Europe Needs a Few Good Leaders

Andy Langenkamp is a global policy analyst for ECR Research.

Jessup, the character played by Jack Nicholson in the 1992 film "A Few Good Men," could just as easily have been talking about the manner in which the EU has been dealing with the refugee crisis when he famously exclaimed, "You can't handle the truth! Son, we live in a world that has walls, and those walls have to be guarded by men with guns."

Many a politician and voter argue that Europe should face reality and close the borders to asylum seekers, because the ugly truth is that Europe can't handle the stream of migrants arriving on its shores (up to five million refugees could be expected to arrive over the next three years). German leader Angela Merkel disputes this, but in a less than convincing manner:

"It cannot be that Europe says, ‘We can't handle this.'"

Unfortunately, statements starting with "It cannot be" mean, for the large part, that it is sadly so, and that it will be very hard indeed to change the situation, despite justifiable moral outrage. In late September, two summits saw Europe try to get a grip on the situation -- one in which the Union's interior ministers assembled, the other its heads of government. President of the European Council Donald Tusk issued an ominous warning:

"It is clear the greatest tide of refugees and migrants is yet to come."

With European nations still very much divided on how to manage these tides, it is virtually guaranteed that we will witness new, highly strung summits during which it may appear that Europe is coming apart at the seams.

Risky ruptures

A dangerous rift has appeared between part of the European Union's east and most of its west. It is very easy to depict Central and Eastern European nations as xenophobic, and that's exactly what many in Western Europe are presently doing. However, it is more complicated than that, and because many in the West fail to understand just how complicated it is, tensions are bound to increase further.

To appreciate where the Eastern Europeans are coming from, consider this quote, reported by Politico EU, from a senior EU official who has spent years living in Eastern Europe: "It's taken countries like the U.K. 40 years to adjust to a diverse society. Football fans were throwing bananas at black players in the 1970s. These countries [in the East] have had to transition from Communism, try to catch up with the West and now in the space of a few months compress 40 years of inclusion into their societies."

Historians also point to the different histories of the western and eastern parts of the European Union. Eastern European nations suffered centuries of Ottoman rule or spent centuries resisting Ottoman and Tatar invasions. Some of those countries were only freed from Ottoman domination on the eve of World War I. All this doesn't excuse the disturbing statements issued by some leaders, but as analyst Ralph Peters recently wrote:

"Removing history from complex strategic equations doesn't make it easier to solve them, but only makes them harder to understand."

We are not only witnessing cracks between West and East, but there is also clearly visible strain experienced by countries at an individual level. In quite a few European countries anti-immigrant populism is on the rise. In Denmark, the Danish People's Party is threatening to bring down the minority government of Prime Minister Lars Rasmussen if the Cabinet gives too much ground on the refugee issue. In other EU nations, anti-immigrant parties and politicians lead the polls in the Netherlands, Austria, Sweden, and France.

Now, we are left with the impression that the European Union is unable to contain and manage the refugee crisis. The only thing Europe can hope for is that the next summit will yield more results on the three most important challenges: hotspots (places in the frontline states where refugees can be registered), relocations, and returns. It will be very difficult, maybe even impossible, to come up with an all-encompassing solution. Moreover, when relocating asylum seekers throughout Europe, how do authorities force people to move to a country that does not want them and in which they themselves do not want build up a life?

Three crises, three pillars

It's not just the refugee crisis that has placed the European Union under great strain; it is haunted by two more major crises: the eurocrisis and Russian aggression. The three crises have, in turn, threatened the three pillars of the European integration project: the eurozone, the Common Foreign and Security Policy of the EU, and the passport-free Schengen Area. In the words of Carnegie researcher Cornelius Adebahr, these three encompass the very core of nation-states: "taxes, armies, and residence."

Europe will not be able to sweep these daunting challenges under the rug anytime soon. The eurozone may be out of the darkest, most dangerous wilderness, but it has yet to reach a peaceful pasture. As concerns foreign policy and security challenges, things have quieted down quite a bit in the eastern parts of Ukraine, but don't mistake this for Putin throwing in the towel. The Russian leader will try to profit from Europe's divisions. And when it comes to the refugee crisis -- Europe had better get ready for more -- the conflicts in the Middle East and Africa show no signs of abating.

Still, Europe should not be written off too soon. Europe will probably figure out how to manage the refugee crisis, eventually. But not before it has seriously damaged relations among EU members and complicated addressing other issues, such as deepening eurozone integration and countering Putin's actions. To end with another famous line from Jack Nicholson, this time from the great crime thriller The Departed":

"I don't want to be a product of my environment. I want my environment to be a product of me."

The European Union would very much like to be in the same position, but it still is a long way from that enviable spot. Europe should acknowledge this truth and work to change it.

(AP photo)

Obama Just Doesn't Understand the Castros

In his speech to the UN General Assembly, Cuban dictator Raul Castro attacked what he called the blockade, demanded the return to Cuba of the U.S. base at Guantanamo, and asked for an end to the Radio Marti broadcasts. He defended Venezuelan strongman Nicolas Maduro and his Ecuadorian counterpart, Rafael Correa. He sided with Bashar Assad's Syria, with Iran, with Russia, and with the cause of Puerto Rican independence. He criticized the market economy and, in a heavy-handed flourish, he closed with a quote from his brother Fidel, an obligatory gesture in Cuba's unctuous revolutionary liturgy.

Shortly thereafter, Castro met with the U.S. president. According to The Washington Post, a somewhat disappointed Barack Obama mentioned to him the overlooked matter of human rights and democracy. There was no glimpse of a political opening.

Obama doesn't understand that with the Castro brothers there is no give-and-take. To the Castros, the socialist model, as they repeat constantly, is perfect, their democracy is the planetary ideal, and the dissidents and the Ladies in White who ask for civil liberties are merely salaried servants of the yanqui embassy, invented by the media, people who deserve to be thrashed.

The Cuban government has nothing to rectify in the Castro view. Let the United States, that imperial power that abuses other nations, rectify. Let capitalism, that system that spreads misery worldwide with its free markets, repulsive competition, hurtful inequalities and lack of commiseration, rectify. To the Castros and their troops of battle-hardened Marxist-Leninists, indifferent to reality, the solution to all evils lies in the collectivism managed by army officers, and with the Castro family directing the puppet show.

Raul, Fidel, and all those around them are proud of having created the greatest of subversive cores in the 1960s, when they founded the Tricontinental and nurtured all the terrorist groups on earth who knocked at their doors or forged their own intelligence services.

They worship the figure of Che Guevara, dead as a result of those bloody goings-on, and recall with emotion the hundreds of guerrillas they trained or launched throughout the world, including against democracies in Venezuela, Argentina, Colombia, Peru, and Uruguay.

They become teary-eyed when they remember their feats in Africa, carried out for the purpose of creating satellites for the glory of the Soviet Union and the sacred cause of Communism, as they did in Angola, where they managed to dominate the other anti-colonial guerrillas. Later, in bloody combat on the Ogaden desert, they defeated the Somalis, their friends before the war, who are now confronting Ethiopia, Havana's new ally.

They feel not the slightest remorse for having executed adversaries and sympathizers, for having persecuted homosexuals or religious believers, for having confiscated estates that had been honorably acquired, for having separated families and pushed into exile thousands of people who ended up at the bottom of the sea. What does this minor individual suffering matter when compared with the glorious feat of "seizing the skies by storm" and changing the history of humanity?

Oh for the grand days of the not-so-cold war, when Cuba was the spearhead of the worldwide revolution against the United States and its minions in the West! A glorious era, betrayed by Gorbachev, when it seemed that soon the Red Army would triumphantly camp on Washington's boulevards.

Obama's mistake is thinking that his 10 predecessors in the White House erred when they decided to challenge the Castros and their revolution, identifying them as enemies of the United States and of the ideas upheld by democracy and freedom.

Obama doesn't understand the Castros, nor is he capable of gauging their significance, because he was not -- as Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan and Bush Sr. were -- steeled in the defense of this country against a very real Soviet threat.

Even Clinton, who dodged the draft rather than fight in Vietnam, in the post-Soviet era understood the nature of the Cuban government and signed the Helms-Burton Act to combat the regime. George W. Bush inherited from his father the conviction that an enemy sat crouched 90 miles away, and treated Havana in that spirit during his two terms of office.

Obama is different. When he came to the presidency, 18 years had passed since the Berlin Wall had been toppled. To him, the Cold War was a remote and foreign phenomenon. He didn't realize that there were places, like Cuba and North Korea, where the old paradigms survived.

Like many U.S. liberals and radicals, especially those in his generation, he thought that little Cuba had been the victim of the imperial arrogance of the United States and could reform and normalize as soon as his nation gave it a hand.

Today, he is incapable of understanding why Raul bites that hand instead of gripping it. He doesn't know that old Stalinists kill and die with their fangs always sharp and ready. It's all part of the revolutionary nature.

(AP photo)

The Inevitable Erosion of Japan's Pacifist Era

Framed by the convergence of postwar international and domestic politics over the last 70 years, Japan's pacifist constitution appears to have secured peace and prosperity for the country. Japanese pacifists suppose this good luck will never run out, as demonstrated by their most recent mass demonstration in front of the Diet. Demonstrators protested against security policies proposed by the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that they believe are unconstitutional. But emerging network-centric military technology is rapidly invalidating their long-held assumptions.

Japan's 1947 constitution was imposed under U.S.-led military occupation, with the intent to put a defeated Japan on indefinite probation as a vanquished but dangerous challenger of the international status quo. The constitution deprived the country of the right to belligerency, as well as the right to possessing normal armed forces as a policy instrument for power projection. For its security and existence, Japan is bound to rely on "the justice and faith of the peace-loving peoples of the world," the overwhelming majority of which then consisted of the Allied Powers.

In response to the breakout of the Korean War in 1950 in the context of the Cold War, however, the United States pushed occupied Japan to organize a small-scale constabulary National Security Force, which later developed into the Japan Self-Defense Forces. Japan took advantage of light armaments and its low fiscal burden to reconstruct its war-torn economy and later to become a global economic power, while the United States to this day continues to play the role of Japan's sole security guarantor.

With U.S. global military involvement and its fiscal burden significantly growing, the Japan Self-Defense Forces have deepened their bilateral alliance relations to supplement and, in limited manners, to complement U.S. military power. Thanks to the alliance, Japan has been able to spend less than 1 percent of its gross domestic product on defense for more than three decades. It has, of course, also been forced to endure an asymmetrical relationship, most visibly by hosting large U.S. military bases on its soil.

Yet as its economy grew, Japan's defense budget became sufficiently large in absolute terms, enabling the country to finance the transformation of the Self-Defense Forces into a compact yet technologically and operationally sophisticated armed force -- one that performs best when cooperating closely with U.S. forces.

For more than two decades, Japan has adroitly evaded its constitutional constraints by maximizing the Self-Defense Forces' logistical and rear area support for U.S. forces. Such support is an essential part of military operations, but it is not integral to combat missions. As such it does not infringe on constitutional redlines. In particular, it has to be noted that sharing real-time digital situational awareness data is considered permissible -- doing so is different from providing digital fire-control data that is immediately linked to combat.

As the regional balance of military power shifts, however, the Self-Defense Forces now cannot help but seek to offset China's quantitative superiority by using the qualitative advantage Tokyo gets through close cooperation with U.S. forces. Japan cannot easily increase defense spending as its society greys, inviting a trade-off between welfare and defense expenditures.

Japan's fiscal constraints thus push Tokyo to network the military computer and communications systems of its Self-Defense Forces with those of U.S. forces, with a focus on high-tech platforms and on vehicles that are to be deployed in a wide operational theater.

