2016 State of the Union – Obama’s Foreign Policy: A Patient and Discipline strategy?

Credit: Stephen Crowley/The New York Times
Credit: Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

In his final State of Union, President Obama reflected on his past seven years in office, but most importantly tried to shape the debate on the campaign trail and for the next decades. On the question of foreign policy, President Obama raised two aspects: threats facing the country and his conception of leadership and American’s role in the world. One of his initial questions early in the address was  “How do we keep America safe and lead the world without becoming its policeman?” Such question has driven Obama’s foreign policy choices these last seven years and will continue to live on.

ISIL – The Non-Existential, but Omnipresent Threat

His contextual framework was very narrow and limited. President Obama skipped over most of the regions of the world in order to pinpoint terrorist networks like the Islamic State in Iraq and Levant (ISIL). “In today’s world, we’re threatened less by evil empires and more by failing states.”  Since the implosion of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, the US has evolved in a unipolar and more recently multipolar world order. In this new global order, many states have failed and are now the roots of today’s regional chaos causing civil war, mass murders, fueling mass migration, and hosting terrorist networks.

In addressing the threat represented by ISIL, President Obama underlined that the first priority is protecting American people and going after terrorist networks. American foreign policy makers, as well as European partners, have been using tough rhetoric in order to defend their actions against ISIL, such as “rooted out, hunted down and destroyed.” Such argument fits in the continuous war that the United States has been waging against terrorism since President Bush in 2001. But how constructive have these ‘tough’ rhetorics been in addressing the problem?

A Disciplined Leadership

Once again, President Obama has called for restrain in using extensive military force in fighting ISIL. He recalled the lessons learned in Vietnam and Iraq. And this brought Obama to talk about his vision of leadership and the way the US should be using its power. “There’s a smarter approach, a patient and disciplined strategy” argued Obama “that uses every element of our national power.” Such statement does reflect on the way President Obama has responded to emerging and pressing crises like Ukraine, Syria, Libya, Iraq, and so forth. Many experts and political leaders have compared such reflective type of leadership as a sign of weakness and

Credit: Politico.eu
Credit: Politico.eu

inaction contributing to the decline of American power and grandeur. But this reflective type of leadership ought to be merged with the Obama doctrine, which has been a foundation of his presidency.

Part of Obama’s foreign policy has been to increase cooperation with international partners especially European and some Asian powers. Obama underlined the need for the US of “rallying the world behind causes that are right.” In order to describe – and sale to a skeptical American electorate – the positives of international cooperation, President Obama listed a series of ‘successes’ like international efforts in Syria, the Iran nuclear deal, the fight against Ebola, the Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership (TTP), the re-opening of diplomatic relations with Cuba and so forth (read several analyses on Iran, the TPP, Cuba, and Syria). Each issue, at the exception of the fight against Ebola, is still ongoing and requires legislative approval/support. Interestingly enough, President Obama did not mention one core international partner like the European countries, deeply involved in the fight against terrorist networks, or international organizations and so forth. Obama’s multilateralism was principally an American definition of the term, which could be summed up by his comments about the TPP. “With TPP, China doesn’t set the rules in that region, we do.”

Foreign Policy, or the Impossible Task

Obama’s comments on foreign policy were a long segment of his address. The section illustrated the overall tone of the address: a response to the constant attacks on the campaign trail and an assertion of the results of his strategy and policy choices. For such reason, it was a weak part. Narrowing the foreign threats at ISIL and other terrorist networks, and briefly mentioning climate change, was a disappointment. As mentioned, ISIL does not represent an existential threat to the US. The war on terrorism is seriously affecting and limiting the grand strategy of the US.

On the strategic aspects of the Obama doctrine and the successes of his foreign policy, once again it is difficult to identify any clear successes (as it is for any presidents). The Obama doctrine has permitted the US to use lethal force around the world without waging war on country, while violating core principles of international law. Merging the concept of multilateral successes and the issues from Ukraine, to Syria, to Iraq, to Colombia in the same sentence may be far stretched as well. Historically, this segment of the address has been used in order to comfort the democratic base, infuriate the hawks, and sadden the foreign policy experts.

(Copyright 2016 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).
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Mogherini’s World – Reflecting on the 2016 EU Global Strategy

Photo: Reuters
Photo: Reuters

The world has changed. Europe’s neighborhoods are going up in flames causing real problems for the stability of the European Union (EU). European Member States have considerably downsized their foreign and defense spendings due to the Eurozone crisis and lingering economic slowdown. The United States is retrenching; Russia is ever-more aggressive; China is getting more comfortable with its role as a regional hegemon. The threats, from climate change, to migration, to nuclear proliferation, to territorial invasion, are becoming more than ever complex requiring regional and international cooperation and emphasizing the decline of the liberal world order.

In the meantime, the EU was evolving without a clear strategic role as its strategic foundations were based on the 2003 European Security Strategy and framed a world order that seems long gone. But experts and European diplomats have been mentioning that a new European Security Strategy  was in the making. This was officially confirmed during the address on December 8th of the HR Representative, Federica Mogherini, calling for a reflection on a new common strategy, the so-called EU Global Strategy on Foreign and Security Policy (here is the link of the EEAS website on the Global Strategy).

The European Strategic Heritage

The 2003 document, which has been extensively analyzed and written about, had several purposes (for more details refer to the following book). First, in 2003, the EU was highly divided due to the invasion of Iraq by the United Solana-fermeture-014States. HR Javier Solana used the document in order to find a new political unity among the ‘old’ and ‘new’ Europes. Second, with the invasion of Iraq, the US violated core international principles and went alone in Iraq on the idea of preemptive actions bypassing the UN Security Council. The EU felt the necessity to emphasize their core principles for foreign actions: ‘effective multilateralism.’ Last but not least, HR Solana saw the importance to frame the security threats facing the European Union as whole, which had never been done at the European level.

