Tag Archives: Diplomacy

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

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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]

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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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Opinion | The Importance of Diplomacy in the Era of Trump

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Jack Lashendock is a Second Year student at Gettysburg College in America. He currently serves as the President of his school’s International Affairs Association and Model United Nations team (IAA/MUN) and a Senator in the Gettysburg College Student Senate. He is pursuing a double major in International Affairs and Political Science and a double minor in History and Middle East and Islamic Studies. His area of academic focus includes global diplomacy, international peacekeeping, Middle Eastern politics and history, and American government. He can be reached for discussion at lashja02@gettysburg.edu.

Recently, a friend of mine told me the story of an encounter she had on an international flight while traveling back to the United States via a stop at some foreign airport. Sitting on the plane, she met a man who worked for the United Nations. This man was by no means a top diplomat in the upper echelons of the organization, however, he was a United Nations diplomat nonetheless. Talking to a colleague, he discussed his disapproval of President Trump and made comments on the consequences of his actions in regards to international diplomacy. Unfortunately, the story ended here without specifics or direct expert thoughts, however, it invites one to ponder the importance of diplomacy in the era of President Trump. This opinion piece is inherently partisan– even just the notion of Trump and his policies elicits differing responses from political parties, interest groups, and most especially, Americans. I too have my own partisan beliefs on this subject, however, for the sake of this conversation, I will suspend them (and I hope you, dear reader, will do so as well) and present the facts of the matter and my opinions based on them.

I have the pleasure to serve as the President of Gettysburg College’s International Affairs Association which acts as a facilitator of international discussion and debate, in addition to organizing Model United Nations events and conferences. Since the election of Trump last November, our meetings have always included discussions of Trump’s actions– either directly or indirectly, depending on the discussion topic. Moreover, last Spring when our team traveled to London for our international conference many Londoners asked me to rationalize Trump’s behavior or, given my American citizenship, explain to them what the foreign policy of my nation’s chief diplomat was. More than a year following his inauguration, I still haven’t a clear answer for either question.

Trump’s rise to power on the campaign trail, and the foreign policy (for lack of a better term) during the first year of his presidency has been largely focused on two agenda items: reversion to the isolationist policies of pre-World War II and a seemingly aggressive push to abandon policies, agreements, and actions implemented during the Obama administration. According to Trump, and those who make up his base, allies and adversaries alike have been deliberately weakening the United States; this viewpoint holds that the multilateral agreements negotiated by the past administrations are in the best interests of everyone but the US citizen. Instead, Trump is a staunch advocate of bilateral negotiations where he believes the one-on-one atmosphere reduces the opportunity for foreign nations to take advantage of America and he has vowed to conduct foreign negotiations in this manner moving forward. For multilateral agreements that already exist, Trump has noted that he wants to leave them in favor of being more isolationist or renegotiate them in a more bilateral setting. In President Trump’s first year in office, the United States has announced plans to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement, the Iran Deal, NAFTA, TPP, and the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

With isolationism and a focus on ‘America First’, it would seem there is no need for American diplomacy in the era of Trump. In the past year, we have seen diplomatic protocol breached by the Chief US diplomat: at the G20, Trump shoved the Prime Minister of Montenegro so he could stand in the front row of a photo; his Twitter taunts and belittling nicknames directed at world leaders create unwelcome tension; and his expletive laden comments about nations in other parts of the world reflects poorly on our global image.

Despite this, diplomacy is still important – especially given President Trump. American Ambassador to Japan under President Obama, John Roos, once said of diplomacy: “Diplomacy is fundamentally working with people, bringing people together to deal with difficult issues.” In today’s era, there are innumerable issues that plague the world and no state, however powerful they may think themselves, can solve them alone. From global warming, to world health, to international security, to human rights, the world now, more than ever, needs to come to the negotiation table. Not everyone will agree, and contrary to popular belief, diplomacy doesn’t have to be appeasement– just respect and something to stand for.

This belief in diplomacy, and peace in general, is in no way naïve or over optimistic, rather history has demonstrated the inherent desire for humans to achieve either, even in states of conflict. Examples that come to mind include the impromptu Christmas Truce of World War I and the ekecheiria that occurred during Ancient Greek Olympics. Perhaps the most pivotal role diplomacy has played in recent historical memory is the Cold War– a war which was overwhelmingly fought with words. The standoff at Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin, the U2 Spy Incident, and the Cuban Missile Crisis highlight events in which a lack of diplomacy would have led to the outbreak of war between the two nuclear superpowers of the world. Even when the fate of the world doesn’t hang in the balance, diplomacy is often the first (and most successful in my opinion) step toward ensuring it never will. Nixon’s “ping-pong” diplomacy opened US- Chinese relations; the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) negotiations improved not only US-Soviet relations, but limited the threat of nuclear annihilation by either; and the Apollo– Soyuz Test Project highlighted the power of soft diplomacy to bring together opposing sides for the benefits of humanity as a whole.

Even on non-security related issues, diplomacy has achieved success– notably the global effort that has helped to eradicate smallpox, with Polio most likely being next, and overwhelming will of nations to commit to reducing their reliance on non-renewable energy and focus on ways to recycle natural resources.

However, there is much to be done and the United States has always been on the forefront–championing the world to achieve greatness. With the rise of Putin’s Russia and the growing wave of nationalism, the world today is beginning to feel like a redux of the Cold War. Leaders across Africa, South America, Asia, and Europe (well, just Russia for now) will not hesitate to use violence to achieve their end goals and global superpowers (now three of them) seem to be at odds over more than ideology. World leaders with unchecked nuclear weapons stockpiles may activate their arsenals at the slightest hint of provocation, while even leaders of more experienced nuclear states hurry to dust off their silo doors.

These threats mandate increased diplomatic activity and a greater respect for the power of multilateral statesmanship. Diplomacy allows world leaders to communicate and clarify misunderstandings so that dialogue isn’t misinterpreted as a threat or provocation. Diplomats serve as a powerful and crucial check to the sometimes heated and inflammatory things these leaders say and do. Regardless of how the Trump presidency effects America’s global reputation, our nation will always be a major international actor, even if our role is diminished in the next three years. The White House and Republican members of Congress must not be so close-minded to the effectiveness of diplomacy, for even when it appears to fail, success can be salvaged from the ashes.

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CIA Russia hacking report, Twitter Sarcasm and the Prospects of Russia-U.S. Relations

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By Aleksandra Serebriakova, a 3rd year International Relations student at King’s College London with a strong interest in post-Soviet Union space and Russia in particular.

On the 6th January the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) released the unclassified report that openly accused Russia of interfering in the U.S. presidential elections. The report argued that findings were based on the “understanding of Russian behavior” in its “longstanding desire to undermine the US-led liberal democratic order” and preconditioned by Russia’s “clear preference for President-elect Trump”, but nevertheless did not argue that hacking affected the election results.

