Crimean Leader Says Ukrainian Military Units Are Surrendering

David M. Herszenhorn |  New York Times

The prime minister of Crimea, the autonomous Ukrainian republic seized by Russian military forces, claimed Tuesday that most Ukrainian military units on the Crimean peninsula had surrendered and had pledged allegiance to his pro-Russian government, and that local officials were working to speed up a referendum on independence.

Speaking at a news conference on Tuesday morning, Prime Minister Sergei Aksyonov said that regional officials were in control of the security situation, even as armed standoffs continued between Russian forces and Ukrainian troops at several military installations, including a base near the airport of Belbek near Sevastopol.

“There is no safety threat to human life in Crimea,” Mr. Aksyonov said.

It was not possible to independently verify Mr. Aksyonov’s claims, and even he did not assert that all military units were now aligned with his administration. He did indicate, however, that he believed enough forces were loyal to him to eliminate the threat of an armed insurrection in Crimea.

Mr. Aksyunov, who heads a political party called Russian Unity, was installed at the head of the Crimean regional administration last Thursday after armed men seized the parliament building and raised the Russian flag overhead.

He said that a referendum on independence from Ukraine, scheduled for March 30, would probably be held sooner, but he offered no details. He said that he had not been in contact with Viktor F. Yanukovych, the ousted president of Ukraine, who fled to Russia but has said he plans to return.

Mr. Aksyonov said that Crimean armed forces were now in a position to ensure the security of the peninsula on their own, but that military officials were working with commanders of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, which is based in Sevastopol under a long-term lease.

“We are coordinating our activists with the Black Sea Fleet,” he said. “But as of today we are in a position to ensure our own security,”

In recent days, soldiers wearing uniforms with no identifying insignia have taken up positions around military bases and other security installations across the peninsula, including outposts and headquarters of the federal border police and some government buildings. They are assisted by self-defense militia groups in plain clothes wearing armbands.

On Tuesday morning, there were plainclothes security guards controlling access to the regional administration building, as well as a group gathered near the regional Parliament in the center of the city, including Cossacks in ethnic uniforms and some older men in green camouflage, along with volunteers cooking food.

Read the complete article at The New York Times

Obama’s Obsession with Reduction: A Prescription for a Weaker America

John R. Bolton |  Washington Times

The Obama administration recently has launched campaigns advocating its key arms-control initiatives. These public-relations offensives are to support a key treaty being finalized with Russia, the ratification of previously blocked treaties, and the advancement of more arms-control negotiations. Although hitherto overlooked in the media, President Obama’s arms-control priorities are major components of his upcoming foreign policy agenda.

Arms control’s complexities and dense jargon typically have limited its consideration to a cadre of high priests and priestesses, largely hidden from public view. This obscurity has been most unfortunate because the stakes involved in misguided arms-control policy are extraordinarily high. Precisely because of the stakes, the general public should be as fully informed and involved as in any other national security issue.

Much of arms-control theology rests on mistaken premises whose consequences can be highly detrimental to U.S. national security interests. There is real danger, for example, in negotiating numerical weapons ceilings, such as on numbers of nuclear warheads, unrelated to our real strategic needs. Mere numerical targets typically do not reflect the opposing sides’ differing global interests and obligations, their asymmetrical conventional military and intelligence capabilities or their varying economic strengths.

Undeterred by these caveats, however, Mr. Obama will announce imminently a treaty with Russia limiting strategic nuclear weapons. Administration statements (and press leaks) indicate that the new limits on warheads will be below those in the 2002 Treaty of Moscow. There, Russia and America agreed on ceilings of 1,700 to 2,200 operationally deployed strategic nuclear warheads by 2012, with the clear understanding that U.S. warhead holdings would be near the top of that range. The Obama agreement’s new limits are said to be 1,500 to 1,675 warheads, meaning that we will face significant reductions–and well before 2012. Even if Russia falls to the bottom of the new range, its reductions will be small compared to ours.

But the positions of the United States and Russia are not parallel, and roughly equivalent warhead limits impair Washington far more than Moscow. America has global commitments to many allies, from NATO to the Pacific, protected by our nuclear umbrella. The range of threats and dangerous contingencies we face, such as from terrorists and rogue states like North Korea and Iran, is substantially greater and more challenging than what confronts Russia, which essentially has no allies to protect. Squeezing down U.S. force levels is therefore not only a prescription for making America weaker, but for making its allies less safe and less confident in our ability to protect them.

Moreover, the United States is far ahead of Russia in using advanced delivery systems (ballistic and cruise missiles and heavy bombers) to carry conventional payloads. This is a significant element of America’s capacity to meet its far-flung alliance commitments and other vital interests worldwide. Limiting the available numbers of delivery systems for conventional warheads, as the treaty apparently will do, is a massive retreat to outmoded arms-control “counting rules” that overwhelmingly will benefit Russia at the expense of America and its allies. It is as though President Obama’s advisers do not understand how harmful reducing delivery systems will be to the Pentagon’s strategy of increased reliance on conventional rather than nuclear warheads.

