Strobe Talbott on Totalitarianism

Stalin_Hitler

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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Inside the Mind of Sergei Lavrov

Russia’s top diplomat could take a number approaches in doing the job. In the case of Sergei Lavrov, despite his many successes, universal dislike and mistrust seems to be a constant companion, according to POLITICO’s Susan Glasser.

From two top Obama officials:

“He’s a nasty SOB. He would be relentlessly berating and browbeating and sarcastic and nasty. His job was to berate and beat and harass us and Secretary Kerry into conceding the Russian view. It wasn’t defeating America; it was that Russia can’t win if it has to compromise at all.”

“I don’t see him as zero-sum and suspicious of and averse to the West as Putin is,” said another former Obama official who sat in many meetings in recent years with Lavrov. “He believes more in at least tactical cooperation, at least in a broader context of strategic nonalignment. I think he did actually look for opportunities. I also think he plays to his bosses. So the extent to which he’s acerbic and nasty—that’s partly his personality and partly what he believes Putin and actual powers that be want to hear.”

Source: Russia’s Oval Office Victory Dance – POLITICO Magazine

Russia’s long game is becoming more readily apparent–and has been explored many times earlier–where it must turn weakness into strength.

“Free societies are often split because people have their own views, and that’s what former Soviet and current Russian intelligence tries to take advantage of,” Oleg Kalugin, a former K.G.B. general, who has lived in the United States since 1995, said. “The goal is to deepen the splits.” Such a strategy is especially valuable when a country like Russia, which is considerably weaker than it was at the height of the Soviet era, is waging a geopolitical struggle with a stronger entity.”

Source: Trump, Putin and the New Cold war – The New Yorker, Annals of Diplomacy, March 6, 2017 Issue

Lavrov is an essential diplomatic knight in this game.

In Glasser’s longer profile in FP,  she describes Russia’s “Minister No” as “no gray apparatchik” who dominated the Security Council, drank, “smoked like a chimney” and favorited Italian couture, even as he cites Prince Gorchakov as the Russian diplomatic model. Perhaps that is a key insight, where Russian nationalism drive the antagonism against the U.S., and is integrated into Lavrov’s diplomatic approach.

Breaking Down the Syrian Ceasefire 


An excellent discussion parsing prospects, dimensions, and implications relating to the Syrian Ceasefire on today’s Diane Rehm Show.

The U.S. – Russian brokered ceasefire in Syria which went into effect at sundown on Monday is said to be, so far, mostly holding. Despite long odds for success Washington and Moscow hope their joint efforts can target the Islamic State and an Al Qaeda terrorist group while allowing for the delivery of humanitarian aid to thousands of increasingly desperate Syrian civilians: Join us for an update on the ongoing brutal conflict in Syria and prospects for this latest ceasefire agreement to hold.

Guests

  • Liz Sly bureau chief, Beirut, Washington Post
  • Jason Cone executive director, Doctors Without Borders
  • Philip Gordon senior fellow, Council on Foreign Relations, former special assistant to the president and White House Coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa, and the Gulf Region from 2013–15
  • Faysal Itani resident fellow, Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East at the Atlantic Council.

A Walk in the Woods: A Lesson on Informal Negotiations

A few years ago when the New START Treaty was initially underway, a play was staged in an encore performance on the Hill.  This story that explores the heart of a successful negotiation during a time of Cold War tensions is apropos for our current milieu.

The Pulitzer, Tony, and Olivier award-Winning 1988 play, “A Walk in the Woods” by Less Blessing, tells the story of an accidental negotiation on a medium-range nuclear arms agreement by the US representative Paul Nitze and USSR diplomat Yuli Kvitsinsky. In 2010 it was re-staged at the American Ensemble Theatre in Washington, D.C.

