory are more limited geographically in terms of which cartels they can work with. The Wonderboys in Arizona, for example, must deal exclusively with the Sinaloa cartel because the cartel’s turf south of the border encompasses the gang’s relative sliver of turf to the north. However, larger gangs like the Mexican Mafia control much broader swaths of territory and can deal with more than one cartel.
The expanse of geography controlled by the handful of cartels in Mexico simply does not match up with the territory controlled by the many gangs on the U.S. side. Stricter law enforcement is one reason U.S. border gangs have not consolidated to gain control over more turf. While corruption is a growing problem along the U.S. side of the border, it still has not risen to the level that it has in northern Mexico. Another reason for the asymmetry is the different nature of drug movements north of the border. As discussed earlier, moving narcotics in the United States has everything to do with distributing retail quantities of drugs to consumers spread over a broad geographic area, a model that requires more feet on the ground than the trafficking that takes place in Mexico.
Because the drug distribution network in the United States is so large, it is impossible for any one criminal organization to control all of it. U.S. gangs fill the role of middleman to move drugs around, and they are entrusted with large shipments of narcotics worth millions of dollars. Obviously, the cartels need a way to keep these gangs honest.
One effective way is to have an enforcement arm in place. This is where U.S.-based assassins come in. More tightly connected to the cartels than the gangs are, these assassins are not usually members of a gang. In fact, the cartels prefer that their assassins not be in a gang so that their loyalties will be to the cartels, and so they will be less likely to have criminal records or attract law enforcement attention because of everyday gang activity.
Cartels invest quite a bit in training these hit men to operate in the United States. Often they are trained in Mexico, then sent back across to serve as a kind of “sleeper cell” until they are tapped to take out a delinquent U.S. drug dealer. The frequency and ease with which Americans travel to and from Mexico covers any suspicion that might be raised.
The GapsThe U.S.-Mexican border is a dynamic place, with competition over drug routes and the quest for cash destabilizing northern Mexico and straining local and state law enforcement on the U.S. side. Putting pressure on the people who are active in the border drug trade has so far only inspired others to innovate and adapt to the challenging environment by becoming more innovative and pragmatic.
And there is still so much we do not know. The exact nature of the relationship between Mexican cartels and U.S. gangs is very murky, and it appears to be handled on such an individual basis that making generalizations is difficult. Another intelligence gap is how deeply involved the cartels are in the U.S. distribution network. As mentioned earlier, the network expands as it becomes more retail in nature, but the profit margins also expand, making it an attractive target for cartel takeover. Finally, while we know that gangs are instrumental in distributing narcotics in the United States, it is unclear how much of the cross-border smuggling they control. Is this vital, risky endeavor completely controlled by cartels and gatekeeper organizations based in Mexico, or do U.S. gangs on the distribution side have more say? STRATFOR will continue to monitor these issues as Mexico’s dynamic cartels continue to evolve.
This report may be forwarded or republished on your website with attribution to www.stratfor.com
Thursday, 9 April 2009
Istanbul NTV Online 06 Apr 09
Unattributed report: Political Parties Comment on Obamas Speech
The NTV interviewed the representatives of political parties which have a
delegation in the Turkish Grand National Assembly [TBMM] about the speech
delivered by Obama in a plenary session of the TBMM.
Deniz Bolukbasi, a Nationalist Action Party deputy from Ankara: "His
address to the National Assembly should be analyzed in two parts. He said that
Turkey was a critical ally, emphasized secularism and democracy in Turkey, and
noted that this long-standing friendship between Turkey and the United States
based on common values can establish new ground for partnership in order to
overcome new challenge of the world. Those were positive remarks.
"But, I was deeply disappointed and alarmed by the other parts of Obama's
speech. After his meeting with President Gul, he said that his opinion about
genocide had not changed and that the problem could be resolved if the common
border between Armenia and Turkey was reopened and diplomatic relations were
established. He noted that he was encouraging Turkey to take those steps. He
referred to the possibility of reopening the Heybeliada seminary. He said that
Turkey should cooperate with the Barzani Administration while reiterating
support for granting Kurdish rights and fighting against terrorism. I was not
expecting the US President to make those comments. The speech, therefore, had
certain aspects which gave rise to concerns.
