WASHINGTON—The implications of the Brexit vote are stark, not only for the United Kingdom and for the European Union, but also for the United States. Since the end of World War II, successive U.S. administrations have strongly supported the project of European economic and political integration – initially, to ensure peace among the continent’s great powers; more recently, to enlarge the area of democratic stability and economic prosperity across the continent.
For seven decades, the U.S. security umbrella, represented by the NATO Alliance, helped defend our European allies and gave them the opportunity to concentrate on building the European Community and later the European Union (EU). With the U.K. poised to leave the EU, leadership from the United States is needed to keep the U.K. and its continental partners working closely together in NATO and beyond in the aftermath of last week’s referendum.
Britain, the EU’s second largest economy and one of only two EU member states with a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, has brought global heft, economic liberalism, military prowess, and its special relationship with the United States to the European Union. President Obama even visited London in April to express his full-throated support for Britain’s EU membership directly to the British people, arguing that the European Union magnifies British influence. Now that 52 percent of British voters have expressed their desire for Britain to leave the EU, what should U.S. policy be?
President Obama has reaffirmed that the special relationship between the U.S. and the U.K. will endure. He also underscored that the U.K. and the EU will remain “indispensable partners of the United States.”
The last NATO summit, in Wales in 2014, was defined by the recognition that with Russia having just seized Crimea and expanded war into Ukraine, the post–Cold War security regime in Europe was effectively being dismantled. Moscow was redrawing borders in Eastern Europe while accelerating its military modernization and pushing for a sphere of privileged interest along its periphery. Since then, the Baltic states, Poland, and Romania have called for NATO to return the alliance to its traditional collective territorial defense function, asking that permanent U.S. bases be established on their territories as a means to strengthen deterrence.
As NATO leaders prepare to meet in Warsaw on July 8–9, the deep security concerns of the states along the frontier remain. That is despite the fact that in the past two years the alliance has taken steps to begin addressing the deepening NATO-Russia military imbalance along the Eastern frontier, albeit short of the request for the permanent stationing of U.S. troops.
The persistent sense of insecurity in the region has been fed by Russia’s continued military buildup—it is midway through a ten-year $700 billion modernization program. In the process, Russia has created an effective anti-access and area-denial (A2/AD) bubble over the Baltic and Black Seas, forcing the larger question of what capabilities NATO must have available if deterrence is to be credible, including the need for a new NATO maritime strategy. This is felt acutely in Poland, the Baltic states, and Romania, where the recent memory of Russian (Soviet) domination remains the immediate reference point for thinking about collective defense, generating persistent calls for a strategic adaptation of the alliance.
At its most basic level, countries in the region see the permanent stationing of significant and exercised U.S. and European capabilities as the sine qua non of credible deterrence. The small force NATO currently plans to deploy through the region is a start and will hopefully send the right political message to Moscow; however, it will not fundamentally change the odds when it comes to the region’s vulnerability to a Russian attack—hybrid or conventional. To buttress this political message, NATO needs to focus after the Warsaw summit on addressing the Russian A2/AD threat with deployed and exercised capabilities to complicate Moscow’s military planning and to significantly raise the deterrence threshold.
We live in an age of disintegration. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Greater Middle East and Africa. Across the vast swath of territory between Pakistan and Nigeria, there are at least seven ongoing wars -- in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, and South Sudan. These conflicts are extraordinarily destructive. They are tearing apart the countries in which they are taking place in ways that make it doubtful they will ever recover. Cities like Aleppo in Syria, Ramadi in Iraq, Taiz in Yemen, and Benghazi in Libya have been partly or entirely reduced to ruins. There are also at least three other serious insurgencies: in southeast Turkey, where Kurdish guerrillas are fighting the Turkish army, in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula where a little-reported but ferocious guerrilla conflict is underway, and in northeast Nigeria and neighboring countries where Boko Haram continues to launch murderous attacks.
