This book thus strives to understand the July Crisis of 1914 as a modern event, the most complex of modern times, perhaps of any time so far. It is concerned less with why the war happened than with how it came about. Questions of why and how are logically inseparable, but they lead us in different directions. The question of how invites us to look closely at the sequences of interactions that produced certain outcomes. By contrast, the question of why invites us to go in search of remote and categorical causes: imperialism, nationalism, armaments, alliances, high finance, ideas of national honour, the mechanics of mobilization. The why approach brings a certain analytical clarity, but it also has a distorting effect, because it creates the illusion of a steadily building causal pressure; the factors pile up on top of each other pushing down on the events; political actors become mere executors of forces long established and beyond their control.
The story this book tells is, by contrast, saturated with agency. The key decision-makers — kings, emperors, foreign ministers, ambassadors, military commanders and a host of lesser officials — walked towards danger in watchful, calculated steps. The outbreak of war was the culmination of chains of decisions made by political actors with conscious objectives, who were capable of a degree of self-reflection, acknowledged a range of options and formed the best judgements they could on the basis of the best information they had to hand. Nationalism, armaments, alliances and finance were all part of the story, but they can be made to carry real explanatory weight only if they can be seen to have shaped the decisions that — in combination — made war break out.
Christopher Clark, The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went To War In 1914, 2012.
March 28, 2015
March 23, 2015
Mark Steyn linked to this rather amusing communication from the British embassy in Moscow, back in 1943:
If it’s not quite legible, he also provided a text version:
The Foreign Office
6th April 1943
My Dear Reggie,
In these dark days man tends to look for little shafts of light that spill from Heaven. My days are probably darker than yours, and I need, my God I do, all the light I can get. But I am a decent fellow, and I do not want to be mean and selfish about what little brightness is shed upon me from time to time. So I propose to share with you a tiny flash that has illuminated my sombre life and tell you that God has given me a new Turkish colleague whose card tells me that he is called Mustapha Kunt.
We all feel like that, Reggie, now and then, especially when Spring is upon us, but few of us would care to put it on our cards. It takes a Turk to do that.
Sir Archibald Clark Kerr
March 22, 2015
National Review columnist says Obama is right and his critics are wrong … about the TPP negotiations
I’m a very strong free-trader, but what I’ve heard about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations makes me feel that it’s less to do with any kind of free trade and much more to do with “managed” trade, where favoured companies get sweetheart deals and cronies get their cut of the action. In spite of that, National Review‘s Kevin Williamson says we should all hold our noses and follow behind President Obama and sign the TPP so we can find out what’s in it, so everyone can get their free unicorn … or something:
If there were $3 trillion sitting on the sidewalk, would you stoop to pick it up? That is the main question facing advocates of the Trans-Pacific Partnership — a proposed treaty to liberalize trade and investment among a dozen nations including the United States, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Singapore, and Japan — and the trade-and-investment accord’s antagonists, too.
“The first thing you need to know is that almost everyone exaggerates the importance of trade policy,” writes TPP critic Paul Krugman in the New York Times. That may seem a strange sentiment for a man who won the Nobel Prize in economics (*) for his work on trade — perhaps the Sveriges Riksbank exaggerated the importance of trade economics? — but Professor Krugman has a point. The effects of large-scale international accords in trade and other economic areas are difficult to forecast, and such deals interact with other economic realities in ways that are not always entirely obvious. When NAFTA was under consideration, we were warned about that infamous “giant sucking sound” by Ross Perot and other protectionists, while the free-traders predicted that the accord would prove a massive boon to the U.S. economy, as well as to those of Mexico and Canada. The reality, as measured by the Congressional Budget Office and others, is that NAFTA has had a small positive effect on U.S. economic growth. Human progress is made up mostly of small positive effects. Beware policymakers offering dramatic promises: As Daniel Hannan points out, those advocating the adoption of the euro promised that it would add 1 percent GDP growth to each participating nation in perpetuity and that it would also provide a check on political extremism — wrong and wrong.
