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 »

The Military Is Only Part of the Story

I am not running down the military. What I am saying is that military men (and women) are specialists, highly trained for one important purpose: to wage war when all else has failed, to be prepared to do so should that happen and to do so only when in possession of orders from the civilian leaders whom U.S. citizens have elected. Naturally, they must be accorded warm public appreciation when the job is well done. Those who have died must be buried with full honors. Those who are wounded or otherwise harmed must receive first rate rehabilitation administered in a timely, ungrudging fashion. While in uniform, service men and women should be protected from loan sharks, and when they need help in transitioning back into civilian society they should not be shunted into for-profit diploma mills that prepare them for nothing at tax payers’ expense. Perhaps a truly thankful bipartisan Congress could do something about ending such entrepreneurial exploitation. 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 »

Turkey – Russia

Actually, it would be easy for the Russians to keep their two bases on the Mediterranean if that's their bottom line - as it should be. However, it would mean a focus on real ISIS targets while dropping their fealty to Assad (and other dictators) in return for retention of those bases. Moreover, Moscow could offer Assad and family a safe haven somewhere in Russia – complete with a luxurious villa on a coast – and turn its military's attention and fire power to its real enemy - and I don't mean Ukraine. Read more »

Putin’s Birthday Presents

Didn’t Vladimir Putin turn 63 on October 7? Didn’t the Russian military provide him with a spectacular birthday present – the launch of 26 cruise missiles from the country’s flotilla in the landlocked Caspian Sea that very same day? It was an impressive display of night time fire power in honor of the President in Chief (or Perpetuity). . . .The increasingly likely downing of Russia’s Metrojet filled with mostly Russian holiday makers by some kind of incendiary device planted by an ISIS-affiliated terrorist group is just the latest example of how barging into someone else's conflict can have unexpected and tragic results. Russians may love spectacles – but this is not one either they or their leader bargained for. Read more »

ISIS De-Demonized: A Review Article

Only honest responsible government (not externally imposed) in Arab countries will deprive ISIS of nourishment. Until then, the U.S. can win battles, with drones, with proxies, with whatever else comes to hand, but the Middle East will remain in turmoil. And terrorism in the U.S. will continue to be largely locally grown, a product of our own gun-happy culture. Read more »

Saudis Playing with Fire

Maybe, as we renegotiate our relations with Iran, we should also be asking why Saudi Arabia is not working to create a more peaceful world instead of stirring up sectarian animosity. Perhaps this relationship, too, needs to be renegotiated. A little more distance would seem to be in order. Read more »

Jonathan Powell’s Terrorists at the Table – Book Review Essay

Powell’s latest book Terrorists at the Table: Why Negotiating is The Only Way to Peace to be released in the US June 30, 2015, tells the Northern Ireland story from the position of one of the major negotiators. But he does much more. He uses it as a vehicle, an example of lessons learned (and too often forgotten), to argue that there are times when governments need to talk with an opposition that uses violence to fight for its goals because, he argues, violence is not an end in itself but a means to an end and that end is foremost political and access to the state’s scarce resources. Read more »

The Foreign Service: Missing Once Again

Why shouldn’t the American public be just as cognizant of the lives and stories of the sacrifices American diplomats made and continue to make for this country as they are of uniformed service members or, for that matter, the journalists who cover the conflicts? Read more »

The Truth is Out

Why do I write as if I believe that the version of the events surrounding the death of Osama Bin Laden as put forth by Hersh is indeed true and reliable? For one thing, Hersh is a distinguished journalist and stubborn researcher. He isn’t going to tarnish a stellar reputation by publishing trash. Secondly, the London Review is not a tabloid surviving on scandal. It will have checked Hersh’s account very carefully before (gleefully, no doubt) publishing it. Thirdly, the official version of the Bin Laden assassination never did hold water, as I wrote when it first happened. At the time, I doubted the claim that the Pakistani military could have been unaware of Bin Laden’s presence in Abbotabad. I also thought it highly peculiar that the U.S. helicopters could have reached their target without being detected by Pakistani elements. Read more »