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A hot topic recently is Obama’s foreign policy ‘realism’. Now those who visit this site regularly already know that I’ve called Obama on his realism DAYS AGO! There are those who applaud this approach, arguing that the best foreign policy doctrine is not to have one. Then there are those who fear this outcome, asserting that one of America’s greatest assets is its promotion and defense of democracy and human rights.

This brings up two issues before we can argue for either side; 1. Has Obama truly shown himself a realist by his policies? 2. And is he really departing so completely from President Bush’s so-called ‘freedom agenda’? First off, I believe that all US presidents have been at least partially liberal in their world view, even those early presidents who lead a weak, fragile state at the time. That being said, it is not like these guys only had international liberalism in their bones, blood, and sinew, as they all followed the rules of power politics in most cases, from the Jay Treaty to the Bush’s partnership with Pervez Musharraf. Bush full heartedly tried to bring democracy to two despotic states, called the Darfur conflict a genocide, criticized the Burmese military dictatorship, gave prime time to political dissidents from China and elsewhere, and made many key speeches preaching the power of liberty and human rights. YET, he cozied up with dictators in Pakistan, Egypt, China, and Kazakhstan, used military force in pursuit of US interests, and disregarded many multilateral treaties. Bush was followed both a realist and liberal foreign policy.

Barack’s election rhetoric and policies so far have definitely trended more realist (and in many ways logically follow many of Bush’s policies). He has has openly stated he will negotiate with many dictator-run states (Iran, Syria, North Korea), put NATO expansion on hold, let Russia know that deals involving security trade offs could be made, treated Britain like it was just a ‘state’, rarely discusses the liberal threesome of liberty, democracy, and human rights in speeches, and his Sec of State Hilary Clinton stated that human rights would not get in the way of US-China relations. This being considered, Obama has also leaned liberal on many occasions. His emphasis on ‘talking’ and diplomacy are not just realist measures, but seem to him to be modern ways that conflicts are solved. He has also reached out to the Muslim world in a widely heard interview and plans on making a speech in a Muslim-majority country this year. Obama also showed his trust of international institutions and treaties by raising the US ambassador to the United Nations to a Cabinet Position and in his early discussions with Russia about arms reductions and Europe regarding climate change. But overall, I do agree with the aforementioned articles that Obama is mainly following a realist foreign policy so far. (of course so did Bush before 9/11)

I googled 'Realism vs. Liberalism' and this was the first picture that came up.

So should we be concerned or pleased about Obama’s realist leanings? I think, like when given the choice between chocolate and strawberry ice cream, a little of both. The realist attributes of cautiousness and pragmatism are indeed valuable and Obama seems keen on following them in many of his policies so far. International relations are indeed fraught with dangers of missteps and a realist viewpoint can prevent the US from unforeseen calamities and overzealousness. However, if the US becomes more and more just like another state, it not only denies what it has been for its entire history, a beacon of liberty and hope, but it may also undermine the growth of a stable world, which has made a steady climb in democratization. It is not an overstatement to say the current strength of democratic governance in the international system is held up by American leadership. Specifically, states in Eastern Europe, Ukraine, Georgia, the Baltic States, and Poland, in many ways have their sovereignty and free political system dependent on US/NATO engagement and protection. These states will not welcome the canceling of the missile defense system treaty or talk of NATO expansion quietly fading away. In terms of Afghanistan and Iraq’s governing future, Obama has already laid framework for a less than democratic outcome. I also hear loudly how much Obama has NOT spoken about the power of liberty, democracy, and human rights and I think this is a shame as the world is listening.

Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen poignantly quoted an Obama intro to one of theologian/realist theorist Reinhold Niebuhr’s books: “there’s serious evil in the world, and hardship and pain. We should be humble and modest in our belief we can eliminate those things. But we shouldn’t use that as an excuse for cynicism and inaction.”

