Tag Archives: European Union

Egyptian Chaos: a European Problem

Europe’s role could be crucial to the stabilisation of Egypt. Adding political action to the provision of financial aid, the ‘Old Continent’ could help the country find the stability lost due to its serious economic drift.




[dropcap]W[/dropcap]hilst Europe attempts to define a role in the Mediterranean, Egypt again finds itself at the centre of international attention due to its political instability, resulting from the fall of Morsi. After the gains of the 2011 revolution were progressively mobilised by the Muslim Brotherhood, due to their victory in the presidential elections, the country’s internal situation progressively deteriorated. This resulted in a coup carried out by the military which seems to have found, for the moment, the support of the population. At this point its western neighbours are presented with a dilemma that is not easy to resolve. It is a matter of understanding which are the real demands of the Egyptian people and which is the correct approach to ‘communicate’ with an Egypt in continuous evolution.

The Egyptian uprising helps to challenge a paradigm rooted in the West, that of electoral infallibility, according to which electoral results are a fundamental-and therefore immutable-element of civic life. As seen in Gaza in 2006, however, in the political realities in which democracy begins to take root, elections often yield results which are opposite to those expected-or rather, hoped for. In a sense, what is happening today in the Middle East previously occurred in Europe in the first half of the twentieth century. If on one hand this opens up legal dialogues, on the strength of which there is no reason to boycott a government which has legitimately come to power, on the other there are numerous voices which contest the electoral result due to hypothetical pressures or ‘financial patronage’ exerted by the Muslim Brotherhood. It seems clear, however, that room for reflection is very limited and that it is instead necessary to act as soon as possible in order to facilitate a process of transition with as little trauma as possible. It is in fact in the common interest that the region finds its own equilibrium.

In this sense Europe’s role could be crucial to the stabilisation of Egypt. Adding political action to the provision of financial aid, the ‘Old Continent’ could help the country find the stability lost due to its serious economic drift. An economy which, moreover, is characterised by structural elements which make internal change difficult. Among them, the importance of the tourist industry, which is now affected by political instability; a strong tradition of high public subsidies, which do not, however, generate positive outcomes in terms of employment; and an elevated degree of military control over the economy. These factors result in very limited opportunities for an imminent recovery. Europe, on the other hand, could have a more incisive role through the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM), created in 2008 by the Barcelona Process and driven by the French, and which in recent years has been found to be a very effective card in relating to the Arab Spring. To find a greater influence in the region, however, the UfM requires renewed confidence and momentum in terms of its capacity for action.

Looking closely, in contrast, what one perceives is a sense of disorientation experienced by western governments, which appear unable to understand the path along which Egypt is directed. Of course, this understanding is far from easy to achieve, and the regional scenario certainly does not make the picture clearer. In fact, the situation in Syria is becoming progressively more explosive, and risks being the subject of a bitter clash between the West and Russia, which has seen Damascus as its only decisive partner in the Middle East since the late seventies.

Ultimately, signs of openness towards a more secular Egypt, which is crucially able to equip itself with a stable and credible democratic system, are coming from the West. To date, however, it is precisely this choice of mediation which seems to be the greatest challenge faced by Cairo. In such a scenario, marked by the fluidity and succession of events, the questions of Europeans are, perhaps, identical to those of Egyptians themselves.


Original Article: Il caos egiziano: un problema europeo

Translated by Lois Bond

The European Union’s Short Legs

European defence ministers need to take a dispassionate look at what capabilities are duplicated by maintaining 26 separate national defence industries and consolidate appropriately.


EU flag


In a recent article in the Financial Times Philip Stephens argued that Europeans had discovered interventionism just as Americans were setting the idea aside. This came after the French air and ground campaign in Mali and the NATO air war in Libya. A similar line may be emerging on Syria, with the British and French leaders’ statements this week.

Aside from the Tigers and Typhoons, however, the most recent European interventions have had an Atlantic accent. In Mali the British provided a pair of C-17 transports; the Canadians lent another. But the majority of logistic support came from the United States.   The US Air Force used a wing of C-17s to transport most of the 3e Brigade Mécanisée to Bamako.  While US Africa Command spokesmen were publicly diplomatic, the Department of Defence privately intended to send the bill to Paris (the plans to charge the Élysée were quietly dropped). The US Air Force later agreed to a request to provide aerial tankers to support French combat aircraft.

In Libya, the Obama administration settled on the approach of “leading from behind“. At the outset of the war, US air power and precision strike destroyed Libyan air defences in short order. As later in Mali, US forces helped NATO allies carry out their campaign against ground targets mainly without direct combat contributions. But classing Libya as a model for European power projection would be incorrect. In its attempt to avoid civilian casualties, NATO used only precision-guided munitions. This caused severe problems for the contributing European air forces: Denmark ran out, and others ran low. The US had to resupply these allies from its stocks. The USAF and Navy continued to fly around a quarter of all missions, contributing the majority of surveillance, electronic warfare, and – as in Mali – refuelling.

These are not combat capabilities. But they are vital enablers of combat capabilities. In 2011, the US secretary of defence Robert Gates was caustic about the abilities of NATO members to sustain operations without the US.

The IISS Military Balance, updated this week, includes a section on comparative defence statistics. This presents the inventories of the UN Security Council permanent members and India for several categories of military equipment: force projection, manoeuvre, and so on. Aside from the unsubtle observation of the extent to which the US is quantitatively dominant, it is useful to look at how blocks of forces are distributed in each country. Table 1 presents some of these statistics for the UK and France combined and the US.

