Dr. Jeffrey A. Stacey is currently Managing Partner of Geopolicity USA, an overseas development firm. Formerly he was Senior Fellow at the Center for Transatlantic Relations at SAIS, before which he served in the Obama Administration as a State Department official specializing in NATO and EU relations at the Bureau for Conflict Stabilization Operations. At State he founded and managed the International Stabilization and Peacebuilding Initiative (ISPI), which has over 20 government and international organization partners.
Dr. Stacey is the author of "Integrating Europe" by Oxford University Press and is currently working on a follow-up book entitled "End of the West, Rise of the East?" He has been a guest blogger at The Washington Note and Democracy Arsenal, a professor of U.S. foreign policy at Tulane University and Fordham University, a consultant at the Open Society Institute and the U.S. Institute of Peace, and a visiting scholar at George Washington, Georgetown, and the University of California. He received his PhD from Columbia University.
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
Since the U.S. election Iranian-American relations have gone into a rapid tailspin, with Iran reacting to the triumphalist tenor of the Trump campaign and the improvised response of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn that sought to “put Iran on notice.” The arrival of his replacement in General H.R. McMaster offers the U.S. a fresh opportunity to tone down its approach to Iran, beginning with guarding against any dramatic escalation of the stakes.
For unless the Administration is actually willing to go to war with Iran, this confrontation actually won’t get the U.S. anywhere useful. What it will do, which is already under way, is strengthen the hardliners in Tehran and undermine moderates like President Rouhani and Foreign Minister Zarif at a precipitous moment less than three months ahead of the Iranian election.
The Trump team does not have a strategic plan in place, regarding Iran or any other region/country of the world for that matter. But this matters most regarding countries currently in crisis accretion mode vis-à-vis the U.S., specifically Iran, Russia, North Korea, and China (in descending order). The danger of rapid escalation with Iran that could easily slip into spiraling conflict is acute. Therefore the first order of business for NSA McMaster is to get the U.S. on a more strategic track that militates against a burgeoning conflict with Iran. Continue reading
By and large, world leaders have gone from being taken aback about Donald Trump’s unexpected victory to being outright alarmed. Exceptions to this rule are Vladimir Putin and Bashar al-Assad, both of whom expect Trump to be far better to deal with than Secretary Clinton. Yet, while it still is not remotely clear what a Trump Doctrine will strategically comprise, his coming moves in Syria do not bode well.
Russia and the Syrian regime look to be the chief beneficiaries of the coming shifts in U.S. policy toward the 5-year old conflict that has weaponized half the country as refugees, killed half a million people, and continues to mete out suffering en masse in Aleppo and elsewhere.
Trump has said—erroneously—that Aleppo has already fallen, and he has described the opposition forces “as worse than Assad.” Trump will immediately remove support for the moderate opposition forces fighting Syrian/Russian/Iranian/Hezbollah forces, both overt and covert. To boot, the UN’s efforts to broker peace will be thoroughly undermined. At one point early on in the campaign Trump spoke favorably of a safe/no fly zone, but that is not on the cards at this point. He will avoid acting contrary to Russian interests.
The upshot of the coming Trump Administration’s moves in this space will be to strengthen the Russian hand, and give it a free one in and around Syria. As such, Putin is unlikely to test Trump in the manner some have speculated. Effectively he has no need to see how far down the road of harming U.S. national security interests he can go, when his partner in this potentially dangerous diplomatic dalliance is doing the work for him. Continue reading
With the bombing of the UN aid convoy in Syria and fresh attacks on Aleppo after the Assad regime declared the ceasefire over, American and UN officials are in need of a Plan B. Now that trust between the U.S. and Russia is at a new low after Russia allegedly carried out the convoy attack, the situation on the ground Thas gotten even more grim. With the U.S.-Russian ceasefire accord in tatters, the time has come to put a Safe Zone in place for refugees.
In fact, a de facto safe zone is already in place in northern Syria. The Turkish military’s recent thrust over the shared border has begun to allow Syrian refugees to cross back over into Jarabulus. For weeks Turkey has been advocating that the U.S. and western allies work with it to install a formal Safe Zone. With no other realistic options remaining, this novel development has the potential to be a game changer.