"He stated that they would support Turkey in its fight against the PKK and
that the United States was also regarding the PKK as a terrorist organization.
But, it was not sufficient. He stated that Turkey should also build ties of
cooperation with the central government and Kurdish leaders in Iraq. In other
words, he implied that the problem should be discussed with Barzani in order to
find a solution.
"He said that Turkey was at the heart of a region where East and West unite
come together rather than being divided, adding that different cultures could
live together, citing relations between Turkey and the United States as an
example. He said that they were not waging and would never wage war against
the Muslim world. But, his speech did not have a context indicating that
Turkey has assumed a special mission in that regard."
Suat Kiniklioglu, deputy head of the AKP's [Justice and Development Party]
foreign affairs committee: "I think it was an encouraging speech, albeit it
was short. But, it contained important messages. Firstly, there was special
emphasis laid on Turkey's European identity and relations with the EU. He
expressed his desire to understand the Muslim world better and to establish
closer ties with it which reflected his commitment to maintaining good
relations with the Muslim world.
"The reference to the Cyprus question was of crucial importance to us
because talks in Cyprus presently continue and they are very important. He
said that both sides should take a constructive approach to the negotiations.
His desire to mend Turkish-American relations was clearly demonstrated. Before
the presidential election, Obama said that he would pursue such a policy and
that he would make serious efforts in order to get Turkish-American relations
back on the rails. I think that he reiterated his determination in his address
to the National Assembly. It was actually a response to the comment made by
French President Sarkozy to a certain extent.
"He said: 'The United States is not a member of the EU, but it is an ally
of both the EU and Turkey. So, there are things that it can say.' It was
generally very positive. Clearly, I regard it as a speech which gave clues
about the next period in Turkish-American relations.
As regards the seminary issue, you know that it is a matter which are
constantly brought up by foreign visitors, but has not been actually explained
due to some difficulties peculiar to Turkey. Regarding the events witnessed in
1915, Obama made frequent references to the United States' own history and
slavery. He said that people who looked like him could not even vote much less
being the president of the United States because of their skin in the past. It
was interesting to hear him making such an analogy and first mentioned US
history and made references to Turkey about the issue. As our President noted
in a news conference at the Presidential Mansion today, we have already said
that a history committee should be established, there are conflicting
information, and that we are open to the idea of setting up a history committee
about a contentious historical issue.
"Obviously, I do not know what the public will think about it, but there was
a certain level of silence in the National Assembly during that part of his
speech. I think the public will make its own judgment about the issue. But,
the AKP has already given its response by our leader's proposal to set up a
history committee in 2005 which was discussed during recent rapprochement
between Turkey and Armenia more recently."
Ahmet Tan, Democratic Left Party deputy from Istanbul: "When I take a look
from the tunnel of history -- because I also listened to Clinton on 15 November
1999 -- I do not think that there is a black-and-white contrast between the two
speeches. But, there are differences regarding certain issues. Clinton
mentioned Cyprus because of conditions prevailing back then. But, Obama made
no reference to Cyprus.
Clinton talked about conflicts in the Aegean and he used the term conflict
because we had problems with Greece back then. Of course this was not the case
this time. Obama delivered a speech which was at a higher level. In a sense,
it was reminiscent of the speech he made in front of the White House on the day
he was elected.
"The section about the Armenian issue deserves Turkey's special attention.
Clinton made no reference to the Armenian issue back then. But, Obama did.
But, he did it in a very careful and diplomatic manner. He implied that we
should face up to tragic events of the past. Of course it was not a comment
that would make the Armenian community in the United States very happy because
he used the term 'Armenian genocide" during his campaign. All supporters of
the allegation of Armenian genocide and diaspora Armenians were definitely
expecting him to use the word 'genocide.' But, he did not use it. In a sense,
it was good because it was parallel with both messages of peace and advice to
refrain from conflicts. I was surprised to hear him laying emphasis on
reopening the seminary in Istanbul which indicated that it will remain n the
agenda in the future.
