Gaza – No Good, No Evil

 As long as Israel remains the state of the Jews and Palestine remains the perfect site for Islamic extremists to launch attacks on Tel Aviv, the two can never coexist in complete harmony.
Palestine protest youth Gaza

This month Israel launched the first major attack on the Gaza strip in years. Hundreds of missiles rained down from Israel itself, artillery pounded the strip from the coast and tanks lined up on the border ready to roll in with an unstoppable rampage. Over 150 are dead, over a thousand injured, many women and children. The leader of Hamas’ military division is dead, killed by a missile strike which started the hostilities.
Or at least that’s the simplest way to look at it. Israel react completely disproportionately to Gazan rocket attacks, flatten Gaza at the cost of over a hundred innocent lives and then happily continue to go about their slow conquest of the West Bank. It’s an easy image, the demonic Israel oppressing and killing Palestinians almost arbitrarily. It’s a story of good and evil, of the underdog being crushed under the boot of the giant oppressor.
The reason this concept is so powerful is because it’s so easy to grasp. It’s the story-line to almost every good film ever made, from comedies to action in the cinema. People love to root for the underdog, and they love the black and white nature of good and evil. They cheered for Rocky Balboa, Dr. Richard Kimble, Seabiscuit, even Average Joe’s Gym and Po the Panda. Underdog stories of a small good guy against an stronger evil villain are probably the simplest stories to tell, and therefore the easiest to take sides on. This seems especially true of students across the world. Despite being in the best position to take the time to investigate the complex truths of every conflict they seem most likely to resort to simplistic ideological extremes of support.
But reality is never that simple. No, not even the Nazis, and certainly not the Japanese.
The present conflict did not start with Israel’s targeted killing of the military head of Hamas, it started with a weekend of huge numbers of rockets being fired from Gaza into Israel and attacks on Israeli soldiers on the borders. Over two thousand rockets have been fired into Israel in 2012, resulting in repeated evacuations of homes in the south. These attacks in turn were motivated by continued occupation of the West Bank and blockade of the Gaza strip. The blockade was the result of the 2008-2009 three-week war where Israel responded to 2,378 missiles launched during 2008 by assaulting the Gaza strip, bringing rocket attacks down to only 190 during 2009, however at the cost of over a thousand Palestinian lives. The war was a result of Hamas’ victory in the earlier elections and defeat of Fatah, which in turn was a result of the 2004 conflict where Israel had attacked the Gaza strip again in response to rocket attacks. The list continues to go back. Gazan rocket attacks are responded to with overwhelming force which stops the rocket attacks but through the use of traumatic violence which convinces more Gazans to turn to violence and launch rocket attacks which is responded to with overwhelming force. The attacks of November 2012 are just the latest in a long cycle.
Who’s to blame? Is it Israel for causing the situation which pushes Palestinians towards extremism? Or is it Palestinians for continuing to resort to attacks which they know full well with be responded to with such a display of force? Is it Israel for blockading the strip and occupying the West Bank, or is it Palestinians who’s attacks created the justification for these moves?
The truth is, neither. It makes things easy to take a side and demonise the opposition as the great evil, but it does not make such a position correct. If you want to really get to the crux of the issue it is all the fault of France and Britain who completely arbitrarily broke up the Ottoman Empire and through doing so caused not only the present Israel-Palestine conflict but also the ongoing Syrian Civil War, Iraqi sectarian conflict and Kurdish conflict through the creation of artificial states which could fit into straight lines. Britain created an Israeli state impossible to defend due to its surrounding highlands filled with enemies; therefore necessitated the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Golan Heights.
Yes, you can point to the Israeli blockade and the civilian casualties in Gaza. But on the other side of the coin the blockade was necessitated to reduce the huge influx of weapons into the strip which resulted in the rain of rockets of 2008. Civilian casualties are actually extremely low considering the vast number of targeted attacks directed at Hamas military leadership and rocket sites. Over one thousand strikes have taken place, making the casualty rate astoundingly low. Israeli troops even warned Hamas fighters to move civilians before strikes. The Hamas fighters which launched hundreds of rockets over the year knew what they were inviting in return, in fact it is reasonable to argue that Israel has left such a campaign of deterrence too long. The number of rockets fired by Hamas and Israel are almost the same, Israel’s are simply bigger and more accurate. At least eight Palestinian deaths have been executions carried out by Hamas, and several more have been faulty rockets, including many children.
Yes, you can point to the continual threats from Islamists to wipe Israel off the Earth and constant threats of terrorist attacks Israeli citizens live under the shadow of. However Israeli rejection of international law in the West Bank makes Palestinians feel like a sub-people unable even to vote towards the leaders of the power which controls their lives. The Israeli blockade has created terrible conditions in Gaza pushing people towards armed conflict as their only resort in response.
There is no good and evil in this conflict. Both sides have been terrible to one another and have done good things for their own people. The truth of the matter is that the very idea of placing two fundamentally opposing states on the same stretch of land, in an era where without control of high ground it is impossible to defend yourself, is itself ludicrous. Israel cannot be expected to allow Gaza, the West Bank, the Golan Heights or southern Lebanon to become militarised, to do so would be a gross failure of their duty to protect the citizens of Israel. Likewise the Palestinians cannot be expected to endure sub-standard conditions with no true representation or recognition in the face of an ever-advancing wall.
Boycotting Israel will not work, to think it will is naive. Demonising either side as the evil party oppressing the other will not help, it will only goad them further into conflict. Supporting Palestine as a recognised state will not make any difference at all, and will only serve in legitimising a solution which should never have been attempted and may never work. It may be easy to simplify the conflict into an easy duality of good and evil, underdog and oppressor, but it simply is not accurate. Maybe it is time to question the viability of the two-state solution, which has been gradually eroded to the point of irrelevance for over half a century.
The Gaza conflict is the creation of the concept of Israel and Palestine as two states, fundamentally opposed, and yet squeezed into a space too small for the both of them. As long as Israel remains the state of the Jews and Palestine remains the perfect site for Islamic extremists to launch attacks on Tel Aviv, the two can never coexist in complete harmony. The cycle has continued for too long, it is long past time to take a look at the other options.
Photo Credit: Gigi Ibrahim

Making The US A True Partner

The complexity of the Arab-Israeli environment demands that the US accepts a role as a cooperative member of an international community seeking equitable peace, not as the sole leader. Only by shifting this reality can a solution amenable to both parties’ goals work.


Shimon Peres and Leon Panetta


[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he United States’ role in the Arab-Israeli conflict has been the source of widespread debate, most of it centered on the extent to which Washington can pressure the Palestinians towards a resolution. Yet, these arguments skirt around a crucial element of the continuing imbroglio: America is and will never be the idealized arbiter of Mideast peace. The sooner Washington understands this reality, or at least publicly admits it, the closer a sustainable resolution will become.

The United States is a staunch ally of Israel. This friendship is an inescapable fact. Total bilateral aid from Washington to Jerusalem has increased throughout the Obama Presidency, rising from $2,423 million in 2008 to a projected $3,115 million in 2013. Nearly all these funds are for Israeli military development, and nearly 50% of Obama’s 2010 budget for foreign military assistance — $2.8 billion — was appropriated to Israel. This level of funding has been maintained, if not enlarged. In contrast, US aid to the West Bank and Gaza has averaged just over $600 million since 2008.

These illustrative numbers underscore a far deeper, almost spiritual friendship between the Israel and the US, forged in the years after the Second World War and since fueled by the powerful pro-Israel lobby in Washington. The character of this alliance is unique, and has shaped the region. Israeli policy is founded on the recognition of US support, which is nearly unconditional, and Jerusalem would not be capable of its military operations in Gaza or Lebanon, for example, without American aid.

Of course, this friendship has been the source of much criticism from across the political spectrum. How, many ask, can anyone expect the US to be an honest broker of peace, as it proposes to be?

The answer to this question is: they cannot. It is fully within Washington’s purview to foster a powerful alliance with Israel. Such a friendship is not wholly unprecedented, as similar aid was provided to Great Britain in the 1930s. From a strictly political standpoint, sovereign nations are perfectly justified in seeking and maintaining strong defensive relationships against perceived threats. It is the implications of this aid on the peace process that worries those advocating a bilateral, egalitarian resolution.

Yet, rather than embarking on the Sisyphean task of restructuring the deeply entrenched US-Israeli relationship, the far more constructive solution would be to recognize the reality for what it is. By considering the United States as another partisan actor in the Arab-Israeli matrix, the international community might be better able to understand the true avenues and barriers to peace. As long as Washington occupies the dual role of negotiator and unwavering ally, Israel will not budge from its present course. It is not Washington’s support putting the peace process on hold, but rather the way in which this process is defined by it.

The US need not cut its bonds to Israel, but it must not disguise them. If Washington could enter into a truly multilateral negotiating body — one in which both the Israelis and the Palestinians are equally represented and considered — it could contribute to a far more sustainable solution: International, not unilateral, peace. Both the US and Israel have a real chance to achieve such a solution, as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas makes his case for Palestinian independence at the United Nations. For a peace process founded nearly entirely on US government opinion, the likely American and Israeli opposition to statehood would deal a crippling to Abbas’ chances. Within these parameters, the framework for reconciliation simply does not exist.

