Bloc de l'equip docent de l'assignatura HISTÒRIA POLÍTICA I SOCIAL CONTEMPORÀNIA, Facultat de Comunicació Blanquerna, Universitat Ramon Llull

dissabte, 12 de novembre de 2011

Dealing with the enemy

History of diplomacy

Nov 12th 2011

George Kennan invented the American post-war policy of “containment” of the Soviet Union. His biography, 30 years in the making, fills in the detail

George F. Kennan: An American Life. By John Lewis Gaddis. Penguin Press; 784 pages; $39.95 and £30. Buy from,

THREE decades ago George Kennan— former American ambassador to Moscow, multilingual diplomat and conceptualiser of “containment”, the heart of his country’s foreign policy towards the Soviet Union—agreed to allow an American cold-war historian, John Lewis Gaddis, to serve as his biographer. Kennan had decamped from public service to the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton more than 20 years earlier and was already 78 years old. When he began giving Mr Gaddis interviews and stacks of personal papers in 1981, their understanding was that the biography would appear in the presumably not-too-distant future after the elder man’s passing.

Decades of interviews later, Mr Gaddis, who is now 70, had become accustomed to his students “speculating sombrely about which of us might go first”. Even Kennan felt sorry for “poor John”; in 2003 he lamented the “serious burden” of his own “unnatural longevity”. It was only in 2005, when death finally claimed Kennan at the age of 101, that Mr Gaddis could begin thinking about publishing this long-awaited biography.

The extraordinary length of the book’s gestation meant that much changed between conception and publication. Had it appeared in the mid-1980s, the context would have been cold-war stalemate; in the early 1990s, celebration; a decade ago in 2001, concern about terrorism. Because “George F. Kennan: An American Life” finally arrives in the uneasy year of 2011, its context is economic misery and questions about the future of American dominance in international affairs.

Mr Gaddis is unequivocal on this topic. He told the New York Times in 2004 that “American imperial power…has been a remarkable force for good, for democracy, for prosperity.” He has also expressed his admiration for the former presidents, Ronald Reagan and George Bush junior, and their versions of “grand strategy”, a topic he now teaches at Yale University. All of these developments have naturally given rise to much speculation. Could Mr Gaddis, who admits that he speaks no foreign languages, get on top of the mountain of material and do credit to such an international polymath? Would his own views emerge along with Kennan’s? The 784-page answer to both these questions is yes.

Mr Gaddis has mastered the sources that came his way over the decades. The resulting biography is engaging and lucid. The first half of the book almost has the sweep of a novel. Readers join Kennan in Germany as the Nazis rise; in Norway in 1931 as the awkward young man meets the parents of his fiancée, to whom he would remain married for 73 years; in the Soviet Union in 1933 as he establishes the first American embassy; in Czechoslovakia as Adolf Hitler arrives and the world descends into another war; and back in Moscow again in 1945 when he receives skin-crawling personal compliments from Joseph Stalin on his Russian language skills. The chapter detailing Kennan’s breakthrough—achieved by redesigning American foreign policy at a stroke, via his 5,000-word “Long Telegram” from Moscow to Washington, DC, in 1946—is particularly gripping. As he himself put it: “My reputation was made. My voice now carried.”

Before this, Kennan was a promising young officer in the American foreign service; after it, he joined the top ranks of American strategists. His arguments convinced the Truman administration that efforts to continue wartime co-operation with Russia were fruitless. America should recognise the Soviet Union as a new kind of enemy, one seeking to destroy “our traditional way of life”. Rather than fighting a conventional war, America would need to contain Soviet hostility firmly and consistently over the long term. As America resisted Moscow more and more, Kennan felt it was crucial that his country maintain the “health and vigour of our own society” and not become a garrison state.

After the “Long Telegram”, Kennan returned to Washington and founded the State Department’s influential Policy Planning Staff. But, according to Mr Gaddis, his prestige had peaked by 1948. After that, Kennan became increasingly sidelined for opposing what he judged to be excessive militarisation of his containment strategy. Yet he continued to condemn overly militarised policies for the rest of his life.

Kennan took particular offence at the attitude of the Reagan administration, which he viewed as “simply childish, inexcusably childish, unworthy of people charged with the responsibility for conducting the affairs of a great power in an endangered world.” Nor did the end of the cold war change his mind. In 1992 Kennan made a point of stating that “nobody ‘won’ the cold war”. It had been a long, costly tragedy, “fuelled on both sides by unreal and exaggerated estimates of the intentions and strength of the other side.”

