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Gold Price Trend Forecast Summer 2019

Iran Returns to the Global Stage

Politics / GeoPolitics Nov 11, 2008 - 06:08 AM GMT

By: STRATFOR

Politics

Best Financial Markets Analysis ArticleAfter a three-month hiatus, Iran seems set to re-emerge near the top of the U.S. agenda. Last week, the Iranian government congratulated U.S. President-elect Barack Obama on his Nov. 4 electoral victory. This marks the first time since the Iranian Revolution that such greetings have been sent.

While it seems trivial, the gesture is quite significant. It represents a diplomatic way for the Iranians to announce that they regard Obama's election as offering a potential breakthrough in 30 years of U.S. relations with Iran. At his press conference, Obama said he does not yet have a response to the congratulatory message, and reiterated that he opposes Iran's nuclear program and its support for terrorism. The Iranians returned to criticizing Obama after this, but without their usual passion.


Let's begin simply by reviewing the last few days.

On the night of Thursday, Aug. 7, forces of the Republic of Georgia drove across the border of South Ossetia , a secessionist region of Georgia that has functioned as an independent entity since the fall of the Soviet Union. The forces drove on to the capital, Tskhinvali, which is close to the border. Georgian forces got bogged down while trying to take the city. In spite of heavy fighting, they never fully secured the city, nor the rest of South Ossetia.

On the morning of Aug. 8, Russian forces entered South Ossetia , using armored and motorized infantry forces along with air power. South Ossetia was informally aligned with Russia, and Russia acted to prevent the region's absorption by Georgia. Given the speed with which the Russians responded — within hours of the Georgian attack — the Russians were expecting the Georgian attack and were themselves at their jumping-off points. The counterattack was carefully planned and competently executed, and over the next 48 hours, the Russians succeeded in defeating the main Georgian force and forcing a retreat. By Sunday, Aug. 10, the Russians had consolidated their position in South Ossetia.

On Monday, the Russians extended their offensive into Georgia proper , attacking on two axes. One was south from South Ossetia to the Georgian city of Gori. The other drive was from Abkhazia, another secessionist region of Georgia aligned with the Russians. This drive was designed to cut the road between the Georgian capital of Tbilisi and its ports. By this point, the Russians had bombed the military airfields at Marneuli and Vaziani and appeared to have disabled radars at the international airport in Tbilisi. These moves brought Russian forces to within 40 miles of the Georgian capital , while making outside reinforcement and resupply of Georgian forces extremely difficult should anyone wish to undertake it.

The Mystery Behind the Georgian Invasion

In this simple chronicle, there is something quite mysterious: Why did the Georgians choose to invade South Ossetia on Thursday night? There had been a great deal of shelling by the South Ossetians of Georgian villages for the previous three nights, but while possibly more intense than usual, artillery exchanges were routine. The Georgians might not have fought well, but they committed fairly substantial forces that must have taken at the very least several days to deploy and supply. Georgia's move was deliberate.

The United States is Georgia's closest ally . It maintained about 130 military advisers in Georgia, along with civilian advisers, contractors involved in all aspects of the Georgian government and people doing business in Georgia. It is inconceivable that the Americans were unaware of Georgia's mobilization and intentions. It is also inconceivable that the Americans were unaware that the Russians had deployed substantial forces on the South Ossetian frontier. U.S. technical intelligence, from satellite imagery and signals intelligence to unmanned aerial vehicles, could not miss the fact that thousands of Russian troops were moving to forward positions. The Russians clearly knew the Georgians were ready to move. How could the United States not be aware of the Russians? Indeed, given the posture of Russian troops, how could intelligence analysts have missed the possibility that the Russians had laid a trap, hoping for a Georgian invasion to justify its own counterattack?

It is very difficult to imagine that the Georgians launched their attack against U.S. wishes. The Georgians rely on the United States, and they were in no position to defy it. This leaves two possibilities. The first is a massive breakdown in intelligence, in which the United States either was unaware of the existence of Russian forces, or knew of the Russian forces but — along with the Georgians — miscalculated Russia's intentions. The second is that the United States, along with other countries, has viewed Russia through the prism of the 1990s, when the Russian military was in shambles and the Russian government was paralyzed. The United States has not seen Russia make a decisive military move beyond its borders since the Afghan war of the 1970s-1980s. The Russians had systematically avoided such moves for years. The United States had assumed that the Russians would not risk the consequences of an invasion.

If this was the case, then it points to the central reality of this situation: The Russians had changed dramatically , along with the balance of power in the region. They welcomed the opportunity to drive home the new reality, which was that they could invade Georgia and the United States and Europe could not respond. As for risk, they did not view the invasion as risky. Militarily, there was no counter. Economically, Russia is an energy exporter doing quite well — indeed, the Europeans need Russian energy even more than the Russians need to sell it to them. Politically, as we shall see, the Americans needed the Russians more than the Russians needed the Americans. Moscow's calculus was that this was the moment to strike. The Russians had been building up to it for months, as we have discussed, and they struck.

