<p>Rumours of a Russian submarine hanging around off the coast of Sweden have inspired much Cold War nostalgia. But while there is of course the chance that something fishy is going on, there are many plausible explanations as to why a vessel might prowl about in foreign waters. In fact, it happens all the time.</p>
<p>The Swedish military has reported detecting underwater activity in its seas and has already spent several days searching for what it suspects to be a Russian submarine. The incident has been referred to by many as <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/22/world/europe/submarine-search-near-stockholm-reminiscent-of-a-cold-war-thriller.html?_r=0">reminiscent of a Cold War spy novel</a> – a view only reinforced by the very public reaction of the local government.</p>
Every school child should know about the Magna Carta, a document forced upon King John by his feudal barons in 1215 to limit the king's power. But the full majesty of how the march toward constitutional government began in England deep in the Middle Ages is conveyed by Dan Jones, a Cambridge-educated historian, in The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England, published in 2012. (Jones continues the saga in the recently published The Wars of the Roses: The Fall of the Plantagenets and the Rise of the Tudors.) The story of how British democracy developed is an exceedingly slow and cumbersome one. The first meeting of parliament did not happen until 1264, nearly a half-century after the signing of the Magna Carta. And women's suffrage was not instituted until 1918, more than 700 years after the Magna Carta. In short, what we in the West define as a healthy democracy took England the better part of a millennium to achieve. And in reading both of Jones' books, what screams out loud and clear is the political wealth, cultural density and utter formidability of the English tradition achieved as much in war as in peace - without which the magnificent debates and rhetoric that are on display in parliament in London today would simply not exist.
A functioning democracy is not a product that can be easily exported, in other words, but an expression of culture and historical development that must be constantly nursed and maintained. Britain's democracy did not come from civil society programs taught by human rights workers; it was the offshoot of bloody dynastic politics and uprisings in the medieval and early modern eras.
The United States also has a democracy that is the envy of the world. But as the late Harvard professor Samuel P. Huntington notes, that is because America was born with "political institutions and practices imported from seventeenth-century England." That, too, in one way or another, has been the case with Canada, Australia and New Zealand, the other countries of the Anglosphere that also, not coincidentally, have enviable democracies. To say that democracy and the Anglo-Saxon tradition are not inherently related is to deny the record of history; it is also to say that culture, merely because it cannot be quantified and otherwise measured on an academic's chart, does not matter.
Germany and Japan also have well-functioning and stable democracies. But that is only because they were completely destroyed by the United States and Britain in World War II and had their political systems rebuilt and developed from scratch by American occupation forces who then stayed on for many years.
I returned last weekend from a monthlong trip to East Asia and Europe. I discovered three things: First, the Europeans were obsessed with Germany and concerned about Russia. Second, the Asians were obsessed with China and concerned about Japan. Third, visiting seven countries from the Pacific to the Atlantic in 29 days brings you to a unique state of consciousness, in which the only color is gray and knowing the number of your hotel room in your current city, as opposed to the one two cities ago, is an achievement.
The world is not getting smaller. There is no direct flight from the United States to Singapore, and it took me 27 hours of elapsed travel to get there. There is a direct flight from Munich to Seoul, but since I started in Paris, that trip also took about 17 hours. Given how long Magellan took to circumnavigate the world, and the fact that he was killed in the Philippines, I have no basis for complaint. But the fact is that the speed of global travel has plateaued, as has the global economic system. There is a general sense of danger in Europe and Asia. There is no common understanding on what that danger is.
I was in Seoul last week when the news of a possible wave of European crises began to spread, and indications emerged that Germany might be shifting its view on austerity. It was striking how little this seemed to concern senior officials and business leaders. I was in the Czech Republic when the demonstrations broke out in Hong Kong. The Czechs saw this as a distant event on which they had opinions but which was unlikely to affect them regardless of the outcome.
There has been much talk of globalization and the interdependence that has flowed from it. There is clearly much truth in arguing that what happens in one part of the world affects the rest. But that simply was not evident. The eastern and western ends of the Eurasian landmass seem to view each other as if through the wrong side of a telescope. What is near is important. What is distant is someone else's problem far away.
Colossal external problems are coming Europe's way. And yet, there are few signs that the 28 nations that form the European Union will start acting on their shared threats and interests in a more unified, forceful, and muscular way anytime soon.
Some blame austerity for this inaction. Others say the EU was never made to do foreign policy. And yet others maintain that Europeans are just naive and immature surrender monkeys who cling to wishful thinking and simplistic ideas about how the world works.
