How the Kurds Could Shape Turkey's Political Future

Asli Aydintasbas - April 24, 2015

Policy Watch 2413

Since 2002, successive electoral wins by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) have dominated Turkish politics, and polls indicate that the party will continue this dominance in the June 7 parliamentary elections. Yet the fate of a seemingly minor actor -- the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) -- could play a major role in determining whether the next AKP government can fulfill its ambition of fundamentally altering the country's political system. If the HDP achieves the minimum number of votes needed to enter the parliament, the AKP would enjoy only a slim majority in the new legislature, resulting in a fourth-term AKP government led by Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu. But if the HDP fails to cross the threshold, the AKP's seat total would rise, likely giving it enough of a majority to initiate a public referendum on amending the constitution. In that case, the party could push for a U.S.-style executive system led by current president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.


Over the past few years, the AKP has transformed itself from a pro-European Islamist party to a personality cult around Erdogan. Although the public is evenly split between those who support him and those who disapprove of him, Erdogan remains omnipresent in the day-to-day affairs of the Turkish people, with news networks interrupting their programing to broadcast his near-daily speeches.

Europe's Migration Crisis

Jeanne Park - April 24, 2015

The growing numbers of migrants and asylum seekers fleeing turmoil in Africa and the Middle East poses complex challenges for European policymakers still grappling with weak economic growth and fractured national politics. Europe, according to a 2014 report from the International Organization for Migration, is currently the most dangerous destination for irregular migration in the world, and the Mediterranean Sea the world's most dangerous border crossing. To date, the European Union's collective response to its growing migrant crisis has been ad hoc and, critics charge, more focused on securing the bloc's borders than on protecting the rights of migrants and refugees. With nationalist parties ascendant in many member states and concerns about Islamic terrorism looming large across the continent, it remains unclear if political headwinds will facilitate a new climate of immigration reform.

Where do these migrants and refugees come from?

Political upheaval in the Middle East and across Africa is reshaping migration trends in Europe. The number of illegal border-crossing detections in the EU surged in 2011, as thousands of Tunisians started to arrive at the Italian island of Lampedusa, seventy miles from Tunisia, following the onset of the Arab Spring. Sub-Saharan Africans who had previously migrated to Libya followed in 2011-2012, fleeing unrest in the post-Qaddafi era. The most recent surge in detections along the EU's maritime borders has been attributed to the growing numbers of Syrian and Eritrean refugees.

China and Japan Find Middle Ground in Jakarta

Catriona Croft-Cusworth - April 24, 2015

Indonesia became a middle ground for China-Japan relations this week as the leaders of both nations attended the Asia-Africa Conference in Jakarta.

At the opening ceremony on Wednesday, Indonesia's President Jokowi was rather symbolically seated directly between China's President Xi Jinping and Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, to avoid giving the appearance of preference for either leader.

This is a stance Jokowi has maintained during his first six months as president. Despite suggestions that his party's preference is for loyalty to China over Japan, Jokowi has given a studious impression of neutrality, courting both countries for investment in a trip to Tokyo and Beijing last month. While China responded more generously than Japan - with an offering of around $63 billion in investment from Chinese companies compared to $8.9 billion from Japanese companies - Jokowi has refused to pick sides.

Investment from both countries will be crucial for Indonesia's development during Jokowi's five-year term, and especially for the realisation of the president's vision for Indonesia to become a global maritime axis.

U.S. Boots Hit the Ground in Lviv

Jeffrey Mankoff - April 24, 2015

Around 300 U.S. troops from the 173rd Airborne Brigade arrived in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv last week to begin training Ukrainian National Guard forces. Part of what is being called Operation Fearless Guardian-2015, the U.S. forces were dispatched under the auspices of the Global Contingency Security Fund, created to provide security sector assistance to partner countries to help them address challenges important to U.S. security interests. The U.S. troops will remain in Ukraine for six months, providing combat and other skills training for Ukraine's newly created National Guard, which has been directly involved in much of the fighting in southeastern Ukraine's Donbas region.

