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Chinese Foreign Policy – On Climate Change and Fortuitous Gains

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By Alexander Johannes, 2nd year Maths with Economics student at University College London who has completed a course in Chinese Foreign Policy at the Chinese University of Hong Kong this summer.

During an address at the United Nations (UN) headquarters on March 29th 2018, Secretary-General Antònio Guterres stated what it generally regarded as a universal truth, “Climate change is still moving much faster than we are…[it is] the greatest threat facing humankind”. This article will analyse the global effort to address climate change by contextualising the contemporary efforts and institutions created to deal with this threat, followed by the recent developments, challenges and opportunities that exist with regard to climate change and the rise of China.[1]

Global warming, environmental degradation and unsustainable development/practices, referred to broadly as climate change, have become a focal point of international discourse and policy, with significant implications for individual states and the power dynamics that pervade global initiatives.[2] Given its population size, urbanisation and the industrial nature of its economy, China is one of the key states that will ultimately determine the success of measures taken to combat climate change.[3]  The sudden and unexpected departure of the United States (US) from The Paris Agreement has not only shifted a larger spotlight on the Chinese role, but also presents a unique opportunity for China to take an uncontested leading role in the matter.[4] However, this largely contradicts the pressing need for China to continue industrialisation and development, specifically in the poorest inland provinces, which continue to lag behind the Eastern coastal regions.[5]

China’s involvement and responses have evolved and developed as climate change has gained prominence as a global issue. Indeed, Chinese leadership throughout the mid-to-late 1990s placed more emphasis than its predecessors had on the issue.[6] This followed the global convergence to the idea of sustainable development, which would ultimately be articulated in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – of which goal 13 deals directly with climate change. However, the rapid economic growth experienced by China in the early part of the 21st century was often in direct conflict with the stated intentions of the Chinese government. Domestic and international pressure culminated in 2007 and 2008, forcing the government to implement more proactive and concrete measures.[7]  Thus, the rise of China during this period was not significantly impeded by enforceable international legislation that constrained growth, placing China in the unique position of being considered a developing nation for the purposes of international agreements, with the added advantage of having undergone some form of robust economic transformation.[8]  By the same token, China now occupies what could loosely be described as a bridge between the developed and developing world, giving it greater political leverage.[9]  Therefore, as the global tide towards sustainability continued to swell towards the latter part of the 2000s, China was well placed both politically and economically as the issue of climate change came to the fore.

Thus, the aforementioned factors combined with Xi Jinping’s greater emphasis on activism in foreign affairs created a dynamic political landscape for the issue of climate change to unfold.[10] In particular, the willingness to engage with the international community on the issue, specifically the US under the Obama administration, lead to the much-lauded Paris Agreement of 2015. The agreement sets out an extensive, collective response to combat climate in a tangible way, something its predecessors, such as the Kyoto protocol of 1997, were unable to achieve.[11]

However, the unprecedented reorganisation of the American political establishment and the election of Donald Trump provided new practical challenges but political opportunities for the Chinese government. As the largest economy and contributor to global emissions left in the agreement subsequent to the US’ withdrawal, eyes firmly shifted to the Beijing. In response, Xi Jinping took a conservative stance by framing China as a “torchbearer” (yinlingzhe) rather than an outright leader.[12]

Therefore, it remains to analyse the empirical evidence regarding Chinese attempts to fight climate change. The World Bank estimates that renewable electricity output as a percentage of total electricity output has increased from approximately 15% in 2003 to 24% in 2015. Although by no means generalisable, this does provide a brief illustration of some of the tangible strides being made by the Chinese government to implement sustainable development strategies. Furthermore, China’s National Climate Change Programme China (CNCCP) has reinforced this commitment.[13]  Thus, beyond the rhetoric that characterises national successes, there are concrete steps being taken that necessarily position China as a potential leader in addressing climate change.

Finally, there are a number of key considerations that fall beyond the scope of practical leadership, and address what the Chinese government also stands to gain by assuming this leadership role. The contrast between what could be perceived as a progressive and cooperative Chinese state opposing a rigid, self-serving American establishment effectively invalidates any narrative of benign Western Liberalism and malignant Chinese Authoritarianism. In addition, the gains to be made diplomatically between China and the EU as they collaborate as the major partners in the Paris Agreement could have positive network effects. In the same way, the US has essentially abandoned the relevant moral leadership position, which will also impact its diplomatic ties.[14]  The role will also allow China to aid developing nations through the South-to-south cooperation fund[15], deepening their relationship and mutual understanding, thereby cementing China’s position as responsible power embedded in the philosophy of Tianxia  and in line with Xi Jinping’s more assertive narrative of China.[16]

However, China’s approach to foreign affairs reflects a circumscribe willingness, and in some cases outright reluctance, to bear the costs of regional and international leadership.[17] Taking those considerations into account,the Chinese government has already taken a leading role in alliances such as the G77 and BRICS, and by implication, this represents the ideal opportunity to expand this role.[18]

As much as Climate change is a complex issue, so too are the options and considerations of the Chinese government. Xi Jinping’s more progressive approach to international diplomacy places China in a strong position to deal with regional and international partners, but the added complexities of internal development and stability balanced against the opportunity to lead one of the most ambitious and vital global efforts opens the door to a multiplicity of competing interests. However, the American absence and unique factors that prevail mesh into a delicate but enticing combination of timing and positioning in a tumultuous global political arena.

 

Bibliography:

[1] Refers to the People’s Republic of China (PRC), including all special administrative regions.

[2] Lanteigne, M. 2016. Chinese Foreign Policy: An Introduction, 3rd Ed. Routledge.

[3] Sutter, R. 2016. Chinese Foreign Relations: Power and Policy Since the Cold War, 4th Ed. Rowman & Littlefield.

[4] Zhang, C. 2017. Why China Should Take the Lead on Climate Change [online]. Available from https://thediplomat.com/2017/12/why-china-should-take-the-lead-on-climate-change/ [Accessed 14 July 2018]

[5] The Economist. 2016. Rich province, poor province: The government is struggling to spread wealth more evenly [online]. Available from: https://www.economist.com/china/2016/10/01/rich-province-poor-province [Accessed 11 July 2018]

[6] Lanteigne, M. 2016. Chinese Foreign Policy: An Introduction, 3rd Ed. Routledge.

[7] Sutter, R. 2016. Chinese Foreign Relations: Power and Policy Since the Cold War, 4th Ed. Rowman & Littlefield.

[8] Lanteigne, M. 2016. Chinese Foreign Policy: An Introduction, 3rd Ed. Routledge.

[9] Sutter, R. 2016. Chinese Foreign Relations: Power and Policy Since the Cold War, 4th Ed. Rowman & Littlefield.

[10] Lanteigne, M. 2016. Chinese Foreign Policy: An Introduction, 3rd Ed. Routledge.

[11] Worland, J. 2017. How China Could Shape the Future of Energy [online]. Available from: http://time.com/5022606/china-coal-solar-energy/ [Accessed 12 July 2018]

[12] Zhang, C. 2017. Why China Should Take the Lead on Climate Change [online]. Available from https://thediplomat.com/2017/12/why-china-should-take-the-lead-on-climate-change/ [Accessed 14 July 2018]

[13]Lanteigne, M. 2016. Chinese Foreign Policy: An Introduction, 3rd Ed. Routledge.

[14] Lewis, J. 2007. China’s Strategic Priorities in International Climate Change Negotiations [online]. Available from: https://www.c2es.org/document/chinas-strategic-priorities-in-international-climate-change-negotiations/ [Accessed 12 July 2018]

[15] United Nations. 2018. China’s National Climate Change Programme [online]. Available from: http://www.un.org/ga/president/61/follow-up/climatechange/China-KeyElements.pdf [Accessed 12 July 2018]

[16]Lanteigne, M. 2016. Chinese Foreign Policy: An Introduction, 3rd Ed. Routledge.

[17] Sutter, R. 2016. Chinese Foreign Relations: Power and Policy Since the Cold War, 4th Ed. Rowman & Littlefield.

[18] Zhang, C. 2017. Why China Should Take the Lead on Climate Change [online]. Available from https://thediplomat.com/2017/12/why-china-should-take-the-lead-on-climate-change/ [Accessed 14 July 2018]

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Romania’s 100: new waves of patriotism and confessional grandeur

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by Diana Ecaterina Borcea, final year King’s College London War Studies undergraduate and Europe Editor at International Relations Today.

The 27th of March, the 15th of November and last but not least, the 1st of December 1918 marked three of the greatest milestones in the history of the Romanian state.[i] The Great Union was finally accomplished through the more than admirable works and efforts of the leaderships of Basarabia, Northern Bucovina and Transylvania, alongside the great support and militancy that came from the political elite of the Old Kingdom to rightfully bring together the nation’s estranged lands. Names such as I. I. C. Bratianu, Alexandru Vaida Voievod, Take Ionescu, Nicolae Titulescu, Traian Vuia, Ion Pillat, Mihai Șerbu, Voicu Nițescu, Nicolae Titulescu and Octavian Goga have a deep resonance within the work of the unified Romania and they will forever be worth commemorating.

The present centenarian approach, however, revealed a reality Romania almost always confronted itself with: the burden of an ignorant majority under more than questionable leading elements. As it reached its 100th year since the unification, the country saw a major movement towards the ‘values’ of the Romanian peoples, which often come hand in hand with the notions of solidarity, righteousness, traditionalism and orthodoxy. The latter one was given the chance to outshine the rest, as the Romanian Orthodox Church inaugurated the outstanding symbolic Cathedral of the Salvation of the People. Going beyond the religiosity of the moment, the building is meant to represent the ‘greatest accomplishment of the Romanians over the last century’, as it comes with deeply historically rooted meanings: the Great Union of 1918. Therefore, this paper is meant to analyse the majoritarian understanding of the Romanian centenary phenomenon.

While the outspokenly patriotic theory behind the Cathedral project seems to greatly satisfy an average capacity of comprehension, there are several underlying issues with it. One of the most significant is the reason why so many Romanians believed in such theory in the first place. Objectively, this economically and culturally unnecessary task the state and Church have set for themselves – building such an expensive and inadequately huge cathedral – was estimated to cost over 400 million euros[ii], much of which comes from the national budget. In any case, for a country with a GDP that ranks her as one of the poorest in the European Union, such a massive investment in a project easily passes as risky and exaggerated. But putting aside the financial considerations, this spending would have not been possible without the population’s endorsement.

More interestingly, the answer lies within the very nature of the Romanian society. It is important to note that between the Great Union of 1918 and today’s extensive celebrations, the country went through five decades of far-left totalitarianism, during which the historically rooted religiousness of every native, regardless of which province they were originated from, was massively disrupted and repressed.[iii] Hence, the overly exposed need for ritualistic expression of the Romanians. The aftermath of the communist anti-religious practice is one of the greatest causes for the present urgency for religious justification. In fact, many Romanians take pride in numerous fanatical endeavours, and the building of this Cathedral is one of them. It is also important to bear in mind that the largest proportion of undoubted supporters comes from the mature segments of the population, which suffered the totalitarian repression themselves.