The whole language of the Report was supported by the logic of ‘judgements’ rather than hard evidence through analyses of the CIA and two other agencies (FBA and NASA). This absence of strong evidence was explained by inability to “reveal sensitive sources or methods and imperil the ability to collect critical foreign intelligence in the future”. Thus, the Report has stated that the campaign to undermine U.S. presidential elections was ordered directly by Vladimir Putin who wanted to “denigrate Secretary Clinton, and harm her electability and potential presidency”. What is more, Russia’s military intelligence agency and its Main Intelligence Agency of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation (GRU) has been accused for directing the hacks into the emails of Democratic Party officials and released them with a help of Guccifer 2.0 hacker through Wikileaks and DCLeaks.com beginning in March 2016. Notwithstanding the fact that this kind of reporting would be ridiculous in any other democratic country, as it would confirm that administration itself had a “clear preference” for the Presidential candidate ignoring the desires of its own population, two interesting points can be picked up from this Report: U.S. open advertising of ‘Russia Today’s’ (RT) ability to influence American population and reaction of Russia’s officials to these findings that has often been sarcastic and undiplomatic.

Firstly, due to inability to provide strong evidence the Report had to explain Russia’s alleged influence through its ‘covert intelligence operations’ and ‘over propaganda efforts’ with a help of Russian Government agencies, paid social media users (internet ‘trolls’) and state-funded media, with RT and Sputnik news outlets being examples of this ‘propaganda machine’. Seven pages of unclassified version of the Report were devoted to assessing RT America TV’s activities in relation to “undermine faith in the US Government and fuel political protest”. Without profoundly discussing RT’s efforts to meddle in the current election and only briefly touching upon its ‘negative’ portrayal of Hilary Clinton and open support for Donald Trump, the short Report devotes a substantial part to the discussion of the channels attempts to “fuel political protests” during Occupy Wall Street movement and rise criticism on the U.S. economic and political systems. Overall, the Report presents RT America as some kind of international criminal syndicate with enormous power and financial connection to Russian Government. The argument that “RT recently was the most-watched foreign news channel in the UK” and the tables of comparison that present this channel as the most popular on YouTube out of foreign broadcasting companies (image 1) has caused a stream of comments and jokes from the Russian officials.

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Image 1: Comparative Tables from ODNI Report, Appex A

Thus, the Russian Embassy in London claimed that the Report findings have been the best advertising for RT (image 2). Indeed, RT preferences for Trump were clear from the start but how can the coverage of one channel that has a clear connection to the foreign government be argued to have such an enormous power to indirectly influence election process in a sovereign country? While RT should definitely be grateful to this Report for its promotion, we still should be willing to get some more evidence in support for the existing accusations. Otherwise, it all too sounds more as a Cold War scare.

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Image 2: Twitter of the Russian Embassy in London, 7th January 2017

What is more, the reactions of Russia’s officials to this Report were not at all surprising. Seen as another groundless attempt to discriminate Russia in the eyes of international community following the traditions of doping scandal and McLaren report, CIA report was met with sarcastic comments from Russian officials. Thus, Dmitry Peskov, the Press Secretary of Putin, called the accusations on Russia’s involvement in hacking a “witch hunt” and said that Obama’s administration is “behaving like an elephant in china shop”; while Maria Zakharova, a Director of the Press Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, called Obama’s team in Facebook “a group of foreign policy losers, anxious and short-sighted”. At the same time, Russian Embassy in the UK called the Report a “pathetic attempt at tainting American’s vote by innuendo coached in Intel new-speak” (image 3) but also posted a bunch of memes in Twitter mocking the Report and Obama administration for its efforts to unleash the Cold War.

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Image 3: Twitter of the Russian Embassy in London, 7th January 2017

What is so telling about such an active engagement of Russian officials with Twitter and Facebook in such an ‘undiplomatic’ way? In 2015 Andrew Hoskins and Ben O’Loughlin have argued that Russia was one of the most successful countries to accommodate the chaotic dynamic of social media and user-led content that for some time upset policy-makers ability to influence and control information. In particular, they argued that Russia was successful in “arresting the mainstream media” through its engagement with Twitter, Facebook and VK by allowing only certain parts of the conflict, such as the one in Ukraine, to be visible and framed in a certain way. Russia’s open engagement with social media allows mediatization of conflicts and disagreements and is trying to be especially proactive in promoting its own definitions of how certain disagreements should be seen and which side should be blamed for their existence (well, definitely not Russian). The Twitter and Facebook comments of Russian officials on hacking claims has signified a change in the platform for diplomatic exchanges and showed how influential it might be for promoting a particular view especially when sarcasm, the competition of memes and social media logic of shareability are present.

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Image 4: Twitter of the Russian Embassy in London, 29th December 2016

All of these raise a question over the prospects of future Russia-U.S. relations. While during the last press-conference Barak Obama called Russia “a smaller and weaker country”, which nevertheless was able to meddle with the U.S. elections through hacking processes, new sanctions against Russian officials and diplomats summed up the last two years of Obama’s administration unsuccessful politics towards Russia. At the same time, Trump’s position over Russian involvement into the election process was ambiguous. While his Twitter praised Putin’s decision not to expel the U.S. diplomats in reciprocal measures by tweeting that he always knew that Putin was very smart, at the same time condemning findings of the hacking report, his positions somehow changed after few days when he actually agreed that the hacking took place, but due to the “gross negligence by the Democratic National Committee” that would never happen again when he becomes the president. Russian press such as independent Novaya Gazeta news outlet has suggested that such change in the rhetoric is occurring mainly due to the pressures Trump is experiencing from his own Republican party and other officials that take hacking report seriously and do not share his admiration for Putin. Overall, it is clear that unpredictability of the next American president and the pressures he will be experiencing in the White House might force him to completely change the rhetoric in a more anti-Putin and anti-Russian way that will definitely be followed by reciprocal tweets and Facebook posts from Russian officials in even more sarcastic manner.

Bibliography:

 

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US/Philippines Today

by Yiming Yu, third year Chinese student of BA International Relations at the War Studies Department of King’s College London.

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Source: BBC

 

The United States’ renewed ambition in Asia seems to have hit a speed bump due to Philippine’s Trump: Rodrigo Duterte, President of the Philippines, weeks before facing the potential misfortune of being misled by the real Donald Trump,

 

Duterte’s term has been marked by a sharp downturn in US-Philippines relations: from warning the US not to intervene into his brutal drug war and calling US President Barack Obama ‘son of a bitch’ to announcing halt of presence of US forces in southern Philippines as well as joint maritime patrol, there seems. Perhaps what is more worrying for the US is that, at the same time, while threatening to cut ties with the US, Duterte expressed a willingness to improve the Philippines relationship with China and Russia, the former of which is believed to be the biggest reason why the US strives to increase its presence in Asia.

 

Promoted by Hilary Clinton’s America’s Pacific Century in Foreign Policy, “Pivot to Asia” has been one of the most significant foreign policy strategies in Barack Obama’s term. Although in the article Clinton claims US strives to build new partnerships with China, this strategy is widely taken as an effort to contain China instead. The foremost part of this strategy, as Clinton argues, is updating bilateral security alliances in the region, including the one with the Philippines. In fact, while US also is making efforts in building relationships with other South China Sea states such as Indonesia, India and Vietnam, it can be said the Philippines is the US’ most important ally in Southeast Asia.

 

Among all other South China Sea claimants, Vietnam and the Philippines hold most hard-line attitudes on the issue, and only the Philippines has a mutual-defence treaty with the US. There is consistent cooperation in the security realm through capacity-building programs and engagements. In the past, as an article in National Interest suggests, the US ally starting a conflict with China which would drag the US into war is a worrying prospect. However, while the US definitely does not want to see tensions between China and the Philippines, now it seems the Philippines could walk towards the opposite direction. The thaw might mean China can keep progressing to construct artificial islands at its will, thus having de facto military control of South China Sea one day.