While Russian officials and commentators have condemned the deployment as provocative, the direct impact will likely remain limited, even deflecting pressure for more direct U.S. involvement, such as providing lethal military assistance to Kyiv. In the longer term though, it is likely the United States will find itself playing a larger role in Ukraine, whether it wants to or not, a development that holds out the most hope for a diplomatic solution to the conflict.

The dispatch of U.S. trainers comes during a lull in fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian rebels in the country's east, but with the conflict still very much unresolved. The so-called Minsk-II ceasefire, signed in February, remains tenuously intact, despite reports of continued shelling around and efforts to expand the areas under rebel control in the Donbas. Predictably, Moscow is unhappy about the presence of U.S. troops, with Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov arguing that their presence would further de-stabilize the situation in Ukraine-presumably meaning that Moscow and the rebels could use it as a pretext for renewing their offensive.

Of course, it is worth keeping in mind that the U.S. forces in Ukraine will not directly participate in combat operations-a step that virtually no one in the United States seriously supports. The U.S. training exercises with the Ukrainian National Guard will also be taking place near Lviv, which is located in far western Ukraine, close to the Polish border and more than 600 miles as the crow flies from the fighting in the Donbas. The likelihood of U.S. forces being directly involved in combat operations is therefore virtually zero.

Grexit and the Problem of Free Trade

George Friedman - April 22, 2015

The Greek crisis is moving toward a climax. The issue is actually quite simple. The Greek government owes a great deal of money to European institutions and the International Monetary Fund. It has accumulated this debt over time, but it has become increasingly difficult for Greece to meet its payments. If Greece doesn't meet these payments, the IMF and European institutions have said they will not extend any more loans to Greece. Greece must make a calculation. If it pays the loans on time and receives additional funding, will it be better off than not paying the loans and being cut off from more?

Obviously, the question is more complex. It is not clear that if the Greeks refuse to pay, they will be cut off from further loans. First, the other side might be bluffing, as it has in the past. Second, if they do pay the next round, and they do get the next tranche of funding, is this simply kicking the can down the road? Does it solve Greece's underlying problem, which is that its debt structure is unsustainable? In a world that contains Argentina and American Airlines, we have learned that bankruptcy and lack of access to credit markets do not necessarily go hand in hand.

To understand what might happen, we need to look at Hungary. Hungary did not join the euro, and its currency, the forint, had declined in value. Mortgages taken out by Hungarians denominated in euros, Swiss francs and yen spiraled in terms of forints, and large numbers of Hungarians faced foreclosure from European banks. In a complex move, the Hungarian government declared that these debts would be repaid in forints. The banks by and large accepted Prime Minister Viktor Orban's terms, and the European Union grumbled but went along. Hungary was not the only country to experience this problem, but its response was the most assertive.

A strategy inspired by Budapest would have the Greeks print drachmas and announce (not offer) that the debt would be repaid in that currency. The euro could still circulate in Greece and be legal tender, but the government would pay its debts in drachmas.

Unraveling the Putin Enigma, from the Inside

Vincent Jauvert - April 22, 2015

Originally published in Le Nouvel Observateur

MOSCOW - The master of the Kremlin had disappeared. For ten days, Vladimir Putin didn't offer a single sign of life to his people. He was nowhere to be seen on television, nor heard on the radio. Usually omnipresent, he canceled all the appointments on his agenda. He didn't even attend, like he does every year, the annual meeting of alumni of the KGB, where he began his career. Between March 6 and 16 - a political eternity - the Russians didn't know what happened to the Russian president. Or if he was even still alive.

In Moscow, political life came to a halt as the whole of Russia held its collective breath. From Saint Petersburg to Vladivostok, the public absence was perhaps the clearest sign that the functioning of this massive country relies on just one man only: a former 62-year-old spy, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, aka "VVP."

Who is this enigmatic head of state, considered by many to be the most powerful leader in the world? Where does he come from and what does he want? How does he manage his country? To give a clearer portrayal of this disturbing figure, L'Obs asked men and women who knew Putin at different moments of his life - including those who know him now. They talk about the searing career of this small lieutenant colonel who became czar: his psychology, his fascination for television, his techniques for having the upper hand on anyone he is speaking to ...

