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Main publications of world analytical centers 13/03 - 24/03/17
24 March 2017 02:12

1.       ATLANTIC COUNCIL - Security experts who follow the West’s responses to Russia’s meddling in its internal affairs—through cyber hacks, massive disinformation, corruption of Western leaders, and espionage—have good reason to be disappointed. Despite almost every Western intelligence agency urgently warning about the Russian threat, only a few Western leaders are ordering their security institutions to develop and implement robust strategies and policies against it. 2.  МОСКОВСКИЙ ЦЕНТР КАРНЕГИ - Возвращение мирового влияния посредством пересечения красных линий и страха неожиданных действий работает против России. Теперь всякая неприятная неожиданность может быть списана на Россию. Обвинения на высшем уровне до начала следствия далеки от идеи построения правового государства, но соблазн дополнить сюжет о непредсказуемом Кремле велик не только в Украине. 3.       FOREIGN POLICY - As the forces of reaction and populism gain strength on both sides of the Atlantic, it is easy to become fatalistic about the fate of Europe and liberal democracy. the longer present trends continue — the longer Russian aggression and subversion goes unchallenged, Western defense budgets shrink, the roots of illiberal populism and nationalism go unaddressed, migratory waves continue unabated, economies stagnate, and America forgoes its role as guarantor of continental stability — the more probable this European nightmare becomes. 4.       POLITICO EUROPE - The blockade lays bare for some Ukrainians the contradictions and hypocrisies of the conflict. “In the end, there is a real anger of ‘Why are we trading with the enemy?’” said one Western official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “There is a real sense of ‘No, we need to cut this off.’” 5.       CHATHAM HOUSE - Despite six years of incoherent policy, Western countries can still positively shape Syria’s post-conflict settlement. This may be their last chance. 6.       CARNEGIE EUROPE - Slowly, Germany is taking on more responsibility in security and defense as Europe faces major internal and external threats. 7.       CARNEGIE EUROPE - Migration is likely to top the EU’s agenda for many years. No other challenge poses similar risks to the survival of liberal European democracies and of European integration. But if handled correctly, immigration also offers great potential for the success of an open and dynamic Europe in a globalized world. The stakes couldn’t be higher. 8.       ECFR - The EU is still the only game in town; Russia has nothing substantive on the table. Despite the current dilemmas, a European future, which means NATO membership too, is the best guarantee of prosperity and stability. With elections this year in Albania and Serbia, let’s hope the millennials can get out and vote. 9.       NATIONAL INTEREST - The contest for influence in Southeast Asia needn’t necessarily be a zero-sum game, but it is still a game that the United States can lose. A Southeast Asia policy review, to include an exploration of U.S. strategy in the South China Sea, should be a priority for the Trump administration during its first six months. To ignore the region is not to invite a modern-day conquest of Singapore by a neo-imperial Chinese army, but it could very well lead to a tipping of the regional balance of power in China’s favor. 10.   ATLANTIC COUNCIL - Russia’s support for the Taliban—a terrorist group with which the United States has been at war for more than fifteen years and that is dedicated to overthrowing Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s government—is causing considerable unease in Afghanistan where officials worry it will undermine efforts to make peace in their war-torn country.


Six Immediate Steps to Stop Putin’s Aggression (JAKUB  JANDA, the atlantic council)

Jakub Janda is head of the Kremlin Watch Program and deputy director at the European Values Think-Tank, based in Prague. In 2016, he was tasked by Czech security and intelligence institutions to consult on the “Influence of Foreign Powers” chapter within the Audit of National Security conducted by the Czech government.

MARCH 13, 2017

Security experts who follow the West’s responses to Russia’s meddling in its internal affairs—through cyber hacks, massive disinformation, corruption of Western leaders, and espionage—have good reason to be disappointed. With a few exceptions in the Baltic and Scandinavian countries, and recently in the Czech Republic, very few real counter-measures have been put into practice. Despite almost every Western intelligence agency urgently warning about the Russian threat, only a few Western leaders are ordering their security institutions to develop and implement robust strategies and policies against it.

We don’t live in an ideal world, but let’s think for a moment about the ideal reaction and how it might play out.

First, let’s really defend Ukraine against the Russian military. The American president should join with his European allies to declare in one strong voice that if the Kremlin doesn’t stop the fighting in eastern Ukraine, military action will follow, as will other steps. For example, the detailed identification of all Kremlin-linked financial assets (including the assets of Kremlin leaders’ relatives living in the West) should be put on Putin’s table with a clear message: if you don’t stop your aggression, this is what you and your people will lose.

Moscow has no justifiable explanation for its massive delivery of personnel, weaponry, intelligence, and artillery support to its proxies on Ukrainian soil. The West should support the Ukrainian army with modern weapons to give it a better chance of defending its homeland. Russia-backed and commanded militants would be given an ultimatum to surrender and return control over Ukrainian territory to the Ukrainian government, or face a full-scale offensive.

The West should make it clear to Russia that if it directly launches a major invasion into eastern Ukraine, it will face a Western military presence. Allied forces would be put on standby alert as the Ukrainian army, supported by its Western partners, retakes control over its land in eastern Ukraine. Moscow would fiercely protest, but history teaches us that when confronted with a dedicated unified front, it backs down.

Second, Western democracies must get serious about tackling the threat of massive disinformation. The influence of foreign powers—and hostile disinformation specifically—need to be established as a regular item on Western security agendas. Top policymakers should say that Russia’s behavior is unacceptable and that strong counter-measures will be taken. Each targeted country should set up specialized hybrid threat centers with at least thirty interagency security experts monitoring and analyzing disinformation operations against their own democracies.

Meanwhile, Western governments should be proposing tailored policy responses at the national level, from specific requests to their own intelligence agencies to strategic communications activities. Without a special team of full-time professionals to craft public policies on this threat, no real comprehensive counter-measures can be expected. Just as regular policemen aren’t able to fight organized crime, the current security paradigm isn’t sufficient to confront the Russian threat.

Third, national leaders need to finally make it clear to Federica Mogherini, the EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy, that when European leaders called for EU action against “ongoing Russian disinformation campaigns” in March 2015, they really meant it. If she keeps avoiding naming Russia as the source of hostile disinformation operations, she's systematically neglecting a clear threat perceived by many EU member states that she represents. Moreover, the only real EU response to this threat—an eleven-man EEAS East STRATCOM Team (paid mainly by member states, not by the EU institution that barely tolerates it)—is absurdly understaffed. At the very least, the EEAS’ progress and achievements should be discussed at the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council on a quarterly basis. And when the European Parliament calls for its reinforcement, it needs to happen.

Fourth, Moscow’s Trojan horses need to be called out and challenged. If a powerful politician is simply repeating Moscow-disseminated lies, as Marine Le Pen does regarding Ukraine, he or she needs to be publicly confronted. If some national politicians systematically downplay Russia’s meddling into their own countries’ internal affairs, serious questions about those leaders’ loyalty should be raised. Their personal and financial connections to the Kremlin and its proxies should be carefully investigated; otherwise, many democracies would be left with leaders who are vulnerable to blackmail. That is why all financing of political affairs must be completely transparent.

Fifth, governments need to fund projects that expose disinformation and massively increase media literacy skills. Right now, virtually no funding is available in Europe for operational monitoring and the analysis of disinformation. When it does exist, it often comes from private foundations or a few American donors. The reason is a remarkably low level of understanding about how serious this threat is, as well as the issue’s sensitivity: donors are often afraid of angering Moscow and legal liability.

The EEAS East STRATCOM Team has already built a network of 400 volunteer researchers in thirty countries. Those experts report on disinformation on a weekly basis, and almost all do it for free. The volunteers are deeply determined, but serious research cannot be built without even minor financing. To understand how seriously institutions are taking the threat, look at the amount of money dedicated to countering it. In this, Europe is failing miserably. For starters, every concerned government should be dedicating five to twenty million Euro annually, depending on its size.

Sixth, we urgently need data. How many Germans believe the most common Kremlin narratives? What portion of French voters think Baltic countries are not worth defending and therefore when NATO Article 5 is activated, the French president shouldn’t send French troops to defend its allies? What are the country-specific vulnerabilities Russian intelligence is using to push through its foreign-policy objectives? How are national electorates shifting their views on key foreign-policy issues, especially since 2014 when the Kremlin launched most of its disinformation campaigns targeted at Western audiences?

We need answers to these questions. Comprehensive sociological research must be conducted, with national-security urgency, that includes a clear understanding of how nation-specific disinformation narratives are disseminated, and how are they successful. It is impossible to measure the direct impact, but it is possible to learn what portions of society believe which narratives, and why. Without knowing how many people subscribe to Kremlin narratives in most countries, Western institutions are practically blind. The West barely knows how to tailor its counter-policies, because most of the analytical work has not yet been started at the needed scale. Until now, most Western leaders didn’t care, and that has to change now.


«Это сделали русские». Как убийство Дениса Вороненкова подрывает стратегию Кремля (Андрей Перцев, московский центр карнеги)


Возвращение мирового влияния посредством пересечения красных линий и страха неожиданных действий работает против России. Теперь всякая неприятная неожиданность может быть списана на Россию. Обвинения на высшем уровне до начала следствия далеки от идеи построения правового государства, но соблазн дополнить сюжет о непредсказуемом Кремле велик не только на Украине.

Судьба бывшего депутата Госдумы от КПРФ Дениса Вороненкова, который сначала голосовал за присоединение Крыма и радовался ему, а после потери депутатского статуса стал гражданином Украины, выглядела эскизом будущего многих представителей российской элиты. Времена Владимира Путина не вечны, после них российским политикам, силовикам, чиновникам придется менять поведение и риторику, и выбор Вороненкова мог приглянуться кому-то как один из вариантов. До вчерашнего дня. Денис Вороненков был застрелен в центре Киева днем, киллер, которого ранил охранник экс-депутата, умер в больнице. Раскрытие заказных убийств, особенно политических, – дело нечастое. В России до сих пор не раскрыто убийство Владислава Листьева (1995), в Киеве в прошлом году был убит журналист Павел Шеремет – преступники до сих пор не найдены.

Когда жертвами пуль или взрыва становятся символические фигуры (а Вороненков после смены гражданства стал такой фигурой), поиск реальных заказчиков часто не такое уж важное дело: все понятно и так. Президент Украины Петр Порошенко до получения каких-либо данных публично назвал произошедшее «актом государственного терроризма» со стороны России. «Это была обычная для Кремля показательная казнь свидетеля», – сказал до суда и следствия генпрокурор Украины Юрий Луценко. В классической дипломатии и международных отношениях такие высказывания, особенно в первые часы после громкого события, невозможны, они нарушают гласные и негласные каноны права. Проблема в том, что отношения России и Украины после событий в Донбассе грани нормального давно переступили. Владимир Путин может обвинить руководство соседней страны в обострении военных действий в Донбассе, чтобы «вышибать из Евросоюза, из отдельных стран Европы, из США и международных финансовых институтов, представляя себя в качестве жертвы агрессии». Глава Следственного комитета Александр Бастрыкин еще в 2015 году пытался уличить Арсения Яценюка в участии в чеченской войне на стороне сепаратистов. Обмен мнениями между двумя странами давно идет на языке пропаганды, и убийство Дениса Вороненкова для каждой стороны представляет идеальную пропагандистскую базу, как бы цинично это ни звучало.