Only by shifting this reality can the two-state solution — or any solution amenable to both parties’ goals — work. The complexity of the Arab-Israeli environment demands that the US accepts a role as a cooperative member of an international community seeking equitable peace, not as the sole leader.


Photo Credit: Secretary of Defense

ETA’s Last Throw Of The Dice?

ETA’s current predicament is a damning indictment of their political strategy – or lack thereof – over many years and at this moment in time their conditional offer of disbandment appears to be a desperate last throw of the dice, one which will undoubtedly fail.




The armed Basque separatist group, Euskadi ta Askatasuna (ETA), issued a statement offering to disband and negotiate a definitive end to their operations. On the surface, this may appear to be a significant move on the part of a group widely classified as a terrorist organisation. In reality, it merely demonstrates to what extent ETA have run out of options and, aside from the security threat which they likely still pose, just how irrelevant they have become to the political and constitutional future of their Basque homeland and of Spain.

ETA’s offer to disband is not unconditional. It would be the culmination of a “dialogue agenda” focusing on the consequences of the conflict, namely prisoners, refugees and the demilitarisation of the Basque Country. Furthermore, ETA continues to insist that Spain and France “recognise the truth and responsibility… [for] the violence which they have used during the conflict and the crimes they have committed.”

Those are substantial demands: difficult in practice and impossible politically for both Madrid and Paris. ETA appear to believe that their offer to disband is a bargaining chip equal to their list of demands. If that is so, it clearly shows how detached they have become from the realities of today.

ETA are weak and everybody knows it. Their alleged operational leaders have been arrested, usually in France, with striking regularity – perhaps as many ten in four years. Most recently, Izaskun Lesaka was arrested in October, bringing the total number of suspects arrested in 2012 alone to twenty-four. The previous operational leader, Oroitz Gurruchaga Gogorza, was arrested in May and such a high turnover in leadership positions over a sustained period can only have lead to a serious degradation of ETA’s capacity.

In short, no politician in Madrid or Paris will ever accept any demand from a terrorist group widely regarded as being in its death throes. Indeed, the Spanish Minister of the Interior, Jorge Fernández Díaz, simply responded that the only statement he wished to hear from ETA was that they had “unconditionally disbanded.”

The frequent arrests of ETA leaders begs another question, based on Mao Zedong’s famous assertion that “a guerrilla must move amongst the people as a fish swims in the sea.” Since ETA operatives have presumably had to adopt stringent security measures to avoid capture (albeit unsuccessfully) then how can they understand the current political and social realities of the Basque Country and of Spain? The answer must be that they do not, a conclusion borne out by their recent statement.

The Partido Popular (PP) government in Madrid is wrestling with an economic crisis and mass unemployment, not to mention a serious threat to the constitution and territorial integrity of Spain emanating from Catalonia. Given the political – i.e. Francoist – origins of the PP, they would hardly have been inclined to negotiate directly with ETA at the best of times. In these very bad times, that is a political impossibility for Mariano Rajoy and his government. If anything, taking a hard line on ETA may even help them score some political brownie points to offset, however slightly, the major problems they face.

Currently the real separatist threat to Spain comes not from the Basque Country but from Catalonia, even if elections held there on Sunday somewhat weakened the position of the ruling Convergència i Unió (CiU) party. Nonetheless, Catalan President Artur Mas’ plan to hold a referendum in 2014 is the most serious threat to the territorial integrity of Spain for some time. In that context, it is incredible that ETA could think that the Spanish government would agree to talk to them – a ‘terrorist’ organisation – when Madrid has already made clear that it will appeal to the constitutional courts to counter a democratic independence movement in Catalonia.

As for democratic nationalism in the Basque Country, the largest party has always been Euzko Alderdi Jeltzalea (Partido Nacionalista Vasco or EAJ-PNV), who held power in the autonomous region for thirty years until 2009 when they were ousted by a Socialist-led, pro-centrist coalition. Aside from the complex relationships EAJ-PNV have had in the past with more radical Basque nationalists, including ETA, their current priority must be to regain power and mount a challenge to Madrid similar to that of the Catalan CiU. In this context, and contrary to what they apparently believe, ETA have no place in the current political firmament of the Basque Country.

ETA are at best an extremely marginal player in political terms and evidently severely degraded in operational terms. Their current predicament is a damning indictment of their political strategy – or lack thereof – over many years and at this moment in time their conditional offer of disbandment appears to be a desperate last throw of the dice, one which will undoubtedly fail.


Photo credit: www_ukberri_net

Una Cina Grande Come La Cina

Che il cambio della guardia ai vertici cinesi sia tenuto all’oscuro, deciso in una stanza chiusa, è chiaramente il sintomo di un’anomalia intrinseca e persistente. La Cina stenta così a manifestare un potere egemonico che è in gran parte consolidato.



L’interesse dell’opinione pubblica occidentale per gli avvenimenti che hanno scosso la Cina nel 2012 è sorto in primavera, a seguito del più grande scandalo politico dai tempi dell’eliminazione di Lin Biao nel 1971. La rimozione di Bo Xilai da capo del Partito di Chongqing, avvenuta nel marzo scorso, ha posto fine alle sue ambizioni di potere, obbligando così l’ormai ex membro del Politburo a rinunciare alla leadership nazionale. Il popolarissimo ispiratore della corrente neomaoista è stato eliminato dalla corsa al XVIII Congresso del Partito Comunista cinese a causa di una serie di scandali che hanno a lungo appassionato gli osservatori. La sua fine coincide da un lato con il declino delle istanze ‘reazionarie’ della sinistra del partito e, dall’altro, con l’affermazione, da parte della componente maggioritaria, della volontà di proseguire sulla strada delle riforme.

Il Congresso del Partito Comunista è l’evento centrale per la determinazione degli assetti di potere in Cina. Il XVIII Congresso, che si è svolto lo scorso novembre, ha visto la prevista affermazione della quinta generazione di governanti della Repubblica Popolare e l’elezione di Xi Jinping, attuale vice-presidente, a Segretario Generale del PCC, carica che prelude al passaggio di consegne da parte del presidente Hu Jintao.

Xi, come la maggioranza dei sette membri del Comitato permanente del Politburo, viene dal gruppo dei principi rossi, figli o nipoti dei compagni di Mao nella Lunga Marcia. Nel suo discorso post-elettorale, il nuovo leader della Cina popolare ha parlato della necessità di proseguire sulla strada delle riforme e di sconfiggere il fenomeno – ormai diffusissimo – della corruzione, manifestatosi recentemente in scandali che hanno coinvolto i grandi dirigenti del partito. Anche il presidente Hu, durante il suo intervento di apertura, aveva fatto esplicito riferimento alla vicenda di Bo Xilai. L’eliminazione di Bo resta, difatti, una delle chiavi di volta di questo congresso, soprattutto qualora si vada a considerare l’atteggiamento tenuto dagli Stati Uniti. Nonostante la loro apparente marginalità, gli americani hanno infatti svolto un ruolo centrale nella vicenda.

Nel febbraio scorso, il braccio destro di Bo, Wang Lijun, era stato rimosso dal suo incarico; atto, questo, che rivelava l’effettivo avvio dell’operazione politica contro i neomaoisti. Wang Lijun aveva immediatamente cercato rifugio nel consolato americano di Chengdu, per poter sfuggire all’inevitabile arresto. Tuttavia, la reazione americana non è stata quella evidentemente sperata. Dimostrando un’inaspettata fermezza d’intenti, l’amministrazione americana ha negato l’accoglienza a Wang, rifiutandogli lo status di rifugiato politico. Riconsegnando Wang alle autorità cinesi, gli americani hanno così rinunciato alla possibilità di accedere alle eventuali informazioni che questi avrebbe potuto fornir loro. Malgrado l’apparente complessità dello scenario, è tuttavia piuttosto semplice leggerne in filigrana ragioni e cause determinanti. Il mondo che circonda la Cina, Stati Uniti compresi, non è più ostile come un tempo. Al contrario, buona parte degli attori della politica globale aspetta ansiosamente di capire quali siano gli obiettivi futuri del gigante cinese.

Quest’ultima generazione politica si trova, in effetti, a dover fronteggiare una questione del tutto inedita: in che modo e in quale misura assumere e gestire le responsabilità attribuite alla Cina dal suo status di superpotenza mondiale. Il nuovo Celeste Impero è divenuto protagonista della scena mondiale grazie a trent’anni di crescita economica straordinaria e largamente imprevista; una crescita che ha colto impreparata la classe dirigente dei figli della rivoluzione. Dagli anni ’90 ad oggi, la Cina ha teso a mantenere un profilo basso sullo scacchiere globale, dimostrando così una sostanziale incapacità ad affermarsi come potenza egemone. Un processo facilmente imputabile al fatto che la Cina, ad oggi, non ha nulla da offrire.

Il XVIII Congresso del Partito Comunista si è trovato a coincidere, oltretutto, con il periodo in cui gli effetti della crisi euro-americana cominciano a manifestarsi in Asia, rallentando sensibilmente la crescita del gigante cinese. Una simile situazione pone questa nuova quinta generazione di governanti della Repubblica Popolare di fronte ad una sfida inedita: assegnare alla Cina un posto nel mondo. Dare avvio, cioè, a un processo di costruzione e ricostruzione che interesserebbe tutti quei paesi che sono caduti o cadranno sotto l’area di influenza cinese. Un processo di costruzione che adotti una prospettiva di crescita diversa da quella tradizionale, che vada quindi oltre i prodotti industriali a basso costo, e che sia in grado di prevalere sul disinteresse di Pechino per la qualità dei governi con cui costruisce partnership.