A Potential Game Changer for North Korea

Sam Doo - April 21, 2015

The recent discovery of rare earth mineral reserves in North Korea has the potential to redefine the country's long-term prospects and radically alter geopolitics within the region.

Thinking about the North Korean economy will likely evoke images of outdated factories full of cheap textiles, derelict meth labs, and acres of failing, communal farms. Throw in its dystopian sociopolitical environment and the future prospects of the North Korean economy appear bleak.

It would be unwise, however, to assume that this picture will remain unaltered. Political regimes will act to address existential threats and a single development could radically alter the political-economic trajectory of a country.

One event that has the potential to be this game-changer for North Korea is the recent discovery of extensive rare earth elements (REE) reserves within the DPRK. Due to their unique properties, REEs are an integral component in a wide spectrum of sophisticated technologies, including clean energy, defense systems, and consumer electronics.

Russian Jews Should Heed Lessons of History

Alexei Bayer - April 21, 2015

The father of a colleague was the eldest child of an enlightened, solidly middle class Jewish family in Vienna. His parents were, respectively, a doctor and a dentist. They waited until 1939 to escape the Nazis, and when they did, leaving everything behind, they couldn't even access the money they had deposited in a Swiss bank. They found refuge in the Dominican Republic, where the eldest son went to work at age 14. After the war, the family was able to come to the United States, where the young man continued to work in order to support his family. He managed to put his younger brother through medical school, but was never able to resume his own education, except for a high-school equivalence diploma.

I fear that many Jews still living in Russia may find themselves in a similar situation.

True, there is no state anti-Semitism in Russia. A wealthy Russian Jew I recently spoke to in Tel Aviv, who still has many business interests in Russia, pooh-poohed my concerns: President Vladimir Putin is not anti-Semitic, he's surrounded by Jewish advisers and loyalists and has lots of Jewish friends. The Russian president was instrumental in building the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Center in Moscow and he spoke there on the Holocaust Remembrance Day. Jews have never had it so good in Russia since they first appeared in Muscovy in the 15th century. Many Russian Jews the businessman knows are grateful to Putin for his tolerant policies.

Nevertheless, Russia has embarked on a dangerous course - dangerous for Russia itself as well as for its remaining Jewish population. Over the past year, ever since Russia annexed Crimea and sponsored a separatist rebellion in eastern Ukraine, Putin has been working to isolate Russia from the international community. The anti-American rhetoric, which has been a staple of the government-owned Russian media for some time, has now turned into virulent xenophobia: the official propaganda is increasingly portraying Russia as a country at war, besieged by enemies and fighting a lonely battle for survival.

Turbulence on the Balkan Path to Democracy

Judy Dempsey - April 21, 2015

Corruption and attacks on press freedom are becoming all too common in the Western Balkans, yet the European Union remains far too passive in tackling them.

The Western Balkans are not in good shape. Two decades after the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina and sixteen years after the war in Kosovo, democracy, the rule of law, and press freedom have been slow to take root.

This is despite the enormous amount of financial assistance that the European Union has disbursed throughout the region.

It is also despite the promise that one day these countries-Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia-would become EU members. The prospect of EU membership used to be the spur for reforms and the democratization of these states' societies.

German Sympathy for Russia

Markus Ziener - April 21, 2015

BERLIN - The deployment of Pershing II missiles in the early 1980s by NATO to counter Soviet SS-20s led to widespread fears in Germany that the Cold War would escalate. Hundreds of thousands marched in protests, demanding that NATO refrain from deploying the missiles. Many members of the German public were ready to trust Moscow's assurances more than those of NATO.

Thirty years later, it seems that history is repeating itself. In the current crisis over Ukraine, large parts of the German public are giving Russia's leadership the benefit of the doubt. They may not trust Vladimir Putin personally, but they are readily buying the Russian argument that Moscow feels encircled and endangered by the West. In a recent survey, the German public was evenly split between those who were sympathetic to Russia's position and those opposing Moscow's actions.

What are the reasons for this tolerance? The German public is naturally fearful of military escalation on its doorstep. And Germans do not have particularly strong feelings about Kiev's quest for more autonomy from Russia. Dying for Ukraine? No thanks.