Table 1: Selected projection and ISTAR forces, UK/France and US

Heavy/medium transport

Tanker and multi- role  tanker/ transport


Combat aircraft †

UK & France










Source: IISS Military Balance 2013
† Includes both ground attack and air supremacy aircraft.US figure includes fourth- and fifth-generation aircraft.

In these logistics and support categories, the US maintains forces roughly ten times larger than the UK and France combined. The exception is in combat aircraft, where the UK and France have more than would be expected. The UK and France have a gap in the ratio of tankers to fighters compared to the US. The ratio for the US is just over six fighters per tanker, while just over ten British and French planes rely on each tanker.

That France in Mali and NATO in Libya had to rely on the US to support their air operations, both times in countries a handful of hours flight time away, is an indication of how far Europe as a continent is from being able to project force. If Mr Stephens in the FT was right and Libya and Mali are steps toward more joint European interventions, these gaps must be plugged. Given the continent’s sluggard economy, the idea that more money will be available to do so is unlikely. It would be better for European defence ministers to take a dispassionate look at what capabilities are duplicated by maintaining 26 separate national defence industries and consolidate appropriately. The collapse of the BAE and EADS merger in 2012 showed how difficult that will be.


Euro-sceptic? Eur-so-silly

David Cameron’s speech is a mere publicity stunt instrumented to falsely ensure us of democratic legitimacy, through making it seem as though we all have a choice over our country’s future.


united nations flag


Today Prime Minister David Cameron declared he is set to make negotiations with the EU in relevance to treaty changes and the euro. As you would expect from a politician (especially a Tory), Cameron is presenting us with a more tactical, underlying negotiation which is quite simply, “A vote for Conservatives in the next election is a vote for an in/out of the European Union referendum.

Last month, Anti-EU party UKIP increased its share of the vote from 6 per cent to 9 per cent. This rise in popularity massively reflects the British populaces increasing intolerance of the EU, and a prime reason for this is the general attitude towards immigration. Take for instance YouGov’s latest poll for the Sunday Times, which revealed, rather unsurprisingly, that 67% of people believe that immigration has been a ‘bad thing for Britain’ with the second majority, 18% believing it has been ‘neither good nor bad’.

It was Gordon Brown who coined the term ‘British jobs for British workers’. In 2011, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) produced a report that made the headlines; take for instance the Daily Mails’ choice, ‘Migration is killing off jobs: 160, 000 Britons have missed out on employment because work was taken my foreigners’ – not quite the snappy title I was hoping for. Alongside Brown’s pledge, this outbreak of outrage in the media was symbolic of the increasing mass hostility towards immigration. One could even argue not only did it encourage public opinion towards the topic, but created it too. Nonetheless, the subject of supposed scandal here is as shallow as scandal gets. Firstly, a job is a job – I’m not quite sure what makes it British. (According to Chris Bryant, this is ‘hospitality construction and agriculture’) . More importantly, the allegation that immigrants ‘fill the limited vacancies which exist in the fragile UK economy’ is pure fiction. This is the lump of labour fallacy; the notion that there is no such thing as limited jobs.

Then again, these are the type of people complaining about “no jobs”.

The article goes on to manipulatively inform its readers that immigration is ‘full of loopholes, such as an exemption for so-called “intra-company transfers”, which allow firms to bring in thousands of their existing staff from abroad’. It is absolutely absurd to undermine the act of bringing competently skilled workers into the British labour force a “loophole” in immigration policy, considering that is a chief beneficiary of immigration.

Cameron believes the best way to create a democratically accountable Europe is for the British population to vote on whether they want to be a part of it or not. He says, “It is time for the British people to have their say. This will be your country… a choice about your country’s destiny.” Other than sounding like Uncle Sam encouraging young American boys to sacrifice themselves in the name of war, it is utter rubbish. Whilst Nigel Farage has successfully infiltrated popular opinion through highlighting the costs of the UK’s EU membership, the government has failed to educate the British people on the benefits.

The only source the British people of this “democracy” have to base their views on, are newspapers – the most popular being subliminally fascist tabloids such as the Daily Mail. Cameron’s speech is a mere publicity stunt instrumented to falsely ensure us of democratic legitimacy, through making it seem as though we all have a choice over our country’s future . Well, democracy doesn’t mean shit when the people don’t know shit.

It is time for UKIP, the Tory’s and the like, to realise that leaving the EU may cover the odor of the turd that this situation is, but it certainly won’t stop the UK from being in a faecal matter.


Photo Credit: dimnikolov

Neo-Realism & Virtuosity: The Rise of Turkey

Josef Joffe’s analysis centered upon the concept of two distinct geopolitical Belts is fascinating. However, it fails to consider the bridge between the two most relevant macro-groups: Turkey. In the last decade Turkey has radically changed and has strategically implemented its previous relationships with the Western and the Eastern belts, giving itself a new and crucial place on the geopolitical chessboard.


turkey 1


In the conference held at the Johns Hopkins University in Bologna on the 20th of December, Josef Joffe, publisher and editor of Die Zeit, and Senior Fellow of Stanford’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, delivered a lecture about the uses and limits of realism in international affairs. After a short introduction illustrating the landscape of contemporary IR theories, Joffe focused his analysis on the most compelling issues currently at stake, such as the Iranian bomb and the U.S.-Chinese rivalry in the Western Pacific.