This is because, when blue platforms and vehicles are located far apart beyond line-of-sight (an unobstructed path between sending and receiving antennas), individual stand-alone sensors installed on them are unable to capture the rapidly changing locations of their enemy counterparts in real time -- a radar wave is straight, and the globe's surface curved. This emerging network-centricity will inevitably bring about real-time fusion of high-precision situational awareness data to be directly employed for fire control, such as the U.S. Navy's Cooperative Engagement Capability.

There is no longer a neat line separating the data gathered for situational awareness and that used for fire control. That in turn blurs the distinction between the rights to individual and collective self-defense. All of it challenges the long-held precept that restraint from exercising the latter safeguards Japan's national defense.

Technical details aside, the strategic reality is this: The militaries of the United States, Japan, and all of their allies will benefit greatly from sharing tactical data, given growing fiscal constraints developing unilateral war-fighting capabilities. In airspace, and in and under the waters, Japan's increasing technological integration with U.S. forces is changing realities, and the pacifist era is heading for obsolescence.

Thus the day is coming when the use of armed force will have to be judged case-by-case through effective civilian control of the military. Naturally, this demands Japan's political leaders be equipped with knowledge, experience, ability, and capacity in national security affairs, and the Japanese electorate will need to be informed enough on the matter to elect leaders of caliber.

Right now, the situation is a challenge for Japanese democracy: After decades of pacifist inertia, the country lacks statesmen well-versed in national security, and the public is poorly educated in the field. Ironically, the pacifists' preoccupation with the total ban on collective self-defense reveals their strong distrust in contemporary Japanese democracy in general, and in the effectiveness of its civilian control in particular -- their intent is to rely rather on the lingering legacy of the U.S.-led occupation. It is high time to face the tough choices that can direct Japan toward full-fledged democracy.

Can Ukraine Be the New Georgia?

KYIV, UKRAINE - Will what worked in Georgia work in Ukraine? It will if it is up to Davit Sakvarelidze, deputy prosecutor general of Ukraine and the chief prosecutor of the Black Sea city of Odessa.  Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has brought in veterans of the country of Georgia's reform process to help Ukraine remove the legacy of decades of Soviet and oligarchic corruption. Sakvarelidze, appointed to the national post in February 2015, and to the Odessa post several weeks ago, is attempting to bring change to the one state organization that has most resisted the political reforms sweeping the country, the General Prosecutor's Office, which enjoys very low trust among the Ukrainian people - indeed, for good reason. I sat with Sakvarelidze last week, during a visit to the Academy of Prosecutors in Kyiv, to discuss the challenges ahead of him. The place was teeming with young, energetic applicants making their way through the new selection process. There seemed to be a pervasive, youthful motivation, albeit possibly naive, with the people I met while engaged at the facility.

Sakvarelidze was the prosecutor in Georgia's capital, Tbilisi, in 2009-2010, and deputy prosecutor general of Georgia from 2010 to 2012. Along with former Georgian Prime Minister Mikhail Saakashvili and others, Sakvarelidze is working to bring trust in government to the Ukrainian people. He actively coordinates with Saakashvili, who is now governor of Odessa, through his position as head prosecutor. The governor is also working to revitalize this strategic port in a historically corrupt region of Ukraine.

Sakvarelidze is attempting to overhaul the General Prosecutor's Office and remold it into a professional force that can deal with the sickness destroying Ukrainian society. The number of prosecutorial positions have been reduced significantly and all candidates, even current hires, must undergo rigorous testing and training to be accepted into the new reality. More than 700 positions must be filled. 

Sakvarelidze: "Many people will lose their jobs. They are supported by politicians and business interests, oligarchs, etc. The strongest challenge will be in the actual interviews and selections at the end of the process. It is a public relations battle. We have people trying to discredit us already. That is why we have made the process as transparent as possible. We have also increased salaries so the temptation to take a bribe will not be there. They can survive on this salary ... We will reconstitute it from the ground up, starting with local offices and then to the regional and national level."

The entire effort is behind schedule. In fact, the newly created National Anti-Corruption Bureau cannot begin its work until the prosecutor's office is up and running. Yet Sakvarelidze is optimistic and seems determined. "Ukrainians have very good organizational skills," he says. "They are very European. If given the chance, they can succeed. We have to show the new Ukraine is going to be different.

"I'm not afraid to say that an internal ‘Maidan' [referring to Ukraine's revolution] is going on in the Prosecutor General's Office which we have never seen before. Political changes have reshaped the political structure, but the Prosecutor General's Office has not changed; the system has remained the same. Now we are trying to correct it," he recently said at the 12th Yalta European Strategy Annual Meeting in Kyiv.

Regulatory reform should also be a big part of the anti-corruption effort, according to Sakvarelidze; the ability for bureaucrats to siphon cash from the public needs to be reduced. In Georgia, the time needed to get a new passport was reduced to 60 minutes. The new police force patrolling the streets of Kyiv is also a big part of the new Ukraine. The force is there to protect and to serve, not to use the average citizen as a piggy bank to better your lifestyle and pad your pension. They have even adopted Western-style uniforms to reinforce this point.

The stakes for Ukraine are huge. There have been many half-baked anti-corruption campaigns in the past that lacked the political will for real reform. This time Sakvarelidze hopes it's different. "It is not just Ukraine who will feel the pain if we fail. Ukraine is the gateway to Europe, a wall against the tide of Soviet-style corruption. I'd hate to think of the consequences to Europe and the world if we fail."

(AP photo)

Poroshenko Pokes the Bear Ahead of UN Summit

On September 26, Ukrainian TV stations broadcasted an interview with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who spoke briefly about the main aspects of domestic and foreign policy of his country, and answered a few questions prior to his departure for New York City for the UN General Assembly meetings this week.

Regarding his work at the United Nations, Poroshenko mentioned that a global coalition in support of Ukraine has already formed, though it must be strengthened further. The Ukrainian president, who just turned 50, also spoke of the need to change the principle of the UN Security Council concerning the right to "veto" UN actions, as well as of the election of his country to the status of non-permanent member of the Security Council. Poroshenko confirmed that his country will use all available means to put international pressure on Moscow.

On the preparation of upcoming elections in the restive Donbass region and sanctions against Russia, Poroshenko said that Minsk agreements that were signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin clearly stated that the electoral process (in the breakaway region) should take place according to the Ukrainian legislation and laws, and if the Russian Federation supports separatists' initiatives, then it will face international sanctions. "Putin put his signature down on the document in Minsk. Thus, Russia has committed itself to the withdrawal of foreign troops from the territory of Ukraine, closing the border between our countries, ensuring the return of Ukrainian sovereignty over the territories occupied by the separatists and ensuring effective political processes in eastern Ukraine in the form of free will of its citizens during the elections, which should correspond to the OSCE standards and will be recognized by international observers," stressed the head of state.

On Putin's efforts to restore Russia's power on the global arena, Poroshenko said that by creating tension and fanning conflict situations around the world, the Russian president is trying to return his country to leadership of international politics "through the back door": "The presence of Russian troops in Syria, the presence of these 'green men' is very reminiscent of the beginning of the Crimean annexation and aggression in eastern Ukraine. What did it lead to? That is what Putin needed -- destabilization in different parts of the world, but Ukraine was his top priority. All by now know the value of such attempts, all clearly understand the role of Russia as a powerful destabilizing factor," said Poroshenko.

(AP Photo)

The Geopolitics of Respect: The U.S., China, Russia, and Iran

When the Chinese Communist Party took power in 1949, Mao Zedong declared to a party conference that "the Chinese people, comprising one quarter of humanity, have now stood up. The Chinese have always been a great, courageous and industrious nation; it is only in modern times that they have fallen behind. That was due entirely to oppression and exploitation by foreign imperialism..." Mao's regime thereafter turned China into a totalitarian society for decades, but the nationalist mantra - that China had "stood up" - became an enduring aspect of the Communist party legitimacy.

Subsequent Communist revolutions made the same claim to be at once Communist and nationalist. (Not understanding this undermined American efforts in the Vietnam War.) Anti-colonialist national independence movements of the 1950s-1970s that were not Communist did likewise - these included the Castro overthrow of Batista ( a struggle that was not originally Communist); the Algerian National Liberation Front's defeat of France; and various African revolutions against British, French and Portuguese colonial powers. Even allies - France's Charles de Gaulle was one - may resent the power of the very country that protects it. De Gaulle's obsession with national independence was not anti-American, it was pro-French and pro-European. Any people that has the means to defend itself and does not make the effort shows a lack of self-respect. Even resistance that ends in defeat can demonstrate self-respect. "Nobody wants a foreign master," said the ancient Melians to the Athenians before being crushed by them. Alexis Tsipras was just re-elected because Greeks felt he fought the good fight before accepting what he could not prevent. "(In) Europe today," his victory speech asserted, "Greece and the Greek people are synonymous with resistance and dignity."


As world leaders gather for the annual opening of the U.N. General Assembly, a geopolitics of respect is a hidden agenda. The self-confidence of strong geopolitical power is always on display (as is the bravado of certain weaker powers). But respect for cultures, histories, and past grievances concerns even the great powers. The United States, the world's only superpower, is almost always the target of recriminations. Demands for respect by the United States are the core aspect of what might be called the world geopolitics of emotion, which is no less real than military capabilities. Resentment of greater powers, and historical memories of defeat and outside interference, often produce a desire for revenge. The opposite of feeling respected is feeling humiliated, and that sense can drive irrationality in international policy.

Three countries among the biggest powers - China, Russia, and Iran - arrive at the United Nations carrying the issue of respect as a hidden agenda behind the conflicts of interests and policy. To different degrees, all three are oppressive regimes, each in its own way with its particular ideological justification, whether those be the Chinese Communist Party's alleged superior wisdom and management skills, Russia's legitimate sphere of interests as a Great Power, or Islam's right to a national theocracy. Significantly, each considers itself a civilization as well as a country. China vaunts a 5,000-year history. Iranians are the avatar of ancient Persia, whose empire began with Cyrus the Great's conquest of the Medes in the 6th century B.C. Russia's governments from Peter the Great to Vladimir Putin represent a 1,000-year power that began in 9th century Kievan Rus. If Beijing, Moscow, and Tehran are America's principal geopolitical rivals, their sense of the dignity of their own histories and cultures creates a natural resentment of American claims to a unique place in world politics and political culture.

Putin's Russia

Vladimir Putin is cited repeatedly for saying that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the greatest political catastrophe of the 20th century. What he meant was not that Russia should return to Soviet politics and economics. He was lamenting the collapse of a powerful Russian state as such - of Russia as a great power. During the Cold War the U.S.S.R. was the second superpower, the only country in the world that, because of its nuclear arsenal and international Communist empire, dealt with America as an equal. Putin wants a Russia that counts, whose voice in international relations must be reckoned with in major international issues. Russia's history implies a geopolitical calling in which the Soviet Union, because of weak leadership, is an unlamented failure. Russia's post-Communist governments, Mikhail Gorbachev's as well as Boris Yeltsin's, were humiliated by the West. Gorbachev lost the Soviet state and the international Communist movement, obliged to accept the eastern expansion of NATO and the European Union. Yeltsin oversaw Russia's economic collapse and NATO's expansion to Russia's own borders.

