Strobe Talbott on Totalitarianism

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The word has been tossed around during recent elections, but it means something real. History helps most to get a sense of what totalitarianism really means.

From a notable issue of the NYTBR, former Deputy Secretary of State and Russia observer Strobe Talbott writes this short summary of Russian history–where the first two-thirds captures the connection between Stalin and Hitler and adds context to a well-known historical epoch.

A hundred years ago, a malignant form of governance, both modern and barbaric, slouched towards St. Petersburg to be born. As it grew, it swept across Eurasia, enveloping the largest territorial state on the planet and cloning itself elsewhere. As the decades passed, the monstrosity was given a name: totalitarianism.

via Stalin, Hitler and the Temptations of Totalitarianism – The New York Times

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Prepping to Negotiate with North Korea

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What advice would @mickeybergman, one of the people responsible for negotiating with the DPRK to release Otto Warmbier, give to President Trump ahead of his tete-a-tete with Kim Jung-Un?

In an interview with FP’s Sarah Wildman, print editor, and Dan De Luce, chief foreign policy correspondent, Bergman explores his experiences with non-state actor diplomacy in the grey area between states and individual actors.  And based on his past experience working with North Korean interlocutors, he explores strategies that would be important for any negotiation with North Korea.

For example, Bergman observes that the Koreans make three fundamental assumptions going into a negotiation:

  1. The world is out to get us. (Consider regional history from Japan, China, South Korea, as well as the U.S.)
  2. We are surrounded by giants. (China, Russia, and the U.S.)
  3. We need an asymmetric three to maintain our way of life (nuclear weapons)

In PostWorld this week, he writes that one tactic to expect from the North Koreans is a feint that could shut down negotiations:

In the 1990s, when one of us, then-congressman Richardson, was an unofficial envoy, his U.S. delegation extended an offer of food aid to North Korea during one break in arms-control discussions as a gesture meant to encourage their counterparts to return to the talks. The North Koreans publicly rejected the aid, insisting that they didn’t need it, but then quietly accepted it, nonetheless. For show, they briefly reopened negotiations, but they weren’t serious. Nothing happened, and they blamed us for the impasse. A typical North Korean dodge.

via WaPo, Kim Jong Un won’t give up his nukes. Trump should meet with him, anyway.

Discussions could take much longer than just a one meet up between two highly visible heads of state:

In 2016, negotiating on behalf of Otto Warmbier’s family in Pyongyang, the other one of us, Mr. Bergman, received a flat “no” from the North Koreans on a proposal to bring Otto home during the official portion of a meeting. Minutes later, during an unofficial conversation, one of his counterparts casually commented: “There is a saying in my country: it takes 100 hacks to take down a tree.” The North Koreans negotiate with patience and deliberation, something Trump must take into account.

How will Trump do, the self-described master negotiator? We’ll have to wait and see–and hope for the best.

 

Could we Sleepwalk into a Big War?

What does the end of the West’s military superiority mean for great power politics, peace and stability around the world?

When explaining the need to prepare for a major war against a high-end enemy, US and European analysts usually point to Russian aggression in Ukraine and Chinese adventurism in the South China Sea (9). Western military moves, it is claimed, are an undesired but necessary reaction to provocations by others. But probe more deeply into the thinking of senior leaders and a different picture emerges. Running throughout this discussion is a pervasive anxiety that the world has changed in significant ways, and that the strategic advantages once possessed by the West are slipping away as other powers gain increased military and geopolitical leverage. In this new era — ‘a time of renewed great power competition’ as Carter put it — the US’s military might no longer appears as formidable as it once did, while the m

Source: Sleepwalking into a big war, by Michael T Klare (Le Monde diplomatique – English edition, September 2016)

Military Trumps Diplomacy

The thesis, “militarization of [fill-in-the-blank]” has become rampant, isn’t new. In State vs. Defense, Stephen Glain explored how the traditional functions of diplomacy have become subsumed by the military-industrial complex, with mixed outcomes for U.S. foreign policy. And writing in 2012, Franz-Stefan Gady muses that militarized diplomacy “distorts assessments of U.S. influence and obscures national interest.”

Now, Rosa Brooks, a Georgetown professor, protege of Michèle Flournoy, and Sheryl Sandberg contrarian delves deeper into the Pentagon in How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything: Tales from the Pentagon, to explore how this is happening.

Equally illuminating is her examination of the resentment that the military has generated by expanding its role, assuming responsibility for all manner of unlikely projects. In its efforts to stamp out future generations of terrorists, the Pentagon has sponsored peace concerts in Africa, distributed soccer balls with anti-extremist slogans in Iraq, trained judges in Afghanistan — anything to shore up stability in volatile nations. It drives State Department personnel and aid workers — the people who would ordinarily be charged with such efforts — nuts.