6
Mar

The Pragmatist in Chief

   Posted by: Adam Stern Tags: , , ,    Print Print

*Adam Stern is the author of this piece, not Pat Frost

According to the New York Times, “President Obama sent a secret letter to Russia’s president last month suggesting that he would back off deploying a new missile defense system in Eastern Europe if Moscow would help stop Iran from developing long-range weapons, American officials said Monday. The letter to President Dmitri A. Medvedev said the United States would not need to proceed with the interceptor system, which has been vehemently opposed by Russia since it was proposed by the Bush administration, if Iran halted any efforts to build nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles.”

States have no friends, only interests. With a clever leak, it seems likely that the Obama Administration clearly buys into this oft-held realist notion, especially where U.S. foreign policy towards Russia is concerned. It seems as if just yesterday Vladimir Putin and Moscow were up in arms over the Pentagon’s plans to install missile defense systems in Poland and the Czech Republic. Russian leadership has remained adamant since that an American missile shield not be constructed on their watch. Their argument, and a reasonable one at that, is that Russian national security would be unduly compromised if NATO missiles were located within striking distance of their borders. In the early 1960’s, JFK had a similar reaction when nuclear components reached Cuban shores courtesy of our comrade Nikita Khrushchev.

Fast forward to the present. The U.S. is engaged in multiple conflicts abroad, a rise of terror in Pakistan and holding together a tenuous peace in Gaza. It’s clear that the Obama Administration has bigger foreign policy issues to contend with than Cold War era spat. It seems logical and in America’s best interests not only to diffuse unnecessary tension with Moscow, but, best case scenario here, enlist Russian support in curbing Iran’s nuclear aspirations.

It’s too early to tell if Vice-President Biden is serious when he expressed an interest in “hitting the reset button” on U.S. foreign policy towards Russia. The U.S. still harbors serious concerns over the amount of power wielded by former President (and current PM) Vladimir Putin. In addition, Russia’s handling of relations with its neighbors and former members of the USSR often leave much to be desired.

If states have no friends though, it might also be said that states have no enemies. At least not on a permanent basis. Currently, it’s in the American interest to take symbolic steps to bring Russia on board. President Obama’s letter and Vice-President Biden’s rhetoric might not amount to much in the long run but for time being these symbolic gestures indicate that the Administration recognizes there are far more pressing challenges on the horizon. Challenges like Iran, which will be far easier to confront when allies lend support.

4
Mar

Great Power Podcast

   Posted by: Pat Tags:    Print Print

This past weekend GPP contributer Hubbel Relat and I had a little conversation about GPP’s Great Power Rankings and lucky you, we recorded it!  In the 20 or so minute interview, I discuss my criteria for the rankings and the thinking behind my selections.  Hubbel then goes on to pester me with questions and critiques, some of which you may have thought of yourself or even wrote in the comments section of the earlier post.  Enjoy!

[display_podcast]

During this podcast session, Hubbel and I also recorded a short 10 minute talk on Obama’s Iraq troop withdrawal plan and I will post this in due time, at least before the SOFA agreement comes to its conclusion.  Short podcasts such as this one will hopefully become a regularity and I plan on bringing as many voices and subjects to the exercise as possible.  If you have an idea or subject you would like for Hubbel and I to discuss let us know.  It may even be possible for the GPP community to have a group talk in the future.  Recommendations of all types are welcome.

During our GPP Power Ranking debate, Hubbel made this comment:

“Russia’s power comes from others’ perception of them and their totalitarian nature of conducting international affairs. I think the West is stuck in the Cold War and continually gives Russia too much deference. This translates into significant influence in their region. For instance, NATO induction of Eastern European countries should be a sovereign decision that is made with an eye towards protection against aggressive neighbors, i.e., Russia. The fact that we see people supporting Russia’s right to forcefully oppose countries like Ukraine and Georgia from joining NATO appears to be an implied acceptance of Russia’s ability to use military force against those countries in the future.”