From this point of view, understanding the vocal endorsement of an essentially artificial grand religious statement (i.e. the Cathedral) may seem quite simple, given the Romanian automatism of reacting to the past. However, the communist past historically ended over three decades ago and even though its following stigma still shapes much of the majoritarian mentality[iv], the post-communist generations should have a greater say in this matter.

And they do. Unfortunately, the present Romanian social reality indicates that contrary to their predecessors’ expectations, the younger generations tend to manifest an anti-communist reflex beyond the range of their understanding. In other words, the right and far-right wing option seems to be one of the most preferred politico-social orientations of the post-1989 born natives.[v] To add more authenticity, this appealing political vision comprises elements of traditionalism (orthodoxy often being one of them, but not obligatory), conservatism (sometimes stretched to questionable extents) and vivid patriotism. This combination frequently translates into a general political militancy of the youth, as it feels the need to ‘correct’ the society they inherited through the means they most comfortably understand. Thus, their perspective on the country is very often based on a certain common degree of national duty – but not in its full sense. It is actually the nationalistic thought they could best absorb from self-chosen models of the current society. Needless to say, there is a dangerous lack of critical thinking of this growing social segment.  The danger of this mentality is that it could easily fall into simplicity and inflexibility (of both thought and comprehension), and thus start endorsing ideas and principles it never really truly understood.

The central idea to this logic is virtue. Borrowed from the Christian teachings and adapted to their ethnical understanding, the virtues of the Romanian peoples were gradually translated into representative national values – the main ones being justice, morals, the value of the heroic past and the religious symbolism. Interestingly enough, the social translation of these values took place under the aegis of the Church. Even though the present institution does not necessarily resemble the actual virtues it promotes, the average Romanian tends to overlook this aspect in order to fulfil his ritualistic satisfaction of believing in a confessional system that preaches the virtues he is used to. To draw back on the main issue of the almost natural orthodox spirit of the majority, the need to belong to a community under a common national destiny which once unified Romania in 1918, is now gathering the peoples under the broad umbrella of past commemoration and religion-dominated future. This is probably the greatest achievement of the Cathedral itself – the fact that it reunites two aching parts of the Romanian nation: religion and patriotism, but the extent of their artificialness is still a dangerous variable to consider.

The right-wing young conservatories class seems to fit remarkably well in this spectrum invoking their beloved traditions, ethnical identity and religious spirit. This could be a plausible explanation for their notable militancy with regards to both the monument itself and to the centenarian celebrations that took place this year. The latter is less of a concern than the former, as it brings a great deal of advantages, such as historical awareness, volunteerism, social and cultural knowledge etc.

What is more alarming is the general tendency of the majority to overlook the injustices perpetuated within both the Orthodox Church and the Romanian state, when this does not suit their somehow rigid vision. The current issues Romania is facing domestically and internationally do not seem to occupy as a central role as the nationalistic and religious aspects. This also applies to the underlying issues of corruption, non-representative political leadership, the questionable justice system, increasing migration and many more. Perhaps ironically, it is these concrete problems of the Romanian society that have the greatest impact on the quality of life of both the young and the mature. However, the issues of self-representation – which encapsulate all the popular ‘virtuous’ profiles, seem to have become the primary concerns of the younger individuals.

On a grand scheme of thought, it would be only unfair to label this year’s centenarian ceremonies as exaggerated. The yearly communal celebrations are actually a necessary manifestation for the survival of the national memory of the past. The way this past is understood and what it is associated with, however, represents another sort of problem. In fact, the only truly unjustified part would be the orthodox grandness, which does not necessarily come hand in hand with the legitimate patriotic reason to commemorate. It is merely superficially associated with a great historical victory of a true and admirable segment of the 20th century Romania, but essentially it comes under no prospects of real necessity or national value. Luckily enough, the ‘symbolic’ Cathedral fit quite well into the rhetoric of a confused society in which the majority acts out of social reflex and out of an incomplete, yet comfortable understanding of the past.

Nevertheless, some questions still remain unanswered and one of them would be the concern of what the future of Romania looks like, rather than the past. Given the ideologically confused younger generations and the broadly passive older ones, the future of the country might not enjoy the same clarity and remembrance as its past. The Romanian national identity is, therefore, still a matter fluctuating between heroic past and traditionalism, with the orthodox factor included. One thing is certain, though, Romania has now got an immense cathedral to ‘reflect’ itself onto for centuries to come.

Bibliography:

[i] K. Hitchins, Romania 1866-1947, (Humanitas, 2017)

[ii] “Catedrala Zgarie-nori”. Evenimentul Zilei [transl. from Romanian], (20 February 2006)

[iii] D. Dobrincu , A. Goșu, Istoria comunismului din România, vol. II, (Polirom, 2012)

[iv] A. Bărbulescu, ‘ETHNOCENTRIC MINDSCAPES AND MNEMONIC MYOPIA’ in A. Florian ed., Holocaust Public Memory in Postcommunist Romania, (Indiana University Press, 2018)

[v] L. Anton, ‘On Memory Work in Post-communist Europe: A Case Study on Romania’s Ways of

Remembering its Pronatalist Past’, Anthropological Journal of European Cultures, Vol. 18, No. 2, Thematic Focus:

Topics in Europeanist Research, (2009), p. 115

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Crisis in Paradise: How a Political Confrontation in the Indian Ocean has sown the seeds for Asia’s coming Geopolitical Conflict

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By Will Marshall, a 2nd year IR student at King’s College London and our very own in-house, Middle East and North Africa Editor. 

Image Source:  http://asiantribune.com/node/62490

Newly elected Maldivian President Ibu Solih took advantage of the opportunity provided by his inauguration on Saturday 17th November to advocate for closer ties with the Indian Government, in a significant departure from the pro-Chinese policy pursued by previous administrations and raising the potential for a diplomatic showdown between the two Asian superpowers over the tiny island nation. Solih took the opportunity offered by his inauguration speech to announce the pursuit of an ‘India First’ approach to foreign affairs, making a personal appeal to Indian PM Narendra Modi for increased bilateral cooperation over mutual security, commercial and developmental interests across the Indian Ocean region.[1]

Whilst traditionally a close allies, bilateral relations between the Indian and Maldivian Governments have been strained in recent years as the island nation has undergone a series of domestic political crises. In 2013, Former President Abdulla Yameen came to power amidst widespread allegations of electoral fraud and corruption. Since then, Abdulla came come under fire resulting from claims of democracy erosion, political repression and jailing of opposition leaders. Indeed, even ex-President Mohamed Nasheed, renowned internationally for his work in promoting climate diplomacy was imprisoned in 2015 as a result of terrorism charges his supporters declaimed as spurious.[2] Perhaps the former President’s most significant move however, came from his abandonment of traditionally close Indo-Maldivian relations in pursuit of an aggressive pro-China policy.

The island nation, despite its size occupies a key geostrategic position straddling major shipping routes between the Far East and Persian Gulf thus making the archipelago an attractive target for Beijing and Xi Jinping, seeking to consolidate the country’s economic arteries via the ambitious ‘Belt and Road Initiative’. As a key partner in the so-called ‘maritime’ belt and road, the Abdulla administration coveted the extensive investments, numbering in the hundreds of millions of dollars, offered by Beijing in order to pursue an ardent programme of infrastructural development. Nevertheless this policy came at a cost, saddling the tiny nation with an enormous $3bn worth of debt to Chinese creditors leading to claims the Maldives were at the receiving end of a neo-colonial ‘land grab’ by Beijing, similar to those pursued by the Chinese Government across Africa.[3] This exercise of Chinese economic and soft power is only one of a number of examples of similar incidences across the region in recent years. Last year, Beijing obtained a 99-year lease on the Hambantota deep-water port in Sri Lanka after the country was unable to repay loans amounting to $1.4bn having already elicited similar deals to construct port facilities capable of holding military grade vessels in Ryaukpyu, Myanmar and Gwadar, Pakistan.[4] This is further evidence of a trend worrying to both Western and Indian policymakers; where the tendrils of Chinese economic and soft power spread, the expansion of military interests is likely to follow. Having successfully militarised territorial disputes with its southern neighbours in the South China Sea, Beijing is now seeking to expand its influence across the Indian Ocean, connecting China’s arc of influence to its commercial interests in Africa and the Persian Gulf. Such a move is undoubted to elicit a reaction from China’s rival to the south as New Delhi seeks to respond to what it views as an unacceptable encroachment on India’s traditional sphere of influence.

Whilst the shock success of Solih’s Maldivian Democratic Party, gaining a solid majority with 58% of the vote during September’s elections has allowed New Delhi to regain and reconsolidate its traditional position of influence over the Maldives, Beijing is unlikely to give up such a geostrategically significant asset without a struggle. Although India may have the upper hand for now it is probable Beijing will seek to offset these losses by pursuing closer bilateral relationships with other partners in the region, for example the Seychelles with whom Beijing has already expressed a strong interest in developing economic ties, cultural and educational exchanges or a deepening in China’s presence in Sri Lanka.[5] Whatever the strategic calculations of both capitals, it is evident is that Sino-Indian relations have hit a new, and dangerous sticking point as Beijing seeks to expand its influence into the Indian Ocean. Only time will tell whether Asia’s two emerging giants can find grounds for cooperation and compromise.

Bibliography:

[1] https://www.thecitizen.in/index.php/en/NewsDetail/index/5/15567/Solihs-India-First-Places-China-on-the-Maldivian-Sidelines

[2] https://edition.cnn.com/2018/02/06/asia/maldives-political-unrest-explainer-intl/index.html

[3] https://www.scmp.com/news/asia/south-asia/article/2172236/new-maldives-government-begin-untangling-secret-building-deals

[4] https://www.csis.org/analysis/chinas-maritime-silk-road

[5]http://www.seychellesnewsagency.com/articles/9943/Economic+ties%2C+cultural+and+educational+exchanges+on+tap+for+Seychelles+and+China

 

 

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The State of American Soft Power Under Trump’s Leadership

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By Emma Steenbjerg Raun, a 2nd year International Relations student at King’s College London, currently studying abroad at the University of California Irvine, with a special interest in American politics and foreign Policy.

