RealClearWorld Articles

Bad Banks and Turf Wars: Europe Stuck Again

Kaj Leers - July 28, 2016

So the European Commission announced that Spain and Portugal will not be punished for breaching Europe’s Growth and Stability Pact. The decision lands yet another blow on the credibility of the European project. How many more punches can it take? And will the political turf wars of European politicians make matters even worse?

Spain and Portugal violated the rules of the Growth and Stability Pact, which stipulates that EU countries may not have budget deficits and national debts in excess of 3 per cent and 60 per cent of Gross Domestic Product, respectively. Spain and Portugal are both wildly off the mark.

The two countries, hit hard by first the financial crisis and then the eurocrisis that started with Greece, have been fighting hard to climb back out from the abyss. Unemployment numbers in the countries are sky-high, while economic growth is still lackluster and by no means sufficient to lift the unemployed out of poverty.

And so Spain and Portugal were penalized. They were handed fines -- penalties easy enough to pay, though. Indeed, the fines levied were €0 and €0. According to sources cited by EurActiv, this came after German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble called some European commissioners from his Christian-Democratic European People’s Party and asked them politely to get Spain off the hook. 

The Tragedy of Turkish Democracy in Five Acts

Erik Nisbet - July 27, 2016

The failed July 15 military coup in Turkey was a long time in the making. Its aftermath is the final act in what may be viewed as the devolution of Turkish democracy into an authoritarian state.

Prelude: Turkish appetite for democracy

Turkey is a country where citizens’ demand for democracy has steadily grown over the last 15 years. A long period of competitive parliamentary elections and political liberalization created hope that democracy had become enshrined in Turkey’s political culture.

Everyday citizens embracing democratic governance as the only legitimate form of government are required for any democracy to be successful. When citizens do not demand democracy, preferring a strong authoritarian leader as in Russia, there is little hope for democracy to flourish.

As part of the Comparative National Election Project (CNEP) at Ohio State University, we surveyed nearly 1,200 Turkish citizens about their views on democracy in early 2015.

Facing North Korea's Nuclear Reality

Rodger Baker - July 27, 2016

After announcing that it would cut communications with the United States, North Korea launched three missiles (two Scuds and a No Dong) last week. In some ways, there is little unexpected in North Korea's actions. Since the early 1990s, the North Korean nuclear and missile programs have been a focus of greater and lesser international attention, and there is no reason to predict that a resolution satisfactory to the United States (or North Korea) will emerge any time soon. Similarly, the United States followed a familiar script in its reaction to the recent launches, threatening additional sanctions and further isolation. 

But that doesn't mean nothing has changed. North Korea once treated its nuclear weapons program as a bargaining chip — a way to raise the stakes with the United States to wheedle concessions and aid. Now, however, nuclear weapons development is no longer something Pyongyang is willing to trade away for economic support and promises of nonaggression. North Korea has ramped up the testing cycle for its various missile systems, and it may be preparing for another nuclear test. If Pyongyang has no intention of stopping or reversing its nuclear weapons program — the two outcomes that U.S. policyhas been geared to achieve — then perhaps it is time for Washington to reconsider its strategy for dealing with a nuclear-armed North Korea.

From Bargaining Chip . . .

North Korea launched its nuclear weapons program in earnest in the 1980s. After the Soviet Union collapsed, and amid social and political instability in China, Pyongyang rapidly expanded the program, fearing that its two primary backers could no longer provide the economic and security guarantees that North Korea had previously relied on. The United Nations' recognition of both Korean governments as legitimate reinforced those concerns, and when South Korea began to engage politically and economically with China and Russia, Pyongyang's worries mounted.

China Emerges More Muscular After ASEAN Meetings

Vijay Joshi - July 27, 2016

VIENTIANE, Laos (AP) — Daring to take on China in a territorial dispute in the South China Sea, the Philippines went to an international tribunal for justice, and won big. But it turned out to be a pyrrhic victory.

Beijing came back with such ferocity and manipulative diplomacy that other Southeast Asian countries that have similar disputes with it are apparently backing down.