Perhaps even more disturbing are press reports that Moscow is still insisting on constraining U.S. missile-defense capabilities. The Obama administration’s seeming unwillingness to flatly reject such constraints represents a dramatic retreat from President George W. Bush’s unqualified determination to create national missile-defense capabilities. Mr. Bush’s decision to withdraw from the badly conceived, outdated Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty of 1972 was a major step forward for America’s defense capabilities and the security of our civilian population. For Mr. Obama to retreat here, even in minor ways, would be a mistake of extraordinary magnitude. If he ultimately unveils a treaty that limits our missile-defense programs, however minutely, that alone would be more than sufficient reason to defeat it in the Senate, whatever its limits on warheads and delivery systems.

The impending U.S.-Russia treaty is only the start of the arms-control renaissance. Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. announced last week, for example, that the administration will push to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which was defeated in the Senate in 1999. It hasn’t gotten better with age. Multilateral negotiations over arms in outer space, fissile material production and conventional arms restrictions (which well could be an international effort to limit or proscribe the civilian ownership of guns) are all in line for presidential attention.

The Senate can and should examine each treaty on its individual merits. But the proper criterion for support must be whether any given agreement enhances America’s national security. This is no place for abstract and naive theories or numbers games at the expense of strategy.

Less Than Sum of Its Parts

John R. Bolton |  Washington Times

The European Union, fortified by the Treaty of Lisbon, last week selected a full-time president and foreign minister. Tony Blair, a candidate for the presidency, was rejected in favor of Belgium’s little-known prime minister, Herman Van Rompuy, through a process so opaque that selecting a new pope in the College of Cardinals looks transparent. The EU’s first foreign minister has no foreign policy experience.

How will the Lisbon Treaty and its new bureaucratic leadership affect EU relations with Washington? Most likely, contrary to the treaty’s advocates, there will be no effect at all.

The EU has accomplished the seemingly impossible, taking a major step forward and then almost simultaneously reversing it. One form of EU gridlock has simply been replaced by another, all created by Europeans for Europeans.

Over the years, advocates of a stronger EU argued closer integration would make the EU better able to stand up to the United States. These same advocates then turned around and argued to Americans that a stronger EU would be a better global partner for the United States.

Maybe they thought we weren’t paying attention. In any event, we still don’t know which half of their internally contradictory argument, if either, is correct. Despite endless negotiations, innumerable treaties and communiques, and endless prattle by pro-Brussels commentators, the EU remains weak and ineffective internationally.

Critically, a “strong EU” is manifestly not the same as a strong Europe, and not the kind of partner Washington needs. Drafters and proponents of the Lisbon Treaty once proudly called it an EU “constitution,” but this label was disappeared for more anodyne nomenclature after a few essentially cosmetic changes to its text.

Many, whether for or against ratification, downplayed the name change as mere spin, which it was to an extent. But more importantly, when “the European project” either can’t tell the truth to Europe’s people or can’t decide what the truth actually is, it is in deep trouble.

So today, the EU has a potentially strong, new treaty but weak, new leadership. Until the peoples within the EU decide what they really want–and there is ample to reason to believe they do not want a “stronger EU”–no amount of treaty tinkering or intricate personnel selection will change the underlying absence of agreement on the way forward. Indeed, obscuring that basic disagreement, a well-honed EU skill, long term only makes the problem worse.

Even if Europeans could create a “strong EU,” it would not be a close U.S. ally. Europe is already so internally focused that a “strong EU” is ironically even more likely to be inward looking and isolationist than it is today, precisely the opposite of America’s preference. Moreover the visceral anti-Americanism permeating much of Europe’s politics, fading only when presented with a palpably post-American president like Barack Obama, will surely be even more influential in a “strong EU.”

The plain truth is that the EU is less than the sum of its parts, and has been for quite some time. From the U.S. perspective, this is bad news indeed, because responding to a challenging world, filled with threats of terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, requires a strong Europe to work with the United States.

What would most benefit America and Europe is a group of confident, independent European nation-states capable of deciding democratically they want to defend their interests, their values and their allies around the world. We once had that in NATO, but no longer. The disappearance of the Soviet threat and the demands of EU “communitaire” behavior have weakened both NATO and its individual European members. When Canada complains, justifiably, that Europe is not pulling its weight in Afghanistan, Europeans should realize the trouble they’re in.

Given the EU’s indecisiveness last week, it is only a matter of time before advocates of greater European integration call for yet another treaty. This has been the consistent pattern, and there is no reason to think it will not reassert itself.

When it does, that is the tangible opportunity to call into question the entire integrationist effort. Have the debate then, while advocates of yet another sub silentio constitutional effort are just getting organized, rather than waiting until a document has emerged, ready to be rammed through by parliamentary majorities insulated from popular opinion.