Until today, the strategic baseline of the EU remains the 2003 European Security Strategy adopted by the European Council at the 2003 December meeting and its update, the 2008 Report on the Implementation of the European Security Strategy. The 2003 document was deeply influenced by Robert Cooper and politically promoted by the savvy-diplomat, and at the time High Representative, Javier Solana. The rather short but precise 2003 document followed by its update can be summarized as such (see previous analysis here):

ess

The two problems with the 2003 ESS and 2008 RI-ESS are that both documents do not reflect the new nature of the EU and the agency (note it is not an institution) of the European External Action Service (EEAS) since the Treaty of Lisbon (read two reviews on the EEAS here and here); and that EU and its Member States have not only become risk-averse but as well seeking to do foreign policy on the cheap.

Mogherini’s World

In here opening paragraph, HR Mogherini clearly framed ‘her’ world:

“The world has changed so much since our current strategy of 2003. It is an excellent one, but from a completely different world; a world that allowed the European Union to say that it had never lived in such a secure and prosperous environment. Clearly this is not the case today anymore”

Mogherini’s world is far from Solana’s. The degree of interconnection has accelerated in a

crimea169-408x264matter of a decade. In addition, the Europeans and Americans have been reluctant to play the role of regional power by being more proactive and then active in stabilizing the neighborhoods from the South to the East of Europe. The Arab Spring changed the complexity of politics and affected the balance of power around the Mediterranean sea. General Qaddafi and President Mubarak, once powerful Arab leaders, are gone leaving a power vacuum in North Africa. Then Syria is in the middle of a civil war seeing the rise of a powerful terrorist network, the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL) and causing Syrians to flee their homeland. The Al-Assad regime, Russia and a multitude of factions are fighting a bloody civil all under the bombs of Western powers. To the East, Russia has simply invaded and acquired Crimea from Ukraine and has fought a war in Eastern Ukraine, while violating European airspace and cyberspace on weekly basis. Ultimately, HR Mogherini is correct when framing the world we live in as such:

And today we clearly see that we cannot run and hide from what is happening around us. Everything that is important to our citizens is influenced by our international environment. And there is actually no distinction, no borders, no line between what happens far away, what happens at our borders, in our region, and what happens inside our European Union. Even these categories are now losing sense. When it comes to the terrorist threats, when it comes to migration, what is far, what is close, what is inside, is getting confused.

Mogherini’s question is based on the fact that the world does not have any longer global rules. By ‘global rules’ she implies the ones implemented and enforced by the ‘liberal world order’ established at the end of World War two and enforced by the US through a complex institutional networks and sticky sets of norms, principles and rules.

I believe that in an age of power shifts as we are living, Europe can be a global power and a force for good. I believe that faced with increasing disorder, Europe must be the driving force pushing for a new global order: a global order based on rules, on cooperation, and on multilateral diplomacy.

HR Mogherini is calling for the design of new global architectures, based on post-World War two structures, in order to foster cooperation and enforce stability. And here is the problem. The old architecture is centered around the US. Today the US needs the collaboration of new powers like China, India, Brazil and Turkey. The liberal world order will have to be first readjusted to today’s world order centered around a multitude of powers.

Complaisant Power

Her address is certainly not the final document and is, as she mentioned, in a mode of

Credit: EEAS
Credit: EEAS

consultation and reflection. Mogherini emphasizes the success of multilateralism and the need to avoid unilateralism. She identified recent success stories of international cooperation such as the nuclear agreement between Iran and powerful actors and the COP-21 with world leaders meeting in Paris under a UN umbrella structure. But her address feels like a déjà-vu due to a lack of creativity in the strategic thinking process. Mogherini wants the EU to be a respected global actor, but there is a serious gap between ‘wanting’ and ‘being.’

The address lacks of teeth by directly underlining how the EU and its Member States will be acting? How much will be invested in the CSDP? Are EU Member States all committed to pool resources at the European level? What are the instruments at the disposition of the EU to deal with the war in Syria? the refugee crisis? Is there such thing as a European interest? Last but not least, what about power projection? Mogherini wants to inject the European citizens in the drafting process, but none of the critical and contentious issues are mentioned, and even less addressed. This address sends the message that the EU is more of a ‘complaisant’ power than a real power. The 90s European belief of a post-power world with the EU at the forefront is deeply engrained in this discussion. Let’s hope that the EU Global Strategy will not be a recycled 2008 RE-ISS.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

Dying for the European Union?

Credit: REUTERS/Jean-Marc Loos
Credit: REUTERS/Jean-Marc Loos

Can a national soldier be asked to die for the European Union? In other words, can a Hungarian soldier be sent under an EU flag on the battlefield for another national and/or European cause?

With all the recent talks about the creation of a EU army (read here a recent analysis on Juncker’s proposal), or a European Defense Union, and the perpetual French calls for increasing burden-sharing in defense spending and actions, one variable is missing, would it be acceptable for Member States and European citizens to let their soldiers die for the EU? Can national Member States require their soldiers to fight on the battlefield exposing them to possibility of death for the EU? Would European citizens support such idea? Such questions may appear as a futile intellectual exercise, when in fact it is at the heart of the overall issue of European integration in the realm of security and defense.