All of these have a number of things in common: they are endless and seem never to produce definitive winners or losers. (Afghanistan has effectively been at war since 1979, Somalia since 1991.) They involve the destruction or dismemberment of unified nations, their de facto partition amid mass population movements and upheavals -- well publicized in the case of Syria and Iraq, less so in places like South Sudan where more than 2.4 million people have been displaced in recent years.
Add in one more similarity, no less crucial for being obvious: in most of these countries, where Islam is the dominant religion, extreme Salafi-Jihadi movements, including the Islamic State (IS), al-Qaeda, and the Taliban are essentially the only available vehicles for protest and rebellion. By now, they have completely replaced the socialist and nationalist movements that predominated in the twentieth century; these years have, that is, seen a remarkable reversion to religious, ethnic, and tribal identity, to movements that seek to establish their own exclusive territory by the persecution and expulsion of minorities.
In the process and under the pressure of outside military intervention, a vast region of the planet seems to be cracking open. Yet there is very little understanding of these processes in Washington. This was recently well illustrated by the protest of 51 State Department diplomats against President Obama’s Syrian policy and their suggestion that air strikes be launched targeting Syrian regime forces in the belief that President Bashar al-Assad would then abide by a ceasefire. The diplomats’ approach remains typically simpleminded in this most complex of conflicts, assuming as it does that the Syrian government’s barrel-bombing of civilians and other grim acts are the “root cause of the instability that continues to grip Syria and the broader region.”
It is as if the minds of these diplomats were still in the Cold War era, as if they were still fighting the Soviet Union and its allies. Against all the evidence of the last five years, there is an assumption that a barely extant moderate Syrian opposition would benefit from the fall of Assad, and a lack of understanding that the armed opposition in Syria is entirely dominated by the Islamic State and al-Qaeda clones.
The United Kingdom’s stunning vote to leave the European Union will surely disrupt many assumptions about European integration, borders, trade, political elites, the generational divide, and more.
The response needs to be as disruptive as the referendum result.
It is time to rethink what else could and should change to address the palpable anger of voters related to the dislocation of globalization, correct the failure of governments to deliver adequate services, stem the rise of intolerance, and stop the total breakdown of civility. The situation cries out for strong leadership - by the United States, and by the leaders of Europe. My candidate to seize the moment is Angela Merkel, who has shown moral courage as well as careful stewardship.
Anger clearly fueled the Brexit vote, and it is doing the same in our own election cycle. But one of the biggest surprises about Brexit was that so many Millennials supported Remain. Leaders around the world need to capture their excitement about globalization and make a concerted effort to get that population more engaged in the business of government, by integrating them into key roles and proving that the establishment can in fact change.
The British establishment began eating is own this week, while at the same heaping scorn on those who had the temerity to have their own views. Prime Minister David Cameron is finished but not gone. The head of the loyal opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, was given a vote of no confidence by Labourites in Parliament, but he refused to step down immediately after the June 28 motion. The global stock markets rose, and we were assured by leading experts that this means nothing since the world is ending. And the best and brightest looked for ways to annul the will of the people, since the people were being very silly indeed. Yet the sun rose in Her Majesty’s realm, the children went to school (assuming their teachers weren’t on strike) and the financial wizards of the City continued to make money, but not always for their clients, which is as it should be, I suppose. The British survived the Battle of Britain, and they will surely survive this.
The ones who didn’t survive the Battle of Britain were the Germans. And their ability to survive this is much more uncertain than that of the British. The reasons are fairly obvious, but since everyone in the media is focused on the end of Great Britain, it is a story they haven’t noticed.
Let’s begin with a seemingly innocent statement made by German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier: “Let’s keep our heads up! [We have] every reason to be proud of EU integration and to continue it…Let’s be honest. We need a more flexible EU. You’re not a bad European if you want to advance at a slower pace.” On the surface, this is a reasonable and conciliatory statement.