Putin's aim to reverse Russian geopolitical decline is self-evident. Taking Crimea, intervening in Ukraine's eastern territory, and now allying with Iran in Syria, constitute geopolitical gains in themselves. That they have occurred despite American and Western opposition is an additional source of satisfaction, both emotional, and, in the realism of global chessboard strategy, intellectual. Putin clearly enjoys playing the game. He is showing that Russia may be only a regional power, but in that region it can intervene abroad with success if not with impunity. Russia has new openings for alliances if not friendships. Putin arrives at the United Nations with more impact and reason for self-satisfaction that had seemed likely a short time ago. This includes a scheduled private meeting with Pope Francis.


Negotiating its nuclear program with the P5 + 1 big powers over the past few years put Iran at the center of the broad evolution of Middle Eastern geopolitics. Islamist jihad movements - Islamic State but also the remnants of al-Qaeda and smaller networks - may have had their day, especially as Russia and Iran commit to combat them with ground forces. What Tehran intends in the region is a matter of great importance.

According to media reports, the region's Sunni Muslim governments - Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, perhaps Turkey as well - are not as concerned about a possible Iranian nuclear weapons program, which the nuclear agreement delays for many years, as with the expansion of Iran's regional influence. In spite of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's criticism of the nuclear agreement, this may be Israel's major concern as well. Tehran, he says, controls five Middle Eastern capitals. But a nuclear arms race in the Middle East is less likely than it once seemed to be.

Iran's increasing geopolitical influence is unquestionable. What Tehran wants from the world's powers, especially the United States, is some guarantee that regime change is not Western policy; and it wants some accommodation of increased Iranian influence, which, as is the case with Russia, is justified by Iran's size and geopolitical importance.

Also as in the case of Russia, there is the issue of respect of Iran as the inheritor of a civilization and as a religious achievement. The nuclear negotiations had a symbolic quality as well as strategic significance. The government of President Hassan Rouhani and the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei can assert that Iran stood up to the world's biggest powers, six to one, as an equal. Iranians may or may not be convinced. Another reading is that Iran's negotiating team looked more like a misbehaved schoolboy facing a disciplinary committee.

The fact is that Iran was not publicly humiliated, whether because it was supremely crafty or because the P5 + 1 took great care, which is not surprising since Russia and China were involved. Its statements of intent were not accepted at face value; neither were they rejected. Everyone, including Tehran, understood that the agreement's success or failure lies in verification of Iran's compliance. Even the concern that Tehran might cheat is a paradoxical statement of Iran's autonomy in the sense that Tehran cannot be completely controlled from outside.

Khamenei and Rouhani, whatever their differences, share a preoccupation with self-respect and with international respect. Khamenei emphasizes that Tehran will "verify Western compliance" as well. Rouhani and foreign minister Mohamed Javid Zarif sometimes take a less hostile line, along with warnings and criticism about American and Israeli actions. Iran, Rouhani says, won't forget past U.S. interventions. But the main thing, he says, is to look ahead rather than let policy be decided by the past. Respect from the United States may weigh in internal debates in Iran's leadership.


Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived last week in the United States for a state visit and the ritual speech at the U.N. General Assembly. He landed first in Seattle, where he made an important speech detailing China's self-definition and its subdued economic ambitions at home ("a modestly prosperous society" by 2020; a fully prosperous society by 2050. The goal of a "Communist society" is, in other words, a dead letter.) Most important was what he said about Sino-American relations. The key phrases were "to construct a new major power relationship," to "read each other's strategic intentions correctly," and that, whatever conflicts of interest or perception, "the most important thing is to respect each other." Xi appeared self-confident himself, even garrulous, reciting a list of Western books he's read, including, his favorite, Ernest Hemingway's "The Old Man and the Sea".

President Xi represents a country whose business, economic and financial interests are more than ever engaged in the international order. China's evolved world outlook is an example of how durable success blunts the impulse to invoke past grievances - the "century of Chinese humiliation" - in a country's diplomacy. Russia and Iran are far from having reached this point. Downplaying the effects of current economic difficulties and stock market volatility, Xi could have, but did not, compare them to the 2007-12 U.S. and Western financial crisis.

China is the least urgent of Washington's three major geopolitical worries. But in the long term it is America's most substantial global partner and competitor. It is uncertain how far Beijing will take its efforts to become a global power, or to what extent it will keep its promise not to try to overthrow the international order, but to revise it in favor of developing countries. What is certain is that Beijing knows it will be impossible to supplant the United States as the world's pre-eminent power and that in strategic terms it would be a waste of resources to try.

Xi's more open, self-confident attitude toward the West can affect Chinese political culture even in the Communist Party, not least of all through his cosmopolitan interest in other countries' cultures. China's opening to the world is still a work in progress, but the old Communist hostility to the West is giving way to curiosity and respect. The large number of successful mainland Chinese in the United States reinforces this trend. It gives Beijing another important stake in its relationship with America

America and the geopolitics of respect

President Obama will speak at the United Nations with the question of respect also at issue. Big power attitudes toward U.S. foreign policy are unique, however, because it is the world's sole superpower. It has the largest economy, the strongest military and the strongest power of attraction as a society. For other governments, the United States is the country whose respect is most important, and the lack of it most resented. The Obama administration has from the beginning had to deal with foreign perceptions of condescending American attitudes, and the idea that America imposes its values on other countries. Obama intuited the importance of respect. From the beginning of his administration he emphasized that he was attuned to it.

A combination of resentment, fear, and perhaps hatred, but also respect, alliance and friendship, is the natural condition of great geopolitical power. The United States is no exception. What is in question is not respect for America as such or the attractiveness of American society, but the depth of Washington's foreign policy engagement in world troubles, and the credibility of its commitments. The Obama administration, inheriting two wars, wound down military engagement in the war of necessity in Afghanistan and above all in the war of choice in Iraq. America today is fighting no ground wars. Obama is criticized for pulling American forces out of Iraq precipitously and for insufficient engagement in the Syrian wars, including the fight against ISIS/Islamic State. In any case, as opposed to the situation only a few months ago, Islamic State is now little heard from. Whether it's headed for destruction has become a reasonable question.

Russian intervention into Syrian territory, and its burgeoning alliance there with Iran, worry Washington and its allies in the region. Yet with U.S. participation, the result could be stabilization in Syria and a guarantee of Iraq's integrity. This reduces America's influence in the Middle East, but Obama's calculation is that overall reduction of U.S. attempts to control how the region evolves will benefit America's interests so long the United States protects its allies and underwrites their common interest in pushing back against Iran and Russia. Obama's calculation in the Ukraine conflict has the same intent.

The issue is whether Obama has, despite certain failures and mistakes, balanced American national interests, capacities and commitments to our most important allies. American foreign policy should not have a single rule guiding all interventions abroad. Individual cases should be evaluated, and the ambition to be the decisive force everywhere in the world should be modulated. It makes no sense to attempt to control every situation when new rising powers make it futile. Respecting the geopolitical power of others is simple prudence. At the least, Obama's awareness of the geopolitical importance of respect, rightly given, shows that American diplomacy is capable of a more cosmopolitan mentality than it has carried in the recent past.   

(AP photo)

Syria May Be Putin's Afghanistan

The United States and other Western powers have voiced concern over Russian President Vladimir Putin's decision to send combat fighters, sophisticated weaponry, and eventually troops to Syria. That concern is legitimate. Russia's authorities haven't hidden their readiness to come to the rescue of a brutal ally - Bashar Assad - who has not hesitated to drop barrel bombs and use chemical weapons against his country's civilian population.

Yet no one should be more concerned with Putin's move than Putin himself. For Russia's escalating involvement in the Syrian battlefield may quickly turn out to be a geopolitical millstone for the Kremlin.

For sure, Putin's involvement in Syria is likely to be less strenuous and resource-consuming than the Soviet entanglement in Afghanistan in the 1980s. All the same, the problems that Russia's expanding presence in Syria will likely create for Putin's regime are reminiscent of those that brought about the Soviet rout in Afghanistan.

For starters, Russia will be utilizing resources on two fronts, Ukraine and Syria, at a time when the oil-market slump, Western sanctions, and the inefficiencies inherent to Russian crony capitalism are putting a severe strain on that country's economic and financial capabilities and, consequently, on the viability of Putin's strongarm moves.

Putin's Syria gambit is all the more risky as the anti-Assad governments of the Middle East, in particular those of the Gulf States, will not spare the efforts and the financial means to offset Russia's increased military assistance to the Syrian government. Some of them will not mind doubling down on their support to their proxies operating in Syria, placing these in a stronger position to fight not only Assad's crumbling army, but also the newly arrived Russian troops.

It can be expected that the anti-Assad terrorist groups already engaged in the Syrian theater of operation (the Islamic State group and al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al Nusrah in particular) will, in turn, have to slow the pace of the atrocities they commit against Syria's citizens - if only to recapture the sympathy of the population - so as to concentrate on a more pressing, life-or-death endeavor, namely to face and combat well-equipped Russian troops posted in Syria.

The behavior of Iran-funded Hezbollah sheds light on this dynamic. Hezbollah has had to reduce and put off its attacks against its main target, Israel, in order to defend the battered Syrian regime. ISIS and Jabhat al Nusrah will probably reprioritize in full to cope with Russia's military might.

For their part, the Gulf States as well as Turkey will be more dependent on U.S. logistical assistance. They will thus show more willingness than in the past to take into account and meet the conditions set by Washington in exchange for such assistance.

The United States stands to gain from all these developments. Washington, therefore, has no interest in offering Putin an easy way out, for instance by accepting a trade-off involving Russia's agreement to the departure of Bashar Assad in return for the installation of a regime in Syria with new faces but still controlled in part or in full by Russia and Iran.

No less important, now that the Syrian regime is in tatters, the the region's Sunni, anti-Assad governments will hardly be satisfied with a merely cosmetic change in Syria's top echelons of power. They may aim at a more meaningful victory; namely, a substantial reduction of Iran's control over Syria - a condition that Russia doesn't seem ready or able to agree to.

Furthermore, not even on humanitarian grounds is peace at any price a desirable objective. As cautioned by political scientist and military strategist Edward Luttwak, a victory by any of the major contenders - be it the Syrian regime with new faces or an insurgency infiltrated and dominated by militants - would trigger a slaughter against the losing communities and factions even more horrific than those seen thus far.

No solution seems more viable and durable than the status quo or a variant thereof. A national unity government, encompassing figures from both the present regime and moderate factions of the insurgency, would be too disparate, weak, and exposed to terrorist groups to last or to effectively rule.

Like it or not, the Syrian standoff is there to stay. The rivalries are too deeply entrenched, and the combat means at the disposal of belligerent factions are too exorbitant, for peace and stability to be an attainable objective in the months or years ahead.

Under such circumstances, Washington and its allies have no better option than to work within the Syrian conflict - to avoid making empty promises or setting vacuous red lines, and to avoid vain attempts to fix it.

Seen from this perspective, it's better to allow, and even to push, Vladimir Putin to become entangled in the Syrian quagmire - Ronald Reagan allowed the Soviet Union to do just that in Afghanistan.

(AP photo)

The Return of Political Economy

The second decade of the 21st century has been marked by the return of political economy, as realpolitik has replaced the globalization theme in the framework of geopolitics. Considering the key events in 2014 - the Ukraine crisis being the most prominent, but also the fall in the price of oil and the struggles of the eurozone - relative standing in the global economy is now one of the most important factors in the relations between major geopolitical actors.

Military alliances are reinforced by economic linkages among the allied countries. Regional integration efforts take into account market opportunities and risks as well as security challenges. Two agreements currently under negotiation - the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership - have the potential to create a new level of coordination between the United States and its partners. The accords would not only impact trade, but also aim at regional regulatory harmonization. The two partnership blocs, covering the Atlantic and the Pacific, would add political ingredients to economic interdependencies, positively influencing security coordination among partner states.

