Joshua Rovner | Putin’s Crimea Blunder

Putin’s Crimea Blunder

This news story first appeared in the March 6, 2014, edition of The National Interest. For more information click here.

By Joshua Rovner, Tower Distinguished Chair in International Politics and National Security, Tower Center

Russia’s sudden occupation of the Crimean peninsula led to some peculiar commentary concerning Russian president Vladimir Putin. Observers expressed revulsion at his brazen attempt to violate Ukraine’s sovereignty and manipulate its politics. At the same time, however, they hinted at grudging praise for his particular brand of realpolitik. After all, in one eventful weekend he put the West on its heels, and nobody seemed to know how to respond. Some pundits ominously suggested that Putin’s gambit didn’t just threaten Ukraine; it threatened the whole post-Cold War international order by setting an ominous precedent about how to undermine fledgling pro-Western governments.

Critics also blamed Western leaders and the Obama administration for displays of weakness, wishful thinking, and ineptitude that supposedly encouraged Russian risk-taking. The side-by-side comparison was striking: Vladimir Putin came off as a calculating and ruthless leader who understood the rough reality of great-power politics, while Barack Obama seemed naïve and idealistic and utterly incapable of standing up to bullies. No surprise, then, that Putin outwitted the White House.

But that is not what happened. Putin has not outwitted anyone. He has not taken advantage of feckless Western leaders to expand Russian power and prestige, nor has he set in motion a pattern of events that has put the international order at risk. What he has done is drive headlong into a crisis where all of the likely outcomes for Russia are bad.

Consider the possible endgames. One is that Crimea will vote for independence in its upcoming referendum and become something like a Russian vassal state. Moscow would gain very little as a result. It already enjoys considerable influence over the majority Russian-speaking population, and it has long maintained its Black Sea Fleet at Sevastopol. What it would risk losing, however, would be the chance to ever restore a pro-Russian leader in Kiev, because all of those pro-Russian voters in Crimea would no longer get the chance to vote in Ukrainian elections.

What if Russia is unsatisfied with Crimea alone? Putin has repeatedly warned that the armed forces may intervene in East Ukraine to protect ethnic Russians. In this case Ukraine might go to war, though it would face extremely long odds because of its vast military disadvantages. A Russian victory, however, would cause as many problems as it would solve. Conquering territory means ruling over people, and in this case Russia can expect a burst of political violence from angry Ukrainians not happy about being ruled. The Russian military, famous for its high corruption and low morale, would then face the possibility of a protracted insurgency. And in this case it would not be keen on the kind of brute force that worked in Chechnya, because so much of the civilian population is ethnic Russian.

A third possibility is that Russian forces will turn to the west and seek to destroy Ukraine’s military in detail. Kremlin officials may calculate that this is the only reliable way to install a pliant regime in Kiev, and they may also believe such a war is necessary to stop violence directed at Russians in the east. Even if Russia achieves a quick and comprehensive military triumph, it would be left with a serious problem: occupying a large country marked by deep ethnic differences and a restive population. Russia would also become increasingly isolated and face a variety of international sanctions that would place new burdens on its already overstressed economy. Meanwhile, European leaders would have very strong incentives to find novel ways of reducing dependence on Russian natural gas resources while simultaneously balancing against Russian power. Some victory.

What does all this mean for U.S. strategy? First, the Obama administration is right to move slowly and to ignore critics who demand aggressive steps against Russia. As a few astute observers have noted, Putin is perfectly capable of self-defeating behavior . He does not need Washington’s help.

Second, efforts to organize a military response are both unnecessary and unwise. Putin has erred badly in Ukraine, but by invoking Russian nationalism he will find it hard to back down if confronted with Western military power. A NATO-led military action would be particularly provocative and dangerous, given longstanding Russian anger at the alliance’s eastward expansion.

Rather than forcing a confrontation, the appropriate U.S. response is patience and restraint. Russia has already dug itself a deep hole, it is likely to come out in much weaker shape, and its actions might finally stimulate meaningful balancing in Europe. For the time being, then, the best strategy is to let Putin be Putin. At some point quiet diplomacy may be in order to ease the Kremlin out of the crisis. Much as we don’t like to admit it, Russian cooperation is crucial for any long-term solution on issues from arms control to Syria to Iran. A prolonged standoff over Ukraine would threaten progress on these issues, while creating new and needless risks.