There are of course any number of countries engaged in fairly bitter disputes with the EU. Britain is far from the only one. For example, the EU is condemning the Polish government for what it calls tampering with the judiciary. Similarly, the EU has been hostile to Hungary for interfering with the media. There was serious tension with Italy when the EU said that in a banking crisis, depositors should consider their money forfeit, and the Italians struggled with the notion of facing strict limits to aiding ailing banks. During the height of the refugee crisis the Austrians threatened to close the Brenner Pass to block refugee movement, while a number of other countries refused to follow EU dictates on the subject. The Greeks are still bitter about the devastation of EU-mandated austerity. And so on.
Last week was historic for Colombians: After three years, government negotiators struck a deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) on disarmament terms and conditions for a final cease-fire. While the country is closer than ever to ending a war that has produced millions of victims, a final accord is yet to be signed. Critically, this final agreement must then be ratified by the Colombian people with a plebiscite. As Colombians consider where they stand, the world community should not make the mistake of keeping to the sidelines. It must step clearly into the peace camp.
The announcement is the first critical step toward ending Latin America’s longest-running armed conflict and starts the clock on the political battle to consolidate peace. It will be an explosive political fight. President Juan Manuel Santos has been adamant about the need to subject the peace agreement to a popular vote, allowing the Colombian people to decide rather than leaving this big decision up to political elites. Many people have recommended a different course. The example of British Prime Minister David Cameron is a very lively reminder that promises of popular votes can endanger one’s political career.
Indeed, Santos’ relentless commitment is admirable, but not without risks. Many Colombians are very skeptical about FARC’s intention to lay down arms and transform into a political actor. After years of violence, many wonder whether the country should make peace with a group that has committed such constant and serious atrocities over many decades. Colombians have valid concerns over whether negotiators conceded too much, such as granting former guerrillas political participation and allowing them to avoid jail time if they confess to war crimes.
Opposition to the peace process in Havana has been led by former president Alvaro Uribe, whose presidency led the most successful military strategy against the Colombian rebels. President Uribe is unwaveringly opposed to any concessions to the guerrilla group, which he believes could be militarily defeated. His message has been popular with a significant portion of Colombia’s citizenry.
It was the refugee crisis whot won it.
Many of the British citizens who voted to leave the European Union on June 23 clearly had two related issues on their mind, exit polls show. The most prominent consideration was the wish to control Britain’s borders. Second was the wish to keep immigrants out.
Of course, the second issue directly influenced the first. Stopping immigration was the motivation, closing borders the means.
Nigel Farage, leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party on Friday morning was himself almost surprised at the Leave campaign’s success. When a Dutch television news crew asked him what in his opinion had turned the tide, he replied “Immigration!” with eyes wide in positive astonishment. Polls had been showing a neck-and-neck race between the Remain and Leave campaigns, but it was only when Leave dropped everything else and focused solely on immigration fears in the last three weeks that the Leave campaign got a boost, Farage said.
Military clashes in the east are taking a toll on Ukraine’s already strained national budget. According to recent statements by Andrei Paruby, Speaker of Ukraine’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, the country is facing difficulties in funding its armed forces. As a result, Ukraine’s Channel 5 television network reported, military equipment damaged during fighting in the Donbas region has not been repaired over the past two months. "We are catastrophically short on money for the defense sector, and resolution to this crisis requires political will and political decisions. This is a decision that can not be lost in the legislative procedures,” Paruby said.
Paruby also recalled the Rada’s decision on the law on strategic defense order, which provides for the development and domestic manufacture of new and unique military equipment for the country's armed forces. "The proposed technology is on par with international equivalents, including with the anti-tank weapon better known to as Javelin, which we have long been waiting for from the United States. We are continuing its development with intent to manufacture "
The Ukrainian government intends to professionalize its armed forces despite financial constraints. On June 7, 2016, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko signed the Strategic Defense Bulletin, which provides for the formation of professional reserves by the Armed Forces of Ukraine - the adoption of this document is part of official measures meant to bring the Ukrainian army in line with NATO standards.