Tutto ciò significherebbe inventare un vero e proprio progetto politico per il mondo cinese; staremo a vedere se Xi Jinping e i suoi uomini saranno all’altezza della sfida.

Un ulteriore elemento può aiutare, seppure in maniera incidentale, a comprendere le difficoltà politiche della Cina. Il XVIII Congresso si è aperto due giorni dopo le presidenziali americane ed il fortuito coincidere degli eventi ha messo così in evidenza una delle grandi differenze che dividono le due superpotenze. Da una parte, la segretezza e l’oscurità dei processi politici cinesi rendono inaccessibili, al grande pubblico globale, i nomi dei prossimi governanti. Dall’altra, la corsa al seggio presidenziale negli USA, illuminata fin quasi all’esasperazione dai riflettori mediatici, viene seguita con fervente entusiasmo da tutti gli angoli del globo. Ogni spettatore può quindi parteggiare per il candidato che gli è più affine, per valori o convenienza. Una strategia di comunicazione simile, aggressiva e clamorosa, non può che rafforzare, inevitabilmente e a prescindere dal risultato, il peso dell’egemonia americana.

Il fatto che il cambio della guardia ai vertici cinesi sia tenuto all’oscuro, deciso in una stanza chiusa, è chiaramente il sintomo di un’anomalia intrinseca e persistente. La Cina stenta così a manifestare un potere, di tipo egemonico, che è in gran parte consolidato.


Photo Credit: Bert Van Dijk

#5: Virginia Comolli on Boko Haram

In this episode of Debrief, Jamiesha Majevadia is joined by Virginia Comolli, Research Associate for Transnational Threats at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in London.



You can subscribe to our podcasts on iTunes.

Jamiesha & Virginia discuss the growth and trajectory of Boko Haram and the impact the group has had on Nigeria and its neighbouring countries. They also discuss the nature of suspected al Qaeda links,  the level and consequences of government responses and some predictions of the future trajectory of the group.


Virginia is the Research Associate for Transnational Threats at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) in London, currently focusing on transnational organized crime and security threats in Sub-Saharan Africa. In the past, Virginia has been seconded to the UK Ministry of Justice and also worked in the private sector in security and strategic intelligence. She is the co-author of the book “Drugs, Insecurity and Failed States: the Problems of Prohibition” published earlier in 2012.

You can view her IISS profile here.

Follow Jamiesha (@Jamiesha_Maj) and Virginia (@VirginiaComolli)on twitter.


Photo credit: ssoosay

Oil And Gas Pricing- Too Close For Comfort?

Separating gas indexation from oil prices would mean that major gas suppliers in Europe would lose income. Therefore they prefer that gas indexing is coupled with oil, ensuring it’s long-term gas supply contracts and bringing it closer to controlling an EU wide natural gas monopoly.


US California high gas prices sign[dhr]

Gas has been indexed to oil prices ever since the 1960s. It was convenient for gas sellers and gas buyers to have ‘certainty regarding both volume and price as the gas was priced in the contracts at the price of the competing fuels’, this has resulted in a lack of ‘gas-to-gas competition’ and higher than necessary prices for consumers, according to Oil & Gas UK Economic report 2011.

Currently, 90% of the gas consumed in Continental Europe is sold under long-term contracts with oil price indexation that have been extended beyond 2030. One of the main strengths of indexing gas price to oil is to have the security of supply, if gas is to be sold at the continental supply hubs, countries need to know that gas will always be there in order not to risk energy shortage. However the recent US shale gas boom has unleashed a new age of cheap gas, which could trigger changes in gas indexation to oil.

Back in 1989 The Monopolies and Mergers Commission found that there was no competition between gas and oil. The decision to keep gas prices reliant on oil comes from the companies’ interests in keeping high gas prices in the spot market. John Huggins, former director of Gas Transportation, British Gas, said: ‘Changing this situation is likely to be a slow process unless there is a shock to the system from a sudden influx of extra supplies into the spot market.’

Recently Ofgem, the energy regulator, has launched investigations into claims that power firms are manipulating the wholesale price of gas. Because the prices are inflated on the wholesale market, the domestic bills are increasing too. Mr. Clark, Financial Secretary to the Treasury at the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme focused on the need to fine the profiteering power companies: ‘ when it’s as serious as this they should be punished very severely.’ However it is not clear how this would benefit the taxpayer since the fine would simply be passed on to consumers through increased bills and there is no mention of customers receiving compensation payments. This approach of dealing with the symptoms of a malfunctioning trading system rather than the causes is by no means a long-term solution.

At the same time Europe’s commitment to implement the third Energy Liberalisation Package, which says that energy supply, production and transmission activities must be separated in order to promote regional solidarity and security in gas supply is being compromised. The EU law requires ‘all energy companies active in the European market to run their supply, transport and sales businesses separately’.

However eight EU countries including Russia (Gazprom), Germany, France refused to start ‘full ownership unbundling’ in which a parent company sells its transmission networks to a different firm. Gazprom, the Russian state owned natural gas producer, is increasing its’ influence in Europe and reinforcing it’s supply chain. Recently during an asset swap with German BASF, Gazprom took over its’ natural gas trading and storage businesses. Separating gas indexation from oil prices would mean that Gazprom, the leading gas supplier to Europe, would lose income. Therefore it prefers to keep the indexing coupled with oil ensuring it’s long-term gas supply contracts and bringing it closer to controlling an EU wide natural gas monopoly.

One major threat to Gazprom’s near monopoly of the EU gas market and the old-world thinking regarding oil and gas indexing is the recent advent of shale gas. Shale gas deposits are evident in many EU countries and could quickly diversify the supply and lead to a rethinking of the pricing structures. The sudden increase in gas output from shale gas could lead to genuine gas- to-gas competition and lower prices for consumers.


Photo Credit:  youtube_user_willtrade4food

Tre Matrimoni Ed Un Funerale: Lo Strano Caso Del Separatismo Europeo

La frammentazione degli stati-nazione avviene solo a causa di chiare ed inconciliabili differenze, che emergono tra gruppi nazionali. Pertanto, nell’ambito della recente ondata secessionista europea, il Belgio sembra essere l’unico paese davvero prossimo a dividersi. 



Da quando Barack Obama è stato rieletto alla presidenza statunitense, la Casa Bianca ha ricevuto da vari Stati – perlopiù dal Texas – numerose petizioni separatiste, per un totale di oltre 100.000 firmatari; i quali hanno dichiarato di sentirsi lesi nei propri diritti di cittadini americani. Se in questo caso, presumibilmente, a parlare è solo la mancata accettazione della sconfitta elettorale, resta significativa la riproposizione dell’idea secessionista, che attualmente sta prendendo piede soprattutto in Europa.

Nel mese di settembre, circa un milione di catalani hanno marciato per le strade di Barcellona, reclamando una maggiore autonomia per la loro regione ormai sull’orlo della bancarotta. Il Belgio sembra essere orientato verso la separazione tra la regione fiamminga e quella francese, i cui gruppi nazionali dividono il paese dal punto di vista economico e culturale. Nel frattempo, pare che il Regno Unito abbia le ore contate: scozzesi ed inglesi hanno fissato al 2014 il referendum per l’indipendenza scozzese. Intanto il Sud Tirolo, forte della sua matrice germanica, ventila l’ipotesi di uno stato indipendente, così da eludere il cosiddetto “regime fiscale” imposto da Roma. Sembra dunque sia ancora d’attualità l’adagio “Se non ti piace (la tal nazione), puoi sempre andar via”.  Non è però chiaro dove porterà quest’ansia da separazione, e quali siano le prospettive per le nuove nazioni – sempre che riescano a formarsi. La storia ci dimostra che raramente una nazione è riuscita a smembrarsi pacificamente: infatti, a determinare quasi tutte le separazioni nazionali sono intervenute guerre civili o il crollo di regimi autoritari. Passando in rassegna il panorama globale, ci si rende conto di come gli esempi contrari siano piuttosto rari: uno di questi è la Cecoslovacchia, che riuscì a dividersi pacificamente tra Repubblica Ceca e Repubblica Slovacca.

Così come in qualsiasi matrimonio problematico, una separazione nazionale va ponderata indagando le cause del problema; e tentando poi di prevenire ripensamenti immediati, o a lungo termine, delle parti in causa. Generalmente, la frammentazione degli stati-nazione avviene solo sulla base di chiare ed inconciliabili differenze, che emergono tra gruppi nazionali: per questo motivo, molte delle secessioni avvengono in maniera violenta.  Nei predetti casi, però, ad istigare sentimenti separatisti è stata piuttosto la crisi finanziaria del 2008, e la ricerca di cause e responsabilità che ne è conseguita. Se i motivi della crisi sono ben noti, così come gli effetti a catena del contagio, in molti casi la cura appare dannosa quanto la patologia. Si prendano, in primo luogo, le misure di austerity che hanno tentato di attuare i governi europei: queste, hanno innescato proteste in tutto il continente,  poiché il cittadino medio si è sentito il capro espiatorio della cupidigia delle banche e dell’incompetenza dei governi. Le politiche incentrate sul rigore hanno inoltre fomentato sentimenti di insofferenza nei confronti di determinate classi sociali o gruppi linguistici ed etnici, che sembrano immuni (e in alcuni casi, beneficiari) rispetto al contesto generale.