When President Trump delivered his inaugural address in January 2017, we saw the first step toward an America increasingly isolated from the international community as Trump touted the forceful message of “America First” while relaying a nationalist vision for the future of the country. Trump wasted no time fulfilling his promise to the American people when he, a mere three days into his presidency, signed an executive order withdrawing the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade deal negotiated between the U.S. and 11 other countries bordering the Pacific under the Obama administration but never ratified by the Republican controlled Congress[1]. Since then, Trump’s curtailing of international trade has continued with protectionist measures, starting with tariffs on aluminum and steel imports earlier this year, and the axing of existing trade deals. Moreover, his agenda has been largely dominated by nationalist policies and unilateralism, contributing to the alienation of America from key allies. Trump has continuously made good on his almost two-year-old promise of putting America first, leaving the international community without its principal leader. This has brought the discussion of the distribution and use of power to the forefront of American politics – is Trump in the midst of making the U.S. and its values far less attractive and thereby effectively undermining American soft power? Research shows that this is indeed the case thus raising the question of how much harm Trump has caused to U.S. soft power – has he obliterated it beyond repair or can America return to the values that has made the country attractive globally over the past decades?

What is Soft Power?

The reference to a country’s soft power was first made by Joseph Nye in 1990, in the wake of the Cold War, as a challenge to the conventional view that American power was declining. While hard power, particularly military power, had dominated large parts of the 20th century, especially in the latter half during World War II and the Cold War standoff between the United States and the Soviet Union, ideas of power changed as the century came to an end. While some scholars at this time believed that America was poised to be passed by other powers in both military and economic strength, Nye argued that something was missing from the accounts of a decline in American power – “the ability to affect others by attraction and persuasion rather than just coercion and payment.”[2] He called this soft power, and he posited that the United States, as a democratic, liberal powerhouse, would be able to use its cultural and ideological appeal, elements of soft power, to cement its leadership position on the world stage at the end of the Cold War. In the following decades, it became clear that Nye’s predictions had been accurate; the number of liberal democracies around the world grew under the influence of America and the country spearheaded several international institutions, such as the IMF and the WTO, meant to facilitate this “new liberal world order”. This came about both as a result of the positive perception of American democratic ideals, but also because of humanitarian assistance and economic initiatives such as the Marshall Plan which allocated aid to help Western European countries rebuild after the destruction incurred during World War II. This created vital international goodwill that came to benefit America in the pursuing decades and as Nye had argued in 1990, we saw a consequential shift away from sole focus on hard power toward a combination that included an emphasis on soft power with America as the leading force.

Changes in Global Perception of U.S. Leadership

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Image source: https://news.gallup.com/poll/225761/world-approval-leadership-drops-new-low.aspx

Despite the early stages of Trump’s presidency, we already see a clear picture of a global community increasingly dissatisfied with American policies under the new leadership. The Gallup poll above shows global approval as well as disapproval of U.S. leadership over the past 10 years. In the Obama years (2009-2016), approval ratings were steadily above 40 percent with some 21-28 percent disapproving of his leadership. However, a year into Trump’s presidency, we see a flip in the two numbers with only 30 percent approving of the leadership under the new president while 43 percent disapprove[1]. Even President Bush, whose foreign policy decisions, especially the 2003 invasion of Iraq, became unpopular in many countries, had higher approval ratings as well as lower disapproval ratings in his last year in office (2008) than Trump did in his first year (2017). What’s even more glaring is the fact that, according to Gallup, a disapproval of 43 percent is a record for any major world power in the last decade and that means the U.S. now has a higher disapproval rating than Germany (25 percent), China (30 percent) and Russia (36 percent)[2]. Moreover, during Trump’s first year in office, countries where the majority disapprove of U.S. leadership increased from 15 in 2016 to a record 53 in 2017, and among the 15 countries with the highest disapproval ratings the vast majority were Western nations and close allies proving that Trump has especially alienated long-time American allies.[3]

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Image source: http://www.pewglobal.org/2017/06/26/u-s-image-suffers-as-publics-around-world-question-trumps-leadership/

A 2017 survey from Pew Research paints a similar picture of low global confidence in Trump, particularly among key allies in Europe and Asia, and attributes it to both Trump’s character (respondents overwhelmingly chose the characteristics arrogant, intolerant and dangerous when asked to describe him) and his policy decisions. As can be seen in the above image, some of Trump’s most unpopular policies include the withdrawal of U.S. support for international climate agreements (the Paris Climate Accord) and major trade agreements as well as the promise to build a wall on the border between the U.S. and Mexico. The Pew survey also concludes that while respondents generally hold a favorable view of Americans as a people and American culture (for example music, television and film), they simultaneously view the spread of American values and customs internationally as a negative thing.[1]

The above research strongly suggest that Trump is in the midst of undermining U.S. soft power through both his behavior and rhetoric as well as his policy decisions. The record-setting, global disapproval of his leadership would make it increasingly difficult for him to influence foreign affairs through non-military and non-economic means. Likewise, the survey on the global view of American soft power indicates that while the positive image of American culture is still intact, American values and customs are becoming increasingly unpopular as Trump enforces policies, both foreign and domestic, and employs rhetoric that fail to live up to what global citizens view as the standard of American values. Taken together, these factors are crucial in diminishing the ability of the U.S. to influence the international agenda. With the current administration’s rhetoric and policy decisions devaluing the liberal world order that America has espoused for decades, the country and its values have become less attractive and Trump has taken the country closer to the point of no return.

Can American Soft Power Resurge?

Under Trump’s leadership, we have seen a new disregard for foreign allies and the international community in general. As Joseph Nye put it in an article earlier this year, “[f]or promoters of “America First,” what the rest of the world thinks ranks second.”[2] Historically, we have seen how unpopular U.S. policies can negatively affect the attractiveness of America; that was for example the case with the Vietnam War in the 1970s and the invasion of Iraq in 2003, both of which caused outrage and fueled negative views of America and American values. Less than two years into his presidency, Trump has already implemented a number of policies that caused both his popularity, and by extension the popularity of the country as a whole, to plummet. This is especially due to Trump’s insistence on withdrawing the U.S. from many of the most important international agreements such as the TPP, the Paris Climate Accord and the Iran nuclear deal (as well as the subsequent imposition of economic sanctions that this deal had previously lifted). Moreover, Trump remains critical about international institutions such as the WTO, the G7 and NATO and has continuously threatened to pull the U.S., and their funding, from these organizations.

That Trump favors military might over diplomacy also becomes clear when looking at his administration’s budget proposals. Both the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) are facing budget cuts in the 2019 while funding for defense is expected to increase substantially.[3] Trump is essentially defending his vision of “America First”, as promulgated in his inaugural address, upholding the idea that America should concern itself only with its own self-interest thereby deriding the country of its decades-long role as chief promoter of democracy and human rights. While diplomacy and soft power don’t work as forces of their own, they become crucial tools when combined with hard power strengths for facilitating cooperation with allies and enhancing the overall impact of U.S. policies. But as his dubious relationship with democracy shows, Trump remains unconcerned with soft power instead opting to assert hard power through economic sanctions and military might. Pundits argue that Trump lacks perspective on the usefulness of soft power even contending that his move away from international order is emboldening rival powers such as Russia and China who prosper in a global environment with fewer international constraints and rules.[4]

In sum, President Trump has been on a rampage to detach America from the international community, favoring unilateralism over multilateralism, since he took office in January 2017. Global approval numbers of U.S. leadership plummeted in the same period and American values came to be viewed in a more negative light as Trump continuously enforced policies that were unpopular among other global powers. If Trump doesn’t change course, he is risking further alienating American allies and emboldening competitors as U.S. soft power deteriorates, making America less attractive as a global leader and as an ally. And changing course seems unlikely for a Trump administration that has been dedicated to “America First” since the beginning. The preliminary conclusion therefore seems to be that Trump will continue his unilateral approach to foreign policy thereby continuing to diminish soft power and the ability to persuade and influence other countries. Therefore, we can’t except to see a resurgence of global approval of the U.S. as long as the country is under Trump’s leadership. However, American soft power has traditionally proved to be resilient and has survived unpopular presidents in the past, in part due to the fact that the popularity of American culture persists despite an unfavorable political climate. But considering the kind of havoc Trump has already wrecked on the attractiveness of America and American values less than two years into his presidency, it will likely be a long time before we see the country regain its soft power influence.

 

Bibliography:

[1] http://www.pewglobal.org/2017/06/26/u-s-image-suffers-as-publics-around-world-question-trumps-leadership/

[2] https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/trump-american-soft-power-decline-by-joseph-s–nye-2018-02

[3] https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/02/12/state-department-usaid-face-drastic-budget-cut-congress-military-generals-admirals-warn-against-slashing-diplomacy-budget/

[4] https://www.cnn.com/2018/09/25/politics/unga-trump-stands-alone/index.html

[1] https://news.gallup.com/poll/225761/world-approval-leadership-drops-new-low.aspx

[2] https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2018/01/19/579153589/worlds-regard-for-u-s-leadership-hits-new-record-low-in-gallup-poll

[3] https://news.gallup.com/poll/225788/countries-disapproving-leadership-triples-2017.aspx

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2017/jan/23/donald-trump-first-orders-trans-pacific-partnership-tpp

[2] https://www.nature.com/articles/palcomms20178

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Made Democracy strong again

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By Julia Huentemann, 3rd year Student in International Relations and Editor-in-Chief of International Relations Today. 

Following the presidential elections on November 8th, 2016, the United States held its Midterm Elections on Tuesday November 5th, while the world was eagerly watching how America voted halfway through Trump’s term in office.

What mandates stood for election?

Both chambers of Congress, the Senate (consisting of 100 Senators, two from each state) and the House of Representatives (composed of 435 members representing the states according to the size of population) had to be re-assembled. In both chambers the Republicans have been holding the majority; in the Senate (Upper House) with 51 to 49 Senators and in the House of Representatives (Lower House) with 235 to 193 seats.

While the members of the Lower House only serve a two-year term (but in practice are often re-elected), the Senators are elected for six years. In order to guarantee continuity, not all Senators are elected at the same time. Hence, every two years one third, i.e. 35, of the 100 Senators and all members of the Lower House stand for election.

In this Midterm-Election, among the Senators 26 Democrats and 9 Republicans and among the Representatives 193 Democrats and 235 Republicans had to defend their mandates. Even though no final results are at hand when writing this article, it is a fact that the Democrats have taken control of the House of Representatives (at least 223 of the 435 seats) and that the Republicans were able to firm up their position in the Senate with at least 51 of the 100 Senators.

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 What do these results bring about for President Trump and his Administration?

The primary function of Congress is the enactment of laws. To make a new law, a bill is introduced by a member into one of the chambers. Each house of Congress has the power to introduce legislation on any subject except laws for raising money, which must originate in the House of Representatives. Hence, a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives can (and most likely will) refuse to authorize money for projects they do not support (such as the wall at the Mexican border). Moreover, a Democratic majority can submit requests making sure that the Trump Administration has to engage in matters other than prioritized. And finally, as a united front, the Democrats could force Trump to transparency (e.g. in terms of his private tax declaration) and to account, e.g. concerning the Russian involvement in the election campaign 2016.