Гибель Дениса Вороненкова действительно выгодна российским властям, спорить с этим утверждением очень трудно. Бывшие (и действующие) депутаты Госдумы покидали страну и раньше – так поступил, например, оппозиционер Илья Пономарев. Его жизнь за границей Кремль интересовала мало, хотя дело против Пономарева на всякий случай заведено. Но Вороненкова нельзя назвать рядовым депутатом, даже нерядовой парламентарий может быть не очень осведомленным в реальных раскладах российской внутренней политики с его силовой составляющей. Денис Вороненков «силовую кухню» знал. Он был полковником ФСКН во время войны этой службы, вернее, ее главы, одного из старых соратников Владимира Путина, Виктора Черкесова с ФСБ.

В середине нулевых Владимир Путин занимался равноудалением от себя не только олигархов, но и силовиков, между которыми тогда поощрялась и до сих пор поощряется взаимная конкуренция. Следственный комитет конфликтует с Генпрокуратурой; МВД пытается зайти на территорию ответственности ФСБ. Каждую из силовых структур можно условно назвать госкорпорацией: свой подконтрольный бизнес и финансовые потоки, свои люди с оружием и корочками, которые дают доступ куда угодно. Мир путинских силовиков очень близок к феодальному устройству: вассалы поддерживают своего сюзерена, но воюют между собой за ресурсы, вступают в ситуативные союзы, разрывают их. Борьба эта, разумеется, непублична, ее свидетельства – упразднение одних структур (как ФСКН) и отправка их руководителей на почетную пенсию (тот же Виктор Черкесов), создание новых ведомств (из недр начавшей усиливаться Генпрокуратуры вышел Следственный комитет), новости о том, как одна служба прослушивает другую, аресты сотрудников среднего и средневысокого уровня.

От этой непубличной борьбы зависели и зависят многие расклады российской политики и экономики. Денис Вороненков знал ситуацию изнутри: может быть, новейшая история борьбы силовиков, ее скрытые пружины и механизмы ему хорошо известны не были, зато в прошлых войнах он разбирался неплохо. В интервью «Новой газете» генерал ФСКН Александр Бульбов, главный пострадавший от битвы своего ведомства с ФСБ (арестован по так называемому делу «Трех китов»), сомневался, что Вороненков «обладает ценной информацией, способной нанести ущерб национальной безопасности России». Однако даже сама схема работы спецслужб, о которой экс-депутат и бывший полковник знал не понаслышке, вполне могла быть интересна многим. И вот такой ценный кадр покидает Россию и начинает сотрудничать с властью Украины, которую российские власти открыто признают недружественной. Кроме того, Денис Вороненков в интервью украинским СМИ свою осведомленность в кремлевских и лубянских тайных делах всячески подчеркивал (например, называл Алексея Навального агентом ФСБ). «Навальный давно превратился в эффективный инструмент определенной группы в ФСБ, с помощью которого бизнес-кланы расправляются с конкурентами: сначала с генпрокурором Чайкой, сейчас – с премьер-министром Медведевым. И уголовные дела против Навального – фейк, иначе он бы давно сидел в тюрьме. ФСБ целенаправленно лепит из Навального героя», – заверял Вороненков украинцев.

Экс-депутат вызвался выступать свидетелем по делу, возбужденному против экс-президента Украины Виктора Януковича о госизмене. Поводов достаточно, а враги российской власти, от убитых Александра Литвиненко и Бориса Немцова до Бориса Березовского, умирают не своей смертью подозрительно часто. Дениса Вороненкова, который заверял, что выступал против присоединения Крыма, не прочь был повоевать в АТО, давал показания на Януковича, легко вписать в ряд жертв российского режима, который травоядностью не отличается.

России есть что противопоставить украинской точке зрения. Вороненков в российской пропаганде тоже символ, только с другим знаком. Это год назад «межфракционный ребенок» депутата от КПРФ и представительницы партии власти в Госдуме Марии Максаковой был темой многих новостных сюжетов и олицетворял партийный крымский консенсус, а сам Денис Вороненков боролся с игрой Pokemon Go. Последние недели в новостных сюжетах о бывшем депутате отзывались как о предателе, а против него самого было возбуждено уголовное дело о мошенничестве. Алексей Навальный еще до бегства  Вороненкова обнаружил у бывшего коммуниста пять квартир и солидный автопарк (с «бентли»). Российские официальные СМИ и провластные политики тоже приводят версии убийства Дениса Вороненкова, которые выглядят не такими уж неправдоподобными. Во время работы в ФСКН экс-депутат не чурался и не самых законных методов взаимодействия с бизнесом, пытался «решать вопросы» о возбуждении и отмене уголовных дел, кроме того, в перерыве между ФСКН и Госдумой он успел и сам побыть коммерсантом. Могли бывшие партнеры обидеться на Вороненкова? Могли, почему нет, а на Украине не обеспечили безопасность ценному перебежчику – версия (особенно для российского телезрителя) довольно правдоподобная. Не самый честный бывший силовик заполучил для себя депутатский мандат, продлить его не смог, покинул страну, но враги настигли его и за границей. Все это вписывается в представление как российского обывателя, так и хоть немного знакомого с ситуацией в России и на Украине западного политика или эксперта: да, так может быть.

В повестку вбрасываются и истории более экзотические: например, предположение, что Вороненкова из мести мог убить бывший гражданской муж его супруги Марии Максаковой, авторитетный человек Владимир Тюрин. Конспирологии тоже находится место. «Мы должны понимать, что эту диверсию могла продумать СБУ под руководством ЦРУ», – поспешил заявить лидер КПРФ Геннадий Зюганов. Удивительно, что пока не пошло в ход предположение, что Вороненкова убили оскорбленные голосованием за присоединение Крыма украинские патриоты.

Если убийство Дениса Вороненкова не будет раскрыто, в сознании мирового сообщества все равно отпечатается: в этом виновен Кремль. И Владимир Путин, и Сергей Лавров, и многочисленные депутаты и сенаторы, и силовики, и остальная королевская конница слишком долго создавали брутальный имидж нарушителя всех гласных и негласных правил международного сожительства: силы не стоит стыдиться, «найдем и замочим в сортире», «главное – суть обнародованной хакерами информации о Демпартии США». Воспользовались возможностью и взяли Крым, в Донбассе воюют неизвестно откуда взявшиеся «добровольцы», только уволившиеся из армии. Разумеется, в общих словах и официальных заявлениях Кремль всегда ни при чем, но за этим всегда следует недвусмысленное подмигивание: «Мы бы, конечно, могли, если б захотели, и до Киева за две недели дойти».

Кремль создает образ злого трикстера, который ради исправления несправедливого мирового порядка может нарушать любые границы. Для продвижения этого образа не понадобилось услуг известных пиар-агентств. Западные политики попытки такого влияния признают: об атаках русских хакеров, например, говорит кандидат в президенты Франции Эммануэль Макрон. Еще недавно в Кремле такие заявления воспринимали благосклонно: боятся – значит уважают. «Это сделали русские» – такой мем стал популярен за рубежом. Но тот же самый страх порождает проблемы: бояться-то, может, и боятся, только уважают ли? Любые неприятности и злоключения теперь можно смело сваливать на Россию, которая сама приняла на себя эту роль. Смерть Дениса Вороненкова вписывается в порочную линию: вместо того чтобы промолчать в ответ на странные перегибы Петра Порошенко в первый час после убийства, определившего виновного, провластные российские источники начали вбросы различных, пусть и странных версий. Оправдывается – значит, виноват; это впечатление усиливается и на фоне воспоминаний о сбитом «боинге». Первые дни после катастрофы официальные российские источники выдавали заведомо неправдоподобные версии об украинских штурмовиках, потом истребителях, а потом и «буках». Веер версий, опубликованных после убийства Дениса Вороненкова, особенно для внешних наблюдателей, незнакомых со сложной биографией экс-депутата, подталкивает к тому, чтобы согласиться с привычным сюжетом про оппозиционера и Кремль даже там, где для этого может не хватать оснований. События вчерашнего дня для Кремля, похоже, уроком не стали.



The Plot Against Europe (JAMES KIRCHICK, the foreign policy)

MARCH 6, 2017

The West’s nightmare scenario starts with Donald Trump’s election — and ends with Russian tanks rolling into Estonia while NATO looks the other way.

May 9, 2022 — Standing on the viewing platform in Red Square, President Vladimir Putin observed the military parade commemorating the 77th anniversary of the Soviet Union’s defeat of Nazi Germany. This Victory Day, he had reason to be especially proud of his country.

Earlier that week, a group of 150 Russian special forces — bearing no insignia and disguised like the “little green men” who had occupied the Crimean peninsula eight years prior — had slipped into the tiny neighboring Baltic state of Estonia. Seizing a government building in Narva, a city on the border with an ethnic Russian majority, they planted a Russian flag on the roof and promptly declared the “Narva People’s Republic.” In a statement released to international media, leaders of the nascent breakaway state announced they were “defending ethnic Russians from the fascist regime in Tallinn,” Estonia’s capital. Most of Narva’s Russian-speaking citizens looked upon the tumultuous events with passivity. Ever since the annexation of Crimea in 2014, they suspected something like this would eventually happen.

In the months leading up to the incursion, Kremlin-backed television networks — widely watched by Estonia’s Russian-speaking minority — had beamed inflammatory reports about an impending Estonian “genocide” of ethnic Russians, much as they had warned of a similar phantom “genocide” allegedly perpetrated by the Ukrainian government against its own Russian-speaking population years earlier. Tensions reached a climax in March when Russian media accused an “Estonian fascist gang” of kidnapping an ethnic Russian teenager. Agents of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) in Narva were aware from the very beginning that the boy had actually died in an alcohol-induced accident after falling off a bridge. But such facts need not get in the way of a pretext, which came in the form of an ethnic Russian leader in Narva calling for Moscow’s “fraternal assistance” in staving off an incipient pogrom.

