Monday, July 6, 2009

Retro agenda: Arms control and arm-chair Kremlinology

Obama and Putin's Russia. WSJ Editorial
Retro agenda: Arms control and arm-chair Kremlinology.
The Wall Street Journal, Jul 06, 2009, p A12

An American President lands in Moscow today to negotiate an arms control treaty. Befitting that retro theme, thousands of Russian troops are in the midst of the biggest war games in the south Caucasus since the end of the Cold War, menacing the small, independent nation of Georgia.

President Obama's two days in Moscow are supposed to foster, in an adviser's words, "a more substantive relationship with Russia" -- the substance being Iran's atomic ambitions, the war in Afghanistan and a replacement for the soon-to-expire Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. You know, the stuff of a quasi-superpower partnership. But Russia hardly looks super, or inclined to forge a partnership, except on its own terms.

Instead, Supreme Leader Vladimir Putin wants to settle old scores and establish what he calls "a zone of privileged interest." He must appreciate Mr. Obama's eagerness to change the subject from Russian belligerence to nuclear weapons, which plays up Russia's remaining claim to superpower status. How that serves America's interests isn't clear.

As in the weeks before Russia invaded Georgia in August, tensions are again on the rise. At least 8,500 Russian troops are involved in exercises around Abkhazia and South Ossetia, breakaway Georgian regions recognized as independent solely by Russia and Nicaragua. Last month, Moscow vetoed the renewal of U.N. and European observer missions in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Both had been there since the early 1990s. President Mikheil Saakashvili, a young Columbia-trained lawyer who turned Georgia westward, remains an irritant for Russia. A pro-Kremlin regime in Georgia would give Moscow control over the energy routes through the Caucasus and influence independent-minded Azerbaijan and Armenia.

While Russia has failed even to comply with the terms of the truce, the U.S. and its allies are acting as if that war never happened. At this summit, Mr. Obama is to announce the restoration of bilateral military relations with Russia suspended by the Bush Administration. The NATO-Russian Council is also back in business. Meanwhile, Mr. Obama has put on hold plans by Poland and the Czech Republic to allow the U.S. to deploy American missile defenses on their soil. In a letter to Kremlin frontman Dmitry Medvedev earlier this year, Mr. Obama floated the idea of trashing those deals if Russia can prod Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions.

U.S. officials say they've ruled out quid pro quos on missile defense or Ukraine and Georgia's future. Nonetheless, Russian officials are all too happy to consider grand bargains. All start with America abandoning any future NATO expansion. In pre-summit interviews, Mr. Obama also skipped over such touchy Kremlin subjects as human rights and its designs on neighboring states. "The main thing that I want to communicate to the Russian leadership and the Russian people is America's respect for Russia," he told Russian media, noting that "it remains one of the most powerful countries in the world." Someone keeps telling American Presidents to stroke the bear's fragile ego above all else. Bill Clinton and George W. Bush also pursued this strategy, to little good effect.

Here's an idea. Set aside the dime-store national psychoanalysis and return to first American principles and interests. This summit rests on a fiction: That Russia is an equal power to the U.S. that can offer something concrete in return for American indulgence. Some Russians see through the pretense. "Let's be frank: There's not a single serious global issue where the United States is dependent on Russia today," the pro-Kremlin political analyst, Gleb Pavlovsky, wrote in Nezavisimaya Gazeta last week. Russia's decision to let the U.S. resupply its Afghan troops over Russian airspace is a goodwill gesture, but it was only offered after Russia failed to stop resupply via Kyrgyzstan.

From the moment Communism collapsed, America's overriding national interest in Europe and Eurasia has been to extend prosperity and freedom. In short, to offer formerly captive nations a choice to join the West. This can be done in part through membership in NATO, the EU or the World Trade Organization. The "West" is an idea as well as a place, a voluntary and open association. Successive U.S. Presidents, when push came to shove, have defended the right to make this choice freely and ignored Russian caterwauls.

The choice to join the free world is open to Russia, too. Mr. Putin is the one who has taken that option off the table -- most recently by pulling Russia's application to join the WTO. In the Putin decade, nationalism, corruption and cronyism have flourished while Russia has missed another chance to modernize. That's not America's fault.

Any U.S. administration will have plenty of business to carry out with Russia. But an American President in Moscow needs to keep his eyes on the bigger prize in Russia and the region. And that prize is an expansion of freedom, not a new START treaty.