The dispute over TPP finds Barack Obama at odds both with congressional Democrats and with progressive activists, and making uncomfortably common cause with the most reliable partisans of free trade: most everybody who hates his guts.
Some Republicans have reservations about investing the president with “fast track” authority — meaning that he would be empowered to negotiate a deal that would then get a simple yes/no vote in Congress, which turns out to have a say in international affairs after all — because they are mindful of this imperial president’s habitual infliction of violence on the Constitution and of his seething contempt of the legislative branch in which he served for approximately eleven minutes. But it is unlikely that Republicans will in the end say no to a trade deal.
Professor Krugman’s case against TPP is, in brief, “meh.” He offers very little in the way of substantive criticism of the proposed accord, instead pooh-poohing it as modest, something that might add no more than 0.5 percent, and probably not even that, to the incomes of the participating nations. Those nations represent more than one third of the world’s economic output, though. Brad DeLong of the Washington Center for Equitable Growth addresses Professor Krugman’s sniffing directly: What if the additional growth were only half that 0.5 percent number? “In a Pacific region whose GDP is now approaching $30 trillion/year,” he writes, “that is $75 billion/year. Capitalize that at 4 percent/year and we get a net addition to world wealth of $3 trillion. That is indeed a very small number relative to the wealth of the world both now and discounted into the future. But that is a rather large number compared to other things the U.S. government might do this year. So why not grab for it?”
February 16, 2015
Within a couple of months of the Invergordon mutiny, Japan intervened in Manchuria, deaf to all the entreaties of the League of Nations. While, today, we are used to the fact that a ringing denunciation from the United Nations is probably the single most ineffective tool in international relations, the revelation of its predecessor’s impotence came as a disagreeable surprise. So many statesmen had placed their faith in collective security that the naked aggression of the Japanese left them floundering for a response. In 1931 the British people had more pressing concerns than remote Asian wars, but the lesson was not lost on Germany’s rising political star Hitler, nor the posturing Mussolini in Italy whose Fascist Party dreamed of a new Roman Empire.
Max Arthur, The True Glory: The Royal Navy 1914-1939, 1996.
February 6, 2015
Paul Wells on the somewhat precipitate departure of Canada’s foreign minister, John Baird:
This is the third time Stephen Harper has found himself suddenly short a foreign minister and the first time it has mattered. On May 26, 2008, Maxime Bernier resigned the portfolio after he left confidential documents at a girlfriend’s house, and the capital was briefly awash in bad puns about “leaky briefs.” In the federal election of May 2, 2011, Lawrence Cannon lost his seat to a rookie New Democrat. Now John Baird.
But Bernier was — is — a libertarian who was convinced that if governments talk to one another they will find new things to do when they shouldn’t be doing much of anything, so he was never entirely sure Canada should have a foreign minister and a little put out that it apparently had to be him. And Cannon took no joy in a job that pushed his limited interpersonal skills beyond their natural breaking point. […]
Baird, on the other hand, has been an absolute breath of fresh air. Of course he’s been a conservative (as opposed to merely a Conservative) foreign minister, so DFAIT lifers Paul Heinbecker and Jeremy Kinsman would reliably get the vapours at the mention of his name. He sold embassies and official residences. He informed DFAT-D (as the newly renamed ministry came to be called) envoys that they would have no more space in their cubicles in Ankara or Canberra than their counterparts in Ottawa were permitted. He stuck close to talking points, which could make him maddeningly terse: following him around central Europe last April, I passed a dejected reporter for the Polish newspaper Rzeczpospolita leaving the Canadian embassy in Warsaw. “They gave me 20 minutes for an interview,” my Polish colleague said. “When I ran out of questions, we still had eight minutes left.”