One by one, their positions became clear at meetings this week of Asia-Pacific and Southeast Asian nations, a gathering that was supposed to unanimously call out China for a host of actions in the resource-rich South China Sea — building artificial islands and military airstrips, sending warships, staging live-firing exercises and shooing away fishermen from other countries.

And so, the four-day conclave in Vientiane, the Laotian capital, ended Tuesday with China's muscles bulging more than ever, and the vaunted unity of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations in disarray.

Are the Middle East's Non-Arab States Turning Away?

Aaron David Miller - July 26, 2016

As the United States struggles mightily to navigate its way through a broken, fragmenting, and largely dysfunctional Arab world, the non-Arab states in the Middle East pose significant challenges as well.

Turkey, Iran, and Israel  -- perhaps the three most functional and consequential states in the region --  have much in common, even though they remain at odds on key issues.

All are relatively stable domestically, and although the recent coup attempt in Turkey rattled the reigning Justice and Development Party, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is rapidly reasserting control. All of these states are led by determined leaders who have long survived; all have tremendous economic potential; all are highly functional in ways that key Arab states are not; and all have the capacity to project their power overtly and covertly in ways that can both help and hinder U.S. policies in the region.

Even before the failed coup, Turkey has been an important but problematic partner for the United States. Since his first election as prime minister in 2003, Erdogan has become increasingly authoritarian, and has sought to gobble up more power. He has arrested journalists, removed judges, and tried to manipulate the system in order to amend the Constitution and increase his power as president. Abroad, Erdogan’s efforts to burnish his credentials in the Arab and Muslim world through support for Hamas, Qatar, and the Palestinians have alienated Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. His refusal to effectively monitor the border with Syria, and his opposition to U.S. efforts to support the Syrian Kurds against the Islamic State, has also created the image of a leader more focused on defeating the Kurds and preserving his own Islamist credibility than on defeating the jihadis.

Turkey's Downward Spiral

W. Robert Pearson - July 26, 2016

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is using a three-month state of emergency to expel from power and civil life all Turks whom he or the apparatus of the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, deem an enemy of the state. As of this writing, more than 50,000 people have been arrested, fired, suspended, or told to resign. The ranks of the expelled include judges, university deans, teachers, police, and military officers. Members of the Alevi religious community -- a Shiite Muslim group separate from the country’s predominant Sunni sect -- are rumored to be among the new targets. More will be added to this list. Following the attempted coup, Russian President Vladimir Putin called and praised Erdogan, in the process including Russia among the “democratic” states that stand in unity against such “anti-constitutional actions and violence.”

Erdogan knows that almost all of these people had nothing to do with the failed coup of July 15. In fact, at first, his government dismissed the attempt as confined to a small segment of the armed forces. Moreover, every political party, every institution, every national political figure in or out of government supported the government’s suppression of the coup. Across the whole of Turkish society, Turks made clear their rejection of a military takeover of the country.

That unity is being subverted through the current campaign. Daily now the Erdogan regime gives life to a broader and more ambiguous crackdown, and the government has set no limit on the extent of the purges. The 90-day time limit to the state of emergency is not relevant, because that deadline can be extended again and again until it is indefinite. For those who see threats everywhere, there will never be a time when life or political vision is safe, and the country free of danger. Fear-mongering frightens and intimidates citizens into compliance.  

Authoritarian and dictatorial leaders often refer to their states as democratic, as this evokes the image of the longed-for adulation and public enthusiasm that justifies their rule. Without checks, power always expands. Democracy without its guarantees is just a populist sham. Worse is the combination of populist rule with claims of God’s favor.

Does Brexit Mean the Future Is President Trump?

Jacob Parakilas - July 25, 2016

The British vote to leave the European Union is and should be seen as a wakeup call for political elites on both sides of the Atlantic. Under normal circumstances, the institutional support that crossed party lines backing the Remain campaign should have ensured it a comfortable victory; instead, it lost by a not-insignificant 52 percent to 48 percent margin. Similarly, Donald Trump has alienated the establishments of both American parties. While Democratic dislike is predictable, the extent of the Republican elite’s discomfort with Trump, clearly on display at the party’s convention in Cleveland last week, is extremely unusual at this point in an election campaign, by which time we typically see a rally around the candidate. But as Brexit demonstrated, the conventional logic may not apply in 2016.

