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“Report on Global Security Review Conference in Geneva” by Clark Judge

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The Monday column from Clark Judge

Report on Global Security Review Conference in Geneva
by Clark S. Judge, managing director, White House Writers Group, Inc. <> , and chairman, Pacific Research Institute <>

Every September since 2002, the International Institute for Strategic Studies has held, in Geneva, Switzerland, what it calls a Global Strategic Review. This year’s meeting finished on Sunday.

The IISS is a London-based equivalent to the U.S.’s Council on Foreign Relations – an establishment-oriented think tank on global security. The weekend conference typically draws current and former diplomats, military officers, intelligence analysts, and journalists from around the world. For me, three speakers stood out: British Defense Secretary Liam Fox, Russian senator Mikhail Margelov, and Henry Kissinger. Here are my notes on what each said:

Liam Fox, U.K. Defense Secretary:

Fox’s topic was Afghanistan. On the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, he eloquently argued that the burning towers were the face of failure in the fight against terror.

* We are not in Afghanistan, he said, to build schools and conduct social work. We (the British and by extension the U.S.) are there, because it is in our vital national interests.

* A defeat of NATO forces would reenergize a disheartened and decimated al Qaeda, as well as destabilize Pakistan.

* Fox said that we could start to look to withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2015. In questioning he added that the public would not accept an open-ended commitment, but that any withdrawal date had to be far enough in the future to discourage hostile groups from trying wait out coalition forces. This timetable obviously put him at odds with the Obama administration. But he didn’t acknowledge or even hint at the tension, and no one pressed him on it.

* Instead, he acknowledged that NATO had made mistakes in Afghanistan over the last decade. But he added that walking away was no option. We need to fix the mistakes and finish the job.

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Mikhail Margelov, Russian senator, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee:

* Explaining how Russia sees the world, Margelov said that Russia is not the USSR. The Soviet Union was an empire, as was the czarist regime that preceded it. We are building a nation state, he said. And to do that we need friendly or neutral neighbors.

* What do we have? Iran has been shooting at Russian fishermen on the Caspian Sea. North Korea has fired missiles on trajectories that appear meant to threaten Russia.

* In this world, he said, I am tired of resetting Russia-U.S. relations. We need boring, regular, stable relations.

* In questioning he noted that both sides are having trouble ratifying the new START agreement. In the Russian parliament, the communist faction has blocked it. A sore point in relations that opponents are playing on is the Jackson-Vanik amendment. Passed by Congress in 1974, it was intended to help Jews leave the Soviet Union. Now with no Soviet Union and an agreement between Russia and Israel that has opened unimpeded traffic both ways, Congress is keeping it in place, he said, “to keep chickens from leaving Russia.” In other words, it has become an excuse for U.S. protectionism.

* Finally, returning to Iran he added, we have no illusions about Iran and no hidden agendas. Playing politics in the Orient is chess, not rugby. And we have extensive experience with oriental politics.

Henry Kissinger:

* China and India are engaged in strategic analyses of national interest similar to those of the 19th century European players, Kissinger said.

* Collective security is hard in such a system, particularly in areas such as nuclear proliferation.

* China and Russia cannot want a nuclear North Korea or Iran. But neither is in a position to confront its rogue neighbors, so nothing happens.

* The international system is devolving into power blocks similar to 18th and 19th century Europe. Historian Niles Ferguson has written of a world in which the U.S gradually recedes to be replaced by no one.

* This must not happen, Kissinger insisted. The U.S. is the indispensable global leader, even if it is no longer the sole leader. The task of diplomacy is to find ways to accommodate new forces with minimal suffering, in other words without a general war.

* For example, in Afghanistan, he said, we must incorporate into U.S. and NATO security analysis the fact that a terrorist Afghan state is untenable for China, India, and Iran. All three have more vital interests in the country than does the U.S.

* The U.S. presence in the region is tolerated, because all understand that we do not seek a permanent Afghan role.

* A conference among the U.S., U.K. and these neighboring countries could produce an Afghanistan similar to Belgium of the 1800s. Belgium was a strategically located country whose neutrality all bordering countries took a role in enforcing. For a century, all recognized that otherwise it could become a flashpoint for general conflict.

* Regarding China, it is very much like Germany before World War I, an emergent power with a capacity catastrophically to disrupt the international system.

* How the U.S. and China manage their relationship is the key to all other issues. Both have huge internal debates about cooperation versus more confrontational stances. In both, Kissinger asserted, those favoring cooperation are winning out at the moment.

* On the other hand, in answering audience questions after his talk, Kissinger turned to the South China Sea and noted that freedom of navigation is a fundamental American principal. He then added that Europe has never recovered from the world wars. Nothing like that conflict, he concluded, must be allowed to happen between China and the U.S.

* Also in Q&A, Kissinger sketched out a world after Iran obtained nuclear weapons. Numerous other countries would follow suit, he thought. Small-scale nuclear conflicts would become a feature of a transformed international system.



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