But Baird travelled constantly, met everyone who’d talk to him, kept his eyes open, and radically expanded the breadth and complexity of the Harper government’s foreign policy. When the Conservatives were elected in 2006, they acted as if Canada’s relations with the world could be reduced to the anglosphere (friendly governments in the U.S. and Australia, the palatable Tony Blair in London) plus Israel. When those governments changed, usually for the worse from Harper’s perspective, Ottawa’s instinct was usually to turtle and blame the stupid world.
December 26, 2014
The United States has been in a Cold War state of tension with one of the poorest countries in the western hemisphere for half a century. The benefits of this strategy are hard to find (and harder to justify), but the drawbacks are pretty stark. The recent move by the Obama administration to move to more normal diplomatic and economic relations with Cuba may be driven by short-term petty political considerations, but the move is correct and rational on the larger scale. In The Federalist, Tom Nichols tries to talk the conservative base in off the window ledge by pointing out that there’s a strong conservative case as well:
Okay, everyone. Calm down.
There are a lot of reasons to be worried about the president’s decision to normalize relations with Cuba. Not least among them is that this is the least-adept foreign policy team in post-Cold War history (yes, I include the Carter and Bush 43 White Houses in that evaluation), and after six years of being taken to the cleaners by bad regimes, it feels like it’s happening again. It also looks too much like a quid pro quo for the release of an imprisoned American. And it’s being rationalized by the president himself in terms that show little understanding of the origins of the entire policy he’s about to overturn.
With all of that said, it’s still the right thing to do, and conservatives oppose it at their political peril.
Before we go any farther, however, what exactly are we actually talking about? To judge from the reaction of some conservatives, President Obama just proposed to send Fidel Castro a personal masseuse in a bikini stuffed with hundred-dollar bills. The fact of the matter is, we don’t know what will come from this, other than “normalization:” that is, the ability to establish an embassy, carry on diplomatic relations, and negotiate over trade. Congress — dominated by Republicans for the next two years — will have a large say in how all of that proceeds. So it’s important to maintain some perspective here, especially since there is only so much the president can do by fiat.
First and foremost, conservatives need to think carefully about the argument that Cuba is simply too evil a country to have a relationship with us. There is a moral “whataboutism” trap in that position, and liberals will gladly (and rightly) spring it. Many of the people thundering that we cannot even think of dealing with the Castros are the same conservatives who celebrate our massive, and utterly immoral, trade relations with China, a nominally Communist giant whose human rights abuses and mischief in the world dwarf Cuba’s.
Is our indulgence on China only because China is huge? Very well: I also note no similar outrage over our healthy relationship with much smaller Vietnam, a country in which American boys were killed and tortured, often with Chinese weapons and Chinese assistance. Other examples abound.
Yet we normalized relations with both nations. How many of us are wearing clothing with a “made in Vietnam” label right now? (I still can’t get used to that.) Think of it this way: all that cheap junk at your local department store eventually funds nuclear missiles aimed directly at the United States. Are we all ready for a China boycott and closing our Beijing embassy, or is moral outrage reserved only for small nations too broke to buy their way out of our condemnation, however justifiable?
November 20, 2014
[President Obama] said he would take executive action on immigration by year’s end unless Republicans passed a bill. It’s certainly a bold negotiating tactic: You can do what I want, or I’ll go ahead and do what I want anyway. This is how you “negotiate” with a seven-year old, not a Senate Majority Leader.
I’m not sure that isn’t what Obama thinks he’s doing, and I’m sure many of my left-leaning readers are chuckling right now at the comparison. But Mitch McConnell is not a seven year old; he’s an adult, and he just won an election in which voters repudiated Obama and his party. (Temporarily, I am sure, but just the same: As someone once said, “Elections have consequences.”) McConnell is not the proverbial Tea Party extremist who won’t negotiate; he’s an establishment guy, known as a strategist and a tactician, not an ideologue (which is why the Tea Party isn’t that fond of him). In short, he’s someone who can make deals. Responding to McConnell’s rather gracious remarks about finding common goals by announcing that you know what the American public wants, and you’re going to give it to them no matter what their elected representatives say, seems curiously brash. It might chill the atmosphere today when he sits down with congressional leaders.