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Admiral Patrick M. Walsh | Written Congressional Testimony to the House Armed Services Committee

House Armed Services Committee – Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces

27 February 2014

Capabilities to Support the Asia Pacific Rebalance – A Maritime Perspective

Witness Statement

Admiral Patrick M. Walsh, USN (Ret.)

In Asia-Pacific today, maritime considerations influence national security planning, economic exchange and societal development more than any other region, domain, or aspect of the global environment.  Here, the maritime narrative influences the largest populations, economies, and militaries of the world, so nations that desire the capability to protect their economic interests, ensure stability, and secure the key lines of approach to their future, need maritime capabilities.  As a result, decisions made about maritime forces directly impact the protection, representation, and ability of a nation to defend its sovereign interests at sea; in this region, seapower has returned to pre-eminence as an essential element of national power.

In the “Pacific Century,” seapower resumes its traditional role in the sea lines of communication as an instrument of peace, stability, and protector of trade and development.  For the US government, investments in the navy…as well as reductions contemplated in procurement, readiness, operations, and manpower, while other governments invest in their own maritime forces…have direct and predictable consequences that call into question the ability of the United States to remain engaged in the region, to defend its interests and those of its partners.  I am not aware of any country in Asia-Pacific that is reducing the size or capability of its navy.  Additionally, long-standing partners, friends, and allies in the region desire more American naval presence rather than less, because of concerns over tension and the potential for conflict.

In this context, the People’s Republic of China drives any discussion about state interests and national security, regionally and globally.  China has moved beyond a ‘continental defense’ strategy and her leaders are convinced that to defend China it is necessary to push foreign militaries out of its ‘near seas’ to the first island chain — to include the Yellow Sea, East Sea, and South China Sea areas.  This ‘near-sea’ defense strategy attempts to influence and to whatever extent possible, control all foreign military operations in adjacent seas, extending even to (and some cases within) the territorial seas of its neighbors.  This strategy attempts to redefine the taxonomy, understanding, and use of the high seas in terms wholly unfamiliar to a region that is home to three of four of the world’s largest economies, ten of the world’s fastest growing economies, and one-third of global trade in transit.  Today, maritime highways network and connect a regional, economic juggernaut made possible by US presence over the past six decades.  To accede to the narrowly selective Chinese historic interpretation and expansive geographic claim in the South China Sea — effectively makes 1600nm of water that conforms roughly to the shape of the extended southern Chinese coastline — subject to internal Chinese law with sovereign, territorial rights attendant to it, which is unequivocally counter to the most specific, unimpeachable axiom of the maritime commons, envisioned and practiced by nations for centuries in the form of customary international law.

As China has developed the technology, equipment, and confidence to execute this strategy, it has created hubris within its ranks and taken actions viewed and characterized by Japan and the ASEAN neighbors as ‘over-reach’ — a term used to describe intimidating, aggressive behavior well-beyond acceptable norms.  Assertive and expansive maritime territorial claims have touched-off and unleashed a volatile resurgence in nationalism, historic boundary disputes, and challenged access to resources in contested economic exclusion zones that fuel tension in the region.

We are witnessing the PLA growing rapidly in technical capability and industrial capacity symbiotic with an increasingly jingoistic fervor and rhetoric.  We see evidence that technical military advancements have provided fertile ground for new diplomatic initiatives and concomitant challenges to established USG positions on: resource exploration, building ties to traditional US partners, maritime boundaries, and in other coercive ways that do not conform to international law, are antithetical to regional stability, and test globally accepted democratic principles at a time when our national mood has focused on domestic issues.

In looking at this half of the globe over the coming decades, relatively few topics have the potential to determine substantial political, economic, and military outcomes for such a large area of the community of nations as:

(a) PRC expansion of influence (economic, political, military)

(b) PRC near-sea defensive construct

(c) PLA role in China’s internal/external policy-making process

(d) US posture, presence, and influence in the region

(e) US economic performance

For decades, the U.S. Pacific Fleet has focused its security responsibilities in support of the Taiwan Relations Act…today, as a result of a decade of military modernization, the flashpoint for misunderstanding and conflict at sea extends beyond the Strait.  Since there are no conventional arms control regimes or pre-established frameworks designed to manage escalation, the real possibility exists for conflict in the maritime domain that is not at the time, place, or for the duration of our choosing.  The absence of a regime or framework to de-tension the area also creates the equally real probability for conflict that is regional in context, extending beyond the borders of the Taiwan Strait and involving US treaty allies, regional partners, as well as multinational commercial interests.