Mr Gaddis disagrees. He closes his study by condemning Kennan for having “blinded” himself to the fact that, in Mr Gaddis’s opinion, Reagan brought Kennan’s “strategy to its successful conclusion”. If Kennan were alive, he would probably still disagree, and not without reason. If the elder man’s concern for the costs of bellicose foreign policy, rather than the younger man’s enthusiasm for imperial exercise of American power, had dominated the last decade, it would have made for a sounder grand strategy. In ways that this biography seems not entirely to appreciate, Kennan’s far-sighted opposition to American over-militarisation makes his personal career history less gripping than his legacy.

dilluns, 7 de novembre de 2011

Reykjavik: Turning Point of the Cold War

by Ty Cobb

October 20, 2011 3:30 pm

Twenty-five years ago this month President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev met in Reykjavik, Iceland, at a summit that appears, in retrospect, to truly be the “turning point in the Cold War.” To many observers, and those of us at the talks, the protracted and animated negotiations seemed initially to have ended in failure, as the two leaders left the conference without an agreement and with dour expressions on their faces.

The road to Reykjavik actually began with proposals made by Reagan in 1981 to eliminate all intermediate range ballistic missiles (the so-called Zero Option) and in 1982 to reduce deployed strategic nuclear warheads by at least one-third. This was a significant departure from arms control thinking, which had previously focused only on limiting future growth of these systems.

Until Reykjavik, Soviet leaders dismissed these ideas as one sided and insincere, and rejected them. Yet Gorbachev came to Reykjavik with his own dramatic proposals, including a 50% reduction in strategic offensive arms, complete elimination of all intermediate range (INF) missiles, and a non withdrawl from the 1972 ABM treaty for 10 years.

While the Soviet leader had initially suggested only a mini summit in preparation for more detailed negotiations in 1987, the Soviets came prepared with these far-reaching and detailed proposals on arms control. President Reagan embraced the negotiations with enthusiasm, delighted to see Moscow’s willingness to consider many of our most ambitious suggestions.

The negotiations were complex, animated and highly substantive, and Gorbachev proved to be intelligent, knowledgeable and facile. Reagan held firm in his principles. No more unverifiable treaties (“Trust but Verify” he loved to say in Russian), no more agreements codifying Soviet superiority in arms on the European continent, no more tolerating Moscow’s refusal to grant its citizens basic human rights, and – perhaps most importantly to the President – no more reliance on offensive nuclear missiles to provide for our security. Gorbachev hung firm on many key points, I think hoping that the President would “understand” that an agreement on Moscow’s terms would ensure the President emerged from the Summit as a popular and respected world leader and peacemaker.

The Soviets were clearly prepared to agree to major reductions in strategic forces, intermediate range weapons, and warheads. Gorbachev even showed a willingness, however strained, to discuss our positions on regional and human rights issues. But, the one point he needed to lock in was an agreement that the U.S. would confine its research and testing on the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) to the laboratory.

We did not fully appreciate at the time that Gorbachev, unlike his predecessors, was cognizant of the depths that the Soviet economy had fallen. Most importantly, he apparently had come to the conclusion that should the United States seriously embark on its “Star Wars” plans, what was at stake was more than a space defense program. Gorbachev believed that should the USA seriously pursue SDI it represented the possibility that America would bring together its technological prowess and economic superiority in a manner that would consign the USSR, to use the Marxist term, “to the trash heap of history”.

Some have said that the reason so many Soviet concessions were made was because Reagan used SDI as a “bargaining chip”. Maybe so. However, the reason SDI succeeded so well was precisely because the President believed in the program so passionately. It was a great bargaining tool because the President did not believe it was a “bargaining chip”.

The final session that stretched into the night was a scene of high drama. Gorbachev offered to eliminate all strategic forces, not just ballistic missiles. Reagan then countered that it would be fine with him if they could agree to eliminate all nuclear weapons. They almost had an agreement. The sticking point fell to the area that most concerned the Soviets – confining Reagan’s SDI to the laboratory.

This the President could not agree to. As the two leaders walked to the door with dour looks on their faces, Gorbachev asked the President, “What more could we have done?” Reagan, asking Gorbachev how he could “turn down a historic opportunity because of a single word”, simply said to the General Secretary, “You could have said yes.