Pay More, Drive Less, Save the Planet

Pay More, Drive Less, Save the Planet. By GABRIEL ROTH
To fight climate change, Washington wants you to take a bus.
The Wall Street Journal, Jul 06, 2009, p A11

What is the appropriate response to Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, who as General Motors prepared to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection declared that he wants to "coerce people out of their cars"? One might be inclined to dismiss these words as overkill -- except for recently introduced legislation by some congressional heavy-hitters that would take us down this road.

First there was the "Federal Surface Transportation Policy and Planning Act of 2009," introduced in May by Jay Rockefeller (D., W.Va.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, and Frank Lautenberg (D., N.J.), chairman of the Subcommittee on Surface Transportation. Next, in June, came the "Surface Transportation Authorization Act of 2009," introduced by James Oberstar (D., Minn.), chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

Messrs. Rockefeller and Lautenberg aim to "reduce per capita motor vehicle miles traveled on an annual basis." Mr. Oberstar wants to establish a federal "Office of Livability" to ensure that "States and metropolitan areas achieve progress towards national transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals."

What does this mean? Most travel is not for its own sake. So reducing the total miles traveled -- whether the length or number of trips -- means people would have to reduce the activities they want and need to do. People would be "coerced," in effect, to live in less desirable places or work in less desirable jobs; shop in fewer and closer stores; see their doctor less frequently; visit fewer family members and friends.

There are three likely ways this could work. The cost of travel could be increased by raising the prices of vehicles or fuel; travel time could be increased by not expanding the highway system; or superior alternatives to the private car could be developed. The most likely way to increase the cost of travel would be by increasing fuel taxes perhaps to as much as $4 per gallon, as some have suggested.

Allowing congestion to increase travel times would be politically easier. In the name of "multimodal planning," for example, road-use taxes could be diverted, as Messrs. Rockefeller and Lautenberg suggest, to "increase the total usage of public transportation." But public transportation (where it's available) typically takes twice as long as automobile travel, so it's not practical for many Americans.

Moreover, public transportation (passenger rail services, subways, buses, light rail) requires heavy subsidies, while roads mostly pay for themselves through fuel taxes. Our roads would be even more self-sustaining if 20% of the federal fuel tax were not already diverted to public transit from the federal Highway Trust Fund. Messrs. Rockefeller, Lautenberg and Oberstar want to grab even more money from the trust fund.

Americans have always valued their independence and mobility. One way to reassert their rights would be to abolish the misnamed Highway Trust Fund, which finances highway construction and maintenance. Let the states decide what roads they need and how to finance them. The present system expires on Sept. 30 unless Congress reauthorizes it. Let it die.
Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R., Texas) has in this regard introduced the "Highway Fairness and Reform Act of 2009," which would explicitly allow states to opt out of the federal financing system. A companion bill has been introduced in the House.

If a significant number of states opted out of the federal system, it would collapse and responsibility for roads would revert to the states. The vast majority of road users would benefit from such a change. And, if "livability" standards were deemed desirable, local preferences would determine them, rather than federal "greenhouse gas emissions reduction goals."

Mr. Roth is a research fellow at The Independent Institute and editor of "Street Smart: Competition, Entrepreneurship and the Future of Roads" (Transaction, 2006).

Developing Countries Need Trade

Developing Countries Need Trade. By Pascal Lamy
WSJ, Jul 06, 2009

"History tells us that no poor country has ever become wealthy without trade. Moreover, many developing country success stories -- Singapore, South Korea, Chile, China and Malaysia, to name only a few -- have, in recent decades, seen their national incomes grow by a percentage point or more per year as a result of open trade policies than would have been the case had they remained closed. The extra funds generated during this period have enabled them to respond to the crisis with stimulus packages that have prevented the crisis from turning into a protracted recession with its inevitable human costs."

The President's Mission to Moscow

The President's Mission to Moscow. By DAVID SATTER
Obama doesn't need to engage Russia's leaders. He needs to deter them.
The Wall Street Journal, Jul 06, 2009, p A13


President Barack Obama arrives here today facing a dilemma of his own making. Having called for a "reset" in U.S.-Russian relations, the U.S. side is virtually obliged to make some new overtures. But Russia does not need to be engaged. It needs to be deterred.

The expectations that Mr. Obama has inspired are substantial. Both officials and ordinary citizens in Russia interpret the call for a reset as an admission of U.S. guilt for ignoring Russia's interests. Sergei Rybakov, the Russian deputy foreign minister, said that mutual trust was "lacking over the last several years." It was the task of the U.S. to show its good intentions with "concrete actions" because in Russia, the U.S. is "deeply distrusted."