I wonder if Obama even knows how to negotiate with Republicans. It’s not as if he has a long, distinguished record of passing legislation in a mixed environment. His later years in the Illinois State Senate enjoyed a solid Democratic majority, and he jumped into the U.S. Senate at a propitious time. Soon after he arrived came the wave of 2006, when Democrats controlled both houses of congress by comfortable margins, and Senator Obama was far too junior to be negotiating with the White House. Then came the financial crisis, and another wave, and Obama spent the first two years of his presidency in a happy situation where he could get things done without needing the support of the opposition. He didn’t even negotiate with his own party; the Senate negotiated his health care bill, and Nancy Pelosi whipped it through the House.
Post 2010, of course, he also hasn’t had much practice negotiating. I’m not interested in another tedious argument about who did what to whom; whatever the cause and whoever’s fault it may be, the fact remains that the president has spent the last four years in a stalemate: Neither party can leave, and neither party can win.
It’s a little late in the president’s career to learn the fine art of making deals with people who fundamentally disagree with you, but might be willing to work on whatever small goals you might share. I suspect it feels more comfortable to go along with the strategy that has worked decently well over the last four years: hold your ground, complain about Republican intransigence, and hope that Republican legislators give you another opportunity to play long-suffering adult in the room.
Megan McArdle, “Does Obama Even Know How to Negotiate?”, Bloomberg View, 2014-11-07.
October 30, 2014
It’s not exactly a revelation that what politicians call “free trade” agreements are usually tightly constrained, regulated, and micro-managed trade: almost the exact inverse of what a genuine free trade deal would look like. This is primarily because politicians and diplomats have hijacked the original term to describe modern mercantilism. In The Diplomat, Ji Xianbai looks at how so-called free trade negotiations are little more than diplomatic beat-downs of the weaker parties by the stronger:
The classic mercantilism, the one associated with the idea that the precious metals obtained through a favorable balance of foreign trade were essential to a powerful nation, may be historically obsolete. The core of the mercantilist view, namely that self-interested states maximize economic development by optimizing political control to strengthen national power, is very much alive and well. Indeed, the vitality of mercantilism as a state of mind may have infiltrated every corner of the international political economy. If one considers the essence of mercantilism through Robert Gilpin’s definition – the attempt of governments to manipulate economic arrangements in order to maximize their own interests – multiple examples immediately come to mind: Japan’s “economic totalitarianism” system in which the entire society was united in deterring foreign competition in the postwar period, China’s ascendance since 1980s through an export-led development mode underpinned by a deliberately undervalued currency, and Germany’s unprecedented trade surplus accrued from the stringent austerity imposed on its economy to sustain competitiveness in the aftermath of the euro crisis.
Compared to those national triumphs of classic mercantilism, there is a less visible showroom, but one in which mercantilism presents itself over and over again in the form of legal mercantilism. This would be free trade agreements (FTAs), negotiations of which are usually kept in the dark. In bilateral FTA negotiations, legal mercantilist governments endeavor to impose their own (or desirable) trade rules and economic policies on other sovereign countries, usually with the aid of a combination of economic immensity, political hegemony, and asymmetric trade dependence, to create a sort of “international best practice,” favorable trade rules, and legal gains that can be leveraged and multilateralized at a regional and/or global level. The “competitive liberalization” strategy aptly pursued by the U.S. since 2002 is one such legal mercantilist policy, which aims to create another “gold standard” in international trade standard setting to project U.S.-friendly economic policies all over the world. In short, the U.S. expects the trade policies of other nations to follow those of the U.S., in the same way that their currencies used to peg to the U.S. dollar.