For very real strategic as well as operational reasons, we place a high premium on deterrence and conflict prevention strategies based on a tested formula of forward presence and cooperative relationships with our allies.  Reassurance to allies and partners is a critical function of forward deployed U.S. forces.  Forward presence is the face of US resolve.  It presents the nation with the necessary capability and opportunity to exercise US leadership through appropriate, timely, and consequential actions…actions that are designed to address or resolve the coercive, unsafe, or unhealthy conditions that can affect economies, populations, and nations.

For real world economic and political reasons, there are direct linkages between national imperatives and the need for a Navy responsive to US interests overseas.  It is important during a period of declining budgetary authority to memorialize ‘first principles’ that support conflict prevention strategies with an American military capability that:

– is forward-deployed to a region of consequence;

– builds true, deep partnerships and sustains influence with allies and partners;

– sustains wholeness in fleet readiness;

– attracts and retains high quality people;

– makes wise investments in an era of frugality.

During a period of vulnerability that comes with recapitalization, there is a requirement for short-term mitigations to address the immediate concerns of the current security environment versus the long-term need for programmatic investments.  For a comparatively modest investment, munitions are an important, credible element of the discussion: continued investment in both capacity and capability for Integrated Air and Missile Defense, continued development for long range surface-to-surface striking capability, and continued procurement for air-to-air capability in a complex electro-magnetic environment.  Despite budgetary pressures to the contrary, the Navy must be prepared with responsive capabilities and sufficient power to deter armed conflict and suppress threats to commerce in the maritime domain.

Nations in the region are watching, with keen interest, the affect of US economic challenges and the strain of more than a decade of war on the Navy’s ability to remain forward, engaged, and ready.  The US fiscal environment and the Asia Pacific security environment are on diametrically divergent paths.  In my former position in the Pacific Fleet, we recognized the fiscal constraints and understand that we must balance investments (as well as offsets) with the ‘wholeness’ of the force in an environment that is changing at an increasing pace.  We have an immediate challenge to manage short-term issues, which involve increasingly higher levels of risk.  We have been on this page of history before and our team has faced austere economic cycles in the past.  While the American public has kept faith with the navy, they have not changed their view of our mission or their expectations for our response to crisis conditions.  Over the course of our respective careers, we have witnessed a Navy engaged in a variety of operations in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East, sometimes focused on one enemy, as in the Cold War against the Soviet Union, or sometimes deployed against a regional adversary, as in Vietnam or the Gulf War.  In all that time, the U.S. Navy configured platforms for one contingency, but actually used it globally for many others, including humanitarian missions, well beyond the imaginations of those who laid the keel.

What has kept the Navy relevant since ship/submarine/aircraft design of our current fleet many years ago has been the skill and ingenuity of Sailors, young Americans, who continue to adapt, to think critically and address challenges for sustained operations from any location, at any time — without caveats.  I would suggest that the continued investments made in people have improved the relevancy and responsiveness of the fleet in an era of great challenge and change.  It is our people who make contact in the region, who represent the national interest, who act on democratic principles that appeal to audiences well beyond the confines of a single mission or operation, and who demonstrate the leadership, commitment, and resolve of the American government.  Our Sailors provide the best and brightest return for US government investment.


Admiral Patrick M. Walsh, USN (Ret.) is Senior Fellow at the John G. Tower Center for Political Studies and recently served as commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Prior to that assignment, he served as vice chief of Naval Operations and as a special assistant to the director of the Office of Management and Budget as a White House fellow. Walsh also has chaired the Department of Leadership, Ethics, and Law at the U.S. Naval Academy and directed the Navy Quadrennial Defense Review. He began his career as a Naval Aviator and flew with the Blue Angels. Walsh is highly decorated and has received numerous awards during his career, including two Distinguished Service Medals, the Defense Superior Service Medal, four Legion of Merit awards and two Meritorious Service Medals.