“You’ve got these kids,” one Agency for International Development worker told her, “these 30-year-old captains who’ve spent their lives learning to drive tanks and shoot people, and they think they know how to end poverty in Afghanistan, in six months.”

Source: Review: ‘How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything’ – The New York Times

 

Career Diplomat Undone Doing Her Job?

What happens when the India/Pakistan tensions spill onto the professional life of Robin Raphel, a career diplomat with more than 30 years of work at State, including as Assistant Secretary of State? She faced an FBI counterintelligence investigation where materials alleging her role in revealing secrets were uncovered. The case was closed in March 2016 with no charges filed, a “misunderstanding“, but the damage was done.

Support  from Hussein Haqqani, former Pakistani Ambassador to the U.S. offers insight into the fallout:

“I hope a good American diplomat will now no longer suffer because someone who disliked her leaked the story of inquiries about her prematurely, making her look like a criminal before even filing of charges. …Good thing is, the D.O.J. did the right thing.”

Her extensive career (explored in WaPo), coupled with her candid style and willingness to defend the Pakistani point-of-view left her colleagues perplexed and concerned.  Known as  a smart, articulate and highly competent diplomat, more recently Raphel served as a senior advisor to Richard Holbrook on Af-Pak.

Dan Feldman, Raphel’s last boss at SRAP, says the case shows that other agencies need to better understand diplomacy: “I wish there had been better and more coordinated knowledge about the nature and importance of diplomatic channels, and what it entails for diplomats to be effective in pursuing critical national security priorities.”The case had a “chilling effect” on other diplomats, who feared they might be next, a half-dozen State Department officials told me. But Raphel’s colleagues stood behind her, even when the investigation was still active. Beth Jones, another former assistant secretary of state, organized a legal defense fund last summer. The fund raised nearly $90,000 from 96 colleagues and friends, many of whom, recalls Jones, voiced the fear: “There but for the grace of God go I.”

Source: When diplomats get punished for doing their jobs – The Washington Post

 

Northwestern Faculty veto Karl Eikenberry for global studies institute

The newest university addition to global studies is an institute is based at Northwestern and funded by Warren Buffet with a gift of $101 million (Wow). Trustees found an ideal new director: aformer Ambassador to Afghanistan, three-star Army general who had lived in Korea (twice), China (three times), Italy, Belgium and Afghanistan. He is currently a distinguished fellow at Stanford’s Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center, with two master’s degrees–from Standord and Harvard. So what’s the problem?

The deal, announced in November, fell through months later, after a surprising debate erupted about Eikenberry’s qualifications and his views on the value of the humanities and social sciences as elements of “soft power” in U.S. foreign policy. The dispute at the elite private university in north suburban Evanston reflected the power of faculty dissidents as a check on university administrators, as well as conflicting views on the value of military and diplomatic experience for advancement in academia.

Source: How Northwestern faculty derailed retired general’s global studies job – Chicago Tribune

Reasons behind the petition and faculty intransigence appear to arise from his lacking a Ph.D.  It may also stem from perceived faculty view that “the Unviersity’s core mission of independent research and teaching becomes identified with U.S. military and foreign.”  policy. More on the controversy, explained by North by Northwestern.

 

Debating Killer Robots at the UN

Let’s debate killer robots. (Or should we? Who is for them anyway?) Not the ICRC or Amnesty International. See the Red Cross statement from the Meeting of Experts on Lethal Autonomous Weapons Systems, held a few weeks ago at the UN in Geneva:

The ICRC has called on States to set limits on autonomy in weapon systems to ensure they are used in accordance with international humanitarian law (IHL) and within the bounds of what is acceptable under the principles of humanity and the dictates of public conscience.

Apparently, more than 80 national representatives agreed, echoing groups such as the International Committee for Robot Arms Control and the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots:

In the end, they emerged with a recommendation: The key U.N. body that sets norms for weapons of war should put killer robots on its agenda.

Source: Weighing The Good And The Bad Of Autonomous Killer Robots In Battle : All Tech Considered : NPR

Not the strongest stuff you could hope for (e.g., treaty law or even a declaration or draft programme of action) but it is a step in the direction toward action. But in reality, it is harder to draw the line than some think, especially where the bottom line is that humans have to decide how to use the technology.

Although some argue that “autonomous weapons are coming and can save lives” as long as they are used ethically and within legal norms, Denise Garcia disagrees, writing in Foreign Affairs that

“Washington should…work to prohibit machines capable of killing on their own. Killer robots might seem like an unreasonable idea, but they could become an unacceptable reality.”