"There were also other differences between them in terms of respective
periods. Energy was not on the agenda during that period. He commented on
energy in addition to the Kurdish overture, particularly TRT 6 television
channel. His remarks about torture were of great importance. He has more
dynamic expectations about democratic overtures. He said: 'Democracy is a
dynamic process." He laid particular emphasis on freedom of the media which was
related to the government's policies. In my view, this is one of the
conclusions that should be drawn by the ruling party."
Republican People's Party deputy leader Onur Oymen: "He gave very positive
messages. In fact, it was broadly not much different those we were expecting
to hear. There are several points which deserve special attention. Firstly,
he referred to democratic secularism. He praised Ataturk's legacy and stressed
the notion of democratic secularism. This is the first important element.
"The second important element is that he said that close cooperation between
Turkey and the United States was needed. He referred to common factors, but we
did not hear him uttering the term 'strategic partnership.' This was the main
difference with the Bush Administration. By saying that we should normalize
our relations with Armenia, he implied that we should reopen the common
border. What he said about Heybeliada represented messages that we already
But, he did not mention why Turkey has kept its border with Armenia closed
for such a long period? The reason is that 20 percent of Azeri territory has
been invaded by Armenia. The message that Turkey should reopen the border even
if Armenia does not withdraw from that region can be interpreted as a piece of
advice implying that we should accept the current situation. But, he did not
precisely imply that. He said that the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict which has
been continuing for a long time should be resolved.
"Thus, he gave both messages concurrently. He referred to both sides in
Cyprus while emphasizing the need to unite. He used a very general term. One
of his important messages was about the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. He gave
the message that there should be two states which is an opinion that we are
advocating. While making comments on Iraq and the PKK, he emphasized the fight
on terror which was of crucial importance. But, he did not give any signal
about how the PKK would be expelled from northern Iraq.
He said that terrorism is a threat to Turkey, Iraq, and the United States.
How are we going to fight against that threat? We could not fully see a sign.
We are awaiting it. He said: 'We will work together in Afghanistan." What did
he actually mean? Did he imply that they would fight against terrorism in
Afghanistan together with Turkish troops? It was not clear.
In other words, his general messages were positive and friendly. But, we
will analyze his speech in detail. His meeting with our leader and taking care
to meet with the leaders of the opposition parties are very positive signs. It
showed that the new US government is perfectly aware that Turkey does not only
consist of the ruling party.
Democratic Society Party, DTP, leader Ahmet Turk: DTP leader Turk briefed
reporters after his meeting with US President Obama. In reply to a question
how he interpreted Obama's messages and his statement that the PKK is a
terrorist organization during his address to the TBMM, Turk: "We should go
down to the source of violence. I tried to explain that it should not be
regarded as one-sided violence given that there are 17,000 unsolved
Asked whether or not they were asked to sever their ties with the PKK, Turk
responded that there was no such discussion.
April 6, 2009
Smack on its 60th anniversary, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization finds itself facing a completely novel problem – that of radical Islam, as represented by the Republic of Turkey, within its own ranks.
With the end of the Cold War, NATO's mission changed and some saw Islamism as the new strategic enemy. Already in 1995, NATO Secretary General Willy Claes compared Islamism to the historic foe: "Fundamentalism is at least as dangerous as communism was." With the Cold War over, he added, "Islamic militancy has emerged as perhaps the single gravest threat to the NATO alliance and to Western security."
Indeed, NATO first invoked Article 5 of its charter, calling on "collective self-defense," to go to war against the Taliban in Afghanistan in 2001, responding to the 9/11 attacks launched from that country.
More recently, former Spanish prime minister José María Aznar argues that "Islamist terrorism is a new shared threat of a global nature that places the very existence of NATO's members at risk" and advocates that the alliance focus on combating "Islamic jihadism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction." He calls for "placing the war against Islamic jihadism at the center of the Allied strategy."
Claes and Aznar are right; but their vision is now in jeopardy, for Islamists have penetrated the 28-state alliance, as was dramatically illustrated in recent days.
Prime ministers Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (left) and Anders Fogh Rasmussen in 2002.