By the time Tallinn realized what was happening, there was little a force of several hundred Estonian soldiers could plausibly do. And since U.S. President Donald Trump had ordered the removal of all U.S. forces from the Baltic States in 2019 — his demand that NATO members “pay” for American protection oblivious to the fact that Estonia was one of the handful of countries meeting the alliance threshold of spending 2 percent of its GDP on defense — Putin no longer worried2) At the Republican National Convention which made Trump its presidential nominee in 2016, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich rationalized remarks Trump had made earlier about the United States putting conditions on its adherence to NATO’s Article V clause mandating that an attack on one member is an attack on all. “I’m not sure I would risk a nuclear war over some place which is in the suburbs of Saint Petersburg,” he said, speaking of Estonia. that his move into Estonia might set off an automatic American “tripwire.”

The campaign had worked even better than Putin hoped. While it was expected that some countries on NATO’s western periphery, like Spain and Portugal, would be more circumspect about enlisting in military conflict over a tiny member state on the other side of the Continent, in fact, the strongest opposition to invoking Article 5 came from none other than Europe’s predominant political and economic power: Germany.

When WikiLeaks impresario Julian Assange, still ensconced at the Ecuadorean Embassy in London, published an email exchange between German government ministers appearing to massage the costs associated with resettling migrants, the insurgent Alternative for Germany party (AfD)4) Like many right-wing, anti-system, populist parties in Europe, the AfD has extensive links to Russia; Der Spiegel has labeled the party “Moscow’s Fifth Column” in Germany. seized the opportunity. Its leaders bashed Merkel as a “traitor to the people” in connivance with the lügenpresse, or “lying press,” terms that had not been used in Germany since the Nazi era. In a move unprecedented for an American president, Donald Trump inserted himself into the German electoral campaign, attacking Merkel repeatedly for her migrant policy and calling on the German people to vote her out of office. With the quiet assistance of White House counselor Steve Bannon, the newly launched Breitbart Deutschland amplified Trump’s criticisms with incessant, and often factually wrong, stories about “migrant crime” all illustrated with a doctored image of Merkel’s trademark “rhombus” hand gesture splattered in blood.

Following the debacles in Afghanistan and Iraq, it was highly unlikely that the leaders of the flabby and decadent Western democracies would ever be able to convince their citizens to undertake another serious military operation, let alone one aimed at stopping Russia. Moscow had improved its image in many Western capitals with its Syrian machinations, convincing many of its indispensability in fighting the Islamic State. Also hovering over the entire discussion was the fear that Russia might drop a tactical nuclear weapon in the Baltic region if NATO defended its subjugated member. As far back as 2000, Putin, had lowered the threshold in Russia’s military doctrine such that any “aggression utilizing conventional weapons in situations critical to [Russia’s] national security” — and not just threats to Russia’s “existence” — could trigger a nuclear first use.

Fearing for their own hides, Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania insisted that Washington meet its security commitment to a fellow alliance member and redeploy troops to the Baltics bilaterally. The betrayal of Tallinn, they insisted, “amounted to another Munich.” But President Trump refused. Following a series of short, carefully worded speeches by each of the assembled delegates, the NATO Secretary General called for a vote on invocation of Article 5. The “nays” had it, 4-21, with only the two other Baltic States and Poland siding with Estonia.

Meanwhile, Great Britain was hurtling forward on a path to becoming Little England.

Meanwhile, Great Britain was hurtling forward on a path to becoming Little England. When he was elected leader of the Labour Party in 2015, Jeremy Corbyn struck the parliamentary press gallery as a joke. By the 2020 election, however, the economic disaster wreaked by Britain’s departure from the EU (formalized in 2019) along with public disgust over a pedophilia scandal involving a senior Conservative cabinet minister, swayed bookies to cut 1-to-1 odds on a Labour government. When the votes were tallied, Labour achieved a hung Parliament with a bare plurality (259) of the body’s 650 seats. The U.K. Independence Party (whose leader Nigel Farage had endorsed Corbyn’s party leadership bid back in 2015) pocketed 10 seats at Westminster after making a pre-election pact not to run candidates in the same constituencies as Labour, thereby maximizing the anti-Tory vote. Conservative Party leader Boris Johnson was not far behind with 240 seats, but as Labour won more constituencies than any other party, Queen Elizabeth II (still spry at 94) called upon Corbyn to form a government, which the bearded radical socialist promptly did by inviting the Scottish Nationalist Party and UKIP into a bare working majority. To gain their support, Corbyn promised a second independence referendum for Scotland.

The outer edges of Europe were beset with their own crises. The secessionist flame lit by the successful Scottish independence campaign spread like wildfire: Catalonia finally voted to split from Spain, and the Veneto region seceded from Italy. In Northern Europe, meanwhile, right-wing populists were on the march. Angry reaction to years of untrammeled immigration saw to it that the Sweden Democrats, a nationalist party with neo-Nazi roots, formed a minority government in 2019 after all the other parties announced their refusal to join a coalition. A country that was once the most welcoming to refugees eliminated asylum altogether, a clear violation of EU regulations; similarly, right-wing nationalist governments had also come to power in the Netherlands, Norway, and Finland.

Brussels was confounded by the emergence of the Fidesz-Jobbik coalition. Outraged speeches were delivered in the well of the EU parliament, “action” was called for, chin-stroking editorials were published in newspapers across the continent, but nothing was done. Hungary’s new government would eventually save Europe the trouble of having to punish it, however, by becoming the third country, after Britain and France, to leave the EU and NATO. Upon signing the formal renunciation documents in Brussels, where he delivered a fiery farewell speech condemning “Europe’s betrayal of fundamental Christian values and the sanctity of sovereign nationhood,” Orban returned to Hungary a conquering hero. After receiving a congratulatory phone call from President Trump (arranged by Bannon), Orban announced to a cheering crowd at Freedom Square — the same spot, incidentally, where he had called for the immediate withdrawal of Soviet troops as a young law student in 1989 — that Hungary would enter the other “EU,” the Moscow-led Eurasian Economic Union, a collection of post-Soviet authoritarian regimes.

The Hungarian Guard, a Jobbik-linked paramilitary organization whose ban had been upheld by the European Court of Justice, immediately regrouped after Hungary left the EU as Budapest was no longer subject to ECJ jurisdiction. In the summer of 2020, a Hungarian diaspora group held a rally in the majority-Hungarian Slovak border town of Dunjaska Streda, attracting a 15,000-strong crowd with speeches denouncing the “Bratislava bandits” and demanding Slovakia’s “return” to Hungary. When the organizers unfurled a giant flag of “Greater Hungary” displaying the country’s imperial borders, Slovak police entered the stadium and declared the event cancelled on grounds that display of such maps had been deemed illegal by Slovakia’s highest court.

Even still, despite the now near-complete decimation of the EU, the invasion of Estonia would have been nothing more than a gleam in Russian war planners’ eyes had they not brought down the Ukrainian government of President Mikheil Saakashvili in 2020. A year after the Maidan uprising, the post-revolutionary Ukrainian government recruited the brash former president of Georgia to serve as governor of the corruption-riddled Odessa region. In 2019, Saakashvili launched a surprise campaign for the presidency and became, after Simon Bolivar, the second person ever to become president of more than one country.

Putin was a strong man, rarely given to overt emotion. But the enormity of what he had accomplished was difficult for even a stone-faced KGB man like himself to process. A solitary tear poured from his eye and slid down his freshly botoxed cheek. The parade was nearly over. It had taken three decades, but finally, the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century” had been avenged.

What you have just read is a work of speculative fiction. The likelihood that any one of the aforementioned events will transpire differs to varying degrees; that all would occur in the nightmarish concatenation I’ve foretold is unlikely. Yet a France beset by low-level civil war in its banlieues, a Hungarian government with fascist ministers, the emasculation of NATO, or the dissolution of the EU: None of these options can be written off as the stuff of pure dystopian fiction. If we’ve learned anything in this era of Brexit and President Donald Trump, it’s never say never.

Europe’s bloody history imprinted on successive generations of statesmen the perils of nationalism, xenophobia, and war. To avoid the mistakes of the past, and to protect against encroachment from the east, they invested their hopes in two vitally important multilateral organizations: the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Today, Russia is trying to destroy both, from without and within. If it succeeds in doing so, the consequences will be dire not only for Europeans, but for America and the entire world. With a new administration in Washington that promises to be as detached from European affairs as any since the interwar period, the possibility the continent may run off the rails again is extremely high.

As the forces of reaction and populism gain strength on both sides of the Atlantic, it is easy to become fatalistic about the fate of Europe and liberal democracy. There is nothing inevitable, however, about the course of human events. Yet the longer present trends continue — the longer Russian aggression and subversion goes unchallenged, Western defense budgets shrink, the roots of illiberal populism and nationalism go unaddressed, migratory waves continue unabated, economies stagnate, and America forgoes its role as guarantor of continental stability — the more probable this European nightmare becomes.



Ukraine blocks road and rail links with breakaway regions (DAVID STERN, The Politico Europe)

Ukraine’s government said Wednesday it would cut off all transport connections with Russian-backed separatist territories in the country’s east, potentially undermining a fragile ceasefire and jeopardizing the country’s tentative economic recovery.

The announcement was made at a special meeting of the country’s security and defense council with President Petro Poroshenko, and represents a dramatic hardening of the government’s position. Only humanitarian traffic will be allowed — cutting off flows of goods and people that had persisted despite almost three years of a war that has taken 10,000 lives.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov denounced the decision. “This runs counter to common sense and human conscience,” he was quoted as saying by to the Tass news agency.

Kiev blamed rebel seizures of Ukrainian businesses for the move.

Rebels said last week that they had “nationalized” holdings owned by Rinat Akhmetov, Ukraine’s richest man, and other oligarchs. On Wednesday, Akhmetov’s DTEK energy company said it had lost control of its main assets in the insurgent-held territories in the east.

“This means the shutdown of companies that would affect the Ukrainians on both sides of the contact line,” DTEK CEO Maxim Timchenko said in a statement. “This would result in significant reduction of income and rise in unemployment.”

Stopping traffic

Dozens of activists have been blocking four railroad junctions since the end of January, preventing coal from the self-declared Donetsk and Luhansk “People’s Republics” from traveling west into government-controlled areas, and, at the same time, stopping iron ore and other inputs for the steel industry from reaching factories in rebel-controlled territory.

This week, Kiev seemed to be moving to end the blockade — dismantling one of the blockaders’ base camps and detaining more than 40 activists, who were later released.

But even that tentative step unleashed nationalist protests in Kiev. Small demonstrations broke out in the capital and other cities to protest the government’s use of force. Protestors attacked a Kiev outlet of the Russian-owned Alfa Bank and Akhmetov’s offices in the capital, and sealed shut the entrance to another Russian bank, Sberbank, with bricks and motor.

“The Ukrainian economy is unfortunately obliged to suffer” — Iegor Soboliev, blockade organizer

Wednesday’s announcement appears to show a shift in government policy, but the blockade leadership greeted the news cautiously. “I will propose to the blockaders that we supervise the implementation of the government’s decision,” Iegor Soboliev, an organizer, told POLITICO. “But until the blockade is fully established by the police and national guard, it’s too risky and not efficient to [dismantle our camps].”

