Tag Archives: France

French Motives In Mali

Mali’s resources, argued by some commentators to be the primary motivation for the intervention in January, are negligible and are unlikely to have motivated French intervention.

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France sent armour, troops, and helicopters to Mali in January to beat back Islamist rebels advancing on the capital, Bamako. French diplomats were in the process of drafting an UN Security Council resolution that would have authorised an armed mission by the African Union to send its own troops; the rebels’ advance prompted swifter action.

At the beginning of February, Francois Hollande, the French president, said that his country’s troops would stay until ‘the sovereignty of Mali [was] restored’, and that AU troops would replace them when ready. Writing for The Risky Shift, Patrick McGhee supported this view, saying that the threat to Malian sovereignty came from Islamist militants, not the French intervention.

Commentators elsewhere have speculated that France has other motives. In a Guardian opinion piece, Seamus Milne wrote that the intervention was part of France’s ‘post-colonial habit of routine armed intervention’, and that the real motives for it were access to oil, gas, and uranium.

Assed Baig, writing in the Huffington Post, made a similar argument: the public explanation was a ‘myth’; France was really interested in gaining preferential access to Mali’s natural resources, such as uranium and gold.

How to judge these claims? It seems sensible to consult some reliable statistical sources to try to shed more light on claims that access to Mali’s economy and resources lies behind France’s intervention.

First, Mali’s economy. The CIA World Factbook shows that Mali has a small national output, and it is very poor in absolute and per person terms. The World Bank concurs, estimating that 35 per cent Malians live on less than $2 per day.  According to the CIA, Mali’s 2012 GDP was $17.35bn, or 137th in the world; its GDP per capita was $1,100 – 214th in the world.

What is Mali selling to the world? Not very much, as it happens. Its main export partners are in South Asia and the Far East. France is the second largest seller of goods to Mali. But this is unlikely to be a motive for intervention, either. From the World Factbook:

  •  Exports: $2.56bn (2012 USD) – ranked 124 in the world
  • Exports – partners: China 31%, South Korea 14.5%, Indonesia 12.2%, Thailand 6.3%, Malaysia 5.4%, Bangladesh 5% (2011
  • Imports: $3.21bn (2012 USD) – ranked 146 in the world
  • Imports – partners: Senegal 14.9%, France 11.6%, China 8.2%, Cote d’Ivoire 6.3% (2011)

 11.6 per cent of Mali’s imports is $372m per annum. French exports in total are $567 billion – meaning that Mali accounts for 0.0007 per cent of the French export market.  France has budgeted €650m ($868m) for the Mali intervention. This does not seem good value for money to secure such a nugatory market.

How about Mali’s oil wealth? Again, the CIA has statistics.

  • Crude oil – production: 0 bbl/day
  • Crude oil – exports: 0 bbl/day
  • Crude oil – proved reserves: 0 bbl/day
  • Natural gas –production: 0 cu m
  • Natural gas – exports: 0 cu m
  • Natural gas – proved reserves: 0 cu m

So there seems to be little in the way of oil or gas wealth to speak of. Two authoritative histories of oil as a resource, Daniel Yergin’s Pulitzer Prize winner The Prize and Francisco Varra’s Oil Politics, do not mention Mali.

Are other resources drawing France in? France generates the highest proportion of electricity from nuclear of any country in the EU, so access to uranium is certainly important in keeping the lights on. However, the World Nuclear Association’s 2011 table of world uranium production ranking does not mention Mali; in other words, no production was recorded. (Neighbouring Niger is a large producer, producing around 7% of world output.)

One area where Mali’s resources are significant is minerals. Gold is a significant commodity, and there is potential for other large-scale mineral exploitation. Niger is also mineral-rich, including coal production. But France is not involved in mineral extraction in either country.  A 2010 report by the US Geological Survey on Mali and Niger did not mention any French mining companies. Foreign companies are involved in gold mining in Mali, but these are based in west Africa, South Africa, the UK, Australia, and Canada.

In summary, Mali’s resources, argued by some commentators to be the primary motivation for the intervention in January, are negligible and are unlikely to have motivated French intervention. Its economy is poor, it has no proven hydrocarbons, and France is not heavily invested in its extractive industries. France may yet be shown to have an ulterior motive, but looting Mali is probably not it.

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Photo Credit: Magharebia

Avoiding The Entanglement Trap Lies Beyond French Control

France is better off sticking to limited objectives in the short term, or faces the prospects of its own Afghanistan.

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France has entered the Malian conflict this week following a surprise rebel offensive in the south of the country. The fall of strategic towns in rebel hands and the Malian Military’s inability to contain the assaults prompted the French to mobilize troops and aircraft to stem the rebel advancement towards the capital Bamako. France bombarded rear rebel positions in their stronghold of Gao & Kidal and deployed ground forces around the capital Bamako and the Mopti Province.

The situation bears the hallmarks of a modern conflict: a transnational network of non-state armed groups fighting a weak government in an area that stretches across an entire  Sahel region with porous borders that are essentially imaginary lines in the sand: a remnant of France’s colonial past.

Commenting on how long his country will take the lead in the campaign “It’s a matter of weeks” declared French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. The government insists that its current presence on the frontline of the conflict is a temporary measure that aims to contain the rebel advance until African troops from ECOWAS are deployed. However, such promises will be hard to keep as factors deciding how the conflict plays out lay beyond the French army’s control.  A closer look at the actors, the dynamics of the conflicts, suggest that the French army could easily be lured into deeper involvement if clear and limited objectives that fall within the UN intervention mandate are not maintained.

Due to the logistics and coordination necessary, the original intervention plan did not foresee a deployment of 3,300   regional forces (a number deemed too low by some military quarter) until September 2013. The preemptive assault by Islamist was an attempt to capitalize on this since the capture of significant territory would provide considerable strategic leverage on both  the ground and at the negotiating table. As stated previously, this is what precipitated French involvement, refuting earlier assurances by the French President Francois Holland that there would be “no French boots on the ground”. Moreover, French authorities acknowledged that the militants have turned out to be better-armed and equipped than initially thought after a French combat helicopter was downed by the rebels.  Current plans anticipate a deployment an additional 2,500 troops.

French Defense minister Le Drian described his country’s action in broader terms such as the eradication of terrorism in the region and has recently acknowledged the likelihood of a lengthy campaign.  According to retired French General Vincent Desportes, France is currently pursuing three objectives: the securitization of French nationals and the capital, holding the frontline around Konna (700kms from Bamako), and training troops from Niger, Burkina, Bénin, Togo and Sénégal to recapture the north of Mali.

In the short term, France has for the most part fulfilled the first two; however, the ‘Africanization’ of the intervention through full deployment, coordination and training of Malian and ECOWAS forces in short period of time is a significant endeavor with numerous hurdles. At this point in time the Malian military remains weak, with the French military like to bear the brunt of the work. Furthermore, the deployment of ECOWAS troops likely to arrive this week is also expected to encounter complications due to the premature timing vis-à-vis the initial plans. The conflict has already spilled over into neighboring countries, including the regional power Algeria that suffered an attack on a gas installation on 16 January 2013.