There are significant differences between the UK referendum and the U.S. elections. Some of this is structural -- a national referendum operates along very different lines than a U.S. presidential election, after all, and the U.S. electorate is much larger and more diverse than its British equivalent. Furthermore, American voters will be choosing between individuals as well as ideas. This does not necessarily work to the advantage of either Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton (both of whom have the highest unfavorability ratings for presidential candidates seen in decades), but highly individualized questions of personality and temperament will impact voter behavior in a way that they did not for British referendum voters. Finally, who wins the U.S. election will depend in very large part on state politics and electoral college math: As the 2000 election showed, the candidate who wins the popular vote does not necessarily end up as president. 

But there is a far more important message that politicians in the United States, United Kingdom, and more broadly, Europe, should take away from the Brexit result. Regardless of what happens in the U.S. elections, elites no longer necessarily hold the preponderance of power. The disenfranchised who have historically lacked either the sufficient mass or the coherence to communicate it now do -- at least on occasion. 

This is not an ideological split -- Brexit voters came together from all parts of the political spectrum. Equally, in the United States, Trump voters as well as those who supported Bernie Sanders are bucking the system in both the Democratic and Republican parties.

The World After Me

Tom Engelhardt - July 25, 2016

I recently dug my mother’s childhood photo album out of the depths of my bedroom closet. When I opened it, I found that the glue she had used as a girl to paste her life in place had given way, and on many pages the photos were now in a jumble.

My mother was born early in the last century. Today, for most of that ancient collection of photos and memorabilia -- drawings (undoubtedly hers), a Caruthers School of Piano program, a Camp Weewan-Eeta brochure, a Hyde Park High School junior prom “senior ticket,” and photos of unknown boys, girls, and adults -- there’s no one left to tell me who was who or what was what.

In some of them, I can still recognize my mother’s youthful face, and that of her brother who died so long ago but remains quite recognizable (even so many decades before I knew him). As for the rest -- the girl in what looks like a gym outfit doing a headstand, all those young women lined up on a beach in what must then have been risqué bathing suits, the boy kneeling with his arms outstretched toward my perhaps nine-year-old mother -- they’ve all been swept away by the tides of time.

And so it goes, of course. For all of us, sooner or later.

Poland's German Minority Faces Tough Times in Silesia

Monika Sieradzka - July 25, 2016

A recent decision by Poland's government has caused uproar and outrage around the town of Opole. The regime wants to incorporate 12 villages from four of the municipalities into the town itself, and is ignoring protest from the affected residents. Up to 99 percent of people in the municipalities, Poles and Germans alike, are opposed to the enlargement of the town.

"The decision was taken in an expedited procedure," Rafal Bartek, the head of SKGD, the regional German social and cultural society, told DW. "The day before consultations with local representatives were due to take place, Warsaw itself took the decision," Bartek said. "This shows how weak and fragile our democracy is." Bartek said the government's move contravened protections for minorities, which forbids the alteration of national circumstances by administrative means.

The enlargement of Opole will reduce the proportion of Germans, who generally make up about 15 percent of the population in the individual communities. Following integration with the city of Opole, it will fall to just 2 percent. Consequently, people of German origin living there will no longer be granted representation on the municipal council, bilingual town signs will disappear, and German will lose its status as an auxiliary language in many administrative offices.

"Of course, everyone of German origin living Poland also speaks Polish," Bartek said. "But the presence of the German language in public life is an important indication of acceptance for the more than 100,000 Germans who have been living in Silesia's Opole region for generations."

Erdogan's Turkey Is a High-Risk Partner for China

Frank Sieren - July 25, 2016

China's government released its first statement the day after the coup attempt in Turkey. Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said he hoped that Turkey's government would restore order as soon as possible. The statement was only made when it was clear that this would indeed happen. If the coup had been successful, it might have taken years before bilateral relations could be restored to their current level. Chinese President Xi Jinping (right in photo) and his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan (left), get on well.

