August 8th 2009

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Economic bounce masks deep structural crisis

ENERGY: What can Australia do when the fuel runs out?

EDITORIAL: Overseas lesson in energy conservation

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Turnbull's judgement under a cloud

SCHOOLS: The choice so few parents can afford to make

MARRIAGE: The personal and social costs of cohabitation

OPINION: Keeping marriage between a man and a woman

CHINA: Cracks appear in China's detested one-child policy

POLITICAL IDEAS: Distributist responses to the global economic crisis

WAR ON TERROR: What will we learn from the Jakarta bombings?

EUROPE: Obama told: don't abandon central and eastern Europe

OBITUARY: Polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski dies at 81

REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH: Protest at News Weekly article on East Timor

Tony Abbott on divorce (letter)

Time for a people's bank? (letter)

AS THE WORLD TURNS: Genderless child-rearing experiment / Hostility towards masculinity / Dear baby-boomers ... / Shopkeepers honoured

BOOK REVIEW: POMPEII: The Life of a Roman Town, by Mary Beard

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Obama told: don't abandon central and eastern Europe

by Joseph Poprzeczny

News Weekly, August 8, 2009
It's not often that an American president receives an open letter from seven former European presidents, five former foreign and defence ministers, a retired prime minister, two ex-ambassadors to the United States, plus several defence ministries and agencies chiefs.

But that's precisely what has been handed to President Barack Obama.

Heading the signatories' list is Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former Polish President, Lech Walesa. Two others are Mr Walesa's successor, Alexander Kwasniewski, and former President of the Czech Republic, Vaclav Havel.

They are among the 22 central and eastern European politicians who have asked that America not forget their region and that it adopt a firm and principled approach towards Moscow.

Nine countries - Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Rumania, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania - from a region where Soviet-backed communism was ousted between 1989 and 1991, are represented.

This letter is to be presented in Washington at a conference organised by American author, Ronald D. Asmus, who initiated moves for NATO's enlargement in the 1990s that saw the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland invited to join.

The letter tells President Obama not to weaken America's resolve, in the face of Russian pressure, or to abandon plans to deploy an anti-missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic against a possible Iranian nuclear attack.

The former leaders drafted the letter after strategists in these nine former Moscow-controlled Warsaw Pact countries concluded that the Obama Administration was downgrading the US's focus on their region in favour of Islamic and African states.

They highlight the fact that it was their generation that toppled Moscow's puppet regimes within their respective countries, thereby bringing about an end to the 40-year long Cold War.

The letter says: "We have written this letter because, as Central and Eastern European (CEE) intellectuals and former policy-makers, we care deeply about the future of the transatlantic relationship as well as the future quality of relations between the United States and the countries of our region.

"We write in our personal capacity as individuals who are friends and allies of the US as well as committed Europeans.

"Our nations are deeply indebted to the US. Many of us know firsthand how important your support for our freedom and independence was during the dark Cold War years.

"US engagement and support was essential for the success of our democratic transitions after the Iron Curtain fell 20 years ago. Without Washington's vision and leadership, it is doubtful that we would be in NATO and even the EU today."

Coincidentally, in the week their letter was released, former Polish prime minister and long-time Solidarity activist, Jerzy Buzek, was elected to head the European Union's Parliament in Strasbourg. Buzek was Poland's prime minister from 1997 to 2001, and played a key role in leading Poland into the EU and NATO.

He remains one of the most trusted politicians in Poland, along with Lech Walesa, and continues to score highly in recognition and popularity surveys.

The letter continues: "We have worked to reciprocate and make this relationship a two-way street. We are Atlanticist voices within NATO and the EU. Our nations have been engaged alongside the US in the Balkans, Iraq, and today in Afghanistan.

"While our contribution may at times seem modest compared to your own, it is significant when measured as a percentage of our population and GDP. Having benefited from your support for liberal democracy and liberal values in the past, we have been among your strongest supporters when it comes to promoting democracy and human rights around the world.

"Twenty years after the end of the Cold War, however, we see that Central and Eastern European countries are no longer at the heart of American foreign policy. As the new Obama Administration sets its foreign-policy priorities, our region is one part of the world that Americans have largely stopped worrying about."

The signatories warn that America's withdrawal from their region is premature and is creating a "growing sense of nervousness" there.

The letter continues: "Indeed, at times we have the impression that US policy was so successful that many American officials have now concluded that our region is fixed once and for all and that they could 'check the box' and move on to other more pressing strategic issues."

The 22 signatories express concern at Russia's violation of Georgia's integrity, "all in the name of defending a sphere of influence on its borders".

Also highlighted is Europe's dependence on Russian gas exports, the rise of anti-Americanism across Europe, the unpopularity of the Iraq War, and the rise of anti-semitism.

The signatories observe: "At a global level, Russia has become, on most issues, a status-quo power. But at a regional level and vis-à-vis our nations, it increasingly acts as a revisionist one.

"It challenges our claims to our own historical experiences. It asserts a privileged position in determining our security choices.

"It uses overt and covert means of economic warfare, ranging from energy blockades and politically-motivated investments to bribery and media manipulation in order to advance its interests and to challenge the transatlantic orientation of Central and Eastern Europe. ...

"We want to ensure that too narrow an understanding of Western interests does not lead to the wrong concessions to Russia. Today the concern is, for example, that the US and the major European powers might embrace the [Dmitry] Medvedev plan for a 'Concert of Powers' to replace the continent's existing, value-based security structure.

"The danger is that Russia's creeping intimidation and influence-peddling in the region could over time lead to a de facto neutralisation of the region."

Although the 22 signatories concede there are differing views over Moscow's new engagement policies, they agree that there is still a need for full American engagement. They therefore propose the following measures:

"First, we are convinced that America needs Europe and that Europe needs the US as much today as in the past. The US should reaffirm its vocation as a European power and make clear that it plans to stay fully engaged on the continent even while it faces the pressing challenges in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the wider Middle East, and Asia.

"Second, we need a renaissance of NATO as ... the only credible hard power security guarantee we have. ... We should re-think the working of the NATO-Russia Council and return to the practice where NATO's member countries enter into dialogue with Moscow with a coordinated position. ... [A] more determined and principled policy toward Moscow will not only strengthen the West's security but will ultimately lead Moscow to follow a more cooperative policy as well.

"Third, ... America's planned missile-defence installations [in Poland and the Czech Republic] should not be [vetoed] by unfounded Russian opposition. Abandoning the program entirely or involving Russia too deeply in it, without consulting Poland or the Czech Republic, can undermine the credibility of the US across the whole region."

The letter lists some further measures: fourth, an improved US-EU relationship; fifth, energy security; and sixth, closer contacts between educationalists and other professionals "and other networks and friendships that underpin our friendship and alliance".

The signatories complain that the US visa regime "remains an obstacle" to the realisation of this sixth point. They say: "It is incomprehensible that a critic like the French anti-globalisation activist, José Bové, does not require a visa for the US, but former Solidarity activist and Nobel Peace prize-winner, Lech Walesa, does.

"This issue will be resolved only if it is made a political priority by the President of the United States."

Joseph Poprzeczny is a Perth-based historian and freelance writer.

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