The return of political economy for global interdependencies

In the post-Cold War period, globalization was defined through diminishing trade and investment barriers. This created growing interdependencies among nation states, suggesting that liberalized markets and open democracies were the recipe for prosperity. Statistical data observed in both trade and investment stands as proof of how markedly global integration developed from the early 1990s until 2008. Eastward expansion of NATO and the European Union, coupled with the secure dominance of the world's oceans by U.S. naval forces, seemed to create the framework for a world dominated by Western values. It was a framework for complete peace - a peace guaranteed and supported by the integration of the global economy.

The processes that developed in the 1990s convinced everyone that global integration was not only achievable, but would also provide the needed support for global sustainable development. In that spirit, in 2001 the World Trade Organization launched the Doha Round of talks. Members convened in Qatar, hoping to spur developed and developing countries to compromise on conflicting trade policies. It was high time for true globalization, and the participating countries hoped to free up markets in agriculture, manufacturing, and services. The deadline of January 2005, set in Qatar, was never reached, while signs of failure began to show as early as 2003, when participants started missing deadlines on deals, and a September WTO meeting in Cancun, Mexico, collapsed.

The financial crisis of 2007-2008 further illustrated the vulnerabilities created by interdependencies. Finally, as the Ukraine crisis unfolded, 2014 affirmed the dominance of the political in "political economy" - a return to the realpolitik game of power. With the West having enough problems of its own, it took awhile for Europe to enforce sanctions. Once they are installed, it was a political decision, one that marked a return to hard economic competition at the global level. There's also the speculation around the oil price drop and the so-called currency wars, but it was the sanctions that essentially showed that everything is political after all. The dream of a closely integrated world driven by market forces - the main ideological trend of the 1990s - has shown its limitations, as recent events revealed that the nation-state remains a key player in international affairs.

In the second decade of the 21st century, we entered into the post-post Cold War period, and the nation state is reaffirming itself as the core actor in the global system. Adam Smith and David Ricardo are required reading once again, with the insights they provide on the links between politics and economics - and ultimately, societal well-being. While the "invisible hand" seemed to work best during the 1990s and the beginning of the 2000s, showing that efficient markets can be the outcome of individual decision-making processes, what became evident from the financial crisis of 2007 is that those choices were framed by the political systems in which they were made, just as the political systems were shaped by economic realities. This is a recurring theme of Smith's "Wealth of Nations." In similar fashion, Ricardo's competitive advantage theory appears to stand at the core of international negotiations both within and outside the alliance framework. Taking into account the three power pillars for nation-states - politics, economics and military - classical economists teach us a great deal about the relationship between political and economic life, improving our understanding of the security fundamentals that set the basis for military strategies.

2005-2008: A Pivotal Triennial

Multilateral negotiations on global trade and investment regulation have been put to a halt since 2008, when the Doha round talks in Geneva ended with no result. Instead, regional integration initiatives have picked up. After consultations that began in 2005, the United States and the European Union in April 2007 signed the Framework for Advancing Transatlantic and Economic Integration, the document which led to the first version of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP, in 2011. In November 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama announced Washington's intention to join negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, an initiative launched in July 2005 as an expansion of the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement by Brunei, Chile, Singapore, and New Zealand. Ironically, both TTIP and TPP are ideas from the year 2005, the presumed and failed deadline for the Doha Round. Negotiations for regional integration have slowly replaced those for global integration, leaving some of the ideals of globalization behind.

In 2008, the financial crisis crossed the Atlantic, first into Europe and then on to Asia. While the crisis was felt more strongly in Europe in 2009-2010, it was in 2008 that it evolved from a national crisis to a global one. It was the aftermath of the financial crisis that installed political economy as the new realpolitik. At its core, the financial crisis was in fact a legitimacy crisis, bringing the financial and the political elites under question for their roles in the capital market. The current evolution of the crisis on the Eurasian continent is shaping geopolitical dynamics. The origins of the financial crisis stand in the risks created by interdependencies. The financial markets being interdependent, the crisis spread very fast - until 2008, no one thought interdependency and global markets could be something bad, because globalization was basically taken as a positive phenomena. However, globalization, especially in the financial markets, meant low or no regulation, and therefore no protection for local and national economies.

The origin of the financial crisis - the subprime meltdown in the United States - has appeared as a consequence of the financial system generating paper assets whose value was dependent on the housing prices, assuming that the prices would either always rise - or whose value, even if fluctuating, could still be calculated.

Instead, when the price of housing declined, the paper asset became indeterminate. The financial crisis broke out in the United States, and, because EU financial institutions also bought the paper assets, it spilled over the Atlantic. The financial elite was perceived at the time as violating principles of social and moral responsibility in its pursuit of profit. At the same time, the political establishment was seen as incapable of setting up the needed regulations to prevent the financial elite from manipulating the financial system to its own benefit in an uncontrollable manner. Thus in the aftermath of the crisis, the legitimacy of the financial and political elite is under scrutiny.

In addition, the management of the crisis, involving government intervention and bailouts, with direct consequences both on sovereign debt levels and on state power, has prompted new considerations on the link between politics and economics. For Europe, the political crisis was also deepened by the disproportionate economic problems within the European Union. Europe did not act as a single unit to deal with European banks, working instead at the national levels and through the European Central Bank. As the crisis deepened and the recession generated more problems for peripheral countries such as Greece, two narratives evolved. One is the German version, holding that Greece fell into a sovereign debt crisis because its government maintained social welfare programs far exceeding its scope for funding, and now the Greeks were expecting the European Union to bail them out. The narrative shared by Greece and other peripheral European states is that, through Europe's free trade zone, Germany created captive markets for its goods, while the importing countries, members of the same monetary club, couldn't devalue their currencies. Furthermore, it seemed that the European Central Bank favored Northern Europe in general, and Germany in particular, during the first stage of the financial crisis on the Continent, considering its focus on keeping inflation low.

The debate over solutions for the eurozone crisis has underlined the different political approaches of the member states. As discussions have devolved into a blame game between southern and northern countries, the risk of fragmentation of the European Union has further increased.

Recession in the United States and Europe affected Asian economies, particularly China and Japan. Considering the export market dependency of those countries on both Europe and the United States, the Chinese government faced a possible unemployment crisis, as low exports could have slowed production, an eventuality followed by layoffs and factory bankruptcies. This could have led to massive social instability in the country.

Beijing averted the crisis through two main policy lines. The first was to keep production steady by encouraging price reductions, and the second was to extend unprecedented credit lines to enterprises facing default on their debts in order to keep them in business. The side effect of such policies was inflation, to which China responded (again) by increasing wages. This, in turn, again increased the cost of goods exported, making China's wage rates less competitive. The global financial crisis has forced Beijing to seek out and speed up structural reforms, putting household private consumption at the core of the new economic model China seeks to implement. All this has in fact increased the government's political control over the economy.

Japan, already facing economic problems at the end of 2007, has had to deal with both the effects of a strengthened yen, which already made its exports expensive, and with the global slowdown. Ultimately, Japan's response was the three-part plan called Abenomics promoted by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The plan aims to revive Japan's economy through structural reforms that also serve to frame a new economic model for the country. Part of the plan is making use of the Trans-Pacific Partnership to launch strong domestic reforms.

For Russia, 2008 was the year of war with Georgia - an event Moscow used to make its resurgence visible at the global level. Moscow's goal was to show former Soviet states seeking alliances with the European Union and NATO that the West could not back up its security commitments.

The root of the Georgian conflict is found in the West: the expansion of the European Union and NATO into Eastern and Central Europe was undermining Moscow's influence, and the Kremlin decided it had to do something about it. The West's recognition of Kosovo's independence from Serbia - a traditional ally of Russia - in early 2008 set the process of war in motion. Between 2000 and 2007 Putin's priority was to "clean house." The Kremlin recentralized the country politically under a pro-Putin political party, and socially by rallying nationalism. Economically, the Kremlin recentralized the majority of business and financial drivers in the country by creating state champions for energy, banking, and other sectors. As the Kremlin's control over Russia intensified, Moscow turned its attention to its periphery and to the growing pro-Western movement on the edge of the Russian sphere of influence. The pro-Western revolutions in Georgia in 2003 and in Ukraine in 2004 served as a wake-up call for Moscow. In the early 2000s, Russia used energy as the primary tool to influence Europe and penetrated European business circles. It also sought to understand and use to its advantage the European Union's socio-political problems, and the incomplete integration of the Union. The Europeans have since followed through with some of their plans for energy diversification, and Russia is facing increased economic problems, also as a result of the sanctions imposed by the West; Moscow's tools for influencing the EU have thus also weakened.

Interdependencies mean, under these circumstances, that countries can use economic policies as foreign policy and security tools. Political economy has been used at the global level to rebalance power among the resurging world's regional leaders. Aversion to the risks involved in establishing global interdependencies leads to regional capital constraints, both on trade and investment. At the same time, increased regional integration through the establishment of smaller clubs for trade and investment leads to the existence of competing trade and investment regimes. Still, such clubs facilitate more effective coordination among member states; they create trade rules that serve the states' interests and increase their outward relative power.

The meaning of partnerships

The Trans-Pacific Partnership, as well as its so-called companion, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, are adding a new dimension to regional integration. They aim to create a common market among the participants, not just a free trade zone. The proposed partnership would establish a unified set of regulations that not only address the tariff and non-tariff trade barriers but also formulate the investment rules, creating solid, long-term links among countries. This way, the established partnerships are looking to balance political relations among countries in order to alleviate any future geopolitical and security dilemmas.

For Asia, post-Cold War globalization meant an increase in regional trade interdependency, particularly with China, while maintaining a constant pace of trade links with the European Union and the United States. While dependencies on China increased, those on the European Union and the United States decreased. ASEAN - the Association of South East Asian Nations - has been one of the catalysts for growing regional cooperation. Integration, however, did not follow. To answer the need for more coordination and market access, the Trans-Pacific Partnership was conceived in 2006 by Singapore, New Zealand, Chile, and Brunei, out of the foreseeable failure of the WTO Doha round. The United States became officially involved in 2009, after the Doha round collapsed.

The TPP is designed to increase trade in Asia but it is also a response to growing Chinese economic ties in one of the most economically vibrant regions of the world. While speculation that China may join negotiations has bounced around in the media, Obama clarified the relationship between the TPP and China in an interview with the Wall Street Journal in April 2015. He said that if the "U.S. doesn't enact a free-trade deal with Asia, then China will write the rules in that region". The United States wants to create a framework across the Pacific that will become the reference point for any future big regional trade liberalization initiatives.

In this sense, the TPP truly became a grouping of global relevance in 2013, when Japan joined negotiations. Tokyo's decision followed Sino-Japanese diplomatic tensions over the disputed Diaoyu/Senkaku island chain in 2012, and it came after Japan lost the title of world's second largest economy to China at the end of 2010. It has also been presented as a component of Abenomics. The TPP negotiations on trade liberalization represent for the Japanese government an opportunity to use external pressures to implement reforms in important domestic sectors such as agriculture, healthcare, and finance. From a strategic viewpoint, the TPP represents a new level of cooperation with the United States, at a moment when tensions may rise further with China, taking into account the very different positions of the two countries in their developmental history and in East Asia's balance of power.

The incentives for the other countries considering to join the Pacific partnership revolve around the eased access to the U.S. market as a supplement to China's, at a time when, after the financial crisis, the United States is experiencing a more robust recovery than is occurring elsewhere in the world. At the same time, the countries in the region seem to share the common strategic prerogative that while it is good to maintain economic ties with China, they need to have strong security ties with the United States. And TPP, through the large set of items being negotiated, is creating the bridge for a new level of coordination between Washington and its partners. A similar dynamic is at play with TTIP for the EU-U.S. relationship.

