Who Sticks Up For Israeli Arabs?

Paul Pillar

The hang-up in current well-intentioned U.S. efforts to wring out of Israeli-Palestinian talks something that could be called a framework agreement—with the administration evidently so anxious for such a result that it is contemplating a move to buy favor with Israel that would be just as mistaken as the last time it came up—is a familiar example of each side wanting the other to move first. This sort of situation has arisen repeatedly in what we still call the Middle East peace process. The present stand-off involves implementation of a prior understanding according to which the Israelis would release some Arab prisoners while the Palestinian Authority would limit its diplomacy to talking with the Israelis and Americans rather than referring its grievances to international fora where anyone perpetuating an illegal occupation would have a decided legitimacy deficit.

Israelis are understandably reluctant whenever they are called on to release prisoners with blood on their hands. Palestinians are understandably reluctant to limit themselves perpetually to a talkfest that, 47 years and 650,000 Israeli settlers after the occupation began, still leaves them stateless.

The reluctance to go first is old. What is new in this round of the talkfest is the Netanyahu's government insistence that the Palestinian Authority perform some sort of anointment of Israel—the full and formal name of which is “State of Israel,” and which the Palestinians long ago formally recognized—as a “Jewish state”. The demand regarding the “Jewish state” formulation was not one that ever appeared during negotiation of Israeli peace treaties with Egypt and Jordan, when indefinite delay was not an Israeli government objective.

Robert Satloff makes one of the more game and creative efforts to rationalize this inconsistency by saying that the conflicts with Egypt and Jordan were “essentially territorial disputes” whereas the one with the Palestinians is “existential” and raises “deep in the minds of many Israelis” that the Palestinians with whom they are negotiating “have a long-term plan to destroy Israel.” The idea of such an existential threat to an Israel that is overwhelmingly more powerful than the Palestinians and would remain so with a two-state solution is, of course, risible. It might cease to become so only over the long-term, and only because of demographic reasons and not secret plans, in the absence of a two-state solution. 

The Palestinian leadership is understandably resistant to the “Jewish state” demand partly because it would implicitly bias how to resolve the “right of return” issue, which today is really more an issue of right to compensation. The reluctance also is understandable because acceding to the demand would mean having Palestinian leaders explicitly endorsing second-class status for Arabs within Israel. That latter factor gets back to the current impasse over release of prisoners. Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas says Arab Israeli prisoners should be included in the release; the Israeli government strongly opposes including them and contends that was never part of its understanding with the Palestinian Authority.

So there is another inconsistency at hand. The “Jewish state” demand implicitly draws a line that leaves on the outside the more than 20 percent of Israel's residents who are not Jewish. But the Israeli government has drawn another line that also leaves these people outside the orbit of those on whose behalf Abbas can speak or negotiate.

Israeli Arabs do have some political rights, being able to vote and elect members of the Knesset—although with an unwritten rule that Arab representatives can never be part of a governing coalition or form part of the necessary support for one. That would hardly make any less offensive a Palestinian Arab leader endorsing their second class status. The fact that there exist U.S. Congressional districts with large Jewish populations that regularly elect Jewish representatives would not make it any less offensive (and not just to the establishment clause of the Constitution) if the United States were to declare itself a “Christian state” and to insist that other nations declare it so as well.

The “Jewish state” demand is clearly another way for the current Israeli government to avoid coming to closure on creating a Palestinian state while seeking to attribute blame for any breakdown of negotiations to the Palestinians. It thus is a way to continue the occupation indefinitely without admitting that this is what is happening.

More broadly, the tactic is yet another indication of this Israeli government's refusal to recognize, as a geographic and demographic reality, that Israel cannot be democratic, Jewish, and sovereign over all the land between the Mediterranean and the Jordan. It can be any two of those things but not all three. Netanyahu's government has in effect chosen, without admitting it, democracy as the characteristic to be discarded. This choice is the fundamental reason this round of negotiations, although it was admirable for the U.S. administration to have a go at it, faces failure. 