Individual European nations, led by strong leaders, will not invariably be U.S. “poodles,” the malicious and fanciful charge leveled against Mr. Blair by opponents of the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. Strong leaders should and likely will advocate their countries’ interests to Washington, where issues can be identified and hopefully resolved. What such a re-emergence of strong European nations will avoid, however, is EU decision-making, a rare human process that repeatedly makes molehills out of mountains, as it just did in selecting its new leadership.

Erring on the Side of Incaution

John R. Bolton |  Washington Times

President Obama’s decision not to deploy anti-ballistic missile defense assets in Poland and the Czech Republic is unambiguously wrong. It reflects an unrequited concession to Russian belligerence, an embarrassing abandonment of two of America’s strongest European allies, and an appalling lack of understanding of the present and future risks posed by Iran. Worse, this unforced retreat of American hard power clearly signals what may well be a long American recessional globally.

First, Mr. Obama’s capitulation was about Russia, not about Iran. Russia has always known that former President George W. Bush’s national missile defense project was not aimed against Russia’s offensive nuclear capabilities, neither in scope nor in geographical deployment. To the contrary, our common interests in defending against threats from rogue states should have led to missile-defense cooperation, not antagonism.

What has really agitated Russia was not that the sites were for missile defense, but that they were an American presence in former Warsaw Pact countries, Russia’s now-defunct sphere of influence.

Now, without anything resembling a quid pro quo from Moscow, Washington has dramatically reduced its presence and isolated its own friends. In Russia and Eastern Europe, the basic political conclusion is straightforward and worrying: Russia, a declining, depopulating power, growled, and the United States blinked. This devastating reaction extends worldwide, especially among our Pacific allies, who fear similar unilateral U.S. concessions in their region.

Second, Mr. Obama’s proposed new missile defense deployments will not protect the United States against Iranian ICBMs, for which the Eastern European sites were primarily intended. Protecting Europe was only an ancillary, although welcome side effect, one intended to help calm European concern that the United States would abandon Europe and embrace isolationism behind national missile defenses.

Western Europe, not surprisingly, seems largely content with the Obama-projected alternative, which, if implemented, would protect Europe, but would have few tangible benefits for America.

Thus, despite Mr. Obama’s rhetoric about replacing one missile defense design with a more effective one, the systems in question are aimed at two completely different objectives. Of course, it also remains to be seen whether and exactly how the administration will actually implement its projected deployment, and what new risks are entailed.

For example, U.S. ships deployed in the Black Sea would be fully exposed to Russia’s naval capabilities, in contrast to more secure bases in continental Europe. Failure to implement the new plan aggressively will be seen as yet another failure of American will.

Mr. Obama’s public explanation omitted any acknowledgment that the Eastern European deployments were never intended to counter existing Iranian threats, but rather were to protect against threats maturing in the future. Obviously, to be ahead of the curve and ready before Iran’s threat became real, we had to begin deployment now, not in the distant future. Instead, Mr. Obama’s decision effectively forecloses our ability to be ready when the real need arises.

Third, although purportedly based on new intelligence assessments about Iran’s capabilities, Mr. Obama’s announcement simply reflected his own longstanding biases against national missile defense. He has never believed in it strategically, or that it could ever be made operationally successful.

The new intelligence “estimate” agreeably minimizes the threat posed by Iranian ICBMs, thus facilitating a decision to cancel that had been all but made during last year’s campaign. The assessment, as briefed to Congress immediately after the president’s announcement, involved no actual new intelligence, but only a revised prediction of Iran’s future capabilities.

The new “assessment” also confirmed the administration’s often-expressed and so far frustrated desire to negotiate with Iran over Tehran’s nuclear weapons program. That schedule has slipped badly, leaving Mr. Obama running out of time for diplomatic endeavors.

Moreover, stronger economic sanctions, his fallback position, are increasingly unlikely to be comprehensive or strict enough to actually stop Iran’s nuclear program before completion.

How convenient, therefore, to suddenly “find” more time on the missile front, thus facilitating a diplomatic strategy that had been increasingly headed toward disastrous failure. Moreover, whatever the available intelligence, it does not determine what levels of international risk we should accept. Mr. Obama has too high a tolerance for such risk.

He is too willing to place America in jeopardy of Iran’s threat, a calculus exactly opposite from what we should use. It is far better to err on the side of U.S. security than on the side of greater risk of nuclear devastation. There is no harm in deploying our missile defenses before Iran’s ICBMs can reach America, but incalculable risk if Iran is ready before we are.

Mr. Obama’s rationale for abandoning the Eastern European sites ignores the important reasons they were created, underestimates the Iranian threat, and bends the knee unnecessarily to Russia. This all foreshadows a depressing future. Our president, uncomfortable with projecting American power, is following the advice of his intellectual predecessor George McGovern: “Come home, America.” Both our allies and adversaries worldwide will take due note.

Did O Drop the Ball?

John R. Bolton |  New York Post

Back from summer recess, Congress faces continuing outrage over Scotland’s release of Libyan terrorist Abdel Bassett al-Megrahi, convicted of destroying Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988. How did this happen? How is it possible, at the supposed height of “Obamamania” worldwide, that Great Britain, our closest ally, would free a terrorist who killed 270 innocents, 189 of them Americans? What does this mean for our policy against terrorism?