Is the book better than the movie, er, the transcript better than the play? This lengthy interview explains:

At the time of your famous “walk in the woods,” the negotiations on Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) in Europe had stalled. At the time, many people around the world, especially in Europe, believed that the U.S. wasn’t really interested in negotiating an arms control agreement with the Soviets. Source: Paul Nitze Interview — Academy of Achievement

Nitze, the namesake of Johns Hopkins’ School of Advanced International Studies, was also involved in the 1986 arms summit in Reykjavik. He was perceived as an intellectual leader of the hawks by Democrats and seen by others in the Reagan administration as too much of a dove.

A BYU Kennedy Center reading of Richard Rhodes’ Pulitzer Prize-winning play Reykjavik is scheduled tonight on campus in Provo as part of our International Education Week 2015 celebration.

 

Mighty Mighty Putin?

Has Putin outflanked Obama geostrategically? Or, as Dmitry Adamsky wrote earlier this month in Foreign Affairs, is Russia now dangerously overextended through conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East? “Making waves is easier than controlling them. For Moscow, the main risk in Syria is overextension.”

Michael McFaul, Stanford political scientist and former US Ambassador to Russia writes that Putin is weak and explores how the US can do more to advance its grand strategy toward a safer world–and get a better Russia, as well:

The United States and Western allies should capitalize on Mr. Putin’s attention being diverted to Syria to deepen support for Ukraine. In return for progress on economic reform, especially anti-corruption measures, we can offer greater financial aid for infrastructure and social service programs.

And now is the moment to bolster the Ukrainian Army by providing more military training and defensive weapons.Elsewhere in Europe, NATO should station ground forces on the territory of allies most threatened by Russia. Russia’s annexation of Crimea and intervention in eastern Ukraine violated the NATO-Russia Founding Act and other treaties. In response, our NATO allies deserve credible new commitments from us.

Finally, we must continue to pursue long-term foreign policy objectives that demonstrate American leadership and underscore Russia’s isolation. Ratifying the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, closing a multilateral climate deal by the end of the year, deepening ties with India and managing relations with China are all parts of America’s grander strategy.

Source: The Myth­ of Putin’s Strategic Genius – The New York Times

How the Euro Crisis, Iranian Nuclear Deal and Ukraine are Connected

Good insight from Stratfor on how three seemingly unrelated events intersect:

Germany needs a deal with Russia to be able to manage an existential crisis for the eurozone; Russia needs a deal with the United States to limit U.S. encroachment on its sphere of influence; and the United States needs a deal with Iran to refocus its attention on Russia. No conflict is divorced from the other, though each may be of a different scale. Germany and Russia can find ways to settle their differences, as can Iran and the United States. But a prolonged eurozone crisis cannot be avoided, nor can a deep Russian mistrust of U.S. intentions for its periphery.

Both issues bring the United States back to Eurasia. A distracted Germany will compel the United States to go beyond NATO boundaries to encircle Russia. Rest assured, Russia — even under severe economic stress — will find the means to respond.

via The Intersection of Three Crises | Stratfor.

Does the ICC Matter?

Some argue that the fuss over Palestine’s efforts to join the Internaitonal Criminal Court show how relevant the institution still is. The move “could open the door to possible investigation and prosecution of war crimes in the Palestinian Territories” according to Marina Barakatt of the American Society of International Law.

But the ICC has proven to be slow-moving and frequently ineffective–as driven by its Security Council member state masters:

Neither China nor Russia nor the United States has signed the treaty that created the court, but as veto-wielding members of the Security Council, all three can exert influence, chiefly by protecting their allies from its reach.

Only recently, the court was dismissed as ineffective, or even irrelevant. It was ambitiously designed to try the gravest offenses: genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. But the tribunal, based in The Hague, has been hamstrung from the start. It does not have the power to arrest those it indicts, nor to force defiant government authorities to cooperate. It can initiate cases against countries that have signed up — 123 states as of April 1, when the Palestinian accession to the court starts — or if the Security Council refers cases to the tribunal.

via Is the War Crimes Court Still Relevant? – NYTimes.com.