Geopolitical Realities

There is no army without a demos, an identity, shared symbols and a common national vision (see the excellent book by Christopher Bickerton on the subject of integration from nation-states to member states). The Europeans and Americans have now since the end of the Cold War tried to create armies in Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Mali, Niger, in the Balkans, and other countries around the world. This is a complex and lengthy process requiring specific criteria such as a state, a national identity, and a will to defend the values and institutions of such state. The recent examples of the Iraqi and Afghan armies are demonstrating how difficult it is and in some instances unrealistic. In the case of the EU, the talk of a European army goes back to the failed attempt of the European Defense Community (EDC) in 1954 foreseeing the creation of a European army composed of 100,000 soldiers (read here a book review of Debating CSDP). Since then, the topic reappears and disappears as quickly as it emerges. The question of a European army is directly intertwined with the old-federalist vision.

Additionally, the case of the EU is a little different from the other regions of the world. The EU has grown under the protection of the nuclear umbrella of the Americans for the entirety of the Cold War. With the implosion of the Soviet Union, the EU was for over 20 years leaving with no major direct threats to its survival. With today’s reemergence of a more aggressive Russia, NATO has re-become the primary instrument for defense. Ultimately, the core perception of European security and defense incorporates two dimensions: American protection and lengthy regional stability. But with the collapse of world markets and the Arab Spring, the EU is now encircled by serious threats with Russia, the Islamic State (IS), mass-migration and rogue regional countries. The European reactions have been to ignore the realities and instead focus on domestic problems.

In some ways, the Europeans have to re-learn in accepting the threats affecting one’ security requiring the use of force. For decades, Europeans did not have to worry about basic existential survival. Europeans were instead deploying forces based on liberal beliefs. Today, the world and Europe are much different places. Despite the lethality of the regional threats, most European leaders and citizens are unwilling to consider the use of military force. For instance, in dealing with Crimea and Eastern Ukraine, Europeans have never mentioned the deployment of troops on the Eastern European borders and even less the use of military force in stopping Russia. Europeans are not thinking in terms of hard power on their owns, only with NATO.

European Demos, Identity and CSDP

In most EU Member States, the mandatory military draft has been abolished. The military conscription policy in most EU Member States, at the exception of Austria, Denmark, Greece, Estonia and Finland, does not exist or is possible only in case of emergency. Most European armies are in fact composed of professional soldiers.

Military Conscription Policy by Country
ChartsBin statistics collector team 2011, Military Conscription Policy by Country, ChartsBin.com, viewed 4th April, 2015, <http://chartsbin.com/view/1887&gt;.

Additionally, since the financial crisis, EU Member States have seriously cut their military expenditures at the national and european levels. As illustrated below, the military expenditure of the EU in 2012 (with 1.5% of GDP) was one of the smallest in comparison to the other world powers. Taking into account to overall proportion of the percentage in the overall world economy, the 1.5% seems inappropriate. As per, many institutions (World Bank, European Commission) and agency (CIA), the overall GDP of the US ($16.7tn)  and EU ($15.8tn) in 2013 were almost equal, but not their military spending.

Source: SIPRI 2013
Source: SIPRI 2013

Certainly, the US is a unitary state (in terms of national security), while the EU is an international organization composed of 28 Member States. The US has its own yearly federal defense budget, while the EU does not have an united defense budget, but rather 28. But with 28 Member States, it is difficult to claim that solely 1.5% of the EU’s overall GDP is a fair share in military expenditure.

In January 2015, the European Parliament (EP) published a report about European perceptions on a variety of policy areas (access the report here). This report permits to shine a light on the perceptions of EU citizens on policy areas related to the eventual creation of a EU army.

European Parliament Eurobarometer. 2015. "Analytical Overview". (EB/EP 82.4) 2014 Parlemeter. January 30. Brussels.
European Parliament Eurobarometer. 2015. “Analytical Overview”. (EB/EP 82.4) 2014 Parlemeter. January 30. Brussels.

Based on the figure above, the strongest factors in composing the European identity are the values of democracy and freedom and the Euro. Interestingly, the three least recognized elements are in fact the ones that are the most symbolic in the formation and fostering of national unity: the anthem, the flag and the motto. Europeans principally feel united through the common share of beliefs – democracy and freedom – which are strongly ingrained in the membership process, the Copenhagen Criteria, in order to become an EU Member; and the currency, which is visible on daily basis in 19 Member States. However, the symbols remain strongly national. European citizens are in fact keeping their allegiance to their national symbols: flag, anthem and motto.

These symbols are necessary to be Europeanized in order to create a European army. Until European citizens do not envision the European symbols over their nationals, the creation of a European military allegiance won’t be possible.

Euro policies
European Parliament Eurobarometer. 2015. “Analytical Overview”. (EB/EP 82.4) 2014 Parlemeter. January 30. Brussels.

 The figure above illustrates the policies wherein European citizens feel that the EU should prioritize. In the case of high politics (defense, security and foreign policy), most Europeans disagree with a common policy. For instance, in the development of a ‘security and defense policy […] to face up to international crises’ EU citizens oppose it at 74%. In combating terrorism, once again the EU citizens are opposed at 71%, and in shaping a common foreign policy, 81% of EU citizens are opposing it. With such numbers, several explanations can be drawn: first, they consider high politics a national priority; second, the national governments are fighting in order not to loose the grip over the control of these policy-areas; third, citizens are overall against foreign, security and defense policy, caused by a certain power-aversion.

A United States of Europe?

