G2 CHINA-USA , disguised as G20 marches on while Europe plays "charade politics".....or is it that OBOMBA is a good CIA actor...???
As the new great game in Eurasia rumbles on, Europe in theory now has a unified voice. It's an open question whether this will make any difference to key players such as China, Russia or the energy-rich "stans" in Central Asia.
Europeans were expecting bubbly Veuve Clicquot champagne. Instead, they were handed flat cola. The official European Union (EU) theme should not be Beethoven's Ode to Joy but rather the soundtrack for Claude Lelouch's cheesy 1960s epic Un Homme et une Femme, the immortal "shaba daba da ... shaba daba da ..."
With Belgian Herman van Rompuy now chosen as president of the European Council (along with his sidekick, the quasi-EU foreign affairs minister, British Baroness Catherine Ashton), it's fair to argue most of the world now tends to see him as "President of Europe" - the number one trade and economic power in the world. But ask indigenous people in Bolivia, Laos or Mali and they would rather identify the duo as the white, bisexual, ultra-politically correct face of former colonialists.
The dashing duo was not directly elected by the citizens of the EU; it was chosen after a Byzantine/Machiavellian process carried out by 27 heads of state and slanted by heavyweights France and Germany. Green icon, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, dubbed this masterpiece of opacity "a caricature of democracy". For all the lofty ideals of continental integration, a large contingent of European citizens remains absolutely horrified by the perspective of a European state while those who expect a lot from an unified Europe are usually, cruelly disappointed. Anyway it will be an uphill struggle to convince tens of millions that "The Voice" of unified Europe is now Van Rompuy's when people were expecting nothing short of an European Barack Obama.
Ask the Chinese leadership in Beijing and off the record they might subtly imply that the immortal 1970s Henry Kissinger question still persists: "Which number do I dial when I want to talk to Europe?" US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may still harbor Kissingerian doubts - even after the European Commission (EC) president, Joao Manuel Barroso, unmistakably stated she "should call Cathy Ashton".
And nobody is exactly sure, in this new round of European integration, what the provisions of the Lisbon Treaty - which comes into effect this Tuesday - did in fact accomplish. For instance, the new appointments are unlikely to reduce by one the number of EU representatives in the United Nations Security Council. Not only France and Britain won't have to be represented by the EU; Germany for its side wants to be part of a revamped, expanded Security Council.
Lady Ashton, I presume?
"Herman who?" cried European and world media in unison last November 19. The multilingual Van Rompuy, 62, is an anti-charisma Flemish Christian Democrat, and has been Belgium's prime minister for only one year. His profile would fit a Vatican insider. He is a lover of haikus (Japanese poetry) and considered a very tough negotiator - but definitely not a visionary.
Ashton, 53, and - how delightful - a Labour Party baroness, is the former EU trade commissioner, discreet and consensus-prone, as the BBC described her. The so-called unified voice of the EU on foreign policy - the EU's Hillary - never held elected office and has no foreign policy experience; until recently she was negotiating trade deals with South Korea. Baroness Ashton said she would pursue a policy of "quiet diplomacy" - which sharp tongues in Brussels already qualify as quiet to the point of irrelevance.
For billions around the world, the EU machine is as enigmatic as quantum physics. Brussels would say a unified presidency guarantees "more stability". The new president could never be too powerful; he cannot play the role of a head of state and cannot be compared to the presidents of the US or China. He is in essence a good coordinator - a super-bureaucrat. As for the baroness, she will be the go-between between the 27 member states and the EU's executive power, the EC. Her main role will be as a sort of coordinator on defense and security policy.
At least the EU managed the feat of getting rid of crusader former British premier Tony Blair - who still justifies the war on Iraq as a matter of "faith in democracy". Ashton was the consolation prize for the Brits for the EU dumping of Blair. Eyebrows remain raised in both Paris and Berlin that Britain - which accepts neither the euro nor the Schengen treaty allowing free circulation of people, and remains to the millimeter aligned with the US - now represents the EU's foreign policy.
Washington of course loved it; Obama stated the duo would strengthen the transatlantic relationship. But Turkey, for instance, was horrified, as Van Rompuy is dead set against Turkey's drive to join the EU as a member state. Anyway, the complex negotiations with Turkey will continue to be led by the commissioner responsible for enlargement, and not Van Rompuy.
I want champagne in my pipeline
Europeans expect that at least their new energy pipelines won't be filled with Canada Dry. It will be very enlightening to see Europe's so-called new voice and "quiet diplomacy" applied to the things in life that really matter, for instance energy security - or Pipelineistan.
Pipelineistan will continue to fall under the EC's trade and energy portfolios. This means that on a commercial level, the people from the EC will continue to be more powerful than Van Rompuy. By the same token, humanitarian aid and development - the EU is the biggest donor in the world - will still fall under EC powers. In short, EC president Joao Manuel Barroso's people remain more powerful in terms of decision-making than the new dashing duo.