È di questa insofferenza che si nutrono i sentimenti separatisti. La popolazione si sente tradita e non più in sintonia con i propri governi nazionali; nella ricerca di sicurezze, si rivolge a strutture regionali o locali, la cui coesione è cementata attraverso legami storici, culturali e linguistici. Una volta sviluppatesi, le tendenze separatiste minacciano la stabilità del governo nazionale, su cui cercano di far pesare in maniera determinante i relativi problemi locali, regionali o culturali. Sfortunatamente, per questo tipo di interessi le interconnessioni globali si configurano in maniera complessa: è per questo che decisioni e minacce separatiste hanno un impatto che va molto al di là degli scopi prefissati.

Molti reputano che il processo di istituzione di una nazione avvenga in maniera relativamente semplice. Certo, bisogna indire un referendum, negoziare accordi di separazione e dichiarare l’indipendenza; ma non si tratta di un processo così lineare. Ad esempio, la regione che si separa potrebbe non condividere accordi multilaterali firmati dallo stato di cui faceva parte. Nel caso dell’Europa, ciò potrebbe tradursi in una fuoriuscita dall’Unione, dall’euro e da altre organizzazioni comunitarie. Altre questioni riguardano il trasferimento di parte del debito nazionale: come si divide un debito governativo? Che formule si devono usare? Praticamente ogni decisione – dall’immigrazione all’ambiente, dalla difesa all’economia – dovrebbe essere rimessa in discussione, attraverso la ricodifica di prassi e accordi pre-esistenti.

Questo ci riporta ai disordini europei: da uno sguardo oggettivo, non sembra che i pronostici siano favorevoli alle potenziali soggetti statuali. Detto francamente, le proteste in Spagna rivendicano, più che altro, la richiesta di maggiori concessioni fiscali e autonomia nella gestione di bilancio, come già avviene per i Paesi Baschi; ma difficilmente la Catalogna – che, come il resto della paese, è sull’orlo della bancarotta – avrebbe la possibilità di sopravvivere come stato autonomo.  Stesso discorso per quanto riguarda le velleità separatiste del Sud Tirolo, che piuttosto mira ad ottenere modifiche costituzionali di tipo fiscale. Infatti, il governatore della regione, che non esita a definire i propri cittadini come “passeggeri di prima classe” della nave italiana, è consapevole che, un eventuale nuovo stato tra le Alpi (composto da poco più di 500.000 abitanti) riuscirebbe difficilmente a mantenersi economicamente competitivo. Passando alla Scozia, le proiezioni più recenti, a circa due anni dalla data fissata per il referendum, indicano un misero 28% tra coloro favorevoli alla secessione: l’attuale primo ministro Alex Salmond, quindi, dovrà darsi molto da fare per intervenire su quel sostanzioso 53% di contrari. In un panorama del genere, il Belgio rimane l’unica nazione a dimostrare sentimenti separatisti credibili.  Il vuoto governativo della nazione, durato quasi due anni, è stato colmato solo da una coalizione di sei partiti; in seguito, durante le elezioni locali, il leader separatista Bart De Wever è stato eletto sindaco di Anversa.  Ciò potrà costituire la fase iniziale della resa dei conti prevista per il 2014, data in cui le elezioni amministrative, molto probabilmente, decideranno del futuro del Belgio.


Articolo tradotto da: Antonella Di Marzio

Articolo originale: European Separatism: Three Weddings & A Funeral

Photo Credit: imcountingufoz

European Separatism: Three Weddings & A Funeral

Nations only break up over clear and irreconcilable differences between different groups found within a country. In the context of the the recent wave of European separatism Belgium seems to be the only real contender for separation.


Catalonia Is Not Spain


Since the re-election of President Barack Obama, the White House has received numerous petitions totaling over 100,000 signatures from various states (mostly Texas) asking for permission to secede from the Union for the perceived violate of the citizen’s rights as Americans. Although this may just be a case of some sore losers, the idea of separation from a state has moved back into the forefront recently, especially in Europe.

In September, approximately one million Catalonians marched through the streets of Barcelona demanding greater autonomy for their nearly bankrupt region. Belgium appears to be heading to a national divorce between the French and Flemish portions of the culturally and economically divided country. Meanwhile, the Scots have agreed with the Brits to a Fall 2014 referendum on independence, so the clock is ticking on the United Kingdom. At the same time the Germanic influenced northern Italian region of South Tyrol appears to want to flee the “taxing oppression” of Rome by establishing their own free state in the Alps.  It seems that the adage “if you don’t like [X country] you can get out” still holds true today. The question is what is driving this separation anxiety and what are the prospects for these new countries if they do break away? History shows us that there are few examples of the peaceful separation of a nation into separate and distinct units, with the vast majority of national divorces coming as a result of a civil war or the collapse of an authoritarian regime. Looking around the world, the peaceful and amicable division of Czechoslovakia into the Czech Republic and Slovakia is one of the few successful examples that can be cited.

When pondering a national divorce, much like a troubled marriage, you have to look to the causes of the problems and whether or not the parties involved actually do want to see the division go through without immediate (or long term) regrets. Nations only break up over clear and irreconcilable differences between groups found within the current geographic boundaries, which is why these divorces are so often bloody. Many of the above examples do not show these reparable issues with much of the current separatist sentiments originating from the 2008 financial crisis and revolving around the question of who is to blame and why. Although the causes of the financial crisis are well known and the ripple effects of the contagion that followed have been charted; the treatment for the disease in many cases appears to be just as bad as the illness itself. This of course has been austerity that governments of Europe have been trying to implement, which has sparked protests across Europe as the average person feels they are paying the price for the perceived greed of bankers and the ignorance of governments. This austerity has resulted not only with anger towards national governments but dissatisfaction within parts of various nations’ populations towards other groups who are seen as taking more than their fair share.

It is from this dissatisfaction that the separatist sentiment grows, people feel betrayed and disconnected from their national government and for security they look towards local and regional structures as well as historical cultural or linguistic ties for a measure of safety. The separatist tendencies that develop then act as a form of threat to the national government accountable in an effort to leverage greater influence for their local, regional or cultural concerns. Unfortunately, for these local concerns, due to the interconnected nature of the world today, their separatist decision making and threats have impacts far beyond the scope of conflict that many separatist supporters perceive.

Many believe that forming a new country is relatively easy. You would vote yes in a referendum, negotiate a separation package and declare independence but it is not that simple. Multilateral agreements that have been signed by the current states may not pass onto the breakaway region as the new state would have not been a signatory to the original agreement. In the case of these potential European breakaways, this could mean no EU membership, the loss of the Euro and exclusion from European organizations. There are the questions of transferring their share of a national debt to the new nation. How do you divide up the debt? What formula can be used? More or less every policy area from immigration to environment and economic to military would have to be analyzed and codified by this new nation.

This brings us back to the turmoil within Europe, and looking at the situations objectively the odds are not in the favour of the want to be countries. Frankly, the protests in Spain are little more than a call for greater tax and spending rights (similar to those of the famously separatist Basque region) as Catalonia much like the rest of Spain is nearly bankrupt and could not financially survive on its own. For South Tyrol, although their Governor calls his citizens the “First Class Passengers” of the ship that Italy is and plans a constitutional challenge to the new tax measures, a new state of just over 500,000 people would likely struggle to maintain economy competitiveness within Alpine Europe. As for the Scots, although it is approximately 2 years from the referendum date, latest polls of referendum voting intentions from this past October show a 28% Yes vs 53% No, meaning that First Minister Alex Salmond has a lot of hearts and minds to win over in order to overturn the status quo in the coming two years. This leaves Belgium which seems to be the only real contender for separation. After almost two years without a functioning national government only ended when a six-party coalition was formed, recent local elections saw separatist leader Bart De Wever elected Mayor of Antwerp, a position that will be used as a springboard to set up a showdown in the 2014 national elections where the fate of Belgium will likely be decided.


Photo Credit: imcountingufoz

[JR] [JH]

Siria: Armare O Non Armare, Questo è Il Problema

La decisione dei fornitori turchi e arabi, di privare gli insorti di armamenti altamente tecnologici, rappresenta la scelta migliore affinché le forze ribelli siriane imparino a operare in maniera più coesa.



A venti mesi dall’inizio del conflitto siriano, si sono osservati considerevoli scontri intestini tra le diverse fazioni di ribelli, i quali stanno compromettendo la vittoria sulle forze di Assad. Infatti, allo svantaggio dei ribelli in termini di preparazione e armi a disposizione, si aggiunge la loro incapacità di cooperare insieme per il raggiungimento dello stesso obiettivo, il che riduce ulteriormente la probabilità di successo contro le forze governative. Pertanto, la Turchia, e gli altri sostenitori del Golfo schierati contro Assad hanno deciso – un po’ come genitori alle prese con figli capricciosi – che a causa di questo comportamento litigioso, i ribelli non riceveranno nuovi armamenti. Infatti, si spera che gli insorti, nel momento in cui vedranno venir meno i rifornimenti, si convincano finalmente a collaborare insieme, pur di non mettere a repentaglio quel risultato atteso e sperato dalla maggior parte del mondo (tranne, a quanto pare, dal governo cinese e russo).

