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Atlantic Eye: Lockerbie to missile defense

disclaimer: image is for illustration purposes only
by Marc S. Ellenbogen
Cape Town, South Africa (UPI) Dec 26, 2008
As the year ends, I am confronted by a series of images and issues. Some of them concern me. Some of them concern the United States. And yet others are global issues. Most are unsettled. Most need solutions.

On Dec 21, 1988 -- almost exactly 20 years ago -- I was finishing my graduate work at Syracuse's Maxwell School in upstate New York. I was on duty at Hendricks Chapel when Pan Am flight 103 was destroyed by terrorists. It still brings me to a boil -- how I lost friends; how the press behaved that day; how the Libyans have managed to bribe their way into world acceptance -- as though any sum of money will bring back innocent lives. The worst part of it is there is a strong body of evidence suggesting Syria had a much larger role in the murders than the United States is prepared to acknowledge. For me and many others, flight 103 remains wholly unsolved. I cry for those murdered in the air and in Lockerbie, Scotland, on that tragic day. It all remains an open festering wound (see: Lockerbie's lasting emptiness, May 23, 2006).

Two weeks ago former Romanian Defense Minister Gheorghe Tinca and I had a series of meetings in Bucharest. Gheorghe was the first civilian defense minister after communism. He now heads Global Panel's Black Sea Initiative. Our meetings crossed political lines and included former Presidents Ion Iliescu and Emil Constantinescu. Once bitter political rivals, both have become friends even while disagreeing on political issues. Where they agree is on energy security and the U.S. need to think more clearly out-of-the-box. Further meetings with national security adviser Gen. Constantine Degeratu and Defense Minister Teodor Melescanu broached defense, economic and corruption issues. All agree Romania should be more clearly part of any new security paradigm and the economic crisis should be used to engender serious policy changes in many areas. My lunch with their Majesties King Michael and Queen Anne, with Crown Princess Margaret and Prince Radu, was the piece de resistance. Prince Radu and I will travel to Istanbul in February to see about cooperation on Black Sea issues with the Marmara Foundation in Istanbul, which is closely linked to former Turkish President Suleyman Demirel (see: Europe's inspired politics, May 14, 2007).

What to do about Russia. It boggles my mind that we are back to the language of the Cold War, even if more refined and couched in economic and modern security terms. But it is the same tension. It is bad. The Chinese government continues to manipulate Africa and other parts of the world, and shows little interest in press freedom or all forms of ethics. The Chinese are savvier than the Russians -- which makes them more dangerous. U.S. policies are pushing Russia into China's arms as the Russian economy collapses. This does not abrogate Russian responsibility. President Putin was not an honest broker for his country, and he continues to wield enormous and dangerous power as prime minister. How President Medvedev develops is still unclear. Speaking softly while carrying a big stick is a good U.S. defense posture, but it is not in the best interests of the United States to treat Russia like a rabid dog. The United States should find commonalties with Russia. This is not naive. It is good common sense (see: Lost lessons of the Cold War, Aug. 19, 2008).

The German statesman and former Chancellor Helmut Schmidt turned 90 last week. He is a centrist, pro law-and-order, pro-defense Social Democrat -- a dwindling breed. He was chancellor from 1974-1982, when he was toppled by his own collation partner the FDP (Liberal Party) and leftists in his own party. I lived in Heidelberg at the time; the American High School was often a target of terror threats, regularly having to be cleared for bomb scares. The Red Army Faction, the Baader-Meinhof Gang and other terror groups in Europe were at their peak. To this very day many of us miss your vision, forthrightness and clear security parlance. Will Europe ever think this clearly again? We mourn the passing of your Weggefaehrte and former SACEUR Gen. Bernard Rogers. Vivat, Crescat, Floreat.

Seffi Bodansky, the former head of the U.S. Congressional Task-Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, and I recently met with Czech Interior Minister Ivan Langer. The Czech government has openly supported the missile defense system and upgrading the country's defense parlance -- going against a majority of Czechs who are opposed, thereby using up enormous political capital. The Czech government is annoyed. They do not understand how one U.S. government can say a system is technically and strategically necessary, while a new administration is essentially talking about putting a system on ice. They are convinced it makes the United States look in weak in Russian eyes. What I am concerned about is the U.S. government's tendency to use countries -- independent, fair-minded and pro-U.S. -- like pawns. When the Poles were showing doubt, the United States simply approached Lithuania. The Czechs, unlike the Poles, put all their eggs in one basket in selling the defense system to their public and Parliament. The United States should not let a strong ally simply dangle on a leash. We must offer the Czechs something in return -- quickly -- or face looking like untrustworthy bullies (see: Putin's Bush-whack, June 14, 2007).

And they took a deep breath, knowing how much work lies ahead.

But today is a day of rest. May a bit of peace come to the humblest of souls.

(UPI International Columnist Marc S. Ellenbogen is chairman of the Berlin, Copenhagen and Sydney-based Global Panel Foundation and president of the Prague Society. He has advised political candidates and was a member of President-elect Obama's International Finance Committee.)

(e-mail: ellenbogen@globalpanel.org)

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