Sunday, January 31, 2010

Joined Facebook and Twitter

I was invited to join Twitter and Facebook by a Japanese blogger Akatsuki Meisei and an American blogger Rosemary respectively. I really appreciate their kind invitation to both SNS. I hope I will be able to expand network of common interests.

A conservative blogger, Rosemary will run for the House from California this year. I wish her good luck.

Please follow me in English and Japanese on Facebook and Twitter.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Ukrainian Presidential Election and the Russo-Western Clash

The presidential election in Ukraine on January 17 is a critical test for Euro-Atlantic security. As expected, no candidates won majority vote, and the second round election will be held on February 7 between Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko and opposition leader Viktor Yanukovich. It is quite important to understand that people are disillusioned with the Orange Revolution 5 years ago, but no candidates can capture the heart of the whole nation. In addition, as I comment repeatedly on this blog, the clash between Russia and the West is a vital issue. The Orange Revolution is a brilliant victory of the Bush administration’s foreign policy. Also, Senator John McCain played a substantial role to help Ukrainian civic quest for democracy. A failure to deal with Ukraine can lower currently dropping approval rate for the Obama administration furthermore.

Before talking about the election, let me present an overview of Ukrainian politics and the Russo-Western power game. Prior to the election, Mark Medish, Visiting Scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, talks of complicated ethnic and regional backgrounds in Ukrainian politics. Quoting Vladimir Putin’s remark to George W. Bush, Medish points out that Ukraine is a kind of manmade state without national integrity. While some western parts were Hapsburg territories, south eastern part including Crimea was ceded from the Russian Republic of the Soviet Union (“The Difficulty of Being Ukraine”; International Herald Tribune; December 22, 2009). Those ethno-regional gaps are reflected in the map below.

The Economist narrates post-Soviet history of Ukraine to explore poor governance and failures of this country since the Orange Revolution. Ukrainian people were infuriated with ambiguous power transition from Leonid Kuchuma to Viktor Yanukovich, when the revolution broke out. The outrage was not directly against Yanukovich himself. The Yushchenko administration failed to live up to people’s expectation. Unlike Russia and Poland, Ukraine had no liberal economists in charge, which led the Ukrainian economy to be dominated by corruptional oligarchs. Yushchenko did not smash wide spread kleptocracy. His nationalist policy to promote Ukrainian language and revise history annoyed ethnic Russians in the east (“Five years on in Kiev”; Economist; January 21, 2010). The Orange government failed to meet high expectation among Ukrainian citizens.

Ukrainians are not the only ones responsible for the above problems. Thomas Valasek, Director of Foreign Policy and Defence at the Centre for European Reform, comments that Ukrainian politicians are beginning to downplay relations with Brussels because some EU nations are reluctant to accept Ukrainian membership. Valasek argues that the EU should encourage reforms in Ukraine rather than complain poor governance. He says this election is a chance to reconsider EU-Ukrainian relations (“Ukraine and the EU: A vicious circle?”; CER Bulletin; December 2009/January 2010).

Professor David Marples at the University of Alberta in Canada, says Ukrainians are fed up with infighting between President Yushchenko and Prime Minister Tymoshenko. Also, continual corruption despite the Orange Revolution lowers the approval rate for the current administration (“Ukrainians Disillusioned with President Yushchenko”; VOA News; 13 January 2010).

While President Yushchenko drove Ukrainianization of language and culture to remove Russian and old Soviet influences, ethnic Russians resisted his policy. The United States was unenthusiastic to support Yushchenko because of his lack of leadership (“Where did Ukraine's Yushchenko go wrong?”; Reuters; January 11, 2010). President Obama did not show any will to stop Kremlin expansionism in the gas dispute last year, while enjoying the razzle-dazzle with show biz stars.

The relationship with Russia is a key issue in post-election Ukrainian politics. Russian expectation for improved relations is quite high. James Sherr, Head of Russia and Eurasia Programme at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, points out that Russians regard Ukraine as a part of their historical identity, as Russian history began from Russ settlement in Kiev. This is no less important than geopolitical rivalry against NATO, he says (“Will Moscow-Kiyv Ties Improve After Ukrainian Election?”; VOA News; 15 January 2010). As if courting Russia, Yanukovich criticized Ukrainian nationalists for blaming Russia regarding the 1932-1933 Holodomor famine (“Ukraine must not blame neighbors for famine – Yanukovych”; RIA Novosti; 16 January 2010).