All EU Member States are neither risk- nor power-averse. For instance, France since the turn of the century has not shied away from its rank of middle-power. In a matter of five years, it has waged war in Libya, Mali, Central African Republic, Iraq, the Sahel region, and almost in Syria. The United Kingdom was a very active international actor and French partner, but has been less interested in military action since the coalition in Libya in 2011. The UK is still dealing with the Iraq syndrome and lengthy Afghan war. Since the opposition of the legislature to go in Syria, the UK has been irrelevant in security and defense affairs at the great concern of its American partner. Other Member States have been more vocal. With the Arab Spring, the Russian incursions in Georgia (2008), Crimea, and now Eastern Ukraine, the rise of the Islamic State (IS), the Europeans may be united in rhetorics, but are neither willing to deploy forces nor empower the EU in doing more.

Ultimately, the creation of a true European army would require two things: first, theChurchil creation of a clear European demos; second, a federal entity where most European interests are common. The creation of a United States of Europe will be necessary. In the US, the Congress or the President, under special circumstances, can declare war to other states. The different military branches – Army, Navy, Air Force – are all regulated under the Department of Defense (DoD) and can be deployed at anytime even if a Governor of a state is opposed to it. The Federal government is in charged of world military operation. In the case of the EU, there is no such thing as a European DoD. The European External Action Service (EEAS) is a ‘service’ in charged of shaping a common European Foreign policy with the consent of the Member States. Only the Member States can decide on using military force. A European army will remain a topic of discussion, nothing more.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).

Cuba and Iran – Obama’s Legacy or Diplomatic Victories?

Photo: Reuters
Photo: Reuters

President Obama appears to be working on solidifying his legacy in the last years of his second mandate. His two real diplomatic victories are coming at the last mile of his presidency with the closing of the nuclear deal with Iran and the reopening of diplomatic relations with Cuba. Even if the future looks bright for President Obama in starting his last year in office, and especially for his legacy, his administration has been looking for a clear diplomatic identity throughout the reigns of Hillary Clinton and John Kerry at the helm of the US Department of State.

The Cuban-Iranian Files

In a matter of weeks, the US diplomatic body has offered the US two great diplomatic victories starting with the nuclear deal with Iran and the resumption of diplomatic

Photo: U.S. Department of State
Photo: U.S. Department of State

relations between Cuba and the US. In the case of the nuclear deal with Iran, it began in 2003 with a European diplomatic mission, the EU 3+1 (France, the United Kingdom, Germany + the High Representative Javier Solana). In 2003 the US had just waged war against Iraq and was not inclined in participating in the nuclear talks with Tehran (still today the members of the Bush administration are still fighting against a diplomatic deal with Iran as illustrated in the recent piece by John R. Bolton). China, Russia and the US joined the Europeans in 2006 as part of the P5+1 format (5 permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany). In September 2013, the US initiated the first direct talks between Washington and Tehran since 1979. From 2013 to July 2015, both capitals with Paris, London, Moscow and Beijing worked on finding a deal. Even though a large part of the success goes to Kerry and his team, the Europeans, lead by three successive High Representatives with Javier Solana, Catherine Ashton and Federica Mogherini, played a crucial roles throughout the process. At the lowest point of the relations with Iran, the EU was axiomatic in initiating and maintaining the negotiations at least alive. The last two years of negotiations led by John Kerry and the US demonstrated to be essential in the agreement of a deal. Despite missing the original deadline of June, the world powers and Iran finally agreed on the Vienna accord, which now needs to be approved by the US, Iran and other powers.

The re-opening of the relations with Cuba is a second landmark for the Obama administration. If the Iranian file was not certain to translate into an agreement, the

Photo: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images
Photo: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

opening of relations with Cuba was only a matter of time. Aside from the powerful Cuban lobby and its two republican spears, Senator and presidential hopeful Marco Rubio and Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, wanting to maintain the 55 year old embargo, the rest of the US does not really feel any emotional connection to this reminiscence of the Cold War (read here an interesting piece by Simon Kuper about the perception of the US policy towards Cuba in Miami). In his December 2014 speech, President Obama announced the change of this “rigid policy” towards Cuba and that “a policy of engagement, we can more effectively stand up for our values and help the Cuban.” On July 20th, the Cuban embassy officially opened in D.C.

The Cuban and Iranian openings share one element in common, Obama’ strategic intelligence of cautious diplomatic negotiations. With both countries, the US has some serious concerns about democratic principles and values, the lack of free press, the oppression by the state of individuals and civil societies, their human rights records and so forth. But both countries are important for the US for several reasons: first, they are important regional players. Iran is central for the stability of the Middle East and finalizing wars in Iraq and Lebanon. Cuba is so close from the US southern borders that a failed state could be disastrous in terms of human and drug trafficking. Then, in order to bring ‘change’ or at least transformation in societies that have been locked since the 50s for Cuba and 79 for Iran, it will take time. The best way to open up the countries and permit from a bottom-up transformation is to bring them back into the community of nations.

Now the chances that both countries become allies of the US in the future remain thin. The Ping Pong Diplomacyopening of the US-China relations initiated by Nixon was central for the current relations between both superpowers. There are certainly not always peaceful, but both countries are today so interdependent and intertwined. However, China is not the type of country that the US dreamed of, an open-democracy. With almost five decades of cooperation between China and the US and a clear reflection on the level and depth of the current tensions between both partners, one could imagine how they could have been without the implementation of the ping-pong diplomacy leading to the visit of Nixon to China in 1972. So let’s apply this model on the Iranian and Cuban case.