La prima domanda da porsi è: perché questi attori internazionali si schierano dalla parte del popolo siriano? Per quanto le giustificazioni ufficiali appaiano inopinabili, sembrano sussistere altre motivazioni più utili e sottili. In linea di massima, se le forze ribelli siriane fossero più coese, il paese andrebbe incontro a una situazione politica più stabile al termine del conflitto, che è quello che sperano in molti soprattutto dopo gli ultimi avvenimenti in Libia. La Turchia, che permette l’ingresso degli armamenti provenienti dagli stati del Golfo, ha bramato per lungo tempo il ruolo di autorità morale sul Medio Oriente (per via, probabilmente, della sua volontà di entrare  a far parte nell’Unione Europea). La riconciliazione tra la Turchia e il PKK è, da una parte, un’ipotesi plausibile ma, d’altro canto, la loro relazione rimane instabile e fonte di tensioni. Attraverso il controllo dei rifornimenti militari verso la Siria, i turchi hanno acquisito mezzi sufficientemente potenti da imporre la propria volontà sulle operazioni condotte sia dai ribelli siriani (che potrebbero un giorno costituire l’esercito siriano), sia dai curdi siriani (che potrebbero appoggiare il PKK dalle basi nel nord della Siria). Dato il ruolo cruciale di Ankara nella questione degli armamenti, gli stati del Golfo (in particolare il Qatar) si sono accodati alla sua scelta, in quanto ambiscono a mantenere una posizione centrale in seno all’azione militare e strategica, come testimonia l’accoglienza offerta da questi paesi a molti attivisti siriani dall’inizio del conflitto.

Il rifiuto a fornire nuove armi avrà un impatto significativo sul successo delle operazioni dei ribelli. Poiché i siriani fanno affidamento su armi rubate, contrabbandate, o ricevute da disertori governativi, molto probabilmente non riusciranno ad accaparrarsi missili anti-aerei e anti-carro. È certo, quindi, che l’interruzione di una tale linea di rifornimento così costante e completa potrebbe inibire seriamente la loro capacità di sconfiggere le forze di Assad, numericamente più cospicue e ben equipaggiate. Nonostante le informazioni, scarne e non ufficiali, di velivoli aerei governativi colpiti e distrutti, la mancanza degli armamenti necessari per effettuare regolarmente tali operazioni difensive potrebbe inficiare la vittoria degli insorti siriani. I missili anti-carro, poi, sono parimenti importanti anche se non del tutto necessari per sconfiggere le forze armate governative, dal momento che i ribelli sono già dotati di sistemi adatti, quali gli RPG [lanciarazzi anticarro, ndt].

Tuttavia, una scelta di questo tipo potrebbe incitare all’unità e alla collaborazione le forze ribelli. Negli ultimi mesi, gli insorti hanno patito la mancanza di supporto reciproco nelle operazioni offensive attuate contro le forze governative. A tal proposito, i comandanti dell’esercito regolare godono di un evidente vantaggio strategico, dato che, a differenza dei ribelli, possono vantare anni di addestramento, e mettere in pratica azioni congiunte dei loro battaglioni, brigate e reggimenti. A prescindere dal flusso di armi attraverso il confine turco-siriano, sarebbe molto più importante e decisivo che gli insorti acquisiscano la capacità di operare in maniera efficiente e coesa, alla stregua delle forze governative (che possono beneficiare anche di una copertura aerea e d’artiglieria considerevole, così come di mutuo supporto su terra). Dopotutto, l’importanza degli armamenti ad alta tecnologia diventa evanescente, nel momento in cui manca il coordinamento necessario per adoperarli in maniera efficiente.

L’autore del presente articolo è convinto che, per quanto possa sembrare azzardata la decisione dei fornitori turchi e arabi di privare le forze siriane di armamenti altamente tecnologici, questa rappresenti la scelta migliore, affinché gli insorti imparino a operare in maniera più coesa. Inoltre, rapporti più solidi tra le varie fazioni siriane garantirebbero una maggiore stabilità interna al termine del conflitto, e con Assad destituito. Non resta che attendere e sperare.


Articolo tradotto da Valentina Mecca

Articolo originale: Syria: To Arm Or To Not Arm, That Is The Question

Photo Credit: syriana2011

The African Union & The Mali Crisis

As the AU continues to rally and grow in power in the face of the battle over the Saharah, an independent military able to swiftly act against extreme Islamist factions may become an inevitability.



When northern Mali fell to the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), few international observers took note. It was a relatively small event compared to the nearby coup d’etat in the capital, the Libyan civil war and the religious extremist attacks of northern Nigeria. However, when cracks began to form between the forces which had announced Azawad a free state and the MNLA was routed by extreme Islamist factions, heads began to turn.

The defeat of the MNLA, after they had already defeated the Malian army, has been the most significant success by extremist Islamist forces since the Taliban was defeated in 2001. Afghanistan’s Taliban is turning to political moderation, Iraq is calming, moderates rule in northern Africa and al-Shabaab in Somalia is breathing its last breaths. The victors? Ansar Dine and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MOJWA), affiliates of the North-African Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

With the defeat of al-Shabaab in Somalia almost becoming a forgone conclusion after a corridor was created between African Union (AU) forces in Mogadishu and the other AU-controlled areas, Mali could be the next great front against violent Islamism in Africa.

The victory in West Africa has been a long time coming, and required a series of international events to come about. Increasing militant attacks in northern Nigeria has developed a strong and growing political and military block in the form of Boko Haram. This cannot be waved off as just another conflict in another state. Nigeria is a middle-income and relatively huge state to be facing such attacks and such strong resistance from a rebel group. This isn’t Afghanistan or Yemen, it’s a state listed in a peer group involving Mexico, Egypt and Turkey and is predicted to have the largest GDP growth in the world over the next forty years. It is larger in population and economy than all 14 other Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) members put together. The ten-year long growth of Boko Haram cannot be underestimated.

After a decade rising, West African militants only needed one opening to begin serious military advances. This opening was the Arab Spring. As Libya collapsed into chaos many Islamists joined the ranks of eastern tribes and liberals in the campaign against Gaddafi. As the conflict dragged on they became better armed and hardened by the long conflict. When Gaddafi was killed however it was liberals who won the parliament and action began to disarm the various militia groups, only increasing in the wake of the recent Benghazi attacks. So the militants moved on, across the border into Algeria and then Mali.

The MNLA benefited greatly from this influx of militants. But the fighters were absorbed into the extremist Ansar Dine and MOJWA, not the Tuareg nationalists, the three together forming a major challenge to the Mali military. The Tuareg rebellion began to make serious strides in January and by March the frustrated military overthrew the government and suspended the constitution. Shortly after the MNLA seized control of the country’s North only to be almost immediately betrayed and routed by its Islamist allies. Now the country is divided between the new transitional government and the AQIM affiliates. Extremist Islam breeds in these situations. Extreme militant groups dedicated to a brutal interpretation of Sharia law capture areas already torn by strife, where young disenfranchised men are common and where the state is unable to maintain a monopoly on violence. However, over the past decade Africa has begun to organise itself to face this ever-growing threat. Unlike in Afghanistan where a complete lack of regional power structures necessitated the involvement of the Western alliance of NATO, the AU is increasingly stepping in to avoid regional disintegration when states lose control of their territory. In Somalia AU forces control the capital and continue to demolish al-Shabaab’s power centres. In Mali the ECOWAS is acting with the support of the AU to deploy 3,300 troops against the AQIM affiliates in the north. The plan is a six-month mission from December to June establishing bases in the south and then fighting towards the north and the border with Algeria, a power which is refusing to take part. The EU, a long time ally of the AU, is organising sending hundreds of military advisers to help the Mali military back to its feet.

The AU is following the post-Cold War NATO model of security through order. Failed states where there is no government capable of controlling the full territory and monopolising violence are too dangerous a threat to ignore and more than capable of distabilising whole regions. Just like NATO and the EU stepped in to the collapsing Yugoslav state, so to is the AU stepping in where Islamic militants manage to wrest control of territory. If the ECOWAS intervention in Mali succeeds, expect to see further peacekeeping forces sent in to Northern Nigeria and southern Libya should the situations there worsen.

Any resistance to AU involvement in military affairs is entirely reputational, to accept military assistance is to admit to being unable to survive alone. Mali and Somalia have both crossed the limits where such admittance is long past, whereas Libya, Nigeria and South Sudan have not. This is what the threat of extremist Islam represents, a threat so great that all regional actors are willing to step in to states which are not their own once the pride of those states is overwhelmed by a desperate need to survive.