Across former Soviet states with large ethic Russian minorities, there is growing concern that Russia may use those minority communities to destabilize host nations, as Moscow did in Ukraine. More than half of the Russian-speaking residents of Estonia have a negative attitude to the presence of NATO troops in the country. The latter form part of a 4,000-strong contingent to be stationed there as a warning to Moscow. On June 15, 2016, a sociological survey commissioned by the Estonian Ministry of Defense revealed that 56 percent of Russian-speaking respondents said they opposed the presence of NATO forces in Estonia. Meanwhile, 88 percent of ethnic Estonian respondents perceived the presence of NATO forces as positive, with 66 percent generally positive about NATO activities in ensuring the security of Estonia.
Sun Tzu said “all warfare is based on deception,” and that rings especially true for terrorists’ strategy.
Long before a proposal to temporarily yet indefinitely ban Muslims from entering the United States sparked support and scorn in a frenzied presidential campaign season, al-Qaeda and ISIS already had the workaround in place. Terror groups have been extremely frank in publicly available jihadi guides about how to evade religion-based suspicion, with directives that would surprise Americans who believe Islamist terrorists are required to wear “Allahu Akbar” on their sleeve.
The spring 2014 issue of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s Inspire magazine, which has served as a practical how-to handbook for “open-source jihadists” such as the Boston Marathon bombers, recommended striking non-landmark targets such as festivals and Christmas events. To strike most effectively, the magazine advised, dress up like jolly St. Nick, complete with a Santa beard, and join others celebrating the Christian holiday.
This made the San Bernardino terrorists’ choice of the county employees’ holiday party an unsurprising one.
Britain's approaching referendum has led to rampant speculation about the economic and financial consequences of a vote to leave the European Union. And indeed, in the wake of a Brexit, uncertainty — the archenemy of economic growth and financial stability — would abound. But if Britain withdraws from the Continental bloc, its primary effect would be geopolitical, shaking the balance of power in Europe to its very foundation and forcing the bloc to rethink its role in the world.
The Franco-German alliance is the cornerstone on which European power dynamics rest. Conflict between the two drove three Continental wars between 1870 and 1945; its resolution facilitated peace after World War II, planting the seeds of eventual integration through the European Union. But France and Germany are not the only countries shaping Europe's course. A third actor plays the role of power broker between the two, stabilizing their relationship and, by extension, the Continent: the United Kingdom.
When France and West Germany founded the European Economic Community (EEC), the European Union's predecessor, in the 1950s, they had two goals. The first was to create a political and economic structure that would bind the two states together, reducing the chances of another war breaking out in Europe. The second was to facilitate trade and investment to rejuvenate Europe's war-weary economies. Both were pleased with the solution they found: France felt it had neutralized its eastern neighbor while maintaining control of Continental politics, and Germany had successfully reconciled with the West.
Meanwhile, the United Kingdom's relationship with the European project was somewhat ambiguous. As an island nation, Britain historically had been shielded from events unfolding on the mainland. If the United Kingdom intervened in Continental affairs, it was usually to ensure that power remained balanced and yet dispersed enough to keep Britain safe. When the EEC was born, London initially reacted with skepticism, wary of any project that would transfer more sovereignty from the British Parliament to unelected technocrats in Brussels. France, moreover, was eager to keep Britain out of the bloc; it was concerned about granting EEC membership to a country Charles de Gaulle described as "an American Trojan Horse in Europe." De Gaulle was also reluctant to include the only country in Western Europe capable of competing with France for leadership of the bloc. It came as no surprise when, in the 1960s, France vetoed Britain's membership twice.
There is great consternation about the possibility that Britain might leave the European Union. How the vote goes is far less important than most people think. What matters is that a referendum is taking place, and that at this late date the result remains unclear. It is similar to the referendum on Scottish independence.
That the Scots voted down independence should comfort no one who wants the United Kingdom to stay intact. The Scots were sufficiently troubled to want to vote on the question of secession, and 45 percent voted to secede. On the surface, nothing has changed. Underneath, the idea of secession is likely a permanent feature of Scottish political culture, and every political step taken in Britain will include an awareness of the United Kingdom’s fragility.
