Friday, September 30, 2005

Russian Democracy in Danger: Carnegie Essay by Ex-Swedish Diplomat

I would like to introduce a policy brief published by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, entitled “Putin’s Decline and America’s Response”. This article is written by Anders Åslund, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment, and former Swedish diplomat. I pay attention to this brief for three reasons.

1. As Putin is getting authoritarian, Russia is going to be increasingly corrupt and instable. Also, Russian foreign policy has become high-handed as in the case of intervention to Ukrainian presidential election.

2. The author advocates US-led effort for democracy in Russia. He is an ex-diplomat of Sweden. Therefore, people understand that the Bush administration’s endeavor for global democracy has become a common agenda in the Atlantic community.

3. The US and Russia must pursue policy cooperation in some areas of common interest like non-proliferation and energy development.

According to the policy brief, Putin pursued democracy and market economy in his first term (2000~2004). However, in the second term, his regime has become extremely centralized to manage domestic challenges such as oligarchs and the Chechnya conflict. As the author mentions, the Putin administration is based on the KGB mafia. For these elites, oligarchs, Islamic terrorists, and democracy in Ukraine, are serious problems. In order to deal with these challenges, Putin arrested Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the chief executive of Yukos Oil Company. Since then, oligarch influence on Russian politics decreased. Russia has become increasingly authoritarian and nationalistic.

Over-centralization of power makes the Putin regime instable. Putin deprived Local governments, the parliament, and the council of ministers of most of their power. As a result, checks and balances have been minimized. Currently, the KGB mafia dominates Putin’s government and state-owned enterprises. In a situation like this, the regime has become corrupt. As Putin smashed the opposition, his KGB friends have become the most critical challengers to his leadership. When things get worse, some powerful men surrounding the president may conspire a coup d’état. Putin was just a lieutenant colonel at KGB. Higher rank officials may not respect him. Also, popular uprising may happen, as it did in Polish Solidarity case. Anyway, things are not so optimistic, according to this article.

In order to manage current political turmoil in Russia, Anders Åslund advises that the United States send civil activity groups to monitor election. He says it was fraud election that hundred democratization in Russia. In his view, whether Russia accepts US-led election monitoring or not, is vital to test Russia’s commitment to further democracy and improving relations with the West.

He presents several recommendations to election monitoring. Among them, I would like to pick up one comment. In the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, the most successful movements against authoritarian regime were undertaken by college students. There are some examples, such as Ukraine, Serbia, Georgia, and Belarus.

He insists that the United States should support civil movements for democracy, if Putin sponsors autocrats in the former Soviet Union as he did in Ukraine. Russia can no longer turn down US pressure for freedom, because its influence in this region is diminishing. In Ukraine, Freedom House has made an outstanding accomplishment to sponsor students’ activities for democracy.

On the other hand, he insists that the United States and Russia promote further cooperation in the areas of common interest. Non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction is a vital concern for both countries. In energy resource development, the West invested heavily in Russia. Russia needs Western help to increase its oil production.

Can the West demand democracy to Russia, while promoting further cooperation in non-proliferation and energy? The author says Russia needs to satisfy Western request, because it chairs the G8 summit next year.

It is very important to understand that the Bush administration’s agenda for global democracy is based on common notion of the American nation, or more broadly, the Atlantic community. This essay is written by a former Swedish diplomat. Readers can understand that his advocacy for US-led democracy is accepted in Continental Europe. This is no longer Anglo-American viewpoint. Also, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace is a centrist think tank.

In a democratized Russia, Putin’s KGB friends will be kicked out from state-owned oil companies. This will be good news for Western business. A Russia like this will not try to establish close relations with China to stand against the West. It will not pursue neo-czarist diplomacy in the former Soviet Union. What happens in Russia, the Northern Giant, will have a great effect on Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. We should keep an eye on this country.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Good News! : This Blog Listed in the Printed Media

This September, a Japanese publisher called Gakken released “The Guide of Top 200 Blogs”, and my blog is listed in this book. The contents of my English and Japanese blogs are almost the same. Gakken is a well-known publisher in education.

Instead of reporting daily news, I try to present my own viewpoints and analysis from long-term perspectives. Also, I try to advocate pro-American and liberal imperialist viewpoints in my blog. I hope these efforts could have been of some help for readers to reconsider global affairs.

I would like to improve the quality of this blog, and show lucid messages for the future.

Shah Alexander

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Reconstruction in Iraq: Making Progress Even from A Liberal Viewpoint

I found an interesting article, “The State of Iraq” in the International Herald Tribune on September 10 (also the New York Times on September 9). This article is written by Michael O’Hanlon and Nina Kamp, respectively a Senior Fellow and a Senior Research Assistant at the Brookings Institution. I would like to show you some impressive statistics in this post, because the table of the original essay is not displayed in the link.

Improved items

Gross Domestic Product ($ billion):
18.4 (pre-war)―>12.1 (August, 2003) ―>21.1 (August, 2004) ―>25.0 (August, 2005)
Non-oil Gross Domestic Product ($ billion):
2.0 (August, 2003) ―>8.3 (August, 2004) ―>10.9 (August, 2005)
Telephone Subscribers:
830 (pre-war)―>800 (August, 2003) ―>1,460 (August, 2004) ―>4,180 (August, 2005)

Moreover, there were no trained judges when the occupational rule began, but now, there are 400. It is very important to notice the rapid rise of non-oil GDP. Currently, oil production has not risen to pre-war level. When oil industry has been reconstructed, Iraqi economy will improve dramatically. If the constitution is approved, and the new regime starts, people in the future will evaluate this regime change an epoch-making success.