The blockade’s leaders, a mix of nationalists and Western-leaning reformers, said they have two goals: to force the release of Ukrainian political prisoners and POWs held in the east and in Russia, and to bring an end to all trade with Russia and the breakaway territories.

“We have to defend ourselves from the Russian invasion — an invasion not just on the military field, but also in social structures, political structures, the media and economy,” said Soboliev, who is a member of the Samopomich, or Self-Reliance, party.

“We are proposing an economic war against Russia — but this is an answer that every nation should give to an invader,” he said. “This is a very painful policy that we are proposing, but we have no other options. The Ukrainian economy is unfortunately obliged to suffer.”

Limiting trade ties with the separatists republics would also increase the cost to Moscow, which would be obliged to spend more to prop them up.

‘Trading with the enemy’

Cutting links with Russia is also a priority for Ukrainian policymakers in the energy sector.

“Our energy independence is of peculiar importance to our country,” Volodymyr Groysman, the country’s prime minister, said last week, according to the government’s website.

Ukraine buys no gas directly from Russia, relying for its energy on nuclear power and on coal. But the blockade now threatens access to coal, accounting for about a third of Ukraine’s energy mix, most of which comes from separatist-controlled regions.

Groysman declared an energy state of emergency last month, and officials warn rolling blackouts could start in some areas by the end of March.

The government is treading a fine economic and political line.

Ukraine can’t really afford to turn its back on the $1.7 billion in Russian investment that flowed into Ukraine last year. Russia is also a significant, albeit declining, trade partner. And Kiev runs a risk if it cuts off the Donbas completely and alienates its population, making any future reintegration of the separatist region more difficult .

But trading with the breakaway republics while Ukrainian troops exchange fire with Russian-supported fighters is also politically unpalatable.

The blockade lays bare for some Ukrainians the contradictions and hypocrisies of the conflict. “In the end, there is a real anger of ‘Why are we trading with the enemy?’” said one Western official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “There is a real sense of ‘No, we need to cut this off.’”


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Syria Is Not Lost Yet (Neil Quilliam, The Chatham house)

15 March 2017

Despite six years of incoherent policy, Western countries can still positively shape Syria’s post-conflict settlement. This may be their last chance.

To many, Western policy towards Syria over the past six years – to the extent there has been coherent action – looks largely a failure. Russia and Iran (and now Turkey) have won both diplomatic and military battles in Syria and now appear in place to shape the eventual outcome in their interests – game over.

But look closer, and Western powers – specifically the US, the EU, the UK and France – still retain some leverage. If applied effectively – and that is a huge if – they could still shape the final political settlement, support an inclusive reconstruction process, tackle extremism and help alleviate the refugee crisis.

Holding the purse strings

The greatest leverage Western countries possess is economic: the regime’s external sponsors, Russia and Iran, have neither the capital to fund large-scale reconstruction efforts nor the interest in doing so. The World Bank estimates it will require $180 billion in investment just to return Syrian GDP to its pre-conflict level. This gives an opportunity to offer support for reconstruction with conditionality (for instance, regarding the return of refugees and internally displaced persons to their areas or origin).

This leverage can also prove significant in determining Syria’s post-settlement future, which must take into consideration the dynamics of the changing landscape and avoid the assumption that state institutions can be automatically restored to their pre-2011 status. There is no guarantee that Russia and Iran will remain fully aligned in the long term – differences between Russia and Iran may open up opportunities for exploring potential political transition scenarios in Syria more amenable to the US and its European allies.

One area already allowing the US and Russia to find common cause is the fight against extremist groups. As international interest in the conflict has focused more and more on the fight against jihadists like ISIS and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, space has opened up for the US to return to the diplomatic table. Indeed, the need to counter extremist groups has been one of few issues related to Syria on which the UN Security Council has been able to pass a resolution acceptable to all its members.

Lessons learned

By applying lessons learned over the past six years, further leverage can be recovered. First, Western countries must avoid being vague about the endgame in Syria and failing to match rhetoric with action. For example, calls for President Bashar al-Assad to step down from the US, UK and French governments were never backed by adequate diplomatic or military pressure, and their credibility suffered as a result. This freed Russia to present itself as the leading external player in Syria. It also allowed extremist groups to exploit incoherent support from the US and European countries to opposition armed groups. As a consequence, by 2014 the Obama administration found itself in the curious position of being more afraid of the fall of the dictator it publicly opposed than of the defeat of the rebels to which it provided support.

Second, extremist groups in Syria have exhibited a remarkable ability to take advantage of opportunities to expand their presence and scope of influence. Countering this trend requires the design and implementation of effective long-term conflict resolution measures. Western countries have dedicated significant funding to supporting humanitarian aid, civil society, local governance and the Syrian political opposition, but it is has been on short-term cycles of one year or less. When projects end, extremist groups are ready to step in and present themselves to local communities as providers of services, security or funding. This has contributed to the rise of Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, for example, in Idlib. Future initiatives must have a longer-term focus to mitigate the opportunism of such groups in the future.

Finally, there must be some acceptance that the Syrian conflict will have no clearly identifiable end. An agreement that freezes hostilities will not trigger an automatic end to the flow of refugees, while a political settlement – should it follow similar parameters to those of the ongoing Geneva process – would not cover the whole of the country. It would exclude the Kurdish PYD and its allies, Jabhat Fateh al-Sham’s new umbrella organization of groups under the banner of Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, and ISIS. This means that fighting would continue in many areas of the country. Displacement of the civilian population would likely continue for an extended period.

Furthermore, a qualified Assad ‘victory’ in the military context would raise questions about the viability of the return of 6.3 million internally displaced Syrians to their homes and of 4.9 million who have sought refuge outside the country. In many cases, refugees and internally displaced persons already face obstacles to returning to their areas of origin, either because they have invested in new lives elsewhere or because their homes have been devastated or taken over by other groups. Inadequate support for refugees may push some of those refugees – especially young people growing up without education or career prospects – towards crime and extremism. At the very least, a lack of support will make them more vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. So there will be no ‘quick fix’ resettlement solution to Europe’s refugee crisis.

Still in the balance

Since 2011, Western policymakers have not only failed to bring an end to a brutal conflict but also shied away from confronting the biggest refugee crisis ever experienced, Despite this, there is still an opportunity to re-shape Syria for the good, drawing on painful lessons learned from the past six years and using the leverage that post-settlement reconstruction offers. This may be their last chance.


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Germany: The (Not So) Timid Leader (CLAUDIA MAJOR, the carnegie europe)

Slowly, Germany is taking on more responsibility in security and defense as Europe faces major internal and external threats.

Which European country is one of four allies to lead a battalion of NATO’s Enhanced Forward Presence in the Baltic countries and Poland, is the biggest European contributor to NATO’s deterrence measures in Eastern Europe, and has soldiers deployed in twelve operations from Mali to Iraq?

It’s Germany. The country usually portrayed as a civilian and economic power par excellence, but rather allergic to military issues. Almost silently, Germany has changed its defense policy over the last four years. In 2013, the incoming government—led for a third term by Chancellor Angela Merkel—defined the leitmotif of a new security policy. Now, at the end of the legislative period, it’s time to take stock.

At the 2014 Munich Security Conference, then German president Joachim Gauck, then German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, and German defense minister Ursula von der Leyen called on Berlin to live up to a “new responsibility” in foreign and security policy.

The central message was that Germany should be ready to engage in international affairs earlier, more decisively, and more substantially. The traditional German culture of military restraint persists, but it should no longer serve as an excuse to do nothing. Military instruments will not be the first course of action, but should not be excluded in principle.

Make no mistake: the new line is not about Berlin becoming trigger happy. It is about Germany accepting that as a central European power and dependent on global networks, it should be ready to do more for security and stability that others have been providing for decades and from which the country benefits so greatly. If Berlin rejected such influence, it would mean reneging on an opportunity and responsibility to help shape the international order in a way that corresponds to its own values and interests.

In this context, Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the Ukraine crisis not only jolted the rule-based European security order unequivocally supported by Berlin. It pushed Germany to put its rhetoric into action.

What followed was a remarkable political commitment by Germany, such as in the Minsk accords and Normandy format aimed at stopping the fighting in Ukraine. Berlin then substantially shaped the political and military course of NATO’s return to territorial defence, which the alliance decided at its 2014 Wales summit. In fact, Germany reestablished itself as a discreet backbone of NATO.

It wasn’t always plain sailing. Steinmeier accusing NATO of saber rattling on the alliance’s Eastern border damaged the newly gained trust in Germany.

For the Bundeswehr, this required substantial changes: over the last decade, it had concentrated on crisis management, mainly in Afghanistan. Suddenly, the German armed forces had to relearn territorial defence, which required considerable modifications of and investments in personnel, doctrines, and equipment. This was even more difficult given that, over time, budget and capability cuts combined with bad management had left the Bundeswehr in bad shape.

Berlin is now reversing those downward trends. The number of main battle tanks and armored personnel carriers will increase. Improved maintenance will also improve readiness. After several years of decline, Germany’s defense budget will rise in 2017 for the second year in a row to reach €36.6 billion. While this increase is set to continue, it still does not reach NATO’s goal of spending 2 percent of GDP on defense (Germany currently spends 1.2 percent) but does come close to the 20 percent investment line.

Change is most visible in Germany’s military missions. Berlin now participates in operations more often, in different forms, and more offensively, particularly its strong participation in NATO’s defense and deterrence activities. A new approach was the introduction of the Enable and Enhance Initiative, in which Germany trains and equips regional actors, including in Iraq and Mali, to help build capacity to provide their own security.

Another noticeable development was Germany’s quick decision to participate in the anti-IS coalition following the November 2015 Paris attacks, which, like the Iraq mission, stretched the legal framework for Bundeswehr deployments because the missions do not operate in collective security systems (such as the UN) but as part of an ad-hoc coalition. Within a short timeframe, Berlin crossed traditional red lines, thereby moving the points of reference for military deployments.

Yet, it is not all sunshine and roses.

Germany’s partners were waiting for the conceptual underpinning of the new policy to see whether Berlin would put in writing what it announced in Munich. Germany’s 2016 White Paper on security policy did not entirely convince mainly because it was a consensus document. But at least it spelt out the need to defend interests and values and the need for a stronger European defense. Armament policies also remain an issue, with the planned reform of the export rules still lacking.

And while the results in bilateral defense cooperation are promising (such as between Dutch and German land forces), bigger clusters, such as the Framework Nation Concept, have yet to deliver.

Overall, Germany has become most active when partners or events created the necessary pressure, such as in the Ukraine crisis, which forced Berlin to take over diplomatic and military leadership. In other cases, like the fight against the Islamic State, Germany only became active when the crisis turned into a domestic issue (for instance, as refugees flows to Europe grew), or when it was critical for an important partner (for example, following the November 2015 Paris attacks).