Structure as Destiny

Joffe’s theoretical background privileges structural realism as the key through which international relations are explained. Against this backdrop, Joffe asserted that ‘structure is destiny’. Examining the relationship between U.S. and Europe, for instance, he states that their power and position in the international system affect their behaviour. Indeed, if in the post-WWII period the U.S. has gone to war more than any other nation, Europe, on the other hand, has only fought symbolically against Serbia, Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, and was led by the U.S. in three of those conflicts.

If applied to a broader context, Joffe, suggesting again the thesis contained in his Überpower, stated that the world could be divided into the Berlin-Berkeley Belt and Baghdad-Beijing Belt. The first one is the blessed, pacified, prosperous, stable, democratic, liberal West, where some given basic rules of international politics have been unhinged, above all the security dilemma that drove many conflicts in the past. Conversely, the second belt is depicted as Hobbesian, competitive and fear- and ambition-driven: in this realm, international politics’ rules keep on working as usual. For instance, the Middle East, where there have been the most, and the most dangerous, wars in the post-war period, provides a fitting example. In addition, it is worth recalling the nuclear competition between Pakistan and India, and the Chinese rising-power phenomenon, which is characterizing the relationship between Beijing and Tokyo in adversarial terms, mostly due to dispute over the Senkaku-Diaoyu islands.

Theoretically speaking, Joffe’s analysis is fascinating and seems to be straightforward as well. However, it fails to consider the bridge between the two most relevant macro-groups: Turkey. As a matter of fact, in the last decade Turkey has radically changed, and strategically implemented its previous relationships with the Western and the Eastern belts, giving itself a new and crucial place on the geopolitical chessboard. Indeed Turkey, slipping away from inclusion within either the one or the other belt, and not exclusively belonging to the Middle Eastern region in purely geographical terms, deserves a closer attention. As a matter of fact, this country is domestically pacified, prosperous, stable, democratic-liking; at the same time, however, Turkey is still involved in potentially lethal security issues, and its ruling class does not hide anymore geopolitical ambitions over the Greater Middle East. Given its expanding soft and economic powers, and the massive investments in military expenditures (14th worldwide), a legitimate question arises: would Turkey aim at connecting the Western and the Eastern belts by becoming the next regional hegemon in that geopolitical vacuum?

The Turkish-Belts Relations

To provide a satisfactory answer to this theoretical and political question, a brief but compelling screening on the relationships between Turkey and the most relevant actors of each “Belt” will be enlightening.

First of all, Turkish-Iranian relationships are characterized by Ankara’s twofold balancing attempt at preventing military conflict as well as minimising Iranian hostility. Nevertheless, the nuclear issue has allowed Ankara to gain the Iranian goodwill on bilateral issues, such as the opposition to Kurdish militancy and the completion of favorable energy deals that should enable Turkey to increase its dependency on Iranian hydrocarbon resources and to become a key energy transit corridor. Lastly, as Elliot Hentov has remarked, accepting Turkish mediation on the nuclear file, and by virtue of the Turkish vote against the US in the UN Security Council, Iran has reluctantly promoted Turkey’s role as the leading regional power. As a result, Turkey looks at Iran as a regional partner.

Secondly, if balancing is the strategic rule in the Turkish-Iranian relations, Beijing, as the last part of the Eastern Belt, is seen through a different perspective, possibly based on a more competitive approach. Indeed, attempts toward a strategic partnership, either commercial and political, have often resulted in substantial disagreements over security issues in the Middle East, the fate of the Arab Spring, the protection of the political and cultural rights of the Turkic-Muslim people residing in Xinjiang, and the Chinese interference over the Turkish attempt at improving economic relations with Taiwan. Lacking any bases to develop better relationships, Turkey resistance to Chinese warnings witnesses for a clear independent position from the Eastern Belt, whereas the major political objective lies, and is limited to,  mutual recognition, commercial ties and balancing policies.

On the other hand, Turkey maintains closer relations with the Western Belt, even though a greater degree of strategic detachment is coming out. After having enjoyed challenging and intricate relations with the European Union for over half a century, Turkey is progressively stepping aside from its own historical dream of EU membership. If, on the one hand, commitment over the membership is seriously lacking by both sides, on the other the EU-Turkey relationship is losing its historical fascination. The response of Europe to the financial crisis, the emerging multipolarity, new security challenges, and questions of European identity and human rights have come under scrutiny. As a result, since a complete diplomatic severance between them is out of the question, for Turkey is currently more convenient to deal individually, rather than multilaterally, with each of the EU countries. As for the Iranian case, Turkey seems pursuing balancing and pacific relationships with its Western closest neighbour.

The United States, differently, represents a more challenging partner for Turkey. Indeed, in the last years several contradictions and frictions have emerged between Washington and Ankara. First of all, the fraying and tense relationships between Turkey and Israel, in conjunction with the increasing cooperation of the former with Iran; secondly, different positions over the Arab Spring and the military intervention against Libya; thirdly, and more importantly, the contrasting strategic view over the Middle East. If the Obama administration has unsuccessfully tried to implement the policy of “offshore balancing” by embedding Turkey as one of its most loyal NATO-ally, Ankara has rejected the plan, claiming for a re-balancing of the relationship between the American superpower and its allies so as to accommodate the new geo-economic and geopolitical landscape. Despite that, Emiliano Alessandri underscores how Ankara’s activism in the most recent years has been directed “at carving out a space for itself more than at seriously developing a new idea of international engagement agreeable also to Washington”.