Despite the apparent failure at Reykjavik the two parties resumed negotiations and the following year signed the INF treaty at the Washington Summit, totally eliminating the intermediate range missiles. By 1991 the two sides agreed on a START treaty that cut the US and Soviet nuclear arsenals by 80% over the next decade.

Mikhail Gorbachev wrote this week that while the Reykjavik Summit failed to “achieve our highest aspirations”, the Summit served as “the major turning point in the quest for a safer and secure world.” Years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Gorbachev was asked what precipitated the USSR’s demise. Without hesitation, he answered, “Oh, its Reykjavik.”


Aside from the huge policy implications of the Reykjavik Summit, let me share a few anecdotes and side notes:

I served as the Executive Secretary for the Geneva and Reykjavik Summits, which essentially meant I was in charge of coordinating the briefing sessions and preparatory papers. Nothing glamorous. However, having found out about the proposed Summit that would occur in Iceland in less than two weeks, I immediately requested that we have the President’s full attention for a series of briefings on key issues. Well, that led to a tumultuous intra-White House fight, as the Political Directorate was more concerned with having the popular President on the campaign trail since the 1986 mid-term elections were coming up. In one of the exchanges I said to the political team that there was no way we could permit the President to be out on the campaign trail now. One responded to me that on the schedule were “two stops in Nevada, on behalf of your buddy, Jim Santini”, running for the Senate. “Oh”, I said, “Guess that would be ok!”

When I went home I told my wife Suellen that we would be heading for Reykjavik for a “mini-Summit” in 10 days, but were not going to have but a few prep sessions with the President. “Mini-Summit?” she responded with a doubtful look. “Gorby got his clocked cleaned in Geneva”, she said, “Do you really think he is just coming for a handshake?”

Hmmm. She was right. When the Soviet delegation arrived it was clear that they had a full team that was thoroughly ready to pursue a very ambitious agenda. And, by the way, contrary to the agreements that no wives would join the leaders, Raisa Gorbacheva stepped off the plane. Bad sign. Nancy did not come to the Summit and President Reagan did not function as well without her. As the Summit became more substantive and contentious, we could tell that Reagan really missed having Nancy there with him.

The Icelanders were kind to provide a small venue for the talks—the supposedly haunted Hofdi House—but it was really tiny. As the talks proceeded and became more detailed, Soviet and American negotiators found themselves huddled almost together in the cramped quarters’ basement, all sharing only one bathroom!

The American team imposed a blackout on contacting “higher HQ” during the talks. This put BG John Moellering, who was the JCS representative there, in a most difficult spot. He was a relative neophyte to the arms control arena and had been in that postion only a few days, but he was astute enough to recognize that major decisions were being reached without the advice and comments of the Joint Chiefs. At one crucial point, weighing the potential wrath of violating the secrecy ban against the obvious need to keep his superiors informed, he asked me what I thought he should do…..What would you have advised him? I think John retired as a one-star! The Chiefs were NOT happy campers.

When we came back from Reykjavik, our European allies were up in arms—what were we thinking trading away their security—the GLCM and Pershing missiles especially—without consultations! Alas, weren’t these the same Europeans who had been beating us down for years with birch rods for our inflexibility on arms control issues? Mitterrand and Kohl, especially, but yes, Maggie, too. Loved it.

A final point—until Reykjavik many outside observers were unaware of President Reagan’s strong opposition to nuclear weapons and his desire to rid the earth of these horribly destructive weapons. Now they knew it, but those around the President had often heard him just ask, “Well, Cap…or Bud…or George…why can’t we just agree to abolish ALL nuclear weapons”. All of his advisors—and that included George Shultz at the time, despite his more recent declarations in favor of a nuclear-free world—would recoil and say something like, “Well, Mr. President, we agree in principle, but given Soviet conventional force advantages, we cannot at this time consider giving up our reliability on nuclear weapons to repel Soviet aggression”. The President would nod, “Well, ok, I won’t push it”. But you knew he would and he certainly did at Reykjavik!

G-20 Is at Its Best When the Stakes Are Highest


ITHACA, NEW YORK — With the global economy on the ropes and gasping for oxygen, the world’s eyes will be on the leaders of the Group of 20 countries as they gather in Cannes for their economic summit meeting. The challenges they face are enormous.