The same can be said for the European Union, save that British secession is only one of the challenges to the Union. No matter which side wins, a substantial part of the population of one of Europe’s major powers thinks so badly of the European experiment that they want to leave. The mere fact that a large portion of the public in such a country is so disillusioned with the European Union that an exit is possible is a blow to the idea of a united Europe.
Back in 2006, a forecast that a major European power would hold a referendum on EU membership whose outcome is too close to call would have been amazing. But it would not have been surprising that the major power would be Britain.
If you listen to some left-wing voices – proponents of what is being called Lexit – the European Union is an undemocratic, neo-liberal empire. It is ruled by Angela Merkel and an army of cold-hearted, faceless bureaucrats in Brussels who spend their lives plotting to privatise British public services and deliberately making life in Southern Europe as miserable as possible.
Listening to both left-wing and right-wing arguments for Brexit can be rather confusing. Similar to Schrödinger’s immigrant who lazes around on benefits while simultaneously stealing jobs, the EU seems to be at the same time both communist and predatory capitalist. It has transformed Europe into a fortress while at the same time opening its borders to mass immigration. The EU’s rescue packages for Southern Europe have been too stingy while at the same constituting an outrageous burden to British taxpayers.
You do not have to be an idealist europhile to find these accusations a bit harsh. As a project that’s main purpose is the creation of a single market, the EU is indeed an economically liberal endeavour. Its key purpose is to replace those national laws which hamper trade with common European legislation.
For some member states, such as France or Germany, this often amounts to deregulation, because EU laws tend to be more business-friendly than their national laws.
Last month, Europe would have seen its first populist, far-right head of state elected since World War II had an anti-immigrant, anti-EU Austrian presidential candidate not been defeated by a hairs-breadth in run-off elections on May 22. Although Vienna can breathe a quick sigh of relief, nativist populism still threatens to hijack elections and referenda across the Continent over the next year.
As life imitates art in this chaotic election year, a recent satirical German film helps illuminate the trend, demonstrating how easily hateful ideas that should have been discredited decades ago can be cleaned up, repackaged, and slipped back into a country's national discourse. It is unclear exactly what role right-wing extremism played in inspiring the senseless murder of UK Member of Parliament Jo Cox on June 16. Nevertheless, at a minimum, the harsh tenor of today’s political debate in Europe risks provoking violence. Tackling this crisis requires the European center to mount a robust first-principles defense of the liberal international policies and institutions that rebuilt postwar Europe and won the Cold War, while acknowledging where tough reforms are needed to address the genuine societal discontent at the root of these movements. At the same time, popular media must resist mainstreaming xenophobia and nationalist rhetoric, and instead challenge outrageous statements from the far-right, however slyly they may be packaged.
Reality TV Replaces Riefenstahl
The premise of David Wnendt’s "Look Who's Back" ("Er ist wieder da") -- a 2015 German film based on Timur Vermes’ 2012 satirical novel of the same name -- is that a shell-shocked Adolf Hitler inexplicably wakes up in present day Berlin. (Note: before anyone protests, your author assumes there is an exemption clause to Godwin’s Law when discussing actual far-right politicians from Austria.) After an anachronistic fascist-out-of-water comic first act in which Hitler orients himself to the changes of the past 70 years, the character becomes a national media sensation on the German reality TV and talk-show circuit by striking all the right(-wing) chords of postmodern European societal insecurity. Cynical German TV producers seize on Hitler's unexpected popularity to drive up ratings, mistaking his actual odious views for an edgy comic routine. Novelty, spectacle, and scandal ensure snowballing media coverage, which gives his dangerous beliefs a national platform.
Attackers in Orlando, Brussels, San Bernardino, Paris, and Boston share a stark commonality with each other and with other terrorists: They already had come to the attention of law enforcement or intelligence agencies before they killed. In each instance, authorities decided that despite radical leanings and prior offenses the suspects would not commit acts of mass violence, and so discontinued investigations or did not share information across jurisdictions.