Perceptions of Moscow are an important topic, but I want to discuss his emphasize on state sovereignty. Hubbel argues that the US should not heed the ‘sovereignty’ of Eastern European states such as Georgia and Ukraine to Russia’s main influence, because A. this is against US interests B. it undermines the sovereignty of those states.  The Bush administration cautiously carried pretty much the same viewpoint.  As Germany lead most European states to take on a realist view of Russia’s eastern sphere of influence, the Bush administration continued to push back, pushing for Georgia/Ukraine NATO membership during their last breathes in office.  Germany and most other Western European countries spoke out about state sovereignty, but their actions really told Russia that they were in control of their ‘near abroad.’  I saw this not with much criticism either, as for German interests (being so close in proximity to Russian power and gas manipulation) the move looks pragmatic.

Well, how will Obama’s administration tackle the sovereignty of states which is challenged by nearby great powers?  While at least in terms of Eastern Europe, it looks like it will be similar to Bush in making it well-known that the US views these states as having sovereign control over their territory and foreign policy views.  This view was reiterated by VP Joseph Biden at the Munich security conference.  In discussing NATO expansion the MDS in Czech and Poland, Biden stated: ”It will remain our view that sovereign states have the right to make their own decisions and choose their own alliances.”

This looks like a diplomatic line in the sand that will be tested time and again during the next few years as it has in the past.  The Eastern European states do not want to resume a US-Russian standoff, but they very much desire some political cover to make moves that go against Russian interests and views.  A strong American presence and voice of support will help them do so.  That being said, the Georgia war showcased that geography is destiny.  For all the US power, when it came down to it, Georgia’s future and present was largely in Russia’s hands to mold.  

So I see it as important that Obama showcase to the world that state’s have a right to their own foreign policy and that America will be there to support them.  However, the idea and reality of sovereignty can become sticky rather quickly and the US, just like Germany, will need to be flexible along the way, as I’ve said before, at times ‘geography is destiny.’

So after a long wait of almost 20 hours, I bring you GPP’s first Great Power Top Ten List! Great powers have come to their position of power slowly and have generally left their esteemed place in international politics in a similar fashion, so how can one do a monthly Great Power – Power Ranking system, one may ask? Long term prognosticating will of course be an important aspect of GPP’s rankings, but short term moves, issues, and strategic successes and failures will also be considered. For instance, if I did a power ranking after Russia’s successful invasion of Georgia, which proved Moscow’s hard power was not only still capable, but willing to be used, Russia would have gotten a ‘bump up’ in my rankings. This list is not exhaustive and is of course open for debate and even your own Top Ten. I think this is an exciting time for Great Power Politics as many claim the US is declining as a superpower, there is much focus on the Rising Powers of China, India, Brazil, and older great powers, such as Russia and Iran, are starting to reassert themselves on the global stage.

Here are some of the major criteria for which the states will be considered as Great Powers:

  • Power – Basically, how much total influence does your state have in the world. In what ways can your state make other states or actors do something that they don’t necessarily want to do?
  • Economy – What is your GDP? Is your economy growing? Declining? (aren’t they all right now?) How much can your economic power be easily translated into ways to influence other actors?
  • Permanent/Near Permanent Resources – natural resources controlled, population size, geography
  • Ideology/Cultural – How powerful is your state’s governing and lifestyle philosophy in the world? Do your beliefs and ideas translate to influence around the globe?
  • Internal State Strength – How strong and legitimate is your domestic government? How stable?