The Western Encirclement of Russia

To understand Russian thinking, we need to look at two events. The first is the Orange Revolution in Ukraine . From the U.S. and European point of view, the Orange Revolution represented a triumph of democracy and Western influence. From the Russian point of view, as Moscow made clear, the Orange Revolution was a CIA-funded intrusion into the internal affairs of Ukraine, designed to draw Ukraine into NATO and add to the encirclement of Russia. U.S. Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton had promised the Russians that NATO would not expand into the former Soviet Union empire.

That promise had already been broken in 1998 by NATO's expansion to Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic — and again in the 2004 expansion, which absorbed not only the rest of the former Soviet satellites in what is now Central Europe, but also the three Baltic states, which had been components of the Soviet Union.

The Russian Periphery

The Russians had tolerated all that, but the discussion of including Ukraine in NATO represented a fundamental threat to Russia's national security. It would have rendered Russia indefensible and threatened to destabilize the Russian Federation itself. When the United States went so far as to suggest that Georgia be included as well, bringing NATO deeper into the Caucasus, the Russian conclusion — publicly stated — was that the United States in particular intended to encircle and break Russia.

The second and lesser event was the decision by Europe and the United States to back Kosovo's separation from Serbia . The Russians were friendly with Serbia, but the deeper issue for Russia was this: The principle of Europe since World War II was that, to prevent conflict, national borders would not be changed. If that principle were violated in Kosovo, other border shifts — including demands by various regions for independence from Russia — might follow. The Russians publicly and privately asked that Kosovo not be given formal independence, but instead continue its informal autonomy, which was the same thing in practical terms. Russia's requests were ignored.

From the Ukrainian experience, the Russians became convinced that the United States was engaged in a plan of strategic encirclement and strangulation of Russia. From the Kosovo experience, they concluded that the United States and Europe were not prepared to consider Russian wishes even in fairly minor affairs. That was the breaking point. If Russian desires could not be accommodated even in a minor matter like this, then clearly Russia and the West were in conflict. For the Russians, as we said, the question was how to respond. Having declined to respond in Kosovo, the Russians decided to respond where they had all the cards: in South Ossetia.

Moscow had two motives, the lesser of which was as a tit-for-tat over Kosovo. If Kosovo could be declared independent under Western sponsorship, then South Ossetia and Abkhazia , the two breakaway regions of Georgia, could be declared independent under Russian sponsorship. Any objections from the United States and Europe would simply confirm their hypocrisy. This was important for internal Russian political reasons, but the second motive was far more important.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin once said that the fall of the Soviet Union was a geopolitical disaster. This didn't mean that he wanted to retain the Soviet state; rather, it meant that the disintegration of the Soviet Union had created a situation in which Russian national security was threatened by Western interests. As an example, consider that during the Cold War, St. Petersburg was about 1,200 miles away from a NATO country. Today it is about 60 miles away from Estonia, a NATO member. The disintegration of the Soviet Union had left Russia surrounded by a group of countries hostile to Russian interests in various degrees and heavily influenced by the United States, Europe and, in some cases, China.

Resurrecting the Russian Sphere

Putin did not want to re-establish the Soviet Union, but he did want to re-establish the Russian sphere of influence in the former Soviet Union region. To accomplish that, he had to do two things. First, he had to re-establish the credibility of the Russian army as a fighting force, at least in the context of its region. Second, he had to establish that Western guarantees, including NATO membership, meant nothing in the face of Russian power. He did not want to confront NATO directly, but he did want to confront and defeat a power that was closely aligned with the United States, had U.S. support, aid and advisers and was widely seen as being under American protection. Georgia was the perfect choice.

By invading Georgia as Russia did (competently if not brilliantly), Putin re-established the credibility of the Russian army. But far more importantly, by doing this Putin revealed an open secret: While the United States is tied down in the Middle East, American guarantees have no value. This lesson is not for American consumption. It is something that, from the Russian point of view, the Ukrainians, the Balts and the Central Asians need to digest. Indeed, it is a lesson Putin wants to transmit to Poland and the Czech Republic as well. The United States wants to place ballistic missile defense installations in those countries, and the Russians want them to understand that allowing this to happen increases their risk, not their security.

The Russians knew the United States would denounce their attack. This actually plays into Russian hands. The more vocal senior leaders are, the greater the contrast with their inaction, and the Russians wanted to drive home the idea that American guarantees are empty talk.

The Russians also know something else that is of vital importance: For the United States, the Middle East is far more important than the Caucasus, and Iran is particularly important. The United States wants the Russians to participate in sanctions against Iran. Even more importantly, they do not want the Russians to sell weapons to Iran, particularly the highly effective S-300 air defense system. Georgia is a marginal issue to the United States; Iran is a central issue. The Russians are in a position to pose serious problems for the United States not only in Iran, but also with weapons sales to other countries, like Syria.

Therefore, the United States has a problem — it either must reorient its strategy away from the Middle East and toward the Caucasus, or it has to seriously limit its response to Georgia to avoid a Russian counter in Iran. Even if the United States had an appetite for another war in Georgia at this time, it would have to calculate the Russian response in Iran — and possibly in Afghanistan (even though Moscow's interests there are currently aligned with those of Washington).