The only viable option is to install a Safe Zone in northern Syria stretching north from Aleppo to the Turkish border and east to just west of Kobani. The viability of the zone rests on Turkey’s ability to lead the effort and militarily guard the zone on the ground, and the fact that the Syrian regime does not at present fly in this area. The security and humanitarian reasons are compelling, from turning around refugee flight to establishing a sizable zone of stability and allowing the focus to be on eradicating ISIS with Turkey fully engaged. Continue reading
British elites have been wondering for decades whether the UK still had clout on the global stage, and now they know: indeed, the country has an outsized influence on world affairs. But what a way to find out, sowing instability far and wide and suffering a never ending series of self-inflicted wounds. It is tragedy bordering on farce. And none other than Vladimir Putin is having the last laugh.
The UK is counting the costs of this fateful vote: in the plummeting value of the pound and large-scale stock market losses. Foreign direct investment in the UK will dramatically dwindle; multinational companies will move their headquarters; and a brain drain will ensue. British banks are likely to lose their “passport” to the rest of Europe. All of this will lead to less growth, higher unemployment, and reduced living standards. Prime Minister Cameron’s even worse sin was to subject Britons to several rounds of harsh austerity policies–they had to vote the UK out of the EU to get rid of him.
The major long term loss for Britain, however, will be its reduced influence as a world leader–its military capability being one of the chief casualties of unnecessary austerity. It has long punched above its weight globally speaking, remaining a fairly major world player long after Britain lost its empire, with the special relationship with the U.S., impressive military capabilities, financial leadership, and first-rate diplomatic skills. The UK was also an EU leader, one of the top three along with France and Germany. England could be left alone, with Scotland leading the way by leaving the UK and rejoining the EU. Continue reading
As the summer is heating up, all the world’s eyes are on Britain. And that really is saying something for us Americans, what with the wild ride that Donald Trump is taking us all on. But even here, eyes are rapidly averting to the mother country and the high stakes of the debate as to whether it should remain a valued member of the European Union (EU) or leave. And now with this tragedy, the stakes are even higher.
Apparently the eyes of the British were fully on the presidential campaign here as well, til recently. Not only did the UK Parliament debate whether to bar Mr. Trump from entering the UK, but in addition he apparently had an outsized influence on the campaign for mayor of London. It appears Mr. Trump deserves credit for motivating a majority of Londoners to vote by wide margins in favor of the first Muslim mayor of Britain’s capital city.
It is the election of Sadiq Khan that gives foreign friends of Britain a little hope, as fears of immigration and alleged shenanigans in Brussels have heightened and thereby tempted Britons to exit from the most successful large-scale political experiment in history, aka Brexit. But the success of Mayor Khan bodes well for the British people keeping in mind the global leadership role the UK plays, and remaining forward-looking in voting to do what is best for Britain and stay engaged as a leading member of the EU. Continue reading
Now that the U.S. presidential race has been whittled down effectively to Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, and after Trump’s much anticipated foreign policy speech last week, we now have a Trump Doctrine, a new Clinton Doctrine—different from Bill Clinton’s pro humanitarian intervention doctrine—to contrast with the often misunderstood Obama Doctrine.
As foreign policy has begun to feature more prominently in the race for the White House, we can no longer beg the question as to which of these would better serve core U.S. national security interests, not to mention the interests of our closest allies—and especially not with the emergence of a new global security crisis seemingly every three months or so, and new ISIS affiliates popping up even more frequently.
Analyzing this trio of foreign policy doctrines, essentially the grand strategy adopted by each of America’s three most prominent political leaders, has been akin to peering through a glass darkly. Analysis has been all over the map, which is at least partially explained by the degree to which this triumvirate has not been particularly clear in laying out their core foreign policy principles. Misperception aside, however, the new Clinton Doctrine appears to stand above the President’s and far above the presumptive Republican nominee’s.
President Obama and his closest aides have long bristled about the phrase “the Obama Doctrine,” and only in his final year in office has he tacitly accepted the use of the term in the landmark Atlantic article by Jeffrey Goldberg with this very title (one of the rare occasions when the President has opined at length about his principles and actions abroad). In-between, analysis of the Obama Doctrine has varied widely.
Early on the Administration cast its over-arching strategic chessboard move as a “pivot to Asia”, meaning the U.S. intended to focus less on the transatlantic region and more intently on the Pacific Rim. European and Middle Eastern allies reacted negatively upon its declaration, and the phrase was rapidly recast as the “rebalance to Asia.” But it was a mistake, as the Chinese soon branded it “containment of China” due to the pivot’s military moves embedded in a wider set of diplomatic and economic moves. Continue reading
Russia is currently riding high on the geostrategic landscape, despite a trove of domestic economic woes that stem partly from Western sanctions. But Vladimir Putin has successfully wagged the dog and distracted Russians from this by illegally annexing Crimea by force, occupying eastern Ukraine with a proxy force upheld by Russia, and successfully keeping the Assad regime in force in Syria with a surprise intervention that has not only sent cruise missiles through an airspace with U.S. aircraft in it, but also wiped out the efforts on behalf of the anti-regime rebel forces by Western intelligence services on the ground.
