Are we neglecting our soft power assets?

Bruce Jackson: the man who took NATO east

Bruce-Jackson-DELFI-Photo-by-K.-ČachovskisThis is a piece I wrote 11 years ago for this crappy financial magazine I used to work for. The piece is good though. It’s about Bruce Jackson, an American spy-banker-arms-dealer-policy-wonk, who helped lobby for the eastern expansion of NATO in the 90s and Noughties. I thought I’d post it here considering this week’s NATO conference on further eastern expansion and Russia’s response. The piece was written in 2003, in the middle of the second war in Iraq.

IT WAS THE deal of the year in central and eastern Europe – not a sovereign Eurobond, a corporate high-yield issue or an IPO, but a transaction that emerged from the heart of the military-industry complex. It was the biggest debt financing of the year – a $5.5 billion off-balance-sheet deal arranged by JPMorgan and guaranteed by the US government. You haven’t read about it, because it was to finance Poland’s acquisition of 48 F-16 military aircraft from Lockheed Martin.

That deal was signed in March 2003. The same month it went through, Poland agreed to send about 3,000 troops to Iraq. Euromoney spoke to a banker involved in the syndication of the financing. “We understood what the deal was,” he said. “The US government finances the deal at good rates. In return, Poland supports the US in Iraq.”

Every other eastern European country that has either recently joined or is waiting to join the Nato military alliance also supports the US campaign in Iraq, leading US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld to praise the birth of “new Europe” and French president Jacques Chirac to tell these countries to shut up.

Man of influence

The figure at the centre of all these events is someone you probably haven’t heard of, but who wields extraordinary political influence in the region – Bruce Jackson. He is a Washington neo-conservative, a member of the Project for the New American Century, and friend and colleague of other prominent neo-conservatives such as deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz and Gary Schmitt, executive director of the Project for the New American Century.

A former investment banker, he’s also president of a private NGO called the US Committee on Nato, one of the most influential in eastern Europe. He has also headed a neo-conservative think-tank called the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq. And he’s a former vice-president at Lockheed. Is he the military-industrial complex conspiracy figure par excellence?

Jackson, through his work for the NGO, has done more that anyone else to get eastern European countries into Nato. First, he lobbied hard in Washington to get the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland invited in 1999. He advised the heads of these states on how to reform their military forces and civil societies so as to get the invitation, and testified in their support to the US Senate committee on foreign affairs.

In the past two years, he has been equally active in getting most of the other eastern European countries invited to Nato. He has travelled relentlessly, meeting heads of state and foreign ministers in every eastern European country, advising them on how to reform, and helping, this year, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia to get invitations to join Nato.

None of the accessions was by any means inevitable. It took vision, will and hard work. Jackson recalls: “When we started in 1995, around 70% of editorial boards and 80% of think-tanks were on the record as being opposed to Nato expansion. There was concern Russia would go ballistic if we did expand Nato east. So effectively people were suggesting we do another Yalta, and sacrifice the region to Russia’s interests. So it took us considerable amounts of work. We organized well over 1,000 meetings with senators and Congress. By 1999, we won 89% of the vote. With the second round, almost all the effort came from the countries themselves, trying to accelerate their own reforms and not be left out.”

The fact that in 1995 so many in the west were against Nato expansion makes it all the more remarkable that one man, apparently operating in a private capacity at an NGO he set up, should have had such an influence. As one diplomat in the region says: “All these countries getting into Nato – this was Bruce’s work. He’s a real player in this process.” Continue reading

Responding to Russia

Latest of our #progressivedilemmas is on what we might expect from a future Labour Russia policy.

Britain’s political class did not distinguish itself in its immediate response to the Crimean crisis. A zoom lens outside Downing Street which captured Cabinet Office papers in the hands of an unguarded official seemed to reveal yet more evidence that the protection of the City trumps any other strategic instincts for this government. Labour, meanwhile, appeared to be more rattled by Tory Twitter jibes than by Vladimir Putin’s machinations. But the challenge posed by Moscow’s intervention in Ukraine will outlast any initial inclinations to see it through the prism of the Square Mile or the Westminster bubble. From the future of the European Union to UK defence priorities, Russia now presents a number of long-term dilemmas for progressives, regardless of how the events of the next few months play out.

Libya strains NATO

I’ve done a piece for YaleGlobal about the implications for NATO of its operation in Libya

With Operation Unified Protector in Libya, NATO enters war for the third time in its history. And like its first-ever conflict with Yugoslavia in 1999, the alliance is anything but unified. But gone to war it has, carrying out air strikes against forces loyal to Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and more than 100 sorties on most days. The half-hearted nature of the intervention can be seen as a glass half full or half empty for the alliance. But over time the cherry-picking approach of the members could reduce it into irrelevance … Read more

Turkey – turning away from the West or rebalancing its priorities?

Turkish voters approved a new constitution this weekend, greeted in Brussels – if not Paris and Berlin – as a key step on the road to EU membership.

But recent commentary and headlines – particularly in the US – have claimed Turkey is turning its back on the West as the rift between Turkey and Israel deepened following the killing of 9 Turkish citizens by Israeli forces when they raided a Turkish ship trying to run the blockade of Gaza in May.

Turkey is an ally of the US and a staunch member of NATO, it has also been trying to get into the EU for more than twenty years, so why are some commentators saying Ankara is turning away from the West? Continue reading

NATO to Hoon: sod off

NATO is not impressed by Geoff Hoon’s involvement in lobbygate:

NATO says it is dropping former British defense secretary Geoff Hoon from a group of experts drawing up the alliance’s new strategic concept.

Hoon is among three former Cabinet ministers who have been suspended from Britain’s ruling Labor Party over allegations they tried to trade access to government officials for cash…

NATO spokesman James Appathurai says Hoon had been nominated to the group by the British government. Appathurai says given Hoon’s suspension “he has been asked to end his participation in the group.”

Via @David_Stringer

On the web: skirmish in the Falklands, NATO futures, State Dept’s media relations, and “cloud computing”…

– As the diplomatic temperature continues to rise in the South Atlantic, Simon Jenkins suggests that the Falklands are “the Elgin marbles of diplomacy” and a “post-imperial anachronism” that should lead Britain to the negotiating table. Hugo Rifkind, meanwhile, explains why he won’t be shedding tears for Argentina’s President, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, while The Economist highlights her failure to see the current crisis as an economic rather than a political opportunity.

– Rob de Wijk explores (pdf) the future options for NATO as it come to terms with changing geopolitics. Andrew J. Bacevich, meanwhile, cites a failure to sufficiently “reignite Europe’s martial spirit” and carve a global role for NATO in the 21st Century as cause for the US to draw back engagement in the alliance. Let it return to its origins and “devolve into a European organization, directed by Europeans to serve European needs”, he argues.

– Elsewhere, the London Review of Books blog offers reaction to plans for the new US Embassy in London. Associated Press, meanwhile, has news of an internal State Department report criticising its media operations.

– Finally, VoxEU explores the emergence of “cloud computing” and its potential impact on our lifestyles, business innovation, and economic growth. Charles Leadbeater assesses the associated rise of “cloud culture” and the importance of guarding this new space from the overbearing influence of government and big business. Elsewhere, over at Brookings Mark Muro wonders if the rise of Amazon’s Kindle could be a “symbol of American decline”.