In other words, the Russians have backed the Americans into a corner. The Europeans, who for the most part lack expeditionary militaries and are dependent upon Russian energy exports , have even fewer options. If nothing else happens, the Russians will have demonstrated that they have resumed their role as a regional power. Russia is not a global power by any means, but a significant regional power with lots of nuclear weapons and an economy that isn't all too shabby at the moment. It has also compelled every state on the Russian periphery to re-evaluate its position relative to Moscow. As for Georgia, the Russians appear ready to demand the resignation of President Mikhail Saakashvili. Militarily, that is their option. That is all they wanted to demonstrate, and they have demonstrated it.

The war in Georgia, therefore, is Russia's public return to great power status. This is not something that just happened — it has been unfolding ever since Putin took power, and with growing intensity in the past five years. Part of it has to do with the increase of Russian power, but a great deal of it has to do with the fact that the Middle Eastern wars have left the United States off-balance and short on resources. As we have written, this conflict created a window of opportunity. The Russian goal is to use that window to assert a new reality throughout the region while the Americans are tied down elsewhere and dependent on the Russians. The war was far from a surprise; it has been building for months. But the geopolitical foundations of the war have been building since 1992. Russia has been an empire for centuries. The last 15 years or so were not the new reality, but simply an aberration that would be rectified. And now it is being rectified.

By George Friedman

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The Real New World Order

Best Financial Markets Analysis ArticleOn Sept. 11, 1990, U.S. President George H. W. Bush addressed Congress. He spoke in the wake of the end of Communism in Eastern Europe, the weakening of the Soviet Union, and the invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein. He argued that a New World Order was emerging: “A hundred generations have searched for this elusive path to peace, while a thousand wars raged across the span of human endeavor, and today that new world is struggling to be born. A world quite different from the one we've known. A world where the rule of law supplants the rule of the jungle. A world in which nations recognize the shared responsibility for freedom and justice. A world where the strong respect the rights of the weak.”

After every major, systemic war, there is the hope that this will be the war to end all wars. The idea driving it is simple. Wars are usually won by grand coalitions. The idea is that the coalition that won the war by working together will continue to work together to make the peace. Indeed, the idea is that the defeated will join the coalition and work with them to ensure the peace. This was the dream behind the Congress of Vienna, the League of Nations, the United Nations and, after the Cold War, NATO. The idea was that there would be no major issues that couldn't be handled by the victors, now joined with the defeated. That was the idea that drove George H. W. Bush as the Cold War was coming to its end.

Those with the dream are always disappointed. The victorious coalition breaks apart. The defeated refuse to play the role assigned to them. New powers emerge that were not part of the coalition. Anyone may have ideals and visions. The reality of the world order is that there are profound divergences of interest in a world where distrust is a natural and reasonable response to reality. In the end, ideals and visions vanish in a new round of geopolitical conflict.

The post-Cold War world, the New World Order, ended with authority on Aug. 8, 2008, when Russia and Georgia went to war . Certainly, this war was not in itself of major significance, and a very good case can be made that the New World Order actually started coming apart on Sept. 11, 2001. But it was on Aug. 8 that a nation-state, Russia, attacked another nation-state, Georgia, out of fear of the intentions of a third nation-state, the United States. This causes us to begin thinking about the Real World Order.

The global system is suffering from two imbalances . First, one nation-state, the United States, remains overwhelmingly powerful, and no combination of powers are in a position to control its behavior. We are aware of all the economic problems besetting the United States, but the reality is that the American economy is larger than the next three economies combined (Japan, Germany and China). The U.S. military controls all the world's oceans and effectively dominates space . Because of these factors, the United States remains politically powerful — not liked and perhaps not admired, but enormously powerful.

The second imbalance is within the United States itself. Its ground forces and the bulk of its logistical capability are committed to the Middle East, particularly Iraq and Afghanistan. The United States also is threatening on occasion to go to war with Iran, which would tie down most of its air power, and it is facing a destabilizing Pakistan . Therefore, there is this paradox: The United States is so powerful that, in the long run, it has created an imbalance in the global system. In the short run, however, it is so off balance that it has few, if any, military resources to deal with challenges elsewhere. That means that the United States remains the dominant power in the long run but it cannot exercise that power in the short run. This creates a window of opportunity for other countries to act.

The outcome of the Iraq war can be seen emerging . The United States has succeeded in creating the foundations for a political settlement among the main Iraqi factions that will create a relatively stable government. In that sense, U.S. policy has succeeded. But the problem the United States has is the length of time it took to achieve this success. Had it occurred in 2003, the United States would not suffer its current imbalance. But this is 2008, more than five years after the invasion. The United States never expected a war of this duration, nor did it plan for it. In order to fight the war, it had to inject a major portion of its ground fighting capability into it. The length of the war was the problem. U.S. ground forces are either in Iraq, recovering from a tour or preparing for a deployment. What strategic reserves are available are tasked into Afghanistan. Little is left over .

