Showing posts with label diplomatic. Show all posts
Showing posts with label diplomatic. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Donald J. Trump Disrespects Veterans; Disrespects Europe; Disrespects Democracy

Watching TV coverage of President Trump's first foreign trip, I was reminded of Casey Stengel's question during his first season with the newly-formed NY Mets: "Can't anyone here play this game?"

Apparently the answer is "no."

If we were dealing with simple incompetence, that would be alarming enough. But we seem to be dealing with something worse - actual malice toward Europe and toward democracy.

But there is also incompetence of a particular kind. An astonishing unwillingness to recognize reality.

What is said at official international meetings is important. There is both the substantive importance - the content of the statements; and there is a kind of ritual importance that may count for more.

Trump's refusal to reiterate the continued commitment of the United States to Article Five of the North Atlantic Treaty - at a meeting that unveiled a monument to 9/11, which is the first and only time NATO ever invoked Article Five - was a poke in the eye with a sharp stick to our allies.

Coming on the eve of Memorial Day, it was also a statement of disrespect to the brave Americans and Allies who invaded at Normandy, at Italy and in the South of France in 1944, fought their way across Europe, reestablished democracy. It reflected disrespect for the sustained defense of democracy in Europe.

What the president said (and didn't say) and the way he said it reflected not only disdain for NATO, disdain for democracy, but also immense ignorance of how international security is managed on a day to day basis.

Oh, by the way, he also doesn't understand the first thing about international trade. I'll offer a hint - we have flexible exchange rates and flexible markets. One result is that bilateral trade balances are meaningless. He doesn't understand that.

He doesn't understand a lot of things.

Why doesn't someone on his staff explain these things?

I wondered about that. Especially since the National Security appointments are universally viewed as an order of magnitude more knowledgeable than the civilian appointees. So I looked up the bios of the generals appointed to these positions.

What I learned is that none of Trump's "brilliant" generals has any substantive knowledge about Europe, about Russia, about China, about East Asia, about Latin America, or about Africa. All they know is Central Asia. I don't even see evidence that they have any particular knowledge about Iran.

This is not good.

It means that it is almost impossible for anyone to brief the president on issues in the rest of the world.

On top of that, our journalists have very limited access to the government leaders in those parts of the world, because many foreign bureaus have been closed. As a result, Americans find themselves largely cut off from information about the outside world.

Last week Germany took the hint and decided to lead Europe in its own direction. France had already repudiated Russian attempts to interfere with her elections.

Last year's House of Cards included an episode where a character said, "the president IS the people around him."

We are just beginning to learn who some of the people around Trump are. Not promising.

Friday, November 20, 2015

We'll Always Have Paris

From our village in southern Belgium to downtown Paris was about a three hour drive. About the same as from Oriental to Raleigh.

Two decades later, we lived in Paris and my office was in the Marais (third arrondisement). It was a  ten minute walk to Boulevard Beamarchais for lunch near some of last Friday's shootings.

It was pleasant to stroll around the streets, sharing Paris with a diverse populace of Parisians and visitors.

I take exception to the MSNBC reporter recently describing the events of last Friday 13th as having "devastated Paris."

Paris is not devastated.

Parisians are back at their outdoor cafes. They gather at Place de la Republique and hug each other. They lay flowers as a memorial to victims. Life goes on much as before.

Vive le France!

Yet we must not forget that the terrorists who attacked Paris were themselves French men and Belgians. Not Syrians. Not refugees.

The France that was so welcoming to African Americans like Josephine Baker and James Baldwin has not been so welcoming to Algerians and Moroccans. I have seen it with my own eyes.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

May Day, 1960

May Day, 1960, CIA pilot (former Air Force officer) Francis Gary Powers, flying alone at more than 70,000 feet, was on his 27th U-2 mission, flying over Sverdlovsk in the Soviet Union. The CIA estimated the altitude of the U-2 was above the reach of any Soviet missile or aircraft. That estimate proved to be too optimistic, and Gary Powers was shot down on one of the biggest Soviet holidays.

Contrary to the CIA's expectations in such an event, Powers survived and was captured.

Stephen Spielberg captures much of the drama of that time in the Cold War in his new movie,Bridge of Spies, starring Tom Hanks. The main hero of the story is a New York lawyer who negotiated the eventual release of Powers. A second important character is the Soviet spy, Rudolf Abel, who was offered in exchange.

It is mostly a true story, with some embellishment for effect. Here is a useful comparison of the true events with the fictional movie version:

Go see Bridge of Spies.

Monday, July 13, 2015

The German Question

It is becoming pretty clear that the most urgent question facing today's Europe is the German question.