Many believe, after the much focused upon War on Terror, that the war against extremist Islam is a predominantly US affair. To believe such is to accept the Islamist framing of the conflict, one far easier to recruit for when regarded as a battle against the evil American imperialists. In fact it is a global affair. Russia frequently clashes with Islamists in the Caucasus. Pakistan does so in the federal regions, China in Xinjiang, Egypt in the Sinai peninsula, Indonesia in Aceh, Turkey in Kurdish areas, India in Kashmir, the Philippines in Bangsaromo. Any region bordering the Islamic world faces extremists as a threat to security, power and human rights. The reason that the US War on Terror is so focused upon is largely due to the unilateral use of force in states far away and strange to them. Where the AU succeeds with the help of EU and UN allies is in a multilateral engagement using local forces. This is a technique only recently turned to in Afghanistan and possibly too late.

As Africa continues to develop and some of its nations rise towards global prominence we will hear much more of its battle with violent Islamism. One of the issues which will develop is the growing strength of AU military forces which are undergoing a transition to a permanent AU force rather than than loose coalitions formed by constituent state militaries. Just as the EU is being forced closer by economic crisis, so to is the AU being forced together by Islamic militancy. Both international powers may well together signify a shift away from the nation states of European empires and towards multilateral international governments with independent militaries and a dedication to stability at all costs. By their very nature these powers will be more liberal than the nation states they emerge from and so develop a human rights consensus completely at odds to extreme Islamic militancy.

As the AU continues to rally and grow in power in the face of the battle over the Saharah, an independent military able to swiftly act against factions such as AQIM may become an inevitability. The EU already operates across central Africa with its independent CSDP. Operations under the flags of the AU and EU seem only set to expand with the legitimacy that such allied enterprises provide. By their violent dedication to the crescent, extreme Islamists may well be manufacturing the international order which will snuff them out.


Photo credit: zeepkist

Gli Stati Uniti Tra Antiche Sfide E Nuovi Dilemmi Geopolitici

Barack Obama dovrà decidere con attenzione il ruolo da assegnare agli Stati Uniti nei prossimi quattro anni, dato che attualmente Cina, Europa, e le altre potenze regionali non sembrano disponibili ad un maggior coinvolgimento nella gestione delle aree più critiche del pianeta.



L’ elezione di Barack Obama, come 45esimo Presidente degli Stati Uniti, merita una riflessione approfondita sull’impatto che la nuova amministrazione avrà sulla politica internazionale. I prossimi quattro anni, in effetti, preannunciano su questa linea una molteplicità di sfide e veri e propri rompicapi, i cui epiloghi potrebbero condurre ad uno scenario globale completamente stravolto rispetto agli adagi tradizionali. Il complesso rapporto con l’Europa, la difficile situazione mediorientale, l’incognita cinese e le nuove attenzioni rivolte al Pacifico rappresentano le più urgenti questioni che la nuova amministrazione dovrà affrontare.

Una comprensione più approfondita delle relazioni transatlantiche nel corso dell’ultimo anno, rivela come il vecchio continente sia quanto mai centrale nelle valutazioni strategiche di Obama. Infatti, contrariamente alle opinioni di alcuni osservatori continentali, il presidente americano ha già dimostrato nel mese di giugno, quando la crisi economica spingeva l’unione monetaria europea e la Grecia verso un inevitabile tracollo, di temere la destabilizzazione della fragile e lenta ripresa americana.

La reazione di disappunto, maturata a livello europeo, ha posto in discussione la partnership privilegiata che lo stesso Obama aveva ridefinito come essenziale all’indomani della sua elezione nel 2008. Come preconizzato a maggio dall’ex Presidente del Consiglio italiano Giuliano Amato, l’Europa e le sue scelte di politica economica sarebbero diventate decisive nella corsa alla Casa Bianca. Allo stesso modo, seppur da prospettive differenti, l’argomento “Unione Europea” non è stato trascurato neanche da Mitt Romney nel corso della campagna elettorale. Hanno colpito, infatti, le parole dello sfidante repubblicano, secondo cui gli Stati Uniti avrebbero rischiato di precipitare nella disastrosa situazione economica di Italia e Spagna qualora Obama avesse ottenuto un nuovo mandato. Nel bene o nel male, la questione europea è stata centrale per la rielezione del candidato democratico, come ha dimostrato il successo ottenuto da quest’ultimo in Ohio, teatro del piano di salvataggio statale di Chrysler e della partnership con FIAT. Anche per queste ragioni è lecito pensare che il rieletto Presidente porrà maggiore attenzione alla stabilità della moneta unica, quale pilastro fondamentale per l’interdipendenza economica e finanziaria. In ogni caso, è fuori discussione che tali attenzioni si riflettano in un rapporto euro-atlantico basato sulle stesse stringenti logiche di cooperazione risalenti alla guerra fredda.

Per quanto riguarda la situazione mediorientale, la posizione diplomatica della Casa Bianca rimane ancora incerta e non definita. Considerato un consequentialist da Ryan Lizza, in virtù di un approccio a cavallo tra il realismo di John Quincy Adams e l’idealismo di George W. Bush, Obama ha suscitato le reazioni piccate di Israele a causa della gestione della primavera araba. Infatti, pur adottando una politica di dialogo con Iran ed Egitto, il presidente americano ha comunque anteposto gli interessi di sicurezza americani a quelli di altri paesi. Questo atteggiamento ha creato confusione a livello diplomatico e tensione con Gerusalemme, soprattutto in seguito alle posizioni di apertura di Obama verso il presidente egiziano Mosri, e a quelle mostrate con Teheran riguardo ai negoziati sul nucleare. In un articolo di Helene Cooper sul New York Times, è stato rilevato come i rapporti Washington-Teheran siano stati caratterizzati da un inedito accordo sullo sfruttamento dell’energia nucleare. Per questo motivo, anche a Teheran si fremeva per la rielezione di Obama, considerato un interlocutore affidabile e comprensivo delle esigenze nazionali.

Infine, l’ascesa della Cina a protagonista della scena internazionale. Durante la campagna elettorale, il candidato democratico ha mantenuto una posizione piuttosto ambigua, improntata al dialogo con un interlocutore globale da un lato, e di risolutezza verso le scelte economiche di Pechino dall’altro. Risalta, pertanto, il richiamo effettuato a marzo dal presidente americano, che invitava Pechino ad adottare un comportamento più rispettoso delle regole del commercio internazionale. La futura strategia americana verso la Cina, pertanto, appare caratterizzata da un approccio attendista e di neutralità rispetto a questioni interne che stanno pian piano turbando la tranquillità politica del gigante asiatico. Infatti, l’economia cinese, sta subendo un lieve ma inevitabile rallentamento, cui si associano l’irrisolta questione tibetana, i casi di corruzione all’interno del Partito comunista cinese e la richiesta sempre più pressante di diritti civili e sociali.

L’atteggiamento del rieletto Presidente, dettato da un maggiore interesse alle questioni interne, sembra condurre ad uno scenario geopolitico fortemente balcanizzato con gli Stati Uniti sempre meno coinvolti nei contesti regionali dove sono stati presenti per larga parte del Novecento. Come prospettato da Ian Bremmer, si sta determinando uno “G-Zero World” in cui nessuna potenza mondiale (Stati Uniti e Cina) o gruppi di paesi (UE o BRICS) sono in grado di dettare una chiara agenda politica internazionale, soprattutto per ragioni di ordine economico e politico interno.

Pertanto, il comportamento dell’inquilino della Casa Bianca, incoerente a prima vista, cela una chiara scelta politica di disimpegno, che nell’immediato ha provocato una crisi nei rapporti con Israele, una risposta insufficiente agli interrogativi delle rivoluzioni del mondo arabo, e a un atteggiamento ambiguo e discontinuo nei confronti di Europa e Cina. Nei prossimi mesi sarà particolarmente interessante analizzare l’evoluzione delle relazioni tra Pechino e Washington, da cui dipenderanno i futuri assetti geopolitici. A livello teorico, vi sarebbero almeno quattro possibili scenari: la creazione di un G-2 informale, improntato ad un pacifico rapporto tra le due maggiori potenze; un concerto globale caratterizzato dai differenti interessi economico-politici delle potenze emergenti; la possibilità di una Guerra Fredda 2.0 dettata dalla competizione economica tra le due potenze principali; infine, un contesto internazionale frammentato con scarsa cooperazione multilaterale.

A prescindere dalle suddette ipotesi teoriche, Barack Obama dovrà decidere con attenzione il ruolo da assegnare agli Stati Uniti, dato che attualmente Cina, Europa, e le altre potenze regionali non sembrano disponibili ad un maggior coinvolgimento nella gestione delle aree più critiche del pianeta. Oltre ad una grande attenzione a tutti problemi passati, presenti e futuri, il 45esimo Presidente degli Stati Uniti necessita anche di una buona dose di fortuna nei quattro anni che lo vedranno nuovamente al comando.


Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons


The Trial Of Staff Sergeant Robert Bales

The trial of Staff Sergeant Robert Bales takes two major issues of the past 11 years of war, mental illness among troops and civilian casualties, and rolls them into one. As a result this case has meaning beyond the fate of the Staff Sergeant.



In the early morning hours of March 11, 2012, U.S. Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales left Camp Belambay base in Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, visited two villages and killed 16 Afghans, 9 of whom were children. SSG. Bales’s defense team is arguing that a mix of “alcohol, steroids, and sleeping aids” in the defendant’s system should raise questions about what his state of mind was during the killings. These substances along with the “kinetic and high-pressure” environment appear to be the major points of their defense.