Diplomacy in the 21st century

Diplomacy in the early 21st century has become a dirty word in American politics. In a field, that is extremely conservative and principally framed and informed by realists, for Obama to have implemented and closed, almost simultaneously, on two diplomatic deals is a real accomplishment in such. However, Obama’s foreign policy has certainly lacked of a clear identity and direction since 2008. For instance, Obama initiated once arriving in power a shift, or pivot, to Asia requiring American’s partners, namely the Europeans, to increase their power and influence in the neighboring regions. Aside from the French, the Europeans were unwilling (look at the Brits) and unable to perform such missions in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. Obama and the US were brought back in the European sphere of influence quickly considering the crises in Eastern Europe, Middle East and North Africa (Syria, Egypt, Libya, Lebanon), Iraq and Yemen. The US foreign policy appears to be, yes successful, but less influential in shaping world events. Obama could not do what he had envisioned and had to instead settle for what was possible/achievable.

Now let’s be clear on the fact that both diplomatic efforts are directly aligned with American interests. In the case of Iran, bringing back Iran into the community of nations is already a positive step. The Obama administration was right on focusing solely about the issue of nuclear production and avoiding Iran to get the bomb, at least in the next decade, instead of trying to include all types of prerogatives requesting for domestic reforms and change. Sticking to the nuclear deal was the main reason for a successful agreement. Certainly the US will have to reassure its regional allies, namely Israel and Saudi Arabia, which will materialize through new arms deal and commitment of eventual engagement in case of serious tension. In the case of Cuba, the US has nothing to lose and will instead gain more. The US has to position itself considering that European governments have been shifting their positions towards the island. Both diplomatic openings with Cuba and Iran are not an approval of the regimes and their ideologies, but simple diplomatic success on important regional and global security matters.

In the 1960s, France and Israel were extremely closed allies. So close that France provided

Photo: Fritz Cohen / GPO
Photo: Fritz Cohen / GPO

the nuclear bomb to Israel. After a long friendly relations between David Ben-Gurion, Israeli Prime Minister and French President Charles de Gaulle, France started to shift from Israel to Arab nations as the country needed gas and oil. After this shift, Ben-Gurion wrote a letter to Charles de Gaulle, saying that he thought that they were friends. To this, de Gaulle responded that people have friends; nations have interests. By working with the Iranians and with the Castro regime, President Obama is not seeking for friendship, he is simply working on advancing American interests. Obama has certainly advanced American interests on both issues, but what about his legacy?

The concept of legacy needs to taken with some lightness for two reasons. First, legacies are made because of time. Historians are more inclined to validate one’s legacy than other social scientists much more focused on the present. A serious historical reading of Obama’s achievements can only take place in several decades (read here a piece by Robert Dalleck in Politico raising some caution about using the concept of legacy too soon). Second, one’s legacy is usually solidified by his/her successor. A continuation of Obama’s foreign policy, most likely with the election of Hillary Clinton, would ultimately play in favor of Obama in engraving his domestic and international landmarks. Until then, President Obama has sealed two diplomatic victories.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).

Mr. Renzi Goes to Washington

Photo by Olivier Douliery/UPI
Photo by Olivier Douliery/UPI

A year ago, President Obama and Matteo Renzi were meeting in Rome. On Friday, April 17, Matteo Renzi, Italian Prime Minister, was in Washington D.C. meeting President Obama in his first trip to the United States as the head of the Italian government. In the statement delivered by the White House’s Press Secretary on March 17 announcing the visit a series of issues were highlighted such as “support for Ukraine and continued U.S.-EU unity on pressuring Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine to adhere to the Minsk agreements; the situation in Libya; and the need for the international community to continue efforts to counter ISIL and other extremists throughout the Middle East.” Even though the issues on the table are the same ones discussed last year in Rome, Matteo Renzi came to D.C. with a very different aura considering the results already obtained thanks to his policies.

Matteo Renzi – Changing Italy’s Future

Matteo Renzi came to D.C. at the right time considering the solidification of his power at home and in Europe. Renzi has worked on rebuilding domestic trust and in reestablishing Italy as a core and central country of the European Union. The years under Silvio Berlusconi contributed to the decline of Italy from what used to be an axiomatic EU Member State. So far it seems that Matteo Renzi is succeeding on both fronts. Domestically, he has established himself as the man of the situation by ending years of political instabilities. Politically, Forza Italia, right wing political party, has been kept under control after the disastrous years under Silvio Berlusconi. Economically and fiscally, yes the Italian overall debt remains massive representing 126% of the GDP. But on the bright side, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) project that the Italian economic outlook should be promising for 2015 with an expected growth of 0.6%. Even though the growth seems at homeopathic dosage, it would be the first time since mid-2011 that Italy would see some types of economic growth. Italy has been in recession for over three years now. All the cuts possible won’t be enough in order to lower the overall debt without growth; Italy must re-familiarized itself with economic growth.

At the European level, Italy is becoming relevant and an active member once again. The federicamogherinimatteorenzigovernmentyf0fx-kziyglmost obvious example was the appointment of Federica Mogherini at the helm of European foreign affairs. In less than a year, she has already demonstrated her commitment to her mission and has represented the EU where needed. Her short tenure at the EEAS has offered the EU and its Member States a new dynamism and presence on the regional and international platforms (read here a previous analysis on Mogherini’s 100 days). However, Matteo Renzi seems to be too close, for many Europeans and Americans, to Russia. The relationship between Italy and Russia is certainly long, but for many it seems that Renzi needs to be stronger in his opposition to Putin’s actions in Europe.

For both reasons, Mr. Renzi went to Washington with a certain aura and credibility. The economic engine is on and Italy matters once again in Europe.

Solving Libya and Ukraine

Ahead of this high level meeting at the White House, two issues are extremely important for the transatlantic community: Libya and Ukraine. From Rome, the crises in Libya and Ukraine are affecting directly the national security of Italy as well as the EU as a whole, while from Washington, President Obama would rather lead from behind with the help of core Atlantic partners, Italy for instance, than having to be directly involved on the ground. For one it is about security and survival, for the other it is about influence.