As a bridge between Europe and the Middle East and Central Asia, Turkey is strategically important for China's new Silk Road project. Beijing has been seeking partners and making investments along the ancient trade route for months. Istanbul plays an important role in Beijing's economic plans. It is not surprising that China is investing in Turkey's infrastructure and banking on stability so that it secures long-term access to the region and ensures a market for its goods.

In 2014, a Chinese-Turkish consortium built a $4.1 billion rail link between Ankara and Istanbul. The plan is to pump another $45 billion (41 billion euros) into a 10,000-kilometer (6,000-mile) high-speed rail link largely built by Chinese companies by 2023. At the most recent G20 summit in Beijing, the Chinese and Turkish energy ministers agreed to boost their cooperation on nuclear technology. This will be mutually beneficial, as China will give Turkey an insight into its research and will itself build the power stations in Turkey, thus keeping out any competitors. (France is the only European manufacturer of nuclear power stations.)

One strain on the relationship has been the situation with Uighurs in China's autonomous Xinjiang region. In the past, Erdogan has felt compelled to stand by the Turkic-speaking mostly Muslim Uighurs, whom Chinese officials accuse of separatism and terrorism. Uighurs and their allies have accused the government of cultural, political and religious repression.

After Munich, Politicians Consider Deploying Soldiers at Home

Deutsche Welle - July 25, 2016

In remarks published in the "Welt am Sonntag" newspaper Sunday, Bavarian Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann advocated for the army to be allowed to deploy within Germany to support the police in case of a terror attack.

Germany's constitution, drawn up in the aftermath of World War II, places strict limits on the use of the military, the Bundeswehr, within the country's borders. Those regulations were now obsolete, Herrmann said.

"We have an absolutely stable democracy in our country," he said. "It would be completely incomprehensible… if we had a terrorist situation like Brussels in Frankfurt, Stuttgart or Munich and we were not permitted to call in the well-trained forces of the Bundeswehr, even though they stand ready."

In most European countries that was the case without question, he said

Were Turkish Coup Planners Involved in Downing Russian Jet?

George Friedman - July 21, 2016

The pilots who were involved in shooting down a Russian aircraft in November that briefly intruded on Turkish airspace have been arrested by Turkish authorities. A Turkish official said the arrests were in connection with the failed coup. With this, one of the main outcomes of the coup attempt is becoming obvious. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has decided to repair relations with Russia and is using the attempted coup to demonstrate to the Russians that he was not involved in ordering the downing of the aircraft, but that his political enemies were responsible.

There are some problems with this version of events. The intercept of the Russian fighter jet took place after a number of incursions into Turkish airspace. According to multiple sources, including Turkish ones, the Russian plane that was shot down was over Turkish territory for a very short time. The tactical air defense controllers did not have time to query the national command authority (their bosses) for permission to shoot. The decision to shoot down a Russian plane entering Turkish airspace had to have been made before the incident. The alternative is that the tactical controllers on the ground, not the pilots, acted without authority. That would mean that the command to shoot came from at most a colonel in tactical ground control.

The Turkish government, including Erdoğan, reacted immediately and without hesitation charging that the incursion was not the first and that the Russians had been constantly violating Turkish airspace. They vigorously condemned the Russians. There was never any official or unofficial leak indicating that there was anything amiss with the shoot down, no one in the air or on the ground was relieved of their duties and there was no indication of an investigation.

Given that Turkey is a NATO country and its personnel cooperate constantly with the personnel of other countries, any discipline taken against those responsible for the shoot down would have become known. Stories of investigations and heads rolling spread like wildfire through a military organization and the likelihood of it not being picked up by NATO personnel and Russian personnel is low. Relieving a tactical sector commander and some pilots over the biggest military event for the Turkish Air Force in years would have filled the cafeteria of every Turkish Air Force base with gossip for months. It didn’t happen. What did happen was Turkey’s vigorous condemnation of the Russians.