A Conclusion

Which conclusion can be drawn from this analysis? As recently stated by Abdullah Gul, Turkish President since 2007, Turkey aims at becoming a soft power with a substantial role in the Middle East as a good and successful model for Egypt, Tunisia and Libya to follow. In doing so, according to Gul, Turkey should increase its international role by assuming the feature of a “virtuous power”:

A virtuous power is a power that is not ambitious or expansionist in any sense. On the contrary, it is a power where the priority lies with safeguarding the human rights and interests of all human beings in a manner that also entails the provision of aid to those in need without expecting anything in return. That’s what I mean by a virtuous power: a power that knows what’s wrong and what’s right and that is also powerful enough to stand behind what’s right. (Foreign Affairs, January/February 2013, Vol. 92, No. 1, p. 7).

What these vague words mean is still unclear for the future of the region: by all means, and beyond any rhetoric, Turkey wants international recognition as a great power in a multipolar world, and the politics of “zero problems with neighbours pursued by its Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, a professor of international relations, captures well his country’s regional and global vision. By confirming the neo-realist assumption that “structure is destiny”, Turkey, by relying on its large population and dynamic economy aims to become the political and economic hegemon at the crossroads of the Balkans, the Caucasus, Central Asia, North Africa, and the Middle East.

Just a huge and hegemon-free regional room between the two Belts.


Photo credit: Christopher Frank / theriskyshift.com

12 Predictions For 2013

From the Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute, the forthcoming Israeli elections, and the health of the EU, Frazier Fathers makes 12 predictions for 2013…




1)  Shots Fired in the Eastern Seas?

As the excellent articles by Hsin-Yi Lo (Part 1 and Part 2 ) illustrated, the disputes between Japan and China over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands are rooted in the two country’s histories. Following the election of the Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party many signs point to relations with China over the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands deteriorating in 2013. In its election manifesto the LDP called for the deployment of “civil servants”  to the islands to maintain Japanese control which of course will elicit a harsh response from China. Whether the new Prime Minister will carry out these election promises remains to be seen but all the pieces are in place for a tense year in the Seas of East Asia.

Prediction: Tensions in the South China Sea and surrounding areas remain high throughout 2013 with repeated clashes (both direct and indirect) between Chinese and Japanese paramilitary organizations (coast guard/police and protesters/fishermen). The tit for tat will continue through the year with escalating intensity and expanding into economic and military realms. That being said, both sides will stop short of opening fire on the other.

2) Bibi 2.0

If the polls are to be believed, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud party appears to be headed to re-election in January. What does this mean for the Middle East? Not a whole lot; the status quo will remain with the Palestinians, the rhetoric over Iran’s nuclear program will continue (more on that later) and relations with Israel’s neighbours will remain frosty at best. Nothing will change and the Middle East will spend another year in purgatory.

Prediction: Settlement construction continues, peace process remains derailed, rocket attacks from Gaza remain a threat and relations with Washington, Europe and the rest of the Mid-East remain on ice.

3) Off the Cliff or into the Ceiling?

Although the negotiations between President Obama and House Republicans to avoid the potentially disastrous consequences may result in a deal before the January 1st cliff, this will not be the end of the US budgetary clashes. According to many estimates, the United States government will reach the $16.4 trillion debt ceiling sometime in the first quarter of 2013 after delaying tactics by the treasury. It is unlikely that any debt deal struck in the final days of December will be forward thinking enough to resolve this debt ceiling issue and as result American politics will likely immediately fallback into partisan deadlock after a brief detour for a gun control debate.

Prediction: President Obama’s agenda in almost every major policy area will be stuck in gridlock as Congress’s dysfunctional characteristics continue through 2013 towards the Midterm 2014 elections.

4) Gaddafi 2.0

Most current reports state that Syrian President Assad is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. He is slowly losing the civil war – meaning eventually the rebels will get their hands on him and he will, if he is lucky, face a farce trial and be sent to the gallows. If he tries to make a break for freedom, it is likely that his Alawite allies will attempt to hand him over to the rebels in order to save their own skin. Either way things are bleak for Assad; more or less any scenario short of a NATO invasion and his capture by Western forces will result in the current Syrian President meeting an end that could match the grizzly end met by the late Colonel Gaddafi. This of course leaves the question of what happens next.

Prediction: President Assad meets a grizzly end, either at the hands of the rebels or his former supporters. After Assad is removed sporadic fighting continues as sectarian groups battle for supremacy as the Syrian National Council struggles to project power across the country.

5) An Islamist Paradise

2012 saw northern Mali seized by radical Islamist forces as fellow TRS contributor Peter Kelly provided insight on in his piece this past fall. Unfortunately a quick resolution to this situation seems less and less likely as US UN Ambassador Susan Rice was quoted as stating that the French intervention plans for Mali were “crap”. Even with a UN resolution passing on December 20, most experts predict that forces would not actually be ready to engage the Islamist forces until September or October. What this means is that for the next 8 to 10 months the region will continue to deteriorate, radical Islamist forces will be able to dig in and implement their harsh interpretation of Islam. The risk of another African refugee crisis erupting and spilling into the fragile neighbouring countries is real and the fact that border security is non-existent in this region means that there is nothing stopping the Islamists from just disappearing into the vastness of the Sahara.

Prediction:The 2013 year sees much of northern Mali still in the hands of Islamist extremists. The intervention, when it occurs, will meet quick success as most of the extremists will disappear into the desert and across porous borders following a short period of fighting.