It is easy to talk the changes to Germany’s defense policy down, not least because Berlin struggles to develop a systematic policy of its new security responsibilities. Yet the rapidly changing security environment combined with the West’s current internal problems—from Trump to Turkey to populism—will not allow Germany to take a break. The challenge for the next government is not only to continue assuming greater responsibility for European security, but to increase it and make it sustainable.


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Will Europe Follow Trump on Migration? (STEFAN LEHNE, The Carnegie Europe)

March 07, 2017

U.S. President Donald Trump’s first weeks in office were marked by drastic measures to prevent migrants and refugees from entering the United States. He temporarily banned citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries from traveling to the country, suspended the arrival of all refugees, and stopped a resettlement program for Syrian refugees. And he ordered the building of a wall on the U.S.-Mexican border, supposedly to stem the inflow of irregular migrants from the south.

These measures shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone. The new president’s executive orders were fully in line with his campaign rhetoric. Anger toward immigrants and fear of radical Islam were a large part of the story that brought him to office. Strong action against these alleged threats was what his supporters expected.

European politicians who were quick to castigate Trump’s illiberal measures conveniently closed their eyes to the fact that many European governments have also adopted more and more restrictive policies on immigration and asylum over recent months. In Europe, just as in the United States, rightist populist groups are scapegoating migrants and refugees for every ill in society. Populists’ demands to deter immigrants and, in particular, their rejection of Muslims coming to Europe resonate with growing parts of the population. In an increasingly toxic climate, hate speech and attacks against migrants are on the increase.

If current trends continue, Europe might well follow Trump’s anti-immigration line. However, in the world’s most successful immigration society, Trump’s policies are likely to be a temporary aberration. The United States is better at integrating migrants and better positioned to control who comes in. In Europe, xenophobia and Islamophobia pose far greater risks. They might destabilize societies that already have large, insufficiently integrated minority communities. They will hamper efforts to stabilize Europe’s turbulent neighborhood. And they might put the survival of the European Union at risk.


Psychological studies have shown that mistrust of foreigners is deeply rooted in human consciousness. Protecting the identity, territory, and interests of a clan or tribe by keeping foreigners out made sense in evolutionary terms. Over the course of history, as societies became more complex and open, this rejection of strangers gradually receded. But progress toward greater tolerance of immigrants was frequently interrupted by relapses into xenophobia and violence.

Still, the insight of the Age of Enlightenment that all humans, regardless of race or religion, have rights and freedoms made its way around the world and eventually became codified in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The 1951 Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which complemented the respect of these rights with the duty to protect people fleeing persecution, marked a further huge step forward.

But beneath broad formal support for these historic achievements, the ancient legacy of mistrust and hostility toward foreigners survives in large parts of society. In situations of economic stress or of security concerns, populist demagogues can easily wake xenophobic demons and unleash them against modern civilizational standards.

This is now the challenge on both sides of the Atlantic. In the United States, the new president depicts immigrants in general and Muslims in particular as the greatest threat to American society. In Europe, rightist populist parties wish to build a Fortress Europe and pull up the drawbridge. There are important differences between anti-immigration politics in the United States and in the EU, but there are also notable parallels, and there is a strong interrelationship between what happens in the United States and in Europe.


As a classic immigration-based nation, the United States has a larger number of residents born outside the country (13.1 percent of the population) than do European states (on average 10.4 percent). U.S. immigration occurred in waves. The current upsurge, which began in 1965, has been marked by rising numbers of immigrants from Latin America and Asia. Since 1990, over 1 million migrants have entered the United States every year. As a country of immigrants, the United States is generally considered more successful than European nations at integrating newcomers. This is particularly true with regard to the roughly 3.2 million Muslims, who in terms of jobs, education, and cultural adaptation belong to the most successful communities in the United States.

Geography is a decisive factor in determining migration flows. With few land borders and—those from Cuba and Haiti aside—out of reach of boat people, the United States enjoys greater control over who enters its territory than do most other countries. U.S. migration policy has for many years focused primarily on massive irregular immigration across the long border with Mexico. Trump’s wall project is both a symbol of the long-standing wish to end this flow and an extremely expensive but not altogether unrealistic method to achieve this.

Europe has long been a net exporter of people. Between 1820 and 1914, over 50 million Europeans emigrated to the United States, Canada, or South America. Large-scale immigration to Europe is a relatively recent phenomenon. Starting in the early 1950s, European colonial powers dismantled their empires and, in the process, received large numbers of people from their former colonies. Central and Northern European countries, which didn’t have colonies, recruited guest workers for their factories.

When the period of rapid economic growth ended in the early 1970s, many European governments turned to restrictive policies toward immigration. This process was uneven, with postcolonial states like Belgium, France, and the UK remaining open longer than others. In reality, however, economic interests, family reunifications, and administrative inertia combined to facilitate considerable additional immigration almost everywhere in Europe. The growing disjunction between tough messaging and practical leniency contributed to a perception of policy failure and prepared the ground for the rise of populists.

Europe’s geography makes control over immigration more difficult than in the United States. The EU’s passport-free Schengen Area has an external land border of 4,970 miles and a vast sea border. Through restrictive visa policies and sanctions against airlines, fence building on some stretches of the EU’s external border, and arrangements with transit countries, European states try to control who comes in—but close economic ties, huge demographic and income imbalances with neighboring regions, and a growing people-smuggling industry prevent a level of control comparable with that of the United States.

This difference also finds expression in the asymmetric impact of refugee flows. In 2015, the EU received more than 1.3 million refugees, almost all of whom entered the EU territory irregularly. By contrast, most refugees arrive in the United States through resettlement from their regions of origin (69,933 in 2015). The number of people granted asylum after entering U.S. territory is usually much smaller (25,199 in 2013).


In the United States, public opinion on immigration has long been sharply divided. Polarization on this issue has blocked serious reform of the relevant legislation for years. According to a 2015 survey by Pew Research, 51 percent of the U.S. population felt that immigrants strengthened the country because of their talent and hard work, whereas 41 percent believed that they constituted a burden on society.

Similar studies in Europe have revealed differences between attitudes to migration from other EU countries and views on immigration from outside the union. Intra-EU migration was seen positively by 61 percent and negatively by 33 percent of Europeans, with only Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Italy, and Latvia having a predominantly negative attitude. Migration from outside the EU, by contrast, was perceived negatively by 56 percent of respondents and positively by 37 percent. A positive attitude prevailed only in Sweden and Spain.

Europeans see immigration from mainly Muslim countries as particularly problematic. According to a recent Chatham House study conducted across ten EU countries, 55 percent of respondents tended to agree that all such immigration should be stopped, 20 percent disagreed, and 25 percent neither agreed nor disagreed.

The hostile attitude toward Muslims goes together with vast overestimates of the numbers of Muslims already present in both the United States and Europe. The actual Muslim population is estimated at about 3.3 million in the United States and at 13 million in the EU. According to an Ipsos MORI poll in September 2016, French people believed the number of Muslims to be four times the real figure, and UK citizens overestimated their presence by a factor of three. Meanwhile, people in the United States believed 15 percent of the population was Muslim, whereas the actual level is 1 percent.

In the United States, negative attitudes toward Muslims are to some extent a legacy of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In Europe, such views are partly a response to the sudden arrival of large numbers of refugees in Europe in 2015–2016. Together with an upsurge of radical Islamic terrorism, this sudden mass inflow had a thoroughly destabilizing effect on Europe’s collective psyche.

Both issues dominated traditional and social media as well as the political discourse. Initially divided between a Willkommenskultur, or welcoming culture, reflected in civil-society engagement in support of refugees, on the one hand, and concerns about security and abuses of social services, on the other, the public mood quickly swayed toward the negative end of the spectrum. The sense of loss of control over the inflow of people from different cultural and religious backgrounds boosted the appeal of populist rightist parties and prompted mainstream politicians to adopt increasingly restrictive policies.

The link between immigration and security has featured prominently in U.S. discourse ever since 9/11 and led to tougher visa and immigration rules. In his campaign, Trump blamed immigrants for crime, drugs, and terrorism without offering much evidence. In fact, few attacks by Islamic terrorists have taken place in the United States since 2001, and none was committed by immigrants.

In the absence of evidence back home, Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric, which culminated at one point in a promise to ban all Muslims from entering the United States, draws inspiration from events in Europe. In EU countries too, most of the recent terrorist attacks were carried out by European citizens. If one considers the large number of European citizens who have gone to the Middle East to join the jihad, Europe exports many more terrorists than it imports. However, some of the culprits in the terrorist attacks in Paris, Brussels, and various cities in Germany were linked to the refugee flows. Trump uses these cases and sometimes pure fiction, such as an imagined terrorist attack in Sweden on February 18, to justify his exclusionary policies. But this constant association of terrorism with immigration also resonates strongly in Europe, where populist rightist parties have long made the same point.


Of course, the fact that the United States is a state whereas the EU is not leads to fundamental differences in the handling of immigration and asylum. U.S. policymaking may be hampered by political divisions and institutional blockages, but there is a clear federal responsibility for dealing with this issue. In Europe, the EU has created a common state-like space by guaranteeing the free movement of EU citizens and establishing an area of passport-free travel while leaving most powers regarding immigration and refugee flows at the level of the individual member states.

The economic logic driving these projects—a desire to complete and strengthen the EU’s internal market—obscured their far-reaching political implications. By opening their borders, EU member states abandoned the long-established sovereign right to control who enters and leaves their territories. In various action plans and policy programs, national capitals acknowledged the need to complement these moves with common rules to make the Schengen zone safe and sustainable. But when it came to implementing these plans, a wish to maintain maximum national control reasserted itself, resulting in weak and patchy legislation and an insufficient institutional infrastructure.

The 2015–2016 refugee crisis revealed how fragile the EU’s arrangements were. Under the stress of the crisis, some member states fell back into dealing with the challenge through national actions such as imposing border controls and building fences. The result was a partial suspension of the Schengen system. After overcoming its initial divisions, the EU eventually agreed on the urgent priority of reducing the numbers of arrivals. This led to the closure of the Western Balkan migration route, the March 2016 EU-Turkey agreement on reducing inflows from Turkey to Greece, and a number of other steps to strengthen control over the EU’s external border.

However, apart from some advances on exchanging data and strengthening the policy of returning migrants to their countries of origin, the EU made little progress on the crucial internal agenda, particularly regarding burden sharing and a more integrated approach to migration. The same politicians who want to clamp down on immigration are usually also the greatest skeptics regarding European integration. They first prevent the EU from developing more effective collective instruments then blame the EU for betraying the security of Europeans and instead promote national means to keep people out. Rather than pulling member states together, the crisis has further weakened the solidarity among them. And as a consequence, the challenge of managing migration, which would require strong collective efforts, ends up dividing the member states and weakening European integration.


