Tag: France

Building a Wall Against Populism’s Spread in Europe

With populism on the march across the West in the past 18 months, conventional wisdom suggests this lurch toward nativism will continue. With the Dutch Trump increasing his seats in parliament, Turkey’s President stuffing the ballot box to win a referendum taking him closer to full on authoritarianism, the National Front’s candidate looking set to get into the second round of Sunday’s French election by exploiting a terrorist attack, and Germany’s long-time leader seeming tired and mounting a lackluster campaign, by most accounts the liberal international order is in for some additional sharp thrusts to the midriff. And what is bad in western Europe, according to a vast army of pundits is appearing even more fragile and vulnerable in east central Europe.

But au contraire, while the LIEO is not exactly alive and well, it remains in place and its upholders stand more than a fighting chance to preserve it in the face of Trump, Brexit, and Russia’s taking the U.S. down a peg. Indeed, not only is western Europe holding the line, but east central Europe is lending a hand in erecting a wall against populism’s surge. Were we to have the opportunity to choose any three countries in the world to hold elections in the midst of all this seeming upheaval we would select the Netherlands, France, and Germany. In essence, we are damn lucky it is this threesome instead of Italy, Slovakia, and Hungary or really just about any other country spanning the globe.

Against all predictions, the Dutch put the first pieces of this wall in sturdy place. Geert Wilders was stymied big time. We knew in advance that the Dutch political system of multi parties and rampant coalition governance would keep him from becoming Prime Minister, but he was widely predicted to get the most votes and augment his party’s representation in parliament considerably. Wrong. The Dutch – like their French and German counterparts – are among the most informed, literate, and savvy in the world. They have watched the supposedly nonbinding Brexit referendum vote and Trump’s rise in horror, and we should actually have expected them to do precisely what they did.

The French are on the cusp of doing the same, again smack in the face of widespread conventional wisdom. Observers seem to forget that the French have a notorious tendency to flirt with “extremists” in the first round of their presidential elections, only to clamor to the center and vote in moderates in the second. Now granted, we are not living in normal times. But the French are not about to traipse down the merry road of nativism; no indeed, they will be the last to allow any Trump effect to take hold in their motherland. In fact, it will be interesting to see how many talking heads begin to grasp that a vibrant “reverse Trump effect” has already taken hold in the West. More than merely doing the right thing, the wondrous French will revel in effectively giving Trump and the little Englanders the finger. Continue reading

Femme Fatale

After Donald Trump won the elections in the US, Twitter was abuzz with the picture of potential UN Security Council country leaders that included Theresa May, Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping and Marine Le Pen. So now all eyes are on France and its upcoming presidential elections. The possibility of ‘Frexit’ in case of Le Pen’s win is alarming enough, but Russia is also on the agenda. Russian-French relations have been strained since the beginning of the Ukraine crisis, but have got even worse after President Hollande accused Russia of war crimes in Syria that purportedly prompted Vladimir Putin to cancel his trip to France. While in American elections Russia had a clear favorite, and did not really have a plan B for Hillary Clinton’s win, French elections seem to be much more comforting.

In the recently finished primaries on the right, the losing candidate Alain Juppe criticised the winner Francois Fillon for leaning too close to Russia. Fillon did defend Russia’s actions on a number of occasions and even wished for a Putin-Trump alliance. Putin admitted himself that he cultivated a good relationship with Fillon in 2008-2012, probably because they both belong to the J. Mearsheimer’s ‘I don’t give a damn about small countries’ sovereignty’ school of thought. On top of that, Fillon fits well with the conservative turn of the Russian government, being a vocal supporter of la Manif Pour Tous (anti-gay marriage movement in France), whose ‘traditional family’ poster has also been adopted by Russian anti-gay activists.

Marine Le Pen managed to shift Front National further to mainstream by purging some of her father’s most racist friends and allies and settling on a more conventional anti-migrant xenophobia. After all, Nicolas Sarkozy’s government expelled Roma migrants and closed borders way before the refugee crisis. Ms. Le Pen has been a welcome guest in Moscow and received a large loan from a Russia-affiliated bank for her party. Eurosceptic, pro-Trump and anti-NATO, Le Pen would be a perfect partner for Putin and the worst nightmare for the EU. At the same time, Sputnik News, a pro-Russian propaganda outlet, puts Fillon and not Le Pen into their IR dream ménage à trois with Putin and Trump. [dirty joke edited]

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ISIS and the Future of Counter-Terrorism

[I’ve been debating whether to post this…it’s a “transcript” of a talk I gave yesterday here at the University of Puget Sound. It’s a bit basic as it was intended for a general audience of, primarily, undergraduate students. I wrote this up for friends who wanted to hear the talk but were unable to attend. It’s a bit disorganized too. So be warned it’s kind of ramble-y and general. Also, I haven’t provided source information or links. If you want any, please ask!]