TopicsHuman RightsReligionPost-Conflict RegionsIsraelUnited StatesPalestinian territories

The Forgotten Principles of Deterrence

Paul Pillar

An irony of how the events in Ukraine and the associated altercation with Russia have thrown many commentators and policy critics into a Cold War mode is that those same commentators and critics seem to have forgotten (or never learned) much relevant doctrine that was developed and honed during the real Cold War. The doctrine in question embraces many principles involving any attempt to exert power and to exercise influence over other states. The most relevant aspects of doctrine involve deterrence—using threats to dissuade someone from doing something we do not want done—as well as some related concepts also involving coercive methods of trying to influence an adversary's behavior.

Sophisticated treatment of these topics can become somewhat complicated, getting into such matters as multiple levels of deterrence and stability-instability paradoxes. But what much of the commentary on current issues ignores is really rather simple. It is stuff that should be apparent upon careful but straightforward thinking about the objectives, costs, and benefits that apply to the people on the other side of a conflict. Although applications of the principles have endless variations, the principles themselves are immutable. Probably what is still the clearest statement of them came during the height of the Cold War from Thomas Schelling, who received the Nobel memorial prize in economics largely for that work.

One major point of doctrine that has been routinely ignored in the recent commentary is that successful deterrence depends on much more than just the reputation of the deterring state and its demonstrated willingness to use coercion. It depends at least as much on characteristics of the particular conflict, including how much of a stake each side feels it has in it. We should have learned this lesson with the Vietnam War. The United States went so far in demonstrating its willingness to use costly force that it built up an army of over a half million in Vietnam and fought so long that it suffered over 50,000 combat deaths. But it was unable to deter the regime in the north from waging continued war in the south because the nationalist objective of uniting a Vietnam free of foreign domination was much more important to that regime than the United States's objectives in Vietnam were to it.

I have commented previously on the fallacious nature of the notion that for the United States not to take up a gauntlet in one conflict makes it more likely that some adversary in an unrelated conflict elsewhere on the globe would do aggressive things that it would not otherwise have done. Yet that notion persists, most recently in the assertion that Vladimir Putin would not have seized Crimea if the United States had only shown more toughness elsewhere. For many, of course, such an assertion is just one more disingenuous way for Barack Obama's political opponents to bash him. But the notion gets repeated so often that many who hear it, and at least some who say it, probably believe it.

This mistaken belief is related to another erroneous notion about deterrence, which is that taking coercive action against an adversary provides deterrence, rather than making such action conditional on the adversary doing certain carefully defined things we do not want him to do. Senator John McCain exhibited this mistake when he bemoaned how the modest steps the Europeans have taken in response to the situation in Ukraine would not deter Putin. He's right about that, but not because, as he further comments, commercial interests of the Europeans keep them from implementing harsher measures now. From exactly what are we trying to deter Putin? He says he has no intention of seizing any more of Ukraine after Crimea. We may have good reason to worry about the possibility that he might do so anyway, but he has not done so yet. Unconditionally imposing costs when he has not yet done so may satisfy political and other urges on our side, but it lacks deterrence value.

In some situations there may be a grain of truth, which can be found in Schelling's writings, in the idea that doing something forceful now can enhance deterrence against a future contingency, if the forceful action demonstrates a willingness to act in response to that particular contingency and there was reason to doubt that we would so act. But if there is not good reason for that doubt, again there is no deterrence value. The clearest recent instance of this fallacy was the failed attempt in the U.S. Congress to enact more anti-Iran sanctions legislation under the rationale that this would deter the Iranians from stalling or abandoning the negotiations. In fact, one of the least needed things to demonstrate to Tehran, given the now long history of overwhelming support in the Congress for serial enactment of sanctions against Iran, is a willingness to impose quickly still more sanctions if the Iranians did not negotiate seriously. There was disingenuousness here, too, in that much of the push for the legislation came from those who want negotiations with Iran to fail. But once again there were others who sincerely, but mistakenly, believed in the rationale.