6) Negotiating with Terrorists

With a June 2014 deadline for the official withdrawal of the majority of US combat troops from Afghanistan. It is clear that if there is any hope of stability for the region the Taliban will need to be negotiated with. In October the ongoing secret negotiations between the US and Taliban collapsed over a proposed prisoner swap. Now the stage is set for potential negotiations between the dysfunctional Afghan government and the Taliban in 2013.

Prediction: Attacks on NATO personnel and Afghan government personnel and facilities will continue with the annual “Spring Offensive” being particularly bloody. Negotiations will continue behind the scenes setting the stage for the 2014 elections where the Taliban will be on the ballot.

7) A Bigger but not Better EU

July 1, 2013 sees Croatia join the happy club that is the European Union. This is the same club that is expected to hover about 0% GDP growth over the year. Although Germany, the Baltic and Nordic nations continue to have strong finances and growth, they will continue to be dragged down by worries over Greek, Italian and Spanish debt. Although an agreement was reached over EU financial regulation and banking oversight it is unlikely that this will be enough to stabilize the union’s economic woes. The pivotal moments for Europe will likely come in the Italian and German elections which are set for February and September respectively. The outcome of these elections will likely determine the fate of the European Union.

Prediction: Pro-European centrist governments will manage to maintain power in both Germany and Italy but racial and ultra-national parties like the Five Star Movement will make large gains resulting in increased political instability and a channel for vocal opposition.

8) The Thin Red Line

Despite condemnation from the UN and Benjamin Netanyahu’s drawing red lines, 2013 appears to be when decisions need to be made. Of course, the red line was supposed to come in 2012 and before that in 2011 and the year before that. Why are the summer and fall of 2013 so important? First in March of 2013 both the IAEA and the various branches of US intelligence services are due to present reports on the status of the Iranian nuclear program to their respective governing bodies. Even if these reports are damning it is unlikely that any action will occur before the Iranian presidential elections that are set for June. Since President Ahmadinejad is term limited he will be replaced and the question becomes by whom, and with the backing of which mullah’s and governing faction will the new president come. Should a repeat of the 2009 election occur it is very unlikely that the US or Western powers will remain silent as Iranians protest in the streets. But if a new hardliner president is elected, and the nuclear program remains on track, strikes of Iranian nuclear facilities will likely move to the forefront.

Prediction: If a perceived hardliner wins the Iranian elections, air strikes will hit Iran’s nuclear facilities before the holiday season of 2013. If a “reformer” wins, 2014 will become the new “Red Line”.

9) What Global Warming?

Following “super storm Sandy” global warming once again moved back into the psyche of the American people and there was renewed hope that climate change would move back onto the policy agenda. The annual UN climate change talks in Doha this past November produced much talk but no actual agreement or actions beyond meeting and agreeing to meet again before the 2015 deadline. 2013 won’t change much either. As politicians all continue to struggle to restart the world economy, it would be foolish to expect any movement on the climate change file from any major CO2 producer.

Prediction: Another bad weather year around the world has people talking of climate change; no government from the major CO2 producing nations takes any concrete action.

10) Farewell Hugo

From personal and family experience I know that battling cancer is one of the toughest fights in a person’s life. Unfortunately for Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, two cancer surgeries and the follow up complications which involved internal bleeding generally do not point to a good recovery. Even after recovering from surgery, President Chavez still likely faces chemotherapy or radiation treatment and likely at minimum several months of being largely unable to lead on a day to day basis. The fact that a successor has been chosen is an unfortunate sign that Chavez’s days as President could be numbered and what that means for Chavez’s socialist movement in Venezuela and other leftist movements in South and Central America is a question that will play out beyond 2013.

Prediction: President Chavez transfers power to his Vice President by the summer as persistent cancer treatments have him out of the country and unable to fulfill his duties.

11) Argentina Hits Rock Bottom…Again

In 2001, Argentina was bankrupt. Today, Argentina has become a key player in the international commodity markets while its exports have doubled from the $31 billion in 2001 and, if you listen to the government claims, all is well within the country. But things are not as good as they appear. In January it is expected that IMF will decide whether or not to censure Argentina over the reporting of inaccurate inflation and economic data. Since 2007, official inflation levels have averaged 8.8%, but many private and international economists peg it at approximately 20%. The government of Cristina de Kirchner seems prepared to continue its economic policies, including the nationalization of major foreign companies.

Prediction: The economic downward spiral of Argentina continues in 2013 as inflation continues to pressure the spending power of the average Argentinian. Meanwhile foreigners continue to fear additional nationalization of foreign companies in the footsteps of the Spanish oil company YPF, as a result FDI begins to decline.

12) Challenging the Dear Leader

With the election of President Park Geun-hye in South Korea, 2013 will see how Kim Jong-Un responds to his new female counterpart. Although Park has pledged to attempt to reengage North Korea, the recent rocket/ballistic missile launch and signs pointing to preparations being made for a nuclear test the question is whether the new Kim will attempt to engage with the South or continue to show his strength in 2013.

Prediction:  The first half of 2013 is relatively quiet from the North Koreans. But they start the summer with a bang by testing a nuclear weapon.


Photo credit: John “Pathfinder” Lester

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.


Photo Credit: EuroCrisisExplained.co.uk


Bosnia & Herzegovina’s EU Dilemmas

As its neighbours move towards the European Union, Bosnia & Herzegovina still has a host of complex obstacles to overcome.