These statements were made as Army prosecutors announced on Tuesday that they will pursue the case as a capital crime, meaning that SSG. Bales potentially faces the death penalty if convicted. The last US military execution was a hanging carried out in April of 1961 and while there have been military capital convictions since then (15) almost all of them have either been overturned, commuted, are in the appeals process, or a stay of execution has been issued (in the case of Ronald Gray).

SSG. Bales’s case is also unique because of those on the military’s death row, he would be the only one charged with killing civilians in a combat zone.  The others awaiting execution have all either committed capital crimes against civilians in the United States or have killed (or attempted to kill) fellow members of the armed services.

While a capital conviction, in a court martial, can be secured by a unanimous vote of the jury, the signature of the President is required to approve the execution. Speaking about capital punishment generally in his memoir, The Audacity of Hope, President Obama wrote

 “While the evidence tells me that the death penalty does little to deter crime, I believe there are some crimes—mass murder, the rape and murder of a child—so heinous, so beyond the pale, that the community is justified in expressing the full measure of its outrage by meting out the ultimate punishment.”

Does the murder of 16 people, including 9 children meet the threshold described above? Does the President’s perspective differ in the case of the military? In recent years capital punishment has been a non-starter in American politics. Some states have pushed bans forward through their legislatures, but the discussion on the Federal level has been non-existent. Where there is advocacy it tends to focus on the racial and socioeconomic inequalities presented in the execution of the death penalty (and the judicial system at large) and on its uselessness as a deterrent to crime rather than a moral critique of the state’s right to end life.

Back to the context in which this will play out, the military justice system, this case will likely bring forward some important questions about how mental illness is recognized and confronted in the armed services. If the defense is able to successfully make it about this then it seems unlikely that a conviction will come back from the jury comprised of fellow service members who may know a colleague suffering from (or experienced themselves) a service related mental illness. The fact that SSG. Bales committed the attacks while wearing a cape, and reports of his intoxication earlier in the night, have lead some to question his mental state.

The prosecution will have to prove that mental illness and mind altering substances were not to blame and that SSG. Bales was fully aware of what he was doing.  SSG. Bales made several statements shortly after the attack which suggest that this was the case, that he was lucid, coherent, and knew what he did was wrong or at the very least illegal.

There are also soft-power implications for how this case translates for Afghans or indeed the Muslim world at large. If SSG. Bales is found guilty and President Obama does not sign off on the execution it would indeed send a mixed message to the those living in countries where there has been civilian collateral damage as a result of US operations, “We won’t hold our own accountable”. If the President does sign off on the order it could have a serious impact on morale in the armed forces and could communicate that the administration does not take mental illness in the military seriously (even if it is determined that SSG. Bales was of sound mind the risk of that interpretation is still there).

I would not expect to see many comments from politicians, the President included, during the trial. There is a tendency, and rightfully so, to let the military’s judicial system sort out its own issues removed from political influence. However once a verdict is reached the ball is back in the President’s court and to some extent becomes a political issue. In many ways this case takes two major issues of the past 11 years of war, mental illness and civilian casualties, and rolls them into one. As a result this case has meaning beyond the fate of SSG Bales.


Photo Credit: Eric Dietrich

Operation Cloud Pillar: Deterrence, Not Ballots

The road to Operation Cloud Pillar was paved not by the ballot box, but by strategic failures of the Israeli government. Rather than present a clever political manipulation of patriotic fervour that is inherent in high-stakes warfare, Netanyahu’s dereliction of deterrence may actually cost him dearly in January’s elections.


Benjamin Netanyahu


Benjamin Netanyahu is something of an enigma. Though every opinion poll published both before and after national elections were called augured his re-election as Israel’s Prime Minister, Netanyahu (or ‘Bibi’- his Israeli moniker), took the political gamble of a lifetime. Following a deluge of rockets on Israel’s southern cities from the Gaza Strip and the breakdown of the Middle-East’s worst kept secret- a truce between Hamas and Israel- Bibi ordered the assassination of Ahmad al-Jabari, the head of Hamas’ military wing.

Naturally, things have since gone from bad to worse. Whilst norms and ‘red lines’ are being re-written daily, perhaps the greatest misconception regarding the conflict is its origins. Just why did Israel’s Prime Minister order the attack?

Because this is the Middle-East, conspiracy theories abound. The current cynic’s claim is that, with elections on the horizon, Bibi sought to monopolize public debate, engendering a patriotic surge and paving the way for his re-election. Indeed, the Israeli Labor’s party prioritisation of a socio-economic agenda has all but disappeared from national discourse. It has also been argued on this website that international factors, such as Palestine’s bid for statehood at the United Nations, precipitated the need for drastic Israeli action.

The problem with this analysis is that it is myopic, favouring baseless speculation over reality. It is true that many Israeli offensives have been closely followed by elections: from Operation Grapes of Wrath in 1996 to the last tit-for-tat offensive in late 2008- Operation Cast Lead- and many more, bombs usually pre-empt ballots.

However, starting a war before an election has frequently backfired, literally blowing up in the face of the incumbent government. Following Cast Lead, the ruling Kadima Party lost power, whilst in 1996 then-Prime Minister Shimon Peres undid his rosy showing in the opinion polls by ordering the bombing of Lebanon.

These operations have something else in common: the subsequent elections were both won by then-leader of the opposition, Benjamin Netanyahu. Bibi, for all his many faults is a political mastermind, with scant desire to fall into the traps of his predecessors.

Rocket fire from the Gaza Strip declined sharply after the previous government launched Operation Cast Lead, which was a classic manifestation of Israeli deterrence policy. Strategically, the goal of deterrence is conflict management, rather than resolution; by inferring unacceptable costs on the behaviour of a belligerent, a state successfully projects a deterrence equation, limiting the strategic toolbox of the enemy. In order to ensure that the threat is real, states have to ‘make good’ their promises of unpalatable response; deterrence constantly needs ‘topping up’ if the opposing actor errs into the arena of unacceptable norms.

From its inception, Israel’s response to non-state terrorism based in nearby states has been to simply ignore the terror group and punish the state, forcing it to reign in the hostile actors. For this reason, I’m constantly bemused by so-called ‘Israel advocates’ claiming Israeli responses to terrorist acts are not ‘disproportionate’, because disproportionate response is the foundation of Israeli deterrence equations. The goal is not to ‘bomb your way to peace’, but to coerce nearby states and state-like entities into compliance, so a relative ‘quiet’ takes hold. In layman’s terms, Israel’s message is: ‘If you hurt me, I will hurt you ten times harder, so don’t hurt me’.

Whilst those of us on the left constantly lambast his administration for its right-wing reactionary stances, Netanyahu’s nationalist bombast obscures the truth: Bibi’s administration has rejected Israeli disproportionate deterrence policy. After five Israeli tourists were killed by a suspected Hezbollah bomber in Burgas, Bulgaria, I argued that Israel must learn that ‘excessive restraint begets further bloodshed’. Netanyahu agreed, promising that ‘Israel will respond forcefully to Iranian terror’. However, his bark was bigger than his bite: no tangible Israel response was forthcoming.

The most obvious manifestation of this ‘speak big, do nothing’ approach was on Israel’s southern borders. Under Netanyahu, when rockets were launched from Gaza, the Israeli Air Force targeted the rocket crews, not the governmental apparatus of Hamas. Rather than opt for massive retaliation, forcing Hamas to reign in the rocket crews, Netanyahu’s preference was for dialogue and negotiations, leading to several rounds of ‘truces’ which brought relative quiet.

However, Bibi’s restraint gamble unravelled rapidly. The number of rockets fired into Israel from the Gaza Strip increased substantially in recent weeks, suggesting that Hamas was either unwilling or unable to constrain smaller, more radical fellow travellers. Netanyahu was dragged back down the path of deterrence and disproportionate response, kicking and screaming all the way in the face of Israeli public uproar over perceived government inaction. Here lie the origins of Israel’s latest game-changing assault: ‘Operation Cloud Pillar’.

Four days into the operation, Netanyahu retains a preference for limited ‘surgical’ strikes over the strategic employment of disproportionate force. In the first four hours of Cast Lead, over 100 targets including police stations and bureaucratic offices were hit in Israel’s opening salvo, killing approximately 140 Palestinians. By contrast, the first four days of Cloud Pillar has witnessed around twenty Palestinian deaths.

However, every rocket erodes the legitimacy of surgical restraint. Hamas proved that they too are capable of game-changing tactics: for the first time since 1991, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem (where I am fortunate/unfortunate enough to live) were struck by rocket attacks. At the time of writing, the Israeli Defence Forces were subsequently granted permission to call up 75,000 reserve troops and close off the roads surrounding the Gaza Strip.

Thus, the road to Operation Cloud Pillar was paved not by the ballot box, but by strategic failures of the Israeli government, which lead to public uproar. Rather than present a clever political manipulation of patriotic fervour that is inherent in high-stakes warfare, Bibi’s dereliction of deterrence may actually cost him dearly in January’s elections. For those of us on the left, we are once again faced with the stark reality of a region where excessive force delivers quiet, whilst restraint begets clumsy, last-minute regressions to well-trodden strategic norms, of which Operation Cloud Pillar is increasingly looking like another example.