As the term of Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer concludes in July, a consensus had emerged to make Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, 56, his successor. But Fogh Rasmussen was in office in early 2006, when the Muhammad cartoon crisis erupted and he insisted that as prime minister he had no authority to tell a private newspaper what not to publish. This position won him much criticism from Muslims, including Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who instructed Fogh Rasmussen at the time that "Freedoms have limits, what is sacred should be respected."
When Fogh Rasmussen came up for the NATO post, Erdoğan continued his grudge, saying that his government looks "negatively" on Fogh Rasmussen's candidacy because, Erdoğan explained, "I asked for a meeting of Islamic leaders in his country to explain what is going on and he refrained from doing that. So how can I expect him to contribute to peace?"
Eventually, Fogh Rasmussen was selected as the consensus candidate, but at a steep price. The Dane won the job only after engaging in intensive negotiations with Turkish president Abdullah Gül hosted by Barack Obama. Fogh Rasmussen promised to appoint at least two Turks and publicly to address Muslim concerns about his response to the cartoons. More broadly, Erdoğan announced. Obama "gave us guarantees" concerning Turkish reservations about Fogh Rasmussen.
The hoops that Fogh Rasmussen had to jump through to win Ankara's support can be inferred from his cringe-inducing, dhimmi-like remarks on winning the appointment: "As secretary general of NATO, I will make a very clear outreach to the Muslim world to ensure cooperation and intensify dialogue with the Muslim world. I consider Turkey a very important ally and strategic partner and I will cooperate with them in our endeavors to ensure the best cooperation with Muslim world."
We appear to be witnessing the emergence not of a robust NATO following the Claes-Aznar model, one leading the fight against radical Islam, but an institution hobbled from within, incapable of standing up to the main strategic threat for fear of offending a member government.
Nor is Islamism NATO's only problem with Turkey. In what is emerging as a Middle Eastern cold war, with Tehran leading one faction and Riyadh the other, Ankara has repeatedly sided with the former – hosting Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, advocating for Iran's nuclear program, developing an Iranian oil field, transferring Iranian arms to Hezbollah, openly supporting Hamas, viciously condemning Israel, and turning Turkish public opinion against the United States.
Noting these changes, columnist Caroline Glick urges Washington to "float the notion of removing Turkey from NATO." The Obama administration is not about to do that; but before Ankara renders NATO toothless, dispassionate observers should carefully think this argument through.
Middle East Forum
By Greg Jaffe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 6, 2009; Page A01
A war that ended three years ago and involved not a single U.S. soldier has become the subject of an increasingly heated debate inside the Pentagon, one that could alter how the U.S. military fights in the future.
When Israel and Hezbollah battled for more than a month in Lebanon in the summer of 2006, the result was widely seen as a disaster for the Israeli military. Soon after the fighting ended, some military officers began to warn that the short, bloody and relatively conventional battle foreshadowed how future enemies of the United States might fight.
Since then, the Defense Department has dispatched as many as a dozen teams to interview Israeli officers who fought against Hezbollah. The Army and Marine Corps have sponsored a series of multimillion-dollar war games to test how U.S. forces might fare against a similar foe. "I've organized five major games in the last two years, and all of them have focused on Hezbollah," said Frank Hoffman, a research fellow at the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory in Quantico.
A big reason that the 34-day war is drawing such fevered attention is that it highlights a rift among military leaders: Some want to change the U.S. military so that it is better prepared for wars like the ones it is fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, while others worry that such a shift would leave the United States vulnerable to a more conventional foe.
"The Lebanon war has become a bellwether," said Stephen Biddle, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who has advised Gen. David H. Petraeus, head of the U.S. Central Command. "If you are opposed to transforming the military to fight low-intensity wars, it is your bloody sheet. It's discussed in almost coded communication to indicate which side of the argument you are on."
U.S. military experts were stunned by the destruction that Hezbollah forces, using sophisticated antitank guided missiles, were able to wreak on Israeli armor columns. Unlike the guerrilla forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, who employed mostly hit-and-run tactics, the Hezbollah fighters held their ground against Israeli forces in battles that stretched as long as 12 hours. They were able to eavesdrop on Israeli communications and even struck an Israeli ship with a cruise missile.