None of that is true. The underlying reasons why European foreign policy sleeps go much deeper. Four fundamental factors are at play: identities, institutions, external neglect, and internal disinterest.
On the playgrounds of Abidjan, the capital of Côte d’Ivoire, children now “quarantine” one another as part of a game they call “Ebola.” Across West Africa, the spread of the Ebola virus is generating fears, raising barriers between countries, and increasingly affecting everyday life beyond the countries most affected by the epidemic: Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone. Yet international and regional cooperation has been found wanting. Along with the international community, regional leaders such as Côte d’Ivoire and Nigeria can do much more to mitigate the Ebola crisis.
Côte d’Ivoire is gradually reclaiming its place as a regional economic and political leader in West Africa. Since the violent events that preceded the election of President Alassane Ouattara in 2011, the country has rebounded from its decade of political unrest and become a champion for regional integration. The new president’s role in defusing the crisis in neighboring Mali as chair the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) signaled the country’s return to the regional political stage. Ouattara, an economist by trade, has also launched reforms aimed at making Côte d’Ivoire an emerging economy by the year 2020. This cannot be done without deeper regional cooperation and integration.
Among the government’s top priorities, Côte d’Ivoire is addressing the challenge of food security and aiming at self-sufficiency by 2016. It is seeking greater access to financial markets, supported by a positive rating by Moody’s credit rating agency. It is investing in the smarter and more sustainable exploitation of its vast natural resources. And it is attracting foreign investments beyond its traditional partner, France, from the likes of Belgium, Denmark, Germany, the United States, Turkey, South Africa, Morocco, and China. According to the International Monetary Fund, Côte d’Ivoire’s “growth performance was impressive in 2013, and is projected to remain buoyant in the near term, reflecting strong domestic demand.”
Côte d’Ivoire’s positive trajectory, along with Nigeria’s projected 7 percent growth in 2015, suggest that while the Ebola crisis has dominated headlines on West Africa, it would take a dramatic spread of the virus for the regional economy as a whole to be deeply affected. A protracted health crisis is certainly having some impact on the region, but the tiny economies of Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone account for less than half of Ivoirian GDP and just a fraction of the Nigerian economy.
Imagine that China launches a cyber attack on the United States tomorrow. It devastates systems, crippling the financial sector or causing loss of life. But does it merit a military response? The answer to that big question also informs a much larger, looming debate: As it becomes increasingly clear that few cyber attacks can be defined as acts of war, what should the role of institutions such as NATO be? And in this new world, how do we define what is war - and what is not?
The topic was discussed at September's NATO Summit in Wales. Attending heads of state agreed that cyber attacks can reach a threshold that not only threatens Transatlantic prosperity and security, but could even be "as harmful to modern societies as a conventional attack" and thus merit an invocation of Article 5, the collective defense clause. Treading carefully, though, they refrained from defining which cyber attacks cross this threshold.
This is an important declaration and the culmination of a seven-year internal debate that stems from Distributed Denial of Service attacks pointed at Estonia in April 2007. But the emerging policy still begs questions, about NATO's response to cyber attacks in particular, but more broadly about the general function of the Alliance.
On April 27, 2007, Estonia, a NATO member, relocated a Soviet-era war memorial. Within hours, a large-scale DDoS campaign began, targeting the websites of government departments, banks, telecoms, and news organizations. Some sites were shut down entirely, while others were defaced. The attacks rendered a number of Estonian government sites inaccessible for weeks and generally disrupted communication in the country.
The World Health Organisation has declared Nigeria to be free of the Ebola virus, after six weeks with no new cases being detected.
Speaking from the capital, Abuja, WHO representative Rui Gama Vaz told reporters this was a "spectacular success story". The WHO is able to declare a country free of infection if 21 days pass with no new cases, and the most recent case declared in Nigeria was on September 5, according to the BBC.
The scale of the ongoing outbreak of Ebola virus in western Africa has taken healthcare workers, scientists, policy makers, in fact everyone, by surprise. Prior to this outbreak the largest number of human cases in a single outbreak was just over 400. In this outbreak it is now more than 9,000.
The identification of Thomas Duncan, the first person diagnosed in the US, who later died, and Teresa Romero Ramos, the Spanish nurse who became the first human-to-human transmission of the virus outside of Africa, has raised questions about whether the virus can be contained in countries outside of Africa.
(Diyarbakir) - Jet fighters were heard this week roaring in the sky above this city, considered the "Kurdish capital" of Turkey. It was early Tuesday morning, and then again in the afternoon.