It’s been a few days since the Paris bombings, and we have some more information about what happened, which has prompted me to reflect on what the attacks—along with those in Ankara, Beirut, and the Sinai—tell us about what ISIS is doing and why, and what these attacks mean for counter-terrorism efforts.

First, it’s important to note that these attacks are occurring in the context of an increase in mass casualty attacks (defined as terrorist attacks causing more than 100 deaths). Between 1978 and 2013, there was an average of 4.6 mass casualty attacks per year. In 2014, there were 26 while to date in 2015 there have been 15. While this is indeed a small n in terms of both number of events and time, it’s interesting to note that there might be a trend among terrorists towards soft target mass casualty attacks.

While we still don’t know for sure the degree to which the ISIS leadership in Syria was involved in any of these attacks, it’s looking increasingly likely that they played a role in at least three of the attacks (the Sinai bombing is the most likely to have been done by some other organization, with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula being the leading candidate). But, if we assume that ISIS is responsible for these attacks, it would represent a shift in their tactics and overturn many of the analytic assumptions about the group’s strategy.

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Terror in Paris

Obama

The horrifying events in Paris tonight are almost beyond comprehension. While we don’t know much more than the specific facts on the ground–coordinated attacks, suicide bombers at Le Stade de France, drive-by shootings at a Cambodian restaurant, the massacre at Bataclan, at least 150 are dead–I’ve been thinking all day about this still unfolding tragedy.

It’s still early and we don’t know much about who is involved or why. As with the recent destruction of the Russian charter plane, I doubt that this would be the work of ISIS. I just don’t buy that they’d want countries like France or the US to step involvement in Syria. The coordination and methods seem most like the work of al Qaeda. Many observers have been waiting for al Qaeda to carry out a high profile attack, if only to steal some of the “spotlight” from ISIS who has been dominating the headlines and the recruiting channels of late.

It’s also possible–and I’ve seen some reports supporting this–that it’s the work of so-called “foreign fighters”, French citizens who traveled to Syria for training and combat, only to return under the guise of their passports. States have been worrying about “foreign fighters” for some time now, fearing an influx of dangerous radicals with combat and explosives training who would be able to travel more or less freely due to their status as citizens. The sophistication and synchronization of the attacks make me wary that it could be carried out by a few individuals on their own; if it turns out to be the case, it will likely result in states reevaluating their policies towards those returning from ISIS land. France generally arrests anyone who traveled to Syria, but other countries prefer to screen for risk or try to de-radicalize the returnees.

If it is indeed the work of the ISIS core, it’s going to force the US and the rest of the West to rethink policy in Syria. It seems unlikely that this attack or any others would lead the international community to back off of ISIS.

Again, it’s early. Presumably we’ll know more soon. For now, it’s enough to remember that the world can be a dangerous, terrible place. And that is why we study and teach about dangerous, terrible things. At times like this I think of my students who have gone on to work in government, the intelligence community, those studying security policy at Georgetown or George Washington, and I hope that I have adequately prepared them to face and analyze these threats.

Capitol

UPDATE: I’m not a Twitter user, but I did find this from Richard Engel of NBC News quoting a US “counter-terrorism” official naming al Qaeda or an al Qaeda affiliate (like AQAP) as the most likely suspect given the level of coordination.