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s own ministers now concede, despite earlier denials, that Megrahi’s triumphal return to Tripoli was linked to British interest in greater trade and investment with Libya.

In the United States, polls show over 80 percent of Americans opposed to the release. That disgust spilled over to Libyan leader Moammar Khadafy’s impending visit to New York to attend the UN General Assembly opening in two weeks. Khadafy had wanted to pitch his tent, literally, on Libyan-owned property in a New Jersey residential neighborhood. Vociferous popular opposition blocked that idea, and Khadafy’s looking elsewhere for a place to stay.

Now Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) and others are calling for congressional probes. Writing to Sens. John Kerry and Richard Lugar of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Lautenberg asked for “a hearing and investigation to uncover whether justice took a back seat to commercial interests.”

Significantly, Lautenberg’s letter also asks the committee to consider whether Megrahi’s release “violated the international agreement between the US and the UK.” This important question may well reveal a critical failure of Obama administration foreign policy.

US interests in British or Scottish decisions about Megrahi are palpable and justifiable–and our feelings, and those of the victims’ families, could surely be communicated in powerful terms. Did President Obama, in fact, really make plain to Prime Minister Brown his opposition to freeing Megrahi? Was the administration too worried about offending Libya, and if so, why? Or did the administration simply drop the diplomatic ball?

In the Clinton years, the United States made two key concessions in exchange for Libya turning over Megrahi and another defendant to Scotland for prosecution. The first was explicit: The trial would not be used to undermine Libya’s regime, which was uniformly understood to mean that prosecutors wouldn’t seek to tie Khadafy directly to the decision to blow Pan Am 103 out of the sky. The second was implicit: By agreeing that trial would be under Scottish, rather than US law, the maximum sentence could only be life imprisonment. (The death penalty is not available in Britain.)

Given this history, America obviously had a profound and continuing stake in Megrahi’s status, after the conviction as well as before. Indeed, because of the Clinton concessions allowing for Scottish jurisdiction, the US victims’ families were assured at that time that Megrahi would serve his sentence in Scottish jails–not in a specially created “UN prison,” as some proposed, and certainly not in Libya.

Now Megrahi’s commutation from any incarceration makes a mockery of all these supposedly good-faith arrangements.

It is simply inconceivable that Britain and Scotland would free Megrahi if President Obama had clearly and forcefully articulated his opposition.

Here, the White House’s public explanation has been inconsistent. First, spokesmen quickly asserted that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had worked for “weeks and months” to avert Megrahi’s release, and that Attorney General Eric Holder heard about clemency for Megrahi as early as June. Some contend that Obama’s national-security transition team was briefed well before the inauguration.

Yet now the administration spin is that Megrahi’s release blindsided Washington, and that it is appalled by the decision.

These widely different administration versions of reality are separated by one important fact: the vociferous outpouring of anger and dismay by the Pan Am 103 victims’ families, and by the public generally. That is likely what truly blindsided Obama–how much more convenient, therefore, to blame the British rather than admit his own administration’s failure. Not surprisingly, officials in Britain are now responding testily that the US government was kept fully informed throughout.

Why was the president so diplomatically reticent–or so obviously ineffective–in opposing Megrahi’s release? Prompt, public and thorough Senate hearings would surely uncover the real answer.

Until then, we can only speculate that Obama just didn’t think keeping this mass murderer in prison was worth much effort or political capital. If that speculation is wrong, even the administration should welcome a congressional investigation.

Deal Weakens U.S. Posture

John R. Bolton |  USA Today

President Obama has to date failed to articulate any coherent strategic rationale for the substantial cuts in nuclear weapons and delivery systems he agreed to Monday with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. Obama’s inability to do so is not surprising, because he made these commitments without waiting for an up-to-date “nuclear posture review,” the definitive mechanism for assessing America’s strategic needs.

Avoiding this authoritative process, coupled with the administration’s hell-for-leather insistence on ratifying a new treaty by December, and its proposed cuts in missile-defense expenditures and critical weapons systems such as the F-22, demonstrate just how ideologically committed Obama is to a less robust U.S. defense posture. Not only are the proposed cuts in nuclear weapons levels dangerous, but the reductions in delivery systems are even more reckless, as the United States now significantly relies on such systems to deliver conventional warheads. Russia does not.

Obama’s approach weakens our nuclear and conventional capabilities, while leaving Russia exactly at levels to which it would otherwise be driven by its own bleak economic realities. Moreover, Russia still insists on linking reductions in U.S. missile defenses to offensive cuts, and Obama hasn’t unequivocally rejected this dangerous connection.

Obama’s policy is risky for America and its global allies who shelter under our nuclear umbrella. It is hardly the time to shred that umbrella. Nuclear proliferation threats are growing, with North Korea detonating nuclear devices and testing missiles; Iran’s nuclear and missile programs progressing; India and Pakistan increasing their capabilities; and other would-be nuclear states watching America’s response.