Lebanon's Fragile Stability

Vanessa Newby - July 21, 2016

Incredible though it may seem, after the events in Turkey this weekend Lebanon is looking like one of the most stable states in the Middle East, despite not having a president or a fully-functioning government

I arrived in Lebanon in early June this year and was immediately struck by the calm mood of the people. Since 2015 fear of an ISIS invasion had receded, in part because of Syrian and Iraqi armies regaining large swathes of ISIS territory. The garbage crisis that predominated in 2015 has been resolved to an extent (though I noted no one was able to tell me to where the garbage had been taken). In the south, traditionally a spot of high tension, all was calm. Neither Israel nor Hizbullah have any desire to alter what is known as 'the balance of terror' and commit to a new conflict. Both actors have their sights firmly set on what is happening in Syria. Furthermore, the Syrian refugee situation did not at first glance appear to be causing any more tension than it had in earlier years.

As such, my first weeks in Lebanon didn't feel like I was in Lebanon at all. No political tension? No major security threats? But then, slowly but surely, the reality of Lebanon's fragility asserted itself once more. 

On 12 June a bomb went off in the headquarters of Blom Bank in Hamra, West Beirut. Despite major structural damage no-one was injured, as the bomb was deliberately timed to detonate when local residents would be eating Iftar after Ramadan and the streets around the bank would be empty. It became clear the following day that Hizbullah was responsible for the bomb attack. The purpose behind it was a warning to Blom Bank, whose strict interpretation of the new anti-money laundering legislation issued by the US had resulted in ordinary Shi'ite civilians being unfairly targeted, affecting their business transactions. Violence, it seems, still talks in Lebanon; the following day the major banks got together to discuss how to ameliorate the effects of the legislation on the Shi'ite community.

On Turkey, NATO Succumbs to Geopolitics

Robbie Gramer - July 21, 2016

The attempted coup in Turkey shocked leaders across the countries of the NATO alliance. Turkey has been a member of the alliance since 1952, three years after NATO’s inception. Recently, it has become the alliance’s conduit to the troubled Middle East and an integral member of the transatlantic anti-ISIS coalition.

NATO, an alliance based on the transatlantic values of democracy, freedom, and human rights, has grown incredibly uneasy over Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s response to the coup. In recent days, he has purged sectors of the government, including the military, the Ministry of Education, and the judiciary branch. Erdogan talks of reinstituting the death penalty to punish the coup plotters, and the president is consolidating power in a way that dismantles many elements of Turkey’s already weak democratic system.

Turkey, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said, is veering away from NATO’s “requirement with respect to democracy.” Many interpreted this as a veiled threat that NATO could reassess its relationship with Turkey -- that it could even revoke membership. But Ankara’s worrying backslide from democracy will not change Turkey’s status as a member of NATO.

A coup in a NATO member country, while shocking, is not without precedent. Since joining NATO in 1952, Turkey has undergone four successful military coups that the alliance accepted in stride without jeopardizing Turkey’s membership status -- the most recent took place in 1997. Beyond Turkey, other NATO members have faced coups that in the did not threaten the long-term security or vitality of the organization: a failed coup in France in 1961 in the wake of the disastrous war of independence in Algeria; a successful military coup in Greece in 1967 that lead to seven years of military rule; a failed coup in Italy in 1970; and a successful military coup in Portugal in 1974.

A Coup as Audacious as Turkey's Future

Reva Goujon - July 20, 2016

The bizarre scenes of Turkey's fleeting coup attempt are imprinted on our minds: a TRT news anchor declaring at gunpoint that the military had seized control of the country, a frazzled CNN Turk journalist holding up her iPhone for a puffy-eyed president calling on the nation to take to the streets, the rat-a-tat-tat of Cobra helicopters raining down bullets on a fleeing crowd, calls to prayer wailing through the night to bring the faithful out to protest, terror-stricken forces in army fatigues being hauled off by police and civilians, a bloodied soldier lynched by a mob of the president's supporters, and jubilant Syrians enjoying the irony of Turkey's chaos as their own country remained under siege.

