Tag: EU

A New Plan B for Syria

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Syria’s civil-proxy war is on the cusp of turning into an all-out regional war, with negative repercussions for all involved in the conflict. The humanitarian disaster is at its most acute to date, with Russian forces systematically attacking the Syrian opposition and on the verge of a rout of Aleppo—and now Turkish ground forces engaging Kurdish forces across its border. With the U.S.-Russian ceasefire accord appearing unlikely to alter much on the ground, the time has come for the U.S., Europe, and the Saudi-led Gulf countries to make a decisive move to take the initiative back from Russia, contain Turkey, and stabilize the conflict.

Anti-ISIS efforts in northeastern Syria and Iraq aside, the pressure point at present is in northwestern Syria. Conventional wisdom suggests that there are no good options for the allies: 1) Attempting to implement the loophole-ridden ceasefire accord, 2) allowing Russia to continue bombing “terrorist groups” i.e. the opposition forces, or 3) taking more direct military action directly against the Syrian military, for which there is zero appetite in the U.S. and Europe. Nonetheless, putting a safe/no fly zone option back on the table would not only meet the joint interests of Western and Gulf allies, but also prove viable on the ground. Not only has Turkey called for this, but so have Germany and France–not to mention Hillary Clinton.

While Turkey will be critical for getting to an eventual endgame in Syria, at this crucial juncture this key western ally needs to be contained itself. Turkey has been shelling Kurdish YPG militia forces for the last week, and now that one of its operatives is being blamed for the successful attack in Ankara, Turkey is on the verge of a highly destabilizing escalation. Turkey legitimately needs the U.S. to press the YPG to back off, and Turkey itself has called for the establishment of a Safe Zone. The U.S. and its western allies need to act fast, also to ensure that the YPG does not “defect” and transfer its allegiance to Russia—which would be another coup for Russia.

Having ceded the initiative to Russia, not seizing it back would be an additional strategic error. Already the Russian action proves that conventional deterrence against it remains lost, even after announcement of a major U.S. effort to shore up western capabilities in Central Eastern Europe. Even before it could be enacted, it is falling short of one of its major objectives: the intended deterrent effect is stillborn. Russia has already wiped out the efforts of allied intelligence agencies on the ground in Syria. And at the Munich Security Conference it just took the mask off in claiming it is in “a new Cold War” with the West. To begin restoring deterrence, western allies need to act. It was a mistake to publicly declare that military options in Syria were off the table, indicating the diplomacy track is now the basket holding all the Administration’s eggs. The allies need to pursue a different option in order to regain their lost leverage. Continue reading

Greece: a Shakespearean Tragedy

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In the Greek bailout episode the Greek government has been behaving much like the self-pitying Antonio from “The Merchant of Venice,” while the EU has been posing as a rather heavy-handed Shylock. Despite being aware of the damaging consequences of a Greek default and potential exit from the Eurozone, the EU seems intent of having its pound of flesh. By subjecting Greece to additional austerity provisions, it may be risking the revival of the Euro financial crisis—this time with serious geostrategic implications.

For five years the Greek people have been dealing with a series of austerity measures that have crippled their economic prospects. The Greek economy has contracted a jaw-dropping 25% during this period, forcing Greece into a deep recession that now borders on depression, with a 26% unemployment rate and a debt level of 180% of GDP. The resulting loss of jobs and livelihoods has been staggering; tens of thousands of Greeks are barely getting by.