Although Obama hopes dramatic U.S. nuclear weapons reductions will discourage proliferation, the actual result will be the exact opposite. Reality is much harsher than a wishful-thinking administration willing to accept deep cuts in America’s defenses, with our military already stretched thin.

The answer is not to rush into any new treaty with Russia by year’s end. Preserving the verification mechanisms of the START treaty, which expires then, is doable by simply extending those mechanisms until new strategic levels can be carefully considered and prudently negotiated. Any other approach leaves America vulnerable. Our president should know better.

Is Russia Pushing Obama’s Buttons?

John R. Bolton |  Globe and Mail

As Barack Obama departed for Moscow, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev showed he was well pleased with his counterpart’s famous “reset button.” Commenting on Iran, Mr. Medvedev said: “If I understand correctly, the United States would like to establish more open and more direct relations with Iran. We support this choice. It would be counterproductive to resort to other sanctions.”

Mr. Medvedev’s path was at least consistent with his quick endorsement of Iran’s June 12 “election” results. Inconveniently for Mr. Obama, however, widespread vote fraud, suppression of dissent, brutality and bloodshed got in the way of his moving rapidly to open bilateral talks with Tehran’s military theocracy.

But Mr. Medvedev was entirely right to assess that Iran’s “election” and its aftermath were not ultimately distasteful enough to dissuade Mr. Obama from seeking direct negotiations with Iran on its nuclear program. Despite rhetorical flourishes about free elections, Mr. Obama and Joe Biden both reaffirmed after Mr. Medvedev’s remarks that they will try what six years of European Union negotiations with Iran have failed to do–namely, divert it from its decades-long quest for deliverable nuclear weapons.

Iran’s nuclear program is far from the only issue where Mr. Medvedev and Mr. Obama likely found themselves agreeing. Major new restrictions on strategic nuclear weapons, postponing construction on U.S. missile-defence installations in Poland and the Czech Republic and, indeed, downsizing America’s entire missile-defence program, sidelining Georgia’s and Ukraine’s NATO membership applications, and leaning hard on Israel to stop all West Bank settlement construction and accept a Palestinian state–these are all potential points of agreement.

Russia’s strategic interests in these outcomes are clear. Limiting the U.S. missile-defence program, particularly its presence in former Soviet satellites and territories, reduces America’s global umbrella, as would dramatic cuts in strategic nuclear warheads (which Russia’s creaking economy would require whether or not it agreed with Washington). Keeping Georgia and Ukraine from NATO membership is a clear warning to other former Soviet republics not to get too cozy with the West. NATO’s reluctance to do much in response only underlines the warning.

Pressing Israel and covering for Iran (and North Korea) also help Moscow’s long-standing campaign to reduce U.S. influence in the Middle East. Russia has major commercial interests in Iran, including constructing the Bushehr reactor and selling Tehran pricey, high-end conventional weapons, such as new anti-aircraft defences.

Russia’s positions are not surprising, but U.S. acquiescence in them, undercutting not only Israel but NATO ally Turkey and pro-Western Arab states, certainly is. These governments may have little sympathy for Israel, but they are legitimately concerned about Iran, which poses an immediate, existential threat through its nuclear program and through continuing support for terrorists, Sunni (Hamas and Taliban) and Shia alike.

If all this comes to pass, we may conclude that the “reset button” has, indeed, been pushed. Russian-American relations, after an initial uptick, undoubtedly went downhill during the Bush administration, especially after one of Russia’s important trading partners, Saddam Hussein, was removed in Iraq. But the deterioration in relations came almost entirely from more belligerent and provocative Russian behaviour, not from a desire in Washington for confrontation. Thus, all the “new” directions emanating from the Moscow summit are all essentially reversals of recent U.S. policy. The Russians should be happy; most people are when they get their way.

Supporters of Mr. Obama’s “reset button” point to new U.S. overflight rights through Russian airspace for resupplying NATO forces in Afghanistan as a benefit of his new policy. That is only slight comfort, since most supplies for Afghanistan flow through European and Middle Eastern bases, requiring no Russian overflights. And it is hard to think of anything less costly to Russia, or easier to revoke than the airspace transit permission.

Some European countries are actually becoming a bit queasy over Mr. Obama’s new policies, despite warmly welcoming his arrival on Jan. 20. On Iran, European G8 members may be favouring a tougher line on sanctions this week than Moscow or Washington. Europe may well worry about a Russia now free to throw its weight around in the near abroad, and in Central and Eastern Europe, while continuing to threaten cutoffs in the oil and natural gas supplies Europe depends on. And Europe should begin asking itself how strong NATO will be in the future, as Europe continues not to pull its share of the load in an actual conflict such as Afghanistan.

Obamamania, whether in the U.S. or Europe, has likely reached its limit. Americans may have voted for a lower profile in Iraq, but they did not vote for a weaker United States globally. This week’s Moscow meetings may well convince many Americans that their President’s “reset button” was a dangerous toy indeed.