"From 2000 to 2006 Hezbollah embraced a new doctrine, transforming itself from a predominantly guerrilla force into a quasi-conventional fighting force," a study by the Army's Combat Studies Institute concluded last year. Another Pentagon report warned that Hezbollah forces were "extremely well trained, especially in the uses of antitank weapons and rockets" and added: "They well understood the vulnerabilities of Israeli armor."
Many top Army officials refer to the short battle almost as a morality play that illustrates the price of focusing too much on counterinsurgency wars at the expense of conventional combat. These officers note that, before the Lebanon war, Israeli forces had been heavily involved in occupation duty in the Palestinian territories.
"The real takeaway is that you have to find the time to train for major combat operations, even if you are fighting counterinsurgency wars," said one senior military analyst who studied the Lebanon war for the Center for Army Lessons Learned at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. Currently, the deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan have prevented Army units from conducting such training.
Army generals have also latched on to the Lebanon war to build support for multibillion-dollar weapons programs that are largely irrelevant to low-intensity wars such as those fought in Iraq and Afghanistan. A 30-page internal Army briefing, prepared for the Joint Chiefs of Staff and senior Pentagon civilians, recently sought to highlight how the $159 billion Future Combat Systems, a network of ground vehicles and sensors, could have been used to dispatch Hezbollah's forces quickly and with few American casualties.
"Hezbollah relies on low visibility and prepared defenses," one slide in the briefing reads. "FCS counters with sensors and robotics to maneuver out of contact."
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates is expected to stake out a firm position in this debate as soon as today, when he announces the 2010 defense budget. That document is expected to cut or sharply curtail weapons systems designed for conventional wars, and to bolster intelligence and surveillance programs designed to help track down shadowy insurgents.
"This budget moves the needle closer to irregular warfare and counterinsurgency," Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said. "It is not an abandonment of the need to prepare for conventional conflicts. But even moving that needle is a revolutionary thing in this building."
The changes reflect the growing prominence of the military's counterinsurgency camp -- the most prominent member of which is Petraeus -- in the Pentagon. President Obama, whose strategy in Afghanistan is focused on protecting the local population and denying the Islamist radicals a safe haven, has largely backed this group.
The question facing defense leaders is whether they can afford to build a force that can prevail in a counterinsurgency fight, where the focus is on protecting the civilian population and building indigenous army and police forces, as well as a more conventional battle.
Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the Army's top officer in the Pentagon, has said it is essential that the military be able to do both simultaneously. New Army doctrine, meanwhile, calls for a "full spectrum" service that is as good at rebuilding countries as it is at destroying opposing armies.
But other experts remain skeptical. "The idea that you can do it all is just wrong," said Biddle of the Council on Foreign Relations. Soldiers, who are home for as little as 12 months between deployments, do not have enough time to prepare adequately for both types of wars, he said.
Biddle and other counterinsurgency advocates argue that the military should focus on winning the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and only then worry about what the next war will look like.
Some in this camp say that the threat posed by Hezbollah is being inflated by officers who are determined to return the Army to a more familiar past, built around preparing for conventional warfare.
Another question is whether the U.S. military is taking the proper lessons from the Israel-Hezbollah war. Its studies have focused almost exclusively on the battle in southern Lebanon and ignored Hezbollah's ongoing role in Lebanese society as a political party and humanitarian aid group. After the battle, Hezbollah forces moved in quickly with aid and reconstruction assistance.
"Even if the Israelis had done better operationally, I don't think they would have been victorious in the long run," said Andrew Exum, a former Army officer who has studied the battle from southern Lebanon. "For the Israelis, the war lasted for 34 days. We tend to forget that for Hezbollah, it is infinite."
Wednesday, 8 April 2009
– His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew had a private meeting today with President Barack Obama. The meeting took place at the Conrad Hotel in Constantinople (modern day Istanbul) at approximately 9:45 in the morning. His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of America and the White House Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, were present at the meeting.
The meeting and ensuing discussion were marked by a spirit of warm cordiality and mutual respect. The substance of the discussions included President Obama’s mention of the issue of the Theological School of Halki in his speech before the Turkish Parliament, and his further discussion of the same with the President of the Turkish Republic, Abdullah Gul. The President said that he would follow up on the issue with a view to a favorable solution for the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew made reference to the following points:
He made a convincing and passionate argument for the speedy re-opening of the Theological School of Halki, a basic need for the education and preparation of Clergy of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
He emphasized the importance of religious liberty and the guarantee of same for all minorities of Turkey.