 

It is hard to know Duterte’s true intention behind his controversial remarks, which is complicated by his personal background and contradictory public comments. Self-labelled as a socialist, Duterte has specific concerns over the US behaviour in its colonial ruling of the Philippines. Before being elected as the President, Duterte was the mayor of Davao, a city situated in Mindanao Island, which hosts US military force. This may have prompted him to include an anti-imperialism and nationalist sentiment in his speeches in the wake of western criticism on human rights violation in his war on drugs. After the Permanent Court Arbitration (PCA) ruling was announced, Duterte’s statement expressed willingness to engage in bilateral talks with China. As a scholar suggests, Duterte hopes to create a favourable atmosphere in the build-up of negotiations with China by alienating the US. However, conversely, in the recent speeches denouncing America, Duterte, as well as his Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay, both claim that the US has failed the Philippines. Their criticism explicitly state their anger over failure of the US to provide adequate support for the Philippines to counter China’s encroachment. Such ambiguous words show Duterte, indeed like his predecessors and as logically expected, are trying to find balance between China and the US. Yet, his character and reckless ruling style may make his foreign policy unpredictable and potentially inconsistent. However, one thing is for sure – the Philippines will strive to grab more independence from the US influence in their domestic policy, preventing interference in the anti-drug war and being controlled as puppet in US-China competition.

 

The overnight tension in the US-Philippines relationship obviously presents unexpected opportunity for China. With China consistently insisting on solving territorial disputes through bilateral talks, Philippine’s willingness to participate in talks, even on the basis of PCA ruling, clearly falls into China’s favour. While it cannot be expected for the Philippines to compromise its position or even ally with China, an uncontrollable and China-favouring ally in the US-Asia strategy will always be satisfying news to China, who has always claimed the US was behind the Philippines’ lawsuit case against China. In the short term, China has slowed down its reclamation work on the Scarborough Shoal (Huangyan Island) as a move to satisfy the Philippines. However, in the long term, as Canrong Jin, a prominent current affairs commentator publicly states, China will and is determined to finish construction in the region. We can expect the Philippines and China to hold talks before construction fully re-start but it is fair to wonder, with China’s consistent denial of PCA ruling, whether the Philippines has enough leverage to persuade China to make any compromises.

 

For the US, it has to consider what the next step is. In fact, the US may fall into the same dilemma as China deals with North Korea (DPRK). In both cases, the Philippines and DPRK respectively hold important geopolitical positions in the US’ and China’s strategy. However, both struggle for greater independence in own foreign policy and try to get rid of their ‘big brothers’ influence. Consequentially, in the pursuit of own strategic goals, both act relentlessly, damaging their allies’ interests. Facing DPRK’s ‘naughty boy’ behaviour, China takes a relatively tolerant stance and for now, from reassurance of US officials such as Defence Secretary Ash Carter, it seems the US will take similar approach to the Philippines. Maybe the US will consider whether to keep silence over human rights abuse in Duterte’s war on drugs or fulfil Duterte’s any requests to appease him. Another option for the US is to promote partnerships with other states in the region, at least during Duterte’s presidency, to form new alliances. For example, in early October, a US warship made a landmark visit to Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam, the first visit since the end of Vietnam War. This might be a sign for the strengthening of the US-Vietnam relationship. However, developing new allies in the region will inevitably spark a reaction from China .

 

The reason why Duterte’s policies that hint towards independence create such a huge stir is that such signs seem to indicate a significant departure from his predecessor’s close ties with the US. Indeed, with an overwhelmingly positive view of the US amongst the Filipino population and dependence on the US in the security sphere, Duterte may turn back to the US if his talks with China cannot proceed as desired. However, while other Filipino officials assure US-Philippines ties are still solid, the latest news is that the Philippines Defence Secretary officially will announce the end of joint patrol in South China Sea as ordered by Duterte, which means Duterte’s words are no longer rhetoric but reality. For now, a time when the “Pivot to Asia” is seen by some as a failure, Duterte’s more independent yet unpredictable policy will only further hinder the US strategy and enable China to gain more control in the region.

 

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A Pyrrhic Victory on Syria’s Diplomatic Front

by Lincoln Pigman, a student of War Studies at King’s College London and an organising member of KCL MENA Forum.

 

Nine months after Russia took the West aback with its entry into the Syrian conflict, the United States finally changed its tune, proposing an unprecedented level of military cooperation with Russia: coordinated attacks on Jabhat al-Nusra in exchange for the grounding of Syria’s air force. The offer, it seems, has been received warmly. Some in the West will welcome U.S.-Russian partnership in Syria, including prominent scholars and former U.S. diplomats. However, Washington’s reversal may prove counterproductive and even disastrous.

 

 

Committed to ousting Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, the Obama administration long maintained a position of disapproval, condemning Russia’s contribution to the refugee crisis and accusing it of ‘directly enabling’ Islamic State. Given the notable decline in refugee arrivals to the E.U. since December, the former may no longer hold true, while the latter is challenged by Professor Max Abrahms of Northeastern University. In Abrahms’ view, which he shared in private correspondence, that ‘unoriginal and never documented’ accusation reflects an ‘ideological’ refusal to acknowledge ‘Russian contributions against Islamic State.’ Even so, other objections to Russia’s conduct in Syria remain valid, and give cause for reconsideration of closer ties.

 

One of the most obvious is Russia’s unfaltering deception. The Kremlin’s main lie concerns the aim of its intervention. Although coalition voices quickly realised that Russia’s principal target in Syria was the opposition, not Islamic State, Russia continued to state otherwise. In October 2015, Sergei Ivanov, chief of Russia’s presidential administration, promised that Russia was simply ensuring that ‘no ISIL members were left to travel to Russia, and that all fighters would end up lying in the ground in Syria.’ Crucially, Ivanov neglected to mention which fighters.

 

Five months later, Putin unexpectedly declared Russia’s withdrawal from Syria. Since then, Russian involvement in Syria has expanded from air strikes to special operations and demining efforts, while reported Russian casualties near Palmyra and Raqqa point to increased ground presence. Russia’s tireless disinformation efforts, always accompanied by calls for U.S.-Russian cooperation, offer no grounds for trusting Putin to enforce the stillborn cessation of hostilities or pressure the Assad regime to ground its air force. (That the proposed agreement mentions no compliance mechanisms makes Russian non-compliance even more likely.)

 

Two grave problems doom such a demand. The first is the condition of Russian ‘pressure’ on Assad. Rather than insist that Moscow force Damascus to stop targeting rebels, making clear that only an end to attacks on the opposition can satisfy the agreement, the proposal’s language is moderated to such an extent that Russia could feasibly do nothing and claim that it had. Mere pressure does not equal success in bringing Assad to heel, and can amount to nothing more than a diplomatic slap on the wrist should Assad persist in his suppression of the opposition. Unless the U.S. operationalises pressure, specifying what forms it is to take, it may as well abandon the condition altogether.