Paul Krugman sees Germany as killing the European project:  I agree, and have been commenting on the looming disaster for about three years now. The biggest surprise to me is how patient the long-suffering public has been. I hope Greece uses whatever time they have gained by this weekend's deal to print bales of new drachma and prepare to exit the Euro. Spain and Italy should do so as well.

Roger Cohen of the New York Times  claims we thought we had solved the problem of Germany in 1945. I take issue with that, though I think we did believe we had solved it by embracing Germany within the stifling arms of NATO and the Western European Union. As NATO's first Secretary General explained, the purpose of NATO was to keep the Germans down, the Russians out, and the Americans here. To Europe, NATO was at least as much about Germany as it was about the Soviet Union. From 1945 for more than four decades, NATO publicly blamed the Soviet Union for a divided Germany and privately hoped the division would continue. It was Germany under Willy Brandt whose "Ostpolitik" began chipping away at the barriers between East and West for the purpose of making German reunification possible. In the United States, we studied what might happen after Tito died, but never examined the implications of a reunited Germany. Everyone knew that could never happen. Everyone was wrong.

The late George Kennan had some thoughts on Germany, which we should have considered, but of course no one did:

More recently, the economic historian Brad Delong had some interesting thoughts in response to Simon Wren-Lewis' ruminations on the Euro: "And we are seriously considering, after reading him, whether the Euro project needs to be blown up--indeed, whether the fundamental flaw was in U.S. occupation authorities allowing the formation of the Bundesrepublik, because a European Union that now had five members named "Brandenburg", "Saxony", "Bavaria", "Rhineland", and "Hanover" would be likely to have a much healthier politics and economics than our current one, with one member named "Germany":"

That's a thought worth retrospective consideration. It is a much more creative idea than the quickly-abandoned "Morgenthau plan."

It's very hard to get toothpaste back in the tube.

Did we waste a whole war?

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Iran Nuclear Negotiations

I hear a lot of hysterical hyperbole coming out about negotiations with Iran.

I am glad the negotiations are going on. The opponents seem to want war with Iran. Bad idea.

Most of the opponents are right wing neocons, who seem to be afraid of everything and everyone.

I want to share a link to an article by a retired Navy commander and Naval War College professor on the subject. I don't know Commander Dolan, but I think he is pretty close to the mark. There is more that could be said about Munich, but the main point is to analyze the events in the real historical context.

Here is Commander Dolan's article.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

May 1945: War In Europe Winding Down

V-E (Victory in Europe) Day is usually listed in the US as May 8. But surrenders were already underway in April.

1,500,000 prisoners taken on the Western Front in April by the Allies; 120,000 German troops captured in Italy; up to the end of April, over 800,000 German soldiers surrendered on the Eastern Front.

Finland: On 25 April 1945, the last Germans were expelled by the Finnish Army;

Mussolini's death: On 27 April 1945, as Allied forces closed in on Milan, Italian dictator Benito Mussolini was captured by Italian partisans. Executed 28 April;

Hitler's death: On 30 April, realizing that all was lost and not wishing to suffer Mussolini's fate, German dictator Adolf Hitler committed suicide;

German forces in Italy surrender: On 29 April, the day before Hitler died, SS General Karl Wolff signed a surrender document agreeing to a ceasefire and surrender of all the forces at 2pm on 2 May; nearly 1,000,000 men in Italy and Austria;

 German forces in Berlin surrender: The Battle of Berlin ended on 2 May. On that date, General der Artillerie Helmuth Weidling, the commander of the Berlin Defense Area, unconditionally surrendered the city to General Vasily Chuikov of the Soviet army;

German forces in North West Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands surrender: On 4 May 1945, the British Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery took the unconditional military surrender from Generaladmiral Hans-Georg von Friedeburg, and General Eberhard Kinzel, of all German forces "in Holland [sic], in northwest Germany including the Frisian Islands and Heligoland and all other islands, in Schleswig-Holstein, and in Denmark… includ[ing] all naval ships in these areas." The number of German land, sea and air forces involved in this surrender amounted to 1,000,000 men. On 5 May, Großadmiral Dönitz ordered all U-boats to cease offensive operations and return to their bases. At 16:00, General Johannes Blaskowitz, the German commander-in-chief in the Netherlands, surrendered to Canadian General Charles Foulkes in the Dutch town of Wageningen in the presence of Prince Bernhard (acting as commander-in-chief of the Dutch Interior Forces).

Central Europe: On 5 May 1945, the Czech resistance started the Prague uprising.