But that is only one part of the explanation. The other part is that the facts do not matter much anymore. Opinions about the conflict were largely formed in early 2014 and attitudes have remained unchanged, despite Moscow's subsequent annexation of Crimea and clear evidence emerging about Russian support for separatists in Eastern Ukraine. The predominant view is that if the European Union had not tried to force Ukraine into signing an association agreement in 2013, escalation could have been avoided. The EU, in other words, completely disregarded Russian interests, thus instigating the biggest military conflict in Europe since the end of the Cold War.

Unity Makes Russian Sanctions Work

Douglas Hengel - April 20, 2015

WASHINGTON - It has been a year since the United States, European Union, and other allies first sanctioned Russia for its illegal annexation of Crimea and aggression toward Ukraine. As Russia's destabilization of Ukraine continued, the United States and Europe broadened sanctions in an effort to persuade Vladimir Putin's government to change its behavior and to deter Russia from further belligerence in Ukraine and elsewhere in the neighborhood. The measures included asset freezes and visa bans on individuals considered to be responsible for actions against Ukraine's territorial integrity (including several in Putin's inner circle), and limits on business dealings with some Russian banks, defense companies, and energy firms.

Predictably, the restrictions imposed on Russia have been controversial, as sanctions regimes generally are. Some complain they are too weak, citing as evidence Russia's continued lack of compliance with the Minsk agreements to ensure a ceasefire and stabilize eastern Ukraine. Others argue the actions are not only ineffective but counterproductive. They lead the Russian people to close ranks around their leaders, undermine efforts to integrate Russia into the global economy (setting back Russian political and economic reform), and cause other collateral damage to the long-term interests of the transatlantic community.

The debate about the effectiveness of sanctions is a hardy perennial. Some sanctions regimes have been judged to be more effective (e.g., South Africa, Burma, Iran) than others (e.g., Cuba, Zimbabwe). The international community is much better able now to target measures against specific rogue actors (so-called "smart" sanctions), but unintended consequences are almost always part of the equation. So, collateral damage is a cost that should be considered, while recognizing there is also a cost to doing nothing. Sanctions also take time to have their intended impact. The phenomenon of rallying around the flag is often the first reaction when sanctions are imposed on a country, but that tends to fade over time as costs mount, or as the citizenry better understands what is truly causing their economic distress, as in the case of Iran.

It is important to remember that sanctions are a tool meant to help gain a policy outcome. They are not an end in themselves, and are unlikely to be effective if they are the only instrument deployed. Sanctions are also much more likely to achieve the desired result when they are multilateral. This can mean the measures adopted are weaker in some respects than one might like, but the sanctions with the least impact are generally those imposed unilaterally (e.g., by the United States on Cuba). It is critically important that the United States and Europe remain united on Russia and Ukraine.

America's China Consensus Unravels

Hugh White - April 17, 2015

For a long time American (and Australian) thinking about China has been dominated by a broad consensus that, despite many signs of growing assertiveness, Beijing does not pose a fundamental challenge to US leadership in Asia. The argument goes that, whatever they might say, China's leaders know that its economic future is too uncertain, its political system too fragile, its military too weak and its friends too few to allow it to contest American primacy. They also know that China's own stability and prosperity depend on the regional order that only America can uphold.

Therefore, the consensus has concluded, America doesn't have to do much in response except remind everyone that it intends to stick around. Hence the 'pivot', which has emphasised declaratory statements rather than substantive actions.

But that consensus may be unravelling, at least in America. Washington's AIIB debacle seems to have sounded a wake-up call and now, in just the past week, two major reports from the heart of the US foreign policy establishment have chimed in too. Both reports argue that China's challenge to US primacy in Asia is for real, and that America's policy in Asia needs to shift radically to respond.

At first glance they offer diametrically opposed views of what that response should be, in ways that might appear to frame the debate Washington is now having about how to respond to Beijing's challenge.

