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).

Putin, Master of Europe?

Credit: Alexei Druzhinin / RIA Novosti / Associated Press
Credit: Alexei Druzhinin / RIA Novosti / Associated Press

Is Russia winning its war against Europe? It surely looks like it. Since 2008, Putin’s Russia has been over active in dividing and conquering the members of the European Union and the Euro-Atlantic community (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization). Vladimir Putin, President of Russia, has been successful by implementing a strategy on two fronts: regional/international and domestic. Despite his track record of not bidding himself to any agreement, Putin has transformed Russia into the ‘indispensable nation’ in Europe.

Geopolitics – Maintaining Regional/International Chaos

Putin understands one thing: safeguarding Russia’s neighborhood and empowering its sphere of influence at any cost. In order to fulfill both goals, Putin has been using military force in order to limit the horizontal expansion of NATO and the EU. On the European continent, Russia is the only state willing to use military force to advance its interest. It has done so in Georgia in 2008 and in Ukraine since 2013 (this does not include the lengthy war in Chechnya). In 2008, Putin saw the need to attack Georgia as the Bush administration was foreseeing the incorporation of Georgia within NATO. By attacking Georgia, Putin forced Euro-Atlantic leaders to rethink about the consequence and strategic soundness of including a small state like Georgia within the Alliance. The Article 5 was a powerful deterrent during the Cold War, but could be in the current multipolar order a threat to the security of the Euro-Atlantic community.

In 2013, Ukraine was on its way to sign a trade agreement with the EU. Putin saw it as a threat and pushed its influence over the corrupted and pro-Russian leadership, Viktor Yanukovych. Ukrainian President abruptly ended the talks causing pro-Western manifestations in Kiev. In a matter of months, Yanukovych had fled Ukraine, Russia had annexed Crimea and continues supporting pro-Russian militiamen in Eastern Ukraine. Though the annexation of Crimea was not enough to unite the 28 EU Member States against Russia, the evidences gathered by NATO demonstrating the clear military involvement of Russia in

Picture: Reuters
Picture: Reuters

Eastern Ukraine permitted the 28 EU leaders to implement sanctions against Russian individuals and corporations.

Putin was again the heart of the February negotiations with Angela Merkel of Germany and François Hollande of France in order to agree on the baseline for a ceasefire in Eastern Ukraine. The Minsk provisions have not lived to the promises hoped by Europeans.

Aside from the use of military power, Putin has been working on the creation of a Eurasian Union. This Union initiated by Vladimir Putin is a way to balance out the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The Eurasian Union has allowed Putin to attract regional countries from the EU to his Union. As per Nico Popescu of the EU-ISS, it exists two Eurasian Union: one real, an economic union; and, one imagined with geopolitical aspirations. The first one, the Eurasian Economic Union, is led by the Eurasian Economic Commission, which has a staff of 1,000 employees, which was established by the Eurasian Union treaty in May 2014. While the second union, with geopolitical role, is the center point of Putin’s third term seeking to become an organization, like the EU, NAFTA among other, and reintegrating former states of the Soviet Union under one entity.

The Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) is currently under construction. The Treaty came into force on January 1st, 2015 with three core members, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia, and Armenia (entering on January 2nd) and Kyrgyzstan joining in May 2015. As presented by Ian Bremmer of the Eurasia Group the EEU in perspective is quite considerable: “The size of the EEU is not the primary cause for concern; rather, it’s what it reveals about Vladimir Putin and his commitment to maintaining regional dominance. It’s why he will go to such extremes to keep Ukraine from joining Western institutions like the EU or NATO. He’s not willing to cede this sphere of influence, and Ukraine is the crown jewel; there is no viable, robust Eurasian Union without Ukraine.”

Vladimir Putin has masterfully locked in the control of geopolitics in Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia. Additionally, Putin has increased his influence in the conflicts in the Middle East. Bashar al-Assad, President of Syria, owes his power to Putin as he reached at the last minute to his American counterpart, President Obama, in order to agree on an international deal to destroy Syrian chemical weapons.

Playing with European Domestic Malaise

Within the European Union, Russia has been highly successful in creating disunity among the 28 Member States. Putin has used two aspects to Russia’s advantages: Europe’s energy dependence and the sluggish European economic context.

On the question of energy, the EU-28 are highly dependent on Russian hydrocarbons (gas and oil). Germany, France, Italy, Greece and Eastern EU Member States need a constant influx of Russian energy in order to maintain their economic and industrial engines going. Europeans have dealt, poorly, with the security of supply of energy as illustrated below.

Chart: European Dependence on Russian hydrocarbons (2002-2012)

3. Chart 1- EU dependence on Russian energy-B&W
Source: Eurostat. 2014. “Energy Dependency Rate, EU-28, 2002-2012 (percent of net imports in gross inland consumptions and bunkers, based on tons of oil equivalent) YB14

The graph above demonstrates the high degree of dependence on Russian hydrocarbons. The trend has certainly be declining, but the overall average remains too high in order to guarantee a security of supply. In recent years, the Europeans have been working on lowering their dependency on Russia through renewable energy and, for a long time, on nuclear energy.

Figure: Production of Primary Energy in Europe

5. Fig 2-Production of Primary Energy in Europe-B&W
Source: Eurostat. 2014. “Production of Primary Energy, EU-28, 2012 (percent of total, based on tonnes of oil equivalent) YB14.”