As Iraq pulled in the bulk of available forces, the United States did not shift its foreign policy elsewhere. For example, it remained committed to the expansion of democracy in the former Soviet Union and the expansion of NATO , to include Ukraine and Georgia. From the fall of the former Soviet Union, the United States saw itself as having a dominant role in reshaping post-Soviet social and political orders, including influencing the emergence of democratic institutions and free markets. The United States saw this almost in the same light as it saw the democratization of Germany and Japan after World War II. Having defeated the Soviet Union, it now fell to the United States to reshape the societies of the successor states.

Through the 1990s, the successor states, particularly Russia , were inert. Undergoing painful internal upheaval — which foreigners saw as reform but which many Russians viewed as a foreign-inspired national catastrophe — Russia could not resist American and European involvement in regional and internal affairs. From the American point of view, the reshaping of the region — from the Kosovo war to the expansion of NATO to the deployment of U.S. Air Force bases to Central Asia — was simply a logical expansion of the collapse of the Soviet Union. It was a benign attempt to stabilize the region, enhance its prosperity and security and integrate it into the global system.

As Russia regained its balance from the chaos of the 1990s, it began to see the American and European presence in a less benign light. It was not clear to the Russians that the United States was trying to stabilize the region. Rather, it appeared to the Russians that the United States was trying to take advantage of Russian weakness to impose a new politico-military reality in which Russia was to be surrounded with nations controlled by the United States and its military system, NATO. In spite of the promise made by Bill Clinton that NATO would not expand into the former Soviet Union, the three Baltic states were admitted. The promise was not addressed. NATO was expanded because it could and Russia could do nothing about it.

 

From the Russian point of view, the strategic break point was Ukraine. When the Orange Revolution came to Ukraine, the American and European impression was that this was a spontaneous democratic rising. The Russian perception was that it was a well-financed CIA operation to foment an anti-Russian and pro-American uprising in Ukraine. When the United States quickly began discussing the inclusion of Ukraine in NATO, the Russians came to the conclusion that the United States intended to surround and crush the Russian Federation. In their view, if NATO expanded into Ukraine , the Western military alliance would place Russia in a strategically untenable position. Russia would be indefensible. The American response was that it had no intention of threatening Russia. The Russian question was returned: Then why are you trying to take control of Ukraine? What other purpose would you have? The United States dismissed these Russian concerns as absurd. The Russians, not regarding them as absurd at all, began planning on the assumption of a hostile United States.

If the United States had intended to break the Russian Federation once and for all, the time for that was in the 1990s, before Yeltsin was replaced by Putin and before 9/11. There was, however, no clear policy on this, because the United States felt it had all the time in the world. Superficially this was true, but only superficially. First, the United States did not understand that the Yeltsin years were a temporary aberration and that a new government intending to stabilize Russia was inevitable. If not Putin, it would have been someone else . Second, the United States did not appreciate that it did not control the international agenda. Sept. 11, 2001, took away American options in the former Soviet Union. No only did it need Russian help in Afghanistan, but it was going to spend the next decade tied up in the Middle East. The United States had lost its room for maneuver and therefore had run out of time.

And now we come to the key point. In spite of diminishing military options outside of the Middle East, the United States did not modify its policy in the former Soviet Union. It continued to aggressively attempt to influence countries in the region, and it became particularly committed to integrating Ukraine and Georgia into NATO, in spite of the fact that both were of overwhelming strategic interest to the Russians. Ukraine dominated Russia's southwestern flank , without any natural boundaries protecting them. Georgia was seen as a constant irritant in Chechnya as well as a barrier to Russian interests in the Caucasus.

Moving rapidly to consolidate U.S. control over these and other countries in the former Soviet Union made strategic sense. Russia was weak, divided and poorly governed. It could make no response. Continuing this policy in the 2000s, when the Russians were getting stronger, more united and better governed and while U.S. forces were no longer available, made much less sense. The United States continued to irritate the Russians without having, in the short run, the forces needed to act decisively.

The American calculation was that the Russian government would not confront American interests in the region. The Russian calculation was that it could not wait to confront these interests because the United States was concluding the Iraq war and would return to its pre-eminent position in a few short years. Therefore, it made no sense for Russia to wait and it made every sense for Russia to act as quickly as possible.

The Russians were partly influenced in their timing by the success of the American surge in Iraq. If the United States continued its policy and had force to back it up, the Russians would lose their window of opportunity . Moreover, the Russians had an additional lever for use on the Americans: Iran.

The United States had been playing a complex game with Iran for years, threatening to attack while trying to negotiate. The Americans needed the Russians. Sanctions against Iran would have no meaning if the Russians did not participate, and the United States did not want Russia selling advance air defense systems to Iran. (Such systems, which American analysts had warned were quite capable, were not present in Syria on Sept. 6, 2007, when the Israelis struck a nuclear facility there.) As the United States re-evaluates the Russian military, it does not want to be surprised by Russian technology. Therefore, the more aggressive the United States becomes toward Russia, the greater the difficulties it will have in Iran. This further encouraged the Russians to act sooner rather than later .

The Russians have now proven two things. First, contrary to the reality of the 1990s, they can execute a competent military operation. Second, contrary to regional perception, the United States cannot intervene . The Russian message was directed against Ukraine most of all, but the Baltics, Central Asia and Belarus are all listening . The Russians will not act precipitously. They expect all of these countries to adjust their foreign policies away from the United States and toward Russia. They are looking to see if the lesson is absorbed. At first, there will be mighty speeches and resistance. But the reality on the ground is the reality on the ground.