But there was one subtler scene that stuck with me as I watched the events of July 15 unfold. It was past 3 a.m. in Turkey, roughly five hours after the putschists had started to move. The coup was already showing signs of fraying, and our team crowded around a screen to watch the tiny plane icon that was tracking President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's flight to the Istanbul Ataturk Airport. Coup plotters with an imperative to cut off the head of the Turkish state still had F-16s in the air, raising the stakes of Erdogan's short and precarious journey from his vacation spot in Marmaris to the seat of empire in Istanbul. The flight's transponder went off and we waited in suspense, wondering whether Erdogan had made a safe return. Several minutes later, the president — still wearing the suit and tie from his bold FaceTime appearance — came on NTV and vowed to purge the military of the "parallel" forces behind the coup. As Erdogan spoke with fresh vigor and vengeance, a large, somber portrait of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk stood over him, witnessing the twisted fate of the republic he had built more than nine decades ago.

Several observers were quick to frame the attempted coup as a repetition of history: The military was stepping in to defend the secular principles of Ataturk's republic against an Islamist civilian order, just as it had done between the 1960s and 1990s. But this is an overly simplistic and obsolete read of Turkish politics. The Turkey of the 21st century does not live under the guns of the secular elite and armed forces, nor is it dominated exclusively by a monolithic camp of Islamists. Turkey's fault lines are far more complex, and understanding them is critical to understanding not only the roots of the audacious coup attempt but also the country's geopolitical future.

Divided Between Empire and Nation-State

France's Twin Threat From Within: Angry Youth, Cynical Politics

Richard Werly - July 20, 2016

NICE — Will the French authorities have the courage to "tell all" about the Nice tragedy and its perpetrator, Tunisian-born Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel? It looks that way, as the anti-terrorism team led by the respected Paris prosecutor, François Molins, demonstrated its commitment to sharing objective information with the public during last year's attacks, both in January and November.

How, then, can we explain this doubt that has started to creep in, which has taken form in accusations launched by the former mayor of Nice, Christian Estrosi, by leaders of the traditional French conservatives parties, and by the president of the far-right National Front party, Marine Le Pen? The brutal truth is that 230 people have been killed by terrorists since January 2015? And that shows an increasingly disturbing reality, after six months of living in a state of emergency: If France is indeed a priority target for ISIS, because of its military commitments in Africa and the Middle East, it is also a victim of the fractures and blindness within its own society.

The first fracture is the abandonment of too many neighborhoods where Muslim youth are prey to Islamist recruiters. It is not to say that ISIS controls these areas that have been beaten down by unemployment and trafficking: On the contrary, many Muslims and non-Muslims have successfully battled it to avoid the worst.

However, six months of special public powers in the state of emergency are not nearly enough to close gaps opened in recent years. That a psychologically unstable person was able to “rapidly radicalize” is revealing. Inflamed by ISIS propaganda, a part of French and immigrant youth — the one now pursuing jihad — is ready to turn its hate towards the French Republic by any means.

The New Normal in the Middle East

Marina Ottaway - July 20, 2016

The war against ISIS as a proto-state controlling and governing territory is showing signs of progress, although the appeal of the Islamic State ideology and its capacity to inspire acts of terror appear undiminished.

In Iraq and Syria, ISIS has been losing territory, although slowly and with much resistance. According to the U.S. government, the jihadi organization has lost 40 percent of the territory it once controlled in Iraq and 20 percent of what it controlled in Syria. Operations against the organization’s two major strongholds, Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq, have started, although their progress is slow and fitful.

Though limited, the support Washington has provided to the Iraqi military and to Kurdish fighters in Iraq and Syria has been key. Without the bombing of ISIS positions, and to a lesser extent the training and weapons the United States has been providing, ISIS would remain much stronger than it is.

How much this intervention has benefited the United States is open to question.

The Unyielding Grip of Fossil Fuels on Global Life

Michael Klare - July 19, 2016

Here’s the good news: wind power, solar power, and other renewable forms of energy are expanding far more quickly than anyone expected, ensuring that these systems will provide an ever-increasing share of our future energy supply.  According to the most recent projections from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) of the U.S. Department of Energy, global consumption of wind, solar, hydropower, and other renewables will doublebetween now and 2040, jumping from 64 to 131 quadrillion British thermal units (BTUs).

And here’s the bad news: the consumption of oil, coal, and natural gas is also growing, making it likely that, whatever the advances of renewable energy, fossil fuels will continue to dominate the global landscape for decades to come, accelerating the pace of global warming and ensuring the intensification of climate-change catastrophes.