German forces in Breslau surrender: At 18:00 on 6 May, General Hermann Niehoff, the commandant of Breslau, a 'fortress' city surrounded and besieged for months, surrendered to the Soviets;

Jodl and Keitel surrender all German armed forces unconditionally:  At 02:41 on the morning of 7 May, at SHAEF headquarters in Reims, France, the Chief-of-Staff of the German Armed Forces High Command, General Alfred Jodl, signed the unconditional surrender documents for all German forces to the Allies;

Victory in Europe: News of the imminent surrender broke in the West on 8 May, and celebrations erupted throughout Europe. In the US, Americans awoke to the news and declared 8 May V-E Day. As the Soviet Union was to the east of Germany it was 9 May Moscow Time when the German military surrender became effective, which is why Russia and many other European countries east of Germany commemorate Victory Day on 9 May.

That left Japan.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

47 Senators Violate Logan Act

Is there something significant about the number 47? That's the same number Mitt Romney used to describe the percentage of Americans who weren't going to vote for him. Just sayin'.

Those curious about US law may have learned that the 47 Republican senators signing the letter to officials of Iran appear to have violated the Logan Act and be subject to 3 years in prison.

So who was Logan and why was the Act passed? Here's a good summary of the history of the Act. And it is a long history.

In 1798 a certain American citizen named Logan travelled to France and worked to improve US - French relations and to free Americans captured by France during the Quasi-War. Logan was a follower of Thomas Jefferson (of the Democratic-Republican party). President Adams, of the Federalist Party, was outraged.  This was not just about Constitutional prerogatives - Adams sought improved relations with Great Britain while Jefferson sought improved relations with France.

So much for the idea that "politics stops at the water's edge."

It never did.

In more than two centuries, there has never been a prosecution under the Logan Act, though there have been some close calls.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Armistice Day, 2014

The calendar says today is Veterans' Day. History says today is Armistice Day - the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, when the guns that had roared in August, 1914 fell silent. The war that decimated Europe had come to an end not with victory, but with an Armistice. A truce.

There was still hope that this had been a "war to end wars."

But the Armistice had been a fiction. Germany was defeated, and the country was falling apart.

The failure of the Allies to insist on a German surrender was to create problems in the years ahead.

The peace was still being negotiated at Versaille. It was to be a draconian peace imposing harsh terms on Germany that, if fully implemented, would destroy the economy of Europe.

None of the belligerents was satisfied with the outcome. England and France wanted greater reparations payments, notwithstanding the damage this would do to their own economies. (John Maynard Keynes described what would happen in his book The Economic Consequences of The Peace.)

The only belligerent that achieved its war aims was Serbia (in the form of Yugoslavia) who started the whole thing in the first place.

Europe was in discord. Hungary didn't like the settlement and attacked Czechoslovakia. Poland didn't like the settlement and attacked the Soviet Union.

Russia (the Soviet Union) lost Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Finland, and for a time lost Ukraine. Central Asia did its best to avoid incorporation into the Soviet Union.

The United States intervened in the Russian Civil War in the Murmansk area and in Eastern Siberia. Japan tried to carve out a part of Siberia.

The Czechoslovak Legion fought its way west to Vladivistok and on by sea to the newly independent state of Czechoslovakia.

Great Britain, France, Belgium, Luxemburg, Italy, Germany and the remains of Austria licked their wounds and sulked.

It was a long way from a peaceful world (I won't mention the Far East), but still the Armistice brought hope.

Maybe I'm just old-fashioned, but I wish we still called it Armistice Day.

In memory of the hope the day brought.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

A Century Ago: Germany Invades Belgium

On July 28, 1914, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. Russia mobilizes. Following events came on hot and heavy. July 31, Germany warns Russia not to mobilize. Russia responds they are only mobilizing against Austria. August 1, Germany declares war on Russia. August 2, Germany invades neutral Luxemburg. August 3, Germany declares war on France. Neutral Belgium denies Germany permission to pass through to the French border. August 4, Germany attacks neutral Belgium, Great Britain protests, Germany replies that the treaty guaranteeing Belgian neutrality is just a chiffon de papier. The United Kingdom declares war on Germany.

Thus a week after Austria declares war on Serbia, war is well underway on the Western Front.

August 4 Germany begins its siege of Belgium's fortresses at Liege. Surprisingly effective Belgian defense slows German advance. Germans do not capture Liege fortresses until August 16.

August 16-19, Serbs defeat Austria Hungary at the Battle of Cer.

August 17, Russians invade East Prussia. Two weeks into the war the Eastern Front begins to take shape.