With a recent history starkly streaked with ethnic violence, political upheaval and economic uncertainty, Bosnia and Herzegovina desperately needs a sign that the future shall be better. For its neighbours, as for many eastern European states, the golden goose has long been accession into the European Union. Bosnia officially shares this ambition, but while others have made substantial progress in meeting the necessary criteria for membership, Bosnia remains hamstrung by its constitutional and political composition.

Croatia, whose membership shall be affirmed next year, has satisfactorily addressed outstanding issues on minority and human rights; Serbia has set itself well on the way with the high-profile arrests of Karadžić, Mladić and other suspected war criminals (a noted condition for Serbia’s candidacy); and Montenegro has been applauded as the state with greatest press freedoms in the region. In contrast to this, Bosnia’s politics remain characterised by strong hostilities, mistrust and ethno-national alignment, and its constitutional structure perpetuates division and decentralisation.

While the European Commission recognises that some progress has been made towards minority rights, the rigidity of the constitution framed at the Dayton Agreement is hindering further success. An example is the legacy of the prominent Sejdić-Finci case in 2009, which led to a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that the electoral provision – only allowing the election of “Constituent Peoples” (Bosniaks, Serbs and Croats) to the tri-member Presidency and House of Peoples violated the rights of minorities – must be amended. However, there followed a period of virtual inactivity for almost two years. After this, deadlines set by the Council of Europe came and went with no firm agreement on how to accommodate changes.

Although such constitutional issues are a major hurdle, the socio-political problems obstructing Bosnia’s progress run much deeper. A solution on Sejdić-Finci is not impossible, but nationally-mandated politicians frequently seem reluctant to cede or dilute their stake in federal power to any degree. This is perhaps not surprising when the national identities developed amongst Bosnia’s populace in the preface to and during the 1992-1995 war have become no less entrenched over time. From a national to a local level, politicians are almost universally elected on the basis of nationality, with tension still flaring around raw nerves relating to the conflict, as Reuters recently reported in Srebrenica’s mayoral election. The division between the two entities of the Federation and Republika Srpska is especially pronounced and often proves disruptive to effective national government and commerce, not to mention furthering “us and them” mentalities within the single state.

With such tortuous internal divisions, it might be assumed that membership in the European Union is of secondary importance to Bosnians. On the contrary, however, opinion polls have repeatedly shown overwhelming support (as high as eighty-six percent) for Bosnia moving towards accession. Bosnia’s economy could certainly use the relative security provided by the EU, even as the union weathers an unprecedented crisis of its own. Unemployment in Bosnia and Herzegovina is officially estimated at above twenty-five percent, but may actually be well over forty percent. Growth is sluggish after its notable pre-2009 rates. Foreign capital from loans, aid and investment has supported Bosnia since 1995 and while this may encourage over-reliance, the potential for greater investment as an EU member state is profound.

Furthermore, very real economic and social dangers shall arise for Bosnia as neighbours ascend to membership. Croatia, which has hitherto operated in common with Bosnia under the Central European Free Trade Agreement (CEFTA), is in the process of adopting more stringent EU regulations. This shall come as a blow to Bosnia’s exports– over fifteen percent of which go to Croatia – particularly in the agricultural sector, where production standards are not expected to meet the raised bar. An additional strain shall be the status of Bosnian Croat citizens, most of whom have Croatian passports and thus will have the right to work in the EU while other Bosnians will not. The socio-economic rift that could develop between these groups shall only be exacerbated by Bosnia’s other neighbours gaining membership in the future.

If Bosnia is to avoid divisions and disadvantages, it must decisively address these overdue political and commercial issues in the coming months and years. Yet it is difficult to see how these problems can be finally overcome without an eventual confrontation with and restructuring of its constitutional and political systems.


Photo credit: dimnikolov

Germany Should Grow A Pair

The worst economic crisis since 1929 is not a time for a step-by-step policy Merkel-style, but for radical change that will save the European Union from marginalisation within global politics.


European Union Flags Diplomacy Sovereignty


In 1862, Bismarck famously proclaimed that German territories should be unified with blood and iron. Unification was supposed to secure German territories from a geopolitical threat posed by powerful France, Britain and Russia.  Nine years later, a German alliance won a war with France. Bismarck used the victory to force smaller duchies and kingdoms of the Reich to yield their power to the Prussian throne. Unified Germany became a global superpower and plays this role until today. Now, it is time for Germany to do the same with the rest of EU and secure Europe’s status in an increasingly multilateral world.

But Germany of the 19th century is different from EU of the 21st, yesterday’s emphasis on blood and iron has been replaced today by capital and budgets. Conventional wars are no longer commonplace, and Europe does not need an army the size of America’s to secure its interests around the globe. Today’s wars are fought within stock markets; businessmen are soldiers and central banks are the supreme commands. A country’s strength is no longer measured by the number of tanks owned, but by its macroeconomic results and the capital it operates.

How does the European Union plan to compete with the globe’s biggest players if it does not even possess a unified financial and budgetary system? Within the current Eurozone system, the currency is common, but budget policies are made independently by each members, a decision no state would ever allow in its domestic financial system.  Imagine if each of England’s counties could run their own budgets and carry their own borrowing costs, but use the same currency to calculate their debts. It simply does not work that way.  Sooner or later, poorer counties would run out of cash and would have to introduce their own currencies to regulate their debt. In the Eurozone, the European Central Bank wants to avoid this situation by showering the indebted countries with virtual money, which prolongs their agony, rather than cures their disease. In addition, private investors go for an easy buck, taking advantage of ECB’s bailouts by demanding irrationally high interest on loans for peripheral Eurozone states.