It is time. Below are my Top Ten Great Power Rankings, followed by a Tier breakdown, with short explanations to follow:

  1.  United States of America
  2.  China
  3.  Russia
  4.  Germany
  5.  Japan
  6.  India
  7.  Brazil
  8.  France
  9.  Turkey
  10.  Israel
On the GP Bubble – Iran, United Kingdom, South Africa. Indonesia, San Francisco Giants (only in the NL West)        

Tier A – USA

Tier B – China, Russia

Tier C – Germany, Japan

Tier D – India

Tier E – Brazil, France, Turkey, Israel

 1. USA – The United States is still the only state on the planet that can project power to all corners of the globe. Despite the economic crisis, the US economy is still head and shoulders above all others. The US geographic security is second to none and its domestic government holds a tremendous amount of legitimacy. Lastly, its cultural and liberal ideology, though under fire from many directions, is still the most pervasive of any kind throughout the world.
 2. China – The greatest challenger to US supremacy (and for the top spot on GPP’s Rankings!) for this century is the Middle Kingdom. China’s economy has been booming for nearly 20 years now and though it is facing many hardships during this financial crisis, it is still in relatively good economic shape. In the last few years, Beijing has bought up resources and influence throughout the world, especially in Central Asia, Latin America, and Africa. Militarily, China is still relatively weak, but its defensive spending has expanded every year and it is starting to present itself as a regional power player. China’s internal governance, ruled by the Communist Party, though well disciplined and organized, faces social unrest and is challenged by two separatist movements, Tibet and Xinjiang.
 3. Russia – Moscow has been a great power on and off for centuries and though it is currently struggling economically, this has not hurt its ability to effect world events. As the Georgia invasion, Kyrgyzstan Manas Base extraction, and NATO expansion/Missile Shield protests have shown. Moscow is an old fashioned great power as it unabashedly showcases its willingness to use hard power (including cyberwarfare and gas politics). Though the Putin-Medvedev rule is challenged on many fronts, it is nevertheless a strong government with a decent amount of legitimacy from its population.
  4-5. Japan and Germany – These two WWII allies have the 3rd and 4th strongest economies in the world and though their military capabilities are rather weak (thanks to US protection and internal preferences) they each could translate this soft, economic power into hard power in a short time, ie. Japan’s nuclear capability. Lastly, their domestic governments are strong and have high legitimacy at home and abroad.
  6-7. India and Brazil – These two geographic and population giants are both experiencing strong economic growth and are definitely two ‘up and comers’ in the great power game.
 8. France – Strong, if not large economy. Great power history. Though somewhat weak militarily, Paris does hold multiple nuclear weapons and uses diplomacy effectively to spread its influence around the world.
 9. Turkey – Turkey is a real ‘middling’ power. It has decent influence and power in two continents and a strong historical legacy as a great power. Domestic stability and governance has been its achilles heel in the past, but it seems to be weathering that storm rather well in recent years. Ankara’s economic growth has been slow and steady.
 10. Israel – Though it is small in population, economy, and geography, the Jewish state has a tremendous amount of influence in the Middle East and a strategic partnership with No. 1 USA. Israel is in a precarious, to say the least, security situation, but its military, which includes nuclear weapons, is second to none in the region.

Your thoughts? Your Rankings?

This Monday I will ask my IR students to to identify realism and liberalism in current foreign affairs. A major exercise of this will be the following video of The Stanley Foundation’s Michael Schiffer, who discusses the attributes and consequences of Rising Powers in our world today for the Foreign Policy Association’s Great Decisions program. I will ‘require’ my students to find elements of realism and liberalism in Schiffer’s talk about these great powers, and I ‘urge’ you to do the same in the comments section. What do you see in his discussion that is focus’s on states, their interests, their rationality, and their life in a self-help world? aka realism’s view of IR. Where does he emphasize IR liberal arguments and topics? International institutions, ideology, multilateral cooperation, economic integration, norms against war and narrow state interests, etc.? Go at it!

(The embed code isn’t working, so you have to click the link to watch the video.)

