James M. Lindsay

The Water's Edge

Lindsay analyzes the politics shaping U.S. foreign policy and the sustainability of American power.

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The World Next Week: Chavez Dies, Strategic and Cyber Commands Testify, Russia Tries Magnitsky, and Tibetans Observe Uprising Day

by James M. Lindsay
March 8, 2013

A supporter of the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez views his coffin in Caracas (Miraflores Palace Handout/Courtesy Reuters). A supporter of the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez views his coffin in Caracas (Miraflores Palace Handout/Courtesy Reuters).

The World Next Week podcast is up. Bob McMahon and I discussed Hugo Chavez’s death, the Senate Armed Services Committee’s upcoming hearing on Strategic Command and Cyber Command, Russia’s decision to try Sergei Magnitsky even though he is dead, and Tibetan Uprising Day.

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The highlights:

  • Hugo Chavez’s death has left many, but by no means all, Venezuelans mourning. The elected autocrat had visions of creating a Bolivarian revolution that would remake Venezuela and Latin America more broadly. There is no evidence that Chavez succeeded on the latter score, and while he certainly changed Venezuela, it was not necessarily for the better. He spent lavishly on Venezuela’s poor and in doing so won their affection. But he devastated Venezuela’s business community and left the Venezuelan government deeply in debt and dependent on continued high oil prices to stay afloat. Whether Chavez’s revolution outlives him is an open question. His vice president, Nicolas Maduro, a former bus driver and former foreign minister, pledges to carry on his cause. Maduro lacks Chavez’s charisma, however, as well as his hold over the Chavistas. As a result, Maduro might not win the new presidential elections scheduled to be held within thirty days. His main challengers look to be Henrique Capriles, who won 44 percent of the vote in Venezuela’s presidential election last October, and Diosdado Cabello, the head of Venezuela’s National Assembly and one of Venezuela’s wealthiest men.
  • Next Wednesday the Senate Armed Services Committee will hold hearings on U.S. Strategic Command and U.S. Cyber Command. Sequestration has gone into effect, so Pentagon officials are now scrambling to slice $42.7 billion from this year’s budget. The consequences of those cuts will likely feature prominently at the hearing, but so too will the future of the U.S. strategic nuclear arsenal. President Obama signaled in his State of the Union Address that he wants to work with Russia to further reduce nuclear arsenals on both sides. Meanwhile, as part of the deal to win Senate support for the New Start Treaty, Obama pledged to spend heavily on nuclear modernization—spending that is now subject to the sequester. The discussion of Cyber Command will no doubt highlight the recent spate of news stories on how China has been aggressively hacking computer networks across the United States. The Senate Armed Services Committee may go into classified session to discuss the more sensitive aspects of that issue.
  • Russia plans to go ahead on Monday with the trial of Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian auditor who was arrested five years ago on charges of tax evasion. The decision to try Magnitsky is notable because he died in a Moscow prison in 2009 after prison officials refused to treat his pancreatitis. Magnitsky’s case has captured attention in the West because of abundant evidence that he was arrested after uncovering evidence that Russian judges, tax officials, bankers, and criminals had colluded to defraud an American-owned investment firm of its assets. At the end of 2012, Congress passed the Magnitsky bill, which seeks to punish Russian officials thought to be responsible for his death. The law rankled Vladimir Putin, who has said it “poisons our relationship” with the United States. The trial looks to be the Kremlin’s effort to perpetuate the fiction that Magnitsky committed a crime.
  • On Sunday, Tibetans mark Tibetan Uprising Day, which commemorates the anniversary of Tibet’s failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule. This year’s commemoration comes against the backdrop of growing unrest in Tibet. More than one hundred Tibetans, mostly monks, have burned themselves alive to protest China’s occupation of their nation. The self-immolations aren’t likely to change Chinese policy. In the run up to Tibetan Uprising Day, which comes four days before the anniversary of the massive 2008 Tibetan riots, China typically blocks all travel to Tibet and cracks down on all signs of opposition to its rule. To drive home the point that it considers Tibet a “core interest” that will not be sacrificed to internal or external pressure, Beijing in 2009 introduced an official holiday of its own, “Serf’s Liberation Day.” It comes on March 28 and celebrates the day in 1959 that the Dalai Lama fled Tibet.
  • Bob’s Figure of the Week is $8 billion. My Figure of the Week is Wen Jiabao. As always, you’ll have to listen to the podcast to find out why.

For more on the topics we discussed in the podcast check out:

Venezuela enters the post-Chavez era: Reuters reports on Nicolas Maduro, Chavez’s successor. The New York Times covers Chavez’s funeral and Venezuelans’ reactions to this death. Shannon O’Neil assesses how Chavez’s death will affect U.S.-Venezuela relations. Bob McMahon provides resources on Chavez’s legacy in Venezuela and Latin America.

The Senate Armed Services Committee holds hearings on Strategic and Cyber Commands: The Defense Department released a summary of Strategic Command head General C. Robert Kehler’s testimony to the House Armed Services Committee. Slate covers the effects of sequestration on the Defense Department. Politico reports on sequestration’s consequences for U.S. cybersecurity.

Russia tries the late Sergei Magnitsky: Time reviews the Magnitsky case and assesses Russia’s motivations for trying him even though he is dead. BBC News reports on Russia’s charges against Bill Browder, Magnitsky’s employer. Stephen Sestanovich offers his take on recent developments in U.S.-Russia relations. EU Observer reports on six EU nations’ joint investigation of Russian money laundering surrounding the Magnitsky case.

Tibetan Uprising Day is observed: BBC News provides a timeline of important events in Tibet-China relations.Voice of America explains why Tibetans anticipate no changes in China’s policy toward them after Xi Jinping’s accession.The New York Times covers the hundredth Tibetan self-immolation in China and Chinese responses to the self-immolations, which it claims that the Dalai Lama is encouraging.

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