A “World Turned Upside Down”?

John R. Bolton |  Washington Times

The Spanish Inquisition’s reawakening and the unchecked rise of piracy off Somalia may not, at first glance, seem to have much in common. In fact, however, these phenomena represent an inversion of historic Western priorities and a decline in our collective resolve and instinct for self-defense.

Sunday’s daring rescue of U.S. freighter Capt. Richard Phillips notwithstanding, the West’s evident confusion is causing enormously dangerous consequences.

The shared element between excessive Spanish moralism, the contemporary version, and pirates with impunity is the concept of “universal jurisdiction” and how that concept has been recently transmogrified.

From ancient times, it was legitimate to use military force against hostes humani generis, “the enemies of mankind.” Now, the high-minded not only reject that perspective, but perceive the real “common enemies” to be on our side of the barricades.

The Romans understood well that pirates operated beyond any legal order and that due process for pirates consisted in destroying them. Well into the 19th century, when the “common enemies” concept expanded to cover slave traders, law on the high seas came largely in the form of the British Royal Navy, and later our own. This naval jurisdiction derived from their global reach and their willingness to do civilization’s hard work.

Today, however, under the rubric of “universal jurisdiction,” the Grand Inquisitor, present throughout Europe but especially active in Spain, now targets those he considers far more dangerous than pirates. Hijackers? Suicide bombers? Nuclear proliferators? No, Spanish magistrate Baltasar Garzon is stalking men in dark, pinstriped suits: six American lawyers, former Bush administration officials, who opined on the proper treatment of captured terrorists. Their crime is disagreeing with Judge Garzon’s interpretation of international law, which is now apparently an indictable offense in Spain.

Judge Garzon seeks to criminalize opinions, not actions, opinions expressed inside our government, which has a democratic, constitutional heritage far older than Spain’s.

Although international law acolytes offer many legal-sounding arguments for allowing publicity-hungry Spanish bureaucrats to translate their personal moral superiority into criminal prosecutions, in fact this is nothing but politics.

Merely in practical terms, Judge Garzon’s investigation is bizarre. Spain is far from the purported crime scene (the halls of official Washington); it has no access to key witnesses and documents; and its courts have no more competence to decide international politico-military matters than any other courts–which is to say, not much.

Something more fundamental is at stake, especially in the targeting of U.S. officials, rather than, say, North Korean leaders who have starved their fellow citizens for generations. What is really at risk of prosecution here is American exceptionalism, and everyone knows it, from Judge Garzon himself to the high-minded here and in Europe who long to use international law to constrain U.S. power. In fact, if any American engages in criminal behavior–as decided by our democracy–we are perfectly capable of handling it.

Nonetheless, the United States is doing a pretty good job of constraining itself, unnecessarily, self-destructively and without assistance from helpful Spanish Inquisitors.

Piracy off Africa and elsewhere, such as the Straits of Malacca, has grown recently, and the international response has been wholly inadequate. When the United States raised possible NATO action against the Somali pirates, our allies demurred for fear that military action would bring accusations in European Union judicial bodies that we are committing human rights violations against the pirates and their camp followers.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said that, prior to the rescue, we were consulting to see “what further steps the international community believes should be taken.” Of course, the U.N. Security Council has already authorized using force against the pirates in Resolution 1851, not that it was necessary to begin with.

Sunday’s unilateral U.S. military action (and France’s similar assault the day before), should be only first steps. Nonetheless, we still face a world turned upside down when U.S. officials, in a government doing the most globally to combat terrorism and proliferation, are subject to criminal investigations by a treaty ally, while Platonic guardians in European Union institutions protect international pirates.

Unfortunately, the Obama administration seemingly agrees philosophically with this inversion. Far from trying to correct the anomaly, the president’s docility is provocative, both to pirates at sea and pirates dressed as inquisitors.

The United States should be actively explaining to Spain that launching any formal investigation will be considered an unfriendly act, a point all Europeans need to understand. We should tell them unemotionally, but unequivocally, that this has got to stop, and now.

Similarly, the Somali pirates should be told to stop, and now, or face further military action. Dealing with pirates is not a matter of grand juries and subpoenas, for it is not a law enforcement matter. As Justice Felix Frankfurter once wrote, due process is only that process that is due, and the pirates have already had more than enough.

Diplomacy by Bumper Sticker

John R. Bolton |  National Review


Less than two months after his inauguration, President Obama’s Russia policy has gone badly awry. His errors bode poorly for important American interests challenged by Russia, but there are broader implications as well. Many of the Obama administration’s misperceptions and mistakes in the Russian arena reflect pervasive flaws throughout its foreign policy.

The administration’s biggest mistake to date was suggesting that U.S. missile-defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic might go unbuilt if Russia could deliver an Iran without nuclear weapons. While the letter containing this trial balloon is not public, and both Moscow and Washington deny that it contained an explicit quid pro quo, media descriptions of its contents were revealing enough, and far from novel. Democrats have never felt comfortable with missile defense because it violates their Cold War precept that defense is destabilizing and vulnerability is good, an opinion central to their flawed approach to national security.