Link

Now I wouldn’t give you homework on a weekend without a reward would I? Yes. Yes, I would. But I won’t today. Tomorrow I’m going to do my first…….wait for it…….wait……GREAT POWER TOP 10 RANKING! At first this will be a quick, rather superficial analysis with results of the world’s great powers and how they compare, but it will evolve into a scientific system where each power is judged on specific criteria, economy, military, political influence, number of Taco Bells, etc. Tomorrow I will give a quick overview of how I came about with my choices and a quick summary of why each great power is ranked where they are. This list is my own, but I encourage your input and to see your own rankings. I plan on having these rankings updated on a monthly bases, taking into account recent foreign affairs changes or moves. With the help of my super Admin, we also plan on getting these rankings up permanently on the side bar and maybe even creating a way for you to voice your criticisms and much more likely, compliments. Now get back to work on Mr. Schiffer’s video!

Vice President Joseph Biden made the Obama Administration’s first major foreign policy today in Munich at a security conference attended by many world leaders. It was at this venue last year when Russian President Putin derailed US policy in Europe. In Biden’s speech, he took a modest stance on US missile defense systems in Eastern Europe, stating that the US will continue to move forward with them, but offering caveats concerning negotiations with Moscow and on the system’s ability to function. Biden’s words:

“We will continue to develop missile defenses to counter a growing Iranian capability, provided the technology is proven and it is cost-effective.”

Let’s hear the rest of Biden’s remarks concerning US-Russian relations:

“It is time to press the reset button, and to revisit the many areas where we can and should be working together with Russia.”….“the United States will not recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent states. We will not — will not — recognize any nation having a sphere of influence. It will remain our view that sovereign states have the right to make their own decisions and choose their own alliances.”

So it appears that the Obama administration may put the missile defense systems in Poland and Czech in play, but will do so only in the context of further negotiations, hopefully involving some give and take. Regarding a ‘reset button’, unfortunately those don’t exist in international relations. The situation is somewhat static, the US and Russia both desire influence in some of the same regions, Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and this will not change anytime soon.

Biden seems to be aware of this though as he made a strong statement against ‘recognizing’ any nation’s ‘sphere of influence’ and instead countering that all states had a right to make their own foreign policy decisions. This is a direct rebuttal to Russia’s recent geopolitical moves and pronouncements as it has only been a few months since President Medvedev made a major speech reclaiming Moscow’s right to a ‘sphere of influence’. However, Biden’s denouncement of such an outlook does not mean that in many ways Moscow still concretely owns geopolitical powers of influence in its former Soviet states, as can be seen in its recent moves in Kyrgyzstan (including some cyber dirty tricks), Ukraine, and Georgia. People have talked about Obama bringing a close to the recent cold war type tension between the two powers, but this is naive, as the two states have structural constraints and interests geopolitically shoulder to shoulder that will continue to cause conflict. This speech by Biden is just the opening remarks in what will continue to be an important and fluid relationship with Moscow.

Biden also spoke about US-Iran relations, arguing that the US is finally ready to ‘TALK’. This of course ignores the last few years of the Bush administration, which made efforts to discuss Iran’s nuclear program and Iraq and Afghanistan with the Islamic Republic, if only on low levels. I believe it likely that Obama’s administration will continue these low level talks until it appears that real progress can be made. Biden’s condescending reference to America being able to ‘talk’ is disappointing to me. He represents the United States government to a group of foreigners in a foreign capitol and disparages his own country. What other state apologizes for its actions in front of other state leaders? I can’t think of one. Biden and Obama need to concentrate on the work ahead and not on past grievances. The election is over.

Back to Iran, Biden continued on about the need for Iran to unclench their fists regarding their illicit nuclear program and their support of terrorism abroad. Just like Sec of State Hilary Clinton on Hamas’ responsibility to be a real partner on in the peace process, the Obama administration seems to be taking a similar hard line on Iran. Here is Biden’s warning/offering to Tehran:

“Continue down your current course and there will be pressure and isolation; abandon the illicit nuclear program and your support for terrorism and there will be meaningful incentives.”