We would expect the Russians to get traction. But if they don't, the Russians are aware that they are, in the long run, much weaker than the Americans, and that they will retain their regional position of strength only while the United States is off balance in Iraq. If the lesson isn't absorbed, the Russians are capable of more direct action, and they will not let this chance slip away. This is their chance to redefine their sphere of influence. They will not get another.

The other country that is watching and thinking is Iran . Iran had accepted the idea that it had lost the chance to dominate Iraq. It had also accepted the idea that it would have to bargain away its nuclear capability or lose it. The Iranians are now wondering if this is still true and are undoubtedly pinging the Russians about the situation. Meanwhile, the Russians are waiting for the Americans to calm down and get serious. If the Americans plan to take meaningful action against them, they will respond in Iran. But the Americans have no meaningful actions they can take ; they need to get out of Iraq and they need help against Iran. The quid pro quo here is obvious. The United States acquiesces to Russian actions (which it can't do anything about), while the Russians cooperate with the United States against Iran getting nuclear weapons (something Russia does not want to see).

One of the interesting concepts of the New World Order was that all serious countries would want to participate in it and that the only threat would come from rogue states and nonstate actors such as North Korea and al Qaeda. Serious analysts argued that conflict between nation-states would not be important in the 21st century. There will certainly be rogue states and nonstate actors, but the 21st century will be no different than any other century. On Aug. 8, the Russians invited us all to the Real World Order.

By George Friedman

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Pakistan Geopolitics: The Implications of Musharraf's Resignation

Kamran Bokhari writes: Pervez Musharraf, who ruled Pakistan for nearly nine years, was forced to resign Monday in the face of moves by the South Asian country's recently elected coalition government to impeach him. Musharraf's resignation has been a long time coming, with stops along the way over the last nine months during which he was forced to give up control over the military and then the government.

Almost immediately following his announcement, Pakistanis took to the streets to celebrate, demanding that he be tried for crimes against the nation. Musharraf's personal fate is of no consequence to the continuity (or discontinuity) in the geopolitics of Pakistan. But the conditions in which he fell from power have wide-ranging geopolitical implications not just in his country, but for U.S. policy toward Southwest Asia.

His exit from the scene symbolizes an end of an era for many reasons. The former Pakistani leader was the pointman in U.S.-Pakistani cooperation in Washington's war against jihadism, which many Pakistanis — both within the government and in wider society — feel has destabilized their country. Now, the country's democratic government must search for the elusive balance between domestic and foreign policy considerations. This will prove challenging for all the stakeholders in the post-Musharraf state. It also will complicate (to put it mildly) U.S. efforts to fight the Taliban and al Qaeda on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border.

A far greater implication of the decline and fall of the Musharraf regime, however, is that the process has altered the nature of the Pakistani state. Until fairly recently, the Pakistani state was as robust as its army's ability either directly to govern the country or to maintain oversight over civilian administrations. Policies pursued under the Musharraf government generated two very different kinds of potent opposition to the state, however. The state found itself caught between democratic forces on the one hand and Islamist militant forces on the other, something compounded by a deteriorating economic situation.

As a result, for the first time in the history of the country, the army is no longer in a position to step in and impose order as before. Recognizing that any attempt to impose order militarily on a growing crisis of governance would only further destabilize the country, the army's new leadership has put its weight behind the civilian government. But since Pakistani civilian institutions historically have never really functioned properly, serious doubts about the viability of the newly democratic Pakistan arise.

Musharraf's decision to quit has greatly empowered parliament, but the legislature is a collection of competing political forces that for most of their history have engaged in zero-sum games. Meanwhile, the civil-military imbalance — despite the desire of the army to back the government — remains a source of tension within the political system. Moreover, at a time when parliament really has yet to consolidate power, the rise of an assertive judiciary is bound to further complicate governance.

Islamabad will be searching for pragmatic prescriptions to balance the domestic sentiment against the war against jihadism with the need to play its role as a U.S. ally and combat the extremism that also threatens Pakistan. At the same time, however, the legislature and the newly empowered judiciary will be playing an oversight role over the actions of the government in keeping with public sentiment. It will emphasize due process, which will force the hands of the government in the fight against both transnational and homegrown militancy. In other words, an already weakened state will be further handicapped in dealing with the need to combat a growing jihadist insurgency.

The multiple problems Pakistan faces now that the military no longer can simply step in and stabilize the system underscore the potentially dangerous situation in the South Asian country. And this has obvious and grave geopolitical implications for the wider region and the United States.