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Student Blog – Grace Lee | U.S., North and South Korea Event: What the Future Holds


The Tower Center hosted a panel discussion on the politics of the Korean peninsula and U.S. – Korean relations. Han Park and Victor Cha are Korean scholars who discussed their opinions on the possibility of the unification of the Koreas. Although unification is desirable, there is a low level of practicality. Some unstable scenarios between the Koreas are not only on nuclear and military fortified spots, but also on the tension of legitimacy war and the inability to have both regimes. In addition, North Korea is listed as the #1 most homogenous country in the world; the country’s ability to even consider the act of unification is undermined by the government’s lack of openness to the world. Under these circumstances, unification may seem impractical, but in the words of Victor Cha, “it’s the right thing to do.”

Nevertheless, Professor Park reminded us of the gradual change that is happening in recent times through stories of long lost families reuniting after years and years of no contact. He also pointed out an interesting aspect of North Korean politics, which involved the worship of Kim Il Sung, who passed in 1994. Rather than a significant ruler who runs the country, the ghost of Kim Il Sung is in fact running the country. For this reason, no matter how many rising leaders North Korea has, the government remains the same. As Professor Cha discusses, the unification of North and South Korea may result in either a nightmare or an opportunity.

As for the thoughts of other regions on this issue, Professor Victor Cha tells the perspective of other countries, such as Russia, Japan, and China; they would not oppose in the unification because of the risk of threatening the preservation of international relations. Furthermore, he believes in the support of America’s interest in the unification of North and South Korea.

Dr. Victor Cha is the university director of Asian Studies and holds the D.S. Song Chair in the Department of Government and School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University. He has authored several books on Foreign Affairs between U.S. Korea, Japan and North Korea. Cha has also served in the White House as Director for Asian Affairs at the National Security Council. Dr. Han Park is the university professor of Public and International Affairs and Director of the Center for the Study of Global Issues at the University of Georgia. He is currently an ABC News Consultant/Analyst and has appeared on major global media outlets, including CNN, ABC News, BBC, and KBS.

- Grace Lee, SMU Student and Tower Center Intern

Grace Lee is a Tower Center intern at the Tower Center of Political Studies department at SMU. She is a senior pursuing a degree in International Studies with a specialization in East Asia. After graduation, Grace hopes to attend graduate school in Washington D.C. and be involved in International Affairs.

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Amb. Robert Jordan on #Iran & who could play the bad cop in the Mideast

In the News/Fox Radio, November 27, 2013

Note: The entire interview can be heard here.

Amb. Robert Jordan on #Iran & who could play the bad cop in the Mideast

Amb. Robert Jordan, former US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, weighed in on the P5+1 deal with Iran and quoted President Reagan by saying we should “trust but verify.”  However, he amended the quote by saying he doesn’t know if he would even go as far as to trust!  On Israel and Saudi Arabia collaborating, Jordan said, “It is certainly possible that they could be collaborating with each other on what kind of strategy to employ.  Either to stop this interim agreement or to take action on their own part.”  He added, “It doesn’t hurt us to have a good cop, bad cop environment so that we can say to the Iranians ‘If you don’t play ball with us, watch out because there’s some really bad actors out there who would like to do away with you!’”

Ambassador Robert Jordan is a Diplomat-in-Residence at the John G. Tower Center for Political Studies. Click here to visit his personal page on our website.

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Student Blog – Karly Hanson | Rioters for Justice: Remnants of Colonization and civil unrest in the French Banlieues

BfvZlh4IEAEcDlCHervé Tchumkam discussed the civil unrest in the French banlieues in his lecture ”Rioters for Justice” during the inaugural session of the Tower Center Monthly Seminar. Tchumkan graduated from the Université Sorbonne Nouvelle Paris 3 and the University of Pennsylvania. His research has concentrated on Postcolonial Studies and Literary Theory, and Political Philosophy.

Tchumkam talked about the similarities that today’s exclusion and racism in France, share with the harshness of colonization. During French colonization, the pursuit of assimilation was brutal; immigrants were exploited for labor and resources to further French economic interests. African immigrants have been oscillating between necessary and expendable to France for more than 70 years. Even black French citizens that have been in the nation for three or four generations are not considered French, but are instead considered African. The question remains: what does it mean to be French?