What these ‘meaningful incentives‘ are we and Iran will have to wait and see.

Biden, a great talker, has given us much to discuss here.

Today I gave a lecture and a Q & A about the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) for the World Affairs Council of San Diego-North County Chapter. Here is the Powerpoint for those of you interested.

My talk was centered on three questions: 1. What is the SCO? 2. What are its objectives? (Does it seek to balance the US or is just a talking/cooperative forum for its members) and…3. What are its capabilities?

'After you. No, after you. I said, after you. No, after you! Dammit, just go already Dimitri!'

1. The SCO is a multilateral group featuring Russia, China and the four Central Asian states of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. The SCO started in 2001 and has grown from an organization that at first helped settle border disputes to a group that now runs joint military exercises, is considering creating a gas cartel, and has India, Iran, Mongolia, and Pakistan as Observers.

2. The group’s professed purpose is to further cooperation between its members in various social, cultural, security, and economic venues and stresses the goal of combating the ‘Three Evils’ of Terrorism, Extremism, and Separatism. The SCO pledges that it is not aligned against any nation or grouping (aka US/NATO). Scholars are a bit split on the group’s real intentions, with Martha Brill Olcott, Yu Bin, etc. believing the group is basically harmless and Stephen Blank, Ariel Cohen…arguing that it is a mechanism to oust US influence in Central Asia and beyond.

The SCO has been used by its members, and its observers (Iran), as a forum to criticize US foreign policy, especially regarding democracy promotion and missile defense systems in eastern Europe. Even more serious, during an SCO summit in 2005 Russia and China helped nudge Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan to demand that the Americans close their Afghan-supplying bases in each country. Uzbekistan followed through, kicking the US out of K2 base, but Kyrgyzstan let the US stay at Manas (though maybe not anymore!) as long as they upped their rent payments. The SCO’s joint military exercises, which have involved up to 10,000 troops and some major armaments, also pose a substantial threat to a US presence in the region, as well as to Taiwan. Even with these moves and gestures, the US government does not seem to feel too threatened by the group, stating that they are just being ‘watchful’ of its future actions.

3. A big reason why the US is not overly concerned about the SCO’s intentions is because the group lacks cohesion and therefore the capabilities to do it much harm. Though the group has done much to bring China and Russia to greater and greater heights of cooperation, the two neighboring great powers are strategic and energy rivals in Central Asia and this will continue to provide friction. Russia desires to dominate its former vessels and China wants them as markets, energy supplies, and as a jump off for strategic endeavors. These two goals will inevitably clash and they already do.

2007 Joint Military Exercise

2007 Joint Military Exercise

The SCO also lacks institutional strength and this includes an ability to bring in the observer states as official members. Lastly, the hard presence of NATO and the US in Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan, along with its diplomatic and financial footprint, are not only out of the control of the SCO, but a sign that the ‘security’ grouping cannot even police its own backyard. Good relations with the United States are also crucial for all the SCO’s individual members and this means that will not likely take any actions to disrupt it.

I’ve studied the SCO closely for the past 2-3 years and will continue to do so for this site. It includes two great powers for gosh sakes!

In a surprise move, Kyrgyzstan President Bakiyev, during a visit to Moscow, stated that he would close the American Manas Air Base in his country. Bakiyev argued that the US mission in the region was complete and voiced concern over several issues including; financial compensation, an incident where a Kyrgyz citizen was killed on the base, and civilian casualties in Afghanistan. The US embassy in Bishkek has not heard a word about this and it looks like the Kyrgyz parliament will vote on the matter this Friday. Here’s Bakiyev:

“Eight years have passed. We have repeatedly raised with the United States the matter of economic compensation for the existence of the base in Kyrgyzstan, but we have not been understood.”

central_asia_01_31_09_stern_supply_routes.jpgThis comes as surprise as CentCom Commander Gen. Petraeus just finished a tour across nearly all the CA states securing transit routes and permission. If the base closes, and the US would reportedly get 180 days to do so, this will put further strain on supplying US/NATO troops in Afghanistan as well as hurt US-Kyrgyz relations.  The base is an important supplying corridor for US troops in Afghanistan and has been in use for nearly the war’s entire duration.