It is not by chance that both TPP and TTIP became "serious plans" in the very same year. They share an ambitious agenda, involving more than just trading goods. The pacts refer to more structural issues, such as services and investment. The currently negotiated partnerships - covering the Atlantic and the Pacific - are in fact bringing inter-regional integration to a new level, aiming to set a higher bar for all countries interested in doing business with the partners belonging to the club. They add political ingredients to economic interdependencies, making improvements in security coordination possible in the future.

BRICs - the entity formally set up in 2008 (another interesting coincidence on the timeline) between Brazil, Russia, India, and China, and later taking on South Africa in, is being left out of both the TTIP and TPP discussions. The group will ultimately have to decide whether or not to join a market dominated by the two grand partnerships, or to continue developing alternatives to the Bretton Woods institutions.

If the TPP aims to establish a framework for competing against Chinese dominance in the region, TTIP is set to bring Transatlantic relations to a new level, at a time when the European Union is struggling with structural problems and with a resurgent Russia to its east. Considering that China and Russia are likely to enhance their political and economic cooperation in the future, these trade and investment partnerships mean to work as a Western, U.S.-led force for rebalancing global power. The instruments of geo-economics such as productivity, trade balances, or foreign investment are well-linked to military power, geography, and demographics in an era of inter-regional integration and competition - all at work using the realpolitik principles of classic political economy.

Ukraine Seeks Better Battlefield Medicine

As fighting continues in Eastern Ukraine between government forces and pro-Russia separatists, questions swirl in the headlines about the Ukrainian military's readiness and the availability of appropriate equipment. As the situation slowly improves for Kiev, and Ukrainians receive sorely needed professional training and advice, other battlefield issues are just as important as ever. One major issue is medical assistance, and the quality of aid that injured soldiers are getting at the front lines. Ukrainian daily recently interviewed Col. Yuri Ilyashenko, the chief physician of the Military Medical Clinical Center of the Northern Region, who is currently deployed to fight the separatists in the country's east.
Obozrevatel noted that when the war started in the Donbas region, Ukrainian military doctors were forced to conduct the most operations on the front lines due to a lack of adequate evacuation procedures and logistics. Ilyashenko noted that now, military doctors no longer need to conduct such operations in the line of fire -- their current task has changed to stabilizing the injured and their evacuation away from the fighting:

"We have established integrated systems of emergency care and evacuation. If the distance from the front to the mobile hospital is too great, emergency assistance is provided by medical teams deployed at district hospitals. After surgical intervention and the provision of other kinds of care, the wounded are evacuated either to a military mobile hospital, or directly to hospitals outside the anti-terrorist operations area."

Ilyashenko also noted that soldiers are becoming more familiar with individual medical kits that were initially absent from their personal battlefield equipment. The colonel also assured that almost all soldiers on the front lines have at least three basic items in their medical kit -- a tourniquet, bandages, and painkillers.
Obozrevatel noted that there were many cases during recent fighting where Ukrainian military doctors gave assistance to separatist prisoners, as well as cases when Ukrainian military prisoners received much-needed care in rebel-held Donetsk. Another question asked of Ilyashenko concerned the simple medical goal to save lives, no matter which uniform the injured combatant is wearing. Ilyashenko replied in the affirmative: "If the doctor has honor and conscience, then while he is performing medical duties, his main task is to save lives. It does not matter who is in a hospital bed - a separatist or our soldier. On the other hand, if I was told to treat someone like Hitler -- yes, as a doctor I would perform my duty and do everything to save a life. But when someone like Hitler would be released beyond the threshold of the hospital, and I take off my medical coat, then do not expect from me any mercy and compassion -- as a person and a patriot of Ukraine.

"On the other hand," remarked the colonel, "I know from experience that medical solidarity exists in any political situation. Throughout the year, at different times, two soldiers came to our Military Medical Clinical Center in Kharkov with cases of botulism. Ukraine does not have the serum for this disease and without it, patients could have died. People's lives were at stake, the situation was critical. We therefore reached out via our professional channels to the physicians in the Russian Federation. Russian doctors found the appropriate serum and passed it to us in Kharkov within 24 hours. The lives of these two soldiers - who fought against pro-Russia separatists - were saved."

Presently, all factors point to an uphill but necessary struggle to rapidly modernize all facets of the Ukrainian military, from weapons to medical assistance in battle. Experts point out that Ukraine is working to improve the quality of military equipment in order to meet NATO standards in advance of potentially joining the alliance in the near future.

(AP photo)

Does Europe Have a Plan for What Comes Next?

Even those who welcome the arrival of refugees to Europe are starting to worry. While news media flood their channels with near-apocalyptic images of the refugee onslaught in Europe, emergency asylum centers in many countries seem hardly able to cope. Do their governments have a plan to integrate the newcomers into their societies? The resident populations deserve answers.

As Hungary sends armored vehicles and armed soldiers to meet war refugees spilling over its borders, hundreds of thousands of refugees are arriving in Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Great Britain, and several other nations which have agreed to accept those in need.

While this phase of the refugee crisis -- the arrival -- plays out, polls in the accepting nations are starting to show unease among resident populations. Although many agree that people should be allowed into their countries as they escape war and destruction, increasing numbers are asking what's next for the refugees, and for their own societies.

At the core is anxiety about the difficulty of integrating those refugees who choose to stay. As this poll from the Netherlands shows, 72 percent of respondents expect the newcomers to somehow affect their societies. Fifty-eight percent fear that the refugees will have a negative impact.

The countries now welcoming refugees have already experienced their share of recent socio-cultural upheaval. In most of these countries a perceived failure to fully integrate new minorities into society has led to resentment against established political parties.

As the refugees settle in, the next phase is integration. The past decades have seen severe mistakes made on this front, leading to resentment that has fed widespread anti-immigrant sentiment. The fact that quite a few people firmly believe that every Muslim wants to decapitate unbelievers and hold their wives and daughters as rape slaves doesn't help.

In the past, when countries such as Germany took in large numbers of Turkish refugees, most newcomers were left to their own devices. In many countries this led to the creation of ghettos -- the banlieues of Paris spring to mind. The same thing happened in the Netherlands, where large contingents of Turkish and Moroccan guest workers from the late 1960s onwards weren't bothered with language courses or education programs. As a result, integration for many never happened, and cultural differences remained, much to the ire of many Dutch voters -- some of whom subsequently revolted, adhering to politician Pim Fortuyn when he took a tough stance against newcomers and the country's soft integration policies.

All this raises difficult questions for those in power. Do they have plans for the next phase -- the integration phase? Will there be enough jobs for locals and for newcomers? The German economy needs labor force expansion; the country is greying fast. As this excellent overview by The Washington Post shows, German Chancellor Angela Merkel's open-borders policy is rooted not just in Samaritanism, but also in cold calculus. Germany is heading for major problems down the road because of a quickly shrinking labor force. And right now unemployment in Germany is at record lows. But what happens when the economy goes south again, as economies always do at some point, and unemployment rises?

In the Netherlands and France, unemployment is significantly higher (at 6.3 percent and 10.5 percent, respectively). The Dutch government set aside €900 million ($1.01 billion) to pay for refugees' shelter, and promised still more. Unfortunately, the same government has in recent years made severe cutbacks on benefits for the long-term unemployed and for those on welfare, leading to logical (and tough to answer) questions, such as: Are refugees somehow more important than we, your own resident poor?

The resident populations deserve answers. So the leaders of Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, France -- all those countries that are accepting refugees -- had better devise policies that work, based on decades of experience. That will be the real test of this refugee crisis. Unfortunately, so far governments haven't shown even the beginnings of a plan.

(AP photo)

Electoral Storms Ahead in Europe?

Andy Langenkamp is a global policy analyst for ECR Research.

The Financial Times' Gideon Rachman recently wrote: "At some point, the desperation and hopes of the refugees are likely to collide with the fears and resentments of European voters." The question is whether the outcomes of four upcoming elections will reflect the repercussions of the refugee crisis.

The refugee issue is certainly fodder for populists. Some may tend to the left, with a tendency to campaign against the evils of unfettered capitalism and the free markets. Others rail against immigrants and the threat posed by Islam. However, all of these politicians claim to detest the established order. This is precisely why voters support them. 


I doubt this political trend will turn to triumph at the handful of elections that are due to take place over the coming period. The Greeks come first. On Sept. 20, voters will head to the polls for the third time in eight months. According to most polls, the Syriza party (an amalgam of various left-wing parties) under former Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras leads by a hair. Or, it may have been overtaken by right-wing New Democracy (ND). It is a very close call. Impossible to say which party will come off best on Sunday, but most polls foresee that a combination of pro-euro parties could gain approximately 70 percent of the votes. The chance is slim that the Greek elections will spook the markets. The citizens of Greece know better than most what misery can ensue if a government messes up and antagonizes its creditors. Following Syriza's brief but disastrous period of office, voters will be less keen on a cabinet that incurs the wrath of Brussels and the International Monetary Fund. I am also cautiously optimistic that the elections will help to normalize the Greek situation, because capital controls are slowly being lifted - far earlier than, for example, in Iceland and Cyprus on previous occasions.


So the markets are unlikely to cut capers following the Greek elections. Two weeks later, the Portuguese are due at the ballot box. Portugal's incumbent center-right coalition is under fire, and there is a strong possibility that left-leaning parties will take over the helm. Yet the Portuguese bond and equity markets will take this in stride as the major left-wing parties are unlikely to abruptly change course. 


Spanish elections are more crucial. Spain is the Eurozone's fourth-largest economy. In addition, the political system that has been in place since Franco's death - a system that revolved around two parties - could well morph into a multi-party system. Podemos (on the left) and Ciudadanos (on the right) have put the proverbial cat among the chickens. This creates problems for the two traditional parties, the governing conservative Partido Popular (PP) and the left-wing opposition Partido Socialista Obrero Español (PSOE). However, the two relative newcomers may well have peaked too early; they recently lost ground in opinion polls. All the same, they will probably collect enough votes to stop the PP or PSOE from governing by themselves. A grand coalition is a distinct possibility. If so, the markets will be pleased - unless squabbles and watered-down standpoints lead to political paralysis.


Ireland will go to the polls in April 2016. The Irish economy is doing relatively well, but many voters fail to feel the effects. This could spell the end for the centrist coalition between Fine Gael and Labour. Theoretically, Sinn Féin could take part in a future coalition government, although the party is increasingly being accused of maintaining closer ties with terrorist IRA and criminal elements than it cares to admit. The party has come a long way and is a mainstream party in many respects, but its left-wing agenda would unsettle quite a few conservatives and businesses. Sinn Féin has clearly indicated it only wants to govern if it is the largest party; this chance appears remote.

If the bookies are right, a coalition between Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil is by far the likeliest outcome. I tend to agree, but there is the potential for two worrying developments. Over the summer, voters increasingly expressed their frustration because they feel that the Irish recovery is benefitting a relatively small portion of the population. This has spawned a general dislike of the political classes, which will provide opportunities to some of the non-traditional parties and independents.  Still, I don't think the Irish elections will spoil the market mood.

No electoral thunder

In short, don't expect fierce electoral storms in Europe in the coming months. Occasionally, we could see dark-grey clouds or rain. For example, if the refugee crisis gets further out of hand, or the economic figures prove disappointing. On top of this, looming clouds in Spain should be monitored closely considering the scope of the Spanish economy, the likelihood that the political system will be turned on its head, and the potentially destabilizing effects of the elections in Catalonia at the end of September.