Algeria, who possesses experience fighting armed Islamist groups within its borders, has always expressed reservation with respect to a military intervention in Mali. However, its advocacy for political dialogue with the main Islamist group Ansar-Eddine is likely to be reversed following an attack deep within its territory in retaliation for opening its airspace. The attack resulted in numerous hostages constitutes a first for the country. Such installations never suffered even during the troubled 1990s. The distance of the base relative to the Malian border (near In Amenas) is closer to Libya, again reinforcing the relative insignificance of political borders in the region, their porous nature and the potential vastness of the theater of operations.

France should not expect much from Algeria. Despite have the strongest capabilities in the region these remain relative to inherently weak states in the Sahel such as Mali. Though direct involvement beyond its borders would provide a boost in capabilities, these remain untested beyond Algeria’s borders, and are likely to be dedicated to reinforcing the securitization of its own borders.

The dangers of France finding itself entangled in a long conflict that stretches across the Sahel are real, and lie beyond its control. Worst case scenarios for France would be the being sucked into its own Afghanistan, or a debacle similar to the US involvement in Somalia. The effect and quality of deploying of ECOWAS troops is a determining factor but remains to be seen. France is better off sticking to limited objectives in the short term or faces the prospects of its own Afghanistan.

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Photo Credit: fdecomite

The Algerian Hostage Dead: NATO Is Responsible

While the West may be reluctant to put more boots on the ground due to the growing frustration from the general public, we are likely to see more military interventions this decade.

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What do Libya, Mali and Algeria have in common? The three nations have played a pivotal role in the political domino effect culminating over the last week. At least 48 hostages are now thought to have died in a four-day siege at an Algerian gas plant. In response to the Algerian hostage situation Mr Cameron said his government will continue to focus on fighting terrorism: “There is no justification for taking innocent life in this way”.

These are typical words attributed to a politician speaking in the generic foreign policy language. However David Cameron has failed to mention that NATO also played its part in the Algerian hostage crisis. Algerian crisis is a direct consequence of the current Mali conflict and the Mali conflict is the direct result of the Libyan conflict in 2011 as those who supported Gaddafi were thrown out from the country for being black and had nowhere else to go except to join the Mali terrorist groups.

And since it was Cameron and his “peace-seeking” NATO states who encouraged the violence in Libya and helped to carry out a regime change operation, it seems NATO are at least partially responsible for the Algerian hostage crisis. Politics works in funny ways.

Let us examine each claim individually starting with Libya.

The mission to oust Gaddafi and kick start a new dawn for Libya has been claimed by the West to be a success. Yet an uncomfortable truth rarely mentioned in the Western media remains- hundreds of African migrant workers in Libya accused of being mercenaries for Col Muammar Gaddafi were imprisoned and tortured by fighters allied to the new interim authorities.

Indeed it is heavily documented how the victorious rebels were hunting after African mercenaries and the latter had no choice but to escape from the destruction-stricken country. These mercenaries found a new home- Mali. Additionally there are irrefutable claims that homes have been looted, and women and girls beaten and raped. Perhaps removing Gaddafi was a success for the Western nations, but the country is currently in turmoil and is still mostly run by heavily armed mercenaries.

It is clear that the West had a lot of interest in removing Gaddafi. While the UN gave the authorisation to protect the Libyan civilians, this objective turned into a regime change operation. It is not surprising that Russia and China continue to veto any resolutions in regards to Syria as they understand that another aim to protect the Syrian civilians would simply mean regime change in Syria.

We can only speculate what interests the West has in the region. A number of theories have been put forward: oil, a step towards eventually attacking Iran, protecting Israel, all of the above. While impossible to know the truth, it is clear that the West has a grand strategy for the Middle East and Africa.

And so we arrive at the second stage of the domino effect. The current conflict in Mali seems in many ways to mirror the conflict that took place in Libya. Rebels are trying to take over the country and overthrow the government. There is however one difference. The current Mali government is a friend of France whilst Gaddafi refused to get on his knees for the Western powers.

A popular argument used by the politicians is the claim that Libya was a dictatorship while Mali is a democracy and therefore the West has a responsibility to protect Mali from radical extremists. However if this claim was true then the West would have already intervened in Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. However these authoritarian states have good relations with the West and are therefore safe from NATO interventions.

Indeed those who claim that the Mali government are not executing their own civilians like Gaddafi did may be shocked to find that there are growing reports by Amnesty International of extrajudicial killings and other human rights abuses in Mali, as troops battle Islamist militants in the West African country.

Residents of Mopti, in the centre of the country, told the Observer of arrests, interrogations and the torture of innocents by the Malian army. Amnesty International says that it has documented evidence of abuse by the Malian army, including extrajudicial killings. It says that in September, a group of 16 Muslim preachers composed of Malian and Mauritanian nationals were arrested then executed by the Malian military in Diabaly. It seems like the French government is trying to protect those that are carrying out human rights abuses.

Undoubtedly the rebels are not saints either. Nevertheless there has to be some consistency from the West. Claiming to be against Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein as they killed own citizens, while at the same time supporting the regimes in Mali, Bahrain and Jordan, who also treat their citizens with cruelty is simply hypocritical.

Of course this is not the first time a Western power has supported brutality. It is also imperative to mention the case of Syria here. Mr Hollande has claimed that the reason why his country is supporting the Mali government against the rebels is because the rebels are Islamic extremists whilst the rebels in Syria are secular.

Mr Hollande’s remarks are are simply wrong as it is well known that a large section of the Syrian rebels are also radical Islamists. The radical rebels who have connections to Al Qaeda seem to be having more influence on the Syrian population than the Free Syrian Army who claim to be secular.

And so thanks to the continuous hypocritical interventions by the Western nations we have arrived at a situation where a BP gas site has been assaulted by terrorists. Whilst undoubtedly investigations will be carried out, it seems more than likely that the terrorists who have carried out the hostage mission are in some way linked to the rebels in Mali.

It is well known that in life, a particular action always leads to a particular consequence. This is called the butterfly effect. International politics is not immune from this phenomenon, as something that began as a mission by the West to oust Gaddafi in 2011 has ended with Western citizens being taken hostage in Algeria. I say “ended” yet it is probable that this is just the beginning of more violence and conflict which will spread to other parts of Africa.

This is rather useful for the NATO states as America and other Western nations have been itching to find an excuse to send more military to the continent now that the Middle East has been “conquered” and squeezed completely dry. And while the resource-plenty and flourishing Africa will now be the new victim of Western interventions, our media and politicians will continue to tell us that our governments are fighting to make the world a safer place by annihilating the terrorists – the same terrorists that arise through Western interventions in the first place.