A principle repeatedly ignored in American discourse is that in attempting to influence an adversary's behavior, getting him to believe he will not be punished if he behaves as we wish is just as important as getting him to believe that he will be punished if he does not so behave. This is true not only in situations of true deterrence, in which we want to prevent something from happening, but also in situations, for which Schelling created the term compellence, in which we want the other side to take action it is not currently taking. The principle is repeatedly ignored in discussions about the nuclear negotiations with Iran, in which a challenge much greater than convincing Iranians of American willingness to inflict more punishment is to convince them that punishment will end if they strike a deal satisfactory to us.

A similar deficiency in thinking has begun to infect the public discourse about Ukraine. Exactly what do we want from Putin at this point? Presumably it is more than just not invading eastern Ukraine, and includes positive, cooperative behavior in fashioning a settlement in which a Crimea-less but otherwise whole Ukraine can live in greater peace and prosperity and have positive relations with all its neighbors. What that behavior should be must be clear in our own minds and statements and thus clear in Putin's mind as well for any coercive or punitive action at this time to have compellent value.

Also too frequently ignored is attention to the costs of carrying out a threat—costs not just to the target of the threat, but to the side that would execute it. This attention is important not only to calculate costs and benefits if the threat ever did get carried out, but also because of how this affects credibility of the threat itself. If the other side does not believe the threat ever would be executed because doing so would be highly costly and damaging to the side making the threat, there again is no deterrent value. Such threats are worse than useless, because they risk exposing us as bluffers. Any show of military force by the United States in the vicinity of Ukraine (not the minor redeployments that merely provide some reassurance to Poland and the Baltic states) would exhibit this problem, given the patent folly for the United States to engage in a war with Russia, especially in Russia's backyard and especially given the much greater importance to Russia than to the United States of the distribution of power in this region.

Anyone guilty of exhibiting any of these mistaken ideas should take a refresher course in deterrence. If you yearn to be a Cold Warrior again, that should be one of the first things to do. Reading (or re-reading) Schelling would be a good way to fulfill that requirement.

TopicsCongressDefenseGreat PowersSanctions RegionsRussiaIranUnited StatesUkraine

Forever On The Backburner: The Ukraine Crisis Usurps The Asia Pivot

The Buzz

No one can make the argument that Asia is not important to the United States. The Obama Administration has not been shy about voicing its commitment to the pivot/re-balance, with National Security Advisor Ambassador Susan Rice commenting how the Asia-Pacific remains “a cornerstone of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy” and that “no matter how many hotspots emerge elsewhere, we will continue to deepen our enduring commitment to this critical region” during her remarks at Georgetown University last November. Now the world is currently in the grip of such a hotspot, as the uncertainty of what will transpire between Russia and Ukraine continues to grow. The Obama Administration has understandably been at the forefront, including imposing sanctions against Russia. But this does not excuse forgetting about one’s own policies, especially one like the pivot/re-balance which is being watched closely by both allies and skeptics the world over. Yet this is exactly what happened. Like the government shutdown, the Ukraine crisis has proved that the Obama administration is more reactionary than forward-looking, which is detrimental to the pivot/re-balance actually living up to its hype.

The government shutdown last year, which prevented President Obama from visiting Asia during both the APEC and East Asia Summits, was the most recent red flag for the validity of the pivot/re-balance. Many countries, particularly in Southeast Asia, were concerned that the United States would not be able to fulfill its commitments to the region if it could not control its own domestic issues. Of even greater concern is how U.S. allies such as Japan saw this negative symbolism. At the East-West Center on March 5, Dr. Nobuhiro Aizawa, a researcher from Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO), stated that the uptick of questioning the closeness of Japan towards the United States policy-wise had gained steam from Obama’s inability to attend the summits last October. According to him “the word pivot is there but symbolically speaking Obama not showing up to the meetings was a negative image, when you talk about public diplomacy this matters very much.”