 

Worse still, it is possible that ‘pressure the Assad regime’ is all that Moscow can do, making the U.S.’ demand impossible to satisfy. Some Syria commentators question whether Russia truly dictates developments on the ground, dubbing it Assad’s ‘hostage.’ A growing consensus admits that Russia seeks a diplomatic resolution to the conflict: one preserving Syria’s current government institutions but not necessarily Assad himself, as reasoned by the Carnegie Endowment’s Aron Lund. Now emboldened by Russia’s decisive intervention, Assad clearly refuses to accommodate Russia’s diplomacy and its post-conflict plans for Syria, violating the cessation of hostilities in April 2016 and defiantly insisting on retaking ‘every inch’ of Syria in June 2016. Both positions reflect maximalist goals and a rejection of Russia’s relatively limited objectives, an intransigence that would surely apply to demands that Assad cease targeting rebels.

 

The demand’s second flaw lies in its identification of roles in Syria. By exclusively attributing complicity in the targeting of rebels to Assad, the U.S. tacitly denies Russia’s role in bombarding the opposition. According to Airwars, a project that consults open source intelligence to map the impact of air strikes in Iraq and Syria, Russian air strikes have inflicted up to 5,686 civilian casualties as of July 4th. Russia maximises the lethality of its air strikes by targeting densely populated areas and hospitals, and using incendiary munitions: weapons whose use against and around civilians is prohibited by the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, to which Russia is a signatory. The portrait of the war painted by Washington erases these casualties, and enables Russia to continue attacking rebel groups and non-combatants alike with impunity. U.S. silence legitimises Russia’s many transgressions, and is irreconcilable with a purported concern for Syrians’ welfare and advocacy of a rules-based international order.

 

In light of Russia’s disregard for collateral damage, Syrians will inevitably see U.S. support for Russia’s intervention as a betrayal. The first such betrayal, Obama’s failure to enforce his ‘red line’ after the sarin gas attacks of August 2013, ‘boosted Islamists … devastated the credibility of [opposition] officials who had tried to work with the West,’ and conveyed a clear message to Syrians: ‘No one’s coming to save you, not in any circumstances,’ writes Robin Yassin-Kassab in Burning Country. Similarly, today, supporting a belligerent viewed as ‘a colonial invader,’ Yassin-Kassab remarked over email, would consolidate the U.S.’ image as ‘another imperialist supporter of the regime which is tormenting [Syrians].’ Any peacemaking legitimacy possessed by Washington would forever vanish, in no small part thanks to its main concession to Russia: coordinated air strikes against al-Qaeda affiliate and anti-government militia Jabhat al-Nusra.

 

Although Russia and the U.S. both list the Islamist Nusra as a terrorist organisation, the intensity with which the two intervening powers attack it has differed greatly, creating a conflict of interests best highlighted by vocal complaints from Moscow. The U.S.’ new proposal to bilaterally coordinate air strikes against the organisation could be aimed at narrowing the diplomatic chasm between Russia and itself. Alternatively, its rationale could be restoring coherence to the U.S.’ position as an enemy of terrorism, removing all doubt by visibly targeting Nusra.

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However, a policy of partnership is unlikely to improve diplomatic relations with Russia. Despite Russia’s stated interest in continuing bilateral cooperation on issues such as counterterrorism, no peripheral concession can resolve the fundamental disagreement over Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, which will continue to define U.S.-Russian relations until a consensus on the future of Ukraine’s security is reached. Coordinated air operations in Syria alone cannot cancel out the diplomatic hurt caused by years of sanctions, and are near useless as a diplomatic bargaining tool.

 

Nor will the proposed U.S.-Russian partnership advance Washington’s fight against terrorism. In fact, attacking Nusra with Moscow could prove completely counterproductive. Those suspecting the U.S. and Russia – widely viewed as having appeased Iran’s nuclear programme and given it free rein in Iraq and Syria – in backing the Shia side of a perceived geopolitical-sectarian confrontation are likely to see joint attacks on the Sunni Nusra as yet another sign of a seemingly pro-Shia Western agenda. Consequently, ‘many … who previously tolerated Nusra for pragmatic reasons … will become more sympathetic to the group and its ideology,’ warns Yassin-Kassab, adding that ‘the U.S.-Russian coalition will undoubtedly provide a boost to Nusra’s recruitment and help it to embed more deeply in Syrian society.’ At the tactical level, striking Nusra only to bolster it is a waste of military resources. However, at the strategic level, transforming an actor in Syria so powerful that it currently controls entire swaths of territory is reckless. In the succinct words of Yassin-Kassab, it threatens to ‘greatly influence the future trajectory of violent jihadism on a global level.’

 

The proposed U.S.-Russian partnership in Syria brings to mind a number of outcomes. These include Russia duping the U.S.; Assad continuing his attack on the opposition; legitimisation of Russia’s transgressions; discrediting of the U.S. among anti-regime Syrians; and empowerment of Jabhat al-Nusra. Pursuing a military victory against the al-Qaeda affiliate without considering the partnership’s political ramifications reflects nothing less than the absence of a U.S. strategy in Syria.

 

If the U.S. is to work with Russia at all, it should focus on securing the Kremlin’s assistance in combating Islamic State, a peripheral matter to Russia, rather than make concessions on the vital interest that is the Syrian opposition—especially if there is no visible benefit in doing so. As Islamic State greets ‘the beginning of the end,’ weakened by over seven hundred days of coalition bombardment, the U.S. should not court disaster by entering into counterproductive unions. The future of Syria demands it.

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Part 3 | Russia & Europe

Adam Holub reads BA International Relations and happens to be IRT’s editor for Europe.

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This little symposium looks at the perception of Russia as a threat across various regions. When discussing Europe, we have to face off an immediate issue: do we look at Europe as a region comprised of a large number of actors? Or is it perhaps, due to the large extent of EU integration, more useful to generalise when referring to the relations between Russia and European countries as those between Russia and the EU? Similarly, does it make sense to distinguish between the different perceptions of Russia as a threat of the individual European countries? To resolve this problem appropriately we would have to engage in a lengthy analysis of the EU’s foreign policy and look at how historical experience of European integration differed across the continent as well as how historical experience of the individual countries vis-à-vis Russia varied.

For the purpose of this article, it will be easier to look at the manifestations of the degree of perceptions of Russia as a threat. It makes sense to divide the answer into three parts: looking at the EU as a unified actor, looking at the more particular member states’ perception of Russia as a threat throughout Europe, and then finally zooming in even further to the Eastern European fringe where Russia notably oscillates between being perceived as a friend or as an existential threat. This question of how is Russia perceived in Europe is one that is absolutely crucial at the time of turbulent developments in the relations between Russia and the European countries which at times could be described as cold or unfortunate, if not yet openly hostile. The point of this bit is to show the other side of the coin as well, to point out to the opposition voices very present in some countries which doubt Russia’s dangerousness and try to peculiarly revise the mainstream opinion on Russia. Threat perceptions are in general hard if not impossible to adequately observe. Instead of trying to read the mind of people half a billion people we should look at some manifestations of perceptions of Russia in Europe and interpret them.