The "unified" EU is in deep trouble in Pipelineistan. A key issue is the Nord Stream gas pipeline from Russia to Germany via Finland, Sweden and Denmark - what the Wall Street Journal delightfully called in early November "the Molotov-Ribbentrop pipeline".  This Pipelineistan gambit is not about attacking but rather conspicuously bypassing Poland alongside the "new Europe" Baltic states. Washington - still reeling from its insurmountable problems in Central Asia - is furious about it.
Nord Stream - registered in Switzerland and controlled by Russia's Gazprom - means that Germany's energy security has no place for those pesky Eastern Europeans. And this will inevitably translate as less US intrusion in German internal affairs via its "new Europe" American vassals. The balance of power in Europe has changed. Historically, France was always the counterweight to Germany. All over the 20th century the Anglo-US axis played the rivalry to its advantage.
This is over. Germany and Russia, as they have done in the past, are getting closer again. Very few in Europe - and even in Eastern Europe - are keen to send more North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops to wallow in the US quagmire in Afghanistan, or to renounce juicy dividends from Russian Pipelineistan. The bottom line is that the Van Rompuy/Ashton duo will not force Germany to share its power with Eastern Europe. And Germany would never dream of sacrificing its energy security to the mirage of "European solidarity".
The new great game in Eurasia never sleeps. Apart from Nord Stream, there's also what the EC calls its "strategic priority" - the Southern Corridor, of which the superstar is the perennially troubled Nabucco pipeline. Still no one knows all across Europe whether Nabucco is feasible.
While Europe dithers the Caucasus and Central Asia are advancing bold Pipelineistan moves. Caspian states Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan are now committed to building the Baku-Black Sea pipeline. Oil from Kazakhstan will thus get to tankers in the Black Sea, reaching Romania and then the planned Pan-European Pipeline from Constanta to Trieste. This means in effect that Kazakhstan is about to set up its own, non-Russian-dependent energy corridor to South-Central Europe.
In the gas front things are much more complicated. It all depends on what inscrutable Turkmenistan will be up to. Will it be able to commit enough of its gas - currently exported via Russia - as to prompt a Western consortium to finally build the holy grail, a Trans-Caspian gas pipeline from Turkmenbashi to Baku with a connection to Nabucco?
In Turkmenistan, the EU is in direct competition with none other than China. Beijing, at its usual, no nonsense breakneck pace, has practically finished a China-Turkmenistan pipeline. And Russia will be back to importing Turkmen gas by early 2010, most of which will be resold to Europe at an enormously inflated price. This spells Russia in control, not Turkmenistan.
In sum, Kazakhstan will soon be heavily exporting oil to Europe. Azerbaijan is now positioned as both a key producer and transit country between the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea. Turkey is definitely positioned as the top energy hub in the world - conduit for Russia's South Stream and probable conduit if ever Nabucco gets built. Turkmenistan is already selling to Iran and wants to reach South Asia by all Pipelineistan nodes necessary, even the fabled Trans-Afghan pipeline. Russia and China are key Pipelineistan actors - as top producer and top consumer. In the New Great Game in Eurasia - the Pipelineistan chapter - the EU keeps playing in the junior league as neither Brussels nor an array of European capitals seem to be able to coordinate what they pompously call their energy security.
Mr Wen, care for some cheap euros?
As for the Kissinger question, it simply won't go away. In sum, President Barack Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao will still be playing bilateral politics - and calling French President Nicolas Sarkozy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel or British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, not Van Rompuy.
And whatever shaba daba da changes come into effect, any weak yuan discussions will continue to fall under the EC's Economic and Monetary Affairs commissioner. The spectacle of the EU Chamber of Commerce in China complaining about Chinese industrial overcapacity or about the weak yuan (because it hurts pricey European exports) - as they have done in a meeting this weekend in Nanjing - is also bound to continue.
It would be risible to expect the governor of the Chinese Central Bank, Zhou Xiaochuan - the de facto second-most powerful man in the country - to roll over to the EU's wishes. Prime Minister Wen Jiabao put things in perspective as he insisted on a stable yuan as "crucial to Chinese economic stability".
And as the EU rotating presidency is still in effect it was up to the Swedes, via Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, to come to Nanjing and deploy to the Chinese the usual menu. Please soften up North Korea and Myanmar. And please talk not sense but sanctions to the Iranian leadership - even while China keeps stressing its absolute non-interference in other countries' internal matters. On Iran, few in "unified" Brussels seem to have listened to the Chinese ambassador to the EU, Song Zhe, when he said last week, "We must be very cautious to conclude that peaceful nuclear technology will be used for military ends." Iran is absolutely essential for Chinese energy security.
Watching all this, one would be excused for wondering if, as the dashing duo of Van Rompuy and Ashton prepares its shaba daba da routine, the silky Chinese caravan will steadily be marching on towards unforetold, ever more auspicious, riches....
As Barack Obama arrives in Sweden to collect his ill-deserved Nobel Prize, the celebrations expose an awful truth: Europe’s admiration for its ideal of an American president is not reciprocated. Obama seems to bear Europeans no ill will. But he has quickly learned to view them with the attitude that they find hardest to endure – indifference.