He stated his well-known and long time support for the efforts of Turkey to join the European Union.
He noted the significance of efforts made on behalf of the environment, adding information on his own upcoming Ecological Symposium in the U.S.A. (Mississippi River) in October of 2009.
He thanked President Obama for this meeting and for his active interest in the pressing issues of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
His All Holiness mentioned that he had sent to the President, through the local U.S. General Counsel, an icon of the Prophet Baruch (patron of the President) with a handwritten inscription. He also congratulated the President for the championship victory of the University of North Carolina’s Basketball Team, which the President had chosen to win.
Κ. Βοσπορίτης, ο νεώτερος
By George Friedman
Related Special Topic Page
A World Redefined: The Global Summits
The weeklong extravaganza of G-20, NATO, EU, U.S. and Turkey meetings has almost ended. The spin emerging from the meetings, echoed in most of the media, sought to portray the meetings as a success and as reflecting a re-emergence of trans-Atlantic unity.
The reality, however, is that the meetings ended in apparent unity because the United States accepted European unwillingness to compromise on key issues. U.S. President Barack Obama wanted the week to appear successful, and therefore backed off on key issues; the Europeans did the same. Moreover, Obama appears to have set a process in motion that bypasses Europe to focus on his last stop: Turkey.
Berlin, Washington and the G-20
Let’s begin with the G-20 meeting, which focused on the global financial crisis. As we said last year, there were many European positions, but the United States was reacting to Germany’s. Not only is Germany the largest economy in Europe, it is the largest exporter in the world. Any agreement that did not include Germany would be useless, whereas an agreement excluding the rest of Europe but including Germany would still be useful.
Two fundamental issues divided the United States and Germany. The first was whether Germany would match or come close to the U.S. stimulus package. The United States wanted Germany to stimulate its own domestic demand. Obama feared that if the United States put a stimulus plan into place, Germany would use increased demand in the U.S. market to expand its exports. The United States would wind up with massive deficits while the Germans took advantage of U.S. spending, thus letting Berlin enjoy the best of both worlds. Washington felt it had to stimulate its economy, and that this would inevitably benefit the rest of the world. But Washington wanted burden sharing. Berlin, quite rationally, did not. Even before the meetings, the United States dropped the demand — Germany was not going to cooperate.
The second issue was the financing of the bailout of the Central European banking system, heavily controlled by eurozone banks and part of the EU financial system. The Germans did not want an EU effort to bail out the banks. They wanted the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to bail out a substantial part of the EU financial system instead. The reason was simple: The IMF receives loans from the United States, as well as China and Japan, meaning the Europeans would be joined by others in underwriting the bailout. The United States has signaled it would be willing to contribute $100 billion to the IMF, of which a substantial portion would go to Central Europe. (Of the current loans given by the IMF, roughly 80 percent have gone to the struggling economies in Central Europe.) The United States therefore essentially has agreed to the German position.
Later at the NATO meeting, the Europeans — including Germany — declined to send substantial forces to Afghanistan. Instead, they designated a token force of 5,000, most of whom are scheduled to be in Afghanistan only until the August elections there, and few of whom actually would be engaged in combat operations. This is far below what Obama had been hoping for when he began his presidency.
Agreement was reached on collaboration in detecting international tax fraud and on further collaboration in managing the international crisis, however. But what that means remains extremely vague — as it was meant to be, since there was no consensus on what was to be done. In fact, the actual guidelines will still have to be hashed out at the G-20 finance ministers’ meeting in Scotland in November. Intriguingly, after insisting on the creation of a global regulatory regime — and with the vague U.S. assent — the European Union failed to agree on European regulations. In a meeting in Prague on April 4, the United Kingdom rejected the regulatory regime being proposed by Germany and France, saying it would leave the British banking system at a disadvantage.