Now, those concerns are exacerbated by the recently announced U.S. defense budget cuts. Earlier reassurances that the pivot/re-balance would be unaffected by such cuts were contradicted on March 5 when Katrina McFarland, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, stated that “Right now, the pivot is being looked at again, because candidly it can’t happen.”Although there is no call for scrapping the pivot/re-balance, this statement would do little to alleviate the concerns felt by U.S. allies and partners in the region. Clearly, the best response would be direct addressing of these concerns by someone in a position of authority who could show that the Obama Administration still is fully behind making the pivot/re-balance a reality.

Such an opportunity came on March 6 when the Brookings Institution hosted former National Security Advisor Tom Donilon to speak at an event titled “A Review of the ‘Asia Rebalance’ and A Preview of the President’s Trip to the Region.” However, aside from making a very broad overview of what the pivot/re-balance is and speaking the general Administration rhetoric that “the rebalance to Asia was the right strategy in 2008 and remains so today” because “it is rooted in the recognition of America’s role in Asia,” the rest of the talk did not focus on the pivot/re-balance or even Asia itself. Rather the event became all about Russia and Ukraine. It started off innocently enough, with the moderator asking Mr. Donilon’s thoughts on how China would address the Ukraine crisis. That, at least, was relevant to Asia since Mr. Donilon addressed the conundrum facing China over its high value on non-interference would be in conflict with its relationship with Russia. But after that it became the Russia-Ukraine show, including during the Q&A session. Neither Mr. Donilon nor any of the participants in the audience tried to steer the conversation back to the pivot/re-balance. As for the President’s upcoming April visit, which has been touted to make up for his inability to visit last time, nothing whatsoever was mentioned.

Luckily, there was some discussion of the President’s upcoming visit at The Heritage Foundation on March 19. Each of the speakers put their fingers on the exact issues that are central to the skepticism that many countries in Asia still feel about the United States’ commitment to the pivot. According to Mr. Bruce Klinger, a Senior Fellow in the Asia Center at Heritage, “there is no pivot” because not only are no forces from the Middle East or Europe being rotated to Asia but no new forces are being sent there either. With the recently announced budget cuts and leftover concerns from sequestration this concern is not likely to go away anytime soon. Japan and South Korea are particularly concerned about U.S. security commitments following the waffling of the Obama Administration after the Syria “red line” was crossed. Since the United States did not follow through then what will guarantee that it follows through if China or North Korea cross similar lines? In order to start addressing these concerns, Walter Lohman, Director of Heritage’s Asia Center, stated that President Obama needs to come back with a concrete plan, such as an agreement with the Philippines to start rotating U.S. troops through there. Only then will countries in Asia begin to see some reality in the rhetoric.

After the Brookings event, I was glad for some candor at Heritage concerning the Obama Administration’s failures to address the pivot/re-balance. Rather than show that it can be forward-thinking and plan for a continuance of political and economic cooperation and cultural integration with Asia, it continues to run off after the newest hotspot at full steam ahead. What will happen if something arises in either Russia or Ukraine? Will Obama cancel yet another visit? Will rhetoric once again trump reality and harm U.S. credibility in Asia? If he does, woe be to the pivot/re-balance’s chances of success.

Image: State Department Flickr.

TopicsGreat Powers RegionsAsia

Why Crimea Matters to America and Asia

The Buzz

There are lessons aplenty for the United States and Asia as the Crimea crisis proceeds. For the most part, they are drawn with a broad brush: most crudely, Moscow’s annexation of Crimea is seen as the precursor of a similar land grab by Beijing. More generally, the US must stiffen its spine or it will be beaten in the grand strategic game played out by leaders who are more hard-headed and focused on the expansion of national interests and influence. There are, however, other more subtle lessons to be learned and they are likely to be even more important for policy makers.

First, Realism remains the coin of the realm in foreign policy. Hopes that post-industrial society and globalization would temper the hard power impulses of world leaders have been exposed as empty: substantial economic integration with Europe and the West did not stop Russian President Vladimir Putin from a surreptitious invasion and redrawing national borders, even at considerable economic, diplomatic, and status costs.