Just yesterday David Cameron has announced that the war on terrorists will go on for decades and NATO interventions will switch from Afghanistan to North Africa.

Interventions are a destructive cycle. The West intervenes in other regions as a police state under a pretext of supporting democracy, but end up opening a can of worms. Extremism spreads to nearby regions and the locals are angered by the continuous meddling of the West in their affairs and therefore join the terrorist groups which encourages the West to intervene more.

It becomes a permanent circle, or better known as a perpetual war. Alternative solutions to intervention do exist. Empowering regional bodies and governments through international development programs, foreign aid and cooperation are viable alternatives to militarism. While the West may be reluctant to put more boots on the ground due to the growing frustration from the general public, we are likely to see more military interventions this decade. Due to the development of unmanned drones and other rocket-type weaponry, NATO is likely to continue to intrude in the Middle East and Africa. It seems the West never learns.

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Photo credit: US Army Africa

A ‘War On Terror’ Or A ‘War On Chaos’?

The European deployments throughout Africa are an entirely different creation to the US-led “War on Terror”. The European “War on Chaos” is one of pragmatic national interest but also of support for those states who play by the rules and protection for the millions under constant threat of violence.

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Two and a half thousand French forces are being deploying in Mali in the largest European military deployment by any EU state since 2001. Supported by British and then American logistics in under a week the French have advanced against both columns of the advancing AQIM affiliated fighters, halting them completely in the East and beginning a counter-attack in the North. Bombing raids have struck Islamist positions behind the front lines as West African forces begin to arrive to double the foreign troops fighting to defend Mali’s capital.

The situation in Mali is the most significant action by western forces since the NATO operation in Libya, another in which the French military lead the way, flying 35% of the total offensive foreign air missions of the conflict and 90% of the helicopter missions. But even that is a fragment of French military involvement in the last year. They are the most active western state in the fight against Al-Shabaab in Somalia, formed the bulk of the force which ousted Ivory Coast dictator Gbagbo and are a primary contributor to the European army, the CSDP.

France has never been a passive military power. Ever since its founding as the western branch of Charlemagne’s German Frankish Empire it has been at almost constant war. From its constant conflicts with the British of the medieval period it went on to dominate continental Europe with its huge military and financial strength. Napoleon, perhaps the greatest European tactician in history, conquered the entire continent before his army was struck down by disease. In fact if it wasn’t for this disaster and the allied tactic of attempting to avoid ever facing Napoleon’s genius directly in battle he may have created the first truly European state. It went on to build an empire to challenge that of the British and Spanish, fighting stoically through the First World War and ferociously in the Second, though not always on the same side. As the empires of Europe collapsed France fought over the remains of its global power, only admitting defeat after the disasters of Vietnam and Algeria. Now, after years of struggling to regain its place at the forefront of European military strength it is by far the most active of the Western powers outside America.

Much as this may surprise many, fueled by the completely misplaced British-propaganda stereotype of French as the white-flag-wavers of Europe, it’s not quite as surprising to most as the mere idea of European military action, let alone a dedicated EU military force. The mere thought seems alien to American audiences still unused to their new supporting role in conflicts and horrifying to the eurosceptic English. However, the European CSDP (Common Security and Defense Policy) military has grown from a mere token force to the largest coalition army outside the ISAF in Afghanistan. The European force is now significant enough that it has involved itself in twenty-five foreign operations, all separately from NATO. Presently well over 5,000 European forces operate under the EU flag of the CSDP as well as four naval warships. Alone this is a larger force than any of the militaries involved in Afghanistan other than the United States and Britain.

There is a key difference however between the armed forces of the French and EU compared to that of the USA and Britain, none of these forces have been involved in the reputational suicide of the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The unilateral invasion, without international support (unlike Afghanistan or any French missions of the last decade) ruined the international status of the two Atlantic powers as supporters of international order and made them as much pariahs to the developing world as the “Axis of Evil” they fought against. Instead European forces, and 4,500 French forces fighting under the tricolour or the twelve stars, represent a force of stability in conflict-torn areas. They come on invitation and international support and yet lack the need for the sometimes crippling restraint forced on UN peacekeepers.

The European deployments throughout Africa and in potential conflict zones across Europe and Asia are an entirely different creation to the US-led “War on Terror”. The European “War on Chaos” is one of pragmatic national interest but also of support for those states who play by the rules and protection for the millions under constant threat of violence. The French-led war for military stability across the world is mirrored by the German-led battle for economic stability at home in Europe. Together they form two arms of increasingly powerful demands for a unified Europe bringing stability to both its own citizens and those of the world at large. The Germans have expressed their support for the new European military and the French are aligned with them in the push for a new centralised European economic system. A new Europe is being born, one regaining the pride and prestige it had lost for almost a century. The US was forged in the fire of the British Empire, states forced to band together into Union to guard against the return of the world’s most powerful force. The Union of Europe may well be forged from the threat of Eurozone collapse and Islamist terrorism breeding from every failed state and unstable region.

The result may well be a split in the Western world. The liberal continental Europe, one built upon consensus and cooperation, is radically different from the relatively conservative United States, swinging violently between neoconservative interventions and proud isolation, too sure of its own exceptionalism. Between them stands Britain, unsure of which road to take. However, as the Atlantic divides the west and the US turns to the pacific, a lonely island may not have the clout to strike fear as its empire once did. As the French fight in Mali and Somalia, and Germany grants the keys to economic power to the European Union, the European War on Chaos will proceed with or without royal Britannia.

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Photo credit: Jerry Gunner

Germany Won’t Fight

France has intervened in Mali to stop an assault of rebel forces from the north of the country. While Britain has supplied two transport aircraft to airlift equipment to the West African state, Germany initially remained hesitant. What is clear is that the country will not send combat forces, but will probably provide logistical, humanitarian and/or medical support. Comments from the governing coalition experts pointed towards a lack of consensus regarding what such help would entail. Nevertheless, Tuesday night it was reported that France and Germany are in negotiations to use German Transall aircraft and that a decision will be announced by Thursday.

Germany’s role during the war in Libya drew a lot of criticism from its partners. Hence, it was clear that Angela Merkel’s government would not be able to stay out of this conflict entirely. However, its reaction sticks to an established modus operandi. Germany has gotten rid of the highly moralized arguments that dominated the discussion about sending military forces abroad during the 1990s. The recent end of conscription went hand-in-hand with a hasty attempt to form a fully professional army. At the same time, do not expect that Germany will take such an active role again as it did in Afghanistan (some might beg to differ on the “active” part) in the near future. It will try using other measures (such as export of weapons and military equipment or supporting other countries in military campaigns where necessary) or only send troops where it can guarantee relative safety for its soldiers (Patriot rockets in Turkey).