Overall, the G-20 and the NATO meetings did not produce significant breakthroughs. Rather than pushing hard on issues or trading concessions — such as accepting Germany’s unwillingness to increase its stimulus package in return for more troops in Afghanistan — the United States failed to press or bargain. It preferred to appear as part of a consensus rather than appear isolated. The United States systematically avoided any appearance of disagreement.
The reason there was no bargaining was fairly simple: The Germans were not prepared to bargain. They came to the meetings with prepared positions, and the United States had no levers with which to move them. The only option was to withhold funding for the IMF, and that would have been a political disaster (not to mention economically rather unwise). The United States would have been seen as unwilling to participate in multilateral solutions rather than Germany being seen as trying to foist its economic problems on others. Obama has positioned himself as a multilateralist and can’t afford the political consequences of deviating from this perception. Contributing to the IMF, in these days of trillion-dollar bailouts, was the lower-cost alternative. Thus, the Germans have the U.S. boxed in.
The political aspect of this should not be underestimated. George W. Bush had extremely bad relations with the Europeans (in large part because he was prepared to confront them). This was Obama’s first major international foray, and he could not let it end in acrimony or wind up being seen as unable to move the Europeans after running a campaign based on his ability to manage the Western coalition. It was important that he come home having reached consensus with the Europeans. Backing off on key economic and military demands gave him that “consensus.”
Turkey and Obama’s Deeper Game
But it was not simply a matter of domestic politics. It is becoming clear that Obama is playing a deeper game. A couple of weeks before the meetings, when it had become obvious that the Europeans were not going to bend on the issues that concerned the United States, Obama scheduled a trip to Turkey. During the EU meetings in Prague, Obama vigorously supported the Turkish application for EU membership, which several members are blocking on grounds of concerns over human rights and the role of the military in Turkey. But the real reason is that full membership would open European borders to Turkish migration, and the Europeans do not want free Turkish migration. The United States directly confronted the Europeans on this matter.
During the NATO meeting, a key item on the agenda was the selection of a new alliance secretary-general. The favorite was former Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen. Turkey opposed his candidacy because of his defense on grounds of free speech of cartoons depicting the Prophet Mohammed published in a Danish magazine. NATO operates on consensus, so any one member can block just about anything. The Turks backed off the veto, but won two key positions in NATO, including that of deputy secretary-general.
So while the Germans won their way at the meetings, it was the Turks who came back with the most. Not only did they boost their standing in NATO, they got Obama to come to a vigorous defense of the Turkish application for membership in the European Union, which of course the United States does not belong to. Obama then flew to Turkey for meetings and to attend a key international meeting that will allow him to further position the United States in relation to Islam.
The Russian Dimension
Let’s diverge to another dimension of these talks, which still concerns Turkey, but also concerns the Russians. While atmospherics after the last week’s meetings might have improved, there was certainly no fundamental shift in U.S.-Russian relations. The Russians have rejected the idea of pressuring Iran over its nuclear program in return for the United States abandoning its planned ballistic missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic. The United States simultaneously downplayed the importance of a Russian route to Afghanistan. Washington said there were sufficient supplies in Afghanistan and enough security on the Pakistani route such that the Russians weren’t essential for supplying Western operations in Afghanistan. At the same time, the United States reached an agreement with Ukraine for the transshipment of supplies — a mostly symbolic gesture, but one guaranteed to infuriate the Russians at both the United States and Ukraine. Moreover, the NATO communique did not abandon the idea of Ukraine and Georgia being admitted to NATO, although the German position on unspecified delays to such membership was there as well. When Obama looks at the chessboard, the key emerging challenge remains Russia.
The Germans are not going to be joining the United States in blocking Russia. Between dependence on Russia for energy supplies and little appetite for confronting a Russia that Berlin sees as no real immediate threat to Germany, the Germans are not going to address the Russian question. At the same time, the United States does not want to push the Germans toward Russia, particularly in confrontations ultimately of secondary importance and on which Germany has no give anyway. Obama is aware that the German left is viscerally anti-American, while Merkel is only pragmatically anti-American — a small distinction, but significant enough for Washington not to press Berlin.