The Eurozone, and in the long-term all of the European Union needs fully integrated public financing. The next logical step towards a unified Europe is to introduce Eurobonds and centralised budgeting policy financed through a common federal income tax. This will reduce investors’ speculations and put an end to irrational welfare spending by reckless politicians. It will also significantly accelerate EU’s decision-making and improve balanced development across the EU. The list of profits is long and enticing.  Many would argue that public financing operated by Brussels would not be perfect and it would give yet another area where bureaucrats’ limitless imagination could thrive, but that’s a small price to pay if we still want the EU to count in the global arena.

The question is how can it be achieved. Multilateral negotiations so far have been extremely successful in establishing a European institutional framework, but one has to remember that this was before Europe suffered an identity crisis, and at a time when the economy was prosperous and future seemed bright. It will be hard to rebuild confidence for the EU within society. Southerners already fear German hegemony, while the Germans don’t want to hand out money for laziness and incompetency. The only country which can really make a difference is the good old Deutschland, which is viewed in the South to be a sort of a boogeyman, who wants to turn all those Italians and Greeks enjoying their life on the beach into blond, blue-eyed robots working 24/7. This image is plain idiotic and dangerous for all of Europe, as it demonises what is the only possible way for Europe to survive.  To make things worse, the United Kingdom bails on common budgetary discipline to safeguard its financial sector, while Hungary descends into a semi-autocratic regime. It seems that the last big European country which is still enthusiastic about the European project is Poland,  but that doesn’t really change much in a wider picture.

That’s why it is so important for Germany to finally get over its post-war trauma, grow a pair, and lead Europe to fully-fledged federal union, the United States of Europe. The worst economic crisis since 1929 is not a time for a step-by-step policy Merkel-style, but for radical change that will save the European Union from marginalisation within global politics. European countries can fool themselves into believing that they can go on profiting from the common European framework without giving up sovereignty, but sooner or later they will have to realise there is no way for the EU to maintain its position in the world without committing itself to a federal system with common budget and central executive. Europe of Nations, which some Eurosceptic circles propose, is no alternative to United Europe and it will not grant us security in the long-term and in the end, seal our doom.


Photo Credit: futureatlas.com

The EU & The South China Sea: A Role to Play?

The European Union has established a gateway into East Asia’s vast markets through the South China Sea and has developed a role as a player in security issues, albeit minimal. Despite the EU’s current internal focus, the European Union cannot forget about its strategic partnership with Japan and South Korea.


USS Abraham Lincoln South China Sea


The South China Sea contains the second busiest trading route in the world: the Straight of Malacca. Vital to meeting the energy demand of China, Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea, the supply flow through this region is comprised mainly of crude oil, liquefied natural gas, coal, and iron ore. On account of the territorial claim disputes that afflict the South China Sea, several militaries have begun the process of military modernization, namely China, the Philippines and Malaysia. Overall, six nations claim partial or entire territorial rights over the region: China, the Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Taiwan, and Brunei. To put in perspective what is at stake for states in the region, a 2006 estimate by the United States Energy Information Administration revealed the South China Sea has proven reserves of 26.7 billion barrels of oil (about the same quantity as Oman, Qatar, Syria, and Yemen’s oil reserves combined) and proven reserves of natural gas amounting to 7.9 trillion cubic meters (about the same quantity as Saudi Arabia or the United States’ reserves). Due to the considerable value of the oil and natural gas, the potential for disagreement is exceptionally high and, therefore, the possibility of conflict over territory in the South China Sea cannot be understated.

Due to the magnitude of trade and investment between the European Union with Japan and South Korea and the great prospects for enhancing the economic relations the EU has a great stake in the security of East Asia. Currently, East Asia is a region home to instability for a host of reasons including a surge in states acquirement of military arms, the looming dissidence between China and Taiwan, and North Korea’s proliferation of nuclear weapons. To put the EU’s economic stake in this region into perspective, about 18.1% (251.5 bn. Euros) of the EU’s exports are destined for East Asia, compared to just 21.4% for Asia as a whole. Additionally, the EU imports about 30.1% (452 bn. Euros) of its goods from East Asia compared to just 34.3% for Asia. It is easy to see that the EU’s mutual reliance on trade with East Asia creates great opportunities, but this reliance also comes with great risk. Therefore, one of the EU’s foreign policy security goals is to promote peace and stability in East Asia.

Currently, China is in the process of modernizing the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) in order to exert Chinese influence in the region. It is no secret that China is building up its power projection capabilities to counter-balance the presence of the United States defense forces in the Western Pacific. Due to Japan and South Korea’s geographical location, any conflict or disruption to stability in East Asia would clearly cause grave concern. The EU’s concern, however, would be in regards to the Europe’s economic stake in the region and the EU’s identity as a normative power. Despite the EU’s promotion of peace and stability in East Asia, the EU’s ability to intervene in security issues in this region is questionable due to the institution’s lack of power projection capabilities in the region. In spite of this, any confrontation in East Asia would have calamitous effects for the EU because of the 27 member state’s economic stake in the region, which consists of about 18.1% (251.5 bn. Euros) of EU exports and 30.1% (452 bn. Euros) of EU imports.