Second, this Realism is characterized by more subtle uses of force: scalpels, not cleavers. Moscow’s resort to unmarked forces to occupy Crimea, though widely recognized as Russian, and the refusal to acknowledge the charade, indicates the need for more creative contingency planning.

Third, national identity matters. Of course, Russia has deep concern about the strategic implications of control over Crimea, but Moscow played the national identity card – the fact that Russians and “Russian speaking people” (a problematic characterization) were threatened – to justify its actions. Too often, national identity is derided or dismissed as soft or squishy, an indeterminate element in policy making. Yet national identity concerns are powerful motivators for action throughout Asia, even if they don’t rise to the level of invasion.

Fourth, and following from that recognition, Asia must be alert to the destabilizing effects of irredentism. The region is dotted with potential irredentist claims, in some cases the legacy of colonial borders that were drawn with little regard to ethnic groups and in other cases post-imperial borders that were settled politically but remain susceptible to challenge. China’s periphery is dotted with potential hotspots, from Korean communities in the northeast to Burmese groups in the southwest. Other communities straddle borders throughout the region. While these groups facilitate cross border exchange, they also create transnational economic interests that could be used to stake a claim or destabilize a neighbor. Of course, every diaspora isn’t a fifth column in waiting, but the Crimean case shows ways these groups can be exploited.

Fifth, the temptation to geopolitically balance is powerful even when it risks undermining principles that serve national interests. China’s failure at the United Nations to condemn the Crimean referendum is inconsistent with its cherished “noninterference” principle and runs contrary to its long-stated policy vis-à-vis Taiwan and other “splittist” regions. Beijing insists that Taiwan cannot make decisions about its future alone; all 1.3 billion Chinese must participate in any vote. The Ukrainian constitution makes the same claim. Plainly, Beijing should have condemned the referendum in Crimea for setting a nasty precedent that directly challenged its interests. Instead, however, China took a neutral stance by abstaining on the vote. The inclination to balance with Russia against the West was too compelling to resist.

Sixth, the United States and its partners need to acknowledge the limits of US power and influence. No matter what Western sympathies, Washington had a weak hand to play when responding to Russia. It had no military options and its engagement with Ukraine in other spheres was weak. Its national interest in a particular outcome in Crimea was limited, certainly when compared to Russia and even compared to other European nations. Given this reality, chest-thumping rhetoric only highlights the limits of US power and contributes to a perception of weakness. Washington must be extremely careful about drawing red lines and honoring them when they are crossed.

Seventh, and consequent to that last point, the European Union should be leading the response to the crisis. Europe has a greater stake in developments in Crimea, and more levers to both assist Kiev and punish Russia than does the US. The larger lesson is that regional organizations should be preparing for and taking the lead in responding to regional crises. The US should be working closely with groups that are closest to a crisis and best understand and appreciate its complexities. That demands both capacity and will. Asian institutions and security mechanisms look conspicuously ill prepared for this assignment.

Eighth, and related to points five and six, diplomatic and economic responses can be powerful foreign policy tools. Their effective use, however, depends on close coordination among Washington and its allies and partners, and have to be skillfully crafted – again, scalpels, not cleavers – to maximize their impact. Done properly, they can exact a real toll on adversaries, perhaps even greater than a military response. Sanctions in response to the Crimea annexation aim to crack and split Putin’s inner circle; Russia’s tumbling stock market and the plummeting value of the ruble are amplifying that toll. Even if the prospect of economic losses won’t deter aggression – remember point 1 – they can still hurt an aggressor and separate a government from its supporters and enablers.

Finally, the US needs to double down on the rebalance but with greater clarity in its messaging. As the Crimea crisis unfolded, Europeans warned that Russia’s land grab was the inevitable result of the rebalance, while Asians feared that a crisis on the continent’s doorstop would shift US attention away from their region. Neither is true. Putin acted because he feared loss of control of Ukraine, a sign of Western strength, not weakness. The US remains committed to Ukraine; more importantly, Washington has demonstrated the ability to muster a strong response within its current foreign policy framework. This is not 2001, when a terrorist strike halted a transition in US foreign policy – from Europe to Asia – that was in progress.