Bibi and Obama Won't Get Along, But Might Now Cooperate

If it swims, quacks, and has feathers, chances are it's a duck. And it's going to stay a duck.

As we analyze President Barack Obama's decision to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House on Nov. 9, we would do well to remember that.

After seven years of soap opera-style dramatics, Netanyahu and Obama won't change their dysfunctional relationship easily, or perhaps at all.

But as counterintuitive as it may seem, particularly after the bitter battle over the Iran deal, the U.S.-Israeli relationship may actually improve in the months remaining on the president's clock. Obama wants to make nice -- not because he likes Netanyahu or his policies; but because it serves Obama's interests in his final year. Here's why.

Iran: A Unifying Factor? The principal issue over which Obama and Netanyahu have fought may actually bring them closer together now. Obama has beaten Netanyahu on the Iran deal and wants to facilitate the implementation of his key foreign policy accomplishment and preempt Congress's efforts to impose additional sanctions. Netanyahu hates the deal, but he needs to show that his fight with the U.S. administration, while a loss, was still worthwhile.

That means closer cooperation -- both in terms of what the administration will give Israel, and on how the two sides will cooperate to ensure Iran doesn't cheat and expand its influence in the region. If the two can agree on a joint approach -- and each has an interest in doing so -- they may find themselves working together, rather than at cross-purposes. Indeed, Obama cannot afford to become Iran's lawyer, rationalizing its bad behavior away. And Netanyahu has a real interest, particularly now that Russia is supplying military aid to Bashar Assad's regime and perhaps to Hezbollah, in cooperating with Washington to check Iran and its clients. Indeed, once the Israelis start accepting the U.S. goods offered as reassurance for the Iran deal, it will be harder for the prime minister to attack the president's policies.

Why Fight Over the Peace Process? The other area of contention between Obama and Netanyahu is the peace process, and specifically, Israel's settlement activity. Secretary of State John Kerry may want to keep the hope of a two-state solution alive, but the chances of a serious negotiation between Israel and the Palestinians -- let alone an agreement on issues such as Jerusalem or refugees -- are slim to none. Still, as he leaves the White House, the last thing Obama wants is a third intifada, and the same goes for Netanyahu. Whether they can preempt major violence is far from certain. Coddling the Israelis won't necessarily stop Israel's bad policies toward the West Bank. But going to war with Netanyahu over settlements, pushing for a UN Security Council resolution on Palestinian statehood, or joining Palestinians in an effort to isolate Israel, will almost certainly increase Netanyahu's determination to push back. The next year is about keeping the Palestinians and Israelis calm and preventing the Palestinian issue from exploding -- not about resolving it. Unless Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas find a way to resume negotiations because they both need and want them, keeping the West Bank quiet will be a huge challenge.

Elect a D in the White House: Obama's not running again; but if he wants to increase the chances of getting a Democrat elected in 2016, he will probably want to lower the tension level with Israel. Republican and Democratic candidates will try to outbid each other in declaring their love and support for Israel. This week's Republican debate had at least half a dozen candidates doing so, and hammering Obama on what the Republicans see as his anti-Israeli policies works as a campaign issue. Not ceding the Israeli issue to Republicans, particularly if Hillary Clinton is identified closely with the Iran deal, would be smart politics for the Democrats. The Republicans would love for the next year to see a continuing crisis between a Democratic president and an Israeli prime minister.

Obama Needs all the help he can get in his final year: A year and two months from now we will have a new president. And this president will address a Middle East in far worse shape than the one Obama inherited. Forget new breakthroughs. Israel remains critically important to the administration's efforts to avoid breakdowns -- on Iran, the Palestinians, and even in Syria now that Russia has upped the ante. Bottom line: President Obama doesn't need a war with Bibi. He doesn't like the prime minister, hates his policies toward the Palestinians, and remembers his efforts to sink the Iran deal. But the president wants to avoid leaving the presidency with the Middle East in still worse condition. And that means counting to ten before exploding, and trying to work with a difficult and frustrating Netanyahu rather going to war with him.

(AP photo)

Russia Thinks the U.S. Is Pushing Refugees Into Europe

So that there can be no doubt about how some in Russia feel about the refugees from Syria and Iraq surging into Western Europe, Komsomolskaya Pravda's Daria Aslamova published an op-ed laying the responsibility squarely on the United States.

KP is a frequent platform for anti-Western and anti-American sentiment and often gives voice to Russian officials' thoughts on their nation's foreign and defense policies.

"Let's just answer the question", begins the op-ed, "of why migrants from the Middle East are not interested in staying in Hungary, Greece or Serbia. Because these countries are considered quite poor! The migrants are amazed. They did not expect to see people in Europe living so poorly. In Syria and Iraq before the war, people lived much better than they do now in Serbia or Macedonia. Even more than in Greece, which is now trying to save on everything. Migrants are wondering what to do in Southeast Europe. Serbia, for example, was ready to give refugees a residence permit and the right to asylum, but have given them only to 14 people, because no one asked. They want to go right to Germany, where they get good unemployment benefits.

"Today's refugees are rich people," continues the paper. "Because not everyone can afford such an expensive relocation. Where do they get the money? As it turns out, they get help from many American charities. Interestingly, we note that every morning near the banks there are huge queues of migrants, they receive money in every city where they arrive -- in Belgrade, Budapest, and Athens. Therefore someone forwards them money throughout their journey. Question -- who does that? Partially, as it turns out, it's the Americans."

The columnist goes on to explain her view that America wants the refugees to go Europe, further speculating on how "strange" it is that so many people have tried to access the Continent at the same time, and adding that "someone" promised them mountains of gold.

"You have a huge mass of people," continues KP. "The first are the Iraqi masses, fleeing from ISIS atrocities. The second mass fled Syria -- also from ISIS. Just in Lebanon, with a total population of 4 million, there are an additional 2 million Syrian refugees living in appalling conditions. This whole multitude of refugees began to put pressure on Turkey, and Turkey started to push them out. Where to? Only toward Greece, since getting into a boat gets you to Greek islands in couple of hours.

"A larger picture emerges out of this puzzle," concludes Aslamova. "It becomes clear that the USA is planning the occupation of Europe via Turkey and its charities."

KP also recently interviewed Middle East expert Elena Suponina, the advisor to the director of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies, on the question of whether Russia should share Europe's concern over the refugees.

"Firstly, some migrants from the Middle East are already using Russia as a transit territory to get to Europe, " Suponina said. "Secondly, some groups of refugees from Syria -- for example, of Circassian origin -- are settling in the North Caucasus among fellow Circassians, so we already have Syrian refugees, although not in such great numbers as in Europe and some Middle Eastern countries.

"This is not the most urgent problem for us right now. This threat is more indirect -- refugees settling in Europe, causing numerous social problems, as well as terrorism and radicalism. So the Russians may be faced with migrants while traveling abroad, but not at home."

Suponina then explained her view of why Russia is not a chosen destination for refugees:

"In general, Russia is not very attractive for people from Middle Eastern countries. We do not want them to linger, because here they are not promised fat social benefits as in Europe. In Russia, immigrants have to work to survive. In addition, these migrants have great difficulty with the language barrier -- in Europe, they can communicate in English. Additionally, our immigration and visa laws are stricter than Europe's, and Russia is far away geographically. Finally, our climate is more harsh for the southern people."

Exodus and Redemption

Is there a useful analogy to make between the streams of Syrian refugees and the Biblical Israelites?  After all, analogy is the weakest form of proof. It only means that this seems to be like that, and the notion can be mistaken, the comparison far-fetched.

At first judgment, nothing seems to justify comparing the two. Syrians now streaming into Europe are leaving their own country, a land where their roots as a civilization go back 3,000 years to the first Assyrian Empire. Syrians have always had a country, whereas the Israelites, later known as the Jews, did not until the creation of Israel in 1948. Old Testament Israelites, led by Moses, escaped from Ancient Egypt, where they were new arrivals, a tiny foreign people that had been enslaved by the pharaohs.
Yet there remains something right in the comparison of today's Syrians and Biblical Israelites. That something is the concept of Exodus; an enduring theme in the history of human civilization. Syria today represents the world's greatest humanitarian tragedy. It pales before what happened to the Jewish people in the Holocaust, but the Syrians fleeing their own country and their refugee camps in Turkey, Jordan, and elsewhere, constitute a contemporary Exodus. Resettling them is more than a policy issue of how to divide them among various European Union countries as a problem of burden-sharing.
Thinking of the situation against the story in the Bible inspires a sense of common humanity about the Middle Eastern morass, rather than seeing it as just a war against the Islamic State, the regime of Bashar al Assad, al-Qaeda, and other marauding bands of thugs as reported in the media. This is a story that could be recorded in some future great book, written not by God but by historians. Syrian Exodus (leaving aside the thousands of opportunistic, carpe diem refugees with other origins and reasons) is an escape from hell. If empathy prevails and analogy is admitted, it could influence modern Middle Eastern history. Secular antagonisms between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, and the Islamic State's murderous intention to pulverize stones, monuments, and people in an attempt to destroy everyone else in a Sunni Muslim conquest, will be seen for what it is: a dishonoring of Islam as a religion and of Muslims as a world community of believers. Perhaps even attitudes toward the Jews and Israel will be affected.
For the Syrians -- even for those who still remain -- their own country has become "Egypt." Dealing with their situation is not a matter of foreign and domestic policies. It's an international reckoning with historic collapse at the center of the Arab Muslim world. The consequences are geopolitical, geo-social, geo-emotional.
Syrians will be a new fact on the ground in Europe as well. For many months shunned by European governments, their appeal for asylum is suddenly being accepted as a humanitarian and moral duty impossible to ignore. Syrians will become small but perhaps significant minorities in a few European countries. Pope Francis, who has stepped out from papal reserve in so many ways, implores Europe's Catholics to welcome the migrants. European Union officials are no longer deadlocked; they must deal with what they can no longer avoid.  
The issue of German Redemption
Then there is the significance of German leadership in accepting the Syrian asylum seekers into the European Union. For Germany in particular, government and civil society's welcoming of Syrian refugees continues the country's quest for redemption from the unspeakable crimes of their grandparents and great-grandparents. The German people's attempt at redemption is a secular cause played out on a Biblical scale, because the Holocaust was a crime against not only humanity, but against human civilization itself. For religious believers, it was a crime against God. In some sense, "Germany" may never redeem its crimes, but "Germany" is not today's German people, difficult as that may be for some people to accept.
Germans for decades shied away from international political leadership. Its leaders made of Germany's economic success and generosity in financing European integration (plus its unyielding political support of Israel) the basis of its international influence. During these decades Germany's foreign economic generosity was its foreign policy. With the French, Germany organized the complexities of the European Union's internal contradictions into a vision of Europe's renewal, the possibilities of resurrection. German money underwrote France's political leadership. The two countries produced leaders of vision on the scale of history: Konrad Adenauer and Charles de Gaulle; Helmut Kohl and François Mitterrand. Today no other country's political and business elites, not even those in France, are thinking as deeply as Germany's about how to move European integration forward in a strategy that combines national interests and Europe's necessities. Germany's partner countries want more rather than less German leadership, an astonishing international recognition of redemption. Germany's willingness to accept large numbers of refugees is only the most recent act of this attempt to prove that the "German problem" is history. 
Accepting large numbers of refugees is also good for Germany itself. Along with Europe's other demographically withered countries, Germany, whose birth rate is among the lowest in the world, needs significant immigration to finance its future, while doubters and racism have rendered it thus far impossible. From the point of view of German interests, Syrians (and many opportunist refugees) are an educated population, willing, indeed desperate, for jobs and acceptance. Ties to the Syrian homeland will remain strong, but gratitude to Germany will be real. America's experience, despite current electoral posturing, shows that immigration is a boon to national vibrancy. Why not for Germany and Europe as well? Furthermore, a significant Syrian minority population will increase social pluralism, among other things diluting domestic focus on Germany's Turkish minority. 
A few hundred thousand or even a few million new immigrants won't solve Germany's or Europe's demographic problems. But the irrepressible urgency of the current refugee crisis is accomplishing what politics failed to do -- lancing a boil, unlocking a self-defeating national stalemate. In contrast, Germany's reception of hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers fleeing former Yugoslavia's wars in the 1990s was not an economic necessity, because the demographic deficit was not so evident then. Taking in Croats, Serbs, Bosnians, and others was a political act of redemption and, for Germans themselves, an act of national catharsis. Yet strong internal opposition to immigrants did not abate.
Accepting Syrians inevitably increases the need for German leadership in Europe's response. Germany's government, led by the indomitable Mrs. Merkel, is stepping up to the task successfully. (It will accept at least 800,000 asylum seekers in the coming year, far more than any other EU country and probably not the end of what Germany will do.) The trouble with German redemption, however, is that dealing with a problem may not solve it but increase it. I often wondered during years of teaching European politics how long the German Problem would endure, at least in people's minds. When would redemption be complete? I don't know the answer, but at a certain distance from the event, history makes such questions irrelevant.