During the red-green administration Joschka Fischer and Gerhard Schröder gave Germany an active foreign policy profile, taking a leading role on Kosovo for example. We cannot expect such an approach from Westerwelle and Merkel; their default mode for politics remains hesitation and low profile. In addition military interventions are largely unpopular in Germany and it is an election year.

Update: The German government announced today that it will indeed send two aircraft to support French operations. Merkel said that the “the terrorism in Mali is not only a threat to Africa but also to Europe”.

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Photo Credit: fdecomite

China’s Growing Role In Counter-Piracy Operations

The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has now maintained a counter-piracy presence in the Indian Ocean for four years. This begs the question: why is China becoming increasingly cooperative in counter-piracy operations?

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PLA Missile Tracking Ship

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[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he rise of China is one of the prominent issues that scholars of International Relations encounter today and will continue to do so in the future. The PLAN deployment is a fascinating component of the wider China debate as it represents the first time that Chinese vessels have conducted a ‘far-seas’ operation to protect Chinese interests since the fifteenth century. Even more remarkable is the fact that the typically isolationist and paranoid Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is now openly cooperating with a variety of traditional foes in the area of counter-piracy; states such as India, Japan and the US are now closely communicating and operating in conjunction with their PLAN counterparts in the Indian Ocean.

This raises a series of intriguing questions. From a Chinese perspective, what are the motivating factors behind this operation? Is it economic, political or geostrategic concerns that have driven the PLAN to cooperate in the Indian Ocean? Is this deployment merely benign in nature or does it imply an element of self-interest? Why is China cooperating over the issue of piracy when it refuses to align itself with international norms, for instance, human rights?

PLAN Deployment

This deployment did not arise out of a policy vacuum; when Jiang Zemin was replaced by Hu Jintao in 2002 he affirmed that the PLAN must develop towards ‘far-seas defence, enhancing the far-seas manoeuvring operations capabilities’. In the years since Hu’s statement, there has been a significant evolution in the PLAN capacity from a ‘near-seas active defence’ strategy (jinhai jiji fangyu) to ‘far-seas operations’ strategy (yuanhai zuozhan). Chinese defence expenditure has enlarged year after year in line with its burgeoning economy; official figures show that, prior to the PLAN counter-piracy operation began, defence expenditure rose to RMB417.876 billion (USD65.71 billion) in 2008, representing an increase of 17.5% upon the previous year. Thus, with an enlarged budget and a new ‘far-seas’ doctrine, the naval modernisation observed in the PLAN has certainly influenced the Chinese decision to join the international response in the Indian Ocean.

Traditionally, the East and South China Seas have been the significant regional chokepoints that had a strategic bearing on Chinese interests; however, as mentioned in the introduction, the Indian Ocean has now become a crucial expanse for China due to piracy, rising energy demand and trade interdependence. Hijackings, such as the Tianyu 8 and Zhenhua 4 incidents, are appropriate examples of how piracy is detrimental for Chinese trade.

Subsequently, the passing of UN Security Council resolutions 1814, 1816 and 1838 provided the PLAN with the supranational authority it required and it joined the international counter-piracy effort on 26 December 2008, becoming fully operational on 6 January 2009. In searching for legitimacy to conduct this operation, it is expected that the presence of the EU, NATO and CTF-151 counter-piracy task forces had a positive influence upon China’s decision.

Chinese caution towards a potential deployment can be explained by the realpolitik that remains embedded in a post-Mao China and an enduring belief in the adages of Deng Xiaoping. A former PRC leader himself, Deng recommended that the Chinese leadership ‘bide time’, maintain a low profile and take advantage of international opportunities to gradually maximise its power and position in the world. China seemingly aspires to take advantage of the unique situation of Somali piracy rather than become an established torch-bearer of international peace and security. By participating in counter-piracy operations, China is afforded the opportunity to deploy into the far-seas without an immediately hostile reaction from the international community.

Counter-Piracy Cooperation

The PLAN signified upon the initiation of the deployment that its undertaking would primarily consist of the independent escort of Chinese and foreign vessels. Despite its underdeveloped operational capabilities in comparison with other naval forces, it is clear that China wishes to be both seen and consulted as an equal within the international counter-piracy effort. China is not comfortable with communicating openly with institutions such as the EU and NATO as they do not represent a single voice but a multitude of perspectives; Beijing much prefers to conduct dialogue on a bilateral basis.

In the wider operational dimension, China has repeatedly declined proposals to integrate with the collective maintenance of the International Recommended Transit Corridor (IRTC). Again, China does not wish to integrate itself within a multinational command structure. Instead, China conducts its escort operations approximately ‘five nautical miles north and south of the IRTC’ rather than within the box system. Whilst the PLAN is still a ‘green-water’ navy and their model of participation is not unusual among the other independent actors, the refusal to participate in the IRTC indicates that China is not prepared to truly contribute to the ‘global good’ in a manner that is harmonious with the Western world, as much as its rhetoric suggests otherwise.

However, there are now signals that China’s actions in the Indian Ocean might begin to match their rhetoric; their counter-piracy strategy is outwardly evolving to incorporate a greater degree of coordination with the broader counter-piracy coalition. The first year of the PLAN was characterised by unilateralism, but the De Xin Hai hijacking on 19 October 2009 served to alter PLAN perceptions on counter-piracy cooperation when maritime cooperation could have prevented such an episode. It is widely agreed that only rigorous cooperation and coordination can help the international community to deal with the problem of piracy in an efficient way at sea.

Accordingly, the PLAN has taken progressive steps to enhance coordination with other navies in the Indian Ocean. Firstly, the key to successful and effective coordination is to communication and consequently, a web-based communication system entitled Mercury has been introduced amongst all naval forces apart from Iran. Secondly, China concluded an agreement in January 2012 with its traditional enemies, Japan and India, to strengthen coordination and adjust each other’s escort schedules to achieve maximum efficiency in the fight against piracy.

Lastly, and most importantly, are the coordination mechanisms of the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia (CGPCS) and the Shared Awareness and Deconfliction (SHADE) group. China was a founding member of the CGPCS as it is based around ‘voluntary cooperation’ in counter-piracy rather than under the command of another power or institution. SHADE is a scheme that assembles the wider counter-piracy community for regular meetings in Bahrain. China has now participated in the rotating chairmanship of the SHADE meetings and even expressed an interest in a co-chair position, usually held by the EU, CMF or NATO. However, this initial interest never materialised.

Nevertheless, it is patently clear that China is unwilling to enhance collaborative efforts with the wider counter-piracy community. Reasons for collaborative deficiency in Chinese foreign policy vary from a lack of operational experience to a lack of political will; it is true that much mistrust remains over ideological differences and issues such as human rights and Taiwan.