America's Failed Strategic Approach to Chaos

Anthony Cordesman - April 17, 2015

The United States now faces a rapidly evolving world filled with new challenges at a time when real-world defense planning is focused on budget cuts, when U.S. "strategy" lacks plans and program budgets, and when talk of strategic partnership lacks clear and specific direction. Far too much U.S. strategic rhetoric is a hollow shell, while the real U.S. national security posture is based on suboptimizing the budget around the fiscal ceilings set by the Budget Control Act (BCA), persisting in issuing empty concepts and strategic rhetoric, and dealing with immediate problems out of any broader strategic context.

The end result resembles an exercise in chaos theory. Once one looks beyond the conceptual rhetoric, the reality is a steadily less coordinated set of reactions to each ongoing or new crisis: the strategic equivalent of the "butterfly effect." To paraphrase Edward Lorenz, the chaos theorist who coined the term, "the present state determines a series of changes and uncertain adjustments in U.S. force postures and military actions in spite of the fact the approximate present does not approximately determine the future.

Put more simply, the United States has no clear strategy for dealing with Russia and Asia and is reacting tactically to the immediate pressures of events in the Middle East and Afghanistan without any clear goals or direction. Worse, these military tactical reactions are steadily more decoupled from the need to create an integrated civil-military strategy: Grab any short-term form of "win" and ignore the need to "hold" and build."

The World and Reality Are Outpacing U.S. Strategy, Planning, Programming, and Budgeting

India's New Transatlantic Push

Dhruva Jaishankar - April 17, 2015

WASHINGTON - Diplomatically speaking, it has been a busy first year in power for India's prime minister, Narendra Modi. In addition to hosting the leaders of the United States, China, and Russia, he has embarked upon state visits to India's major democratic partners - including Japan, the United States, and Australia - and attended multilateral summits in Brazil, Nepal, Australia, and Myanmar.

Over the past week, Modi undertook an unconventional transatlantic tour to France, Germany, and Canada. This constituted his first visit to Europe as prime minister and a common theme was implicit in that all three countries are G7 members, and as such, advanced, industrialized democracies. While Modi has received some criticism at home for his foreign trips, the flurry of diplomatic activity in his first year as prime minister indicates his clear desire to position India as an active international actor. Modi's multifaceted agenda on his latest set of visits also conformed to what is now a familiar pattern of international engagement. Broadly speaking, his transatlantic tour over the past week served five important purposes.

The first was to seek investment and technological partnerships with the goal of rapidly developing India's economy. This objective is at the centerpiece of Modi's domestic agenda and political platform. While poverty levels in India have fallen dramatically since the early 1990s, the country is still home to the largest number of the world's poor. The opportunity for growth is now immense given India's political stability, market size, and low wages.

As advanced economies, France, Germany, and Canada are well-placed to be partners in India's development. For this reason, Modi met privately with French business leaders in infrastructure and defense technology in Paris as well as investors in Toronto. He visited the Airbus facility in Toulouse and the Siemens vocational training center in Berlin. Modi's participation in the Hannover Messe, the world's largest industrial fair, also highlights India's privileged role this year as a partner country. The prime minister used this opportunity to advertise business opportunities in India, which is proving a rare bright spot in a slowing global economy.

Sudan's Pointless Election

Justin Willis - April 16, 2015

What are elections for? Sudan’s current ballot raises this question in a very evident way. There is, after all, no doubt who will win: Omar al-Bashir, who has controlled the country since taking power in a coup in 1989, will be re-elected as president.

His country is smaller now, following the independence of South Sudan in 2011, but his grip on power is no less tight – if anything it is even stronger – and his National Congress Party (NCP) will just as surely win a majority in the national assembly and in all of the 18 “state assemblies” which have a degree of devolved power.

There is nominal competition in all these elections: there are 44 other parties contending. But none has any hope of anything more than the most local, token victory – and some are widely believed to be sham parties, created to ensure the illusion of an electoral contest.

There are other opposition parties, but they are boycotting the elections. They argue that the whole electoral process is grossly unfair, and it is hard to disagree. Political scientist Andreas Schedler has identified a “menu of manipulation”, from which would-be cheats may dine – and al-Bashir has certainly supped to his fill over the years – from using state resources to campaign, to arresting and harassing the opposition, to the manipulation of registers.