The U.S.–Peru FTA (PTPA) marks the very first success of Washington’s attempts to subordinate other countries’ sovereignty to its own national interest by squeezing non-trade-related provisions into a bilateral trade liberalization agreement and overriding foreign national laws. To provide a level playing field for American companies, the PTPA lays out detailed measures that Peru is obliged to take to govern its forest sector. The Forest Annex of the PTPA requires Peru to set up an independent forestry oversight body and even enact new Forestry and Wildlife Laws to legalize key provisions of PTPA. The U.S.–Colombia FTA (CTPA)’s labor provisions represent an “even more blatant assault on another country’s sovereignty.” Meanwhile, Colombia was forced to agree to establish a dedicated labor ministry; endorse legislations outlawing interference in the exercise of labor rights; double the size of its labor inspectorate; and set up a phone hotline and an internet-based system to deal with labor complaints. Examples of similar provisions abound: Don’t forget that the U.S.-Panama FTA has “helped” revamp Panama’s tax policy on behalf of Panamanians.
October 16, 2014
In the Christian Science Monitor, Gordon F. Sander reviews the state of Finnish-Russian relations and the unusually uncomfortable situation Finland finds itself in now:
Seven months ago, when Russia seized and annexed the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine, Finns seemed relatively unconcerned. The world’s northernmost country shares some 800 miles of border with its huge neighbor, but just a quarter of Finns said they felt threatened by Moscow. And a similar number told pollsters their country should consider joining NATO in interest of self-defense.
Since then, Russia’s behavior has become more provocative, and not just in eastern Ukraine. During one week in August, Russian military aircraft conducted three unauthorized overflights of Finnish airspace. The Finnish public reacted accordingly. A poll last month by Finnish daily Aamulehti showed that 43 percent of those polled perceived Russia as a danger, an increase of nearly 20 percent from March.
But support for Finland joining NATO remained almost unchanged: a mere two percent higher, the Finnish Broadcasting Corporation (YLE) found. Why hasn’t Finnish wariness translated into stronger support for NATO membership? And what, if anything, would persuade Finns to join the defense pact?
Defense Minister Carl Haglund says that the foundation for the Finnish public’s aversion to NATO membership stems from its complicated, and oft-misunderstood relationship with Russia. “This [reluctance] goes back to [our] history,” he says, “especially the end of the Second World War and the cold war.”
“Put it this way,” says Pekka Ervasti, political editor of YLE. “Finnish neutrality dies hard.”
October 7, 2014
In the Daily Express, Marco Giannangeli lists the latest border and airspace violations in Gibraltar by supposedly “friendly” Spanish agents:
It comes hours after revelations that Spanish fighter jets flew “across the bow” of a Monarch airliner packed with holidaymakers from Manchester as it was landing on the Rock.
That incident prompted Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell to challenge the British Government to finally send Spain’s Ambassador to Britain “packing back to Madrid”.
The latest incursion happened yesterday when a Spanish Government research vessel entered British Gibraltar Territorial Waters off the southern tip of Gibraltar, Europa Point, to “take samples” of the reef at 3pm local time.
It was immediately surrounded by Royal Navy patrol vessels and told to leave British waters.
The demands were ignored by the Spanish vessel, the Angeles Alvarino, which proceeded to drop probes into the water.
It is understood that the boat then performed several reckless manoeuvres and one of the survey probes actually landed on a Royal Navy Rigid-hulled Inflatable Boat, which had been sent out to the vessel.
“Once again we have witnessed an unacceptable act of aggression from Spain,’ said a furious Gibraltar Government spokesman today.
The incident outraged Government officials and prompted senior Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell, chair of the parliamentary overseas territory group, to challenge foreign secretary Philip Hammond to finally expel the Spanish Ambassador.
“It is outrageous that Spain continues to behave in such an irresponsible and bullying fashion,” he said.