PLAN Motives

This defensive position is reflected in the PLAN’s counter-piracy deployment and their coordination with the international effort in several ways: firstly, the Indian Ocean represents a vital strategic arena in which China’s energy security is increasingly vulnerable. Secondly, China has evidently taken extra care not to arouse the ‘China threat’ theorem in its counter-piracy and wider foreign policies. Secondly, China is clearly endeavouring to protect Chinese national interests through the PLAN deployment and their naval modernisation. Thirdly, Chinese naval diplomacy in the Indian Ocean signifies a defensive policy, not one of aggression. Lastly, China is practicing ‘security through cooperation’ unilaterally with traditional foes.

What is clear is that the Indian Ocean is a vital arena for China; every year some 100,000 cargo ships pass through the Indian Ocean, as well as 66% of the world’s oil shipments. The significance of this expanse becomes apparent upon learning that Chinese total energy consumption from 2005 to 2012 has risen 60% and is predicted to increase a further 72.9% between now and 2035. Accordingly, there is now a growing energy demand within China to sustain its economic growth and, as the majority of China’s oil imports derive from Africa (Angola, Sudan) and the Middle East (Saudi Arabia), it is obvious that the Indian Ocean is the critical route for its external energy requirements.

China has been determined to dispel the ‘China threat’ theory. Before the PLAN deployed in the Indian Ocean, they waited patiently to gauge the international reaction to the counter-piracy mission. They also ensured that the deployment had the authorisation of both the Somali government and the UN. In line with the maxims of Deng Xiaoping, China knows that any sign of aggressive behaviour would be criticised by the international community and potentially harm their development. Thus, China is essentially employing a neo-Bismarckian strategy, manoeuvring peacefully towards Great Power status without provoking the international community into a counter-balancing reaction.

This is embodied within China’s ‘peaceful rise’ policy. Chinese actions and rhetoric attest to this guiding principle in the CCP’s foreign policy; the counter-piracy operation in aid of the global commons allows China to justify their naval modernisation, along with the opportune location of the piracy problem. China speaks of a foreign policy that pursues ‘peace and promotes friendly cooperation with all countries on the basis of the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence’, in addition to Hu Jintao’s ‘harmonious world’ vision.

Moreover, Chinese counter-piracy policy is distinctly aimed towards the protection of Chinese national interests. There is an evident gap between China’s defensive interests and its actual capabilities; therefore, it is aiming to close this gap through the advancement of the PLAN’s operational capabilities, increased field experience and the acquisition of modern naval assets. For example, China has now acquired its first ever aircraft carrier, the ex-Soviet Varyag, and it is expected to become operational by the end of 2012.

By coordinating in the counter-piracy effort, China is able to learn how a ‘far-seas’ fleet is operated, offer PLAN personnel invaluable experience for future expeditions, and gain knowledge from other international naval forces. Thus, China has evolved its naval strategy to meet the demands of its expanding interests in the Indian Ocean and it can therefore be deduced that the PLAN deployment is an extension of this defensive strategy.

As a result of the PLAN’s new ‘far-seas’ mantra, the counter-piracy deployment has also increased Beijing’s diplomatic network across the Indian Ocean. After each task force rotation, the PLAN ‘sails along the East coast of Africa and visits Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, South Africa, Madagascar and the Seychelles’ to parade the Chinese flag and to foster goodwill within these countries. Further Chinese engagement with the Indian Ocean littoral states consists of port and refuelling developments at Gwadar in Pakistan, Hambantota in Sri Lanka and Chittagong in Bangladesh with the Seychelles also offering China an invitation to establish a military presence on the islands.

Yet, by cooperating to some extent with traditional regional adversaries, China hopes that it can begin to assuage their doubts about their growth as a power and hopefully continue along the path of development. On cooperation in counter-piracy and the wider Indian Ocean region it is imperative that China ‘go along to get along’ in protecting their national interests.

As Donald Rumsfeld proffered, it is ‘the mission that determines the coalition’ and the issue of piracy has clearly determined China’s participation and cooperation with the international community in the Indian Ocean. From a Chinese perspective, they have participated out of self-interest; on a wider scale, their participation has been facilitated by the ad-hoc regime that has emerged. For China to protect its national interests and continue on its path towards a ‘peaceful rise’ it now appreciates that ‘problems will be global – and solutions will be, too’; this is what truly accounts for Chinese cooperation in counter-piracy operations in the Indian Ocean.

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Photo Credit: Michael R Perry

The French Cold Turkey

The last French President to visit Turkey was François Mitterrand; as with many things, it’s time for Hollande to pick up where the last socialist French President left off.

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[dropcap]F[/dropcap]rançois Hollande’s election prompted an editorial in almost every paper questioning what this meant for Franco-German relations. After all, Merkozy was the European Union’s dream couple. The answer being that pragmatism is likely to take precedence over Hollande’s socialist ideology, especially when it comes to finance. But, when it comes to Turkey and France the election of Hollande could change the tune France and the EU have been humming. Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister, Naci Koru, told reporters in that Turkey hopes problems it had with France will be gone with the new president . Nevertheless, he stressed that Turkey will wait and see, as it is difficult to say anything about future relations. But neither France nor Turkey can afford to wait and see: Turkey’s issues with France are as much their own problems as they are France’s.

Turkish and French relations have been fraught, particularly over the last 5 years. Sarkozy made his feelings regarding Turkey abundantly clear throughout his tenure as President, and they were not positive. The President verged between ignoring Turkey or fervently fighting against Turkey’s accession to the European Union by highlighting its domestic and historical failings. With socialist Hollande we may see an even larger magnifying glass held up to Turkey’s flaws. Now, even more than ever, if France is to have a relationship with Turkey the question of human rights, minority rights, freedom of expression and most importantly the thorny issue of Armenia will be even more pertinent.

Turkey’s accession to the EU has been frozen for the last three years. Sarkozy, as an integral part of the European system, played a significant role in halting Turkey’s accession. Turkey has only passed 1 of the 8 criteria, with France putting the kabosh on five of them. Despite the freeze there is still a movement towards Europe, despite the fact that Turkey has realised it does not need Europe as much as it once did. Nevertheless, Hollande’s election could really be the kick-start Turkey’s accession need but only if both Erdoğan and Hollande collaborate and begin to show gestures of goodwill.

During his time as President, Sarkozy visited Turkey once, in his role as chairman of the G20 rather than in the diplomatic interests of the two countries. In fact, the last French President to visit Turkey was François Mitterand. As with many things, it’s time for Hollande to pick up where the last socialist French President left off and visit. The move would be unprecedented and would signal a marked shift in France’s foreign policy. And more importantly it would be historic change and notable u-turn in France’s position regarding Turkey’s accession. Turkey has much to offer Europe and could in fact be the injection of hope Europe needs now. It’s blossoming economy, the second fastest growing economy in the world, and a young population could be the new beginning for which the EU is desperate.

Under the AKP, Turkey has made real progress towards realising its European dream, achieving candidacy in 2005. At the same time, Turkey was the first state membership candidacy to have the explicit mention of religion as a factor in the decision. Considered an original approach, it moves the consideration of candidacy from the political sphere and shifts the  focus on to civil society. This changes Turkey’s constant political struggle towards Europeanization and instead requires a strengthening of relations amongst factions in its civil society. In this respect, Turkey has had varying success.