In order to bypass a blockade policy by the Democrats, Trump could bring through his policy via presidential decrees, just like Obama did in his last years in office, struggling with a Republican majority in both chambers of Congress. But in this case, his successor in office (in case he should not be re-elected) could rescind such decisions. To ensure sustainable change, Trump is reliant on Democratic cooperation and needs to find compromises, a skill he has not proven so far.

Another threat for Trump resulting from a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives is the initiation of an impeachment process. But this is rather a theoretical threat, because in practice, Trump’s removal from office will not happen, since this requires a two-thirds majority in the Senate-vote, and a Republican-led Senate will not vote for Trump’s impeachment. Hence, this would be a waste of time and resources.

His power to appoint Supreme Court judges and ambassadors and to choose the heads of all executive departments and agencies is not affected by the new balance of power in the Lower House.

 To what extent can these results affect Europe and the rest of the world?

The president´s chief duty is to protect the Constitution and to enforce the laws made by Congress. But for formulating and executing the foreign policy of the United States, the president has overall responsibility and participates in summits conferences where chiefs of state meet for direct consultation. In this field of policy Trump does not depend on the Democrats and a policy of blockade in internal affairs might encourage him to concentrate on foreign policy instead with unpredictable consequences for the rest of the world. The more he gets under pressure on the national stage, the more he might let off steam on the international stage. A scenario, the world does not need.

Who is the winner of this election?

It was a small victory for the Republicans to have defended their narrow majority in the Senate. It was a remarkable victory for the Democrats to have gained control in the House of Representatives.

And it was a great victory for democracy! No midterm election in the recent decades has enjoyed so much attention – neither nationally nor internationally. Polling participation has increased from 37 per cent to 48 per cent respectively from 83 million to 113 million voters. Many young Americans have found their way to the polling station and especially the female electorate has been mobilized. Whatever his legacy will once be associated with, Trump obviously managed to boost appreciation for democracy itself, whether on purpose or not.

i voted

It was neither a triumph for Trump nor actually for the Democrats, even though both parties claim election victory. Only future will tell who the real winner is, but for sure this election made Democracy strong again.

 

 

 

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100th Anniversary of the First Czechoslovak Republic

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Lucie Škopková is a 2nd year Student at King’s College London studying European Politics with a special interest in Central and Eastern European Politics.

The day of October 28th, 2018 marks the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the First Czechoslovak Republic. The Republic emerged amidst the economic hardships and sociopolitical turmoil following World War I. under the presidency of Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk and its significance powerfully resonates throughout the society to this day. Many people in the Czech Republic today continue to regard the First Republic as a democratic breakthrough for the nation, especially when addressing its Declaration of Independence that was drafted on October 18th, 1918. This included important references to general suffrage, minority rights, greater gender equality, as well as the Republic’s acceptance of economic and political responsibility on the international scene with regard to the post-war environment.1

 Perhaps the two elements most profoundly associated with the First Czechoslovak Republic are the complex question of nationality and Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk. The First Republic consisted of several ethnic groups that included Czechoslovaks, Hungarians, Germans and others, which put pressure on the Republic’s national identity. This pressure was revealed by the 1921 population census in which Czechs and Slovaks were merged under one national group of ‘Czechoslovaks’ in order to create a national majority group, contributing to the rise of a termed nation-state. Furthermore, the newly merged Czechoslovak national group concealed the fact that Czech and Slovak speakers alone were often outnumbered by German speakers, for example, which would have otherwise undermined the strength of the First Republic’s national character.2 The key figure of the First Czechoslovak Republic was the afore mentioned Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk, who adamantly lobbied and pressed for Czechoslovak independence on the international scene following World War I. He was the Republic’s first president and was glorified by the people as the nation’s guardian and to this day, Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk is referred to as ‘Tatínek’ or the founding father of the nation and remains a celebrated, symbolic figure representing national pride and sentiment of the Czechs.

 The First Czechoslovak Republic provided the fundamental basis upon which the Czechoslovak nation continued to develop until its formal separation into the Czech Republic and Slovakia on January 1st, 1993. However, the official separation of Czechoslovakia did not mean the influence and sentiment of the First Republic diminished amongst the Czechs and the Slovaks. It rather became one of the most symbolic and inherent parts of the nations’ history to which many contemporary historians continuously return in their academic studies.

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Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk

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Greater coat of arms of the First Czechoslovak Republic (“The Truth Wins”)

 

(1) Pergler, Charles. “An Experiment in Progressive Government: The Czechoslovak Republic.” The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, vol. 84, no. 1, 1 Jan. 1919, https://doi.org/10.1177/000271621908400107.

 (2) Heimann, Mary. “A Troubled Democracy.” Czechoslovakia: The State That Failed, Yale University Press, 2009, pp. 48–87.

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China’s Greater Bay Area: How infrastructure will influence the future of the world’s most densely populated area and beyond

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Louis Hobbs Martin is a 2nd year International Relations student at King’s College London with a particular interest in China and South East Asia Region.

Autumn 2018 is seeing the inauguration of two key infrastructure projects in the Pearl River Delta (PRD) in the Chinese province of Guangdong, southern China. The new Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link (XRL) was inaugurated on September 22nd, linking Hong Kong to China’s vast network of high-speed rail, whilst the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge (HZMB), the world’s longest sea bridge, is currently set to open later this month, following long delays. [1]

These are key projects initiated by the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party in order to create a giant megacity in the Pearl River Delta, similar to the Jing-Jin-Ji megacity project linking Beijing, Tianjin and the Hebei province and merging them into one. [2] In order to understand the scale of this project, it is essential to understand that the Pearl River Delta is the most densely populated area in the world, having a population of approximately 70 million inhabitants in an area roughly the size of Croatia. Although outside of China, little is known of the PRD in comparison with Hong Kong, it is worth noting that the scale of the cities on the mainland side of the PRD, such as Guangzhou (old Canton) and Shenzhen (a new city created less than 40 years ago) dwarfs that of Hong Kong with its 7 million inhabitants. Were the Pearl River Delta to be its own nation, it would have the world’s 12th highest nominal GDP, standing between South Korea and Russia. [1] Nonetheless, this area is also one of great complexity with the presence of the two Chinese Special Administrative Regions (SARs): Macau and Hong Kong. The two SARs have their own monetary, legal and administrative systems, at least until 2049 for Macau and 2047 for Hong Kong.

However, with the completion of projects such as the HZM Bridge and the XRL, China hopes to further integrate its SARs into the Pearl River Delta to make it the “Greater Bay Area”, capable of becoming China’s Silicon Valley and rivalling San Francisco’s Bay Area. [3]

Given the cost of these projects (a $20bn 55-kilometer sea bridge and an $11bn trans-border highspeed railway) it is indeed to be hoped that there are sound economic reasons.

With the HZM Bridge, journey time between Hong Kong and Macau/ Zhuhai will be reduced to thirty minutes from three hours previously. [4] Officials also hope that the HZM Bridge will help to further to develop the West coast of the PRD (Macau/ Zhuhai) which is very much under-developed in comparison with the East coast (Hong Kong, Shenzhen). [5]

As for the XRL, officials hope to make it easier to get from Hong Kong, the major financial hub in Southern China to Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong province, via Shenzhen, the home of tech giants such as Tencent (WeChat) or Huawai but also China’s first Special Economic Zone. Indeed, many believe it to be in Hong Kong’s interest to open up to the Greater Bay Area.

Historically, Hong Kong has been considered as the “gateway to China”. However, this role has been more contested over the last few years as Shanghai has emerged as the economic capital of China. But even in the PRD, Hong Kong’s importance has diminished. [3] Whilst its stock exchange is still more important than that of Shenzhen in terms of market capitalisation and its airport still busier that Guangzhou’s in terms of annual passenger traffic and cargo traffic, its port, which historically made Hong Kong what it is today, has been surpassed by Shenzhen and is seriously in danger of being overtaken by Guangzhou. Greater cooperation and higher integration of Hong Kong in the PRD could very well be one of its best chances of limiting competition coming from Guangzhou and Shenzhen as well remaining a great financial hub in the region. [3] All in all, China’s goal of building expensive and impressive infrastructure to bring together the gambling capital of the world, a top three world financial centre and the Chinese tech capital, all of which are in the most densely populated area in the world, which also happens to have three of the top ten busiest container ports in the world and numerous world-class airports, seems very bold. Not only is it bold, but also ambitious and, were it to succeed, could transform the Pearl River Delta into the “Greater Bay Area”, increasing its role as one of China’s economic powerhouses, rivalling Beijing, Shanghai and beyond.

 

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However not everything is absolutely perfect for the “Greater Bay Area” as it faced numerous obstacles whilst building its new grand infrastructure. Obviously, if you’re going to build the longest sea bridge in the world through one of the world’s busiest maritime routes and which links three different territories, you’re going to meet a few obstacles along the way. Needless to say that this is what actually happened to China, Hong Kong and Macau during the construction of the HZM Bridge. The long-in-the-making project was originally supposed to be completed in 2016 but is finally supposed to open later on this month after numerous engineering issues that caused important delays and an increase in budget of approximately $1.5bn. [5] Human rights activists have criticized the project for its poor safety conditions with a high number of casualties and injuries having been reported on the Hong Kong side of the project, with working conditions suspected of being worse on the Chinese side but numbers of injuries and casualties are still unknown. [6] The Bridge has also raised environmental concerns as numerous environmentalists have criticized the bridge as causing irreversible damage to the habitat of numerous species living in the Pearl River Delta such as the Chinese White dolphin and which could soon be considered as endangered as a result. [5]

Finally, an increasing number of people have deemed China’s grand infrastructure projects as unnecessary given cost and considering viable alternatives already existed. It is very easy to get from Hong Kong to Macau by ferry across the delta or to get an MTR train (Hong Kong’s subway system) to the border with Shenzhen. This resulted in people considering these projects as “White Elephants” and simply as a symbol of a growing Chinese political ambition over its SARs. [7]

 But, whilst the economic motives behind these projects are constantly being put forward, is China doing this to feed its political ambitions?