By Kamran Bokhari

To arrange an interview with Kamran Bokhari please contact PR@stratfor.com  or call 512 744 4309 (office) or 512 426 5107 (cell). A copy of the author's bio follows:

Kamran Bokhari is Director of Middle East Analysis  for  Stratfor, a private U.S. intelligence firm that publishes analyses and forecasts of international geopolitical and security issues at   www.stratfor.com .  Mr. Bokhari has published numerous analytical, scholarly, and theoretical articles related to politics of the Islamic world and has presented research papers in many academic forums. He has also been interviewed by a number of leading media outlets. His areas of specialization include (but are not limited to) international affairs, security, terrorism, comparative political systems, Islam and democracy, modern Muslim political thought, and Islamist movements. Bokhari has been with Stratfor for five years during which he has played a pivotal role in enhancing Stratfor's understanding on a diverse array of geographical areas -Israel/Palestinian Territories, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

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Georgia Independence and Kosovo: A Single Intertwined Crisis

Kosovo Independence at the Heart of Georgia Russia Crisis

Best Financial Markets Analysis ArticleThe Russo-Georgian war was rooted in broad geopolitical processes. In large part it was simply the result of the cyclical reassertion of Russian power. The Russian empire — czarist and Soviet — expanded to its borders in the 17th and 19th centuries. It collapsed in 1992. The Western powers wanted to make the disintegration permanent. It was inevitable that Russia would, in due course, want to reassert its claims. That it happened in Georgia was simply the result of circumstance.

There is, however, another context within which to view this, the context of Russian perceptions of U.S. and European intentions and of U.S. and European perceptions of Russian capabilities. This context shaped the policies that led to the Russo-Georgian war. And those attitudes can only be understood if we trace the question of Kosovo, because the Russo-Georgian war was forged over the last decade over the Kosovo question .

Yugoslavia broke up into its component republics in the early 1990s. The borders of the republics did not cohere to the distribution of nationalities. Many — Serbs, Croats, Bosnians and so on — found themselves citizens of republics where the majorities were not of their ethnicities and disliked the minorities intensely for historical reasons. Wars were fought between Croatia and Serbia (still calling itself Yugoslavia because Montenegro was part of it), Bosnia and Serbia and Bosnia and Croatia. Other countries in the region became involved as well.

One conflict became particularly brutal. Bosnia had a large area dominated by Serbs. This region wanted to secede from Bosnia and rejoin Serbia. The Bosnians objected and an internal war in Bosnia took place, with the Serbian government involved. This war involved the single greatest bloodletting of the bloody Balkan wars, the mass murder by Serbs of Bosnians.

Here we must pause and define some terms that are very casually thrown around. Genocide is the crime of trying to annihilate an entire people. War crimes are actions that violate the rules of war. If a soldier shoots a prisoner, he has committed a war crime. Then there is a class called “crimes against humanity.” It is intended to denote those crimes that are too vast to be included in normal charges of murder or rape. They may not involve genocide, in that the annihilation of a race or nation is not at stake, but they may also go well beyond war crimes, which are much lesser offenses. The events in Bosnia were reasonably deemed crimes against humanity. They did not constitute genocide and they were more than war crimes.

At the time, the Americans and Europeans did nothing about these crimes, which became an internal political issue as the magnitude of the Serbian crimes became clear. In this context, the Clinton administration helped negotiate the Dayton Accords, which were intended to end the Balkan wars and indeed managed to go quite far in achieving this. The Dayton Accords were built around the principle that there could be no adjustment in the borders of the former Yugoslav republics. Ethnic Serbs would live under Bosnian rule. The principle that existing borders were sacrosanct was embedded in the Dayton Accords.

In the late 1990s, a crisis began to develop in the Serbian province of Kosovo . Over the years, Albanians had moved into the province in a broad migration. By 1997, the province was overwhelmingly Albanian, although it had not only been historically part of Serbia but also its historical foundation. Nevertheless, the Albanians showed significant intentions of moving toward either a separate state or unification with Albania. Serbia moved to resist this, increasing its military forces and indicating an intention to crush the Albanian resistance.

There were many claims that the Serbians were repeating the crimes against humanity that were committed in Bosnia. The Americans and Europeans, burned by Bosnia, were eager to demonstrate their will. Arguing that something between crimes against humanity and genocide was under way — and citing reports that between 10,000 and 100,000 Kosovo Albanians were missing or had been killed — NATO launched a campaign designed to stop the killings. In fact, while some killings had taken place, the claims by NATO of the number already killed were false. NATO might have prevented mass murder in Kosovo. That is not provable. They did not, however, find that mass murder on the order of the numbers claimed had taken place. The war could be defended as a preventive measure, but the atmosphere under which the war was carried out overstated what had happened.

The campaign was carried out without U.N. sanction because of Russian and Chinese opposition. The Russians were particularly opposed, arguing that major crimes were not being committed and that Serbia was an ally of Russia and that the air assault was not warranted by the evidence. The United States and other European powers disregarded the Russian position. Far more important, they established the precedent that U.N. sanction was not needed to launch a war (a precedent used by George W. Bush in Iraq). Rather — and this is the vital point — they argued that NATO support legitimized the war.

This transformed NATO from a military alliance into a quasi-United Nations. What happened in Kosovo was that NATO took on the role of peacemaker, empowered to determine if intervention was necessary, allowed to make the military intervention, and empowered to determine the outcome. Conceptually, NATO was transformed from a military force into a regional multinational grouping with responsibility for maintenance of regional order, even within the borders of states that are not members. If the United Nations wouldn't support the action, the NATO Council was sufficient.