Omar Mateen of recent Orlando infamy had been on the U.S. terrorist watch list and was interviewed by the FBI about his extremist connections. Ethno-nationalist Anders Breivik, whose hatred for Muslim immigrants spurred him to attack in July 2011, had come to the attention of Norway’s security agency one year earlier after having purchased an explosives primer. No precautionary actions were taken in either case. These and other instances suggest that a major means of preventing attacks is to better monitor persons who have already triggered warning signals by displaying the motives and acquiring the means to perform terror acts.
Certain people -- police, military, and other government officers, journalists, scholars, and aid workers -- have legitimate reasons to routinely visit extremist websites and interact virtually or in person with proselytizers and practitioners of violence. Curious members of the public and people with relatives in conflict-ridden areas seek similar information. In many countries, including the United States, this is not illegal.
But most law-abiding persons have no reason for prolonged contact with virtual and physical sites, ideologues, and combatants who disseminate hate and deploy violence. When they do get involved deeply, the consequences can be dire, particularly if authorities’ vigilance lags or warning fatigue sets in. Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who organized the November 2015 terrorism wave in Paris, was known to French intelligence as having been recruited to serve the Islamic State in Syria, yet he slipped back into the European Union due to poor data-sharing between nations.
The digital environment is borderless -- so runs the belief. Just as innovation is not bound to a location or culture, but it is developed by the universal human mind, the digital world, evolving through innovation, has no centered source. It is global and decentralized. It supports and fuels globalization. However, as we observe the downsides of globalization, and while technological progress rapidly makes of the digitized sector a main feature of the 21st century, we can see that it is neither homogenous nor systematically sustained worldwide.
The internet -- the platform that supports global digital development, may be “the realization of the classical theory in an anarchic, leaderless world”, as described by Jared Cohen in his book “The New Digital Age.” But it is also characterized by a geography that becomes more visible all the time, and its influence depends on nation states’ policies toward supporting not only innovation, but also their own foreign policies. As such, it is very much embedded into the classical concepts of national interest and geopolitics. There is growing evidence to challenge the assumption that the digital environment is not characterized by geographical or historical patterns. The evidence challenges its characterization as borderless.
The Logical Geography of Innovation
The development of cyberspace is driven by human innovation. Therefore its evolution is limitless indeed. It is through an analysis of its components that the borders we talk about are defined. Simply put, cyberspace is shaped by three elements: the physical, the virtual, and the human.
This article originally appeared in TomDispatch.
These days, lamenting the apparently aimless character of Washington’s military operations in the Greater Middle East has become conventional wisdom among administration critics of every sort. Senator John McCain thunders that “this president has no strategy to successfully reverse the tide of slaughter and mayhem” in that region. Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies bemoans the “lack of a viable and public strategy.” Andrew Bacevich suggests that “there is no strategy. None. Zilch.”
After 15 years of grinding war with no obvious end in sight, U.S. military operations certainly deserve such obloquy. But the pundit outrage may be misplaced. Focusing on Washington rather than on distant war zones, it becomes clear that the military establishment does indeed have a strategy, a highly successful one, which is to protect and enhance its own prosperity.
Given this focus, creating and maintaining an effective fighting force becomes a secondary consideration, reflecting a relative disinterest -- remarkable to outsiders -- in the actual business of war, as opposed to the business of raking in dollars for the Pentagon and its industrial and political partners. A key element of the strategy involves seeding the military budget with “development” projects that require little initial outlay but which, down the line, grow irreversibly into massive, immensely profitable production contracts for our weapons-making cartels.