Of course, terrorists are still rampant, and electricity production does not meet the demand. The media tend to emphasize these negative aspects, and criticize the US-led coalition. However, statistics tells that the state of Iraq is improving, despite some difficulties.

Michael O’Hanlon, the author, opposed the Iraq War. In addition, the Brookings Institution is rather Democrat. Viewpoints and analysis in this article are completely different from those of the Bush administration. Even from such liberal perspectives, some aspects in Iraq are improving. Remember!

Tuesday, September 13, 2005


It was dreadful. Throughout the history, terrorism itself has been nothing rare. But never has there been a mass murder like 9-11. Since than, the priority of foreign and security policy has changed, as commonly understood.

There are numerous issues to be resolved in order to curb this sort of organized terrorism. Above all, I would like to mention that emotional gaps between Americans and people from the rest pf the world still remains. This is one of the underlying reasons for the rift between the United States and its allies in the war on terror.

But remember. Americans are not the only victims of 9-11. People from 100 countries were killed in the attack. Of course, allies must be willing to make steadfast commitment to fight against rogues. People should bear it in mind that 9-11 is a global concern.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Iraqi Constitution Draft: Viewpoints from Israel

I received an E-news from Middle East Info, a Zionist NGO in Israel. It was on new constitution in Iraq, and I would like to take up two opinions from the Jerusalem Post. One praises this draft, because it assures regional autonomy to all ethnic and religious groups in Iraq. The other worries that the federal government is too weak to maintain national unity under new constitution.

As often reported in the media, there are three main ethnic and religious groups in Iraq: Kurds in the north, Sunni Arabs in the central, and Shiite Arabs in the south. The balance of power among these three groups is the key to political stability in Iraq. In addition, Turkomen and Assyrians will play an important role in new Iraq as well. Turkomen are the descendants of Turkish people came from Central Asia. Their kith and kin relations with Turkey will have a critical impact on political stability in this country. Assyrians founded a great empire in the past, and they are Christians of their own, not that of European Christianity. Some Christians, like Tariq Aziz, became deputy prime minister and foreign minister under Saddam Hussein. The media focus too much on the Big 3, but minorities are also important as well.

The draft defines Iraq a multi-ethnic country. The country brandished ambition for Arab leader under Saddam Hussein, is beginning to transform into a completely different one. Historically, various nations, including Romans, Persians, and Arabs, clashed each other in Mesopotamia. Since the collapse of the Saracenian Empire, whose capital is Baghdad, to 1920s, no nation states were founded there. Therefore, it is plausible to change Iraq from Arab state to multi-ethnic one. What will happen in new Iraq? I would like to introduce two opinions from the Jerusalem Post.

One is a pro-draft opinion, entitled “The Region: Opting out for Arabism in Iraq” on August 30. In this article, Barry Rubin, Director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center, insists that the draft is well-devised, because it allows regional autonomy to all ethnic and religious groups. He says that Sunni Arabs do not have to worry about Kurdish-Shiite domination on them, because Sunni autonomy is assured. Although Kurdish and Arabic are official language, minorities like Turkomen and Assyrians are allowed to offer school education in their own language. This is remarkable. Sunnis have no reason to be afraid of marginalization.
However, Rubin points out two problems in the draft. First, no Arab countries adopted the federal system to guarantee ethnic minority rights. All the Arab states are centralized, and it is too unprecedented to introduce a constitution that allows equal rights to all ethnic and religious groups in one country. In addition, Sunnis have considerable difficulties in adjusting to new reality, as they have been the ruling class throughout the monarchy and Baathist regimes. Sunnis accounts for 20 % of total Iraqi population, and there is no reason for them to occupy dominant position continually. However, they may be reluctant to give up their privileges.

On the other hand, Sholmo Avineli, professor of Hebrew University, warns that too strong autonomy would disintegrate the state in his article “Long litany of contradiction” on August 28. He is seriously concerned that Iraq will collapse like former Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, because Article 116 says, “the regional authority has the right to amend the implementation of the federal law.” Moreover, ethnic and religious representative offices will be established within Iraqi embassies. This will make diplomatic service very complicated. Regarding oil revenues, he points out that regional authorities control over this, because Article 110 declares that income from natural resources will be distributed "fairly in a manner compatible with the demographical distribution."

Judging from both positive and negative aspects, Sunnis must understand that they will not be dominated by other ethnic and religious groups under new constitution. It is their interest to accept the constitution that allows equal rights to all ethnic and religious groups. As to oil revenue, Sunni elites have been exploiting it at the expense of Kurds and Shiites. In reconstruction, Sunnis must develop their own industries other than oil.

It is completely unprecedented to establish a federal state granting ethnic and religious autonomy. The relationship between the central and regional governments may have to be revised, but it is all Iraqis’ interest to accept new constitution and concentrate their energy on reconstruction. Whether the draft is approved or not, the coalition must stay in Iraq for the time being.