UPDATE 2: French President Francois Hollande is blaming ISIS for the attacks, and ISIS has claimed responsibility. If ISIS is indeed responsible, this attack represents major change in their strategy. The difference between ISIS and al Qaeda has been that al Qaeda focused on attacking the “far enemy” who propped up illegitimate governments ruling Muslims while ISIS focused on building a state right away. Given that focus ISIS had not carried out large scale attacks like this, presumably because they didn’t want states coming in to Syria and Iraq to destroy their territorial control. If it is indeed ISIS it signals a marked change in their strategy and a very scary one. It might be a response to a worsening situation on the ground (although not the recent seizure of Sinjar and Route 16 by the Kurds or the droning of “Jihadi John”. An operation this sophisticated would have been planned well before the events of the past few days, although it’s possible those events do explain the specific timing.). ISIS has depended on territorial expansion and control as a signal of their success; US and coalition air strikes seems to have blunted ISIS’s territorial expansion and even pushed it back in some places, even if they haven’t been able to dent the flow of recruits. If ISIS feels that it is losing on the ground or even not winning sufficiently, it could turn to a more provocative strategy in order to maintain its appeal in the jihadi world. While it’s too soon to say whether France, the US, and other western powers will step up their involvement in Syria, President Hollande has described the attacks as an “act of war” and promised a “pitiless” and “merciless” response.

Sadly, the big winner (if such a word can be used in this situation) might just be Syrian President Assad, who has long been castigating the western powers for ignoring the problem of ISIS and focusing instead on helping rebels unseat his regime. It seems likely that, at the very least, France and other countries currently carrying out airstrikes in Syria will indeed focus more on ISIS, even if it means buoying the Assad regime.

In Exile at Home: Impressions from Europe

Copyright Warner Brothers

Copyright Warner Brothers

I have been able to avoid this fate for almost 12 years now, but they finally got me. Being a citizen of Germany, I have been studying in the U.S. on student visas for the last decade and even though it has always been a bureaucratic nightmare, associated with significant financial costs, I usually managed to obtain the necessary documents to enter the United States. Until this summer, when the application for my work visa got delayed for reasons that I don’t need to get into here. Long story short, I had to leave the U.S. for three months, organize someone to sublet my apartment on very short notice, find an alternative source of income, new health insurance, cancel my attendance at APSA, etc. I had promised my daughter, who is staying with her mom in Ohio, that we would take at least two road trips during the summer (she wanted to go to New York City. “Why?” I asked. “Lady Liberty” she answered). Canceled. But hey, things could be worse. So, I decided to make the best of it and travel through Europe with Lise Herman, a Ph.D. candidate at LSE. In the next couple of posts I will report from our journey, tell you a bit about the mood in Europe, and touch some of the issues that the people, and especially the younger generation, are concerned or not concerned about. Continue reading

The Cost of Spying

As my first official post as a guest contributor to the Duck, I would like to take a moment to thank Charli, Jon, and the gang. This really is an honor and a privilege for me, and hopefully my posts will live up to the Duck’s high standard!

There has been no lack of coverage in the United States regarding the National Security Agency’s spying activities. My sense, however, is that the focus in the media and by politicians has largely been on the domestic political implications of the NSA dragnet. The Obama administration has gone to great pains to communicate that the NSA only targets non-Americans. That makes sense, as there are important laws governing surveillance on Americans, and few if any pertaining to espionage against foreign targets.

But the United States does not exist in an international vacuum, and the NSA revelations as well as the political treatment have effects overseas. This summer I had the great privilege of working with my colleague Vicki Birchfield as she directed the Nunn School’s 10-week study abroad in the EU, and in that context I was able to observe some of the international implications of NSA spying up close. In some of the places we went, NSA spying hardly registered. In Athens, for example, we very much got the sense that surviving the economic crisis and damming the flood of undocumented immigrants occupied most of the attention of policymakers and the public.

But NSA surveillance clearly had a significant impact in France and Germany, albeit in very different ways. In France, the response seemed to be the same as many foreign policy analysts in the U.S.: everyone does it. At the French foreign ministry, briefers specifically argued that, because the French public knows France has an expansive intelligence establishment, the revelations about American spying were seen as part of what modern state does in international affairs today. That may be part of why the French government has said relatively little about the subject.

However, the briefers at the French foreign ministry did not argue that all Europeans see the issue the same way. Indeed, they specifically highlighted that Germany saw the surveillance in a very different light. Owing to the WWII experience with the Nazi state and the postwar position at the heart of the Cold War, Germans understand wiretapping and other forms of surveillance in different way. Rather than being just something the modern state does, NSA-style espionage is a sign of enmity and oppression. US targeting of Chancellor Angela Merkel, turning of intelligence and defense officials, and repeated reassurances by US officials to the American public that the spying was aimed at foreign nationals all feed into a narrative that the US-German relationship is not a friendship and alliance between states of shared identity and values, but rather something more contingent and darker.