Monday, July 28, 2014

100 Years Ago:Franz Joseph Declares War On Serbia

July 28, 1914, Emperor Franz Joseph of the Austro-Hungarian Empire declared war on Serbia, responding to Serbia's answer to Austro-Hungary's ultimatum concerning the assassination of the heir to the throne, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

Even at the time, Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany thought the Serbian response had "removed all pretext for war." By the standards of the day, the assassination plausibly served as a causus belli, but even so, there were dangers.

Justified or not, the Austrian declaration of war comes down as one of the most disastrous decisions of all time by a major state.

Here is the declaration:

"To my peoples! It was my fervent wish to consecrate the years which, by the grace of God, still remain to me, to the works of peace and to protect my peoples from the heavy sacrifices and burdens of war. Providence, in its wisdom, has otherwise decreed. The intrigues of a malevolent opponent compel me, in the defense of the honor of my Monarchy, for the protection of its dignity and its position as a power, for the security of its possessions, to grasp the sword after long years.

"With a quickly forgetful ingratitude, the Kingdom of Serbia, which, from the first beginnings of its independence as a State until quite recently, had been supported and assisted by my ancestors, has for years trodden the path of open hostility to Austria-Hungary.

"When, after three decades of fruitful work for peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina, I extended my Sovereign rights to those lands, my decree called forth in the Kingdom of Serbia, whose rights were in nowise injured, outbreaks of unrestrained passion and the bitterest hate.

"My Government at that time employed the handsome privileges of the stronger, and with extreme consideration and leniency only requested Serbia to reduce her army to a peace footing and to promise that, for the future, she would tread the path of peace and friendship. Guided by the same spirit of moderation, my Government, when Serbia, two years ago, was embroiled in a struggle with the Turkish Empire, restricted its action to the defense of the most serious and vital interests of the Monarchy. It was to this attitude that Serbia primarily owed the attainment of the objects of that war.

"The hope that the Serbian Kingdom would appreciate the patience and love of peace of my Government and would keep its word has not been fulfilled. The flame of its hatred for myself and my house has blazed always higher; the design to tear from us by force inseparable portions of Austria-Hungary has been made manifest with less and less disguise.

"A criminal propaganda has extended over the frontier with the object of destroying the foundations of State order in the southeastern part of the monarchy; of making the people, to whom I, in my paternal affection, extended my full confidence, waver in its loyalty to the ruling house and to the Fatherland; of leading astray its growing youth and inciting it to mischievous deeds of madness and high treason.

"A series of murderous attacks, an organized, carefully prepared, and well carried out conspiracy, whose fruitful success wounded me and my loyal peoples to the heart, forms a visible bloody track of those secret machinations which were operated and directed in Serbia.

"A halt must be called to these intolerable proceedings and an end must be put to the incessant provocations of Serbia. The honor and dignity of my monarchy must be preserved unimpaired, and its political, economic, and military development must be guarded from these continual shocks. In vain did my Government make a last attempt to accomplish this object by peaceful means and to induce Serbia, by means of a serious warning, to desist.

"Serbia has rejected the just and moderate demands of my Government and refused to conform to those obligations the fulfillment of which forms the natural and necessary foundation of peace in the life of peoples and States. I must therefore proceed by force of arms to secure those indispensable pledges which alone can insure tranquillity to my States within and lasting peace without.

"In this solemn hour I am fully conscious of the whole significance of my resolve and my responsibility before the Almighty. I have examined and weighed everything, and with a serene conscience I set out on the path to which my duty points. I trust in my peoples, who, throughout every storm, have always rallied in unity and loyalty around my throne, and have always been prepared for the severest sacrifices for the honor, the greatness, and the might of the Fatherland. I trust in Austria-Hungary's brave and devoted forces, and I trust in the Almighty to give the victory to my arms."


Thus with flowery language of the nineteenth cenury did the Emperor Franz Joseph initiate the destruction of his own empire and that of his allies, Germany and the Ottomans. The war also destroyed the Tsarist Empire and seriously damaged the British and French Empires. On the whole, it was a disastrous introduction to the Twentieth Century.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Ukraine, Nuclear Weapons And Japan

A little over a month ago, I posted a reflection on the danger of failing to live up to the international security guarantee the nuclear powers gave to Ukraine in return for Ukraine giving up its nuclear arsenal.

Today's New York Times article reporting Japanese concerns over the U.S. reaction to Russian takeover of the Crimea should, therefore, come as no surprise. The article makes it clear that failure to carry out the security guarantee to Ukraine not only complicates efforts at nuclear non-proliferation, it also complicates conventional diplomacy.