(AP photo)

The Chasm Between Russia and the West

Dinesh D'Souza did a good job in his movie, America, explaining how the Western world moved over a long stretch of time from a culture of conquest to one governed by the rule of law.  

That is a journey Russia never made.

There remains a canyon of difference between Russia's culture and that of the West. If ever there was a real deficit of understanding between two peoples that could lead to war, this is it. It reminds me of the Yangs and the Coms, of Starfleet measuring up with the Klingons.  

Russian culture suffers to this day from the effects of centuries of rule by the Golden Barbarian Hordes of Middle Asia. When the likes of Ghengis Khan arrived at your city, the first thing they did was to kill most of you - then they enslaved the rest. A governmental system of strongmen was set up to whom you had to pay homage and tribute. This system still exists in Russia today. Outside a brief flirtation with democracy in the 1990s, it never changed.  

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was right when he said Russia doesn't share Western values. That is no secret, but the greater point is, they don't want to share Western values!  Did you know that Russia last year imported more than half a million baseball bats? It's not that baseball is a Russian's favorite pastime. No, Russians love to use them to settle traffic disputes.  

America was settled mainly by the English and benefits from the English rule of law.  Any country that was part of the English Crown has this heritage. This has never before existed in Russian history.  

Ivan the Terrible, the famous Russian tsar who is buried in the Kremlin, killed his own son, and had a bad habit of frying his opposition in huge frying pans, took this tribute system a step further. He organized a group of wealthy power brokers around him. He kept them satisfied, and in return they protected his power. They were called the Oprichnina, and they terrorized tsarist Russia. How different was that set from the group of oligarchs and state security services keeping Russian President Vladimir Putin in power?  

Russia doesn't have the death penalty because people are afraid that those in power will send their adversaries to the gallows on trumped-up charges. The federal tax agencies are a favorite tool of the ruling set to go after the political opposition.  

What I am trying to say is this: Western governments should realize they are not dealing with the same type of person when sitting across the negotiating table. Russians play to win. If they need to act nice, they will. If they need to kill you to get what they want, they will. I don't think U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry or President Barack Obama frankly comprehend that reality. Kerry famously stated when Russia invaded Crimea and East Ukraine that nations hadn't acted in such a way since the 18th century. What he doesn't get, or doesn't wish to understand, is that in some ways, Russia never left the 18th century - and they're fine with that.

In Russia, men are still expected to be men and bring home the bacon. Women are expected to look beautiful and use their sex appeal to get what they want. Feminism is abhorred by both sexes. "Why should a woman act like a man?" they ask. Nor does society accord a space for LGBT acceptance. That is why Russia was so shocked when a bearded transvestite won the Eurovision contest a couple years ago. It just doesn't resonate with a majority of Russians. This view is reinforced by the government, which is cozy with the Russian Orthodox Church. They help each other maintain their grip on power. Russians don't like Western culture. They see it as morally bankrupt and corrupt, no matter how hypocritical that may be.  

Tsar Peter the Great is said to have dragged Russia from the past into the modern age.  However, in many ways, the progress stopped there. Russia is not going to change anytime soon. Perhaps Russia needs another Peter the Great to drag Russian into the 21st century and toward the rule of law. Until then, Western leaders need to face reality when dealing with the Kremlin.  

The scary thing is, when Russian President Vladimir Putin says, "Don't forget Russia has nuclear weapons," he means it.  

(AP photo)

An Image of a Flailing Europe

The refugee crisis is tearing the political fabric of the European Union apart. No other subject to date has split the European Union's political decision machine as much as this crisis has. And no one knows where it will end.

The images coming out of Europe tell the ugly story. Train stations overwhelmed in Hungary and northern Italy; small children drowned on beaches; fights between riot police and desperate refugees in Macedonia; refugee camps at Calais in France; people dangerously trying to walk to England using the train tunnel that connects it to France; neo-Nazis marching against the refugee onslaught; refugees narrowly being saved from sinking boats; people smugglers firing on coast guard ships with machine guns to protect their lucrative business. 

Each photo, each video is a pixel in the image of yet another failed attempt by Europe's leaders to solve a crisis. Since March of this year, leaders such as Germany's Angela Merkel and Italy's Matteo Renzi have tried to broker a pan-European deal to stave off a reality that is now abundantly clear: The European Union's existing policies on immigration and refugee control are dead. 

For months, the 28 countries that make up the European Union have been unwilling to come together on the issue. Senior-level civil servants of various nations have been working around the clock, prodding, asking questions, trying to get a sense in the capitals of what could possibly work. Whenever a theoretically sound solution seems in sight, only a small number of the 28 countries is needed to shoot it down. And shoot it down they invariably do.

As writer Lee Thayer wrote: "Most people prefer problems they can't solve to solutions they don't like." 

The Mediterranean EU nations most hit by the crisis -- Italy, Greece - by now appear ready to accept any solution that will lighten their burden. 

The German Chancellor may be a formidably powerful figure in Europe, but in some quarters fear of that power is trumped by an emotional opposition to foreigners.

Several East European EU member-states out of principle refuse any solution that might mean having to accept refugees within their borders. They have now snubbed Merkel on several occasions. Some of these nations have officially stated that they will only accept Christians or non-Muslims, full stop. As most refugees from the Middle East are of course Muslims, this handily cuts down the numbers. 

Sovereignty above solidarity

It is the democratic sovereignty of the EU nations that allow these opponents to block decisions. So some leading politicians throughout Europe have in the past months proposed infringing on that sovereignty and handing over refugee policy and decision-making capacity to Brussels. Naturally, those nations most opposed to accepting refugees reject this out of hand. They find themselves backed by those capitals that might actually want to accept refugees, but which will never accept a further loss of sovereignty. And so Europe is back to gridlock, et cetera, ad infinitum.
With this kind of vehemence in the debate, it may well turn out that the only remaining solution to prevent the crisis from tearing apart the Union is to accept that on this issue, countries must be allowed to go their own way. 

The countries that refused to do their part in these darkest hours of need will pay the bill somehow. They may not have to pay it now; they may not even realize that they eventually will. But in European politics, nothing is ever forgotten, especially not a lack of solidarity.

(AP photo)

Why Oil Price Could Spike Again

Andy Langenkamp is a global policy analyst for ECR Research.

With financial markets unnerved by an unpredictable Chinese slowdown, and a Chinese economy beset by bubbles liable to burst, we should not forget the critical part that the Middle East and North Africa region has yet to play. If rising tensions in the region push oil prices upward, China - the world's largest oil importer - is bound to be affected. High oil prices could tip the Chinese economy over the edge.

China is not the only vulnerable country. The ongoing Eurozone recovery masks underlying weaknesses, and European countries import most of their energy. An oil price surge could be very painful. The same applies to other major energy importers such as India and Japan.

Blind spot?

Most economic analyses hint at low oil prices for years to come. These studies tend to ignore geopolitics. The oil price slump itself could drive up prices in the long term by creating huge problems for various regimes, which could easily result in instability and price rises. According to the Financial Times, "as examples including the Iranian revolution of 1979 and the Venezuelan election of 1998 show, there is no market that can translate financial volatility into political instability as effectively as oil."

If civil wars across the Middle East and North Africa spiral further out of control, oil prices could soar again. War itself tends to undermine oil production. Moreover, terrorists often use conflict areas to recruit and train members and to regroup before launching new attacks. In addition, civil wars can spawn new conflicts in and between neighbouring countries.

Raging wars

Wars are raging in Yemen, Libya, Iraq, and Syria. In none of these conflicts is there hope that resolution could be imminent. Libya has broken apart in two de-facto states. It remains to be seen whether either of the two camps effectively represents all of the factions and militias under its umbrella. So even if agreement is reached, the fighting may well continue. Moreover, the Islamic State has made inroads into Libya.

An Arab coalition led by Saudi Arabia invaded Yemen after Houthi rebels backed by ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh advanced toward the south. Initially, the coalition seemed to make little headway, but now they have gained the upper hand. However, the more the Houthis retreat into their own rugged terrain, the harder it will be for the coalition to defeat them. In any case, its recent victories have bolstered the confidence of the Saudi-backed alliance, which could easily overplay its hand. Some say that Iran is supporting the Houthi rebels. When the nuclear deal with Iran is approved, Tehran will have more money at its disposal to help the Houthis, should it want to. Also relevant is that al-Qaeda and affiliates control large parts of Yemen. Therefore, any hope of stabilization may prove illusion in the near future.

Intertwined conflicts

The two most important and intertwined civil wars are those in Iraq and Syria. In Syria, any compromise seems doomed. Bashar al Assad's regime is hated by many; all the more so as it only represents a minority of the population. The opposition is deeply divided, and there are few examples in Syria's history of agreements that have managed to bridge the sectarian gap. In addition, the Islamic State is unlikely to water down its wine in the short to medium term, whereas countries such as Russia, Turkey, and Iran play unsteady roles. The outside world is almost exclusively focused on defeating ISIS, and the deeper developments that stoke chaos and extremism are receiving scant attention.

ISIS, of course, also controls large parts of Iraq. There has been fighting around important oil production facilities. This did not stop Iraq from achieving record oil production in July, but because oil prices are low, the government is still in financial trouble, which makes it harder to exert authority over the different factions. And once again, oil disputes are fueling tensions between the Kurds and Baghdad.


The region's civil wars could certainly prove infectious. Usually, the countries most susceptible to civil war are those afflicted with weak public institutions and hemmed by poor governance. Another risk factor is civil war in neighboring states, which results in large refugee inflows. It is equally ominous if the governments in question refuse to negotiate with disenfranchised groups inside their country. These conditions prevail in quite a few countries in the region, including Lebanon, Jordan, Sudan, and Egypt.

Saudi Arabia and some oil-producing Gulf states are not at ease, either. The combination of new leadership, substantial budget deficits - due to the oil price slump and to the expensive stimulus packages that are applied to keep populations quiescent - and overreach in Yemen could be a poisonous mix.