At the same time, an extremely important event between Turkey and Armenia looks to be on the horizon. Armenians had long held Turkey responsible for the mass murder of Armenians during and after World War I, a charge the Turks have denied. The U.S. Congress for several years has threatened to pass a resolution condemning Turkish genocide against Armenians. The Turks are extraordinarily sensitive to this charge, and passage would have meant a break with the United States. Last week, they publicly began to discuss an agreement with the Armenians, including diplomatic recognition, which essentially disarms the danger from any U.S. resolution on genocide. Although an actual agreement hasn’t been signed just yet, anticipation is building on all sides.
The Turkish opening to Armenia has potentially significant implications for the balance of power in the Caucasus. The August 2008 Russo-Georgian war created an unstable situation in an area of vital importance to Russia. Russian troops remain deployed, and NATO has called for their withdrawal from the breakaway Georgian regions of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. There are Russian troops in Armenia, meaning Russia has Georgia surrounded. In addition, there is talk of an alternative natural gas pipeline network from Azerbaijan to Europe.
Turkey is the key to all of this. If Ankara collaborates with Russia, Georgia’s position is precarious and Azerbaijan’s route to Europe is blocked. If it cooperates with the United States and also manages to reach a stable treaty with Armenia under U.S. auspices, the Russian position in the Caucasus is weakened and an alternative route for natural gas to Europe opens up, decreasing Russian leverage against Europe.
From the American point of view, Europe is a lost cause since internally it cannot find a common position and its heavyweights are bound by their relationship with Russia. It cannot agree on economic policy, nor do its economic interests coincide with those of the United States, at least insofar as Germany is concerned. As far as Russia is concerned, Germany and Europe are locked in by their dependence on Russian natural gas. The U.S.-European relationship thus is torn apart not by personalities, but by fundamental economic and military realities. No amount of talking will solve that problem.
The key to sustaining the U.S.-German alliance is reducing Germany’s dependence on Russian natural gas and putting Russia on the defensive rather than the offensive. The key to that now is Turkey, since it is one of the only routes energy from new sources can cross to get to Europe from the Middle East, Central Asia or the Caucasus. If Turkey — which has deep influence in the Caucasus, Central Asia, Ukraine, the Middle East and the Balkans — is prepared to ally with the United States, Russia is on the defensive and a long-term solution to Germany’s energy problem can be found. On the other hand, if Turkey decides to take a defensive position and moves to cooperate with Russia instead, Russia retains the initiative and Germany is locked into Russian-controlled energy for a generation.
Therefore, having sat through fruitless meetings with the Europeans, Obama chose not to cause a pointless confrontation with a Europe that is out of options. Instead, Obama completed his trip by going to Turkey to discuss what the treaty with Armenia means and to try to convince the Turks to play for high stakes by challenging Russia in the Caucasus, rather than playing Russia’s junior partner.
This is why Obama’s most important speech in Europe was his last one, following Turkey’s emergence as a major player in NATO’s political structure. In that speech, he sided with the Turks against Europe, and extracted some minor concessions from the Europeans on the process for considering Turkey’s accession to the European Union. Why Turkey wants to be an EU member is not always obvious to us, but they do want membership. Obama is trying to show the Turks that he can deliver for them. He reiterated — if not laid it on even more heavily — all of this in his speech in Ankara. Obama laid out the U.S. position as one that recognized the tough geopolitical position Turkey is in and the leader that Turkey is becoming, and also recognized the commonalities between Washington and Ankara. This was exactly what Turkey wanted to hear.
The Caucasus is far from the only area to discuss. Talks will be held about blocking Iran in Iraq, U.S. relations with Syria and Syrian talks with Israel, and Central Asia, where both countries have interests. But the most important message to the Europeans will be that Europe is where you go for photo opportunities, but Turkey is where you go to do the business of geopolitics. It is unlikely that the Germans and French will get it. Their sense of what is happening in the world is utterly Eurocentric. But the Central Europeans, on the frontier with Russia and feeling quite put out by the German position on their banks, certainly do get it.
Obama gave the Europeans a pass for political reasons, and because arguing with the Europeans simply won’t yield benefits. But the key to the trip is what he gets out of Turkey — and whether in his speech to the civilizations, he can draw some of the venom out of the Islamic world by showing alignment with the largest economy among Muslim states, Turkey.
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