Russia continues to be undeterred in its use of force, which was reinforced last week by a Russian fighter plane buzzing a U.S. reconnaissance aircraft within 50 feet and multiple Russian fighters buzzing a U.S. destroyer ship within 30 feet, both in the Baltic Sea. Russia is in fact so sufficiently undeterred at present that the Baltic members of NATO are once again in fear of direct Russian intervention. All of this comes as NATO members are getting prepared to hold a crucial summit in Warsaw—perhaps the most pivotal Alliance summit since the end of the Cold War.
Its number one task is straight forward: restoring conventional deterrence in Europe. NATO’s previous summit in Wales was supposed to accomplish this task, but it fell short in its attempt at providing sufficient reassurance to the East Central European members of the Alliance. NATO suspended its relationship with Russia, warned it, and through a series of small-scale maneuvers and exercises sought not only to reassure threatened members but also restore conventional deterrence with regard to Russian threats. It failed. This became clear even before NATO officials had departed from Wales, as Russian intelligence operatives kidnapped an Estonian intelligence operative in a successful attempt by Russia to thumb its nose at NATO.
NATO must compensate for this by beginning to restore deterrence and increase contributions from NATO members to the Alliance’s collective defense. Otherwise it risks a consequential slide into a two-tier alliance and a collection of allies that even in the face of a dramatic newfound series of threats from Russia cannot manage to climb out of the joint security trap they fell into over the past five years. Continue reading
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
Even as western sanctions are lifted in response to Iran’s dismantling crucial, large-scale elements of its nuclear facilities, critics continue to believe that Iran is preparing to cheat on the nuclear deal, is increasing its support of proxies such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen, and is bent on achieving regional hegemony. But instead of taking Khamenei at his word, observers should focus on concrete actions rather than rhetoric that is meant largely for domestic consumption. This is especially critical in light of Iran’s upcoming elections, which will likely bring even more revolutionary rhetoric and hardline behavior.
We are at truly historic crossroads. Iran has complied with the nuclear deal in full up to this point, sooner and more comprehensively than expected. A number of Americans unlawfully detained by Iran are now home. And just when it appeared that Iranian hardliners would try to turn the perfect storm of U.S. swift boats errantly breaching Iranian territory into a deal breaker, Iran set the crews free in less than a day (and with all their gear intact). This action bodes well, even as Iran continues adhering to a pattern of “covering” its cooperative actions with seemingly harsh actions.
Why is Iran doing this, in particular when so many experts predicted that after the deal Iran would do the opposite of moderating its behavior? Far from black and white, Iran’s post-deal behavior has been a solid gray. And appearances can be deceiving, such as the large vocal demonstration at the old U.S. Embassy on the 36th anniversary of the Iran hostage crisis—not to mention the Supreme Leader telling his people that “Death to America” is a pillar of Iranian culture. However, the evidence demonstrates that Iran in fact has gradually been tacking in a more positive direction in terms of its net contribution to international order. Upon closer examination, Iran has been deftly balancing its cooperative behavior with a fair dose of uncooperative behavior, though the latter tends to be less consequential than the former. Frequently, a planned positive move is preempted with a negative red herring move, all by specific intention. Continue reading
The ominous Russian military buildup in Syria represents the most significant projection of force beyond the territory of the former Soviet Union since the old Cold War. It will allow Russia to keep the brutal regime of Bashar al-Assad in power in Syria, effectively negating the new diplomatic path toward resolution of the regional sectarian war that has been opened up by the Iran nuclear deal.
In addition it will further enable Russia to build and retain a major forward operating base for Russian military forces. At first it will be used to keep Assad in power. Then, as a cover, Russia likely will initiate sustained use of force ostensibly against ISIS, but actually to act as if Russia is in vanguard with the West and Middle Eastern powers in combating the world’s most dangerous insurgent group.
Beyond this, there is little guarantee that Russia won’t use its most high end military weaponry in other destabilizing ways that are contrary to western interests, such as attacking U.S.-backed opposition fighters (alarmingly, Russian drone flights have been scouting those areas, not ISIS areas). Offensive hardware including fixed wing Su-24, 25, and 27 fighter jets, attack helicopters, drone aircraft, main battle tanks, and SA-22 surface-to-air missile batteries have already been deployed at Russia’s new base in Latakia Syria in the backyard of Assad’s stronghold. Continue reading
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
A perfect storm is defined as an event in which a rare combination of circumstances results in an event of unusual scale and magnitude. 9-11 is a classic, and tragic, perfect storm. This December the world has witnessed another perfect storm involving the confluence of culture and foreign policy: the bizarre North Korean hacking of Sony and the scare that arrived just in time for the holidays for millions of Americans.