The strategic rationale for the rebalance remains as compelling as ever. The US needs to yoke itself to the world’s most dynamic region to harness its economic energies. Indeed, the lessons of the Crimean experience outlined here in many ways validate the logic and key elements of the rebalance: the emphasis on political and economic components of the US foreign policy tool box, the need to work more closely with allies and partners, and the need to strengthen regional security institutions. Contrary to some of the loudest voices in recent weeks, events involving the Crimea and Ukraine confirm core elements of US foreign policy; they don’t repudiate them. That is the most important lesson.

Brad Glosserman is the executive director of the Pacific Forum CSIS. This article originally appeared in PACNET #23 which can be found here.

Image: U.S. State Department Flickr.

TopicsSecurity RegionsNortheast Asia

The Sheldon Primary

Paul Pillar

From the 1890s until finally outlawed by the Supreme Court some fifty years later, one device used in the segregated South to maintain the white power structure and to prevent blacks from any effective political role was called the white primary. This was a sort of preliminary election, open only to white Democrats, that ostensibly was a nonofficial event not run by the state and thus did not adhere to laws and constitutional principles providing for equal treatment and universal voting rights. There would be a later official election in which blacks could vote, but it usually was meaningless because electoral contests had in effect already been decided in the white primary.

Now we have a procedure reminiscent of the white primary that is being called the “Sheldon primary,” as in political bankroller Sheldon Adelson. Republican presidential hopefuls are kneeling at the feet of the casino magnate in the hope of receiving his blessing, and thus his money, as the party's nominee for 2016. It seems that Adelson, who together with his wife dropped $93 million on political campaigns in 2012, has concluded that he erred in that year in backing for too long candidates whose ideology appealed most to him but ultimately proved unelectable. This time he wants to anoint early on someone he can stick with right through the general election. He doesn't want to see messy primary contests that would weaken the eventual nominee. If things work the way Adelson wants—and that he is willing and able to pay to make them work that way—caucuses in Iowa or the primary in New Hampshire will matter less than the Sheldon primary. Last time he let us have a good hard look at the likes of Newt Gingrich while votes in Republican primaries still meant something. Next time he doesn't want primary voters to have that much of a choice.

For this man who will likely have such enormous influence on who will be the Republican presidential nominee, the Republican party isn't even his first love among political parties. That would be the Likud party. Adelson's money also plays a very big role in Israeli politics, much of it in subsidizing a free-distribution newspaper, Israel HaYom, which has the largest circulation of any daily newspaper in Israel and functions as a cheerleader for Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud.

Nor is the United States Adelson's first love among countries. He has said that when he performed military service as a young man it “unfortunately” was in a U.S. uniform rather than an Israeli one. He has expressed the wish that his son become a sniper in the Israeli Defense Forces.

Back in the United States, Adelson does have some unsurprising plutocratic impulses, but with a blatantly narrow focus. Perhaps when the objective is to advance the interests not only of the one percent, but of whatever small fraction of one percent that an estimated net worth of $38 billion makes a person a part of, narrowness is inevitable. Adelson's biggest push for, and most lavish financing of, a domestic U.S. issue is his attempt to get online gambling outlawed. The ostensible purpose is to protect the morals of our youth, but of course it also would protect the market share of his casinos.

Adelson's most distinctive foreign policy pronouncement is that a nuclear weapon should be dropped on Iran.

The Sheldon primary is the sort of thing we get when the Supreme Court, an earlier incarnation of which eliminated the white primary, shreds efforts to limit the role of money in U.S. elections. Even if that mistake cannot be corrected, voters—including those Republican primary voters in New Hampshire and elsewhere—ought at least to be fully aware of what type of man is trying to use his wealth to make their choice for them.

TopicsDomestic PoliticsElections RegionsIsraelUnited States