We are entering a post-American world – the world beyond America’s brief moment of global domination. Obama’s administration understands this, and has responded with what it calls a “multi-partner strategy.” Whether it is the Chinese for the global economy, or Russia for nuclear disarmament, the United States will now work with whomever can help it get the results it wants – thus ensuring that it remains the “indispensable nation.”
No rejection or exclusion of Europeans is intended. Americans understand that Europe, as the other major repository of democratic legitimacy, wealth, and military power, has great potential as a partner. Obama spelled this out during his first trip to Europe as president, at the NATO summit in April. But if Europe fails to respond, Obama will look elsewhere for the partners he needs, unconstrained by anxious European invocations of “special relationships” or “the Atlantic community of values.”
Obama’s approach is self-avowedly pragmatic. His observation that the US-China relationship will shape the twenty-first century was not a statement of preference, but an acknowledgement of reality.
All this is a rude shock for Europe. The late twentieth century worked so well for Europeans. In exchange for political solidarity, the US protected them and gave them the role of junior associates in running the world.
Attitudes formed in such congenial circumstances die hard. Thus, 20 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia spends only half what Europeans do on defense – yet Europe still clings to the notion that its security depends on American protection. In the same spirit, Europeans resolutely refuse to accept that the US might legitimately have different geopolitical interests – so that when US policies diverge from their own, Europeans assume that the Americans simply got it wrong, and that they clearly need Europe’s wise advice to set them straight.
Such a mindset naturally puts a huge premium on close and harmonious transatlantic relations, to the point that, for Europeans, closeness and harmony become the objective itself, without reference to what ends they might serve. Europeans, in short, fetishize the transatlantic relationship.
In relation to Russia and China, the European Union’s member states generally recognize that a more united European stance, however difficult to achieve in practice, would be desirable. But there is no such recognition in relation to the US. On the contrary, European elites seem to feel that “ganging up” on the US would be improper.
So, for most European states, transatlantic relations are primarily about NATO and their bilateral links with the US. After all, it is not just the British who believe themselves to have a “special relationship”; most of the EU’s member states like to believe that they have a particular “in” with America which gives them a special influence. Accordingly, national rather than collective approaches to the US predominate, based largely on strategies of ingratiation – each European state tries to present itself as more useful, or at least more sympathetic, than its European competitors.
From America’s perspective, this can often be advantageous. If Europeans want to be divided and ruled, the US is happy to oblige. America can take its time deciding on a new strategy in Afghanistan without considering European views, despite the presence of more than 30,000 European troops in the country. Similarly, it suits the US that Europe should remain on the sidelines of the Israel-Palestine conflict while paying €1 billion a year to finance the stalemate.
Yet, despite these advantages, America is irked by the constant European clamor for access and attention. Such neediness would be easier to bear if it were accompanied by a greater readiness to take real action. All these different Europeans are able to talk a good game, but few are ready to get their hands dirty. Seen from Washington, Europe’s attention-seeking and responsibility-shirking behavior appears infantile.
If only, then, Europeans could learn to address America with one voice. There is no shortage of ideas about how to encourage this through new processes and forums for US-EU strategic dialogue. But the problem is one of political psychology, not institutional arrangements. It can be addressed only when Europeans take stock of the way the world is changing, decide that allowing others to determine the future world order is less than optimal, and develop the attitudes and behaviors of a post-American Europe.
This requires a Europe that knows its own mind, so that it can approach the US – and the rest of the world – with a clearer eye and a harder head. The EU’s member states will have to learn to discuss the big geopolitical issues – starting with their own security – as Europeans, within the EU. They will not always agree among themselves. When they do, they will stand a better chance of asserting their own interests – and of acting as a more committed and influential partner for the US on the many international issues where European and American interests coincide.
The US would, in fact, prefer such a Europe. But so low are American expectations that they scarcely care. Post-American Europeans need to shake off their habitual deference and complacency towards the US – or reconcile themselves to deserved American indifference.
1. The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, named after the Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov and the German foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, was an agreement officially titled the Treaty of Non-Aggression between Germany and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and signed in Moscow on August 24, 1939. It was a non-aggression pact between the two countries and pledged neutrality by either party if the other were attacked by a third party. Each signatory promised not to join any grouping of powers that was "directly or indirectly aimed at the other party". It remained in effect until June 22, 1941, when Germany implemented Operation Barbarossa, invading the Soviet Union.
.Over the past decade, there has been much talk about a new world order, in which American "unipolarity" would be superseded by more equal arrangements between the great powers. One such idea is a return to the Russia-China-US triangle. In truth, however, the time for such geopolitical schemes has long passed. The contemporary international system is too complex and interdependent to be reduced to crude strategic balancing-a reality underlined by the global financial crisis. The most likely successor to US global leadership is not a "multipolar world order" dominated by the great powers, but a rough Sino-American bipolarity. This would bear little resemblance to the stark model of the cold war era, but instead foreshadow a new, post-modern triangle. The "third side" would not be Russia, but a mass of formal and informal networks involving nation-states, multilateral institutions, and non-state actors.