The rapid growth of renewable energy has given us much to cheer about.  Not so long ago, energy analysts were reporting that wind and solar systems were too costly to compete with oil, coal, and natural gas in the global marketplace.  Renewables would, it was then assumed, require pricey subsidies that might not always be available.  That was then and this is now.  Today, remarkably enough, wind and solar are already competitive with fossil fuels for many uses and in many markets.

If that wasn’t predicted, however, neither was this: despite such advances, the allure of fossil fuels hasn’t dissipated.  Individuals, governments, whole societies continue to opt for such fuels even when they gain no significant economic advantage from that choice and risk causing severe planetary harm.  Clearly, something irrational is at play.  Think of it as the fossil-fuel equivalent of an addictive inclination writ large.

The Cunning of the EU's Top Commissioner

Kaj Leers - July 19, 2016

European Commission chairman Jean-Claude Juncker caused outrage when he suggested that national parliaments of the EU member states were to be bypassed in the bloc’s approval process for the European-Canadian CETA trade treaty. In hindsight, Juncker’s shrewd move shows what a cunning politician he is: He singlehandedly forced leading politicians in the member states to publicly defend the treaty.

CETA is seen by many in Brussels and the 28 -- soon to be 27 -- EU member states as a blueprint for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership trade treaty ratification process with the United States. TTIP is a hot-button political item, with many throughout the European Union opposed even though negotiations have yet to be finalized. So a lot is riding on a soft landing for CETA’s ratification.

Negotiation powers for such all-encompassing international trade treaties are in the hands of the European Commission, the executive body housed in Brussels that carries out the will of the member states. It was decided some time ago by the national governments of the EU states that there wasn’t much sense in having each separate state negotiate a trade treaty with large nations outside the EU.

It’s a sound idea. Not only does it prevent a lot of hassle for all parties involved, but the combined power of the Union also ensures that EU nations aren’t played out against each other. They confront big economic blocs such as the United States and China with a partner their own size.

How Putin Tightened His Military Grip

Samuel Bendett - July 19, 2016

Russian President Vladimir Putin in late June signed into law the creation of the Russian Federation National Guard Forces. The National Guard, or Rosgvardiya, is thus institutionalized -- it was first officially formed on April 5. Much like the American Department of Homeland Security combines various government agencies and branches dealing with internal security, border protection, transportation security, and response to various emergencies, Rosgvardiya now includes Interior Ministry troops, SWAT, and riot police forces, as well as the Center for Special Rapid Reaction Force and the Interior Ministry Aviation, along with government agencies dealing with government-sanctioned arms trafficking and the provision of private security services. The law regulating the activities of the National Guard was adopted by the Russian State Duma on June 22, and approved by the Federation Council on June 29.

According to the official document, the main objectives of Rosgvardiya will be "protection of public order, combating terrorism and extremism, participation in territorial defense, the protection of important state facilities and special cargo." The law also opens up the possibility of using National Guard troops in international operations "to restore and maintain peace." Rosgvadriya now picks up all official paramilitary duties of the Ministry of the Interior, whose forces were designed to maintain order across Russia, with varying results. Unlike DHS, the Ministry had its own heavy military equipment, including armored vehicles and air support, which were used extensively in domestic conflicts, most notably in the 1994-1996 war in Chechnya, which Russia lost to the Chechen rebels. In that war, MVD forces displayed numerous deficiencies, including lack of discipline and an inability to effectively engage in counterinsurgency warfare, leading to numerous civilian and military casualties. 

 Rosgvardiya's critics point to the fact that Putin has created a large armed formation subordinate directly to him -- a formation that could target Russian society. Indeed, Putin appointed one of his bodyguards as head of the force.

Meanwhile, Russia is hoping to match Western advances in unmanned aerial systems and platforms. Russia recently created several strategic unmanned aerial vehicle prototypes, according to the country's Deputy Defense Minister Yuri Borisov: "We have very good, competitive samples of tactical, operational and even strategic-level UAVs, with both information-gathering and attack functions."