Not since the Danish publication of a cartoon that Muslims viewed as an insult to Islam has a confluence of this kind had such serious consequences. The Sony executives, who made the spoof film involving a comedic sendup of North Korean repression that ended in an assassination of its sitting leader Kim Jong-un, cannot be faulted for making the film that North Korea took such exception to. But by filming a scene in which the dictator’s head explodes, they crossed a line and all but invited hacker retaliation.
Sony’s internet defenses were surprisingly low, given a previous and rather damaging cyber penetration of its networks. But Sony’s greatest error was actually to take the threat of terrorism from the North Korean hackers on U.S. movie theaters showing the film seriously. Instead of standing up for freedom of expression (and protecting its investment), along with the major movie theater chains it caved. Continue reading
The conventional wisdom about the gradual U.S. ramp up for the military campaign against ISIS is just that, all too conventional. Blistering criticisms from the Right—that the ramp up was too slow and that the President is to blame for leaving Iraq too soon—have both proved hollow. They have been fading as the U.S. and its allies have been successfully degrading ISIS. During the last two months of their successful election campaign, Congressional candidates essentially dropped this criticism from their attack ads and stump speeches. But the notion that the U.S. displayed weakness in the gradual roll out of its anti ISIS operation persists.
However, there was and still is a danger that the U.S. ramped up too soon. One of the primary strategic problems over the last five austerity addled years has been the sizable reduction in defense spending by a series of western allies (although the capabilities reductions, which matter more, have been much smaller and in some cases augmented). As important as maintaining capabilities is, there is also the necessity of strategy, which includes the willingness to use force if necessary. The U.S. attempt to “lead from the middle”, which involves allies sharing security burdens, could be impeded if allies interpret the U.S. taking the lead against ISIS as “leading from the front.” The danger is that this could result in a new round of allies reducing their spending and/or capabilities, which would be a serious setback to American national security interests.
Today 25 years ago the Berlin Wall was torn down, one of the most consequential events of the 20th Century, catalyst for the end of the Cold War and freedom for millions stuck behind the Iron Curtain yanked down on them by the USSR. I was a student just starting to get interested in the wider world. I grew jealous of a couple of friends who were able to be there…in Berlin…dancing on the wall with the Germans…a seminal moment, which I watched on TV like everyone else.
I got there as soon as I could, once finals were over. With a guy from my hostel who had a hammer, we warily approached a broad section of the Wall not really knowing what to expect. As we started to bang and chip away at the outer layer, a small old man came through a hole in the concrete; we both stepped back, and the three of us just stared at each other hardly moving. We were a little afraid, to be honest. I mean, we weren’t that savvy but we did know the history of this spot. After what seemed like a tense eternity, he finally managed to smile wanly. He approached us, but didn’t speak. Instead he reached up and pated my shoulder. Then he turned and scrambled right back through the hole in the Wall. Continue reading
Russia may have agreed to a ceasefire with Ukraine the week before last, but in addition to regular violations of it by both Russian forces and pro-Russian rebels, it is important to understand that what not long ago was considered an irregular conflict has transitioned into open warfare between Russia and Ukraine. Most of the fighting ended in a ceasefire when President Poroshenko — weakened by the West’s refusal to provide lethal equipment and the failure of the NATO summit to address the Kremlin threat in a fully comprehensive fashion — accepted Putin’s terms.
This ceasefire is unlikely to hold, however, as Putin is feeling his oats. Not only did he ignore NATO warnings not to send regular troops into Ukraine, he undermined President Obama and NATO’s efforts to reassure its Eastern members by abducting an Estonian intelligence officer the day the summit ended. With his regular troops, Putin has expanded and reinforced his position in the Donbass and has approached the port city of Mariupol. There are credible reports that Russian agents are at work in Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second largest city, and Odessa.