I think it is difficult for Americans to understand the importance of these issues. During the Cold War, the West and specifically the US were the guarantors of West German survival and in later years served as a beacon for a new generation of East Germans. At a deeper, perhaps collectively unconscious, level I think a strong relationship and friendship with the US as the ‘leader of the free world’ serves as an indicator that Germany has truly left the first half of the 20th century behind. Friendship and trust is the key here. The US has alliances with all sorts of unsavory regimes (Saudi Arabia) but only true friendships with fellow democracies. At the same time, US spying contributes to German disillusionment in the idea that the US really represents freedom and liberty in the world—because spying on friends embodies neither. In all cases, the issue of spying is an emotional one for Germans, linked to their history, identity, and sense of place in the world.

There are indications of this interpretation. Merkel and German President Joachim Gauck have both come out strongly against the NSA spying—in contrast to relative silence in France. That suggests that the revelations about the NSA have a political power in Germany that they do not in France. Merkel also recently expelled the CIA station chief in Berlin, an unprecedented move by an ally. At a briefing at a NGO in Berlin, an interlocutor who deals with German federal officials on a regular basis told us that German transatlanticist foreign policymakers were in tears over NSA spying. Given the nature of the NGO and the briefer’s background, I belief the claim is not hyperbole. Many Germans feel personally betrayed by the United States. That in turn undermines the bonds of shared trust and identity that are critically important for maintaining international peace and stability. This happens not just at the level of policymakers, but also within the broader public. It is here that NSA spying helps fuel the establishment of new systems and narratives through which Germans make sense of the world. These are not kind to the United States, and that has real ramifications. On a range of issues, from the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) to events in Ukraine and beyond, the United States relies a great deal on generally shared systems of meaning with its close allies like Germany. As those systems come into greater disjuncture, relations and in turn the means for managing issues will come under greater pressure. To exemplify, it is worth asking ourselves what the German response toward Russia’s bad behavior in Ukraine and US demands on Europe would have been had the NSA revelations not occurred. Would Germany see more merit in the US position? Would it in turn be more willing to make the sacrifices US policy demands?

The negative impact of NSA spying is not limited to Germany. In Brussels we heard from Commission officials resentment toward the United States. In the context of TTIP negotiations, some officials wondering aloud as to the point of a negotiating when the Europeans suspect that the United States already knows everything the EU has to offer. Anti-TTIP graffiti in Brussels also suggests an underlying anti-American resentment, exacerbated no doubt by the NSA revelations and the subsequent handling by US officials. Indicators like these are small, but they betray a fraying between the US and Europe that American officials and the public should be very concerned about. No other region on the planet shares as much cultural and political history with the US as Europe. Nor does any other region have as many states that broadly share the US vision of peaceful, liberal, and humanitarian global system. America damages these relationships at its own risk.

The New Blitzkrieg, Part II

isis convoyAs I wrote a few days ago, a new pattern of warfare is emerging in the Middle East and Africa. This “new blitzkrieg” isn’t really new, but it is asymmetric warfare at its best, pitting swarms of fast-moving, lightly armed fighters operating as a network against hidebound hierarchies of Western-trained and equipped “professional soldiers”. These state forces have a bad track record of crumbling under the tempo of swarming, networked attackers; and the only thing that has proven capable of stemming the tide is early airstrikes followed with a robust military “prop-up and mop-up” campaign, as demonstrated by French and African Union forces in Mali. The outcomes aren’t that great in any of the recent cases – but it’s much, much worse when any regional government has fallen to the non-state forces. Continue reading

Avoiding the Joint Security Trap (and Countering Conventional Wisdom)

Obama-Cameron

The diplomatic dustup over Syria brought Russia in from the cold but simultaneously froze any notion that western allies were getting their strategic act together. Nonetheless, although the mistakes in the U.S. and UK’s approach to building support at home and abroad for an intervention in Syria confused leaders and citizens alike, these mistakes should not be interpreted as an abrupt turn-around in their and their allies’ strategic thinking.

In fact the Europeans, even under a prolonged condition of austerity, are making progress filling in the capability gaps made clear in the course of the Libyan operation. Recent history has demonstrated that arguing the U.S. should keep its security blanket in place despite the end of the Cold War—out of fear that Europeans would not increase their own defense capabilities in kind—was mistaken. Still, austerity has prevented sufficient progress to avoid the joint security trap.