The G-20 moved to center stage two years ago, when the global financial system faced a meltdown. This group was in fact formed much earlier, in 1999, as a forum for finance ministers to jointly tackle the aftermath of the 1997-98 East Asian financial crisis. Given the increasing economic might and influence of emerging markets, a balanced group comprising the main advanced and emerging market economies is certainly more relevant than the hitherto high-profile Group of 7 advanced economies.

G-20 countries produce about 90 percent of global economic output, generate four-fifths of world trade and account for two-thirds of the world’s population. All countries have an equal “vote,” although the group does not have any formal powers and works largely by consensus and moral suasion.

Despite its economic heft, during the first decade of its existence the G-20 barely registered on the public’s radar and created few ripples in international policy circles. The onset of the global financial crisis changed all of that.

Faced with a calamity, the G-20 rose to the occasion, turning itself from a talking shop into a group that acted in concert to keep the global financial system from collapsing. Whether or not countries were coordinating their policies or just protecting their national interests is beside the point. In the midst of the crisis, it certainly inspired some confidence to see world leaders working together to pump government stimulus into their economies, prop up their financial systems and add to the firefighting capacity of institutions like the International Monetary Fund.

Once again, with the European debt crisis threatening the fragile global recovery, the G-20 is leading the charge to bolster the world economy and stabilize financial systems. Indeed, the group seems to work best when the world economy is approaching the brink of disaster, which naturally creates a sense of common purpose and shared interests.

Other than battling crises, the group has become the de facto agenda-setting body for global economic and financial policies. This broader role has generated existential questions for the G-20, not just about its effectiveness but also its legitimacy and role in the international monetary system.

The G-20 certainly serves as a useful forum for coordinating policy actions when the interests of its members are congruent — when their backs are all against the wall. But the group seems less effective at resolving conflicts among its members or helping to overcome domestic political gridlock that is hindering effective policy making in some of them.

Rifts within the group tend to become exposed in calmer times, making it harder for the G-20 to take a more coordinated approach to longer-term objectives like unified financial regulatory standards and reform of the international monetary system. For instance, at the Seoul summit meeting a year ago, currency wars broke out into the open, drowning out talk of strengthening the global financial safety net. The United States accused China of using unfair exchange rate and trade policies, while China and some emerging markets blamed loose U.S. monetary policy for worsening inflation and asset market bubbles in their economies.

This points to a fundamental problem. The G-20 has little leverage over the policies of its members, especially the larger economies. When one country’s economies policies may have adverse consequences for the rest of the world, the group is reduced to finger-pointing and acrimony. Moreover, the group has no instruments to nudge its members to confront hard domestic choices, which allows problems to fester and threaten both domestic and global financial stability. Recently, the G-20 has been limited to jawboning Europe to face up to harsh realities and take decisive action to tackle the spiraling debt crisis that has ripple effects far beyond Europe’s borders.

All of this suggests that, belying its immense potential, the G-20 may be better equipped to cope with the aftermath of crises rather than forestall them. Indeed, since the group works mostly by consensus, a small coalition can block longer-term policy actions favored even by a majority of the group. Coalitions within the group are fluid and issue-specific, but they tend to be more effective at blocking rather than advancing consensus on specific policy issues.

The G-20’s broader legitimacy is also open to question. The group has assigned to itself the role of formulating policies on matters ranging from financial regulation to combating climate change. Shouldn’t the G-20 be broadened and made more inclusive rather than let this small self-selected group, which excludes the majority of countries, make decisions on behalf of the world?

While the G-20 is by no means a perfectly representative group, making it more inclusive and representative could bolster its legitimacy but destroy its effectiveness. Its smaller size allows it to be nimbler than institutions like the United Nations and the I.M.F. It is relatively new, not burdened by a complex bureaucratic structure, and includes the key players on the global economic stage, giving each of them an equal voice.

Given its membership and flexible structure, the G-20 can be a potent force that promotes economic welfare by improving domestic and global macroeconomic and financial stability. This calls for visionary leadership from these countries and an understanding that there is a commonality of long-term interests that needs to be recognized and acted upon, rather than being sidetracked by short-term policy conflicts.

G-20 leaders must rise above the temptation to put narrow domestic interests and political expediency above long-term benefits to the global economic system. Otherwise, the enormous potential of the G-20 in preventing rather than just coping with crises will go unrealized. The choice is clear.

Eswar S. Prasad is a professor of economics at Cornell University and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.