“Spain refuses to let British military jets fly over Spanish airspace on the way to Gibraltar even though they are partners in Nato, yet they think it’s fine to illegally enter British airspace and potentially distract an airliner as it is trying to safely land on the Rock.
“It’s time that the British Government sent the Spanish Ambassador packing back to Madrid. We are fed up with the bullying and intimidation from Spain, and it’s time that we showed them that we are no longer prepared to put up with it.”
October 1, 2014
German magazine Der Spiegel reports on the sad state of readiness in the German military:
Last week, a single person pushed Germany’s air force to the very limits of its capacities: Ursula von der Leyen, the country’s defense minister. Von der Leyen requested that two Transall military transport aircraft with missile defense systems be transferred to Amman, the Jordanian capital. The defense minister and a pool of reporters then flew for eight hours on Thursday morning in one of the aircraft to Erbil in Iraq’s Kurdish region. Back in Germany, the military had but a single additional Transall at its disposal.
After her arrival in Erbil, von der Leyen proceeded to the palace of the Kurdish regional government’s president. Her visit was to be concurrent with the delivery of German weapons, intended to aid the Kurds in their fight against Islamic State jihadists. Unfortunately, the machine guns and bazookas got stuck in Germany and the trainers in Bulgaria because of a dearth of available aircraft. One had been grounded because of a massive fuel leak. What could have been a shining moment for the minister instead turned into an embarrassing failure underscoring the miserable state of many of the Bundeswehr‘s most important weapons systems.
Against that backdrop and pressure from the international community, the ramshackle state of the Bundeswehr is no laughing matter in Berlin. At the moment, if Germany’s allies were to ask it to step up its participation in deployments in the Baltic states or Iraq, for example, Chancellor Merkel would likely have to politely pass, creating a highly embarrassing situation for the country. For the moment, though, most pressure related to the Bundeswehr‘s ailments has been directed at von der Leyen. Her critics argue that she has pursued a foreign and security policy vision that goes beyond the Bundeswehr‘s actual capabilities. Now she faces additional criticism that she tried to play down the military’s problems to members of parliament even though senior officials in her ministry were well aware of major shortcomings in the armed forces.
“Contrary to her own list of needed equipment, she created the impression in parliament that anything that could drive, fly or float was capable of full deployment,” said Rainer Arnold, the defense policy spokesman for the center-left Social Democrats (SPD). “But we members of parliament will not be taken for idiots.”
The defense minister hasn’t exactly been blind-sided by the criticism either — she’s known about the problems since before entering office almost a year ago. On Friday, she summoned the heads of the German army, navy and air force as well as the Inspector General of the Bundeswehr to her office for five hours of questioning, much of it centering on events in parliament last Wednesday.
H/T to Mark Collins for the link.
September 17, 2014
Spanish vessels have been making more frequent and blatant incursions into the waters around Gibraltar recently, and the governor has made it public that he supports the deployment of another, larger RN ship in the area to help deter these jaunts:
Governor Sir James Dutton has publicly voiced strong support for the deployment of a larger British naval vessel to patrol Gibraltar’s territorial waters.
Sir James, a retired Royal Marine with a distinguished military record, said such a move would send “a really valuable message” in the face of persistent incursions by Spanish state vessels.
“I think it should happen, I have always thought it should happen, I’ve always said it should happen,” he said during a wide-ranging interview on GBC’s Talk About Town.
Sir James said deployment of an offshore vessel would strengthen the Royal Navy’s ability to patrol British waters and stay at sea for longer periods of time.
The governor also revealed that “many” officials at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office supported such a deployment, but that other factors had to be considered including parallel demands on the UK’s limited resources.
“I would be lying if I said one is going to arrive next week, but there is a strong push for it and there is a lot of sympathy, there is a lot of support,” he said.
During the interview, Sir James said Spain was unlikely to shift in its 300-year old position on Gibraltar and that it was important to seek ways of managing the situation through diplomacy so that tensions did not escalate. He said Britain now had a “pretty slick” process of responding to Spanish incursions and said that in the more serious cases, people should not underestimate the impact of calling in the Spanish ambassador, as has happened several times over the past year.