It is a bit reminiscent of the inter war diplomacy of France. After World War I, France signed a guarantee to defend the independence and territorial integrity of Czechoslovakia. But France lacked a common border with Czechoslovakia and besides that, had built a vast fixed fortress (the Maginot Line) and a military designed to operate behind that line. How were they to come to the aid of Czechoslovakia if necessary?

It created a mismatch between miltary planning and diplomatic efforts. In the end, it didn't work.

I would hope we have learned something useful in the intervening eighty years.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Russia And Putin's New Order

Michael McFaul, until very recently our ambassador to Russia, has an article in today's New York Times.

He takes a look at how things came to this pass. "We did not seek this confrontation," McFaul writes. "This new era crept up on us, because we did not fully win the Cold War. Communism faded, the Soviet Union disappeared and Russian power diminished. But the collapse of the Soviet order did not lead smoothly to a transition to democracy and markets inside Russia, or Russia’s integration into the West."

I have a different take on this. Prerevolutionary Russia was always undemocratic, and the state played an enormous role in the economy. 

A century ago, as the German Empire was flexing its muscle and a Serbian nationalist under instructions from Belgrade assassinated the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, France and England allied with Tsarist Russia to oppose Germany and Austria. The US remained neutral, in part because President Wilson was uncomfortable making common cause with Autocratic Russia. Even after the Zimmerman telegram (German proposal to Mexico to enter the war against the US in return for the return of territory taken from Mexico in 1846) and German unrestricted submarine warfare and sinking of six US Flag merchant ships, the US did not declare war until after the Tsar was overthrown in March of 1917.

The collapse of the Soviet Union in December of 1991 brought with it the possibility of changes that would bring Russia into the general international system.

"Some Russians," McFaul writes,  "pushed forward on this enormous agenda of revolutionary change. And they produced results: the relatively peaceful (so far) collapse of the Soviet empire, a Russian society richer than ever before, greater protection of individual rights and episodically functioning democratic institutions."

But the transition did not go smoothly. I took part in a minor way in the transition, when I worked on projects by the United States Agency for International Development to assist in privatization. The contemplated transition was unprecedented. The truth is, no one knew how to do it and it was managed in a way that brought severe hardship to ordinary citizens.

The process also laid the foundation for well-connected government officials (the "nomenklatura") to skim great wealth from privatization. The most knowledgable and effective officials were KGB officers who had worked the international scene. They understood the workings of the west better than anyone else in the USSR.

McFaul explains that "the simultaneity of democracy’s introduction, economic depression and imperial loss generated a counterrevolutionary backlash — a yearning for the old order and a resentment of the terms of the Cold War’s end."

McFaul draws similarities between recent developments in Putin's Russia and the conflicts of the last century.

I would go further back. Since at least the time of Peter the Great, there has been a struggle within Russia between the "westernizers," who want to join the world of Europe, and the "slavophils," who see Russia as more pure and worthy. Slavophils oppose adopting the ways of the West.

There is much of that lind of emotion at work in today's Russia.

I recommend reading McFaul's article here.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Russia's Paranoid Schizophrenia and The Clueless West

The West's contribution to the totally unprecedented challenge of conversion of the Soviet Union to a democratic and market-based society was, in my view, spotty at best. I say this as one who was involved in projects in Russia, Ukraine and Poland and very aware of projects in Estonia, Rumania and Moldova.

I also deplored at the time the unrestrained triumphalism that proclaimed: "we're number one - nyah, nyah nyah, we won the cold war." That wasn't helpful. Especially in places like Ukraine where people, especially elderly pensioners, were suddenly plunged into poverty by policies we pushed. So-called "shock therapy," for example, was pushed by policy makers who had no idea what the previous seventy years had put into place. The idea of "privatizing" a complex industrial establishment by issuing coupons to the citizens so they could buy shares in crumbling enterprises was a disaster in the making.

One of the most disappointing viewpoints at the time was that of USAID, whose bureaucracy was certain we knew what to do because, after all, we had privatized railroads and coal mines in the UK under Thatcher, tin mines in Bolivia and such like. They were, in short, clueless.

The folks the big six accounting firms sent out to do this gargantuan task were, for the most part, recent MBA's who didn't speak any local language and who were ignorant of the context. Bright, energetic, but ignorant.

We could have done better. Germany did do better. The Germans managed the conversion of East Germany not perfectly, but well enough. One reason Estonia is doing pretty well these days is that the Germans managed that conversion. Czechoslovakia, Poland and Hungary had the advantage of pre-war experience in a market-based system.