The proposed tradeoff harmed U.S. interests in three respects:

First, by showing, at best, ambivalence on national missile defense, President Obama signaled that the issue was in the souk and the bidding open. Russia now knows that missile defense is up for grabs. This is completely opposite to the strategy of Ronald Reagan, who refused to offer his Strategic Defense Initiative as a bargaining chip, thus driving the Soviet Union to despair and significantly contributing to its eventual destruction.

Second, missile defense is not just about Iran, but about other threats from that region, and elsewhere, such as North Korea. Pakistan already has many nuclear weapons that, in the hands of a radical Islamist regime, would be a grave peril for the United States and its friends. New radical regimes in this region, the world’s most volatile, could come to power and acquire nuclear weapons, posing a significant threat. If Obama believes Iran is the only nuclear-proliferation problem, he and his team are seriously misinformed.

Third, this kind of proposal could easily degenerate from what sounds initially like tough-minded realpolitik to diplomatic fecklessness. Especially in this administration’s hands, the actual result could well be that the United States gives up the Polish and Czech sites while Russia not only doesn’t deliver a nuclear-free Iran but doesn’t even try very hard. Thus, what starts out as a bad deal could easily end up being a catastrophic deal.

These errors reflect an Obama-administration diplomacy that will rely on promises from countries that have no intentions of carrying them out, an “innocents abroad” policy that will hearten our adversaries and appall our friends.

Then there is the famous “reset button” for relations with Russia. Embarrassing here is not the mistranslation on the cute little button Secretary of State Clinton presented to Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov at their March 6 meeting in Geneva, but the simpleminded intellectual basis underlying the very idea of “pressing the reset button.” Foreign policy by bumper-sticker slogan is hardly reassuring–but it is entirely consistent with the new administration’s endless-campaign mindset.

It is painful to have to recite the obvious, but one side cannot unilaterally reset a bilateral relationship without simply giving in to the other side’s positions. Even worse, the Obama administration seems to believe that difficulties in U.S.-Russian relations stem from attitudes and actions on our side, particularly the Bush administration’s manner and methods. Thus, in the Obama view, the problems can now be essentially eliminated simply because administrations have changed. This paradigm in Obama’s Russia policy epitomizes the broader policy theme that Bush’s “attitude” caused so many of our present difficulties in the world. The administration, in the glow of global Obamamania, believes that simply bringing a changed attitude will help realign fundamental international realities.

This position is not only erroneous, but dangerous. Nonetheless, repeated comments by Secretary Clinton during her recent Middle East/Europe tour demonstrate that it is manifestly the administration’s view. On March 6, referring to Condoleezza Rice, an NPR reporter observed in the media’s typically unbiased fashion that, “as you know, your predecessor had quite a testy relationship with [Foreign Minister Lavrov].” Said Clinton, obviously happy for the cue line: “We’re going to hit the reset button and start fresh.” In an interview with a Turkish journalist the next day, Clinton said:

“I know right now that the Turkish people are somewhat negative about America, I would argue, because of some of the decisions of the last eight years. I remember very well when my husband and I were here in ’99. The Turkish people were very positive about America. That’s what we want again.”

It is hardly “diplomatic” for an administration to take shots at its predecessor overseas while ignoring the negative impact on Turkish perceptions of America that increasing Islamicization of Turkish politics is likely to have. In the Obama view, however, it is all Bush administration, all the time.

In a March 5 BBC interview, Clinton was even more explicit, saying, “I think there was a rather confrontational approach toward Russia in the prior administration. How much that contributed to Russian behavior, I think, is a legitimate question to ask.” This is not quite blaming terrorist attacks on “confrontational” behavior by the targets, but it has the same odor, implying that Russia’s belligerent behavior is America’s fault. If so, Secretary Clinton might be more careful in her own remarks. On March 4, at a West Bank school, she called Sally Ride the first woman in space, when in fact it was the USSR’s Valentina Tereshkova.

As we should all know, it takes two to have a testy or confrontational relationship. If Rice’s relationship with Lavrov was testy, it was because of Russia’s protecting Iran’s nuclear-weapons program, Russia’s invasion of Georgia, and Russia’s threats to cut off oil and natural gas to Western Europe. Clinton may be glowing that Lavrov said the two of them “have a wonderful personal relationship” after their dinner in Geneva. But that wonderful relationship did not prevent Lavrov, at the press conference immediately afterwards, from standing defiantly behind Russia’s sale of the advanced S-300 air-defense system to Iran. Nor had he missed the chance earlier to say flatly in public “You got it wrong” when Clinton asked whether the Russian translation of the word “reset” was correct. No diplomatic obfuscation there, but a shiv straight in Clinton’s ribs. I have no doubt Lavrov thought that was really wonderful, too. Perhaps Secretary Clinton missed it.