 The hypothesis of China using grand infrastructure to further integrate Macau and especially Hong Kong into the local economy as part of Beijing’s growing political ambition is very plausible. It is undeniable that China has economic interests in building these projects but these also take place in a context of high political tension between China and the people of its SARs. Indeed, the completion of both the HZM Bridge and the XRL is happening just four years after the pro-democracy Umbrella Revolution paralyzed the heart of Hong Kong in an attempt to pressure the Beijing government into respecting its promise of giving Hong Kong free and democratic elections for the 2017 election. The movement that lasted eighty days did not change Beijing’s mind and resulted in Carry Lam, a pro-Beijing candidate, being elected as chief executive of the HKSAR. [7]

Since then, China has intervened a numerous number of times in Hong Kong, such as the disappearance of five Hong Kong booksellers in 2016 after the publishing of books criticizing the Communist regime. [8] And more recently the banning of a pro-independence fringe political party and refusal to allow entry to a British Financial Times journalist who moderated a debate which included the head of that party are seen in some circles as either directly influenced by Beijing or done to impress the Beijing government. [9]

Many people fear that China is fairly rapidly weakening the “One country, two systems” principle which emanated from the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984 that stated that Hong Kong would be able to keep a high degree of autonomy and hence, most of its human rights after the 1997 handover and at least until 2047. [6]

Macau, on the other hand, did not have a pro-democracy movement like Hong Kong did, but still suffered a crackdown on money laundering by the Chinese government during the 2018 summer which reduced profits made by local casinos, Macau’s primary source of revenue. The HZM Bridge and XRL are seen by some in Hong Kong as a means by Beijing to tighten its grip on the SARs before 2050. [10]

Whilst the bridge is an impressive marvel of engineering, many people consider it as just a part of Beijing’s process of “Mainlandization” for slowly integrating Hong Kong and Macau into the Chinese territory and transforming them into just two of the eleven cities of the PRD, instead of the current situation which would be nine Chinese cities and two SARs. [8] As Claudia Mo, a pro-democracy Hongkong legislator, said to CNN, the bridge “links Hong Kong to China almost like an umbilical cord. You see it, and you know you’re linked up to the motherland.”[4] So much ink has been used to write about the bridge that the XRL has received much less attention worldwide but it might just be as much of a tool to slowly incorporate Hong Kong into China. The presence of security personnel from mainland China and, more importantly, the application of mainland law at the Hong Kong XRL station (which is treated as sovereign PRC territory) is the first time that anything of this sort has happened in the former British colony. [8] Mainland law being applied in the very heart of the city could be considered a symbol of the current trend of “Mainlandization” of the SARs as it violates Hong Kong’s legislation and was only made possible after an intervention by the Beijing government.

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  Christopher Balding, a former British university professor in China, resumed the situation in an interview for The Financial Times: “The battle Beijing is fighting is that if they want more access to Hong Kong’s markets and capital, they have to open up but the movement over the past few years has been in the opposite direction,” [1] Whilst Hong Kong and Macau’s slow integration into the Chinese territory seem inevitable due to the 2047-2049 deadlines and China’s growing political ambition, the way that Beijing is accelerating this process, partly by spending vast amounts of money to build mega-infrastructure, remains fascinating. Not only do the HZM Bridge and XRL show China’s wealth and might, it could also symbolize the making of one of the world’s greatest economic areas rivalling San Francisco, New York and Tokyo.

The fate of Hong Kong as a bastion of freedom of speech and (relative) democracy in Communist China remains uncertain, however, greater integration with the other cities of the Pearl River Delta could also possibly be its best chance of economic “survival”.

If the construction of mega-infrastructures does end up playing a major role in “Mainlandizing” Hong Kong and Macau, this could be a milestone for China’s future expansions such as the South China Sea, where artificial islands have already been constructed to incorporate them in the Chinese territory, but also Taiwan, which has been watching developments with the SARs closely. Hence, this is how the longest sea bridge in the world and a high-speed railway could shape the future of the most dynamic region on earth.

 

Bibliography:

[1] Bland, B, “Greater Bay Area: Xi Jinping’s other grand plan”, Financial Times, 2018

https://www.ft.com/content/fe5976d8-ab81-11e8-94bd-cba20d67390c

[2] Qu, H, “The rise of China’s supercities”, HSBC News & Insight, 2018 https://www.hsbc.com/news-and-insight/insight-archive/2018/the-rise-of-chinas-supercities

[3] Follain, J, “China’s Silicon Valley Threatens to Swallow Up Hong Kong”, Bloomberg New Economy Forum, 2018

 https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2018-08-28/bridge-to-china-s-silicon-valley-may-swallow-up-hong-kong-

[4] Lazarus, S, “The $20 billion ‘umbilical cord’: China unveils the world’s longest sea-crossing bridge”, CNN, 2018

https://edition.cnn.com/2018/05/04/asia/hong-kong-zhuhai-macau-bridge/index.html

[5] Blackledge, B, “The HK-Zhuhai-Macau bridge: An economic excuse for a political gamble?”, Hong Kong Free Press, 2016

https://www.hongkongfp.com/2016/12/06/the-hk-zhuhai-macau-bridge-an-economic-excuse-for-a-political-gamble/

[6] Yip, H, “ Beijing Is Foisting a White Elephant on Hong Kong”, Foreign Policy, 2018 https://foreignpolicy.com/2018/09/14/beijing-is-foisting-a-white-elephant-on-hong-kong/

[7] Hale, E, “An Impressive, Unnecessary, Multi-City Bridge”, Citylab, 2018 https://www.citylab.com/transportation/2018/08/an-impressive-unnecessary-multi-city-bridge/567284/

[8] Kong, T, “Mainlandization: An overview of Communist Party attempts to control and assimilate Hong Kong”, Medium, 2017 https://medium.com/@KongTsungGan/mainlandization-an-overview-of-communist-party-attempts-to-control-and-assimilate-hong-kong-93df16cbfe1e

[9] Bland, B, “Financial Times journalist’s visa renewal denied by Hong Kong”, Financial Times, 2018

https://www.ft.com/content/5240ecda-c870-11e8-ba8f-ee390057b8c9

[10] Fraser, N, “Macau money chiefs order UnionPay clampdown over illicit mainland China cash fears”, South China Morning Post, 2018

https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/hong-kong-law-and-crime/article/2149746/macau-money-chiefs-order-unionpay-clampdown

 

Image sources:

1)      Bland, B, “Greater Bay Area: Xi Jinping’s other grand plan”, Financial Times, 2018

https://www.ft.com/content/fe5976d8-ab81-11e8-94bd-cba20d67390c

2)      Fung Business Intelligence, “Fast facts of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Bay Area”, Business Policy and City Clusters in China, 2017

https://www.fbicgroup.com/sites/default/files/IG_12_GDP.pdf

3)      Kaiman, J, “Hong Kong’s umbrella revolution – the Guardian briefing”, The Guardian, 2014

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/sep/30/-sp-hong-kong-umbrella-revolution-pro-democracy-protests

 

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The end of ‘Rajoyismo’: the downfall of non-ideological technocracy in Spain

Screen Shot 2018-09-13 at 12.24.46Excma. Sra. Da. Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría takes her oath as Deputy Prime Minister, Minister for the Presidency and Territorial Administrations before H.M. King Felipe VI, November 4th 2016.

Alfonso Goizueta Alfaro is a 2nd year student of History and International Relations at King’s College London and also the author of Limitando el poder, 1871-1939 and of Los últimos gobernantes de Castilla, with an interest in diplomacy and government.

June 1st 2018: Mariano Rajoy, Spain’s prime minister since 2011, is ousted from power by a no-confidence motion put forward by the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party (PSOE); a few days later he announces his withdrawal from the leadership of the conservative Popular Party and from politics. July 21st 2018: the PP has a new leader, Pablo Casado, 37. This young and exciting party leader with no experience in government wins against Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, 47, Rajoy’s deputy prime minister and natural heiress. September 10th 2018: Mrs Sáenz de Santamaría withdraws from politics and abandons the Popular Party.

Since November 2011, when Mr Rajoy won the general election with an absolute majority, Spanish political analysts and media have coined the term ‘Rajoyismo’ referring to the set of policies and attitudes of Mr Rajoy and his government. It is an ambiguous term many in Spain have been using in the last eight years with different significations. For example, the online newspaper Libertad Digital, wrote in early July 2018 that the Popular Party had to choose between ‘Liberal renovation or more Rajoyismo’, thus defining Rajoyismo as a form of political immobilism which supports government interventionism. The Spanish extreme left, represented by pseudo-Communist parties such as Unidos Podemos or Izquierda Unida, identify Rajoyismo’with economic austerity, corruption scandals and support for large corporations and fortunes.

It is difficult to define what ‘Rajoyismo’ has really been. Mariano Rajoy hasn’t been a traditional conservative leader in Spain. He hasn’t appealed to nationalistic feelings of ‘the grand Spain” or to the traditional values of conservatism and thus has been considered weak by many when confronting nationalistic problems such as the Catalan secessionist crisis of 2017. He has simply been an administrator of the state, a technocrat. As such he managed to put Spain through the most terrifying economic panorama of its recent history without having to resort to a financial rescue from the European Union. He had, nevertheless, to increase taxation and cut government spending, a sacrilege for centre-right governments. Rajoyismo, therefore, could be described as a form of government based on the rule of necessity, not on the rule of ideology. Rajoyismo is a form of technocracy which leaves traditional political ideology in the background.

Rajoyismo was practiced by what became the core of all of Rajoy’s governments from 2011 to 2018: the Deputy Prime minister, Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría, the Minister of Employment, Fátima Báñez, and the Minister for the Treasury, Cristóbal Montoro. Although these statesmen are part of the centre-right PP, they have been carrying out a liberal technocratic agenda which in several occasions confronted the more Christian Democrat wing of the council of ministers and the Party. Their detractors have accused core members of Rajoyismo of being ‘social democrats’ because of their economic policies and their ambiguous posture towards the demands of the different Autonomous communities the Spanish territory is divided into. Those who argue that the core of Rajoyismo sympathised with social democratic methods fail to understand that Rajoyismo, as Mr Rajoy, Mrs Sáenz de Santamaría and Mr Montoro practised it, is a form of government which is based on doing what needs to be done, not what one would desire to do. A critical member of the Popular Party of Catalonia argued that in the last years the PP had fallen into the hands of technocrats with no ideology at all. Yet, at the end of the day, technocracy is the ideology of what is right, of what is correct. Fiscal pressure was imperative for a country which was on the verge of being financially rescued by the European Union. The European Economic Adjustment program, which Spain was advocated to, was averted; it was replaced, nevertheless, with harsh austerity measures which were, nonetheless, necessary, for by 2014, after five years of economic depression, Spain’s GDP rose again.

As Rajoy left power in June 2017, the PP began the search for a new leader. Sáenz de Santamaría was the natural successor and many thought she would indeed succeeded her political father after the Party’s XIX Congress. Yet Santamaría’s non-ideological technocracy had earned her several opponents within the Party, opponents which, despite being loyal to Rajoy, did not hesitate to support a “non-natural heir”. She lost to Pablo Casado, a young member of the Party’s Executive Committee who won the hearts and minds of the members of the XIX Congress by appealing to the ideology which had been forsaken during the period of Rajoyismo . Mr Casado has gone back to a period in which the PP could be identified with the values of life, family, morals, territorial unity and expansionary fiscal policy. It isn’t that Rajoyismo relinquished these values, on the contrary. Rajoyismo was always based on the values of the PP but yet wasn’t over dependent on them and it didn’t consent party dogmas to influence the governing of Spain. Ideology makes politics; technocracy makes government.