On the other hand, presidential candidates employ election advisors from the United States to keep ties with this country. Even pro-Russian Yanukovich hires a campaign strategist worked for John McCain (“Ukraine candidates relying on US advisers”; Washington Post; January 15, 2010).

Whichever wins, Ukraine will face compelling domestic and foreign policy problems. Gwynne Dyer, an independent journalist in London, contributes an article to a Ukrainian medium to discuss post-election Ukrainian politics. He points out that neither NATO nor the EU is willing to confront Russia. In addition, Ukrainian steel, chemical, and aviation industries need Russian oil and gas. Dependent on IMF loans, Ukraine cannot make key decisions in economic policy by itself (“Whether Yanukovych or Tymoshenko, next president left with little room to maneuver”; Kyiv Post; January 21, 2010).

Certainly, the next administration will soften Russian policy, even if Tymoshenko wins. However, it does not mean that the West abstain from exerting influence on Ukraine. As I mentioned in this post, even pro-Russian Yanukovich hopes to maintain ties with the United States. I agree with Thomas Valasek that the European Union be more helpful for nation building of Ukraine. The Obama administration is too conciliatory to Russia, and this is one of the reasons why Ukrainian people feel disillusioned with the Orange Revolution and the West. Watch what happens on the second round vote on February 7. The result of this election will have significant effects on clashes between free nations and the Russo-Chinese illiberal axis. Things are beyond Euro-Atlantic, and they are global.

References for basic understanding on Ukraine:
“TIMELINE-Ukrainian politics since the 2004 Orange Revolution”; Reuters; January 17, 2010

“Q&A: Ukraine presidential election”; BBC News; 15 January 2010

Monday, January 11, 2010

An Invitation to the Japan-Black Sea Area Dialogue

Last December, I received an invitation to the Third Japan-Black Sea Area Dialogue hosted by the Global Forum of Japan, a Japanese think tank. The Global Forum is affiliated with the Japan Forum on International Relations, and I have contributed some commentaries on their online policy discussion page, called Hyakka Saiho.

The event will be held on January 27 at the International House of Japan. The agenda is Japan’s role in the Black Sea area, in view of the clash between Russia and the West over Ukraine and Georgia. Distinguished guest speakers, including Secretary General Leonidas Chrysanthopoulos (Greece) of the Organization of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation, are invited.

There are two critical agendas of international security regarding the Black Sea area. One is energy and natural resource. As I mentioned Russian pressure on Ukraine before, oil and gas pipelines to Europe run this area. Therefore, classical geopolitical conflicts are one of key issues between Russia and the West. More importantly, nations of color revolutions, notably Ukraine and Georgia, are the frontlines to prevail Western freedom and democracy throughout Eastern Europe and former Soviet Union.

On this blog, I have been talking of Ukraine, because successful transition of this country from Soviet communism to Western democracy will be an anchor of Euro-Atlantic security in the post Berlin Wall era. This is an important issue to talk of new EU members, such as Romania and Bulgaria.

In addition, when people discuss the role of Japan in the Black Sea area, Turkey is a vital issue. I have argued again and again that Turkey under Kemal Ataturk and Iran under Reza Shah Ⅰ modeled after the Meiji Revolution of Japan, in their pursuit of de-Islamification and Westernization. Therefore, I believe Japan must assume a substantial role to support American and European initiatives to prevail democracy in this region.

It is a great pleasure for me that I am invited to such an event along with respectable experts. I hope it will be a good opportunity to learn furthermore about the Black Sea area, and join global networks of policymakers.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Is President Obama Still on a Holiday from History?

The Christmas terrorist attack and the subsequent crisis in Yemen have provoked controversies whether President Barack Obama is well prepared for dealing with national security threats. Former Vice President Dick Cheney criticized Obama’s dull response to the crisis. Terrorism is not the only issue to question current administration’s foreign policy stances. Rivalries among nation states are getting intensified.

At the beginning of this year, Robert Kagan, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, talks of reinvigorated power games among sovereign states, and criticizes the Obama administration for their wishful thinking of exploring common interests and solutions to world problems through peaceful cooperation among powers. Not only do Russia and China challenge the United States and Western allies in geopolitical power games in Europe and East Asia, but also manipulate to maintain their influence on Iran and North Korea. Even COP initiatives to cut greenhouse gas emission are regarded as Western pressure for China. Kagan recommends the Obama administration to adjust to the rise of radical nationalism in those powers and rivalries they pose to the United States (“The Perils of Wishful Thinking”; National Interest; January/February 2010).