Turkey’s recent history has been marred by tensions with its minority populations, notably the Kurds. Meanwhile, there has been a positive move towards breaking down the militant laicism that defined the previous 70 years. Religion has been increasingly politicised, framed as in the public’s interest or rationalized as an assimilation of Western nations’ experiences of integrating religion and politics. However, freedom of speech has increasingly been curtailed whether via youtube bans or condemning  the “despotic arrogance of intellectuals” and threatening to cut funding to public theatre. Turkey seeks to revive its accession process to the EU with a new “positive agenda”;  attempts to come to terms with the cracks in Turkey’s civil society could bridge the gap between the two countries.

Hollande is unlikely to rapidly change course when it comes to Turkey. The best Turkey can hope for is progress with regards to the Union of the Mediterranean, using it as a token of support. Undeniably, it would be a small first step but this could spur a renewed interest in Turkey and France would be able to move to remedy its image in the Middle East. Both countries need to make an effort towards reconciliation, and neither can afford to wait.

In Defence Of Merkel

The structural problems in Southern Europe, that are also hindering French growth, cannot be swept under the carpet in the hope that Germany will succumb to the idea of collective debt repayments.

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[dropcap]B[/dropcap]ack home in France, the election of Mr Hollande was hardly an occasion for national pandemonium, despite the usual clever camera shots to suggest otherwise. The French election has been dubbed by many in France as the day Sarkozy was defeated, rather than the day the French Socialist Party rose from the flames. The man they nicknamed ‘Mr Normal’ was, in many respects, the alternative to President Sarkozy, and not much else.

In Europe, however, he is firmly in the driving seat of the latest popular craze; all aboard the anti-Austerity bandwagon! He has picked up some notable hitchhikers along the way, including Italy’s un-elected Prime Minister Mario Monti, who has taken a seat beside the un-elected Greek Prime Minister Panagoitis Pikrammenos. Surely the most significant of these gentlemen is US President Barack Obama. In the past days he has been quoted as saying ‘’a responsible approach to fiscal consolidation should be coupled with a strong growth agenda’’. The bandwagon is now at full capacity, and carries the very leader of the free world, probably riding shotgun. It is also travelling at alarmingly high speed straight towards Mrs Merkel and her Christian Democratic Union led coalition in Berlin.

Supporters of Hollande, and his merry men, are even claiming that the CDU’s poor performance in North Rhine-Westphalia last week is an indication that Merkel’s own citizens are turning away from Germany’s policies on the continent. This would be a slight misconception. According to the Economist, 82% of voters said that state matters were paramount, and that the CDU’s performance was mostly about former environment minister Norbert Rottgen, who failed to say whether he would stay in Dusseldorf to lead the opposition if he lost. He was simply no match for the campaign led by a minority SPD-Green coalition, which has held NRW since 2010.

Mrs Merkel remains Germany’s most popular politician, largely thanks to the German economy. German GDP expanded by 0.5% in the first quarter of 2012, and has kept unemployment well below the EU average. They have done this with the help of their much coveted ‘Mittelstand’ economic system. This comprises a group of small and medium sized businesses that cluster themselves around big manufactures and work closely with universities and researchers. It is the perfect complement to Germany’s love for apprenticeships, which helps to keep the flow of qualified workers pouring in. Unsurprisingly, Germany is seen by investors and financial markets as Europe’s safe haven, keeping the cost of borrowing to below 2% for 10 year bond yields.

An unfortunate side to the pro-growth movement in Europe is the corresponding resentment towards Mrs Merkel herself, turning anti-austerity into anti-German sentiment. A common feature of Greek protests is the sight of German flags set ablaze and the inevitable depiction of Merkel in a Nazi uniform. Even Merkel’s former European ally, Nicolas Sarkozy was happy to pander to anti-austerity when his battle with Hollande crept ever closer. The German chancellor will always remain the poster girl of current EU policy, despite leaders in Britain, Ireland and the Netherlands pursuing a similar approach in their own countries.

After weeks of vacuous rhetoric, Hollande seems to have discovered a policy he can use to embody his vision for Europe. With the support of Greece and Italy, and ECB President Mario Draghi, the French President is proposing the introduction of euro bonds. These would allow an institution, most likely the European Commission, to borrow on the eurozone’s behalf, thus lowering repayments in the weaker members, for example by €15bn in Portugal, and turning sovereign debt into payments made by all euro members collectively.

The current policy of dishing out bailouts in return for austerity packages is understandably unpopular and has caused political gridlock in Greece. It is seen by some as a way to force nations into staying with the single currency and silencing arguments for the alternative. This may be partially true, but at the very least it enables the stronger European economies to demand structural reform in the southern states and for leaders to put their public finances in order. Euro bonds would effectively remove this incentive and keep the Greek, Italian and Portuguese economies lacking in competitive edge. euro bonds would do nothing to reduce overall levels of debt, and would punish the stronger economies of Europe. If German borrowing costs rose to an EU average, it would cost them an extra €50bn in repayments each year.

Hollande’s insistence on emphasising growth is in many ways commendable and may be just what Europe needs. There are sound ideas coming out of the pro-growth camp, including the idea of project bonds that would allow euro members to collectively raise finance for infrastructure projects to help create jobs. What is unfortunate about the movement is the growing hostility towards successful economies like Germany which, at times, verges on plain jealousy.

Merkel is having to deal with a new French President, eager to show his citizens that he is doing the job he promised he would do. She will soon have to face a new government in Athens with the same agenda, with Dutch and Italian elections not too far away. Once these honeymoons have ended, Europe can hopefully return to the job at hand with a clearer vision. The structural problems in Southern Europe, that are also hindering French growth, cannot be swept under the carpet in the hope that Germany will succumb to the idea of collective debt repayments. There may be more ground that Germany could concede if it means saving the Euro zone, but giving into the jealousy bandwagon is certainly not the way to go about it.

The Rise Of The Far-Right In French Politics

The events of this presidential election both recognize the newly gained power of the far-right movement in France and further the process of mainstreaming its radical stances on immigration and economic policy.

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The Socialist party’s François Hollande may have come in first in round one of the French presidential elections, but the third place spot earned by the far-right National Front’s Marine Le Pen is has been one of the biggest news stories in French electoral politics. She brought in nearly 18 percent of the vote, the highest percentage yet won by the National Front. Le Pen, the daughter of the party’s founder, Jean-Marie Le Pen, gave a speech that was a clear indication of the new strength that the National Front has taken from this success. “The battle for France has only just begun,” she declared. “We are now the only real opposition.”