Since Russia was not a member of NATO, and since Russia denied the urgency of war, and since Russia was overruled, the bombing campaign against Kosovo created a crisis in relations with Russia . The Russians saw the attack as a unilateral attack by an anti-Russian alliance on a Russian ally, without sound justification. Then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin was not prepared to make this into a major confrontation, nor was he in a position to. The Russians did not so much acquiesce as concede they had no options.

The war did not go as well as history records. The bombing campaign did not force capitulation and NATO was not prepared to invade Kosovo. The air campaign continued inconclusively as the West turned to the Russians to negotiate an end . The Russians sent an envoy who negotiated an agreement consisting of three parts. First, the West would halt the bombing campaign. Second, Serbian army forces would withdraw and be replaced by a multinational force including Russian troops. Third, implicit in the agreement, the Russian troops would be there to guarantee Serbian interests and sovereignty.

As soon as the agreement was signed, the Russians rushed troops to the Pristina airport to take up their duties in the multinational force — as they had in the Bosnian peacekeeping force. In part because of deliberate maneuvers and in part because no one took the Russians seriously, the Russians never played the role they believed had been negotiated. They were never seen as part of the peacekeeping operation or as part of the decision-making system over Kosovo. The Russians felt doubly betrayed, first by the war itself, then by the peace arrangements.

The Kosovo war directly effected the fall of Yeltsin and the rise of Vladimir Putin. The faction around Putin saw Yeltsin as an incompetent bungler who allowed Russia to be doubly betrayed. The Russian perception of the war directly led to the massive reversal in Russian policy we see today. The installation of Putin and Russian nationalists from the former KGB had a number of roots. But fundamentally it was rooted in the events in Kosovo . Most of all it was driven by the perception that NATO had now shifted from being a military alliance to seeing itself as a substitute for the United Nations, arbitrating regional politics. Russia had no vote or say in NATO decisions, so NATO's new role was seen as a direct challenge to Russian interests.

Thus, the ongoing expansion of NATO into the former Soviet Union and the promise to include Ukraine and Georgia into NATO were seen in terms of the Kosovo war. From the Russian point of view, NATO expansion meant a further exclusion of Russia from decision-making, and implied that NATO reserved the right to repeat Kosovo if it felt that human rights or political issues required it. The United Nations was no longer the prime multinational peacekeeping entity. NATO assumed that role in the region and now it was going to expand all around Russia.

Then came Kosovo's independence . Yugoslavia broke apart into its constituent entities, but the borders of its nations didn't change. Then, for the first time since World War II, the decision was made to change Serbia's borders, in opposition to Serbian and Russian wishes, with the authorizing body, in effect, being NATO. It was a decision avidly supported by the Americans.

The initial attempt to resolve Kosovo's status was the round of negotiations led by former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari that officially began in February 2006 but had been in the works since 2005. This round of negotiations was actually started under U.S. urging and closely supervised from Washington. In charge of keeping Ahtisaari's negotiations running smoothly was Frank G. Wisner, a diplomat during the Clinton administration. Also very important to the U.S. effort was Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Daniel Fried, another leftover from the Clinton administration and a specialist in Soviet and Polish affairs.

In the summer of 2007, when it was obvious that the negotiations were going nowhere, the Bush administration decided the talks were over and that it was time for independence. On June 10, 2007, Bush said that the end result of negotiations must be “ certain independence .” In July 2007, Daniel Fried said that independence was “inevitable” even if the talks failed. Finally, in September 2007, Condoleezza Rice put it succinctly: “There's going to be an independent Kosovo. We're dedicated to that.” Europeans took cues from this line.

How and when independence was brought about was really a European problem. The Americans set the debate and the Europeans implemented it. Among Europeans, the most enthusiastic about Kosovo independence were the British and the French. The British followed the American line while the French were led by their foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, who had also served as the U.N. Kosovo administrator. The Germans were more cautiously supportive.

On Feb. 17, 2008, Kosovo declared independence and was recognized rapidly by a small number of European states and countries allied with the United States. Even before the declaration, the Europeans had created an administrative body to administer Kosovo. The Europeans, through the European Union, micromanaged the date of the declaration.

On May 15, during a conference in Ekaterinburg, the foreign ministers of India, Russia and China made a joint statement regarding Kosovo. It was read by the Russian host minister, Sergei Lavrov, and it said: “In our statement, we recorded our fundamental position that the unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo contradicts Resolution 1244. Russia, India and China encourage Belgrade and Pristina to resume talks within the framework of international law and hope they reach an agreement on all problems of that Serbian territory.”

The Europeans and Americans rejected this request as they had rejected all Russian arguments on Kosovo. The argument here was that the Kosovo situation was one of a kind because of atrocities that had been committed. The Russians argued that the level of atrocity was unclear and that, in any case, the government that committed them was long gone from Belgrade. More to the point, the Russians let it be clearly known that they would not accept the idea that Kosovo independence was a one-of-a-kind situation and that they would regard it, instead, as a new precedent for all to follow.