The crisis in Libya is serious for two reasons. Since the fall of the Qaddafi regime in 2011, led by an euro-atlantic coalition, the country has spiraled into a civil war. The civil war has created a power vacuum in the middle of North Africa offering the exit point for many Northern and Central Africans leaving their home countries because of political violence, war, dire economic conditions, terrorism with the hope to reach the European continent for a better life. The point of exit of Africa is Libya. Libya has become the transit country for most of illegal migration. In addition to unchecked migration, the civil war and lack of government have offered a new ground to the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL). ISIL has emerged in the country directly threatening neighboring countries, which includes Europe.

In the case of Ukraine, President Obama wants to assure the guarantee of unity of Europe

PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES
PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

in facing Russia. Crimea seems to belong to Russia and Ukraine should accept it, now the fights in Eastern Ukraine need to be solved. The Minsk agreement of February 2015 for a cease-fire was not enough, and the Euro-Atlantic community needs to be on the same page when addressing Russia. The economic sanctions implemented last summer by the EU are due to expire in late July 2015. So far there is no unity in the EU to extend them. A year ago, Italy was called on for trying to block the implementation of the economic sanctions against Russia. One reason is that Italy is the second largest trading partner with Russia after Germany. Russia has been strongly lobbying Italy in softening the sanctions against them. President Obama may want to avoid a situation wherein Italy limits the reach of the sanctions against Moscow.

In a matter of a year, Matteo Renzi seems to have delivered on many of his domestic promises and came with a certain aura to Washington. Matteo Renzi was hoping for some financial assistance in dealing with Libya (why not a NATO mission?) and in toughening his voice against Russia. Additionally, President Obama might have asked for some Italian support in order to try to finalize the massive T-TIP, which is lingering and creating strong discords in Europe. For what has been a very opaque meeting, due to the superficiality of Obama and Renzi’s comments (read here the joint press conference), Obama and Renzi wanted to solidify the ties and bring Italy back on the center stage.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).

HR Mogherini – A Foreign Policy Leader à la Clinton?

Photograph: Chatham House
Photograph: Chatham House

Even with an absent United Kingdom in European foreign and security policy, the excellent British think tank Chatham House has been the center of the euro-atlantic foreign policy world. Candidates for the 2016 US Presidential race are passing by as well as some high-level EU officials. If Scott Walker, Republican Governor of Wisconsin, did not want to talk foreign policy in a foreign policy think tank (read here the Q&A focusing on cheese and Wisconsin), the High Representative Federica Mogherini did not shy away from such exercise with a solid speech (read her speech here).

HR/VP Mogherini took office in November 2014 (read here a previous analysis on the transition of power from Ashton to Mogherini) and has taken full control of her role and position. The transition between her predecessor, Catherine Ashton, has been immediate and flawless. Both HR have their own strategy, personality, and leadership style. Ashton was much more of a bureaucrat and a shy foreign policy leader, while Mogherini is clearly at the forefront of the EU by always being present and visible, a little bit like former US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. It seems that the EU has its chief foreign policy following the steps of Clinton. As Hillary Clinton, HR Mogherini has been using her voyages to put the EU on the map as a global power, launched reflections for an overarching strategy, and addressed each crisis facing the bloc. Both foreign ministers have been relentless in their missions.

Pressing Issues Confronting the EU

As expected, HR Mogherini highlighted during her speech at the Chatham House the most pressing issues threatening the stability of the Union and its Member States. “I [Mogherini] believe that there is no better way for the EU to have a global influence than to be a responsible power in our immediate neighborhood.” As she argued the challenges and threats at the doors of Europe affect directly the “vital national interests of our member states.” All of them are surrounding the EU on every front, East, South, and South-East. Eastern Europe is on the verge of a war, as reports continue to demonstrate that Russia continues to send heavy-weapons and soldiers, and the Mediterranean periphery is in flame (read here the very informative Q&A led by Quentin Peel of the Financial Times tackling additional topics like Turkey, UK declining foreign policy, and eurozone crisis).

  • Ukraine – Mogherini argues that the EU deeply believes that Russia should be a partner rather than a foe. But the evolution of the conflict in Ukraine does not allow such belief, but instead calls for European actions in order to assure the transition towards a peaceful resolution of the conflict. The EU is concerned about the consequences of the war in Ukraine on the stability of the continent.
  • Libya – the instability in Libya, Southern border of the EU, represents a similar challenge to the security of the EU and its Member States. The challenges in Libya are serious, complex and intertwined counting issues such as appearance of the Islamic State (IS), human trafficking, exit point for massive illegal migration in direction to Europe, and no state-authority over the territory. The power vacuum in Libya ought to be addressed.
  • Syria – the war in Syria has lasted long enough for seeing the rise of IS, many international failures to solving the crisis, a serious humanitarian crisis and a complex sectarian war with no end in sight. Without solving Syria, the threat of IS will only continue to grow.
  • Tensions in the Middle-East – seeking for a lasting peace process between the Palestinian authorities and Israel.
  • Iran – the nuclear negotiations with Iran are an important piece of the Middle-East puzzle. As argued by Mogherini, “for too long we thought of the Iranian issue as a zero-sum game.” In fact, she claims that “a comprehensive agreement would be hugely beneficial for both sides.” In the case of the negotiations, the EU is the leader in the negotiations.

HR Mogherini concentrated her analyses on the neighborhoods. But other issues and crises are affecting the stability of the Union, especially with the rise of instabilities in Africa and the region of the Sahel.