This far-right opposition, and the battle they are intent on waging, should be taken seriously. The National Front bases itself on a vigorously protectionist and anti-establishment populism that can be found on the rise in the politics of countries across Europe. A large survey last fall, conducted by British think tank Demos, revealed a powerful swell of far-right allegiance all across Europe, most notably among younger men.

Far-right stances like this that centre on a mix of economic rage and identity politics have gained traction in Hungary with the Jobbik party, and in the Netherlands, where politician Geert Wilders, who has compared the Qur’an to Mein Kampf, is successfully capitalizing on anti-immigrant nationalism in his ascendancy. In Germany, the hard right National Democratic Party is targeting a broader base of support by embracing the environmental movement.

The eurosceptic nationalism associated with Le Pen’s campaign is focused on protectionist sentiment and anti-immigration stances. Le Pen’s support for opting out of the Eurozone appeals especially to voters like those in rural France who feel victimized economically by the EU’s economic decision-making and austerity measures. Voters like these also feel threatened by immigrants, whom they see as competition for employment in a tough economy. They are attracted by the fact that she wants immigration to France reduced to only 10,000 people a year.

Le Pen has very successfully framed her closed-border stances in highly economic terms, directly attributing economic hardship to the waste and cost and competition brought by multiculturalist approaches, globalization and European integration. Using support for this position to challenge the character of her opponents, she asked: “Who between Francois Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy willimpose the austerity plan in the most servile way? Who will submit the best to the instructions of the IMF, the ECB or the European Commission?” Statements like this one reflect the National Front’s powerful rhetorical marriage of questions of national character and identity with the populist politics of economic fear and anger.

NPR quoted a handful of National Front supporters in rural France who listed their primary concerns as the supposed double threat of the Eurozone and immigration. A man named Remy Boursot in Chambolle Musigny said, “As a winegrower, it’s Europe that dictates my life. We’ve lost our sovereignty, and this has killed our small businesses and artisans. We have to get out of the euro currency. And with unemployment on the rise, we hardly need mass immigration.” His words demonstrate another characteristic of this far-right populism: a sense of demand and urgency, spurred on by a feeling of personal loss and voicelessness.

Unsurprisingly, a particularly popular target of this kind of threat-driven identity politics, and even in more mainstream French politics, is Islam. Islam is portrayed as a growing threat to French communities, and many of the French who threw their support behind the National Front see Islam as, in Le Pen’s words, “advancing into neighbourhoods“. France has the highest Muslim population in Western Europe, at 5 million, and has serious struggles with cultural and political Islamophobia. Undoubtedly, capitalising on these struggles has done the far-right and Marine Le Pen great favours in their ascent.

Despite the intensity of Le Pen’s stances, her far-right appeal has found an unsettling niche among the young electorate. Her more contemporary appeal and her more flexible stances on issues like abortion have made her and her party more widely attractive. For the younger voting demographic, Le Pen ranked number one among the ten candidates on the first presidential ballot. In April of last year, polling results put her in second place between Hollande and Sarkozy among 18 to 22 year olds and a March 2011 study from the CSA Institute comparing three separate polls put her at first place among potential voters in the 18 to 26 range. These numbers show an unexpected youth power behind Le Pen, given her far-right position. Nonna Meyer, of Sciences Po, told the AP that her youth appeal is explained by a rhetorical shift away from her father’s style: “She’s younger, she’s a woman, she condemns anti-Semitism. She often says things differently than her father. She says she is tolerant, it is Islam that is intolerant … She upends the discourse.”

Other parties have begun to try to appeal to the demands and desires of the popular support for parties like the National Front. Following Le Pen’s showing in round one, both the victorious Socialist candidate Hollande and the second place finisher and incumbent defender Sarkozy have made motions to try and win over support from that wing of the French political dynamic. Hollande, who looks likely to be France’s next president, has done this to a lesser extent. Sarkozy, however, sees the far right as his only chance to hold on to the presidency and has hardened his positions on the EU, immigration and Islam to curry favour with Le Pen’s National Front supporters. Most of their vote is predicted to go to him, although this isn’t expected to win him the election. Esteban Pratviel of the Institut Français d’Opinion Publique says that Sarkozy would need more than 70 percent of Le Pen‘s supporters, and to simultaneously keep the centrist electorate. Le Pen herself refuses to do her opponents any favours, saying firmly that she would be casting a blank ballot in protest in Sunday‘s run-off election.

The National Front will not win this presidency, nor will many of their voters throw their support behind Hollande, who is the likeliest candidate, but they have certainly been granted new status in the French political dynamic. We haven’t seen the last of the National Front this year. Marine Le Pen’s niece, Marion, stands a very solid chance of becoming one of the party‘s first MPs since the 1986 elections when parliamentary elections come around in June. The events of this presidential election both recognize the newly gained power of the far-right movement in France and further the process of mainstreaming its radical stances on immigration and economic policy. This rise in far-right support, both in France and across Europe, is one of the dangerous and potentially lasting side effects of a Europe struggling with economic crisis.

France’s General Election: Whoever Wins, It Won’t Be For The Right Reasons

It is a rule as old as politics itself; popular short term promises are more effective at getting politicians elected than long term realizations.

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For a time, it appeared as though someone was benefitting from the 2008 financial crisis. A perception that the political left cannot be trusted in times of recession meant that voters across Europe unseated left of centre governments in favour of the centre right. Put simply, it appeared as though the advocates of small government and austerity had won themselves at least a decade of uncontested control.

A mere two years later, it has become clear that this picture was never going to be as simple as it once appeared. Most opinion polls in Britain place the opposition Labour Party ahead of the ruling coalition. In Spain, strikes are as common as siestas, due to a widely unpopular €27 Billion austerity package. In the Netherlands, a major cheerleader of Merkel’s austerity drive, the government has lost majority support in parliament due to disagreement about budget cuts.

In further contrast, it is almost certain that the centre right will be the ones who are defeated in the second round of the French Presidential election a week today, in favour of a self professed socialist. If Mr Hollande does what many are expecting him to do and unseats Sarzoky, he will be bringing with him a radically different set of policies from ones we have come to expect in times of economic stagnation. He has promised a 75% top rate of income tax, a reversal of Sarkozy’s rise in the retirement age and a separation of retail and investment banking to curb France’s dependency on the financial sector.

To make matters a little more complicated, the perception of economic credibility does not appear to be translating into overall public support. The unpopular British Conservative party continues to lead Labour on questions about economic competency. They score 44% in opinion polls as opposed to Labour’s 31%. A similar picture is found in France where the otherwise trailing incumbent leads Hollande by 14% in terms of ability to make difficult economic decisions.

The French election gives some insight into why such a confused picture has blanketed Western Europe. Several economic commentators, including the Economist, have been arguing for some time that the Presidential contenders were all doing a brilliant job of avoiding the existential problem that France is facing. France’s public spending accounts for 65% of GDP as opposed to an OECD average of 43%. Public debt is slowly reaching 90% and could conceivably reach 100% by next year. Once one takes into account France’s lack of competitiveness, in terms of exports, social charges and youth unemployment, it becomes utterly baffling that perceived economic competency is not translating into votes for France’s centre right President. Instead, they prefer to see a reversal of Sarkozy’s modest economic reforms and yet more public spending, paid for by taxing 75% of the earnings of the wealthiest few.