U.S. relations with Russia in the next four years will be difficult because of Russian belligerence and assertiveness, not because Rice and Lavrov, or their respective bosses, didn’t each think the other was wonderful. Believing that less-than-ideal relations between Washington and Moscow stemmed from Washington’s “confrontational” approach shows an unprecedented bias toward the other side of the negotiating table in our own top negotiators. A weak knowledge of history, a lack of strategy and perspective, and a domestic political agenda of revanchism have so far characterized the Obama administration’s relations not only with Russia, but with much of the broader world as well. Without a dramatic improvement, and soon, there is trouble ahead.

Russia Unromanticized

John R. Bolton |  Washington Post

U.S. opposition to Russia’s recent behavior should not rest on a desire to “punish” Russia but on the need to brace Moscow before its behavior becomes even more unacceptable.
Former secretaries of state Henry Kissinger and George Shultz argued recently on this site that the United States should neither be “isolating” Russia nor drifting toward “confrontation.” The Post‘s Masha Lipman urged us to avoid “Cold War preconceptions and illusions.” Unfortunately, these distinguished commentators are aiming at straw men: No serious observer thinks we face a new Cold War or that isolating Russia because of its increasing foreign adventurism is a real solution. U.S. opposition to Russia’s recent behavior should not rest on a desire to “punish” Russia but on the critical need to brace Moscow before its behavior becomes even more unacceptable.Russia has been growing increasingly belligerent for some time. Its invasion of Georgia is only the most recent and vicious indicator of its return not to the Cold War but to a thuggish, indeed czarist, approach to its neighbors. Vladimir Putin gave early warning in 2005, when he called the breakup of the Soviet Union “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century.” In the same speech, Putin lamented that “tens of millions of our fellow citizens and countrymen found themselves beyond the fringes of Russian territory.” He may now be acting to reverse that “catastrophe,” as further demonstrated by Moscow’s embrace of Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and other efforts to interfere in that country’s elections. Prudence based on history requires us to assess Russia’s invasion of Georgia as more than an aberration until proven otherwise.

Russia has repeatedly demonstrated its capacity to threaten American interests: providing cover to Iran’s nuclear weapons program by enthusiastically neutering sanctions resolutions at the U.N. Security Council and trying to market reactors to Tehran; selling high-end conventional weapons to Iran, Syria and other undesirables; using its oil and natural gas assets to intimidate Europe; making overtures to OPEC; and cozying up to Venezuela through joint Caribbean naval maneuvers, weapons sales and even agreeing to construct nuclear reactors.

Take the controversy over locating U.S. missile defense assets in Poland and the Czech Republic. We fully informed Russia before withdrawing from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty that we would create a limited (but geographically national) missile defense system to protect against the handfuls of missiles that might be launched by states such as North Korea or Iran. As anyone can tell from looking at a globe, anti-missile sites in Europe wouldn’t defend against the missile trajectories of a Russian strike on America. (That’s why the Distant Early Warning Line was in Alaska and Canada, not Europe.) Russia’s threats against Poland are aimed at intimidating Western Europe, an all-too-easy objective these days. We have real interests at stake, such as a route to the Caspian Basin’s oil and gas assets that does not traverse Russia or Iran. If Moscow’s marching through Georgia goes unopposed, marching will look more attractive elsewhere, starting with Ukraine, which has a large ethnic Russian population “beyond the fringes” of Moscow’s control. “Legitimate security interests” do not justify invading and dismembering bordering countries.

A rational Russia policy has to escape the persistent romanticism of Moscow in recent administrations and the desire of some Europeans to close their eyes and hope things will work out. Too many Europeans believe they have passed beyond history and beyond external threats unless they themselves are “provocative.” Last spring in Bucharest, that mentality led Germany and others to reject U.S. suggestions to put Georgia and Ukraine formally on a path to NATO membership. Moscow clearly read that rejection as a sign of weakness.

Ultimately, what most risks “provoking” Moscow is not Western resolve but Western weakness. This is where the real weight of history lies. Accordingly, attitude adjustment in Moscow first requires attitude adjustment in NATO capitals, and quickly, before Moscow’s swaggering leaders draw the wrong lessons from their recent successes.

First, NATO must reverse the Bucharest summit mistake immediately. This is achievable before Inauguration Day on January 20. Admitting Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania into NATO has stabilized a possible zone of confrontation in the Baltics, and moving to bring in Ukraine and Georgia would eliminate a dangerous vacuum in the Black Sea region. Second, we should scale up rapidly in military cooperation with current and aspiring NATO members in Central and Eastern Europe to make it clear that more Russian adventurism is highly inadvisable. Hopefully, other NATO countries will join with us, but we should act bilaterally if need be. Third, we should proceed fully with missile defense plans, on which we have repeatedly offered Russia full involvement and cooperation, to protect us all from rogue-state threats.

Such an approach will not endanger Western security but enhance it. And if Russia takes offense, better to know that now than later, when the stakes for all concerned may be much higher.