Mogherini’s Call for a New European Security Strategy

By the end of her speech, HR Mogherini finally introduced the fact that she initiated a work to reflect on a new European Security Strategy. “Our European Security Strategy, on which Javier Solana did a wonderful work, is also 11 years old. At that time, no one could imagine how fast the world and our neighbourhood would change in the coming years.” The 2003 version was an important document in identifying the European way for global actions and addressing the threats facing the Union as a whole. But in over a decade, the EU only produced one additional document the 2008 Report on the Implementation of the ESS simply adjusting the 2003 version, without any deep strategic changes and rethinking. The world in 2003 was certainly very different to the one facing the EU in 2015. Global politics shifted from a unipolar to a multipolar system. “Everything is changed,” argued Mogherini “we have changed.”

Soon after taking office, HR Mogherini initiated a process of strategic reflection to ‘reform’ EU foreign and security policy. A new strategy ought to be designed and implemented in order to address the new regional and global realities. ‘Effective multilateralism,’ the core of the EU strategy in 2003, may not be as effective in 2015 as it was in 2003 (thus, Mogherini does not have to seek for building unity among the Member States as it was required by Javier Solana in the aftermath of the 2003 war in Iraq causing great disunity at the time). The 2015 version will require to address the new global environment (multipolar world order and the rise of new powers), new security challenges (traditional ones: territorial security in the neighborhoods, nuclear proliferation; new ones: domestic and international terrorism (IS and Boko Haram), environmental threats, cyber threats), and the instruments required for the best response (hard power: through the use of the CSDP, NATO, CSDP/NATO, or by the Member States like France has done in Africa; soft power: institutions, partnerships, cooperation, negotiations, and diplomacy).

“But our foreign policy can sometimes be disconnected” argued HR Mogherini. “We need to connect the dots. And we need a true sense of ownership. A common vision. A common European interest. Our identity in the world. That’s why I’m starting from member states.” HR Mogherini responded to the criticism that there is no common EU foreign policy if one takes in consideration the latest actions by France and Germany to solve the Ukrainian crisis during the Minsk Protocol II. She claims that “a European common foreign policy does not call for Member States to give up their own foreign policies. On the contrary, each country can reinforce our common action with its own strength and expertise. But we see Europe at its best only when all the Twenty-eight push in the same direction.”

HR Mogherini is correct in seeking for the development of a comprehensive European Security Strategy. “There is no contradiction between an eastward looking and a southward looking EU. Only a comprehensive approach to our foreign policy can protect our values and interests in the long run. Events in North Africa, the Middle East and Eastern Europe affect the whole of us. No one can expect to close their eyes.” The new Security Strategy will permit the EU and the EU-28 to reflect on the threats the EU should address, the type of power the EU wants to be and play, and the way the EU should conduct itself in its neighborhoods and global arena.

Mogherini’s 100 Days in Office

With Mogherini at the helm of European foreign policy, the difference between her and her predecessor, Catherine Ashton, is undeniable. Ashton seemed uncomfortable, where HR Mogherini is being over-present and very much at her ease in facing the media. She travels the world from meeting to meeting. She understands the need to be present, even if it is for a 30 minutes handshake, in order to build relationship and put the EEAS and the EU on the map. If Ashton was not as visible as her predecessor, she was respected in closed-meeting with her foreign counterparts. It is not surprising that HR Mogherini kept her at the helm of the European negotiations with Iran.

In her first 100 days, HR Mogherini has done quite a lot as illustrated by the infographic created by the EEAS (see below).

Source: EEAS
Source: EEAS

Considering her relentless rhythm, some diplomats wonder about her longevity, but as well the type of foreign policy being shaped by HR Mogherini. As analyzed in an excellent article by Bruxelles 2, an experienced European diplomat confides that leaders do not have the time anymore to reflect as they constantly runs from one place to another. One of the core problems faced by current political leaders is their dependence on the agenda and the need to constantly respond immediately to new issues. Foreign policy in some ways has been hijacked by the immediacy of information, when in fact reflection and thinking are core requirements.

Last but not least, HR Mogherini argued when discussing the threats facing the EU that “this is why I believe any narrative of a clash among national interests and European interests is flawed. We hold a ‘joint place in the world’, and it very much depends on the unity and the effectiveness of the European Union’s international projection. It should be clear to everyone that we, the Europeans, are much better when we are together. It is a matter not of European interest but of national interest, for all.” The consolidation of a common vision by merging national and European interests under a common umbrella could be Mogherini’s landmark.

(Copyright 2015 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).

Mogherini’s Choices

Hearing of Commissioners-designate at the European Parliament

On the 6th of October, Federica Mogherini was facing the European Parliament for her confirmation hearing as the next High Representative/Vice President (HR/VP). In an hearing of over 3 hours, she described and presented her vision of the job and the role of the EU on the international stage.

In her opening statement, Mogherini framed quite well the main questions that are oftentimes sidelined and unfortunately left continuously unanswered by national and European leaders: “In this difficult world, in these difficult times, what does the European Union do? Where do we stand? How do we make sure that we play our role in these difficult times?” She presented her plan in order to make the EU more relevant on the global stage. She laid out three driving forces: first, to shape ‘a real common policy;’ second, to deepen the degree of cooperation between the EU institutions, Parliament, Council, Commission and EEAS; third, to increase coordination and communication among the agents involved on similar policies.

In terms of area of actions, Mogherini wants to narrow down the area of European interests. She wants to “taking care of our part of the world,” which entails the direct and broader neighborhoods: East (Russia, Caucasus and Turkey), South (Middle East and North Africa). A clear area of actions for the EU and the CSDP is long due as it will allow Member States and European institutions to clearly identify the pressing issues and the strategy to adopt and implement.