September 10, 2014
James Holmes explains why “aim” isn’t good enough for NATO members:
The Naval Diplomat is not from Missouri, America’s Show-Me State. But I’m in a show-me state of mind following last week’s NATO summit in another Newport — Newport, Wales. Lofty words were said. The summit communiqué pledges, for instance, to restore some sanity to defense spending.
NATO long ago fixed the standard for defense spending at 2 percent of GDP. Few meet the standard, but at Newport the NATO-European powers put everyone on notice that they’re really, truly serious about it. The small minority that already comply — Great Britain (for the moment) and Greece, alongside the United States — will “aim to continue to do so.” The majority that don’t vow to arrest further slippage. And they will “aim to increase defense expenditure in real terms as GDP grows,” and “aim to move towards the 2% guideline within a decade,” helping field viable forces.
Aim being the keyword — or, more accurately, the key diplomatic weasel word — in these passages. How many European allies will fulfill their commitment, and how many will avail themselves of the escape clause? Barry Pavel of the Atlantic Council observes charitably that the uptick in budgets is “not going to happen across the entire alliance, but it’s useful for framing incentives for some nations to start to contribute more.” And that tepid prediction comes from someone who’s presumably a NATO enthusiast.
So let me get this straight. NATO-Europe resolutely promises to try … to build up to a level that barely qualifies as peacetime defense spending … over the next decade … if GDPs expand to permit it. Wow. As a matter of alliance management, think about the message the Newport communiqué telegraphs. To us in North America, it indicates that Europe sees itself inhabiting entirely tranquil surroundings, untroubled by anything like, say, Russian aggression against an Eastern European neighbor.
September 3, 2014
In the Guardian, Patrick Wintour says that the upcoming NATO summit is a sign that with all the tension around the world, this is the most relevant the organization has been in decades:
The last time the UK hosted a Nato summit was in 1990, when Margaret Thatcher was prime minister, the cold war was coming to an end, and the alliance was questioning its relevance in a multipolar world where soft power might count more than hard power. The old chestnut about Nato’s purpose voiced by the first Nato secretary general, Lord Ismay — “to keep the Russians out, the Americans in” — looked hopelessly anachronistic. Russia famously had become a country with which the west felt it could do business.
A quarter of a century later, Putin’s actions, and the ever more grisly new threats posed by Islamic militants, has given Nato a new lease of life. Indeed, Nato is now so relevant that David Cameron’s chief task as host to this week’s summit in Wales has been to ensure that the agenda does not burst at the seams. Discussions will range across the Russian advance in Ukraine and expansionist threat to the Baltics, the Nato withdrawal from Afghanistan next year, the possibility of wider alliance air strikes in northern Iraq against Islamic State (Isis), the need for Nato to produce a viable rapid reaction force in Europe as well as respond to the threats of hybrid warfare and terrorism.
Cameron has ensured that the crisis posed by Isis — made even more pertinent by the latest beheading and the threat to a British citizen — will be discussed both at a working dinner on Thursday evening, and then again on Friday as the 28 members discuss asymmetric warfare, and how to respond to threat of terrorism.
Diplomatic efforts in advance of the summit may help the Canadian government save a bit of face, too:
A face-saving compromise may be on the way for reluctant allies, including Canada, who are unwilling to boost defence spending to meet the NATO standard.
A spokesman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper says the final statement at the Wales Summit later this week will describe the long-standing expectation that members nations spend at least two per cent of their gross domestic product on defence as an “aspirational target.”
That seems enough to satisfy the Harper government, which has balked at pressure from both the United States and Britain to substantially boost the military’s budget slashed in the drive towards next year’s balanced budget and anticipated election.
Jason MacDonald, the prime minister’s director of communications, said late Tuesday that the government is willing to spend more “on measures that meet actual operational needs, in response to global issues.”