But on the eve of its default this week the Greek government capitulated and at the 11th hour informed the EU it would accept additional austerity after all, only to be told by the EU that its offer had expired. Adding insult to injury, a senior EU official stated “The previous program has expired. So now we need to start new negotiations as regards a new program.” Tragically, Greece may no longer be in the Eurozone by then. Continue reading

Partly Missing the Point: Rethinking US and EU Sanctions on Russia

Recently, Suzanne Nossel published a piece critical of US and EU sanctions against Russia. A number of her points make sense. For US-EU sanctions to really isolate Russia and thus have a chance to change Russian behavior in the short term, they need to have the participation of other major states in the system like China and India. Without those states, the isolation effort is doomed to fail. Moreover, the effect of US-EU sanctions will fade over time as Russia deepens economic interaction with non-participating states. The marquee example is the May 2014 deal for Russia to provide $400 billion in gas to China over 30 years (Russia and China announced a second deal in November 2014, but as one analyst notes, that second deal is not a deal on price or timelines, but rather a agreement to discuss further). Nossel also rightly notes that sanctions did not prompt Putin to change direction but rather to impose counter sanctions. And as the continued violence in East Ukraine suggest, Putin has not dropped his military support for separatists or changed his mind about implementing the Minsk II agreement. The sanctions, at least in the short term, has also lent superficial veracity to Putin’s narrative that the West seeks to prevent Russia from regaining its national greatness.

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Why John J. Mearsheimer is Wrong on Ukraine

When I arrived as an incoming graduate student at Ohio State University, I was labeled a realist since I studied extensively under John J. Mearsheimer at the University of Chicago. And despite the fact that I find such labeling exercises rather silly (plus, my advisor at both Chicago and OSU was actually Alex Wendt), there was, and still is, some truth to it. Power does matter in international politics and contrary to many others in our field I think that Mearsheimer’s theory of great power politics does make a lot of sense, and it explains large swaths of international politics throughout history.

However, despite the fact that his recent analysis in Foreign Affairs of the causes of the Ukrainian crisis makes a number of good points, most importantly, that Putin’s actions do not necessarily signal an attempt to build a greater Russian empire and that realpolitik matters, it is at the same time wrong. Continue reading

Putin is Losing the Current Round of the Ukraine Crisis

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If only present day global competition were confined to the World Cup. But while eyes have turned back to a new crisis in Iraq—something I’m not exactly proud of predicting here—at least there has been progress on the Ukraine crisis, which has gone from boil to simmer in recent weeks. At this stage it has become clear that Russia has blinked, and thus will not be swallowing eastern Ukraine whole. Just as important, we now have clear as day evidence that President Putin’s gambit has failed:  Ukraine has not only signed the EU trade agreement that former President Yanukovych walked away from—sparking the crisis in the first place—newly elected President Petro Poroshenko formally asked the EU to open membership negotiations with his government. In other words Msr. Putin may have purloined Crimea, but he has lost Ukraine proper.

Strategically speaking, it matters less that the EU is no longer as rosy about bringing Ukraine fully into its membership fold. After all, previously doing so was one of the major causes of the now receding crisis. It is more important that the EU signed precisely the same trade deal, with the very ink pen that Yanukovych would have used had he gone through with it last year. More important still is the fact that Ukraine continues to tilt west not east, and in landslide public opinion terms. Not only did Poroshenko achieve an electoral landslide, but there even remains a majority of citizens in eastern Ukraine that do not want to be part of Russia.

But the EU has also done something it previously had not:  it threatened that a new round of much more punitive sanctions would be levied against Russia if it did not stop destabilizing eastern Ukraine by sending in mercenaries, ammunition, and major military equipment in continual violation of Ukraine’s porous border—this time with a deadline.  Defying a host of predictions both in Europe and back in the U.S., German Chancellor Merkel has actually stepped up to begin providing forceful strategic leadership. The U.S. is also preparing a new more punitive round of sanctions. And Putin has foresworn any direct use of force after—blink—pulling the 40,000 Russian troops back from the border.