The day before that, Turkish F-16s and F-4s had taken off from an important military airfield near the town, and from the Malatya airbase, to bomb a location of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in the Hakkâri Province, near the Iraqi border, according to the Turkish daily Hurriyet.
These airstrikes were the first since the ongoing peace talks between the PKK and the Turkish government began in March 2013, after 30 years of an insurgent war that has killed some 40,000 people. It would have been hard to imagine a more flagrant breach of the ceasefire.
It was also about the worst moment for such action as, everywhere in Diyarbakir, the Turkish army is being accused of facilitating the ISIS attempt to overrun the Syrian town of Kobani, by closing the border to the Kurdish fighters who hope to defend it from the Islamist radical forces.
You know the joke? You describe something obviously heading for disaster -- a friend crossing Death Valley with next to no gas in his car -- and then add, “What could possibly go wrong?”
Such is the Middle East today. The U.S. is again at war there, bombing freely across Iraq and Syria, advising here, droning there, coalition-building in the region to loop in a little more firepower from a collection of recalcitrant allies, and searching desperately for some non-American boots to put on the ground.
Here, then, are seven worst-case scenarios in a part of the world where the worst case has regularly been the best that’s on offer. After all, with all that military power being brought to bear on the planet’s most volatile region, what could possibly go wrong?
1. The Kurds
As student protests in Hong Kong continue, memories of the 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstrations naturally spring to mind. Less iconic but no less notable were the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, which began as a student movement; the 2007 Venezuelan protests, which started with a group of students demanding constitutional reform; and the 1929 protests in Paris, which challenged the role of churches in education.
Of course, each student movement is unique; the one underway in Hong Kong concerns Hong Kong affairs, not widespread democratic reform in China proper. And yet all such movements share characteristics that transcend borders, making them an ideal phenomenon through which to study geopolitics.
Student protests lay bare the social and cultural layers that move beneath the surface of geopolitics, much like subsurface currents flow beneath the waves of the oceans. Human geography forms the foundation of society and thus the systems that govern it. Even if we regard the state as the highest level of global policymaking and interaction, these social undercurrents are what move the generations, ideologies and cultural changes that shape the constraints under which states operate.
U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden acknowledged at Harvard's Kennedy School what had already been a widespread belief: that Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia fueled a proxy Sunni-Shia war by funneling hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of tons of weapons to Islamic State and other Sunni jihadist groups. Indeed the Middle East is embroiled in an ever-deepening confessional quagmire, and many actors are complicit - from regional leaders and secular rebels to religious fanatics. Americans and Europeans cannot solve this. Only the Muslim nations that ignited jihadism can now defuse it, working with moderate Iraqis and Syrians who are directly affected by it. There's no need to defer to the feigned fury of the governments Biden rightly criticized. They are abettors, so let's instead thrust them to the forefront of the confrontation against Islamic extremism.
Under Baathist rule, Iraq's Sunni minority enjoyed wealth and status. Stripped of the privileged control of resources, after Saddam Hussein's ouster, by the newly empowered Shiite majority, Iraq's Sunnis turned to insurrection and extremism. When Shiite Iraq then allied itself with Iran, those Sunnis took in cash, guns, and a penchant for jihad from the nations of the Gulf Cooperation Council. In Syria, the regime of President Bashar al Assad concentrated authority, influence, and resources among Alawites, who link themselves to Shiites confessionally, and thus to Iran regionally. Deprived of resources and rights, Syria's Sunnis launched a civil war in 2011 and, as in Iraq, deadly resources flowed mostly to the extremist-minded among them from neighboring Sunni countries.
Beyond urbane circles, Iraq and Syria lack an entrenched notion of the equality of citizens within the nation state - both countries are less than a century old. The strongest affiliations are those connected to sect, followed by regional and tribal ties. U.S. attempts at nation-building sought to overcome those identities, but they were futile in Iraq despite billions of dollars of investment.
Extremism fueled from abroad
WASHINGTON - On Sept. 23, the drill ship SAIPEM 10000 - built in South Korea at the cost of $250 million and flying the flag of the Bahamas - arrived in the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of Cyprus to begin exploring for gas under a license awarded to an Italian-South Korean consortium, ENI-KOGAS. The Cyprus government hopes that additional discoveries over the next 18 months in its EEZ will be sufficient to make its plans to build a liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant on the island, to condition gas for export, commercially viable.