Whether the EU as a whole sees Russia as a threat or an enemy is not easy to assess. We could use the proclamations by senior EU representatives, such as the European council president Donald Tusk, to get a hint of a common stand. Tusk, the man who is responsible facilitating consensus in the EU, has described the policy of Vladimir Putin as “simply to have enemies, to be stronger than them, to destroy them and to be in conflict.”[1] Tusk, however, is not a spokesman for the EU member states on the matters of Foreign Policy. Federica Mogherini, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, was recently heard denying that there is a new Cold War between the West and Russia.[2] A new Cold War is a metaphor popping up every here and there in political discussions and commentaries in reference to both the Russian involvement in the conflict in Ukraine and in Syria. By ruling out a reference to a historical period which carries the connotation of arguably the largest possibility of a global nuclear face off, Mogherini’s attitude suggests that the European representative is trying to rule out Russia as an existential threat. A slight difference of accent and emphasis when it comes to Russia is not problematic per se but it shows plurality of opinion at the top political level.

Nevertheless, despite the difference in emphasis throughout the Union, Russia has been officially referred to a potential threat in the European Parliament resolution of 15 January 2015 on the situation in Ukraine.[3] The economic sanctions imposed on Russia by the EU countries, as well as non-EU countries like Norway for example, also show a common concern about Russia’s latest actions in Europe. The resolution talks both about the necessity of the sanctions and the Russian threat and is an example of how these two things are related topics in Europe. The assessment of the opinions on the EU level doesn’t do justice to the nuances between the rhetoric in the individual member states.

While the common imposition of the sanctions speaks of a common stance towards Russia, it is notable that according to some diplomats in Brussels, the Kremlin was trying to divide the EU on the issue of the extension of the sanctions. Among the countries that were perceived as likely to “see the sanctions relaxed or scrapped” were Italy, Greece, Slovakia, Hungary, Austria and the Czech Republic.[4] What is interesting in particular is the presence of three countries of the Visegrád Group. Reasons can be various, but what is evident, are pro Russian sympathies shown by some politicians of these countries. The Czech president Miloš Zeman, for example, has given an interview to the Russian First Channel in which he condemned the anti-Russian sanctions.[5]

In both The Czech Republic and Slovakia, it is the prime minister and not the president who has the largest executive power. While the Slovak president is critical of Russia, the prime minister Fico also condemned the sanctions and similarly to the Czech president did that while in Russia,[6] which has an extra symbolic value as it comes in handy for the Russian authorities and media. Finally, Hungary’s Viktor Orbán is notoriously known for his pro Russian sympathies. In western Europe, France found itself in a position after the Paris attacks which has been associated with “signs of deepening collaboration” between the French and Russian armies in the war against Daesh.[7] Germany’s Angela Merkel sees her country’s potential to mediate between Russia and the West. At the same time, the German chancellor no longer trusts the Russian president as much as she used to. The UK’s prime minister David Cameron is more openly critical of Russia and in 2014 called for a stronger NATO presence on the borders with Russia to be able to respond to any “threat”.[8]

Finally, there is the question of countries in the nearest vicinity of Russian territory (among which it is useful to include Poland). Being Russia’s neighbour does not instantly mean being threatened by it. What seems to correlate with the perception of Russia as a threat is the political orientation of a country in combination with particular historical experience of Russian involvement. The Baltic states have had the experience of direct Soviet rule while they are establishing themselves as valuable EU and NATO members. Estonia’s president Toomas Hendrik Ilves described Russia as a threat not only to his country and the Baltic region but to the Post World War order.[9] Similar case are the Poles. Russian establishment, to be frank, is not improving its perception in the Baltics by intensifying its intrusions into the airspace of the Baltic countries.[10]

An example of a country that does not seem to be threatened by Russia and is in its nearest vicinity is Belarus. Ukraine, on the other hand, long perceived as crucially historically and culturally oriented towards Russia, similarly to Belarus, is an example of how political orientation affects the extent to which Russia is a threat. In the Ukrainian case it was a change of regime following civil unrests, which were a reaction to the choice of its former president Yanukovych to give precedence to an agreement with Russia rather than the EU, something that is hardly expectable from the authoritarian Alexander Lukashenko. The point made here is that Russia is not, in my opinion, an expansionist country per se but some countries and their populations do seem to perceive Russia as believing in a special claim for intervening in their matters in various ways, a perception very much enhanced by Russia itself.

Clearly, the perception of Russia as a threat varies across Europe. Despite that, certain basic approach towards Russia can be narrowed down to the perception of at least a potential threat, at least in the EU and more pro-West European countries.

Sources:

[1] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/mar/15/donald-tusk-putins-policy-enemies-conflict-european-council-sanctions-russia

[2] http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-syria-eu-idUSKCN0VO11C

[3] http://www.europarl.europa.eu/sides/getDoc.do?pubRef=-//EP//TEXT+TA+P8-TA-2015-0011+0+DOC+XML+V0//EN

[4] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/mar/15/donald-tusk-putins-policy-enemies-conflict-european-council-sanctions-russia

[5] https://www.1tv.ru/news/2014/11/16/29156-milosh_zeman_osuzhdaet_antirossiyskie_sanktsii_i_trebuet_prekratit_bombardirovki_donbassa#

[6] http://www.aktuality.sk/clanok/277055/fico-sa-dostal-na-titulne-strany-ruskych-novin-som-proti-sankciam/

[7] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/nov/23/francois-hollande-france-global-alliance-defeat-isis-russia-us-uk-germany

[8] http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/aug/02/david-cameron-west-stronger-russia-borders

[9] https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/estonias-president-russia-is-threateningthe-entire-post-world-war-ii-order/2014/09/29/035ef686-45cd-11e4-b47c-f5889e061e5f_story.html

[10] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/full-list-of-incidents-involving-russian-military-and-nato-since-march-2014-9851309.html

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Brazil and Israel: from friends to enemies?

By Tulio Konstantinovitch, a Brazilian second year student reading BA International Relations at the War Studies Department of King’s College London.

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Brazil is a peaceful State and is well known for its respect for other nations. It is also one of the 11 countries in the world that has diplomatic relations with all members of the United Nations. Nevertheless, a controversial case in the last months, which attracted a lot of attention in the media and in the international community, showed that its practices sometimes are more aggressive. The decision of not recognising Dani Dayan as the new Israeli ambassador in Brazil, brought up discussions on the role of Brazil in the international community and confirmed the idea that, in diplomacy, it stands up for what it believes it is right. However, disagreements with Israel are not entirely new to the country.

Since 2014, a diplomatic conflict against Israel has been in place. The animosity originated when the Brazilian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Luiz Alberto Figueiredo, published a note of repudiation regarding the “disproportionate use of force” by Israelis against Palestinians, “which resulted in high numbers of civilian casualties, including women and children”. Also, Brazil announced a calling for ‘consultation’ of the Brazilian ambassador in Israel, Henrique da Silveira Sardinha Pinto, taking him off charge for a certain period. In diplomatic language, the convening of an ambassador is considered an act of protest.

In this situation, the Israeli Minister of Foreign Affairs, Yigal Palmor, affirmed that Brazil is an “irrelevant” diplomatic partner. He added, “This is an unfortunate demonstration of why Brazil, an economic and cultural giant, remains a diplomatic dwarf”. The usage of the term “diplomatic dwarf” in reference to Brazil perpetuated in the world media, with some condemning Palmor and some agreeing with him.

Nowadays, another conflict has deepened diplomatic understanding between the two. With the indication of Dani Dayan as the ambassador of Israel in Brazil, a diplomatic crisis emerged. This is because Brazil is one the countries that supports a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders and recognises Palestine as a State, position confirmed in 2010. Dayan, on the other hand, has been a supporter of Israeli settlements, being a political leader inside the lands that were conquered during the six-day war in 1967.