Predictably, however, at present the negotiations that were underway to extend the ceasefire between Ukraine and Russia—brokered by France, Germany, and the OSCE—have broken down. Poroshenko has rescinded the ceasefire, claiming rightfully that the Russofile separatists have not adhered to it (despite surprising analysts by agreeing to it in the first place). If the Ukrainian military were to make any gains in the fighting, this would lead to additional leverage at the negotiating table—which Russia is already calling for a return to. More importantly, the failure of the ceasefire at this precise point may in fact be good thing. For it will compel the EU and the U.S. to follow through on their sanctions threat, which they may have backed away from had the ceasefire lasted. More spine stiffening in the West is a good thing, something this entire crisis has in fact been good for. Continue reading

Russia, Ukraine, and a New Era of International Relations

 

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The U.S. and Russia are not engaged in a new Cold War, but Russia is clearly playing the geopolitical menace du jour. The U.S. and Europe are going to need to up their game to keep Vladimir Putin’s hands off the rest of Ukraine. Beyond this crisis the West needs a new defense posture, as the world just entered a new era of international relations.

Just weeks ago numerous observers dubbed the opening of the Winter Olympics in Sochi “Putin’s Triumph,” when it was anything but that. Russia may have barely edged the U.S. in total medals, but the price for Putin’s orderly Olympics was serious repression, severe environmental damage, and seismic corruption. Then came Ukraine. Continue reading

France’s Re-Emergence as a Major Power

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If there is an Obama Doctrine in the realm of foreign affairs, it comprises robust multilateralism—being multilateral when the U.S. can, unilateral when it must. Subjected to scrutiny, however, the Obama Doctrine can only work if the U.S. has capable and willing partners. Yet under conditions of widespread fiscal austerity among western allies—and the political austerity of skeptical western citizens—meeting the challenge of securing their joint interests is formidable. While the U.S. has begun to shore up the security of its allies in Southeast Asia via its rebalance to Asia, despite potentially threatening China in the process, forging renewed partnerships with long-standing European allies is even more essential.

Many commentators in the U.S. have written off its European allies, but a nascent trend to the contrary is now detectable. Britain, France, and others have begun recalculating their own willingness to act in light of the U.S. rebalance to Asia. Contrary to conventional wisdom in Washington, a shift toward greater European military activism may be underway. Indeed, the prominent role played by British and French forces inter alia in Libya and Mali are not isolated events; instead, they may be signs of things to come. In reality, top officials in the U.S. and Europe are making progress on beginning to find ways to usefully partner in order to deal with recurrent threats and unchanged security interests particularly pertaining to the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

Despite a serious and ongoing financial crisis cum recession in Europe that in economic terms EU leaders have barely muddled through, on the security side our European counterparts by and large have not reduced their defense spending as much as has been widely assumed. On the contrary, certain potential U.S. partners have actually maintained and/or slightly increased defense spending. More importantly, military capability is a more telling indicator than crude measures of aggregate spending. Even where cuts are underway, as the Libya and Mali operations indicate, there is a growing propensity among certain European allies to act when their interests demand it—even on occasion largely without the U.S. In this regard the debate over intervening in Syria was little more than a sizable red herring, caught up in the faulty intelligence legacy of the Bush-Blair years. The one country that remained ready to act was France.

France has mostly been in the headlines of late for the personal peccadilloes of Dominique Strauss-Kahn and more recently President Francois Hollande, but credit goes to the French public for not being as squeamish as Americans—not only about the personal affairs of their leaders, but more importantly about the increasing propensity of France to project foreign policy power and intervene in a series of recent global crises in both MENA and Africa proper. Continue reading

Syria: Intervening Not Now But Later

Syria2 A full-scale US military intervention in Syria is off the table, as is a no-fly zone. The US decision to provide arms to Syrian opposition forces is nonetheless intended to shift the military initiative away from Assad regime. But the opposition is splintered, which has allowed the Hezbollah-backed government forces to level the playing field. Although the outcome remains unclear, it may be time for Western governments to begin serious planning for potential post-conflict stabilization operations.