Naturally, this issue seems all too familiar to Americans. Here in the U.S., Africans were slaves, and even when they were granted their freedom, segregation and racism were cruel. As a nation, America has made progress on issues of race and politics, and continues to strive for equality in civil rights. France has an ongoing crisis of national identity and struggles with segregated housing and neighborhoods. The rise of Xenophobia that invaded France during the 1930s when the African soldiers returned to France could still be at the roots. Some fear a crisis of the French citizenship. However, with the recent outbreaks of riots in the cities as evidence, the French citizens living in the banlieues are ready for a change. If the situation continues to escalate, as Tchumkam concluded his lecture, there could be more civil unrest.

- Karly Hanson, SMU student and Tower Center Intern

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Student Blog – Grace Lee | Demographic Changes and their Political Impact

Last Thursday, Dr. Jeffrey S. Passel and Dr. Harold Stanley discussed the political impact of demographic changes in the U.S. Dr. Passel is a senior demographer at the Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Trends Project and is a specialist in immigrant populations in America. His focus is on undocumented immigration, the impact of the foreign-born, and the impact of welfare reform on immigrant populations. Dr. Harold Stanley, Associate Provost at SMU, focuses his research on Latino politics, and presidential elections.

The discussion involved the demographic influence of immigration: how it impacted politics, affected the U.S. population, and became a national issue. There was also a focus on how the Latino population growth played a part in U.S. immigration. According to Dr. Passel’s research, immigrants from Mexico and Latin America count for more than half of all immigrants in the United States. He also shared statistics of the rise and fall of immigration since the 1920s.

Currently in the United States, there has been a slow decline in the past five to six years. However, research shows that because of the increase in foreign-born children and the rapid growth of the dispersal of unauthorized immigrants in the U.S., the immigration population may escalate in the future.

Many professors and visitors attended this event and it was interesting to share in their attentiveness on the sensitive topic. This was the first discussion I attended as a Tower Center intern, and I learned that although the topic of immigration may be a complicated subject, it is now more in need of attention than ever before.

- Grace Lee, SMU Student and Tower Center Intern

Grace 2

Grace Lee is a Tower Center intern at the Tower Center of Political Studies department at SMU. She is a senior pursuing a degree in International Studies with a specialization in East Asia. After graduation, Grace hopes to attend graduate school in Washington D.C. and be involved in International Affairs.

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Darwin Deason gives SMU gifts toward cybersecurity studies

This news story first appeared on January 29, 2014. For more information click here.

By Robert Miller, The Dallas Morning News; January 29, 2014

A $7.75 million gift from Darwin Deason will launch the Darwin Deason Institute for Cyber Security and support the Deason Innovation Gym in Southern Methodist University’s Lyle School of Engineering.

Deason’s gift includes a $5 million endowment and $1.25 million in operational funding for the new institute, which is headed by cybersecurity expert Frederick R. Chang. The former research director at the National Security Agency joined SMU last fall as the first Bobby B. Lyle Endowed Centennial Distinguished Chair in Cyber Security with the goal of creating the institute that now bears Deason’s name.

The gift provides $1.5 million to support Deason Innovation Gym, a facility in which students are immersed into a fast-paced environment to solve engineering problems.

“This support immediately positions the Lyle School to make significant contributions to the science of cybersecurity,” said SMU president R. Gerald Turner. “Darwin Deason’s generous gift of operational funding, in addition to the endowment, allows the institute to begin addressing critical cybersecurity issues from day one, advancements that will have an impact far beyond our campus nationally and globally.”

Lyle School dean Marc Christensen said: “The institute will attract the best minds to address the threats of cybercrime and cyberterrorism. The Innovation Gym helps develop young minds, turning students loose to solve real-world problems under tight deadlines, overcoming intermediate failures as they learn to innovate. By supporting the institute, this gift recognizes the importance of research at the highest level to solve a global challenge.”

Deason is the founder of Affiliated Computer Services Inc., launched in 1988 to handle business processes. Deason took the company public in 1994 and sold it to Xerox Corp. in 2010 for $6.4 billion.

Previously, Deason worked for the data-processing firm MTech and in data processing for Gulf Oil in Tulsa.