The Brazilian government criticised the way in which Israel announced the appointment of Dayan – in a post by Netanyahu on Twitter – even before Brasilia had been informed and had agreed to the nomination, injuring diplomatic rules. In fact, this goes against the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961, in which Article 4 reads: “1.The sending State must make certain that the agreement of the receiving State has been given for the person it proposes to accredit as head of the mission to that State and 2.The receiving State is not obliged to give reasons to the sending State for a refusal of agreement.”

This does not mean, however, that Brazil does not support the state of Israel, as some could argue. Brazil played a significant role in the creation of the State of Israel. It was the Brazilian diplomat Oswaldo Aranha -by then president of the UN General Assembly- who in 1948 had the decisive vote, enabling and approving a nation of the Jews. The same resolution also sought the establishment of a Palestinian State.

Hence, historically, Brazil never believed in the necessity of war. It tried to show support for the two sides, speaking for reconciliation and the end of the conflict. Economically, whilst Palestine is irrelevant for Brazil regarding trade, Israel is one of Brazil’s leading partners. There is a significant bilateral trade of more than US$1 billion per year. Brazil imports from Israel critical components for the aviation industry and security and mainly exports food. An example of the former was the purchase of a security system from Israel for the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, which will take place in August 2016. Israel is the only country outside South America that Mercosur has a free trade agreement with, in force since 2010. In the same year, President Lula became the first Brazilian head of state to visit Israel.

Brazil2

Concerning the Dayan crisis, the Brazilian government has quietly made a series of diplomatic initiatives trying to convince Israel to change her appointment but had no success. Accepting him, who denies the Palestinians sovereignty over any land, carries a problematic symbolism because it goes against the Brazilian diplomacy of promotion of peace and respect for international law, as well as contradicting the efforts of the international community to work towards peace, something previous Israeli governments tried to do.

The former Israeli ambassador in Brasilia was Reda Mansour, an Arabic-Israeli, who is fluent in Portuguese and had great respect for diplomacy between the two parties. So why replace a respected diplomat at a difficult moment in bilateral relations by such a controversial figure as Dayan? The answer concerns the priorities of the Prime Minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, who looks for achieving international acceptance and legitimacy to the 1967 territories. It is noteworthy that he seeks this goal in a hard way, via Brazil, due to its political importance, instead of trying to assign Dayan as ambassador to a smaller country. On the other hand, Dayan argues that this could set a precedent that will prevent residents of settlements – politicians or not – to represent Israel abroad because they will be considered unrightful. The result of this diplomatic crisis is uncertain, but since there is a mutual dependence of the two countries and because Israel is not well seen in regard to its diplomacy, probably it will end up assigning a new ambassador, rather than Brazil conforming to Israel’s current nominee. This will, however, only be seen in the following months.

 

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Saudi Arabia and Iran: A Middle Eastern Cold War?

Andrei Popoviciu is a first year International Relations student in the War Studies department at King’s College London. He has a particular interest in conflict, human rights, international and regional relations with a special focus on Middle Eastern affairs. He is also the Social Media Editor of International Relations Today.

iran-vs-saudi-arabia

The conflictual relationship between the Islamic Shia Republic of Iran and the Sunny Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have been thoroughly analysed by scholars and deemed to be one of the most enigmatic and controversial relationships in the Middle East. Aspirations for leadership of the Islamic world, interactions with the West (especially the US), oil export policies, nuclear weapons programmes and involvement in regional conflicts have been the main headlines that guided and influenced the relationship between the two Muslim states that is yet to be considered stable. Their affairs are considered antagonistic and tense mainly because of the abundant differences in political ideologies and agendas that are reinforced by dissimilarities in religion and governance. The Sunni Kingdom is known to have potent ties with the US and western countries such as the United Kingdom whereas the Shia Islamic Republic is more of a region-focused actor that dismisses external intervention in regional affairs and is the harbour of anti-Western values. The turning point that unsettled the relationship of the two states was the Islamic Revolution in 1979, which created such a deep gap between the two that its reminiscences are felt even today. Relations eroded furthermore because of the Saudi Arabian ties with the US, which gave the Sunni Kingdom the title of the US interest focused state of the Persian Gulf. On the other hand, Iran is believed to worsen the diplomatic dialogue because of its keen interest on regional dominance and its nuclear programme. This piece endeavours to analyse the depth of the relationship and the variables that influence the dialogue between the two countries.

Affairs between Saudi Arabia and Iran have recently been tainted by the execution of the Shia cleric Nimr al-Nimr. The dispute arose in January due to the execution of the cleric in Riyadh on the 3rd of January, the incident setting a storm of protests and events that only worsened what is seemed to be an improvement in the relations of the two states. Nimr was executed in Saudi Arabia alongside other 46 people on charges of terrorism and incitement of violence in the Sunni Kingdom. Iranian protesters vandalised the Saudi embassy as a response and created a series of diplomatic reprisals and arguments. Iran was accused by Saudi Arabia of instigating a “sectarian strife” in the region and was heavily adjudged of interfering with Saudi affairs. This event reinforces the idea of a gap between the two and as Saeid Golkar, an Iranian expert at the Chicago Council on Global affairs told Al Jazeera “the gap between Iran and Saudi Arabia is only getting wider by the day” making it “more difficult for the two nations to establish a rapprochement in the short term”. The Iranian public opinion called upon the Saudi decision and called it disgraceful. Ahmed Alibrahim a Saudi affairs specialist told Al Jazeera that “Saudi would not have cut its diplomatic relationship with Iran” if it weren’t for the attack on the embassy.

Furthermore, both nations are major oil & gas exporters and have clashed over energy policy repeatedly. They both have very different perspectives in this area, Saudi Arabia being focused more on long-term collaboration with the global oil market by setting temperate prices whereas Iran is more engrossed in a rather short-term initiative by setting high prices. This only shows the separation in perspectives and agendas on the aforementioned issue and strengthens the contrast between the two.

There have been occasions and efforts to try and resolve the diplomatic relationship but they were always worsened by the nations’ involvement in the Syrian conflict and other events and actions that are believed to have affected their relations. Fawas Gerges, head of the Middle East Studies at the London School of Economics (LSE) said that the current diplomatic conditions of the two countries will negatively affect the Syria talks and “nothing will come out” of them as Saudi and Iran are still conflictual. However, the two, declared that the escalating dispute would not affect international efforts to end the war in Syria and they will still be part of the plan endorsed by the UN Security Council.

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But what could the long-term consequences for the Syrian Conflict and for the Middle East be? Could a more serious conflict be hold off because of the Syrian war? The instability between the two has posed serious questions on how allies will act in the region. It is important to recognise such variables as a conflict between the two would be disastrous and asymmetrical.

Moreover is it important, as stated above, to take into consideration the possibility of a military conflict. What would the prospects be in the case of war? Presumably, if the US stayed out of it, Saudi Arabia would lose. First of all, the monarchy keeps its military force low due to fear of being overthrown, hence Iran’s significant advantage when it comes to military power. Second of all, Iran owns a series of anti-ship missiles that are in air range of the Persian Gulf, thus being able to strangle Saudi’s petrol flow. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia’s pipeline wouldn’t be able to deliver the same amount of petrol that ships do through the gulf, this giving Iran the upper hand in the situation. Thirdly, the petrochemical industry of the Sunnis is within flying distance of Iran’s military base, this giving Iran the possibility to destroy the petroleum industry within days. Fourthly, Saudi Arabia has quite a significant population of Shias, building up to 15% of its 30,770,375. The minority could rise a huge issue of trust in case of a conflict, taking needed troops away from the combat with Iran. Of course, these factors are to be treated as hypothetical due to the fact that the US would never permit such events to occur without making use of every diplomatic option available.