At this stage it appears the Assad regime has the momentum, aided in particular by Hezbollah but also Iran and Russia.  US and European efforts to provide direct military aid to the Syrian opposition have been slow to take shape, which in combination with regime gains on the ground have fed the new conventional wisdom that Assad is on course to hold on to power.

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Shakespeare, Cyprus, and the End of the Euro Crisis

Shylock. "Is that the law?"

Much ado.  Investors keep getting burned in betting on the exit of members of the Eurozone, let alone the breakup of the currency/monetary union of the EU.  And econ/business experts keep getting their predictions wrong.  The simple reason:  the EU, from its econ/financial area to the vast array of its other policy areas, at heart is a political project.  Events continue to show that despite the painful strains of major economic duress, this commitment remains intact.

Despite the messy manner in which its member state governments deal with crises–largely explained by institutional reasons, less so by incompetence–the EU and the euro are around for good.  The EU certainly has some major restructuring to do in terms of necessary banking and fiscal unions, and it rarely looks good in a crisis.  But it will carry on muddling through its challenges and in a wider historical perspective continue to provide its citizens with a considerable range of benefits.  Just as it has for decades, particularly since the advent of its single internal market nearly 30 years ago.

Nonetheless, the EU made major mistakes in the bailout of Cyrus and nearly botched the entire thing.  Even worse, the whole affair demonstrates a distinct inability to act strategically when the stakes are high.  Repercussions from this episode that haven’t been captured in the headlines will continue to reverberate for years.  Surprise, it was politics that accounted for bringing back the specter of crisis, not economics.

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Special Relationship at the Crossroads

 

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That Europe is caught up in a major financial crisis isn’t news to anyone.  Standing right at the crossroads, the Eurozone will either muddle through and risk another crisis onset in the near term or having scraped through its worst crisis in decades take strong steps on the necessary medium and long-term reforms.

But what our British friends may not realize is how the vaunted special relationship is also coming to a crossroads.  Prime Minister David Cameron’s large-sized gamble on the UK’s future European destiny has sent ripples of worry across the West, not least in Washington.  The US’s senior Europe diplomat Philip Gordon made this abundantly clear.  The Obama Administration’s view coalesced in 2011 in the run up to Cameron’s shaky performance at the emergency EU summit in Brussels.

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Europe can stay irrational longer than the EU can stay solvent

The horror, the horror

 What the hell happened to Europe?

There’s still a chance that the EU may be pulled back from the [metaphor], whether that metaphor be an “abyss“, a “chasm”, or “the flames”. But it’s beginning to look a lot like the end of Europe-as-we-knew-it.

Much as the fall of the Soviet Union simultaneously showed that most Soviet experts were unable to predict the central event of the twentieth century, so too will the fall of the European Union leave a lot of Europeanists with (as Dan Rather put it) not just egg on their faces but omelettes all over their suits. (Not that this is wholly bad for Europeanists. Sovietologists enjoyed a brief dead-cat bounce in citation counts from justifying their bad predictions; surely Eurologists will have the same good fortune.)

“Europe” is a fascinating construct for students of institutions and international relations alike. It is neither domestic nor foreign; neither a democracy nor an autocracy; neither a dessert topping nor a floor wax. This was by design. But if Europe’s architects thought that obscuring accountability in a maze of councils and commissions would bolster the edifice’s stability, they have been proven decisively wrong. There are still loci of accountability, albeit by default located in the bond markets instead of in parliaments.

The fundamental difficulty, however, is that national governments coexisted with the supernational. More than coexisted: They got the supernational government’s credit ratings. And that has made all the difference.

The crisis of Europe is the gravest political-economic crisis of the past hundred years. The goals of European integration were to move the continent into a bright future and away from a sanguinary past. The logical corollary is that European disintegration will do the opposite. (For IR theorists, this may mean that John Mearsheimer may yet have the last laugh.)