Not only did the people we sent not have a background in Soviet economics, they had no background in Western Europe. They thought the American Way was the Only Way.

Let's do better next time.

I've been reading the news from Ukraine with dismay.

Didn't we win the cold war? Didn't we do away with Communism? Didn't George W. Bush look into Putin's soul and see someone we can do business with?

The truth is, our cold war conflict with the Soviet Union had little to do with Communism except in the minds of our own paranoid capitalists. In fact, in the opinion of the last Prime Minister of Russia before the October (Bolshevik) revolution, the Soviet Union didn't have a socialist or communist system at all - it was a case of State capitalism.

Anyhow, I wish the Ukrainians well. I have probably read more articles on the developing crisis than most Americans. I have collected links to a number of articles, mostly from the NY Times, but also from other sources. Please take your time and read them.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Ukraine's Memorandum of 1994 Agreeing to Give Up Nuclear Weapons In Return For Security Guarantee

Here is the agreement of 1994 whereby Ukraine gave up her nuclear weapons in return for a security guarantee.

Russian occupation of Crimea clearly violates that agreement.

History Doesn't Repeat Itself, But It Rhymes

This was Mark Twain's take on the lessons of history.

Ukraine's travails of the past three months and Russia's intervention remind me of nothing so much as the events leading up to Germany's occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1938.

After World War I, the Austro-Hungarian Empire was dismantled into a number of constituent successor states, among them Czechoslovakia. The Czech lands of Bohemia and Moravia were prosperous, modern, productive economies. But a substantial percentage of the population were German - speakers who had previously enjoyed a privileged position in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. They resented the new ascendancy of speakers of Czech and Slovak languages.

On top of this loss of prestige, Czechoslovakia was suffering, like the rest of Europe, from the worldwide depression, affecting the economic prospects of the formerly dominant group.

Resentment boiled up against what the German speakers viewed as Czech atrocities against them. These so-called atrocities were mostly invented, but founded on resentment. Reinvented as a new nationality, the "Sudeten" Germans invited Germany under Hitler to occupy first the "Sudetenland" and then all of Czechoslovakia.

British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain negotiated a settlement with Germany. In a radio broadcast of 27 September 1938, he had this to say about it:

"How horrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas-masks here because of a quarrel in a far away country between people of whom we know nothing. It seems still more impossible that a quarrel which has already been settled in principle should be the subject of war."

In the end, the agreement didn't work out well for any of the parties.

John Maynard Keynes foresaw the economic aspects of the disaster in his essays "The Economic Consequences of The Peace" and "The Economic Consequences of Mr. Churchill."

Diplomatic efforts collapsed with the collapse of the League of Nations.

Czechoslovakia was well prepared to defend itself so long as it retained the "Sudetenland." But it couldn't stand alone against the major powers. France couldn't come to the aid of Czechoslovakia because many of her leaders were more worried about the Communist "menace" than about Germany and the French military cowered behind the Maginot Line. Britain had a formidable navy, but not much of an army. The Soviet Union had no direct border with Czechoslovakia either.

Neither Ukraine nor any other power wants to see war break out. The risks of letting Russia get away with the partition of Ukraine are greater than most of the public seems to realize. Russia is violating agreements made to assure Ukrain's territorial integrity as a price of Ukraine agreeing to turn over nearly 2,000 nuclear weapons. Such agreements are generally necessary when nuclear proliferation is at issue.

Good luck getting other near-nuclear powers to give up their capability if existing nuclear powers don't make good on Ukrainian security.

For what it's worth, the stock market doesn't seem pleased with events.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Что Делать? What To Do?

Что Делать? Is the title of one of Lenin's books. "What is to be done?" is one way to translate the phrase. I like the simpler and more direct "what to do?"

I offer the following list of things to do:

I: Military

1. What Russia has done in Ukraine is an act of war. Recognize Russia's belligerent status. Ask Turkey to close the Turkish Straits to transit by Russian warships under the Montreux Convention. [By the way, we have to ask politely, since we never adhered to the convention and therefore do not have the rights of a signatory. Why not initiate discussion with Turkey to seek status as a signatory?]

2. While Ukraine is not a member of NATO, she has been granted membership in the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council. Let's send an allied mission to Ukraine to assess their defense needs.

3. Reactivate discussions with Ukraine concerning transfer of warships from our reserve fleet to Ukraine. Include mine warfare vessels in the discussion.