The United States will survive Trumpian policies on immigration and Muslims. Certainly, the negative consequences of having a populist in the White House should not be underestimated. People who are unjustly excluded or expelled will suffer greatly, and the polarization of American society will get worse before it gets better. But as court decisions blocking Trump’s executive orders have shown, there are checks and balances in place. Many cities refuse to implement the new deportation policies. A vibrant civil society has a high capacity of resistance, and the U.S. political system has a proven capability of self-correction.

More importantly, immigration is an intrinsic part of the identity of American society. The U.S. economy and education system and the high mobility of the country’s population facilitate the successful integration of new arrivals. And geography gives the U.S. authorities a lot of control over who comes in and who goes out.

Europe lacks many of these elements of resilience and is thus more vulnerable to the destructive forces of populist anti-immigration campaigns. The European economy is less dynamic than America’s. Europe’s elaborate and costly welfare states and relatively rigid labor markets make it more difficult for the continent to absorb high levels of immigration. A more rapidly aging society is resistant to change and fearful of losing its accustomed stability. All this inhibits the social integration of newcomers and has already led to the emergence of large groups of economically deprived and politically alienated migrants at the margins of the social and cultural mainstream.

To compensate for demographic decline, Europe needs immigration. But given the constraints sketched out above, European countries would need much more active and ambitious policies to make it a success. Developing a comprehensive approach to manage migration responsibly and ensure that incoming people are integrated well should be a top priority of European governments. But the stress of the 2015–2016 crisis has boosted populist rightist movements, which in turn are driving mainstream politicians toward anti-immigration policies. As governments become more nationalistic and solidarity among member states diminishes, collective action on the EU level—an essential component of successful migration management—has become more difficult.

At the moment, deterring more people from coming to Europe and returning those who have arrived illegally appear to be the only real priorities in many member states. However, Europe is surrounded by heavily populated regions to which it is bound by a dense network of economic and societal ties. Strengthening control over the EU’s external border is a legitimate and necessary objective. But immigration into Europe will never be stopped or reversed to a degree that will satisfy populist rightist parties. Migration pressure will continue. Periods of relative calm will be followed by periods of significant inflows. Seeking simply to stop further immigration will only generate unrealistic expectations and provoke an even more serious populist backlash.

Europe urgently needs to focus on helping restore stability in its turbulent neighborhood. This requires active diplomacy, massive economic investment, and a readiness for genuine partnership. Cooperation on migration management is an important element of this partnership, but it would be shortsighted to subordinate all other policies to this aim.

Moreover, initiating an orderly process for the resettlement of refugees, setting up safe reception centers in transit countries, implementing efficient arrangement for returns, and improving border and coastal controls all presuppose goodwill and a fair balancing of the interests of both sides. A European mind-set based on a war of civilizations and the notion of Fortress Europe is the opposite of the kind of engagement that neighboring regions need. Rather than easing the turmoil, such an approach would increase hostility and undermine stability further, possibly resulting in even greater migration pressures.

An exclusive focus on deterring further asylum seekers would also make the successful integration of those already in Europe more difficult. The wish to prevent and sanction abuses of asylum procedures has triggered a race to the bottom in terms of protection standards and reception conditions. Many member states have cut financial assistance, curtailed freedom of movement, and made access to social services and the labor market more difficult. Making the lives of asylum seekers unattractive might deter some people from coming to Europe, but the same policies greatly impede the chances of successfully integrating those who are already there. There is little point in European host countries preaching the necessity of adjusting to their values and ways of life when the same governments are making it ever more difficult for immigrants to lead normal lives.

The terrible risk of the spreading anti-immigration feeling is that it can easily turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Those who claim that Muslims and Africans have no place in Europe and who blame immigrants for crime and terrorism create a social and political climate that hampers the integration of migrants already in Europe. Negative attitudes toward nonnative residents contribute to their alienation, separate them from their host societies, and radicalize a number of them. And as problems with immigrant communities increase, hostility toward them will be ramped up in a vicious circle. This rise of xenophobia will not only affect relations with minorities and migrants. It will also invade the entire political and social space and poison all aspects of public life. It will divide communities, spread intolerance, foment tensions, and often trigger violence.


Mobilizing against these tendencies while there is still a chance should be seen not as a mere humanitarian concern but as the urgent self-defense of a decent and open society. Contrary to the populist polemics, the real struggle to preserve the achievements of Judeo-Christian civilization consists precisely in resisting xenophobia and Islamophobia.

European political leaders therefore need to embrace Europe’s ethnic and religious diversity. Hate speech and aggression toward migrants and refugees must be firmly rejected. However, tolerance is not enough. If newcomers feel welcome, they will find their place in society much more easily. Political elites need to make the case that a rapidly aging and demographically declining continent requires the inflow of young people and has much to benefit from their energy and ideas.

Leaders will only gain public support for these views, however, if they manage migration responsibly and shocks such as the 2015–2016 refugee crisis are not repeated. This presupposes not only more control over the EU’s external border, effective arrangement with countries of transit and origin, and responsible returns policies but also better legal pathways for migration and programs for the orderly resettlement of refugees.

European governments need to acknowledge that unlike the United States or Canada, European societies are not naturally configured to facilitate immigration. To make it a success requires much more active governmental involvement, in particular massive investment in education and training. It will also mean reviewing long-established practices designed to protect the interests of existing stakeholders. Structural reforms are indispensable for successfully integrating large numbers of immigrants.

Political elites have to resist current tendencies toward renationalization. Trump’s America First policy is irresponsible; a Belgium, France, or Germany First policy would just be foolish. Attempting to handle migration through national means alone would result in fragmented and incoherent policies that pit EU member states against each other. Instead, EU member states should move toward stronger common rules on asylum and immigration, better collective action to engage with neighboring regions, greater solidarity on burden sharing, and more robust and effective institutions.

Migration is likely to top the EU’s agenda for many years. No other challenge poses similar risks to the survival of liberal European democracies and of European integration. But if handled correctly, immigration also offers great potential for the success of an open and dynamic Europe in a globalized world. The stakes couldn’t be higher.


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The Balkans: Bad news rising (Robert Austin, The european council on foreign relations)

24th March, 2017

Ethnic rivalries are resurfacing, but the problems are essentially political, not territorial.

Not so long ago, I asked a Tirana colleague why the Balkans were no longer in the news. He said, “We are not doing anything well enough to attract attention. On the other hand, we are not doing anything bad enough either.” In 2017, however, bad news appears to be back. Some even say renewed conflict is in the air.

The ethnic bloodletting of the 1990s is thankfully behind us, but the situation today is nonetheless tense. Governmental crisis and economic stagnation is the norm in many states, and much-needed regional cooperation has been suppressed by renewed nationalism. Youth face a choice between unemployment or emigration. Wars on corruption have proved to be largely rhetorical. The international community no longer seems ready to step up to the plate, and the United States, by far the most influential player, has hardly mentioned the region since Trump came to power.

The European Union, which has driven the reform process until now, has challenges far bigger than the 18 million people of the non-EU Balkans – Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia. But while the carrot and stick process of EU accession has failed to fundamentally change the region, losing hopes of a European future would invite a return to a nasty past.

The local political elite are often hopeless, almost always corrupt, sometimes lazy and decidedly predatory. They have run roughshod over populations that have been in transition for more than 25 years, and destroyed or co-opted challengers to their rule. Add to that Putin’s Russia, now a player in an emerging zone of instability. Having successfully helped to force the EU and the US to turn inward to a degree by promoting all manner of anti-establishment forces, Russia is now active in the Balkans. They offer cheap oil and gas, nuclear power plants, fake news, and the promise of ‘traditional values’ – a vision of the future based on an imagined past. To get there they are happy to encourage ethnic rivalries.

Many youth in the region have already given up. Imagine being 18 in 1989 when communism collapsed and everything seemed possible. 25 plus years later you are living through a nightmarish form of groundhog day. Turn on the television and you are likely to see some of the same political leaders who have always preferred power to reform. They had no qualms about stealing your future. Now you fret about your kids’ future. Unlike the post-communist changes in Central Europe, the Balkans never really got a decisive break with the past.

A country by country snapshot of the region says it all.

Albania, which some liken to a narco-state because of its outsized role in supplying Europe with marijuana, has its main opposition Democratic Party staging an ongoing street protest demanding the government step down to ensure free and fair elections in June. They also want the many politicians openly associated with criminal activity tossed out. Some argue that Albania again needs international mediation to solve a 25-year old political crisis between its two main parties. The population, meanwhile, can either yawn, leave, or get in the drug business.

Bosnia has largely passed its street protest days, but its complex federation has proved incapable of delivering on its EU dreams. The Serb minority calls for independence, which might be welcomed by the Croats, while the Bosniak Muslims struggle to keep the state together.

Kosovo is not even 10 years old but is caught in a perpetual struggle for effective rule of law and good governance, while facing renewed tensions with Serbia. Its former Prime Minister and liberation war hero, Ramush Haradinaj, is stuck in France facing extradition to Serbia on charges of war crimes. Haradinaj, long a source of stability in Kosovo (and Macedonia too), has already been tried twice (and acquitted) at The Hague for war crimes, but if he ends up in Serbia turmoil will be just the start.

Macedonia, probably the most unstable state in the region, faces a governmental crisis, a newly restive and empowered Albanian minority and a mind-boggling 25-year old dispute with Greece over its name. Macedonia’s EU and NATO ambitions have long been on hold until Athens says otherwise.

Montenegro, the smallest and easiest state to manage, is asking for help to rid the place of Russian influence after accusing them of trying to organize the assassination of then Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic in hopes of derailing its EU and NATO ambitions. With roughly 650,000 people and an admired degree of national consensus, Montenegro is just about to enter NATO.

Serbia, the biggest, most populous and potentially the key to the region, has its own on and off again affair with Russia and has started re-playing the nationalist card. Yet a decisively pro-European Serbia, one that both reconciled with its past and accepted Kosovo’s independence as a fact, could act as a regional catalyst for change.

Outside of these pressing short-term issues, there are some larger structural problems in the states that live under internationally designed and imposed peace treaties. Dreams of stable and integrated multi-ethnic countries have been replaced by fear, suspicion and parallel societies.

Bosnia, Kosovo and Macedonia are post-communist and post-conflict. This has led some to suggest that the key to future stability is new territorial arrangements, given that the treaties that ended the conflicts have failed to deliver stability. However, the idea of a new map wrongly implies that the problem in the Balkans is primarily ethnic. It is not. It is primarily political.