If grand bargains and fervent hopes built Europe, however, gritty realities will undo it. And the most banal point is the most critical one: In political economy, politics comes first. Europe is not dying because the eurozone is not an optimal currency area. The eurozone is dying because it was not designed to be an optimal currency area. Europe is not dying because the European Central Bank is unable to bolster its credibility. The union is dying because the European Central Bank (and the lack of a concomitant fiscal mechanism) was designed to be incredible.

In the language of software engineers, the institutional arrangements whose failings are now becoming woefully apparent were “known issues”–and even more, they weren’t bugs, they were features. The fact that the PIIGS could issue bonds using Germany’s credit rating was the whole point of the arrangement–and the fact that the Germans couldn’t ultimately guarantee that they would bring cheaters to heel was also the whole point of the arrangement. To wonder what could have been done better–what miraculous set of technocratic policy arrangements could have avoided these potholes–is to misunderstand what Europe was all about.

Megan McArdle puts her finger on it:

When I was a young and naive economics writer, I used to write about developing countries a fair amount.  Time and again they would make these bizarre and pointless moves, like suddenly and for no apparent reason defaulting on a bunch of debt.  They would engage in obviously, stupidly unsustainable fiscal practices that caused recurring crises.  They would divert critical investment funds into social spending which was going to become unsustainable when underinvestment reduced government revenue.  And the other journalists and I would cluck our tongues and say “Why can’t they do the right thing when it’s so . . . bleeding . . . obvious?” Then we had our own financial crisis and it became suddenly, vividly clear: democratic governments cannot do even obvious right things if the public will not tolerate it. 


Keynes once wrote that “Markets can remain irrational a lot longer than you and I can remain solvent.” Criticizing the behavior of Europe’s leaders and publics as “irrational” is more than a little unfair–Silvio Berlusconi is extremely rational, and so are the Greek pensioners and Irish voters–but the essential point is the same. Whenever European bureaucrats have had a choice between making the “right” choice and making the socially justified one, they have chosen the latter, even when it has clearly been the wrong one.


Denied-ada. Canada fails to get a UN Security Council Seat. (But how many EU Nations do we need on there anyway?)

It was Canadian Thanksgiving this past weekend but Canukistan has one less thing to be grateful for today – it failed to get a UN Security Council seat for the first time in 50 years of trying.

Alas, (eh?), Canada lost out to Germany and Portugal in the Western group (with India, South Africa and Colombia running uncontested for the other three seats.)

The Harper government, ridiculously, is blaming Liberal opposition leader Michael Ignatieff for the humiliating loss. This makes somewhere between zero and negative sense.

Instead, there are several factors to blame for this – the EU is a united front whereas Canada needs to lobby hard in the UN. Additionally, the electoral process seems to be pretty sketchy – and heavily dependent on gifts by suitor countries. (Apparently we went with vials of maple syrup. Way to go, guys.)And, as the Globe and Mail points out, the government hadn’t exactly had run a gung-ho campaign in order to secure it.

But it’s also a fact that Canada has been engaging the world in a very different fashion over the last few years. Where as it was once associated peacekeeping and Lester B. Pearson, it has been actively building up its airforce, accusing the Russians of invading our airspace, actively worked against climate change (and now on my way to work I have to pass around 20 billboards beside London City Hall that basically accuse Canada of systematically raping the earth with its tar sands.) I’m not saying that I necessarily disagree with all of the above, (no one likes hippies) but our national response/PR could have been much better.

Additionally, as former UN Ambassador Robert Fowler pointed out in a damning critique at the beginning of this year, our African policy is basically non-existent. The days when it could be said that the UN was embedded in Canadian DNA are clearly over. (I wonder if we’ll be taking the peacekeepers off of our $10 bills now?)

So, let’s be clear. I do understand the UN vote, but I find myself unsatisfied for another reason: There are going to be four EU countries represented on the Council. Is this at all fair? Or a good thing for the UN? I have my doubts.

But UN Security Council reform is a topic for another day…year… decade….