Although a European Union led military exercise would be unlikely in the Western Pacific, the security of the region is critical to Europe’s economy and also the world. Therefore, if a conflict were to occur in the South China Sea it is possible European states would act independently to maintain law and order or to preserve maritime safety in order to safeguard their commercial interests in the region. At the same time it is entirely possible that the EU would engage the region through the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance (NATO). Nevertheless, Great Britain and France can still act on their own if it is in their best interests. The British and French both maintain competent navies with power projection capabilities, which includes the ability for Britain and France to deploy their own aircraft carriers.

In the case of a South China Sea conflict, Japan would be directly involved as its tankers transport 70% of Japan’s oil through this region. A confrontation would force Japan’s oil tankers to circumvent a conflict in the South China Sea by navigating around Indonesia into the Pacific Ocean. However, this option would be both expensive and laborious. Additionally, two-thirds of South Korean natural gas is shipped through the South China Sea on its way to the Korean peninsula. In regards to the European Union’s economic interests in East Asia, maritime security is crucial for Europe.

Currently, EU military capabilities consist of 13 Battlegroups, which are “rapid response units” that consist of 1,500 troops each. EU member states rotate the responsibility of provisioning these battalion groups, two of which have always been on stand by since 2007. However, this force has never been deployed and it is difficult to say how the debt crisis will affect the EU’s research and development into new military capabilities. Given the budget cuts and focus on internal issues, the EU will likely continue to place the burden on the United States to maintain the status quo in the Western Pacific region. Additionally, it is important to add that the EU, Japanese, and South Korean goal of promoting peace and maintaining stability in East Asia differs from China’s view of peace and stability. However, with the establishment of a status quo among the EU, Japan, and South Korea it is evidenced that the three countries have a similar foreign policy vision in regards to security.

Whether or not the EU will cooperate in joint military expeditions with Japan or South Korea in the future is unknown. With regard to economics, the EU-Japan and EU-South Korea economic ties are substantial, and significant cooperation in both relationships has led to the emergence of global economic partnerships via Free Trade Agreements with both nations. Through Japan and South Korea, the European Union has established a gateway into East Asia’s vast markets and developed a role as a player in security issues, albeit a minimal role for the time being. Despite the EU’s current internal focus, the European Union cannot forget about strategic partnership with Japan and South Korea.

A Round Up Of Turkish-Syrian Relations

As Ankara has made such an issue of Bashar al-Assad stepping down, Turkish-Syrian tensions will undoubtedly remain highly strung for as long as the dictator remains in power.


1855 Turkey Syria


[dropcap]T[/dropcap]ensions are rising in the Mediterranean after Syria shot down a Turkish military aircraft. The incident happened as the relationship between the two countries has deteriorated, as the Syrian regime continues to brutally put down an uprising that began last year.

Before the Arab Spring, relations had been improving thanks to an effort by Turkey’s moderately Islamist government to improve relations with its neighbours.

Historically, the relationship between the two neighbors has been antagonistic, due to the fact that the Turkish-led Ottoman Empire dominated the Middle East for centuries. After the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1918, one of the components of the rising Arab nationalism was anti-Turkish sentiment. In the Cold War, Turkey joined NATO and was firmly in the western camp, whereas Arab neighbors like Syria, embraced Nasserite socialism and were closer to the Soviet Union. This remained a long-standing issue under the military regime that regularly interfered in Turkey’s domestic politics. They tried to forge closer ties with Western Europe and largely neglected their neighbours. Turkey was much more interested in joining the European Community (after 1993 the European Union), than improving its relations with her Arab neighbors.

There were a number of specific problems that Turkey had with Syria. The first is the status of the province of Hatay (which is where the Turkish aircraft was shot down last month). It has been part of Turkey since before the Second World War, but Syria claims it belongs to them. Syria also used to sponsor the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), which has long waged a terrorist campaign against Turkey in the name of an independent Kurdish homeland.

In 2001, the Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) took over, and in the next few years the influence of the military in Turkish politics was gradually limited. The new democratic government was more responsive to the policy preferences of the voters, and the country started to move away from its long-standing American orientation and focused on improving relations with the Muslim world. This became clear in 2003 when the Turkish government refused to act as a launching pad for the invasion of Iraq. Turks also began to give up on their long-stalled bid to join the EU.

The so-called “Zero Problems” policy was meant to remove any issues with its neighbors. Giving up on Europe, Turkey sought to establish a role as a regional hegemon, seeking a bigger role for itself in dealing with issues such as Israel-Palestine and the Iranian nuclear problem. In the last decade, relations with Syria had improved dramatically. The countries signed a free-trade agreement and the countries leaders met frequently. Tensions over the PPK also dissipated, as the Erdogan government softened Turkey’s stand on the Kurdish issue.

But this all fell apart once the “Arab Spring” began. Initially Erdogan sought to use his relations with Assad to get the Syrian leader to reform on his own. When this failed Syrian security forces started killing their own people in droves, Erdogan dramatically changed his tone, and became a forceful advocate for Assad stepping down. Tensions have been rising steadily in recent months, due to the presence of refugee camps in Turkey for Syrians fleeing the fighting. These camps are too close to the border, and there have already been a number of incursions by Syrian forces looking for rebels in these camps.

The incident last month was the most egregious yet, with the two Turkish pilots killed. So far the Turkish reaction has been remarkably restrained, considering the bellicosity Erdogan is known for. Many see this as a result of pressure from the United States and EU, who are in no rush for a war to break out in the Mediterranean that could further damage the failing economic recovery. But if there are further incidents, Turkey may be hard to restrain. As Ankara has made such an issue of Assad stepping down, tensions will undoubtedly remain as long as the dictator remains in power.