He says Canada is not prepared to meet “an arbitrary target.”
The language not only puts out an embarrassing political fire, given the prime minister’s harsh condemnation of Russia, but it may also be enough to placate the Americans.
Canada has taken a tough rhetorical line toward the
Soviets Russians lately, but Stephen Harper’s government has reduced military spending to such a degree that he risks being seen as “All hat and no cattle” as the Texan saying has it.
August 27, 2014
In my ongoing origins of World War 1 series, I took a bit of time to discuss the Congress of Vienna and the diplomatic and political system it created for nearly one hundred years of (by European standards) peaceful co-existence. Not that it completely prevented wars (see the rest of the series for a partial accounting of them), but that it provided a framework within which the great powers could attempt to order affairs without needing to go to war quite as often. In the current issue of History Today, Stella Ghervas goes into more detail about the congress itself and the system it gave birth to:
Emperor Napoleon was defeated in May 1814 and Cossacks marched along the Champs-Elysées into Paris. The victorious Great Powers (Russia, Great Britain, Austria and Prussia) invited the other states of Europe to send plenipotentiaries to Vienna for a peace conference. At the end of the summer, emperors, kings, princes, ministers and representatives converged on the Austrian capital, crowding the walled city. The first priority of the Congress of Vienna was to deal with territorial issues: a new configuration of German states, the reorganisation of central Europe, the borders of central Italy and territorial transfers in Scandinavia. Though the allies came close to blows over the partition of Poland, by February 1815 they had averted a new war thanks to a series of adroit compromises. There had been other pressing matters to settle: the rights of German Jews, the abolition of the slave trade and navigation on European rivers, not to mention the restoration of the Bourbon royal family in France, Spain and Naples, the constitution of Switzerland, issues of diplomatic precedence and, last but not least, the foundation of a new German confederation to replace the defunct Holy Roman Empire.
Surprisingly, the Russian view on peace in Europe proved by far the most elaborate. Three months after the final act of the Congress, Tsar Alexander proposed a treaty to his partners, the Holy Alliance. This short and unusual document, with Christian overtones, was signed in Paris on September 1815 by the monarchs of Austria, Prussia and Russia. There is a polarised interpretation, especially in France, that the ‘Holy Alliance’ (in a broad sense) had only been a regression, both social and political. Castlereagh joked that it was a ‘piece of sublime mysticism and nonsense’, even though he recommended Britain to undersign it. Correctly interpreting this document is key to understanding the European order after 1815.
While there was undoubtedly a mystical air to the zeitgeist, we should not stop at the religious resonances of the treaty of the Holy Alliance, because it also contained some realpolitik. The three signatory monarchs (the tsar of Russia, the emperor of Austria and the king of Prussia) were putting their respective Orthodox, Protestant and Catholic faiths on an equal footing. This was nothing short of a backstage revolution, since they relieved de facto the pope from his political role of arbiter of the Continent, which he had held since the Middle Ages. It is thus ironic that the ‘religious’ treaty of the Holy Alliance liberated European politics from ecclesiastical influence, making it a founding act of the secular era of ‘international relations’.
There was, furthermore, a second twist to the idea of ‘Christian’ Europe. Since the sultan of the Ottoman Empire was a Muslim, the tsar could conveniently have it both ways: either he could consider the sultan as a legitimate monarch and be his friend; or else think of him as a non-Christian and become his enemy. As a matter of course, Russia still had territorial ambitions south, in the direction of Constantinople. In this ambiguity lies the prelude to the Eastern Question, the struggle between the Great Powers over the fate of the Ottoman Empire (the ‘sick man of Europe’), as well as the control of the straits connecting the Black Sea to the Mediterranean. Much to his credit, Tsar Alexander did not profit from that ambiguity, but his brother and successor Nicholas soon started a new Russo-Turkish war (1828-29).