Another important aspect of their relationship is religion. Is it the cause behind the uprising tensions and could it be one of the core reasons behind the conflictual states of the diplomatic dialogue of the two nations? When Saudi Arabia executed Nimr al-Nimr, it didn’t know how and if Iran’s Shia-dominated government would react. Hence, Iran and Saudi Arabia severed their diplomatic relationship, supposedly, due to their rooted religious beliefs which happen to differ. This supposition is very easy to make since the religious feud has been going on for hundreds of years; but are the reasons behind the execution related to the religious division between the two? Or is it the regional and domestic political agendas the reason behind every action both Arab states engage in? The Saudis see Iran’s nuclear deal with the US to be a threat to their regional dominance. Due to this deal, Teheran’s economy and its relations with the US are about to improve, thus making Riyadh aware of the benefits it is going to lose to Teheran (no more political, economic and military training from the US). Iran will not take Saudi Arabia’s place as a western ally but Riyadh will have to be more careful when countering Iran’s actions in this situation. Furthermore, Saudi power is on the decline, as it can be clearly seen by the military failures in Yemen, whereas Iran is slowly gaining political influence and regional power. Riyadh spent huge amounts of money and was still not able to defeat the other forces who do not have the western support, the money or the weapons to efficiently fight back, hence its wish to degrade Iran and restabilise their influence.

“Playing the anti-Shia and anti-Iran cards is a pretext for the Saudi government to crack down on domestic opposition, call on its regional allies to take sides against Iran, and deflect attention from its geopolitical, military, and economic failures. So far, their strategy might be working. However, trading short-term domestic stability for an indefinite period of regional instability is a roll of the dice. There is no guarantee that sectarianism can be reined in once it has been unleashed.”

 Reza Marashi, Vice News

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Despite these insurgencies and the tense political atmosphere, the countries need to solve their issues by pursuing diplomacy and not through proxy wars, military combat or other strategies that might do both harm. It could be said that the west plays an important role in the two nations’ diplomatic dialogue and that without the US involvement in their relations a conflict could spark in the already unstable region.

I think mostly it’s going to be very important for Western actors to recognise the need to strike a balanced approach in this escalation.”

Ellie Geranmayeh, Iran expert at the European Council of Foreign Relations (ECFR)

The ironic thing is that weeks before the current diplomatic hassle, Iran and Saudi Arabia were actually making noteworthy progress in their relations that would have paved the way for the arrival of Riyadh’s new ambassador to Teheran.

What is intriguing is the European Union’s stance in this conflict. The EU wants to maintain the continuous gas and oil flow to its Member States and to protect commercial interests in the region, but has neither the power nor the commitment to take sides in a long battle of egotistic intentions between Teheran and Riyadh. Hence, will the lack of consistency in both countries policies towards one another stop or will it continue until a third party intervenes? In other words, is foreign intervention necessary to resolve the diplomatic conflict between the two powerful nations or is it a regional issue that needs the sole attention of the two parties involve.

SOURCES

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/01/fears-grow-saudi-iran-row-160110125118818.html

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jan/10/iran-saudi-arabia-middle-east-war-nimr-al-nimr-execution

https://news.vice.com/article/why-the-fight-between-iran-and-saudi-arabia-isnt-about-religion

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-35251833

 

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The Dragon visits the land of Uncle Sam

By Yiming Yu, a Shanghai native currently studying International Relations at King’s College London. 
Obama v Xi

When President Xi Jinping cited Sleepless in Seattle and The Old Man and the Sea in his inaugural visit to the United States, the kindness he portrayed attempted to wash over increasing hostilities in Sino-US relationship. Though Xi and Obama tried to create a façade of genuine friendship, the visit by the premier continues his predecessors’ concentration on the economy with little progress made in other areas. With solutions to issues such as cyber security and the South China Sea disputes yet to be found, along with US contempt for Xi’s authoritarian control over China there are question marks over whether these two super powers can live in harmony.

The economy appears to be the area where the most common ground can be found, something to be expected given the importance of these connections in the bilateral relationship. Indeed, just last year China’s trade with the US was almost 600 billion dollars1. Xi’s choice of Seattle rather than Washington as his first stop in the US demonstrates that he continue his predecessors’ focus on economic issues. However, this strategy may backfire for Xi as he must assure US entrepreneurs that the Chinese economy is suitable for investment and trade. The Chinese economy has been slowing down in recent months, and was confirmed by the decline of China on the official purchasing managers’ index (PMI) to a low of 49.82. To get an understanding of what this means a figure below 50 suggests that the manufacturing sector is contracting. While the government still maintain that they have met their growth rate target of 7%, this is doubted by many analysts who estimate that the figure is much lower3. Whether or not this statistic is correct, this is the slowest growing pace of the Chinese economy for over 25 years4. If Sino-US trade is indeed worth over 600 billion dollars to the two nations, Xi had to make sure that the Chinese economy is still an attractive option for American businesses which would strengthen the Chinese economy, and with it the ruling class who rely heavily on a strong economic performance.

There were other positive aspects to the trip with the most important being the climate change deal, where Xi announced that China would set up a cap-and-trade programme to control Carbon Dioxide emissions starting from 2017 and would allocate 3.1 billion dollars to help low-income countries6. In addition to this, the Chinese and the Americans showed that they have common interests in sectors including, but not limited to, nuclear programmes in Iran and North Korea, Afghanistan, peacekeeping and global sustainable development7 and 8. This shows China’s commitment to take the responsibilities of a great power and as David Shambaugh, a famous scholar on Chinese politics point out, this signals China’s willingness for more active cooperation with the US in global governance9.

However, despite many areas of progress, there is still no consensus on long-existing issues, issues that are crucial to the future dynamic of Sino-US relations such as cybersecurity and the South China Sea disputes. It must be noted that Obama clearly expressed dissatisfaction and concern over China’s cyber activities and showed contempt towards the construction of artificial airstrips in disputed territory while Xi denied and defended both of these activities as you would expect10. In the field of cybersecurity, there was little progress, though both parties nominally agreed to refrain from state-sponsored cyber theft for commercial gain. They also promised to establish a high-level dialogue mechanism between the two countries and to work on international rules of cyber conducts11 and 12. Nevertheless, it is noticed that the agreement left room for difference where Obama claimed stop of cyberespionage for commercial gains against companies while Xi only mentioned cybercrime13. Richard Bejtlich, a fellow at Brookings Institution, also points out that there are four ways to interpret this agreement, where China’s subsequent action may range anywhere from an authoritative robust policy restricting cyber theft on intellectual properties, to the continuation of hacking against US governmental departments as claimed by the US government recently14. At the same time as the visit, a high ranking Chinese official lambasted the US for a hypocritical cyber policy15 showing the conflict is not resolved yet, especially with rumours that the US could impose sanctions on China if the hacking continues. While it could be believed that China and the US have found some common ground on the cybersecurity issue, it seems that both sides refuse to compromise on disputes in South China Sea. Though both have signed the little-noticed Annex of the Rules of Behaviour for Air-to-Air Encounters to prevent potential collision and to show their determination to avoid conflicts16, there seemed to be no consensus in the joint press conference and more tension is expected to exist in South China Sea.
Following the end of the summit, there were questions raised as to whether this meeting was successful or not with conclusions ranging from success to failure to satisfactory. However, with so many uncertainties in the conflicted areas and even areas where progress has been made in the summit, it is safe to think it too early to conclude whether Xi’s visit was successful. After Xi took the throne, his assertiveness and revisionism satisfied the population’s ambition of ‘rejuvenation of the Chinese nation’. This fervent nationalism is precisely the thing that keeps the Chinese Communist party in power.