MENA in flux

Janan Ganesh wrote in FT: "Leadership is to politics what productivity is to economics: not quite the only thing that matters but almost." And according to the Brookings Institute's Thomas Wright, "the lesson of the 20th century is that strategic choice matters. It is what great powers do geopolitically that makes history, not how much or how fast their economies grow."

The quality of that leadership and of those choices has not been impressive in the past years across the globe, and especially not in the Middle East and North Africa. Decisions made there now have great influence, because the region is in great flux. The Kurds have grand plans, and some experts do not rule out that ISIS will eventually become an actual state. Egypt, Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia are playing dangerous games, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has attempted to create an authoritarian state, and the Iraqi prime minister has greatly delayed outreach to the country's Sunnis. Relative rookies are in charge, ruling major countries. This matters even more because the region's regimes are less certain of the United States' commitments, following the nuclear deal with Iran and Washington's ongoing efforts to pivot to Asia.

For now, the chaos and instability in the Middle East and North Africa have not fundamentally affect oil production. Acute new crises in the region may not be imminent, but it pays to keep a close eye on the area. No one wants to be caught unaware should oil prices start to spike due to old-fashioned geopolitics.

(AP photo)

The Iran Deal: Answering the Wrong Challenge

Its name is aseptic yet enormously controversial: Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. It is the accord between the United States, Iran, and a slew of world powers on the control and elimination of nuclear arms that Teheran proposed (or proposes) to manufacture. It was backed by all the biggies: the United Kingdom, France, Russia, China and Germany.

Naturally, Israel hit the roof. If Iran develops nuclear weapons, it's got everything. It already has enough rockets to destroy Israel in a surprise attack. It would not be dissuaded by the fact that about 1.5 million Israeli Arabs would also die. Islam provides heaven's glorious consolation for Muslim martyrs.

An exaggeration? That's what the ayatollahs incessantly claim. Eighty years ago, many Jews refused to believe what a zealous imbecile with a ridiculous little moustache wrote in Mein Kampf. He ended up killing six million Jews and forever eliminated Europe's brilliant Jewry.

But Israel is not alone. Two hundred retired U.S. generals, admirals and vice-admirals have just signed a letter asking U.S. legislators not to support the pact. They're doing it not only for Israel; they're thinking of the interests of the United States and its allies.

The officers wield unsettling arguments. They are certain that Iran will not abide by the agreement; that the non-manufacture of nuclear bombs cannot be verified; that the agreement gives Iran greater access to billions of dollars, many of which will help subsidize Hezbollah terrorists; and that Iran's nuclear capability will turn the Middle East into a place less safe than it already is, triggering a nuclear race with other Arab states.

Curiously, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei proved the U.S. officers right. After the accord was announced, he stated that Iran would not change its stance. The destruction of Israel continued to be a sacred and permanent objective.

Of course, not all American officers share the perceptions of those who protested. Two weeks ago, three dozen former officers, their ranks as august as those of their dissenting counterparts, asked Congress for the opposite -- to support the pact inked by Barack Obama and John Kerry with the ayatollahs.

They argue that the accord reduced the chances of conflict; they suppose that any noncompliance by Iran could be detected, and believe that there is no better option than the one achieved. According to this group, the agreement is the best of all possible pacts in the imperfect world of international relations.

In a certain fashion, the pro-pact officers respond to a nationalist American trend -- one expressed by theoreticians who are convinced that this huge country with its 310 million inhabitants should not be drawn into a dangerous conflict by the state of Israel, or by any other nation.

In any case, why do Obama and Kerry deal with Iran? Judging from Kerry's words, reported by the Reuters news agency, it is because they want to save the United States from the antipathy aroused by U.S. policy in the Middle East.

They want the United States to be loved and admired and are bothered by the rejection that their country apparently provokes. Probably, like so many critical Americans, especially in the academic scene, they share some embarrassment over Washington's standard international conduct.

In reality, Obama and Kerry have fallen into the trap of believing that the anti-American propaganda so widely disseminated and forcefully hammered reflects the criteria of public opinion.

They don't realize that there is a permanent anti-American campaign, persistent and effective, that projects an alleged collective criterion that comes not from society in general but from a small and vociferous elite that distorts reality and has made "anti-Yankeeism" its leitmotif.

Maybe when Kerry protested against the war in Vietnam -- a war in which he fought -- or when Obama was a community organizer, they agreed with the analyses of those who were ashamed of U.S. behavior -- intellectuals such as Noam Chomsky or the late Saul Alinsky.

But that, strictly speaking, although it represents a majority opinion of university educators and is one of the left's identifying marks, is not the opinion endorsed by most of the international community, especially ordinary men and women.

The objective reality is that the United States is one of the world's most admired countries, the nation where the poor of half the planet wish to live, as revealed by the huge poll conducted every year by Anholt-GfK Roper Nation Brands, whose pollsters question more than 20,000 people in 20 countries of significance.

In the indices they compile, until 2014 the United States headed the list of the 10 most loved nations. Today the U.S. ranks second -- Germany has taken pole position. The other eight are the usual suspects: the United Kingdom, France, Canada, Japan, Italy, Switzerland, Australia and Sweden.

That's the truth. The rest is sleight of hand. 

Drones and Poverty as Ukraine Fighting Picks Up

As fighting picks up again in Eastern Ukraine, living conditions seem to be getting worse.

Ukrainian daily news site cites worsening economic conditions in the separatist Luhansk region, where heavy battles between separatist and Ukrainian forces are taking place. Luhansk residents under new laws imposed by the separatist government can now lose their apartments if they don't pay their utilities bills, and they can lose their cars if they fail to pay their taxes. Locals share horror stories about how complicated it has become to pay bills for electricity, water, and gas: A esident needs to spend the entire day paying the bills.

"The town has a local bank belonging to the Luhansk People's Republic. Many are afraid to go there to pay for services, instead going from one utility company to another to pay bills on the spot," a Luhansk resident said. "It must be done that way, because if authorities find out that the bills were not paid since last winter, the militants will simply take away your apartment." 

According to locals, confiscated apartments have been given to refugees from nearby communities whose homes were destroyed by shelling. In another worrying trend, cars are reportedly seized from taxi drivers who refuse to pay what Luhansk authorities characterize as taxes. One such driver, who lost his car in June, said separatists explained their actions as "confiscation for civil disobedience" -- those who work for official taxi companies are obliged to work for a registered firm, with all available documents. Otherwise the militants simply take the car, citing "the needs of the republic."
Meanwhile, Ukrainian daily published a special multimedia report on domestic unmanned aerial systems fighting against separatists and Russian forces. The site explained that when fighting broke out in the Donbas, volunteers used their money and resources to make devices that could perform minimal but important tasks. Despite being minimally equipped with items such as a photo camera and simple communications systems, these UAVs proved successful. A year on, the volunteer initiative has been strengthened, and there are now design bureaus backed by public funds that develop technologies for the needs of the army and security agencies. According to Pavel Barbul, director of SpetsTechnoExport, "within a year, we have created an unmanned aircraft industry. A year ago, it was plywood or foam models with GoPro cameras. Now we have modern surveillance/reconnaissance/observation systems that perform in a tough enemy environment, and can successfully compete with the best global analogues."
With demand from the military growing, Ukrainian developers and manufacturers are competing for orders with stringent operational requirements. Several manufacturers are close to bringing their concepts and prototypes to full battle readiness. Two such UAVs are the Odessa-built Sparrow and Columba, recently tested by the General Staff. The lightweight Sparrow is designed for quick reconnaissance on the battlefield, while the heavy Columba has a flight range of up to 200 kilometers (125 miles), a maximum flying altitude of 4 kilometers (2.5 miles), and electronics capable of autonomous location and tracking of targets. Another reconnaissance drones is the Fury -- a tactical UAV developed in 2014 by the Athlone-Avia firm. Its prototypes were field-tested by volunteer army battalions and brigades.
Having developed small tactical drones, Ukrainian engineers have been actively developing heavy reconnaissance and attack UAVs, some of which will be designed for day and night patrols, while others should have the capacity to strike with precision weapons. One such drone, the Kіber 3-Eye, is undergoing testing  - it was designed to be in the air for up to 10 hours and at a range of 250 kilometers (156 miles). Ukrainians are also working on the development of the Kosa attack drone, while volunteer-backed effort resulted in the PF-1 scout drone, which is capable of operating for more than 5 hours. The growth of a domestic high-tech industry capable of designing and building such technology is of crucial importance, according to Pavel Barbul: "We are interested in every bolt, every microchip and every line of code being developed here in Ukraine."

(AP photo)

Can Russia's Military Bots Keep Pace?

The United States remains the global leader in fielded military robotic and autonomous systems -- from unmanned aerial systems, in use now for a decade and a half, to emerging land, sea, and undersea-based technologies that may see use in future conflicts. America is pouring financial, technical, and intellectual support into such advanced developments, and while countries such as Israel are also seen at the forefront of armed robotics, Russia and China are trying to close the gap. Pressed by sanctions and afflicted by a worsening national economy, Moscow is nonetheless seeking to match America's strength in emerging technologies through domestic developments of asymmetrical and in-kind inventions.
The Russian daily Komsomolskaya Pravda often interviews government officials on foreign policy and domestic matters, thus giving voice to official doctrines. The publication recently looked at how the Russian Federation might counter American technological dominance in future conflicts. The newspaper characterized the most cutting-edge U.S. efforts at military innovation as frequently amounting to giveaways by lawmakers to key contractors such as Lockheed and Boeing, but worried nevertheless about the definite military advantage they could give the United States if actually deployed.

So what is Russia doing in response? 

The paper said the development of "managed flocks" of militarized robotic "bugs and spiders" are an obvious fantasy, and Russia will not go down that path - never mind that recent developments at Harvard have produced exactly what some in Russia are trying to dismiss.

"Such weapons are of an offensive nature, while our military doctrine is defensive," said the paper. "Therefore, we will build weapons of a defensive nature, developing and producing that which is necessary for war." Dismissing a fully autonomous robot as "utopia," Russia will seek to develop and field remote-controlled systems such as the recently unveiled "Avatar" robotic concept. KP further emphasized that human operators of such systems can solve the complex problem of "friend or foe" recognition: "If there is an artificial brain in such a system, you never know what may happen, since 'friend or foe' computer and signal mechanics can be easily suppressed by means of electronic warfare, which is one of Russia's key military strengths."

The paper further emphasized the key importance of electronic warfare (EW) in Russian military doctrine: "Our EW is a weapon of asymmetric warfare. Without sending reconnaissance units to enemy territory and creating thunderous explosions, EW can detect and disrupt enemy radar control systems and recognition of radio controlled fuses, as well as affect information networks, including mobile communications and the Internet, and even satellites. In recent years, we successfully completed the testing and commercial production of two dozen new models of EW equipment, such as Borisoglebsk-2, Krasuha C4, Moscow-1, Leer-2, Leer-3, and many others."

 The paper further stated that Russia will not develop bacteriological weapons, since "it's impossible to create a magical vaccine capable of protecting 100 percent of the population and the army from bacteria and viruses. But we do not lose vigilance and are learning to resist biological weapons." 

KP also cited the development of the Merlin-21b and Inspector 01 reconnaissance drones. Merlin has an onboard all-weather radar that can detect concealed objects, while the Inspector can stay in the air for two days -- its electric motor and a unique battery also make it silent and undetectable by heat signature. The paper also confirmed Russian anti-UAV development.

KP also confirmed that Moscow is taking cyber threats, and protection against them, very seriously: "We are creating a protected Internet for the public sector and defense industry, we are increasing education of cybersecurity specialists in universities, and are expanding the development of domestic software and their means of protection," the paper wrote.

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