The Turkish authorities declared that the drill ship violated Turkey's area of maritime jurisdiction and sent the Corvette Bafra to monitor operations. Another Turkish warship, the Gelibolu, engaged in planned maneuvers south of Cyprus, ostensibly to ensure maritime safety in the eastern Mediterranean. Cypriot Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides said that exploration would continue despite Turkey's "potential harassment."
On Oct. 3, a Turkish NAVTEX (navigational warning) notified mariners that Turkey would conduct its own seismic surveys starting on Oct. 20 in sea areas that encroach on Cyprus's EEZ. Cyprus's president, Nicos Anastasiades, asked U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to persuade Turkey not to violate Cyprus's EEZ. Anastasiades also announced that he would not participate in further talks with Turkish Cypriot leader Derviş Eroğlu aimed at ending the division of the island as long as Turkish activities, which he deemed unlawful and threatening, continued offshore.
Why has Turkey escalated tensions at this moment, when the two Cypriot leaders have begun renewed, albeit wearisome, efforts to find a solution to the division of the island? The simplest explanation, offered by observers close to the Turkish foreign ministry, is that Turkey is following its consistent policy of opposing explorations offshore pending such a solution. Others suggest that Turkey is seeking to move the offshore energy issue into the settlement talks, a step opposed by the Greek Cypriot side. Eroğlu may also wish to look tough in the run-up to the April 2015 leadership election in the northern part of the island.
Beyond the arc of the ebola epidemic, and outside the parameters of the fight against the Islamic State, a far more fundamental change to the world order is taking place. It's the rapprochement of China and Russia - an alliance of convenience animated less by common interest than a common opponent.
History shows that the Russia-China relationship has seen its share of outright conflict, but for now, they're a happy geopolitical couple. Signs are everywhere. You know something's going on when the question of a Sino-Russian entente - or will it be Russo-Chinese - is the subject of features in publications ranging from Mother Jones and The Nation to The Washington Post and The National Interest, not to mention al Jazeera. In Shanghai, Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping spit vodka and toast a 30-year natural gas deal that will send Russian product to its eastern neighbor. In Beijing, "Putin: Born for Russia," a biography of Russia's president, sits on the best-seller list. No word yet on whether Xi will be photographed bench-pressing a giant panda, but this political season, the authoritarian strongman is back in style. Part of the attraction of these once-ideological cousins is hard-headed real-politik. China has no problem with a revanchist Russia claiming Crimea and biting off a good chunk of Ukraine - Beijing likely expects Moscow to return the favor as China extends its territorial claims in the East and South China Seas and in the eastern provinces of India - or as China calls it, South Tibet. Broader objectives, such as the replacement of the U.S. dollar as the global currency, will take more time, and the rise of a successor currency could be a source of ruble-yuan competition. But for now, in Moscow as in Beijing, the diminishment of American global influence is a force for common if not concerted action. This is not a formal alliance. For now, it's like toddlers engaged in parallel play - the not-truly-coordinated, not-really-interactive side-by-side activities of kids sharing the same sandbox. Russia takes to bomber-buzzing along the U.S. coasts and at the edge of allied airspace, a Cold War-era maneuver, while China barrel-rolls U.S. surveillance planes in the South China Sea. Moscow and Beijing don't carry out these aerial antics in tandem. It's enough that each for its own reasons believes now is the time to brush back American geopolitical hegemony.
When clashes broke out last week in Mong Kok, a section of Hong Kong's Western Kowloon district known for its longstanding triad presence, Hong Kong's authorities were accused of colluding with organized crime rings to violently break up pro-democracy protests.
While the notion seems far-fetched, triad involvement in counter-protests against pro-democracy demonstrations raises another possibility: that of a red-black nexus between Mainland Chinese authorities and Hong Kong's criminal syndicates.
The clashes started Oct. 3 after groups of men assaulted protesters holding a pro-democracy sit-in. Fist fights resulted in head and other bodily injuries, and eight of the 19 people arrested for fighting had reputed triad connections. Legislators on the same day denounced the government. One lawmaker, James To Kun-Sun, accused the government of having "organized and orchestrated forces and even triad gangs in attempts to disperse citizens." The accusations were serious enough to draw a response from Hong Kong's assistant police commissioner, who categorically rejected allegations that police permitted triad members and thugs to assault and harass protestors.
The organized crime groups known as triads are an enduring feature of life in Hong Kong. The largest triad groups - Sun Yee On, 14K and Wo Shing Wo - are loose, cellular syndicates heavily involved both in locally-based activities such as gambling and prostitution and in transnational organized crime including drug trafficking and counterfeiting.