Accepting the Russian view of reality on the issues that divide the U.S. and Russia, however, would be a grave mistake. Russia aspires to resurrect a version of the Soviet Union in which it projects power and dominates its neighbors. To encourage its ambitions in any way would be to undermine not only U.S. security but, in the long run, the security of Russia as well.

There are three important areas of conflict between the U.S. and Russia: NATO expansion, the U.S. missile shield in Eastern Europe and the Russian human rights situation. In each case, any reset should be on the Russian side.

The most urgent issue may be NATO expansion. There are serious indications that Russia is preparing for a second invasion of Georgia. The first Georgian war was accompanied by a burst of patriotism in Russia but didn't achieve its strategic objectives. Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili remains in power and Georgia remains a supply corridor to the West for energy from Central Asia and the Caspian Sea. Many Russian leaders want to finish the job. At a televised forum in December, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was asked about press reports that he had told French president Nicolas Sarkozy that Mr. Saakashvili should be "hung by his ba**s." He replied, "Why only by one part?"

Under these circumstances, the best protection for Georgia is NATO membership. According to Pavel Felgenhauer, a defense analyst with Novaya Gazeta, the decision to invade Georgia last August came in April after NATO failed to offer outright a Membership Action Plan to Georgia and Ukraine at its annual summit in Bucharest.

Russia will argue strenuously that Georgia, Ukraine and the other former Soviet republics are part of its sphere of "privileged interests." This is an issue on which Mr. Obama cannot give way. If the former Soviet republics are denied NATO membership at Russia's behest, they either will be turned into Russian satellites with manipulated elections and a controlled foreign policy or form a zone of instability along Russia's borders with unpredictable consequences for both Russia and the West.

Beside the issue of NATO expansion, Russia and the U.S. have a critical conflict over U.S. plans to install a missile shield in the Czech Republic and Poland. Not only have U.S. experts argued that the anti-missile system is not aimed at Russia but Russia's military experts agree. Nonetheless, the system is described by Russian leaders as a threat and denunciations of the missile shield are a staple of the anti-Western programming on Russian state television.

According to Mikhail Delyagin, who served as an adviser to former Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, the placement of rockets in Poland is unacceptable to Russia for emotional and symbolic reasons. "It shows that the U.S. is now the master in Eastern Europe," he said. Any decision to yield to Russian objections, however, would effectively divide NATO into countries that need Russian approval for deployments and those that do not. Even dubious Russian promises to help with Iran would not compensate for the damage done to the alliance by such a concession to Russian pretensions.

Finally, there is the conflict between Russia and the U.S. over human rights. The status of human rights is a universal concern but it also has strategic implications. A population that lacks democratic rights and is subject to constant anti-Western propaganda can easily be mobilized against the U.S.

By any measure, the state of human rights in Russia is unacceptable. Russia today lacks honest elections or a separation of powers. The regime allows a degree of freedom but the features of daily life include police torture, prisoner abuse, political control of the courts and, for democratic activists, the danger of being beaten or killed. The result is that fear has returned to Russia less than two decades after the fall of the Soviet Union.

The regime is also taking steps to curtail freedom of speech. Freedom of the press has long been restricted under Mr. Putin with censorship on state run television and pressure on newspapers through their owners, to exercise self censorship. Peaceful demonstrations have also been forcibly dispersed. In recent weeks, however, a bill has been introduced in the State Duma that would make it illegal to deny the role of the Soviet Union in the victory in World War II or the crimes of Hitler's cronies (but not the crimes of Stalin and his entourage). The punishment both for Russian citizens and for foreigners will be three to five years in prison.

In the run up to Mr. Obama's visit, Russian academics and self described realists in the U.S. have called for a "grand deal" in which the U.S. accedes to Russian demands in the former Soviet Union in return for Russian help on Iran, North Korea and Afghanistan. In the case of Iran, Russia, which has repeatedly thwarted tough United Nations resolutions on that country's nuclear energy program, is offering to assist in dealing with a problem that it helped to create.

Unfortunately such a deal, the only "reset" in which the Russians have shown any interest, would eliminate moral criteria from the U.S.-Russian relationship and deprive the U.S. of any basis for limiting Russia's demands in the future. Under those circumstances, Russia's appetite is likely to grow.

Mr. Obama may wish to improve the U.S.-Russia relationship but the problems in that relationship come not from our actions but from assumptions on the Russian side about the prerogatives of power that we cannot possibly accept. Instead of resetting relations, we may just have to content ourselves with resisting Russian pretensions until such time as the mentality that gives rise to them can be changed.

Mr. Satter is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and a visiting scholar at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). He is writing a book on the Russian attitude to the Soviet past.