If the West continues to react slowly and weakly to Kremlin aggression, Putin will face no serious obstacles to moving further west in Ukraine to Odessa and even the border with Moldova. Doing so would provide a land bridge to Crimea and Transnistria, the frozen conflict in Moldova that Moscow has nourished since the fall of the Soviet Union. Continue reading
The evidence that President Putin has lost Ukraine in the most important senses has been around for months–Ukrainians want to be western even more now, eastern Ukrainians in majority terms continue to want this as well, Ukrainians elected a pro-western President, the EU trade deal is going forward, and Poroshenko is pushing for NATO membership with NATO not ruling this out–but crucially what was not in place until recent days is credible conventional deterrence against additional territorial annexation by Russia. In an even more substantial indication of Putin disastrously overplaying what not long ago was a pretty good hand, Russia’s invasion/annexation of Ukraine was all NATO needed to renew and reinvigorate itself in addition to successfully reassuring eastern European allies and deterring Russia from serious intervention in them. NATO is stronger and more vigorous than it was even 6 months ago, and Sweden and Finland are likely to join its ranks in the near future.
I called for this in my pre-summit Foreign Policy piece, and we now have two examples of Russia heeding the redrawn strategic landscape. First, the incredibly harsh response from Moscow and a slew of empty threats of retaliation (with the expected nonadmission that Russia’s aggression caused the NATO response in the first place) and second an immediate ceasefire in Ukraine that Russia called for, that was verbatim from Poroshenko’s ceasefire proposals from last month, that occurred despite rebel/Russian advances on the ground, that caused Russia to admit and demonstrate it does have influence over the rebels, and that occurred before the NATO summit Wales even ended. [Note in the Foreign Policy piece, I did not title it “How to Beat Down a Bully”; the editor did that without telling me in advance; the original title was “How to Oppose the Putin Doctrine”] Continue reading
Just as the international community appeared at long last to be taking a stronger stand against Russia, President Putin upped the ante. Unlike its annexation of Crimea, Russia is now in open warfare with Ukraine on its eastern border. There is fresh evidence indicating not only that Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 was shot down by Russian-aided rebels in eastern Ukraine, but also that the Russian military has been firing missiles and artillery from its own territory at targets inside Ukraine proper. Russia has redeployed over 20,000 soldiers near the Ukrainian border.
The SA-11 mobile missile battery was supplied by Russia and crossed into Ukraine in a large Russian military convoy a week in advance of the attack, which included additional missile batteries. Radar information, wreckage from the crash, and intercepted phone calls implicate the rebels directly, as well as Russia’s involvement in the cover-up. The crash site was thoroughly tampered with by the rebels, who delayed releasing the bodies of victims and have yet to release the monitoring officials from the OSCE that they have held captive for months.
Russia decided to up the ante of its double game prior to the shooting down of Flight 17, a response to the recent gains the Ukraine military forces have been making against the pro-Russia rebels. In fact many of these rebels are not just pro-Russian, they are full-fledged Russian citizens—including some notorious bad apples that Russia previously used in not so subtle attempts to destabilize former members of the Warsaw Pact.
But just as the EU is about to drop a new sanctions hammer on Russia, the Russians have taken the Putin Doctrine to a new more dangerous level. They have transitioned from weeks of waging irregular warfare against Ukraine to low grade standard warfare, and they appear to be preparing to raise that grade and potentially invade Ukraine Georgia-style. What more crystal clear evidence could there be that western allies have yet to establish conventional deterrence vis-à-vis Russia? Continue reading
Germany won the World Cup in soccer, demonstrating to all that its team truly is the best in the world. The German players and coaches were dominant, dispatching a succession of opponents with near masterly strategy and skill—including a historic drubbing of the overwhelming local favorite Brazil, expected by many to emerge with a symbolic victory for the host country. Instead, the Germans beat them handily at home, before going on to prevent Argentina from denying them from an even more symbolic victory of their own.
A massive celebration immediately ensued across Germany, among Germans the world over, and vast throngs that were cheering them on for the World Cup victory they achieved in grand style. Strangely however, not all Germans were among the jubilant. In fact, a sizable minority of Germans remain uncomfortable with such a widespread and vibrant display of patriotism. The weight of history remains staunch, so much so that some of this ilk have publicly called for banning the display of German flags in public. It is an odd phenomenon, to say the least.
For don’t Germans deserve at long last to be proud, and unreservedly so; in fact, doesn’t Germany deserve to be treated like—and become again—a normal country? After all, the horrors of World War II took place more than half a century ago. Successive German generations have grown up in a culture of collective guilt, in which the vestiges of pride and patriotism were purposely kept out of reach. But Germany long ago has paid its debts, with memorials to the holocaust strewn across the country and decade after decade of responsibility displayed on the European and world stages by every Chancellor since Konrad Adenauer in the name of everyone that elected them. Continue reading
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