4. Investigate modernizing Ukraine's Air Force and Air Defense.

5. Schedule friendly warship visits to NATO allies in the Black Sea: Bulgaria and Romania, and possibly Ukraine.

II. Economics

1. Don't threaten to withdraw from the G-8 conference in Sochi - withdraw! Now! Withdrawing from a conference may sound like a weak sanction. Not nearly as weak as threatening someday to think about doing it. Just do it!

2. Freeze Russian assets! Now! We can always unfreeze them later;

Getting Ukraine's economic house in order is probably the most urgent task. But it must be done in a way that improves the lives of ordinary citizens and builds Ukraine's productive capacity for the future. Here are some ideas set forth by economists Gorodnichenko and Roland:

"Although it is only a few days after the successful February revolution and the country is still in a state of flux, a new government is needed to deal with emergency economic measures.
  • The country is days away from facing a $2bln payment to international bondholders.
  • The provisional Ukrainian government does not have the necessary legitimacy to make all the changes demanded by the Maidan protesters.
The new government is inheriting a political system and a government administration that are in need of fundamental change. Because of this weakness, the new government needs to focus on a set of emergency measures that are both urgent and immediately feasible. In the long run, establishing a well-functioning democracy necessitates a new constitution and a popular referendum on a constitution, but that takes time. What must be done now? What needs to be changed in the long run?
  • First, the Ukrainian currency Hryvnya should be switched to a float and it should depreciate significantly.
The current-account deficit (about 10% of GDP) is clearly unsustainable. This should stimulate the economy and preserve precious foreign currency reserves. Barriers to export should be removed.
  • Second, the banking system badly needs liquidity and capital.
Raising these in the international financial market has become nearly impossible. The government should inject capital (for example, use a program similar to the TARP in the US). The Central bank should provide liquidity. Some form of temporary capital controls and temporary limits on withdraws of deposits appear unavoidable given the current ongoing bank run (deposits fell by a third in the last few weeks and are falling further on a daily basis). Banks should “reopen” after the infusions of capital and liquidity.
Third, the government must immediately present a plan to address fiscal imbalances over a period of several years.

Given the deeply depressed state of the economy, now is not the time to implement deep budget cuts. But fiscal authorities can still lay out a budget plan for a gradual decline in deficits to restore confidence in the long-run solvency of the Ukrainian government. Stricter monitoring of spending to minimize corruption and waste of public functions must be implemented immediately to make the eventual fiscal consolidation less painful and restore confidence.
  • Fourth, external payments are a heavy burden on the collapsing Ukrainian economy.
One step is to bring in the IMF as well as other donors (EU, USA, etc.) to bridge the short-term gap in foreign currency reserves.
These funds are essential to avoid a drastic immediate fiscal contraction in the immediate future. They are necessary to enable authorities to inject capital into Ukrainian banks. The amount of required support is likely to be in tens of billions of dollars. Moreover, a restructuring of some of Ukrainian debt is necessary to avoid outright default.
  • Most of Ukraine’s external debt was accumulated under the previous corrupt regime.
  • The new leaders have little moral obligation to commit to reimburse that debt, and creditors have little moral standing to demand repayment: they knew who they lent to.
On the other hand, the amount of Ukraine’s external debt is not that high, and costs of defaulting – exclusion of Ukraine from the bond market for five years or so – are not-zero.
Ukraine badly needs immediate breathing space to introduce reforms and relieve the burden imposed by the Yanukovych government. The main risk here is that the absence of primary fiscal surplus makes an immediate fiscal consolidation or monetization of spending unavoidable in case of outright default. But Ukraine had a nearly zero inflation rate for two year. Some inflation could be a stimulating force if it can be kept under control later on. The new provisional government of Ukraine must weigh the costs and benefits of these scenarios. But right now, it should not exclude the option of default if external support is not coming. An external default would then not alienate Ukraine from the international community, despite the short run disorder it might create.
  • Fifth, a possible trade war with Russia and increased energy prices are looming.
Ukraine should prepare to obtain energy from alternative sources (including reversing the gas flow to get energy from the West).
  • Sixth, some people and businesses will be hit very hard.
The government should prepare short-term relief for all those likely to fall into temporary poverty: guaranteed minimum food, heating, electricity and water, all supplied on a lump-sum basis.
  • Last and not least, the EU and Ukraine should sign the association agreement.
This will anchor economic and political forces toward reforms and growth as well as provide credibility to the new government.