Regarding terrorism, Dick Cheney blamed Barack Obama for trying to pretend we are not at war with terrorists. Cheney criticizes Obama’s decision to close the Guantànamo prison, as detainees there are hard core terrorists (“Dick Cheney: Barack Obama 'trying to pretend'”; Politico; December 30, 2009).

Cheney has been a vocal critic to the Obama administration’s defense policy. When Obama spent a long time to make the final decision for the surge in Afghanistan, he denounced Obama’s incompetence as the Commander in Chief. Republicans cast doubt whether the Obama administration has an overarching counter terrorist strategy or not (“Cheney blasts Obama on Christmas Day plane scare”; Boston Globe; December 30, 2009).

Following her father, Liz Cheney, Head of Keep America Safe, demands that Obama reverse his decision to close the Guantànamo prison, and urges the President to give his top priority to national defense. She insists that terrorism is beyond law enforcement, and it is a national defense issue (“Another Cheney blasts Obama on terrorism”; Boston Globe; January 6, 2010).

Karlyn Bowman, Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute argues that the American public is awakened to understand terrorists can attack their homeland, and beginning to think of national security more seriously. She says that President Obama needs to show serious commitment to terrorism, in order to boost his sharply dropping approval rate (“Serious about Security”; Forbes; January 4, 2010).

During the election, current Vice President Joseph Biden said It will not be six months before the world tests Barack Obama like they did John Kennedy. The real test happened now. This is a test for the American public as well. During the election, American voters were preoccupied with sudden financial crisis, and got upset. Yoshiki Hidaka talked about this in detail in his book. But now, America needs more focus on foreign policy. Terrorists are not the only threats. State-to-state rivalries grow, and anti-Western cult nationalism in Russia and China make the world dangerous furthermore. It is time that President Obama reversed isolationist trend among the American public. The world is no longer on a holiday from history.

Monday, January 04, 2010

New Year Question: Capitalism at Crossroads

Happy New Year! According to Oriental Zodiac, it is a Year of the Tiger this year. As I said in the last post, this year will begin turbulently. At the beginning of this year, I would like to ask the following questions on global capitalism: one is capitalism and ethics, and the other is transition to capitalism and free society.

First, let me talk of moral aspects of capitalism. Due to growing socio-economic inequality and the global economic crisis in early 21st century, the global public opinion is critical to greedy capitalists. Some businessmen like Mikhail Khodorkovsky of Russia and Takafumi Horie of Japan are so arrogant to say “Only those who made money are winners of life.” But this sort of greed based profit chasing is not the real value of modern capitalism.

It is Jean Calvin who founded the moral base of capitalism. Throughout the history, merchants were not respected. Until the modern era, aristocrats, warlords, and priests dominated the society, and they showed apparent contempt for profit seeking merchants. From Europe, the Islam world, India, China, and Japan, merchants ranked lower positions in their social hierarchy. Plato gave high priority philosophy to be the leader of the state, and disdained commerce.

When Jean Calvin advocated the doctrine of predestination and devotion to the job given by the god, commercial activities have become a service to the god and the whole public. They are no longer pursuits of selfish greed. Modern capitalism owes much to this moral foundation, which led to bourgeois revolutions to overthrow aristocratic regimes. Adam Smith explained the mechanism of market system, based on Calvinism ethics. Jean Calvin is the real father of modern capitalism.

Some businessmen like Horie and Khodorkovsky may be bright enough to make big money in their business, but did not understand ethics of modern capitalism. Horie may be an alumnus of Tokyo University, but anyway, he is just a drop out. There is nothing strange that he dismissed this, and spent huge amount of money to enjoy going on the razzle-dazzle with popular entertainers. In any case, present day capitalists often forget Calvinist ethics.

Policymakers around the world focus extensively on technical approaches to fix capitalism mechanism, but those measures will be hardly of any help without solid foundation of Calvinist moral values.

The second question is transition to capitalism. Last autumn, the 20th anniversary ceremony for the fall of the Berlin Wall was held. However, some nations in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union face difficulties in the post communist era. Some new members of the European Union, like Romania, face hardships to catch up with the European standard in terms of economy, development, and transparency. Prospective applicants like Ukraine fail to meet the European level of anti-corruption measures, which deter their EU membership. Moreover, anti-Western cult nationalism is rampant in Russia and China.

Capitalism today stands at crossroads. Moral foundation by Jean Calvin must be reevaluated. In addition, nations under transition need more attention. Otherwise, cult nationalism will turn them back to old authoritarian regimes.

Photo: Liger the Super Tiger! Cross breeding makes him much larger and more powerful than his parents. Happy New Tiger Year!