Were the Arab Awakening to go awry and were an al-Qaeda affiliate to begin setting up training camps and operating somewhere such as Yemen, the U.S. or possibly NATO would no doubt heed the call once more to deal with the threat.  But any future crisis in Europe’s direct neighborhood, somewhere like Tunisia, will require Europe to take the lead as the U.S. is likely to take a pass.  It is therefore in the joint interests of the U.S. and Europe not to reduce their mutual security at this critical juncture.

However Europe has yet to develop its own integrated, deployable, expeditionary military capability; instead a number of European allies à la the U.S. have been slashing their defense budgets under austerity.  But akin to the classic prisoner’s dilemma, if the U.S. and European allies do not coordinate their cuts and agree to begin “combining” what is left, both will become worse off and experience a mutual loss of security in lieu of cooperating.  In fact, at this juncture western allies are actually on the verge of becoming ensnared in the joint security trap. Continue reading

The Era of Austerity or the Era of Intervention?

Tuareg_rebel_in_northern_MaliA variety of commentators listened to President Obama’s Inauguration speech and, having heard few words devoted to foreign policy, declared that the second term of this Administration will be marked by less activism on the global stage.  The draw downs from Iraq and Afghanistan readily reinforce this view, as do a variety of academics peddling recommendations for a new grand strategy of restraint.  I am more circumspect, for inauguration speeches are by nature more domestic in focus.  More importantly, America’s national security interests have not changed fundamentally.

The Obama Doctrine of robust burden sharing—being multilateral when we can, unilateral when we must—will continue to cope with a world that may be in rapid flux but has little propensity to generate the stability and security that would justify a restraint-based grand strategy.  Al-Qaeda was quiescent in one form, but in its new decentralized affiliate-based form it is anything but.  With the global campaign against terrorism continuing amid a constellation of constrained economic resources, robust burden sharing is an appropriate grand strategy; moreover, it is here to stay (at least for the duration of this Administration and likely well beyond).

Opponents of the President have had a heyday with the unintentional phrase “leading from behind.”  Ever since an unnamed Administration official spoke these tongue-in-cheek words to The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza, critics have twisted them and/or ascribed their own meaning more along the lines of “retreat to the back.”  Some grew so agitated, they practically fell over themselves in their clarion call for robust American leadership practically at all costs—case-in-point a certain presidential candidate’s “No Apology” book that aptly captured this sentiment, and a certain senator’s delight in singing “Bomb-bomb-bomb Iran.”

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An Interventionist Weekend

Mali

Quite a weekend, the opening of Zero Dark Thirty in the U.S. reminding everyone of the interventionist elements of the Obama Doctrine (see my next post) and a full-fledged French intervention in Mali, not to mention U.S. assistance with a French hostage liberation operation tucked away on the inside pages.

Washington, D.C. is a funny place these days…all but two of the think tanks here are obsessed with the rise of China and just about the entire U.S. foreign policy establishment is choking on economic austerity and therefore fully inclined to doubt that our government or any other can afford much in the way of armed interventions these days.

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What the hell is going on in Europe?

So I spend a few years writing a book on American foreign policy and stop paying attention to European politics, only to return and find the whole thing in chaos. I am finding three developments going on in Europe fascinating (if despicable and disgusting).

First, the Financial Times recently ran a story on Sarokozy’s plan to launch a debate in France on the importance of secularism, which is really just a way to pick on Muslims and draw votes from the National Front, who have been doing very well lately under the leadership of Jean-Marie Le Pen’s daughter. (As an aside, how much of a right-wing badass can you be with the first name Jean-Marie?). OK, this is cynical but it is also really interesting for anyone who knows anything about French history. Secularism was one of the, if not the, central political and social cleavage in France for a long, long time, tied up in divide between revolutionary and counterrevolutionary forces. And of course there was the Dreyfus affair. But this time it is right that is pushing for more secularism, an issue which has historically belonged to the left. Of course this is not really genuine. It is a way of picking on Muslims and trying to force them to assimilate. It is the intolerance of tolerance. But it shows you how in France, secularism is so firmly established that PTJ might call it a “rhetorical commonplace,” and it can be picked up and twisted in new ways.


