The End of the Cold War 1985-1991 by Robert Service: A Book Review Essay

Robert Service’s The End of the Cold War 1985-1991 is foremost a retelling of the nuclear arms control negotiations between the US and the Soviet Union during the Gorbachev era. Service, a long time British scholar at Oxford, is most comfortable and at his best in recounting the details of the rarefied nuclear arms reduction negotiations and does so in admirable English – without a non-specialist forced to consult a glossary of arms control terms. I, however, think that the Soviet Union fell apart as a result of its crumbling economic system brought to a head by the plummeting price of petroleum on the world market upon which the country was far too dependent. This combined with unsustainable military overreach based on decisions by a geriatric leadership that had been dying like flies in the proverbial pot full of honey prior to Gorbachev’s selection as Secretary General in 1985. Read more »

For Washington – Avoiding the Seventh Labor of Hercules

Americans across party lines are deeply dissatisfied with Washington. And well they might be, as government incompetence and corruption have become hallmarks of the daily news cycle. Congressional oversight of the Executive Branch is partisan and ineffective, with an Administration's party refusing to address problems within its agencies and the opposition party doing little else. Neither party is offering solutions.. . . Here are a few remedies. Read more »

Nativism on the March?

Has the pendulum swung away from the global spread of democracy which characterized Europe and elsewhere after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 until the Russian invasion of Georgia in 2008 and the subsequent rise and fall of the Arab Spring? The forces of reaction are powerful draws in times of turbulence and disruption - draws that we too often forget. Read more »

Lies, Damned lies and non-comparable statistics – reporting diversity at the State Department

Shortly before the Easter weekend, the State Department quietly published a partial breakdown of 2015 diversity statistics on its website. This endeavor was apparently only done at the prodding of a senior Senator. Except for data covering 2009, 2010 and 2011 Foreign Service promotions published in the State Department Magazine in June 2012, these are the only statistics broken down by ethnicity and gender that State has furnished publicly that we have seen in years. And here they are – as minimal an amount of information as could be put out there and still satisfy the Congressional request. But did they and should they be enough to mollify Congress? Read more »

Russia and Syria: What pull-out?

know it may be hard to believe after reading multiple media reports about Putin’s latest “surprise pull out from Syria” but the Kremlin did not, repeat, not, really pull its military out of Syria last week. So what were Putin's motives? Read more »

More than undiplomatic moments: State’s diversity record remains behind a hard line

I’d like to know, however, just how helpful Madeleine (1997-2001), Hillary (2009-2013) or, for that matter, Condoleezza Rice (2005-2009) were when they were Secretaries of State to women in the career Foreign Service. Albright, Rice and Clinton, after all, occupied the lofty position for a combined total of 12 years since Albright assumed it as our first female Secretary in 1997. Verbally advocating women’s rights is one thing, but actually righting a long standing injustice in one’s own department is another. Read more »

Zinky Boys: Soviet Voices from the Afghanistan War by Svetlana Alexievich – a Book Review Essay

On January 17, I heard Shostakovich’s “Fifth Symphony” performed by the Santa Fe Symphony under the baton of guest conductor Brian McAdams. The performance was excellent; the piece - by its nature - disturbing. It is a powerful, troubled and mostly discordant piece in the key of D minor. Shostakovich wrote the symphony in 1937 just as his country was enduring Stalin’s purges and Hitler was on the march in Europe. As the symphony nears its conclusion, the timpanist emits - not the familiar drum roll - but a desperately loud and throbbing solo of one solitary note after another pounding into the listener like the sound of a death-knell or a chorus of jack-boots smashing down in unison on hard cobblestone pavement. Perhaps a harbinger for the years to come. This is the same emotional pounding I experienced reading Zinky Boys – one tragic story after another proceeding in rapid-fire succession until the book finally ends in exhausted relief. Read more »

National Minorities in Putin’s Russia: Diversity and Assimilation by Federica Prino – A Book Review Essay

Since National Minorities in Putin's Russia is based on Prino's doctoral dissertation perhaps she might wish to expand her research to explore the question of emigration versus assimilation (as opposed to diversity and assimilation) for members of ethnic minorities living in the former Soviet Union. Data for the Finno-Ugrics should be easy to access from Finnish, Estonian and Swedish statistical services which is lively where many of the Karelians and Ingrains now live. Read more »

Montenegro’s NATO Membership a Threat to Whom?

Last week, Montenegro, that tiny mountainous country, population of about 662,000 on the Adriatic Coast between Bosnia and Albania, was invited to join NATO. The invitation had been nine years in the making. Whereupon the Kremlin threw a hissy-fit. Ever since this outsized reaction, I’ve been puzzling as to why the Kremlin should care whether NATO offers membership to a “mouse that roared” – especially one that should be of no consequence to almost anyone – except for possible smugglers and gun runners surreptitiously moving contraband and perhaps humans across the Adriatic to Italy or travel agencies bringing Europeans to its spectacular coast on holidays. The closest I can come to an answer – besides the well-known argument that the Russian Federation somehow thinks that not getting along with NATO is better for the country than working with NATO – is that Montenegro was one of the last parts of Yugoslavia to separate from the rump state of Serbia; that its multi-religious population includes a substantial Serbian minority (28.7%); and that Russia and Serbia still seem to retain a special relationship with Russia acting as the protector of the latter. Read more »