Over this summer, Spain has been speculating about Santamaría’s future after her defeat in the XIX Congress: would she integrate Mr Casado’s team in a reformed party? Or would she leave? She finally put an end to the incognita: yesterday, she left her seat in the Congress of Deputies and the Party. Indeed it was difficult to imagine Santamaría continuing her political career as a mere MP after having been Spain’s most powerful stateswoman in recent history. Her withdrawal from politics signals the end of Rajoyismo. The PP will no relive a period of its history in which it aimed to represent the solidity of conservative thought. Let’s see if it manages to do so. In the last elections, the PP has been losing votes from its “left wing”, to the centrist Liberal party Ciudadanos (C’s). It would therefore need a more liberal, moderate approximation to the Centre rather than to the Right, where the right-wing party VOX barely constitutes a threat to its electorate.

Rajoyismo will never come back for it was very dependent on Mr Rajoy’s persona. Sáenz de Santamaría was the only realist heir of Rajoy. This form of right-wing governing has been unprecedented in Spanish history. In the History of the Spanish Right-wing Rajoyismo has certainly been extremely important for it has been an attempt to serenely reconfigure the Right in times of global political exaltation. The renouncement of Sáenz de Santamaría is sad news for Spanish politics, for the Spanish Right and for all of us who sympathised with the principles of Rajoyismo. She was an extremely prepared and hard-working politician who represented the continuation of a political movement which separated itself from the embryo of the party ideology in order to achieve its goal: the technocratic, and hence correct, administration of the state.

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From Russia with Love: Agent Novichok, Russian and the UK

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William Reynolds is a 3rd year War Studies student with interests in counterinsurgency, maritime security and contemporary British security. He has been Head of Operations for KCL Crisis 2018, acted as a King’s Research Fellow for Dr Whetham at the Centre of Military Ethics and is currently a Conservation Volunteer on HMS Belfast. 

The poisoning of former Russian Military Intelligence (GRU) agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia on the 4th March (2018) has sent ripples across the political, domestic and foreign spheres of policy within the United Kingdom. Appearing from nowhere, with no leadup, warning or claims of self-attribution, the attack has come as a shock to many, with social and public media abuzz with speculation. With some going so far to claim it comparable with 9/11, though this is clearly a significant exaggeration, the events of March the 4th will not quietly fade away in public discussion. What are the implications for Russian-UK relations? Why, if the accusations prove correct, did Russia do this? And does this mark an escalation into an unspoken Cold War 2.0? These are the questions that are being asked, and what this article will attempt to assess.

The events

First, what actually happened? The initial ‘attack’ was reported at 1615 hours on March 4th when a 999 call from Sergei Skripal was made from his residence. By the end of the day, both he and his daughter were hospitalised, alongside the presiding officer Detective Sergeant Nick Bailey, in a serious [1]condition and a further two police officers were treated for minor conditions. Overall, 21 UK citizens were possibly exposed to the agent, but it was only those listed above who have, so far, been actively treated.[2]

By March the 9th, after analysis from the UK Defence Science and Technology Laboratory at the nearby Port Down facility, military personnel drawn from the Defence CBRN (Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear) Centre, 29 EOD (Explosive Ordinance Disposal) and Search Group, Royal Marines from 40 Commando, elements from 26 and 27 Squadrons RAF Regiment, and specialised Fuchs operated by Falcon Squadron Royal Tank Regiment were deployed to contain and deal with the exposed sites.[3] A local Zizzi restaurant was closed due to possible exposure. So at least something positive came out of it.

Novichok Nerve Agent

Novichok is a series of nerve agents developed within the Soviet Union and Russia from 1971 to 1993.[4] Its main purpose was to be used as a battlefield force multiplier, being able to counter NATO CBRN protective gear and being undetectable by current instruments. It further had the bonus of circumventing the Chemical Weapons Convention as it did not draw from the list of controlled precursors. Much like nuclear material, chemical agents have signatures unique to their places of production. A series of factors ranging from the workers to physical conditions result in agents with unique chemical characteristics associated only with their places of respective origin. The belief in NATO, and supported by defected Soviet assets, states that Novichok agents have unique characteristics only associated with the Shikhany facility in Saratov Oblast, Russia.[5]

Military personnel suiting up to contain the exposed areas.

The Fallout

After further assessment, the PM Theresa May publicly identified the agent as one of the Novichok family of agents on March the 12th. A deadline was set for an explanation from Russia as to how a deadly nerve agent made it to Sailsbury, which, as the PM put it, was responded to with “sarcasm, contempt and defiance” by the Russian government.[6] Thus, on the 14th of March the UK unveiled a series of measures as a response to this failure for clarification:[7]

  • 23 Russian diplomats and their families were expelled from the Country
  • Increase of checks on private flights, custom and freight involving Russian citizens
  • Freezing Russian state assets where there is evidence that they could be a threat to property and life of UK nationals and residents
  • A boycott from the Royal Family and government of the 2018 World Cup
  • Suspension of all high-level bilateral contact with the Russian state
  • Plans to consider new laws to aid against actions of ‘hostile states’
  • A new £48 million chemical weapons defence centre
  • Offering voluntary vaccinations against Anthrax to British armed forces personnel deployed at high readiness

vv.jpg

Expelled Russian ambassador board their plane bound for Russia.

By March the 15th the leaders of France, Germany, the UK and the US released a joint message which stated that it was “highly likely that Russia was responsible” and called upon Russia to provide complete disclosure to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), as the UK had given the organisation a sample of the agent earlier in the week.[8]

The Russian government remained consistent on their position of denial throughout the process. In retaliation to UK actions, the Russian government expelled 23 UK diplomats and ordered the closure of both the Consulate in St Petersburg and the British Council Office in Moscow.[9]

 The ‘Russian way of warfare’

The debate continues as to who can be attributed to the attack. Members of the opposition in parliament suggest the possibility of Mafia links, rather than the government itself.[10] This inability to categorically attribute, or at least attribute to such a degree to satisfy some critics, risks an uncoordinated response if it is indeed the Russian government at play. What does seem to be apparent however, is that resulting Russian actions, both officially in the political space and unofficially on social media, do share many similarities with disinformation campaigns of the past.

NATO loves to throw around new definitions. Be it ‘network-centric’, ‘multi-spectrum’ or ‘4th Generation Warfare’. However, a term that has stuck, and for good reason, is that of Hybrid Warfare. A doctrine attributed to the Russian Chief of Staff General Valey Gerasimov, though he strongly denies translating his academic thoughts into a Russian ‘doctrine’, Hybrid Warfare is a multi-spectrum approach, utilising all forms of human activity from War, Politics, Society and Economics, to achieve one’s political ends.[11] Much of what was stated in Gerasimov’s writings played itself out on the plains of Ukraine and Crimea. Though it hasn’t been repeated since, the utility of non-state actors as a viable tool without attribution has many NATO border states worried. After all, could not Russia repeat the same in a NATO border state? Without concrete attribution, such actions would risk breaking the alliance apart if Article V was triggered. Such a debate is still ongoing, with no real clear answer discernible as of yet. It is not in the purview of this article to deliver judgement. Rather, the context in which Sailsbury happened should be assessed in regard to Hybrid Warfare.

It is the disinformation campaigns associated with Ukraine and Crimea which are of interest. Though I cheekily referred to it as the Russian way of warfare, drawing upon Liddell Hart’s characterisation of the British affinity to conduct war from the sea, there are aspects of it which can be called uniquely Russian so far.[12] Through news agencies such as Sputnik and Russia Today the Russian government is able to spin its own story of events occurring. Though this isn’t unique to Russia, it is in conjunction with what can only be described as a vast army of ‘trolls’ and ‘bots’ on social media who push the Russian narrative as hard and as far as possible. Indeed, the US 2016 elections saw 36,000 of these Russian bots actively tweeting on social media.[13]

f

Possible Image of a Russian Social Media bot.

Due partly to the interconnectivity we enjoy today, this allows particularly ‘loud’ individuals to propagate their message directly to the public (here’s looking at you Trump). The combination of ‘loud’ accounts and the quantity of them, in conjunction with a message that is stuck to rigidly, actively increases the visibility of the message over possibly more well-reasoned debates. This in turn creates enough of a ‘smoke screen’ to hinder any counter actions against the state. Without political and national consensus, Western states tend to falter in their resolve.[14]

To link it back to Sailsbury, an estimated 2,800 Russian bots were believed to have “sowed confusion after poison attacks”.[15] There is further evidence which can place attribution to Russian guilt. Exactly a week before the attack occurred, a Russian YouTube account called Group.M uploaded 4 videos of the former spy Skripal.[16] Whilst it may have been coincidental, a second source believed it to be part of a Russian organised campaign of disinformation.[17] In conjunction with the other elements assessed, it is hard to disagree.

Even after the attack, information continues to be deployed by Russia to create doubt of attribution. A particularly outrageous claim, by both ex-KGB and Russian politicians, is that it was a ‘False Flag’ operation. The proximity of Porton Down (8 miles) to the location of the attack has invited conjecture that the UK has poisoned its own citizens.[18] This feels more like a reflection of Russian attitudes to what is and isn’t acceptable for a state to do. Even bringing it up infers that a modicum of legitimacy can be attached to it via the Russian people. The newest element is a ‘former friend’, Vladimir Timoshkov, who has recently come forward stating that Skripal “regretted being a double agent” and wanted to go home.[19] The logic being, why would Russia kill someone who felt repentant for what he had done? Rather, I’d suggest this new information reflects a pivot in strategy as the realisation that the UK public wasn’t quite as divided on the issue as first thought.

Implications

So what are the implications for the Sailsbury attack? Is a Cold War 2.0 approaching? It seems unlikely. Rather, the Sailsbury attack has brought forward some suggestions as to possibly why it occurred and highlighted aspects for the wider UK political sphere to consider.

  1. Losing control

There are two possible reasonings as to why Russia may have decided to act now. This is all rather theoretical, so feel free to skip forward if you desire. A worrying conclusion one could draw to this unexpected action is that Putin has simply lost control of highly dangerous chemical weapons, or worse, parts of his intelligence apparatus. Neither bodes well for the West, as a more bellicose Russian intelligence service without the political limitations could lead to further acts of espionage. It is worth noting that there is little evidence to support either theory so far. Indeed, it seems even less likely that this was a ‘mafia hit’, as the ability to maintain a Novochok supply, assuming no new batches were made post-93, without state funding is universally agreed as almost impossible. Until we have proof of the Illuminati or lizard people ruling over us, I’d wager that the chemical was deployed via state actors.

Thus, we are left with Putin losing control of certain actors within his intelligence circles. The attack was very public and very traceable. Therefore, any smoke screen for attribution would be brittle in nature. Putin would have known this going in. So why do it? A plausible explanation is that of rogue agencies.[20] However, it is all rather theoretical. Thus, anything further then ‘He’s lost control’ is conjecture.

