On the web: rumbles in the Caucasus, the QDR, land grabbing, Sarko on climate change and British declinism…

– In the week leading up to the first anniversary of the Russia-Georgia conflict, the FT reports on the lingering regional tensions still apparent, while openDemocracy assesses some of the war’s wider implications for the US, EU, China and Turkey. Georgia aside, James F. Collins, former US ambassador to Russia, highlights the current fragility of US-Russia relations and the importance of “sustained dialogue within a solid institutional framework” if measured progress is to continue.

– Elsewhere, in a taster of the forthcoming Quadrennial Defence Review (QDR), two senior Pentagon officials survey the global landscape and assess what this means for the US’s strategic outlook. The main challenge (alongside adapting to the realities of hybrid warfare and a growing number of failing states), Michele Flournoy and Shawn Brimley suggest, will likely revolve around competition for the global commons (sea, space, air and cyberspace). A successful approach, they argue, should see the US refocus its efforts on building strong global governance structures and taking the “lead in the creation of international norms”. Andrew Bast at WPR comments that this could once again herald a US foreign policy with Wilsonianism firmly at its core.

Der Spiegel, meanwhile, takes an in-depth look at the growing global market for farmland. In what it labels the “new colonialism”, the article notes the implications of such investment flows for states in Africa and Asia, as well as gauging the impact on local farmers.

Climatico assesses Nicolas Sarkozy’s climate change credentials, highlighting his “erratic behaviour” on the issue and suggesting that the French stance is one to watch in the run up to Copenhagen.

– Finally, an interesting PoliticsHome poll on attitudes of the British public to the country’s foreign policy. 65% of voters, it indicates, agree that foreign policy has weakened Britain’s “moral authority” abroad – a view held across the political spectrum. Perhaps more strikingly, however, a majority (54%) felt the country should scale down its overseas military commitments, even if this meant ceding global influence. Interestingly, 57% were in favour of humanitarian intervention. Writing in Newsweek, meanwhile, Stryker McGuire adds to the narrative of declinism. The current economic crisis, he argues, has finally put paid to Britain’s attempts to maintain its world role and place at the international top table.

Dumb kids in charge at State

There are many reasons why American foreign policy has been so teeth-grindingly awful during the Bush years, but the hiring policy for ambassadors probably didn’t help.

Thomas Schweich had three senior diplomatic jobs under Bush. Each time, he had to run the gamut of the politically-appointed ‘kids’ (sons and daughters of Bush supporters, campaign workers etc) who had taken over the personnel department. What they lacked in experience, they made up for in attitude, he says.

“For two of these jobs, my appointment was preceded by an effort by a 20-something in personnel to place an unqualified friend in the job,” he writes. “In the third instance, the State Department went out of its way to avoid the personnel office by appealing directly to a senior assistant to the president.”

Others had a similar experience:

Another top foreign service officer called me after his interview to be ambassador to a volatile African country. “The problem was,” he told me, “the kid interviewing me could not pronounce the name of the country I was being interviewed for. It made for an awkward interview until he just started saying ‘the country we are considering you for.'”