When Xi met with American business leaders in Seattle to promote trade and Chinese economy, it should not be overlooked that favourability towards the Chinese investment markets  in the American business circles is reducing, creating an environment where only 24% of business executives surveyed felt optimistic about doing business in China. Comparatively, 5 years ago this figure was nearer 67% 17. The change of attitude could be largely attributed to the Party’s enhanced national security policies, which include the requirement of passing critical data and intellectual properties on to the authority18. It is believed by the US Chamber of Commerce that these laws would bar American businesses from fair competition with Chinese counterparts19. Also, the Chinese government’s heavy but failed intervention to stimulate stock market in August left a bad impression on these business leaders tarnishing China’s reputation20. Similarly, it is reported that between one fifth and one third of Chinese CO2 emissions are produced by export industries21. Although China is advocating reform of industry structures, considering the economy’s great importance to the Party’s ruling as well as local government officers’ position, would China be willing to potentially sacrifice the growth rate of the economy to fight against climate change, especially in the time of economy slowing down?

The phrase a ‘new type of great-power relations’ may be one of the most frequently quoted words in the Chinese statement on the Sino-US relationship. Domestically, this sentiment could be regarded as the effort to acquire the population’s confidence and support towards the ruling party Party as it recognises the peasantries dream to be a great power. This could explain why some media outlets allege that China took symbolic gestures as China’s primary goal as it ensures Xi’s security and dignity22, which could prove to domestic audience that China is a respected great power. Interpretations of this phrase vary from equal treatment and win-win cooperation to respecting each other’s interests as great powers to US’ accommodation of China’s core interests23. How both sides perceive this description of bilateral relationship may greatly decide progress of diplomacy in the future while also produce many uncertainties.

After all, no one wants to see China and the US walk into the Thucydides Trap which is another phrase used by Xi to explain conflicts between a status quo power and a rising power. Some commentaries claim that the Sino-US relationship has reached a tipping point and could be seen to start a new Cold War. However, when Xi’s predecessors met with the US leaders, despite conflicts over some issues, the bilateral relationship kept progressing24. With the foundation of economic connections and both sides’ willingness to continue diplomatic dialogues, it could be believed that Xi would not be an exception and there will still be a relatively positive relationship between two states. Nevertheless, a new US president will take office next year, which will potentially change their foreign policies towards China. Furthermore, with the Chinese economy in turmoil it may be less alluring to US businesses and Xi’s effort to consolidate the Party’s rule may mean a more assertive foreign policy and more restrictions on foreign business’ activities in China. These factors are likely to lead to more uncertainties in the future. How both sides deal with these uncertainties will eventually shape the future of Sino-US relationship.

  1. “Collision course? Rise of China a stress for the US,” BBC, accessed October 2, 2015, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-34368249
  2. “Chinese manufacturing continues to contract in September,” BBC, accessed October 1, 2015, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-34409196
  3. ibid
  4. ibid
  5. “Xi Jinping of China to Address Wary U.S. Business Leaders,” New York Times, accessed October 1, 2015, http://cn.nytimes.com/china/20150923/c23xijinping/en-us/
  6. “China takes a lead on global climate change,” Financial Times, accessed October 1, 2015, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/china/2014-10-09/not-so-empty-talk
  7. “Collision course? Rise of China a stress for the US,” BBC, accessed October 2, 2015, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-34368249
  8. “FACT SHEET: President Xi Jinping’s State Visit to the United States,” The White House, accessed October 5, 2015, https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/09/25/fact-sheet-president-xi-jinpings-state-visit-united-states
  9. “Reserving differences while finding common ground,” New York Times, accessed October 3, 2015, http://www.brookings.edu/research/opinions/2015/09/28-xi-us-visit-common-ground-shambaugh
  10. “Obama and Xi Jinping of China Agree to Steps on Cybertheft,” New York Times, accessed October 5, 2015, http://cn.nytimes.com/china/20150926/c26prexy/en-us/
  11. “Collision course? Rise of China a stress for the US,” BBC, accessed October 2, 2015, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-34368249
  12. “FACT SHEET: President Xi Jinping’s State Visit to the United States,” The White House, accessed October 5, 2015, https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/09/25/fact-sheet-president-xi-jinpings-state-visit-united-states
  13. “Obama and Xi Jinping of China Agree to Steps on Cybertheft,” New York Times, accessed October 5, 2015, http://cn.nytimes.com/china/20150926/c26prexy/en-us/
  14. “To hack, or not to hack?,” Brookings Institution, accessed October 3, 2015, http://www.brookings.edu/blogs/up-front/posts/2015/09/28-us-china-hacking-agreement-bejtlich
  15. “Chinese Official Faults US Internet Security Policy,” New York Times, accessed October 2, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/30/technology/chinese-official-faults-us-internet-security-policy.html?_r=0
  16. “Obama-Xi summit produces landmark deal to reduce dangerous military encounters,” The Interpreter, accessed October 5, 2015, http://www.lowyinterpreter.org/post/2015/09/29/Obama-Xi-summit-produces-landmark-deal-to-reduce-dangerous-military-encounters.aspx
  17. “Xi Jinping of China to Address Wary U.S. Business Leaders,” New York Times, accessed October 1, 2015, http://cn.nytimes.com/china/20150923/c23xijinping/en-us/
  18. ibid
  19. ibid
  20. “A very long engagement,” The Economist, accessed October 4, 2015, http://www.economist.com/news/china/21665034-xi-jinpings-state-visit-washington-will-do-little-resolve-growing-tensions-very-long
  21. “China’s Exports Are Closely Linked to Its Emissions,” New York Times, accessed October 1, 2015, http://sinosphere.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/10/01/chinas-exports-are-closely-linked-to-its-emissions/?module=BlogPost-Title&version=Blog%20Main&contentCollection=World&action=Click&pgtype=Blogs&region=Body
  22. “Watching the signs: Can honesty and candour define Xi Jinping’s first state visit to the US?,” Financial Times, accessed October 4, 2015, http://www.scmp.com/comment/insight-opinion/article/1860413/watching-signs-can-honesty-and-candour-define-xi-jinpings
  23. “Not-So-Empty Talk,” Foreign Affairs, accessed October 3, 2015, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/china/2014-10-09/not-so-empty-talk
  24. “Chinese state visits are always hard: A historical perspective,” Brookings Institution, accessed October 4, 2015, http://www.brookings.edu/blogs/order-from-chaos/posts/2015/09/17-xi-jinping-state-visit-politics-bader
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