In other countries the question of how forgiving we are of other cultures that do not necessarily embrace Western values, the tolerance of intolerance, seems to be a real one. And it makes for curious alignments of left and right, like happened in the Netherlands with the Pim Fortuyn movement. I can imagine being on the left and taking a strident line against forcing women to wear headscarves. But I can just as easily imagine thinking it is none of our business if we are truly living up to our democratic principles. In fact I am thinking both of those things right now.

Second, how can it be that Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is still in office when he is ON TRIAL for PAYING FOR SEX from an UNDERAGE girl? Seriously?! Isn’t just one of these things enough to get canned? It is one thing to say, “Oh, the Europeans are forgiving of politicians and their mistresses, they’re just not as puritanical as Americans” and quite another to account for how this guy can stay on. Don’t get me wrong, I am not morally appalled. (Well, the underage thing is a bit much.) But really I just want to understand how he manages this politically. Someone who really understands Italian politics please explain this to me. As for the bigger picture, I really want someone to write a book or an article on scandals and when or whether politicians resign. Just recently they kicked out the German defense minister for plagiarism. There was a grass-roots national revolt. For plagiarism! This is an academic gold mine. Someone has to figure out what Larry Craig and Berlusconi have in common. Do they like public humiliation?

Third, what on earth is the German government doing? I don’t know if I have every seen German foreign policy so badly managed. Well, this side of the Third Reich, I mean. Not only are they not providing some token support for the NATO mission in Libya, but they are making a fuss about it. These are the normally loyal Christian Democrats, not the anti war Greens and SPD, who are a bit fed up with more military interventions. The CDU was more supportive of the Iraq War than this, which was much more controversial in Germany. I don’t think it is ideological. I am sure they don’t like Qaddafi, and they have no real problem with force. There is a UN mandate. It just seems like craven domestic political pandering, which is marking their entire foreign policy, and domestic policy too. Everytime there is a deal on a new financial mechanism to bail out future euro members, the Germans renege after forcing the discussion in the first place.

Well, I have to go. I have to go find an underage girl to pay to write my next book. Seriously?!

The Anglo-French Treaty and the BBC World Service: Hard Power irrelevance and a threat to the Soft Power of the UK and the West.

On Tuesday of this week, amid much pomp and fanfare (and a certain amount of suppressed hilarity) an Anglo-French Treaty was signed, providing for 50 years (no, really, 50 years) of defence co-operation. I’ve posted on this at the LSE blog here and haven’t much to add – basically there is less to this than meets the eye.  Meanwhile, back in the real world, a little noticed policy poses a genuine threat to one of the major sources of British ‘soft’ power, the BBC World Service.  As part of a wider deal on the funding of the BBC, funding for the Service is to be shifted from a grant from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) to the BBC itself.  A Good Thing you might think, escaping from political control to the independent BBC? If so you would be very, very wrong. This is a disaster in the making.
Although obliged to fund it, the FCO exercises no control over the World Service which has operated in practice as a body independent of both the Government and the BBC.  Now it will become part of the latter. Many foreigners think of the BBC as the source of quality news and documentaries, and boring ‘heritage’ costume dramas (sorry, that was editorialising). This is true, but it is also true that the BBC is a ruthlessly competitive organisation, continually searching for ratings success and seeking to sell its programmes abroad. The loss-making elements of the BBC are continually under pressure; domestic loss makers, such as the serious music and culture channel Radio 3, have a certain amount of protection because they have a vociferous and articulate middle-class audience who give the BBC a bad time whenever cuts are threatened.  In spite of the assurances on continued funding that have been given, I doubt very much whether the World Service – and especially its foreign language broadcasts – will, in practice, have the same kind of protection.  They cost money and their audience doesn’t have a vote or much of a voice in Britain.
It is significant that virtually no British politician has expressed concern at the fate of the World Service – but Hillary Clinton has.  She, and the State Department in general, are well aware that the BBC World Service is an important asset not simply for Britain but for the West in general; when Barack Obama wanted to talk directly to the Iranian  people he used the BBC’s Farsi service because of its loyal audience in Iran, based on the reputation for integrity it has earned over the years with the Iranian people. Let’s hope it is still there in five years time.

Djibouti and Eritrea


Did you know that Djibouti is in the midst of a border conflict with Eritrea? I didn’t, and for that I blame American news outlets. According to the BBC, French troops are providing logistical and medical support to Djibouti’s forces. The United States has condemned “Eritrean aggression.”.