  1. Hubris

The second option is just that Russia does not care. As stated, the chemical is easily traceable. But with the proximity of the Russian elections, one could argue that Putin is attempting to reinforce the narrative of ‘the West’ actively attempting to undermine Russia. In this sense, it could be a Russian pseudo ‘False Flag’ operation. Though I’m sure many just rolled their eyes at the very casual comparison just made, one could argue that Russia conducted the attack to provoke a response which in turn provides Putin with legitimacy. Indeed, insurgent groups do this often, provoking a sharp response through their attacks in order to cause civilian casualties, thus increasing their legitimacy as they portray the security forces as barbaric.

  1. ‘Useful idiots’

A particularly troubling aspect of recent events are the ‘useful idiots’ within UK society. That is, British citizens, with no apparent links to Russia or their disinformation campaign, actively aiding in spreading the confusion and casting doubt on attribution. The most shocking event was in the emergency House of Commons session, where the leader of the opposition decided to use his speech to both caution attributing it to Russia and suggesting that government cuts could have possibly caused this.[21] Whilst of course advising calm is neither bad nor being ‘an idiot’, the political point-scoring driven off the back of it provoked much shock from both sides of the House. It is tradition for the opposition to back the government in acts of foreign policy, especially after an attack. Even Clement Atlee voiced support of Chamberlains decision to go to war (1939), despite knowing full well that appeasement had driven them to this point.

This quickly leads to the social media sphere. Many were quick to point out the links between Sailsbury and the decision to go to war with Iraq in 2003. The reliance on intelligence, rather than an overt act of war, has left many peddling the Russian line. This ‘Iraq syndrome’ seems to have infected much of society, with even Jeremy Corbyn citing Iraq as a reason to not attribute it to Russia as of now.[22] Within the same speech Corbyn cast doubt on the validity of British intelligence, again citing Iraq as an example of their capabilities. Ignoring the fact that a possible future PM is laying into elements of the Civil Service, funnily enough echoing Rumsfeld and Cheney who both based the decision to invade Iraq off the back of their distrust of CIA information, comparing Sailsbury to Iraq is factually false. As stated by Lawrence Freedman, the writer of the Chilcot Report, Sailsbury intelligence is based off scientific facts rather than the human intelligence associated with Iraq.[23] However, the ‘useful idiots’ continue to cite it like gospel.

The final grating aspect of these ‘useful idiots’ is their ability to give Russia the benefit of the doubt. There have been calls, again also by Corbyn, to give Russia a sample of the agent to test for themselves. To which Lawrence Freedman sarcastically tweeted, “They should also do all the anti-doping tests on their athletes.[24] The argument being that we can dismiss any evidence they produce out of hand if it proves to be false. The issue here is that doing so adds legitimacy to their narrative. Handing samples over and even entertaining the idea of listening to their assessment implies the chance that we could be willing to believe them. Such legitimacy served to feed their narrative more than offset the doubt. The fact that many calling for this do not trust the UK intelligence services, or indeed the French and German ones, who undoubtedly assessed the evidence given to them independent of UK influence, and the international OPCW is worrying to say the least. Indeed, one would suggest that this could have easily been mitigated if Corbyn had sided with UK govt policy here. After all, much of the ‘useful idiot’ activity on social media is perpetuated by the self-described Corbynites.[25] One is inclined to believe that they would have changed their tune if Corbyn had voiced stronger opposition to Russia. However, it is not simply the Corbynites who make up this area. Russian disinformation seems to benefit from a collection of groups who take the view that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Thus, over the past week we have seen Anarchists, Marxists, Nationalists and Scottish Nationalists all trumpet their support of different explanations suggesting it wasn’t a Russian attack. Russian disinformation may be good at its job, but the UK public seems to be rather better.

  1. Escalation?

With this aside, is there a chance of an escalation? Whilst true this represents a significant step up from the usual, though not for the people of Ukraine or Syria, I’d wager there is little chance of a ‘Cold War’ developing as a result. Russian and UK relations have been chequered in recent years, with the UK leading the charge within the EU for sanctions against them.[26] Not much has changed since then. Rather, it appears to be a spike in tensions over what has been a game played since 2014. The UK alone does not represent an existential threat to Russia, but its heavily interconnected alliance frameworks do. However, it seems doubtful that the UK will push for more than economic retaliation. As a triggering of Article V would risk destroying the alliance, with possible declines of assistance occurring, thus undermining the entire legitimacy of NATO. With hard power not viable, what of soft power? It is here that seems the most likely axis of advance for the UK. Through its still quite considerable soft power, the UK will most likely press for further sanctions and tighten the grip already being felt. Indeed, this may prove beneficial. Both France and Germany have been considering loosening the sanctions put in place for Ukraine.[27] The Sailsbury attacks may prove to not only be the evidence required to prevent the lifting of sanctions, but enhance them.

 

 Bibliography: 

[1] https://cdn.images.express.co.uk/img/dynamic/1/590x/russia-vladimir-putin-kremlin-brexit-cyber-attack-theresa-may-moscow-mp-pm-tories-labour-president-uk-election-887114.jpg – Accessed 25/03/18. 

[2]  Vikram Dodd, Ewen MacAskillJamie Grierson and Steven Morris, ‘Sergei Skripal attack: investigators wear protective suits at cemetery’, The Guardian, Accessed 25/03/18

[3] See, Toxic Storm for Royal Marineshttps://www.royalnavy.mod.uk/news-and-latest-activity/news/2018/march/06/180306-toxic-storm-for-royal-marines-in-major-chemical-exercise; for 29 EOD Elite UK Forces – http://www.eliteukforces.info/eod/army-eod/; for RAF Reg RAF Winterbourne Gunnerhttps://www.raf.mod.uk/our-organisation/stations/raf-winterbourne-gunner/; and for a full overview, Rebecca Taylor and David Mercer, ‘Spy Poisoning: Amber Rudd Chairs Cobra meeting as military deployed in Sailsbury’, Sky News, Accessed 25/03/18.

[4] Mirzayanov, Vil (1995), “Dismantling the Soviet/Russian Chemical Weapons Complex: AN Insider’s View”, Global Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction: Hearings Before the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Committee on Governmental Affairs, 104th Cong., pp.393-405.

[5] Ewan MacAskill, ‘Novichok: nerve agent produced at only one facility says expert’, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/mar/14/nerve-agent-novichok-produced-russia-site-expert – Accessed 25/03/18.

[6] Heather Stewart, Peter Walker and Julian Borger, ‘Russia threatens retaliation after Britain expels 23 diplomats’, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/mar/14/may-expels-23-russian-diplomats-response-spy-poisoning – Accessed 25/03/18.

[7] ‘Spy Posioning: How is the UK retaliating against Russia?’, BBC News, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-43380378 – Accessed 25/03/18; and ‘UK Defence Secretary tells Russia go away and shut up’, BBC News, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-43405686 – Accessed 25/03/18Owen Matthews ‘Has Vladimir Putin Lost Control of Russia’s Assassins?’, Newsweek, http://www.newsweek.com/vladimir-putin-lost-control-russia-assassins-840598Accessed 25/03/18.

[8] ‘Salisbury attack: Joint statement from the leaders of France, Germany, the United States and the United Kingdom’, Government of the United Kingdom, https://www.gov.uk/government/news/salisbury-attack-joint-statement-from-the-leaders-of-france-germany-the-united-states-and-the-united-kingdom  – Accessed 25/03/1.

[9] Judith Vonberg and Oliver Carroll, ‘Russia expels 23 British diplomats in retaliation as diplomatic spat over Sergei Skripal poisoning intensifies’, The Independent, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/russia-spy-poison-british-diplomats-expelled-sergei-skripal-nerve-agent-a8260671.html – Accessed 25/03/18.

[10] Jeremy Corbyn, ‘The Sailsbury attack was appalling. But we must avoid a drift to conflict’, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/mar/15/salisbury-attack-conflict-britain-cold-war – Accessed 25/03/18

[11] General Valey Gerasimov, ‘The Value of Science is in the Foresight’, Military Review, Vol.96 (2016): pp.23 – 29.

[12] For more see, Holden Reid, Brian. “The British Way in Warfare: Liddell Hart’s Idea and Its Legacy.” The RUSI Journal, Vol.156 (2011): 70-76.

[13] ‘Russia using disinformation to sow discord in the West, Britain’s Prime Minister says’, NPR, https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2017/11/14/564013066/russia-using-disinformation-to-sow-discord-in-west-britains-prime-minister-saysAccessed 25/03/18.

[14] For more, see H.Smith, ‘What costs will democracies bear? A review of popular theories of casualty aversion’, Armed Forces & Society, Vol.31 (2005)

[15]Debroah Haynes, ‘Skripal Attack: 2,800 Russian bots sowed confusion after poison attacks’, The Sunday Times, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/news/2-800-russian-bots-sowed-confusion-after-poison-attacks-zf6lvb3nc – Accessed 25/03/18

[16] Debroah Haynes, ‘Skripal Attack: YouTube videos analysed for links to disinformation campaign’, The Times, https://www.thetimes.co.uk/edition/news/skripal-attack-youtube-videos-analysed-disinformation-campaign-link-53fwb6pl9 – Accessed 24/03/18

[17] Ibid.

[18] Owen Matthews ‘Has Vladimir Putin Lost Control of Russia’s Assassins?’, Newsweek, http://www.newsweek.com/vladimir-putin-lost-control-russia-assassins-840598Accessed 25/03/18

[19] Skripal, ‘regretted being a double agent’, BBC News, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/world-europe-43519494/skripal-regretted-being-double-agent – Accessed 25/03/18

[20] Owen Matthews ‘Has Vladimir Putin Lost Control of Russia’s Assassins?’, Newsweek, http://www.newsweek.com/vladimir-putin-lost-control-russia-assassins-840598Accessed 25/03/18

[21] Greg Heffer, ‘Jeremy Corbyn infuriates House of Commons with Russia response’, Sky News, https://news.sky.com/story/jeremy-corbyn-infuriates-house-of-commons-with-russia-response-11287599 – Accessed 25/03/18.