Mogherini’s Challenges

However, Mogherini is facing several core challenges: first, an inside one – Member States & institutional; second, an outside one – Europe declining global position in the world; third, a series of unstable regional and global crises. Her opening statement before the Parliament illustrates clearly that she is well aware of the challenges ahead of her.

First, the institutional tensions between EU institutions, Member States and from the Member States are real. They can seriously affect the efficiency of the European foreign policy machine as it was the case under Ashton. Mogherini was appointed at one of the most difficult position. Her title says it all: High Representative and Vice President of the Commission. She has a double-hatted position half intergovernmental – Member States – and half supranational – Commission -. As argued by Jan Techau, Mogherini’s role and tasks are very complex as “[European] institutions are strong on trade and development but have almost zero executive power in classic diplomacy and crisis management.”

Ashton has demonstrated the degree of challenge entailed in the HR/VP position. For instance, she had been criticized for not assisting at many meeting at the Commission, when in fact she was traveling for the EEAS (at least this is the official argument). In order to avoid a similar scenario, Mogherini has been proactive and has announced that she will be moving with her Cabinet to the Berlaymont Building (the Commission’s building). Her rationale is that “I [Mogherini] cannot ask structures to work together if I do not work with all of them myself.” She is planning to assist at the College of European commissioners’ meetings. Techau frames quite well the reality and dilemma of the HR/VP job and all decision-making in foreign policy at the EU level. Techau calls it the dilemma between the internal realities – Brussels bubble – (what is possible), and the external realities (what is needed). Mogherini, as her predecessor, will have to try to narrow this expectation-reality gap as much as possible.

Undeniably, Mogherini is taking over a broken foreign and defense policy machine. The last five years under the helm of Catherine Ashton, the EEAS and CSDP have been under serious tensions and attacks from the Member States. The Big Three, especially France and the UK, see the EEAS as a direct threat to their national foreign ministries; while the CSDP has simply been relegated to a second grade defense instrument stabilizing context after French or international interventions. This has been the case in Mali, Central Africa and Libya. Mogherini will have to deal with the powerful European foreign policy leaders, and re-affirm the credibility and contribution of the EEAS in Europe. She will have to sell the EU foreign policy to Europeans.

Second, the declining position of the EU on the global stage is undeniable. The rise of new powers, especially China, and the continuous affirmation of American powers, despite a broad literature demonstrating American decline, are clear challenges. Mogherini holds one dimension of the global relevance of the EU. She needs to remain committed and avoid the “rapid erosion of European power and influence in the world.” At this rate of decline and inaction, the EU will become a second-grade power. In the current global dis-order, the EU can maintain a premier role if it wants to. The HR/VP can play a role in it.

Third, Mogherini will have a lot on her plate once HR/VP. The list of security issues from public health (with the Ebola), to energy security (Russia and Ukraine), to territorial tensions (Russia and the Palestinian files), to homeland and international terrorism (ISIS and homeland radicalization of the European youth) are all awaiting clear common European strategies. Each of these issues has to be coordinated at the European level as all of them are transnational problems. Additionally, Mogherini will have to empower the CSDP or simply shift the CSDP into NATO. The CSDP under Ashton has been in decline in terms of objectives, role and influence. The 2013 Defense summit (read here, here, and here in depth analysis on the summit) led to a re-commitment by the EU-28 towards European defense and the CSDP, but the words have yet to be translated into actions.

Food for Thoughts

On a positive note, Mogherini embodies a new class of European leaders. She is young and understands foreign policy. Her past experience, despite being short and limited, nevertheless was directly connected with foreign affairs. This was not the case of Catherine Ashton when she got appointed in 2009. Mogherini embodies a younger Italian political class that wants to reaffirm the serious commitment of Italy to the European project.

“We need a long-term vision to prevent crises and to manage post-crises. We need to think big,” underscored Mogherini during her opening statement “with a far-reaching look at the global landscape, and we have to realise that this is in our own interest.” Such statement Catherine_Ashton_and_solanadeserves credit and attention as leaders with a strategic vision have become rare. Javier Solana, the first HR, was this kind of politician with a broad strategic vision. He understood that a clear narrative and strategic vision was necessary in order to have an active EU on the global stage; and he understood which fights to pick. Again, the political, social and economic realities of the EU are to some degree similar and arguably worst that the ones under HR Ashton. The economic slump of the Eurozone and the EU is continuing; anti-Europe sentiments are growing all around the EU and are even becoming core components of domestic policies like in Britain; and the national desire to spend money on foreign policy and defense is not present. Mogherini will have to convince the EU-28 that the EEAS and CSDP are not a redundancy in costs and are in fact complementary to national commitment to foreign policy and defense. Mogherini certainly has a positive aspect going in her favor as a large majority of Europeans are in favor a EU leadership in world affairs as demonstrated below. Europeans at 73% consider that the EU ought to contribute to the making and shaping of world affairs.

Source:  German Marshall Fund. 2014. Transatlantic Trends. Key Finding 2014. p.16
Source: German Marshall Fund. 2014. Transatlantic Trends. Key Finding 2014. p.16

Last but not least, Mogherini’s hearing before the Parliament underlined her ease in expressing herself – and in several languages -. She seems to understand – and we will see if she will ‘enjoy’ it – the highly political dimension of her position, which was apparently not shared by her predecessor. As underscored by Nick Witney of the ECFR, “To succeed, she will also need luck, determination, and more support – from the member states, from the President of the European Commission and from the other Brussels institutions – than her predecessor ever enjoyed.” Based on her performance before the European Parliament, Mogherini wants to appear as the person in charge in order to reform the EU strategic approach to foreign policy.

(Copyright 2014 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).