The problem was not that the Europeans and the Americans didn't hear the Russians. The problem was that they simply didn't believe them — they didn't take the Russians seriously. They had heard the Russians say things for many years. They did not understand three things. First, that the Russians had reached the end of their rope. Second, that Russian military capability was not what it had been in 1999. Third, and most important, NATO, the Americans and the Europeans did not recognize that they were making political decisions that they could not support militarily.

For the Russians, the transformation of NATO from a military alliance into a regional United Nations was the problem. The West argued that NATO was no longer just a military alliance but a political arbitrator for the region. If NATO does not like Serbian policies in Kosovo, it can — at its option and in opposition to U.N. rulings — intervene. It could intervene in Serbia and it intended to expand deep into the former Soviet Union. NATO thought that because it was now a political arbiter encouraging regimes to reform and not just a war-fighting system, Russian fears would actually be assuaged. To the contrary, it was Russia's worst nightmare. Compensating for all this was the fact that NATO had neglected its own military power. Now, Russia could do something about it.

At the beginning of this discourse, we explained that the underlying issues behind the Russo-Georgian war went deep into geopolitics and that it could not be understood without understanding Kosovo. It wasn't everything, but it was the single most significant event behind all of this. The war of 1999 was the framework that created the war of 2008.

The problem for NATO was that it was expanding its political reach and claims while contracting its military muscle. The Russians were expanding their military capability (after 1999 they had no place to go but up) and the West didn't notice. In 1999, the Americans and Europeans made political decisions backed by military force. In 2008, in Kosovo, they made political decisions without sufficient military force to stop a Russian response. Either they underestimated their adversary or — even more amazingly — they did not see the Russians as adversaries despite absolutely clear statements the Russians had made. No matter what warning the Russians gave, or what the history of the situation was, the West couldn't take the Russians seriously.

It began in 1999 with war in Kosovo and it ended in 2008 with the independence of Kosovo. When we study the history of the coming period, the war in Kosovo will stand out as a turning point. Whatever the humanitarian justification and the apparent ease of victory, it set the stage for the rise of Putin and the current and future crises.

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Al-Qeeda 2.0 Threat level Heats Up

Best Financial Markets Analysis ArticleSummer brings with it rumors of attacks on the U.S. homeland. Currently, we are hearing unconfirmed word of plans in place for jihadists to be dispatched from Pakistan to conduct coordinated suicide attacks against soft targets in as many as 10 U.S. cities.

This year, the rumors seem to be emerging a little later and with a little less fanfare than last year, when we saw a number of highly publicized warnings, such as that from Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and a National Intelligence Estimate saying al Qaeda was gaining strength. Last year also brought warnings from a former Israeli counterterrorism official that al Qaeda was planning a simultaneous attack against five to seven American cities, and of a dirty bomb attack against New York.

These warnings were followed by the Sept. 7, 2007, release of a video message from Osama bin Laden , who had been unseen on video since October 2004 or heard on audiotape since July 2006. Some were convinced that his reappearance — and veiled threat — signaled a looming attack against the United States, or a message to supporters to commence attacks.

However, in spite of all these warnings — and bin Laden's reappearance — no attack occurred last summer or autumn on U.S. soil. As we discussed last October, there are a number of reasons why such an attack did not happen.

We are currently working to collect more information regarding this summer's rumors. So far we cannot gauge their credibility, but they pique our interest for several reasons. First is the issue of timing, and second is the ease with which such attacks could be coordinated.

Timing is Everything

It is a busy time in U.S. politics. The Democratic National Convention (DNC) takes place this week in Denver, and the Republican National Convention (RNC) takes place next week in St. Paul, Minn. After these conventions, politics will be on the front page until the November elections. In addition, Americans are returning from summer vacations, with schools and universities resuming classes. The anniversary of the 9/11 attacks is also coming up.

While the al Qaeda core generally conduct operations when they are ready — rather than according to external calendars and anniversaries — their pattern of releasing statements on the 9/11 anniversary demonstrates their awareness of its significance and the painful emotions it evokes in the American psyche.

In 2004, just days before the U.S. presidential election, Osama bin Laden made a rare video appearance . In the video, he said al Qaeda's problem was not with the two candidates, George Bush or John Kerry, but with U.S. policy regarding the Muslim world and the situations in Iraq and Israel. Bin Laden also pointed out that neither Bush nor Kerry could be trusted to keep the United States secure from more attacks. By creating such a message and releasing it at that time, bin Laden was demonstrating his organization's understanding of the U.S. presidential election dynamic.

Furthermore, the al Qaeda core has historically planned or supported substantial operations in advance of elections. In 2004 we saw this with the Madrid train bombings , which took place prior to Spanish elections. Several other plots might also fall into category. In the summer of 2004, for example, we saw a plot to target a number of financial targets in the U.S. thwarted.

Another election-year attempt was the 2006 al Qaeda-tied plot against a series of airline flights originating from London's Heathrow airport . While the plot was hatched in the United Kingdom, the selection of flights bound for Washington, Chicago, San Francisco and New York meant that the attack was actually targeted primarily against the United States. For perspective, we look at Operation Bojinka in the mid-1990s


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