Whodunnit: The Five-Day War

The EU released its report on the August war between Georgia and Russia on Wednesday, and for the last two days the press has reported that it proves “Georgia started the war with Russia.” Even Joshua Keating, who offers a more even-handed round-up at Foreign Policy, says the claim that AP’s claim that “Georgia Started the War with Russia” is “basically correct.”

I’ve only finished the first volume of the report so far, but this is not how I read it at all. Actually, it says exactly the opposite on pg. 31 and 32:

“Any explanation of the origins of the conflict cannot focus solely on the artillery attack on Tskinvali in the night of 7/8 August… overall, the conflict is rooted in a profusion of causes comprising different layers in time and actions combined.”

The “Georgia started it!” frame appears to be grounded in two findings. The report acknowledges Georgia’s armed attack on Tskhinvali was in violation of international law, and also argued that this attack constituted “the first shot” in what became a larger conflict.

But I don’t see how that’s an argument that Georgia “started” the war with Russia. Georgia committed an illegal attack on an population center within its own territory – escalating what was already a low-intensity war within Georgian borders. Russia internationalized this “war” by sending troops across the border in violation of the territorial integrity norm. And given that the report also casts doubt on Russia’s claim to have done so to protect civilians, it’s hard to see how one illegal act within one’s territory can be construed as blame for an international war. At any rate, the report itself nowhere claims as much.

What’s most interesting about Volume I of the report, though, and what may explain the way its findings have been misinterpreted, is that it appears to conflate the civil and interstate wars of which the “August war” was composed. This is particularly ironic given that the report’s authors “notice with regret an erosion of the respect of established principles of international law such as territorial integrity” (p. 31) but then, ironically, blur those very principles in failing to distinguish the civil and interstate elements of the conflict. It is not until p. 36 that the 45-page report summary even acknowledges that there were these two different components to the war; the fact that the authors do not disaggregate these aspects in assigning blame muddles the legal analysis completely.

No wonder both sides can claim the report is a victory for them.

Instead of Heading to the Mall Today, What Say We Nudge the EU to Protect Congolese Civilians?

If you’re like me (or Dan) and you live in the U.S., you spent much of yesterday’s holiday feeling lucky to be living in America and not in Goma (or Mumbai. Or Darfur.) Well, in the spirit of Dan’s suggestion in his last post, note this appeal from Avaaz.org.

The brutal war in Congo is escalating, as a terrified Congolese people plead for Europe to send peacekeepers to protect them. European leaders are wavering as their council meeting approaches – we have just one week to persuade them to act.

We know how to do it — last week, Avaaz ran a hard-hitting advertisement in The Times of London, pressing UK leaders to support a European force or risk responsibility for genocide — their Africa minister called us immediately, and their position has shifted — the UK has moved toward supporting a European force!

The Congo has languished for too long, with unspeakable suffering. It now has a brief window of the world’s attention – let’s seize that window to bring peacekeepers who can help achieve lasting peace.

Instead of either shopping today or “buying nothing,” I think you should join me in buying a shot at action on this one (just click here!) The ads will make a difference in agenda-setting, if not in immediate policy, and even if it’s a long shot it’s the right thing to want to do.

Besides, If EU troops can do some good anywhere right now, the DRC is probably as good a place as any. The escalating situation in DRC’s North Kivu province is being compared to Srebrenica 1995 and Rwanda 1994. MONUC, the existing UN operation in DRC, is vastly outmatched and lacks the capacity or rules of engagement to implement its mandate to protect civilians; though the Security Council just authorized 3,000 more troops, it could take months before they materialize. If the EU has the capacity, its members should pony up, and people around the world should take the trouble to encourage them to do so.

But I also think that organizations like Avaaz should stop referring to such an interim force as “peacekeepers.” There’s currently no peace to keep in DRC, and what is needed is soldiers willing and logistically able to prevent atrocities. Let’s be very clear about that, and ask the EU to do the same.

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