The Bosnian War (1992-1995), made largely in Belgrade and implemented by paramilitaries, was fought for ethnic purity via ethnic cleansing and genocide. With a frontline that hardly moved, it was all about moving people. Bosnia got saddled with the made-in-America Dayton Peace Agreement which ended the war but created possibly the most complex federal structure in the world.

The Bosniak-Croat Federation is one part, with the Serbs forming another entity in a mind-boggling power-sharing agreement overseen by the EU and the US. With the Serb leadership in Bosnia rejecting Bosnia as a federal state, and the unwillingness of the international community to force a solution, Bosnia sits in a perpetual crisis leading many to say it’s time to end the state altogether.

Macedonia, which has a brief war in the summer of 2001 between the Macedonian majority and Albanian minority, got the Ohrid Framework Agreement (OFA) in 2001. It rejected the federalization of Bosnia, which the Macedonians rightly saw as merely a stepping stone for Albanian secession, and made Macedonia a model of de-centralization. It empowered the marginalized Albanians through affirmative action in state structures along with sweeping changes to the Macedonian constitution and increased language and schooling rights.

The OFA, however, is fraying and distrust is in the air. The name dispute with Greece makes the Albanians victims to an ethnic Macedonia issue as NATO and EU membership are off the table. Facing what it considered an existential crisis over the name, the Macedonians engaged in an aggressive nation-building campaign, which was surely not aimed at the Albanians. At the moment, sensing weakness, the Albanian minority there, egged on by the Prime Minister of Albania who should have other things to do, have ramped up their demands for even more language rights than those obtained in the OFA. Even Kosovo President Hashim Thaci, hardly a model leader, urged the Macedonians to do more. The Macedonians, not surprisingly, felt the obvious hint of interference and even bullying.

Kosovo lives under the Ahtisaari Plan of 2007 and achieved its contested independence in 2008. The Plan, drafted largely under the supervision of the EU, was negotiated seriously by the Albanian majority and less seriously by the then government of Serbia. With the Serbs unwilling to offer the Albanians anything more than maximum autonomy in a redesigned but still Serb-run state, the Albanians won the day by offering an asymmetrical plan that gave the small Serb minority far more rights than their population numbers warranted.

Yet despite these guarantees - and even more offered to the Serbs later - Kosovo is not functioning. Provocations from both Kosovo and Serbia continue. More worryingly, successive Kosovo governments have failed to deliver to their own people. Youth unemployment is over 60 per cent. Corruption prevails. Why should the minority Serbs engage with a failing or even criminal state?

Renewed fragmentation and the violence that could accompany it is a very real possibility, especially given a disinterested United States and a distracted EU. Until now, no matter how remote or distant, the belief that a European future was possible forced the elite to at least play by some of the rules. Big sacrifices for EU membership may no longer be possible without more EU engagement.

Does this political instability, which is often related to ethnic rivalries, mean that the region needs new territorial solutions? Or does it mean that the problem is political, in that brain drain and demographic decline has simply left these countries in the hands of opportunists, fools or criminals unwilling and incapable of delivering a European future. It is the latter: new borders leave the same people calling the shots.

The EU is still the only game in town; Russia has nothing substantive on the table. Despite the current dilemmas, a European future, which means NATO membership too, is the best guarantee of prosperity and stability. With elections this year in Albania and Serbia, let’s hope the millennials can get out and vote.


Donald Trump Needs a Strategy for the Asia-Pacific Region (Michael Mazza, The national interest)

March 23, 2017

Seventy-five years ago, Gen. Douglas MacArthur made his escape from the Philippine island base of Corregidor, avoiding the tightening Japanese noose and ensuring he would live to fight another day. He arrived in Australia on March 17, 1942, and three days later made his famous declaration: “I came through and I shall return.” Of course, return he did. And although the United States quickly granted the Philippines independence after the war, U.S. forces remained forward stationed there for decades, with the two countries forming an enduring alliance.

Today, with North Korea finding new ways to outdo itself and with Washington, DC possibly seeking to upgrade ties to Taiwan, Southeast Asia may seem like a strategic sideshow. Indeed, despite the administration’s somewhat surprising focus on Asia since the inauguration, the Trump White House has paid it precious little attention. That is a mistake. For a time during World War II, Japan’s conquest of the subregion tipped the Asian balance of power in favor of the Axis. In the war’s aftermath, American planners recognized that Southeast Asia would play a similar role in determining the power balance between the United States and its Pacific allies on the one hand and its Eurasian foes on the other. This remains true. As such, the Trump administration should prioritize developing a strategy for the Asia-Pacific region if it hopes to ensure a favorable balance of power.

MacArthur’s flight from the Philippines is just the latest in a series of dark anniversaries in Asia, all of which serve as potent reminders of Southeast Asia’s geostrategic centrality. February 15 marked the seventy-fifth anniversary of the fall of Singapore to Japan, which Winston Churchill later described as “the worst disaster and largest capitulation in British military history.” Just four days later, on February 19, 1942, Japanese aircraft would launch a raid on Darwin, Australia, with bombers flying off of aircraft carriers and from airfields on Ambon and Celebes as well as from islands in the Dutch East Indies (modern-day Indonesia), which Japanese forces had conquered since the attack on Pearl Harbor.

With the exception of Vietnam, which Vichy France continued to nominally administer but which hosted Japanese troops, Southeast Asia was, until December 7, 1941, a preserve of Western power in the East. Barely two months later, it would be a playground for the Japanese military.

The fall of Singapore mattered for a number of reasons. Although the capture of Java and Sumatra were yet to come, British capitulation in Malaya signaled the (ultimately temporary) success of Japan’s “Southern Strategy.” Tokyo now had access to the region’s abundant natural resources, with which it could feed the Japanese war machine. Meanwhile, the British war effort in Europe was deprived of those very same resources.

Moreover, in capturing Singapore and, one month later, Java and Sumatra, Japan took hold of the main gateways to the Indian Ocean. The Imperial Japanese Navy was soon raiding shipping in the Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal. Japanese carriers resupplying at Staring Bay in Celebes (modern-day Sulawesi) launched the raid on Darwin in February and another on Christmas Island, in the Indian Ocean, in March. In April, the IJN attacked Colombo and Trincomalee Harbor on Ceylon (modern day Sri Lanka), sinking the aircraft carrier HMS Hermes, among other British and Australian vessels. Tokyo may have failed to meaningfully diminish British sea power in the Indian Ocean, but it did deny the Royal Navy outright sea control of those waters.

Third, although the British, French and Dutch would return to the region following the war’s conclusion, the fall of Singapore marked the biggest, though not the last, nail in the coffin of colonialism in Asia. As Lee Kuan Yew wrote in his memoirs:

My colleagues and I are of that generation of young men who went through World War II and the Japanese Occupation and emerged determined that no one—neither the Japanese nor the British—had the right to push and kick us around. We are determined that we can govern ourselves and bring up our children in a country where we can be proud to be self-respecting people.

When the war came to an end in 1945, there was never a chance of the old type of British colonial systems ever being recreated. The scales had fallen from our eyes and we saw for ourselves that the local people could run the country.

The Japanese sweep through Southeast Asia gave new life to independence movements that returning colonial masters would not be able to suppress. The geopolitical consequences of this epochal shift remain evident to this day.

From its dominant position in Southeast Asia and the South Pacific, Japan sought to keep the Western powers out of East Asian seas and to neutralize Australia as a base of allied operations and as a power in its own right. The Darwin bombing remains to this day the largest foreign attack on Australian soil, and was the first of approximately one hundred Japanese air raids on northern Australia in 1942 and 1943.

Australia’s unique status as a continent nation has afforded it great security. But while surrounding oceans provide Australia with strategic depth, they also can act as freeways for aggressors should sea control fall to an unfriendly power. Darwin is approximately 3,400 miles from Tokyo. Once Japan launched its campaign of conquest, however, it essentially erased that distance.

What bearing do events of seventy-five years ago have on Asia today? The invasions of the Philippines and Dutch East Indies and the Malaya Campaign, which culminated in the fall of Singapore, should remind of us of Southeast Asia’s geostrategic importance. Of course, during World War II, London’s primary concern was the Western Front. Washington’s efforts were similarly focused on Europe and on the western Pacific. Unlike in Europe, however, Britain actually lost territory in Southeast Asia. It was in Southeast Asia that Japan acquired the resources it needed to fight a land war in China and a naval one in the Pacific. Japan also acquired the positioning it needed to project power into the Indian Ocean and to repeatedly bomb Australia, raising fears of invasion. Recall as well the Burma Campaign, which spanned nearly the entirety of the Pacific War, was fought to reoccupy Burma and open a supply line to Chinese forces fighting the Japanese. The campaign resulted in some two hundred thousand allied casualties, primarily British and Chinese, but also including more than three thousand Americans.

Southeast Asia may not have been at the center of the fight, but it was no strategic sideshow. Simply put, the region was important due to the sea lanes that pass through it; due to its proximity to and abutment of India and China; and due to the resources to which it plays host. This is all essentially true today as well. The sea lines of communication that stretch through Southeast Asian waters are key shipping conduits in the global economy; they are likewise key routes through which the United States, China, India, Japan and others project military power. The region acts as a buffer—or a link— between China and India, as well as a buffer between Australia and Asia’s major powers. Southeast Asian waters can provide strategic depth to the littoral states that control them or invasion routes for those that don’t. Lastly, the region is rich in resources—and, today, hosts large and growing markets—on which both Southeast Asians and others rely for their economic well-being. These features will continue to shape the approach of external powers to Southeast Asia in the twenty-first century.

Given these enduring truths, the United States and its allies have an interest in the security and stability of Southeast Asian states. Indeed, one could argue that Australia’s security is intimately tied to that of its neighbors. Australia today may take comfort in its distance from China—it is approximately 2,600 miles from Darwin to the Chinese naval base at Sanya—but China is already narrowing that expanse. Mischief Reef is eight hundred miles closer. Should China begin conducting anti-piracy patrols in the Sulu Sea, as Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte has suggested, that could regularly bring Chinese forces four hundred miles closer still. Unlike Imperial Japan, China need not conquer territory outright to extend its reach into and beyond Southeast Asia.

The Obama administration’s deeper engagement with Southeast Asia and China’s aggressive moves in the South China Sea gave impulse in recent years to a realignment in the region, which saw American influence grow at the expense of China’s. Those gains, however, may prove to be illusory. The election of anti-American Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines has raised questions about the future of the alliance. Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership has led to concerns about American dependability in Malaysia, Singapore and especially Vietnam. An ongoing corruption scandal in Kuala Lumpur, which now includes a Justice Department investigation involving Prime Minister Najib Razak, has created tension in the bilateral relationship. Also, Indonesian president Joko Widodo appears more interested in securing Chinese investment than in advancing ties with the United States.

