Europe's MENA Nightmare
Andy Langenkamp is a global policy analyst for ECR Research.
In its 2016 Preventive Priorities Survey, one of the world's most respected and influential think tanks, the Council on Foreign Relations, meticulously lists 11 conflicts whose possible repercussions are so far-reaching that their prevention (or mitigation) should take top priority. This political risks list does not bode well for Europe, as it implies that migrants are likely to continue flocking to the Continent in large numbers:
-- Intensification of the Syrian civil war
-- Attacks on the United States or its allies, with numerous fatalities
-- A large-scale cyber-attack on the United States' core infrastructure
-- A major crisis in or with North Korea
-- Political instability in the EU on the back of the refugee crisis
-- Worsening chaos in Libya
-- Further escalation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
-- Additional political violence in Turkey
-- Growing instability in Egypt
-- More atrocities and unrest in Afghanistan
-- Further fragmentation in Iraq, caused by the Islamic State group and sectarian violence
Instability Ground Zero
It is almost a dead certainty that the Syrian civil war will continue to rage for quite some time. There are too many factions, militias, and parties that are fighting each other, while several of the major external players have conflicting interests. A durable truce is unlikely in the near-to-medium term.
The Syrian war affects virtually all of the other potential crises and conflicts on the CFR list. It would be more accurate to speak of the Syrian-Iraqi war. ISIS's menacing presence in Iraq, growing animosity between Sunnis and Shia, and chaos and corruption are undermining the country and its government. We cannot, at this point, rule out a full-blown civil war in Iraq as well.
The countries near Syria and Iraq that are put most at risk by the war now raging are Libya, Turkey, and Egypt, according to the experts. The situation in Egypt, however, is unlikely to get out of hand in the near future. President Abdel-Fattah El-Sissi is an authoritarian leader who appears to be in firm control of the country. He does not have any urgent reason to fear his neighbors, who seem relieved that the country shows a semblance of stability.
Libya and Turkey are a different matter entirely. The former is hopelessly divided -- it even has two parliaments. There have been some attempts to create a national unity government, but in view of Libya's history and the existing imbalance of power, I am pessimistic, particularly now that ISIS is targeting Libya as a new base of operations. The country is certainly well qualified to hold the office. It is already a lawless haven for extremists, teeming with weapons, and its location offers excellent opportunities to anyone planning terrorist attacks in Europe.
Turkish Theocracy & Taliban Tensions
Turkey, too, is contaminated by the civil wars on its borders. It is embroiled in a drawn-out conflict with the Kurds, who aim to form a state that consists of parts of Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. The successes gained by the Syrian Kurds have made Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan very jittery. At the same time, Erdogan sees Syrian President Bashar Assad as a real threat, and this perception has caused him to turn a blind eye to Islamic State in the past. That is no longer the case, however, following attacks on Turkish soil, and thanks as well to Western pressure.
This does not mean that Erdogan is prepared to collaborate with the Kurds. On the contrary, Turkey's Kurds are increasingly repressed. Some experts claim a civil war is already in progress in the southeast of Turkey. Erdogan makes good use of the struggle with the Kurds, as it enables him to sell his authoritarian Islamization of Turkish politics to the population. On the other hand, that part of the population resisting Erdogan's dictatorial tendencies makes Turkey more vulnerable. Add to this the presence of millions of refugees who cannot officially apply for asylum. (Due to a strange exception in international treaties, Turkey is allowed to only designate migrants from the West as refugees.) The political risks facing Turkey are daunting.
Afghanistan's condition is even worse. The Taliban are on the march once again. It is feared that the country will become a major and essential link in the so-called Crescent of Chaos that runs from West Africa to Pakistan, and that it will continue to attract all sorts of extremists. The upshot could be mounting tensions between arch-rivals India and Pakistan, while the Americans (and NATO) could be forced to increase their military involvement.
More violence in Afghanistan, and persistent civil war in Syria and Iraq, imply that refugee flows will grow instead of diminishing. Along with Kosovo, the three aforementioned countries are the most prolific suppliers of refugees in Europe. There is little doubt that the number of migrants will rise again in the spring, and in the summer. Yet it is extremely unlikely that the underlying problems will be addressed simultaneously. This means the pressure on Europe will only increase, and any remaining solidarity -- among member states and with refugees -- will be severely undermined. Borders are closing all over the Continent while the rules imposed on migrants are tightening -- to an antisocial degree in some countries. And as the populist parties become more popular, cohesion continues to crumble inside the European Union.