We must take note where Bakiyev made this announcement, Moscow. He was meeting with Russian President Medvedev and it looks like Bakiyev obtained a $2 billion dollar loan and another $150 million in aid from its powerful northern neighbor. It appears cash-strapped Bishkek, which is already in debt to Moscow, made a trade off, Russian money for kicking the US out of Manas. Stratfor asserts that the Kyrgyz state was also being cyber blackmailed by Moscow in recent weeks.

This whole move is very discouraging as Moscow-DC-NATO seemed to be making inroads regarding Afghan stability and supply routes and this counters that goal implicitly. The US has not been kicked out yet and this could just be a slight power play by Moscow to force US concessions elsewhere (missile shields, NATO expansion). Bishkek could also be using this financial crisis to obtain more rent from the US military as it has done so before after the SCO Astana Declaration demanded the US withdraw from all CA bases.

American political and military officials state that nothing has been decided yet and there is still hope an agreement can be reached to keep the US in Manas. Though if this push out becomes a reality it will likely mean a loss of American influence and strategic capacity in Central Asia and further deteriorating of Washington-Moscow relations.  Russia seems willing to deal and obstruct at the same time.  It seems they are at one time balancing against the threat of Central Asia instability and in the next moment balancing against the threat of US dominance in their perceived backyard.

I doubt the US will take this closure attempt laying down and I’m sure as we speak US officials are negotiating with Bakiyev and his parliament about a new deal to keep the base in play for American forces.  But Moscow’s money and regional influence will be hard to shake for the Kyrgyz government and one should expect that if the US gets to keep the base, rent prices will once again skyrocket.

(Photo: U.S. Air Force servicemen walk by a C-17 cargo plane at Manas airport near Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan: Source (Shamil Zhumatov/Reuters)

In what is looking more and more like a lukewarm proposal, it appears that Moscow is at least ready to suspend their plan of basing Iskander missiles in the western region of Kaliningrad, a small Russian territorial enclave near Poland and Lithuania, and directing them toward Europe. It was reported through a news agency that a Russian defense official stated that the government was suspending the missile deployment, but other Russian officials denied such a policy was changing.

Kaliningrad's the cute little territory near the top. Russia's promised to put missiles all over it, making it much less cute.

The move seemed at first to possibly be a goodwill gesture to the Obama administration, which would hopefully make it easier for his administration to cancel the US-Poland-Czech missile defense system.  The missile defense plan, just officially approved by all groups involved months ago, is reportedly under review by the Obama administration and this forward move by the Russians to not do something they haven’t even done yet is no doubt an attempt to persuade Obama to rescind the missile defense deals.  Obama and Russian President Medvedev talked on the phone for the first time on Monday and discussed their ‘intention’ on promoting ‘constructive’ US-Russian relations.

Concerning the missile defense standoff, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin had some words: “We have heard signals concerning anti-missile defense, and we know that people close to Mr. Obama say they should not hurry and the issue demands further analyses.  We are glad to hear such statements. Beyond that, our proposal on developing those systems is still on the agenda.”

How Obama’s team handles this delicate issue with Moscow will be telling of his stance against the world’s great powers.  I for one do not think it enough that Russia just ‘not deploy’ the Kaliningrad missiles, though its a good start.  If the US were to revoke already agreed defense plans with Poland and the Czech Republic we would need other Russian concessions, especially regarding Iran’s nuclear program and Afghanistan stability.  Moscow’s Kaliningrad move (test?), which has itself not even become an official stance by no means, seems like a cheap opening to give Obama a chance to say he received something in return, but I’m just not buying it.

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