[22] Guy Faulconbridge, ‘Britain’s Labour Leader warns of rushing into new Cold War without full evidence.’, Reuters, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-britain-russia-corbyn/british-labour-leader-warns-of-rushing-into-new-cold-war-without-full-evidence-idUSKCN1GS0SN – Accessed 25/03/18

[23] Lawrence Freedman on Twitter (14th March 2018), https://twitter.com/LawDavF/status/973967779534704641 – Accessed 25/03/18

[24] Ibid

[25] Such as Owen Jones, https://twitter.com/OwenJones84/status/973952909682626562 – Accessed 25/03/18;

[27] Rowena Mason and Patrick Wintour, ‘UK to press European allies for tougher sanctions against Russia over MH17’, The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jul/21/uk-europe-tougher-sanctions-russia-mh17-putin – Accessed 25/03/18

[1] Macron as finance minister wished the sanctions to be lifted in 2016, ‘Macron in Mosocow: France wants Russian sanctions lifted by mid-year’, rfi, http://en.rfi.fr/economy/20160125-macron-moscow-france-wants-russia-sanctions-lifted-mid-year – Accessed 25/03/18; and Merkel also, ‘Merkel: EU will lift Russian sanctions when Minsk accords implemented’, politico, https://www.politico.eu/article/merkel-eu-will-lift-russia-sanctions-when-minsk-accords-implemented/Accessed 25/03/18[28]

 

 

 

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End Game in Syria? Not so fast…The Worst could be yet to come.

syrua

Source: https://www.pri.org/stories/2014-04-29/three-reasons-why-syrias-civil-war-has-no-end-sight

Will Marshall is a 1st year International Relations undergraduate student at King’s College London and MENA Editor for International Relations Today.

As the Syrian Civil War entered its seventh gruelling year – some audacious statesmen, journalists and commentators had tentatively begun to suggest that the bloody conflict, which has claimed as many as 470,000 lives and involved, in some form or another, almost every regional player in the wider Middle East was beginning to draw to a close[1][2]. The dramatic collapse of the so-called Islamic State , which seemed unstoppable at its zenith just a few years ago, the string of decisive victories by Russian-backed Assad forces and the abandonment of US-led training programmes to the motley Free Syrian Army appeared to suggest that, against the odds, the Arab dictator had finally managed to regain some measure of control over his country. The events of recent weeks however, have brought these claims into serious doubt with the emergence of notable new crisis points pitting the region’s major powers; Turkey, Iran, Israel and of course the Assad Regime directly against one another. This suggests that the war is entering a new and fundamentally distinct phase where Syria acts as the battleground for the region’s myriad geopolitical struggles. This raises the distinct possibility that rather than a gradual wind down in hostilities, we may be about to see yet another dramatic upsurge in violent conflict in the already war-ravaged state, with the potential to transform what has until now been a proxy conflict into a long-feared ‘hot’ war between the region’s main powers.

Until now, the war in Syria has been a story of rapidly shifting alliances and even quicker shifts in territorial control. The concerted effort against ISIS however, which briefly served to unite the conflict’s diverse factions against a common enemy has rather served to consolidate the factions control over their respective zones of influence: The Turkish-backed rebels in the Northwest, US-supported Syrian Democratic Forces in the East and Assad’s regime, with the backing of Russia and Iran increasingly entrenched in the South and West[3]. The result of this being that the front lines of the war are becoming increasingly fixed, with hostilities restricted to intense pockets where the strategic interests of these groups overlap such as Afrin, Idlib and Eastern Ghouta. As the battle lines stabilise and the sweeping offensives – which characterised earlier stages of the conflict – become a thing of the past, a hallmark characteristic of the Syrian civil war’s latest stage will be that of steady attrition, with victory going to the party that can hold out the longest and absorb the greatest losses, be they military, civilian or material.

Picture1

Source: https://news.sky.com/story/the-complex-whos-who-of-syrian-civil-war-11260774

Another trademark of the war’s shifting dynamic is the importance of outside actors in shaping the outcomes of the conflict. Though the war has been marked by external interference since the beginning, with Western powers providing material support to the rebels and Iran to regime forces since at least 2012, Russian airstrikes in support of Assad since 2015 and the reported presence of US, Russian, Turkish and Iranian ground forces at various points throughout the conflict; the extent to which Syrian forces now depend on outside support is unprecedented following seven exhausting years of combat[4]. Rather than a domestic struggle, albeit one in which foreign-sponsored proxies play a key role, more and more it is beginning to look like an international conflict of geopolitical interests played out on Syrian soil. In the words of Joost Hiltermann, director of the Middle East and North Africa programme at the International Crisis Group ‘Most of the conflicts now have nothing to do with Syria per se. They just happen to be fought there.’[5]

The offensives of recent weeks have done much to illustrate this point. Turkish military offensives, launched in late January have focused on the city of Afrin, a strategically crucial stronghold given its proximity to the Turkish-Syrian border. This is in a bid to oust the Kurdish-dominated YPJ, a group Turkey condemns as a terrorist organisation due to its links to the PKK, a Kurdish separatist movement responsible for a decades-long insurgency against Turkish control from its de facto jurisdiction over Northern Syria, a situation which naturally poses a key threat to Turkish national security. Such a move, whilst not entirely surprising given Turkey’s traditional enmity towards the Kurds, serves to upset the power alignments of previous months where it had seemed an emerging Russia-Turkey-Iran axis in support of the Assad regime was the best hope for a speedy resolution to the conflict[6]. The Turkish intervention however, turns such calculations on their head with appeals by Kurdish forces to Assad for the protection of the country’s territorial integrity resulting in the deployment of pro-Assad militias to backup Kurdish forces in Afrin according to Syrian State TV, thus making the prospect of a direct confrontation between Turkish and Syrian troops a distinct possibility[7]. Meanwhile, the idea of Turkey gaining a significant foothold in the country serves to upset the interests of the other major regional player in Syria, Iran. Tehran has committed itself to nothing less than achieving a decisive military victory alongside its Syrian ally and increased Turkish penetration into the country raises the prospect of a breakdown in the temporary collaboration between the traditional rivals. More significantly, a continuation of Turkish attacks on the YPJ increases the likelihood of a direct confrontation with the US, its long-term NATO ally – an outcome which would not only have major implications for the power dynamic in the Middle East but for the Atlantic alliance as a whole.

Picture2

Source: https://www.almasdarnews.com/article/us-warns-turkey-planned-invasion-afrin/

Perhaps more illustrative of the new direction the war in Syria is taking is the furore surrounding the shooting down of an Israeli F-16 Fighter Jet over Syrian territory last month. Israel has, until now steered relatively clear of hostilities in the country. Nevertheless, the recent successes of pro-Assad forces, increasingly dependent on Iranian manpower and material support only serve to bolster Israeli fears of an Iranian arc of influence stretching from Tehran to the Mediterranean via pro-Iranian regimes in Baghdad and Damascus as well as proxies acting directly on behalf of the Iranian Government in Syria and Lebanon. Such an outcome is clearly unacceptable to Tel Aviv, with the entrenchment of Iranian proxy militias, not least Hezbollah in so close to the Syrian-Israeli border raising the prospect of a rerun of the 2006 Lebanon War not to mention the possibility of a more generalised conflict between the two arch-rivals. Israeli Prime minister Netanyahu’s fiery speech at the recent Munich Security Conference, in which he likened the current Iranian Regime to Nazi Germany illustrated the seriousness with which such a situation is viewed by Israel[8]. Netanyahu went on to reiterate his ‘red lines’ which, if crossed, would force Israel to respond to proactively, emphasising his commitment to preventing the establishment of a permanent Iranian military presence base on Syrian soil. Though it is hard to imagine an all out invasion by Israeli conventional forces, targeted artillery and airstrikes being a far likelier option such situations can escalate rapidly, as Israel’s long history of conflict with its neighbours will testify. With the number of ongoing proxy conflicts in the conflict and the increasing deployment of regular forces to the Syrian quagmire, the prospect of an all out international war between the region’s major powers is more likely than ever.

Picture3

Source: https://www.quora.com/Which-F-16-is-the-best-Israeli-American-or-Turkish

The growing disengagement of the global powers with the situation in Syria makes such an outcome even more likely. Whilst the Trump Administration has elected to maintain considerable military capacity within the country in support of the Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces for the time being, his electoral promise to disengage with morale- and resource-sapping conflicts in the Middle East still holds strong, with America’s professed sole objective in Syria being the eradication of IS[9]. That Trump is willing to turn a blind eye to the encroachment of the forces of what the President has previously called a ‘murderous regime’ on the borders of arguably America’s closest ally serves to highlight the degree to which the US has disengaged with the outcome of Syria[10]. Whilst the presence of Russia is considerably more active, with Putin continuing to launch airstrikes in support of the Syrian regime and acting as de facto monitor for the de-escalation zones across the country. Such has been the involvement of Russia in the conflict so far that the nation’s global prestige, geostrategic interests and military credibility are intricately entwined with the success of Assad[11]. Nevertheless, there are signs that Russia too is starting to take a back seat in the conflict with the withdrawal of the main body of Russian ground forces in 2016 and its continued occupation with the creation of de-escalation zones. It seems probable that, having guaranteed a pro-Russian regime in Damascus and continued access to military and naval facilities at Larnaka on the Mediterranean coast Putin seeks to negotiate a gradual exit from the war whilst his military reputation is still intact, increasingly handing over the reins to his regional allies in Tehran and Ankara. Without the restraining influence of the global powers however, there remains far less to deter regional powers from acting ambitiously on their own accord, further raising the potential for an unprecedented escalation. This disengagement of major powers therefore, is likely to represent another hallmark of the new phase of Syria’s war.

What we are seeing in Syria is not the winding down of the conflict that seemed apparent just two months ago,  but rather the fundamental transformation of the struggle from a domestic affair in which foreign players support their respective sides via proxies and clandestine means into something altogether distinct – and with a worrying potential for rapid escalation. The amount of territory controlled by forces lacking a major foreign sponsor is shrinking and in those which do the presence of outside actors is increasingly blatant. Though battle lines are solidifying, and conflict seems to be increasingly restricted to small pockets where rival geostrategic aims clash, the stakes involved, at least for the regional powers of the Middle East are on the rise. Syria increasingly resembles a chessboard where the ideological, military and geopolitical struggles for the region’s myriad rivalries are played out – one which offers the makings of an all out conflict to decide the fate of the Middle East.

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/feb/11/report-on-syria-conflict-finds-115-of-population-killed-or-injured

[2] http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/syria-iraq-isis-yemen-saudi-arabia-iran-trump-wars-coming-to-an-end-a8133356.html

[3] https://worldview.stratfor.com/article/syria-civil-war-turkey-afrin-idlib-damascus-rebel-ypg

[4] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-22906965

[5] http://time.com/5159869/war-syria-entered-dangerous-new-phase/

[6] https://yaleglobal.yale.edu/content/expanding-russia-iran-turkey-alliance-puts-us-back-foot

[7] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/feb/19/turkey-warns-assad-not-intervene-kurdish-enclave-afrin

[8] https://www.haaretz.com/middle-east-news/full-text-netanyahu-s-speech-on-iran-in-munich-1.5826934

[9] https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/right-turn/wp/2017/09/19/trump-has-accelerated-obamas-misguided-policy-toward-syria/?utm_term=.54469db19200

[10] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/trump-iran-un-speech-murderous-regime-saudi-arabia-latest-a7955641.html

[11] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/feb/25/syrias-return-to-bombing-as-usual-is-down-to-russia

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