reflections

Geopolitical Diary: As Summits End, Two Powers Make Opening Moves

4 MINS READApr 9, 2009 | 00:50 GMT
Wednesday was the first summit-free day after more than a week of meetings among world leaders — and they wasted no time getting back to work. The United States announced that it intends to join multilateral nuclear talks with Iran. Meanwhile, two revolutions appear to be brewing in Russia’s periphery — a campaign to throw out the president in Georgia and what looks to be a pro-Western movement in Moldova. The April summits were a rough-and-tumble series of bilateral and multilateral meetings bringing together the members of the G-20, NATO and the European Union; in essence, they gave world leaders a chance to compare notes and make their intentions known. And with the recent transition in U.S. leadership, a chance to check in with one another was useful for all. That is not to say that every wish was fulfilled. Though Washington was able to secure additional commitments for the war in Afghanistan from NATO allies, the support was token at best: 3,000 of the 5,000 extra troops promised will be committed to the war effort only temporarily. For the United States, the failure to get substantial support from Europe to combat the Afghan insurgency means that Washington is feeling greater urgency to wrap up its campaign in Iraq. But since the Americans have been left more or less to fend for themselves in Afghanistan, they will have to work out a deal with Iran over what the Middle East will look like, post-U.S. occupation. Wednesday’s announcement that the United States would join already-established negotiations between Iran and U.N. Security Council members demonstrates that Washington is ready to move to talks with Tehran — even on the issue of nuclear technology, which only tangentially relates to the post-war Iraq issue. If the United States can wrap up its business in Iraq and fully implement the drawdown, Washington not only will be able to reinforce troops currently stationed in Afghanistan, but also might have some additional leeway to work on strategic goals in other areas. A drawdown in Iraq will not happen overnight, but when it does happen, the United States will find itself with significantly more room to maneuver a battle-hardened military that is now accustomed to a high deployment tempo. Though the U.S. military is weary and battle-worn at present, a significant drawdown would give Washington the ability to extend influence globally and with significantly greater flexibility, even with a large number of troops deployed to Afghanistan. And that’s where Russia comes in. With the prospect of U.S. military capability broadening in the next year or two, Russia needs to assert itself in Europe and re-establish control over its own periphery — to which NATO has been getting uncomfortably close — before the Americans regain ground combat power. Since U.S. President Barack Obama’s inauguration, Russia has held its cards close, waiting to see how the new U.S. administration will play its own hand strategically. Moscow is particularly interested in the U.S. response to Russia’s clear moves for increased power in Eurasia – which have included the Russo-Georgian war in August 2008, natural gas cutoffs affecting Europe and political maneuvering in Central Asia. But with the emergence of what appears to be a revolution in the making to unseat Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, Russia seems ready to make some serious moves of its own. Meanwhile, opposition groups in Moldova have been forming a movement to threaten the communist government in Chisinau, and Moldova and Russia are rife with rumors that Romania, a NATO state, instigated this week’s uprising. At last week's summits, the rules were read out, and now both the United States and Russia have made their opening plays. The game is on.

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