Photo Credit: Abode of Chaos

Resistance and Retribution: Israel’s Follies in Gaza

The IDF is entering another endless rabbit warren from which it will emerge victory-less after it inevitably fails to achieve its aims. Gaza will be left in a considerably worse shape. Of course, it will be the international community’s fault for not letting them finish the job.


Gulf War Israel Gaza bomb threat[dhr]

After reports of 30,000 Israeli reservists mobilising after a day of tit-for-tat attacks between the IDF and Hamas, some commentators are predicting an ‘Operation Cast Lead 2.0’. The situation in Gaza has exploded since the assassination (or targeted killing, whichever your sensibilities prefer) of Ahmed al-Jabari, the commander of Hamas’military wing and many of us have been left trying to comprehend the course of the events.

Despite the tragedy unravelling before us across a multitude of news and social media platforms, swarming us with swathes of information and subtle misinformation. Already journalists are noting the ‘cyber battlefield’ between Hamas and the IDF, and now even Netanyahu himself is jumping into the Twitter front line, unsurprisingly denouncing Hamas as cowards for using their fellow Palestinians as improvised body armour. However, we see a shining example of how too much information is even more debilitating than too little and it has become near impossible to see through the fog of the information war to understand what is going on

Rather than attempt to tackle the course of events from an unfamiliar perspective, if we approach the IDF’s counterinsurgency strategy towards Gaza then we can gain valuable insight into some of the factors at play.

First and foremost, Gaza is not an existential threat to Israel. Short of Hamas acquiring a nuclear bomb, there is very little that could develop in Gaza that could alter Israel’s threat picture. Existential threats are a classification reserved only for threats such as a hostile Egypt – the linchpin in any conventional assault on Israel – and the Iranian nuclear programme. Hamas’ rockets, however, do pose and existential threat to the government. While sporadic rocket attacks on southern Israeli settlements closest to the border with Gaza are to be expected, Fajr-5 rockets falling on Tel Aviv will start making people question their government’s ability to protect its citizens.

Second, there are number of international factors at play whose influences are still obscured by the ‘shock of capture’ from the rapid deterioration of events. There’s the ongoing chaos in Syria, which has started to draw in the IDF after exchanges of mortar bombs and tank shells in the Golan. In early October, Hizbollah flew an Iranian-made reconnaissance drone into southern Israel, while the rest of Lebanon simmers from the tension exacerbated by the Syrian conflict. There is the ongoing crisis over Iran’s nuclear programme and the international sanctions, combined with the drop in the Rial, are straining Iran’s ability to support the Assad regime, Hizbollah and Hamas. In the US, Obama’s re-election has foiled Netanyahu’s hopes of a Romney-Ryan presidency.

What is the IDF trying to achieve? It is blatantly clear that their assassination of al-Jabari has escalated the situation. Fajr rockets dropping on Tel Aviv is a very significant development. The fact that Hamas has only decided now to bring them to bear on the cosmopolitan Israeli city indicates a red line has been crossed. There are two possible conclusions: the Israeli government underestimated Hamas’ reaction or they intentionally provoked a reaction out of the organisation. Considering the reported competence of Israel’s intelligence organisations, the former is very unlikely and there is little chance the IDF was caught off guard. The latter is far more likely to be the case. Furthermore, they will have calculated Hamas’ most dangerous course of action as firing Fajrs onto Israelis cities and have considered it as an acceptable risk to their larger aims.

We need to backtrack to Lebanon in 2006 to get a better sense of what is going on. In 2006, after a month of heavy fighting with Hizbollah, Israel withdrew from Lebanon defeated. Both the Israeli civilian and military leadership were shocked at the IDF’s poor performance against an enemy they had badly underestimated. After the war, the government conducted a probing investigation into what went wrong.

Israeli operations in Lebanon and Gaza show the reality of COIN doctrine without all the fuzzy frills of ‘winning hearts and minds’. The doctrine determined the IDF’s operations in Lebanon during its occupation from 1982 to 2000, again in 2006 and once more in Gaza in 2009 in Operation Cast Lead. Not-so-coincidentally, Israel failed to achieve any of its aims in these operations. But while US and British thinkers are beginning to criticise COIN as a viable strategy after NATO’s experience in Afghanistan, it seems that 6 years on from Lebanon the only visible adjustment the Israeli government has made towards it strategy on the Palestinian issue is to set up the IDF with a Twitter and You Tube account.

According to an IDF tweet, one of their objectives is to ‘cripple Hamas’ terrorist infrastructure in Gaza’. There is no single, universally accepted definition of a terrorist. If you cannot agree upon the definition of a terrorist, then it is impossible to define the limits of ‘terrorist infrastructure;. It is an ambiguous (presumably intentionally) term that could be applied to Hamas’ leadership, their rocket launch sites, roads, mosques and the list goes on. It does not define the end state for IDF’s operations and gives them considerable scope to cause significant damage across the Strip.

The IDF’s actions are the most telling sign that the conflict is even further from peace, and not just because of another explosion of violence. After a moment of national introspection following the 2006 war, the Israeli government has decided to stick with a military solution to the Palestinian issue. The IDF is entering another endless rabbit warren from which it will emerge victory-less after it inevitably fails to achieve its aims. Gaza will be left in a considerably worse shape. Of course, it will be the international community’s fault for not letting them finish the job.

And, of course, the operation has nothing to do with the Israeli elections in January.


Photo Credit: Rahuldlucca

The Euro: A Threat To Europe’s Peace?

The preservation of the Eurozone is fast becoming the greatest source of tension between European citizens since the Second World War. To preserve the unity that guaranteed European peace for the past half-century, it may soon be necessary to abandon the doomed attempt at monetary integration in its current form.


Euro Crisis[dhr]

At a press conference that European Union officials held earlier this year just after the union received the Nobel Peace Prize, a journalist with a sense of humour asked if Brussels also expected to win the Nobel Prize for Economics. The journalist might have been joking, but he touched on a key point which has been illustrated again this week as a wave of demonstrations, strikes and riots roiled the continent. For it is the failure of the European Union’s economic policy which is now the greatest threat to Europe’s peace.

Since the Second World War, the two greatest guarantors of peace in Europe have been NATO and the growing integration of Western Europe’s economies. What we now know as the EU started life in 1950 as the European Coal and Steel Community, an ambitious project to create a single market in coal and steel.

The point of the ECSC was to make France and Germany so dependent on each other for these vital resources of war that it would be inconceivable for them to fight one another again. A country cannot fight a modern war against its main supplier of steel. Gradually, this principle was extended to other sectors of the economy across Europe as well.

This not only helped to drive Europe’s post-war economic boom, but also helped to solidify Europe’s peace. Economic competition within the framework of European institutions could sometimes fuel resentment, but it also provided a common set of rules within which conflicts could be resolved peacefully. It also made all of Europe’s economies so dependent on one another that war became inconceivable.

When the Eurozone was formed, the principle of integration expanded to include the financial sector as well. Even though banks within the Eurozone were guaranteed only by their national sovereign, and that sovereign itself was responsible for its own debt, the financial myths that a euro was as safe in a Greek bank as it was in a German bank, and that it was just as safe to lend to either of these nations, took hold.

The debt crisis has decisively shattered this myth, and in so doing has dealt a huge blow to the principle of deepening economic integration across Europe. Financial integration has collapsed as banks in safe countries back away from the periphery, and banks in peripheral countries find it impossible to fund themselves on the open market. As the easy money that flowed before the financial crisis has dried up, under-capitalised banks have to rely on their national governments to bail them out. When those governments themselves become unable to fund themselves, they must submit to humiliating bail-out agreements.

On the other hand, the continued existence of the Eurozone has also required enormous sacrifices from Irish, Greek, Spanish and Portuguese citizens. While German taxpayers view themselves as stoically handing over hundreds of millions of euros to beach-loving Greeks, citizens of the peripheral nations are chafing at the savage cuts in spending and social services that are being imposed in return. Posters on the streets of Athens and Lisbon in recent months depicting Angela Merkel as a Nazi catch the flavour of their complaints.

The architects of the Eurozone overreached themselves. By trying to take economic integration in Europe too far, they created an economic situation which is now driving Europeans apart. And the remedial measures now being applied by European leaders could well make things worse.

Preserving the Eurozone requires large transfers of wealth from some countries to others, and will probably require them for a long time to come. Even proposals such as the banking union which European leaders are fleshing out agonisingly slowly, whatever their other details, involve at their heart the creation of a mechanism that will allow banks in the weaker countries to be rescued by the taxpayers of the rich countries. This at least breaks the destructive cycle of bust banks forcing bust governments even further into penury, but by institutionalising wealth transfers it risks sparking widespread protest when taxpayers cotton on. Whether voters in the rich countries will allow this situation to persist indefinitely is far from clear, meaning the whole edifice is only ever one election away from collapsing.

By creating an economic situation that causes so much resentment, the preservation of the Eurozone is fast becoming the greatest source of tension between European citizens since the Second World War. Not just anti-Eurozone sentiment but anti-European sentiment is on the rise across the continent, and it could yet lead to Britain or other countries leaving the union altogether. To preserve what we can of the economic and political unity that guaranteed European peace for the past half-century, it may soon be necessary to abandon this doomed attempt at monetary integration in its current form altogether.


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