The contest for influence in Southeast Asia needn’t necessarily be a zero-sum game, but it is still a game that the United States can lose. A Southeast Asia policy review, to include an exploration of U.S. strategy in the South China Sea, should be a priority for the Trump administration during its first six months. To ignore the region is not to invite a modern-day conquest of Singapore by a neo-imperial Chinese army, but it could very well lead to a tipping of the regional balance of power in China’s favor.

In the years leading up to Pearl Harbor, the United States under-resourced its defensive position in the Pacific, making the Philippines a juicy target for the Japanese empire. The United States lost not only men and materiel—and suffered a national embarrassment—but it also lost its forward operating base in Asia, which severely complicated its ability to shape events in the region, to project power and to defend the sea lines of communication. MacArthur, simply put, had to return. On October 20, 1944, he landed on Leyte. Between then and the war’s end, the U.S. Army and Navy incurred some eighty thousand casualties in their campaign to retake the Philippines.

As MacArthur’s getaway, the fall of Singapore and the bombing of Darwin demonstrate—events in Southeast Asia can have broader regional and even global consequences. The United States ignores them at its peril.


Russia’s Support for the Taliban Leaves Kabul Feeling Uneasy (ASHISH KUMAR SEN, the Atlantic council) Afghan foreign minister sees threat to peace process

MARCH 22, 2017

Russia’s support for the Taliban—a terrorist group with which the United States has been at war for more than fifteen years and that is dedicated to overthrowing Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s government—is causing considerable unease in Afghanistan where officials worry it will undermine efforts to make peace in their war-torn country.

“[E]stablishing contacts with these terrorist groups will give them a wrong message and they will think that the international community is recognizing them,” said Salahuddin Rabbani, Afghanistan’s foreign minister and a former head of the country’s High Peace Council. This, in turn, would undercut a peace and reconciliation process because the Taliban “will not be encouraged to come to the negotiating table,” he added.

The peace process has had scant success in part because, as Rabbani noted, Afghanistan’s eastern neighbor, Pakistan, continues to provide material support and sanctuary for the terrorists.

Rabbani, who was in Washington to attend a meeting of foreign ministers from sixty-eight nations that are part of a coalition fighting the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS or Daesh) spoke in an interview with the New Atlanticist on March 21. Earlier that day, Rabbani delivered a public address at the Atlantic Council and participated in a discussion moderated by Javid Ahmad, a fellow in the Atlantic Council’s South Asia Center.

Rabbani said he would welcome any attempt to bring peace and stability to his country, but that such an effort must be conducted through the Afghan government. “Only an Afghan-led and owned peace and reconciliation process is acceptable to Afghans and has a chance of success,” he said.

Russia has, meanwhile, invited the United States to a multilateral conference on Afghanistan to be held in Moscow on April 14.

Russia’s expanding role in Afghanistan—particularly its support for US enemies—is likely to make it difficult for US President Donald Trump to make the case for counterterrorism cooperation with Moscow. This dynamic has also added Afghanistan to a growing list of regions where Russia and the West are odds.

In December 2016, Gen. John Nicholson, the top US commander in Afghanistan, told reporters that Russia had joined Iran and Pakistan as countries with a “malign influence” in Afghanistan.

Russian Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev sought to assure Afghan National Security Advisor Haneef Atmar in a meeting on March 17 that Moscow is working to promote stability in Afghanistan. However, Afghan officials are not entirely convinced by that argument.

Moscow claims that its material support for the Taliban is intended to keep ISIS from crossing into Russia. ISIS has established a foothold in Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar province and Russia believes the group will eventually threaten its national security interests. Taliban is considered an adversary of ISIS. Rabbani, however, noted that “Taliban and Daesh are more or less the same thing.”

“Most of the members of Daesh today were members of the Taliban yesterday. They have just rebranded and changed their flags,” he said. “Most of the Daesh elements in certain parts of Afghanistan have a symbiotic relationship with the Taliban; they support each other.”

Pakistan’s support for terrorism

Early in his presidency, Ghani expended a considerable amount of political capital in a fruitless attempt to improve ties with Pakistan. He sought to convince Pakistan to end its support for terrorists and deliver Taliban leaders to the negotiating table.

Pakistan’s support for terrorist groups comes in many forms, chiefly the provision of sanctuaries within Pakistan—the Taliban’s senior leadership is based in the northwestern Pakistani border city of Quetta.

Rabbani, whose father, the late Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani was assassinated by a suicide bomber in Kabul on September 20, 2011, said Pakistan must eliminate the terrorist safe havens.

Pakistan should also end its policy of classifying terrorists as “good” or “bad” and instead focus on eliminating all terrorists, the minister said. Pressure on Pakistan from the international community, particularly the United States, could help achieve this objective, he added.

More US troops?

In February, Nicholson told the Senate Armed Services Committee that more US and NATO troops are needed in Afghanistan. Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) have made similar calls. Most NATO forces pulled out of Afghanistan in 2014. Some 8,400 US service members remain.

Rabbani said of the calls for additional troops: “I think it will certainly help, but I think that is a tactical decision. To win this war, we need a broader and deeper involvement and that means we should have a winning strategy.”

An increase of troops will send a positive signal to the Afghan people and a firm message to the Taliban that the United States is “not abandoning Afghanistan,” the minister said.

Asked whether he has picked up on a willingness in the Trump administration to make such a commitment, Rabbani said: “One thing that we see in Washington is a strong resolve and determination of the current US administration to fight against terrorism. Afghanistan, as a frontline state against terrorism, is a place to start.”

Salahuddin Rabbani spoke in an interview with the New Atlanticist’s Ashish Kumar Sen. Here are excerpts.

Q: Does your government support the covert contacts between Russia and the Taliban?

Rabbani: Any country that can play a positive role in bringing peace and stability, we welcome it, but it has to be through the state. Only an Afghan-led and owned peace and reconciliation process is acceptable to Afghans and has a chance of success.

We would highly encourage our Russian friends to support the Afghan peace and reconciliation process, but we also say that establishing contacts with these terrorist groups will give them a wrong message and they will think that the international community is recognizing them; they will not be encouraged to come to the negotiating table. We certainly don’t agree with that if that is the aim of those countries that have established contacts with the Taliban.

Q: Are you calling on Russia to end these contacts because it will jeopardize the peace process?

Rabbani: If the Russians want to see stability and peace in Afghanistan they have to work with the Afghan government and put pressure on those countries who harbor terrorists and their leaders.

Q: You are in Washington for a meeting on countering ISIS. What do you consider a bigger threat to Afghanistan—ISIS or the Taliban and the Haqqani Network?

Rabbani: The biggest challenge that we have is that there are twenty designated terrorist groups in Afghanistan and in the region. We think that the international community, the neighbors of Afghanistan, should make a joint strategy to fight [these groups] because this is not just a problem for Afghanistan. Most of these terrorist groups are organizations from neighboring countries—IMU [the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan] is a terrorist organization which is based in Uzbekistan, ETIM [the East Turkestan Islamic Movement] is a Chinese terrorist organization, there is Lashkar-e-Jhangvi or TTP [Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan or the Pakistani Taliban] and many other groups who are not Afghans. These groups are fighting in Afghanistan and the Afghan government is fighting against them on behalf of the international community. So, the Afghan government should be supported.

Taliban and Daesh are more or less the same thing. Most of the members of Daesh today were members of the Taliban yesterday. They have just rebranded and changed their flags. Most of the Daesh elements in certain parts of Afghanistan have a symbiotic relationship with the Taliban.

Q: Is Pakistan doing enough to shut down terrorist sanctuaries and end its support for terrorist networks?

Rabbani: Unfortunately, we haven’t seen signs of that yet. If they start, it would be a good message for Afghanistan, the region, and the international community.

Q: What do you believe will it take to bring about the paradigm shift you seek in Pakistan’s behavior in your region? Can US pressure on Pakistan—perhaps in the form of sanctions—be helpful?

Rabbani: Some kind of international pressure on Pakistan is important. Today, Pakistan itself is suffering from terrorism. It would be good if they join hands with Afghanistan to jointly fight against this problem and not believe that terrorists can be divided into good and bad terrorists. They are all terrorists and they should all be dealt with in the same way. They shouldn’t be given a priority—supporting one and not supporting the others. A stronger message from the international community, particularly the United States, can send a good signal for a paradigm shift.

Q: Does Pakistan have the ability to deliver credible Taliban leadership to the peace talks?

Rabbani: Some Taliban leadership is in their captivity, such as Mullah Baradar. I think he should be delivered to Afghanistan. [The Taliban] are openly operating from Quetta in Baluchistan. Their chain of command is all based in Quetta, so I think [Pakistan] is in a much better position to deliver them to Afghanistan.

Q: Last year, with the death of Taliban leader Mullah Mansour in a US drone strike there were reports of rifts emerging within the Taliban. What is your assessment of the Taliban today? Is it a cohesive force?

Rabbani: There are differences between the Taliban. There are groups who support the peace process and there are groups who still believe that they can win militarily. Afghanistan has kept the doors of peace open for those who want to come to talks. We are ready to talk with them if they renounce terrorism, cut their ties with international terrorist groups, lay down their arms, and accept the Afghan constitution.

Q: What kind of success have you had in your effort to reach out to elements in the Taliban that support peace?

Rabbani: We are getting some messages, but it depends on the countries that support them to put some pressure on those elements. We have received some signs that not all of them but some members have been showing an interest in talks.

Q: What are your expectations from the Trump administration as far as the US-Afghanistan relationship is concerned?

Rabbani: I think the United States recognizes that abandoning Afghanistan is certainly not an option at this stage. It is important that the sacrifices that they have made both in terms of blood and treasure to see Afghanistan as a peaceful, stable country in which there are no terrorist sanctuaries, this investment shouldn’t be forgotten. There should be more involvement of the US in Afghanistan.

From the Afghan side, our forces have been fighting against [terrorist] elements. They need [the] support of the international community, and particularly of the United States, and we are grateful that the United States has given us in the past and continues to give us support even today to our national defense and security forces.

Q: The top US commander in Afghanistan, Gen. John Nicholson, recently told the Senate Armed Services Committee that more US and NATO troops are needed in Afghanistan. Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, writing in the Washington Post, make a similar case for more US troops in Afghanistan. Does Afghanistan need more US troops at this moment?

Rabbani: I think it will certainly help, but I think that is a tactical decision. To win this war, we need a broader and deeper involvement and that means we should have a winning strategy.

On the tactical level, I think a troop increase will send a good signal to the Afghan people and will also send a signal to the Taliban that the international community, particularly the United States, is not abandoning Afghanistan and is there to support Afghan forces and the Afghan people.

Q: Do you see an appetite in Washington for such engagement?

Rabbani: One thing that we see in Washington is a strong resolve and determination of the current US administration to fight against terrorism. Afghanistan as a frontline state against terrorism is a place to start. I think that they will take it seriously. In the contacts that President Trump had with President Ghani the messages that came were encouraging.




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