These emergency economic  measures will not address the need for fundamental long-term change. Once there is a legitimate government, elected on the basis of a Constitution approved by referendum, fundamental long term reforms can be implemented. These include a fundamental overhaul of government administration to root out corruption, fiscal decentralization to give more power to the regions, regulatory reform to break up monopolies, opening up entry to foreign firms and small private business, and securing a stable supply of energy by exploiting Ukraine’s large reserve of shale gas.
The need to act fast now does not mean one should not also begin in the necessary process of constitutional change. The people of Ukraine demand it. Ukraine had two revolutions in the last ten years. Both expressed people’s discontent with the status quo and aspirations for democracy. It needs to build a consolidated and participatory democracy. There will likely not be a third chance."

III Political

- Hold elections soon, with credible international observers.

- Convene a constituent assembly and  draft and ratify a new constitution as soon as possible.

Lots to do and not much time to do it.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Seventy Years Ago: FDR Aboard USS Iowa Enroute Teheran

We last left the president sailing aboard USS Iowa on November 14th, 1943, on his way to Teheran. To bring readers up to date, here are the daily logs of the president's activities:

November 20th, 1943;
November 21st;
November 22nd;
November 23rd;
November 24th;
November 25th;
November 26th;
November 27th;
November 28th;
November 29th;
November 30th;
December 1st;
December 2d;
December 3rd;
December 4th;
December 5th;
December 6th;
December 7th;
December 8th;
December 9th;
December 10th;
December 11th;
December 12th;
December 13th;
December 14th;
December 15th;
December 16th;
December 17th.

My comments:
FDR's travel to Teheran and participation in tense conferences in Cairo and Teheran was far from a pleasure cruise. This was hard work, and would have challenged even much younger men in better physical condition. A little more than a year after completing the Teheran conference, once again FDR would make another transatlantic voyage through the war zone, this time to Malta and to the war-ravaged Crimea for another conference with Churchill and Stalin. FDR left Washington January 23rd, 1945 and returned February 28th. The following day, March 1st, the president addressed a joint session of Congress, reporting on the Yalta conference. He died six weeks later during a visit to Warm Springs, GA.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Does History Repeat Itself Or Just Rhyme?

Mark Twain is said to have observed that history doesn't repeat itself - but it does rhyme.

Many of us read history not only for entertainment, but also in hopes of learning useful lessons about our own time and place. We seek to uncover history's lessons.

Those purported lessons are brought to our attention by journalists, political figures and academics on major anniversaries of important events.

One such event is the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire on June 28, 1914 by Gavrilo Princip, a Serbian nationalist in the town of Sarajevo. That was a shot not only heard round the world, but one that has reverberated now for an entire century.

Margaret MacMillan, professor of history at Oxford, University, has contributed an essay for the Brookings Institution examining the lessons of that event and the ensuing war.

I have read many of the diplomatic papers leading up to the war, tramped across the battlefields and pondered the issue of "war guilt" as it was called. After the 1918 armistice and collapse of the German government, the Western Allies insisted on assigning all of the guilt for the war on Germany.

I have concluded that no European power was without guilt. Nor was any power imbued with great resources of wisdom.

But the guilt at the outset plainly belongs to Serbia.

Professor MacMillan makes the case in her essay that the times in 1914 were much like our own.

We should read it as a cautionary tale.

But read it!

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Seventy-Two Years Ago: Pearl Harbor And Japanese Politics

Today's New York Times prints an op-ed article by historian Eri Hotta addressing similarities and differences between today's Japan and that of seventy-two years ago. Her article is very much worth reading. I also look forward to reading her book: Japan 1941: Countdown to Infamy.

Japan in 1941 was not a military dictatorship or a totalitarian regime, and it never became one. Neither was it a democracy. It was, instead, a society built on strong networks of obligation, with decision making by consensus rather than by majority vote. The persistent belief that Japan in 1941 was a military dictatorship grows out of a deep misunderstanding of the way Japanese society worked. Ruth Benedict's wartime study of Japanese society, The Crysanthemum And The Sword, might have deepened our understanding, but it came out too late and has never informed our retrospective understanding of events leading to war. I look forward to reading Ms. Hotta's two books on the period.


Friday, November 15, 2013

Seventy Years Ago: November 14, 1943

November 14, 1943  

In a freak accident, President Roosevelt, Generals Marshall and Arnold, Admirals Leahy and King, plus scores of distinguished politicians, and army, naval and air force strategists came under fire while traveling to the the Tehran Conference on board the battleship Iowa. While running a torpedo drill, the US destroyer William D. Porter was targeting the Iowa's #2 magazine, a live torpedo was ejected and headed for the battleship. After maneuvering, the torpedo detonated 1200 feet aft of Iowa in her wake turbulence. When the incident was concluded, Air Force General Hap Arnold leaned over to Fleet Commander Admiral King and asked, "Tell me Ernest, does this happen often in your Navy?"