Since the ISIS downing of a Russian airliner over Sinai in October 2015, there has been a bustle of activity between Washington and Cairo. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has been to the Egyptian capital twice, in addition to visits by high-level Congressional, military, intelligence, and business delegations. Despite continued high concern about the country’s dismal human-rights situation, there is deep awareness that Egypt needs urgent aid in its fight against the Islamic State and al-Qaeda, as well as serious assistance in boosting its slow economy. There is also growing awareness that while Washington has serious and legitimate differences on a number of domestic and regional issues with almost all of its Middle Eastern allies, the United States cannot face regional challenges on its own, and must negotiate partnerships and burden-sharing with the allies it has in the region.
Egypt is indeed too big to fail, and while Cairo has a long way to go on essential economic and political reforms, it is strategically important to prevent a terrorist victory or an economic collapse in the country.
Egypt faces daunting challenges, and the United States has a keen interest in helping the most populous Arab nation overcome them. After three years, the war against ISIS in Sinai grinds on with no decisive resolution in sight. The Egyptian armed forces have denied the militant jihadist group their signature goal of setting up an independent polity in northern Sinai, as ISIS has done in other countries, but this has come at a very high cost to civilians. ISIS has reverted to al-Qaeda tactics of guerilla war, but is exacting a heavy price on Egyptian military and police forces. Al-Qaeda, in the meantime, in its ambition to compete with ISIS for jihadist primacy, is urging cells and sympathizers in Egypt to take more action.
The United States has offered equipment and training to enhance Egypt’s effectiveness against the Islamic State in Sinai, as well as to secure its long border with Libya in the west. This includes AH-64 Apache helicopters, surveillance drones, and most recently a consignment of 762 mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles. This cooperation needs to continue.
The EU summit on June 28-29 in Amsterdam promises to run hot, as leaders of the member states clash over a number of topics. This at a time when public confidence in the European Union's ability to solve problems is diminishing fast.
The main issues playing out before the whirring cameras will be the future of the EU-Turkey deal on refugees; the outcome of Great Britain’s referendum on EU membership; the political response to the Dutch referendum on the Association Treaty with Ukraine (to which the Dutch said No); and the success or failure of a far-reaching, EU-wide deal on tax reform and tax avoidance in the wake of the high-profile Panama Papers scandal.
So to say that the Dutch temporary chairmanship and European Council President Donald Tusk will have their hands full is an understatement.
The days before a summit generally see a lot of jostling among countries, with governments strategically leaking positions and opinions.
Russian President Vladimir Putin stands at a fork in the road. The crises and responsibilities the country faces hang in a precarious balance. As Russia's economic recession drags on, prolonged by Western sanctions and dreary oil prices, inflation has skyrocketed, wages are tumbling and the poverty rate is growing at a pace not seen since the 1998 financial crisis. Limited military campaigns in eastern Ukraine and Syria have stirred up nationalism, enabling the government to maintain its popularity. Meanwhile, NATO forces are building up near Russia's borders, mounting pressure on the Russian military.
For much of his more than 16 years in power, Putin has remained a centrist, by Russian standards. He sits neither in the radically liberal reformist camp nor among the rabid security hawks, but somewhere in between, cherry-picking policies from each side to suit the situation. Over the years, Putin has employed a variety of strategies that run the political gamut. But in the years to come, this centrist approach — vacillating between strategies while attempting to maintain a balance — will no longer be effective. Polarized camps in the Kremlin, and among the Russian public, are urging the Russian leader to change tack.
A Country, Polarized
Typically, high-ranking officials and advisers do not publicly criticize Putin, nor do they demand overhauls of state strategy. But as Russia's situation grows more precarious, even the Kremlin's elite are expressing concern. In May, one of Putin's longtime financial advisers and two senior officials in the Ministry of Finance published a scathing article in The National Interest. The piece criticized Russia's continued reliance on oil revenue, blasting the government for its failure to implement economic reforms. Although the authors' view is nothing new, the public condemnation from one of Putin's most trusted advisers reveals that dissent in the country has reached the heights of government decision-making. Later that month, Russian daily Vedomosti published a leaked conversation between Putin and former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, who told Putin that he could choose either political ambitions and stagnation or political modesty and economic growth.