“My business career was built on technology services, so clearly the issue of cybersecurity is something I take very seriously,” Deason said. “The work of the institute will have a far-reaching impact, spanning retail, defense, technology, health care, energy, government, finance and transportation — everything that makes our world work.”

Deason is chairman of Deason Capital Services and president of the Deason Foundation.

“The reach of this gift means that SMU students will benefit from a unique combination of learning opportunities at SMU,” said SMU provost and vice president for academic affairs Paul Ludden. “It supports both important research and the spark of student creativity in one step.”

The Deason Institute will educate leaders who understand the complexities of cyber-related issues, whether they take their degree in computer science or philosophy. It will also incorporate elements from law, business and the social sciences to promote development of an educated citizenry in the issues of cybersecurity.

In addition to directing the Deason Institute, Chang teaches computer science and serves as a senior fellow in the John Goodwin Tower Center for Political Studies in Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences.

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Student Blog – Karly Hanson | Elect Her: Campus Women Win Training

I have never given the idea of running for office much thought. I think mostly, that’s because I wouldn’t even know where to begin. I am not a political science major, and though it has always been my dad’s dream, it is not mine, to one day become president.  But, I am attending the Elect Her training session on April 25thanyway. I believe young women everywhere should equip themselves with the skills and knowledge that the talented and accomplished leaders, such as Jessica Grounds -Director of the Women’s Office for Ready for Hillary -teach through the program: leadership, organization, and effective communication skills for example.

Growing up I never wanted to be in the spotlight. I don’t speak up in class, and I am hardly ever the loudest voice in a group. However, as I get older and progress through college, I am realizing how important it is for every voice to be heard. Running for office does not have to be about me being known by everyone. Instead, it can be about me helping others become represented, and inspiring other women to do the same.

The more I sit back and observe the campus, the clearer it becomes that I cannot simply watch and hope that someone elected will make the changes that SMU needs. It’s like when teachers tell their students to ask questions because someone else might have the same one.  When no one asks questions, no one gets the answers they need. If I want to a see a change in my community, in this case, on the SMU campus, then I must be the force behind the movement. I hope to learn how to be that force in the Elect Her training session on April 25th. I want to learn how to lead a community, and most importantly how to inspire my peers so that one day they will do the same in their own communities.

- Karly Hanson, SMU student and Tower Center Intern

If you are interested in learning how to lead like Karly, join us for the Elect Her | Campus Women Win Training on April 25th at Hughes-Trigg.

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Mexico pitches energy reform

This news story first appeared on January 24, 2014. For more information click here.

By James Osborne, The Dallas Morning News; January 24, 2014


Mexican congressman Javier Trevino Cantu is in Texas trying to sell his country’s energy reforms to U.S. oil companies. On Friday, he visited with attendees before speaking to a group at SMU. (Mona Reeder/Staff Photographer)

Javier Treviño Cantu, a Mexican congressman and close ally of President Enrique Peña Nieto, has spent much of the last month traveling Texas to tout the historic nature of his country’s decision to open up its oil sector. But he admits Mexico has a ways to go yet.

“There are many opportunities in the world, between South America and Africa and the Arctic,” he said. “So how are we able to attract the oil companies? That’s going to be the key challenge.”

More than a month after Mexico’s Congress passed a series of historic constitutional amendments to open up its energy sector to foreign investment, the country is trying to sell the changes to U.S. companies that remain both eager and skeptical of their prospects south of the border.

Earlier this week, Gustavo Madero, president of the National Action Party, and Jesús Reyes Heroles, former CEO of the national oil company Pemex, appeared before oil executives and attorneys in Houston to explain the developments expected in the months ahead.

Treviño, a leading force within the Institutional Revolutionary Party, has been to Texas three times since the vote. He mixes private meetings with industry insiders with public events like a speech at SMU on Friday. The message is Mexico is open for business and committed to creating a legal structure that will be attractive to foreign oil companies.

So far, the message has been getting a good reaction from U.S. oil companies, according to analysts and attorneys. But with the structure of the changes still being drawn up, how terms will compare with countries like Brazil and Peru also seeking investment is unclear, said Carlos Solé, an attorney with Baker Botts.