Put bluntly, Europe’s politicians are failing to convince their electorate of the long term necessities for economic reform. Their chosen economic philosophy, which they presumably believe in wholeheartedly, is failing to persuade citizens. As a result, far too many European elections are becoming either referendums on personality or unnecessary, unhealthy and divisive squabbles over class or race.

France’s political extreme wings have successfully turned this election into a debate about Sarkozy the man, rather than Sarkozy the economist. If the latter were up for debate, there would be a very high possibility of the President retaining office. The French left argue that Sarkozy leads an extravagant life style and cares little about the ‘ordinary’ people of France. Hollande’s election team sight his lavish and arrogant demeanour, celebrating his 2007 election victory in a fancy hotel in the Champs Elysee. They promise to bring credibility and dignity back to the Presidential office. Hollande, and the now defeated Communist Melenchon have successfully made ‘rich’ a dirty word in France.

At the opposite extreme sits Front National candidate Marine Le Pen. Unsurprisingly, she has managed to shape the economic debate into a discussion about immigration and the EU. In what appears to have been a successful attempt to detoxify her party, which once entered the second round of the French election under her father, she now stands for a significant curb on immigration and France’s organized exit from the EU. Neither policy has gone unnoticed in the Sarkozy camp. The President has promised to re evaluate France’s position in the Union, threatening to pull out of the Schengen passport-free zone unless other European leaders do more to control immigration. Sarkzoy, the son of a Hungarian immigrant himself, has gone as far as to claim that ‘there are too many foreigners in France’.

While unsurprising, it is no less unfortunate that the main story dominating the media agenda after the first round of voting last Sunday was not Hollande’s victory but Marine Le Pen’s more than expected share of the vote. She managed to gain 17.90% support, less than 10% behind Sarkozy. Her campaign has rejuvenated the French youth, who are either poorly paid or unemployed. The number of actual anti-immigration supporters in France is no longer the issue; Le Pen has found a way to gain a level of support her more hard-line Father could never quite reach.

Yet, the most unfortunate result of the first round surely has to be the performance of Francois Bayrou. Back in late March, the economist argued that Bayrou was the only Presidential nominee brave enough to talk about the need for genuine economic reform. His party, Democratic Movement, called for €50 billion in spending cuts, alongside €50 billion in tax increases and dismissed Hollande’s 75% top rate of tax as ‘crazy’. The one party, making a genuine effort to transcend the political spectrum and talk solely about the economy, finished in fifth place with just 9.13% of the vote.

While politicians cannot be expected to court unpopularity in the run up to elections, there is surely more that could be done to reinforce their positions during their time in power. Sarkozy talks a good game on foreign affairs alongside his German ally, but is paying the price for dodging too many important questions about deficit reduction and growth at home. One cannot blame the French people for wanting to protect the state benefits and protections that are so ingrained into French culture, especially when their politicians are too fearful of offering a credible alternative. It is a rule as old as politics itself; popular short term promises are more effective at getting politicians elected than long term realizations. This does not mean that Europe’s leaders have to accept this as absolute. After all, rules are made to be broken. No one economic philosophy has dominated the post 2008 financial crash and it is unlikely if one ever will. Voters are simply demanding change, wherever that may lead.

Provoking Islamism: The Banning Of The Burqa

Populist political theater parading as a measure to increase social cohesion.

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Last Friday the Dutch cabinet announced plans to move forward with the question of banning the wearing of burqas, along with other clothing such as ski-masks that cover the face, in public. The decision still requires approval by the Dutch Parliament, but if passed the Netherlands would be the third EU nation (France and Belgium already have a ban) to ban the religious garment. The arguments put forth in favor of such bans generally take the tack of public safety and social cohesion. Those opposed usually cite individual rights to religious expression. It seems there is little room for resolution between these two viewpoints and most importantly neither address the threat posed from violent extremism. Banning the wearing of the burqa in public is bad policy, from a national security standpoint, because it provides Islamists with what they perceive as additional evidence backing up their narrative that the West is at war with Islam.

Narrative is crucial to how extremist organisations maintain popular support, recruit, and justify violent action. Events and policies are not viewed in a vacuum, but are instead contextualised as part of a particular narrative. For example, in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, an encounter where a young Catholic is beaten or otherwise abused by British soldiers, despite the specifics of the particular situation, is contextualized as part of a long story of British abuse and exploitation that has gone back centuries. Violent response can then be seen as honorable and in the spirit of fondly remembered revolutionary action. The late IRA operative, Eamon Collins, reflects on this in his memoir, Killing Rage: ‘I felt those heroes of 1916 were like the priests who had died for us at Cromwellian hands. I felt my mother must be right: the struggle for our faith was not yet over.’ Later, when he was university aged, Collins had a run-in with soldiers from the British Parachute Regiment in his neighborhood where he was beaten while in custody. This encounter was not interpreted as an isolated incident but as part of the war against Republicanism and his ethnic identity. This experience is remembered as a key point in his radicalisation.

Back to 2012. For Islamists the banning of the burqa is not an issue of religious freedom, which they do not support. The banning of the burqa may be contextualised to young Muslims like this: ‘The West is killing innocent muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq and they support the Jewish occupation and oppression of your brothers and sisters in Palestine. Now in Paris, Brussels, and Amsterdam they are dishonoring our sisters, mothers, and wives.’ For those who have bought into the Islamist narrative this is a powerful symbol of oppression that is not thousands of miles away, but on their doorstep. Ed Husain talks about similar tactics that he used as a member of Hizb ut-Tahrir to stir up animosity in Muslim circles in the UK: ‘We had been trained always to link local issues to the global concerns of Muslims.’ These tactics allow extremist organisations to draw connections that miscontextualise local events, they can convince followers that they are living in a front in the the war on Islam.

There are policies that states must enact to ensure that their citizens are secure, many of them controversial. These decisions, from law enforcement and prosecution considerations at home to military and intelligence intervention abroad, should be debated vigorously and publicly on their security benefits and their potential impact on civil liberties. It must also be mentioned that the impact of these policies on the Islamist narrative should not always be a major consideration because it is likely that those who propagate or subscribe to that ideology will approve of very little that Western states do. However, what policy makers can be sure of is that banning a religious garment will do nothing to make theirs states safer and will certainly be made part of the ‘war on Islam’ narrative. The Dutch attempt at a burqa ban is a piece of populist political theater aimed at galvanising supporters against a largely peaceful religious minority within their borders. If the Dutch government wants to fight extremism it should focus on policies that engage moderate Muslims with Dutch society, not policies that agitate and alienate.