Eritrea, for its part, has condemned “‘US meddling’ in the Horn of Africa.”. Which presumably refers not just to the large US base in Djibouti (Camp Lemonier), but to its backing of Ethiopia and its related proxy (as well as direct) activities in Somalia.


Given the creation of AFRICOM, the fact that Africa remains one of the least politically stable regions in the world, and the growing importance of the continent to the “War on Terror,” we should expect to see more conflicts in which the United States plays some kind of role or, at least, has some stake in the outcome.

The French, of course, have often engaged in direct military action–of one form or another–on the continent.

Image from the US Department of State.

MSF’s Foreign Policy

It is a time of political transition in Europe. While Tony Blair is not leaving his post as the UK’s PM until next month, Jacques Chirac has already been replaced as French President by Nicolas Sarkozy.

A few weeks ago, Sarkozy’z UMP party of the center-right beat Socialist candidate Ségolène Royal 53% to 47%. However, Sarkozy has just named Socialist Bernard Kouchner as his Foreign Minister.

What will this mean for French foreign policy — and perhaps US-French relations?

The former is perhaps easier to predict. Kouchner is best known as a founder (1971) of Medecins sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders), the Nobel-winning transnational medical organization. Most of the cofounders had worked for the Red Cross in Biafra in the late 1960s and were critical of the agency for being too deferential to international law, political neutrality and state sovereignty.

That history provides a huge hint as to Kouchner’s priorities and ideas. In 1987, he published a book with a title that also strongly signals his priorities: The duty to intervene. He declares simply, “mankind’s suffering belongs to all men.”

As a politician, Kouchner has continue to be both a humanitarian and an interventionist. He served as French Minister of Health during the 1990s and Minister of State for Humanitarian Action 1988-1991. From 1994, he was a Member of the European Parliament and President of its Committee on Development and Cooperation.

Over the years, these posts provided Kouchner frequent opportunities to advocate western intervention in humanitarian crises around the world. In Somalia in 1992, the AP reports, Kouchner “fumed about ‘rich people everywhere … who do nothing’ in the face of misery.” Later, he headed the post-war UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) from 15 July 1999 through 12 January 2001.

Experts guess that Kouchner is likely to make Darfur his top foreign policy priority.

As for French-US relations, Kouchner apparently speaks English very well, worked with the US in the Balkans in the 1990s, and like President Bush, has declared his personal and political opposition to tyranny and dictatorships everywhere.

In advance of the Iraq war, the AP says that Kouchner told interviewer Charlie Rose: “I’m really, clearly, strongly in favor of getting rid of Saddam Hussein, because of the suffering of the Iraqi people.” Though he hoped that conflict could be avoided, he criticized Chirac for linking French foreign policy to German pacifism, threatening to veto a second Iraq resolution at the UN Security Council and thereby undermining ties with the US.

Let me offer two possible futures.

First, Condi Rice’s dream: If the US can somehow successfully reframe the Iraq war as a humanitarian operation, which would likely require ending the counter-insurgency campaign, then perhaps Foreign Minister Kouchner will be able to convince the UN and his fellow European ministers to help the US solve its Iraq problem.

Second, Kouchner’s more likely dream: He pushes for the west and the UN to intervene in Darfur, urging the US to put its material might behind its political rhetoric.

Identities, Interests, and the EU

Patrick’s post regarding yesterday’s “Non” vote in France brings up an interesting point, one that is often missing from discussions of European integration in the MSM (mainstream media)–the importance of identity for political outcomes. Patrick argues that the vote yesterday was not driven by economic interests per se, but rather the successful framing of the issue by right and left groups as one of “us” (France) vs. “them” (other Europeans).

While I believe identity played a role in this outcome I think it is more complicated than a simple self-other distinction (not that Patrick has advocated such a simple distinction). The Non coalition included elements of the far right and left, leaving right-leaning centrists to account for most of the Oui vote (as far as I can tell). Given the nature of the Non coalition it seems worthwhile to explore exactly what identities were central to the Non vote.

The far right seemed to frame the issue along purely nationalistic lines; i.e. we should not allow some supranational body to determine our fate, policies, interests. This argument is not just about economic issues specifically, but rather encompasses a purely parochial notion of identity and the need to maintain sovereignty lest some distrustful other in Brussels becomes empowered.