“That’s the $20,000 question,” he said. “When they do the first bids they want the who’s who of the energy industry. And that’s why you have guys coming up to Dallas and Houston, making the rounds. I’m not sure what the phrase is, road show maybe.”

For Mexico, the stakes are high. Discussions on overhauling the energy sector stretch back more than two decades. But standing in the way was the deep national passion around Mexico’s decision in the 1930s to declare its oil reserves off-limits to foreign companies.

But since the North American Free Trade Agreement opened up cross-border trade in the 1990s, that way of thinking has started to diminish, Treviño said.

Perhaps more important, while oil and gas drilling has soared in the U.S. through the hydraulic fracturing revolution, production in Mexico has fallen off a cliff.

“It’s interesting. That sort of rhetorical nationalism seems the domain of a political class, the left,” said Tony Garza, the former U.S. ambassador to Mexico and now an attorney in Mexico City with White & Case.

“When you get out and see some of the polls that have been done of the middle class and lower middle class, you recognize that they are looking for opportunity. It’s less of that visceral nationalism and more, ‘How can we compete, why are we leaving our nation’s patrimony in the ground, buried?’”

But considerable questions remain.

What will happen to Pemex, the vast sprawling state agency, which up until now has held a monopoly over oil production in Mexico?

Mexico is eager to develop deep offshore projects and unconventional shale plays that Pemex is considered ill-equipped to manage. But handing them off to an Exxon Mobil or a Shell outright could prove politically difficult in Mexico City, analysts say.

Dallas Parker, a partner with Houston law firm Mayer Brown, which has advised Pemex in the past, said the company was ready to move on from its current role.

“At the upper levels they feel like the shackles have been taken off. They won’t be run solely as a revenue-generating source for the Mexican government,” he said. “Pemex does not have the capabilities to be involved in every oil and gas opportunity in Mexico. The resources are vast. If Mexico wants to reform, they have to go all the way.”

The fine print of the changes remains a subject of considerable speculation.

Attorneys and analysts gather intelligence through government sources in Mexico. And each has a different interpretation of how things will shape up when the government is scheduled to present legislation on the energy reforms April 20.

As he traveled around Texas this month, Treviño said he has heard the skepticism.

“There are reactions. There are concerns. There are viewpoints, which is good. It’s a very good learning process,” he said.

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Student Blog – Julien Teel | Mexican Energy Reform: Insights & Perspectives

In partnership with the Maguire Energy Institute, the John Goodwin Tower Center for Political Studies had the privilege to bring Congressman Javier Treviño Cantú from Mexico to Dallas last Friday. Congressman Treviño is an elected official of the Mexican Federal Congress for the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), and has been well involved in Mexico’s recent energy reformation process. His appearance gave scholars, government officials, business professionals, and even students some unique insights on the prospects and implications regarding the energy reform.

Congressman Treviño opened his discussion by analyzing three vital aspects:  the current predicaments and objectives that the government of Mexico is aggressively addressing, the purpose and future of the new constitutional amendments that have been ratified, and energy trends that led to the necessity of implementing a novel energy reform. Specifics of the energy reform itself were also meticulously explained, showing that Mexico indeed has a viable plan for revitalizing the nation and entering the world economy as a major energy player.

Despite opposition from political actors and interests groups who wish to retain Mexico’s old policy on energy, Congressman Treviño remains optimistic that the citizens of Mexico, and indeed the international community, will come to see these reforms as progressive and economically beneficial. Much thought and effort has been put into these reforms to ensure Mexico’s future is secured, all while promoting transparency and anti-corruption policies. Although it is still early to feel the effects of the reforms, this feat has the opportunity to transform North America into an energy powerhouse. Indeed, the future is beginning to look much brighter for Mexico.

– Julien Teel, 2013 Tower Center Vaughn Intern

Teel, JulienJulien Teel recently graduated from SMU in December 2013 with a degree in Political Science and International Studies. His research encompasses security and defense issues in East Asia, as well as analyzing the trilateral relationship between the U.S., Japan, and China. Currently, Julien is in the process of applying for Officer Candidate School in the Navy with the intention of entering as an Intelligence Officer. He eventually hopes to become a Foreign Area Officer in the Navy, formulating and promoting American foreign policy in the Asia-Pacific region.

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