But those on the left, especially the over 60% socialist voters who came out against the constitution, seemed to be more interested in their economic identities rather than their national identities. What this means is that the left objected because of the economic elements in the constitution which they viewed as Anglo-Saxon and ultraliberal–not simply for the fact that France may loose some sovereignty to Brussels. For the left, they were defining themselves as workers to some extent, a group that is likely to be harmed by such a constitution even though it might benefit the EU overall (i.e. by making labor markets more productive and increasing productivity–two things most commentators believe is crucial for EU economy). It seems to me they weren’t rejecting those outside of France per se, but rather the symbol of the EU as an entity which represents ultra-liberal, market values rather than socialist values. It could be argued that those on the left weren’t simply thinking of the damage to the French left but to workers, period, across Europe. But more data is needed to validate that assertion.

Identity certainly played a role in this, but there seemed to be a number of identities at play at the same time that just so happened to coalesce around the same goal–voting “Non”. The right framed the debate as one of “France versus Europe” while the left framed it as “socialists versus Anglo-Saxon, ultraliberals”. This has interesting implications for how Chirac as well as the other European elites move forward and attempt to reframe the debate as well as revise policy down the road; do they try to carve out more national sovereignty so as to quell the fears of the right in Europe or do they go ahead and revise the economic policies to bring the left along? Stay tuned…

France votes no

French voters rejected the European Constitution yesterday in a referendum by a pretty decisive margin: 55% opposed, 45% in favor. Pollsters had been predicting this outcome for a while, so the returns came as no surprise; now begins the tussle over why the constitution was rejected. The New York Times [free subscription required] attributed the result to economic issues:

The debate had been colored by fear of the mythical “Polish plumber,” the worker from recent European Union members from the East who is increasingly free to move West and willing to work for lower pay than Frenchmen. … The schism was borne out in and around Paris, where wealthy neighborhoods seemed to vote yes, while poor neighborhoods voted no.

This kind of diagnosis is characteristic not just of the New York Times, but of a general tendency in our present-day public commentary on political behavior that tends to reduce people’s actions to their economic interests. While not exactly dismissing economic factors, I’d like to suggest that something else is going on in Europe. The debate about the European Constitution is primarily a debate about identity, and principally concerns the way that issues (including economic issues) are framed. As such, the French rejection of the European Constitution reflects not the victory of economic self-interest over supranational principles, but the victory of a nationalist framing of the issues over a supranationalist framing.

Consider the “Polish plumber” issue; instead of being framed as a net gain in economic efficiency for the European Union as a whole, or as an opportunity for French plumbers to retool or to rethink their vocations, what is striking to me is that it’s framed in nationalist terms: the mythical plumber is Polish, i.e. “not one of us Frenchmen,” and so his economic gain is “our” economic loss. It is this framework that is at issue in the campaign. After all, “nationalism” isn’t a policy or a group of policies; it’s a kind of conceptual framework, a rhetorical grab-bag of symbols and allusions that politicians can draw upon to justify certain courses of action rather than others. So the anti-Constitution forces rode to victory by successfully deploying these nationalist images, yoking together a coalition of people in a two-stage process: first, “we” are French and “they” are not; second, opening up to economic competition hurts “us” and helps “them.”

So why did the richer neighborhoods vote yes? I’d posit that it’s the same identity-construction process, but with a different outcome: they voted yes because the framework that structures their daily lives is a “European” one. Somewhere along the line, these people have learned to think of themselves as “European,” possibly through their involvement in international educational exchange programs or through engaging in more cross-border economic activity; regardless, the point is that their interests have been framed using a supranationalist vocabulary. Hence, their support.

If the European Union wants to move forward with its Constitution, it should learn a lesson from the early constructors of the postwar transatlantic community: as part of the Marshall Plan legislation, the United States Congress mandated that recipients of reconstruction aid be informed, as often as possible, where that aid was coming from. All over postwar Europe one could see graphics and publicity posters and the like that made it extremely clear that goods were being provided under the auspices of the Marshall Plan, and being provided by the United States to its fellow “Westerners.” The net effect of this was to introduce a novel way of framing people’s identities into their everyday experiences: the United States is providing us with these goods through the Marshall Plan because we are all part of “the West” together. Such public relations work delivered the most enduring impact of the Marshall Plan: a reconfiguration in the way that people conceptualized their interests, and thus constructed the interests of their country. The European Union needs to do something similar, so that the opposing nationalist frame can be replaced by a frame that points in a different, more supranational, direction.

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