Renewable energy – composed of biomass, hydropower, wind, solar and geothermal energies – are increasing and offering an alternative to Europeans. However, renewables cannot be the only source of energy as they need to be backed up by either hydrocarbons or nuclear power. If Europeans are working on moving towards greener economies, they still require hydrocarbons. Germany has been the prime example with the Nord Stream pipeline bringing Russian hydrocarbons directly at home without depending on transit countries. With the crash of oil prices, hydrocarbons remain an important share of European consumptions.

The second door for Russian intrusion and/or attraction is money. Despite a dire domestic economic and financial situation, Vladimir Putin has been able to attract the most desperate EU Member States such as Italy and Greece as well as building strong ties with some national political parties. Since its financial collapse, Greece has proven to be the weakest EU and Eurozone member. Greece’s default was avoided by a series of multilateral bailouts by the troika – ECB, European Commission and IMF -, keeping the country within the Eurozone. However, these bailouts have come at great costs requiring  large spending cuts in social and welfare programs. Unemployment levels are through the roof, young Greeks are fleeing to Germany to get a higher education, and dying in Greece

Photograph: Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images
Photograph: Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images

is once again a reality (read here a previous analysis).

In addition of this dire domestic context and the succession of powerless former government, Syriza, the extreme-left party led by Alexis Tsipras, was elected in January 2015 (read here a previous analysis on Syriza). Tsipras’ platform was based on renegotiations of the terms of the bailouts and rebuilding Greek national psych. From electoral promises to governing realities, Tspiras was unable to do so and is now seeking for outside funding in order to “come up with money to pay off maturing debts, revive its devastated economy and renegotiate its loan agreements with other countries in the eurozone.” Prime Minister Tsipras was in Moscow last week. Both countries are claiming that Tsipras did not ask for money. Considering Putin’s behavior and Tsipras’ desperation, it is difficult to believe that Tsipras and Putin only talked of the new gas pipeline through Greece and discounts on gas prices. Additionally, Tsipras has been advocating for a removal of the European sanctions against Russia. Such comment is a departure from European unity in order to maintain economic sanctions on Russia.

From state to party-sponsoring, Putin has found a way to change the perceptions within Europe about Russia. In France, recent allegations and press coverage have demonstrated that a Russian bank has been financing the extreme right wing political party, the Front National. Reports show that the Russian bank, First Czech Russian Bank (FCRB), had lent EURO9 million to the party. The party claims that no French banks were willing to lend them money, forcing them to find foreign funding. However, the Front National has been very vocal in defending Vladimir Putin’s domestic and foreign policies and portrayed him as a great leader. The French government is reflecting on launching an investigation to look into the campaign financing of the FN.

The relationship between Putin and the European far-rights has grown thanks to the dire socio-economic context and the rise of euroskepticism all around Europe. “The far right is attracted by Putin’s Russia,” argued Pierre Lellouche, a member of a mainstream conservative party, the Union for a Popular Movement, “because it embodies the traditional social values they feel Europe has abandoned.”

europe-russia

Divide and Conquer

Putin is the key to regional stability and instability. Since his arrival to power in 2000, Vladimir Putin has worked on rebuilding the grandeur of Russia and perceives the collapse of the Soviet Union as the greatest catastrophe of the 20th century. Vladimir Putin is using all aspects of Russian power to increase Russia’s regional and international influence. He has been very successful at it. Bashar al-Assad of Syria is still in power of a destroyed country, Crimea is now part of Russia, Eastern Ukraine seems englobed in a long and nasty war and could end up as the next piece of Russia, and Russia is regularly interfering with national sovereignty of EU and NATO members.

In response, the members of the Euro-Atlantic community have only condemned Russia’s actions, agreed on mild sanctions and are hoping to stop conflicts and tensions through diplomatic agreements. Are Putin’ strategies sustainable? and, what are the endgame? Putin certainly emerges as being very successful in creating discord, affecting the unity of EU Member States, and underscoring the power-aversion of the EU and to some degree the US. Putin has made Russia the indispensable European state.

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

A European Army – Re-Visiting an Old Federalist Dream?

EU-Battlegroups_2628575b

The call for a European Army is back on the European table. In an interview with German newspaper Die Welt over the weekend, Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission, discussed on a wide array of topics from the Eurocrisis, to Grexit, to the Monetary Union, and called for the creation of a European army. The discussions around the topic of a European army have been cyclical inside European political circles for decades. With the European Council Summit on Defense of June approaching, President Juncker may want to prepare the ground before hand for a productive meeting.

Juncker’s Proposal for a European Army

The lingering crisis in Ukraine is reminding the Europeans how dependent they are on NATO and the US for the enforcement of regional security and how irrelevant/inefficient are the EU and its Member States in shaping desired outcomes in high politics. Despite the attempts by Berlin and Paris to solve the Ukrainian crisis diplomatically, Moscow has not budged and is continuing its territorial expansion in Eastern Ukraine. In some ways, Ukraine is another Kosovo for the Europeans, as in both cases the EU cannot respond independently with force and end the crisis. Such statement is certainly confirmed by Juncker’s comments when arguing that “With its own Army, Europe could react credibly to a threat

Photo: European People's Party/Flickr
Photo: European People’s Party/Flickr

to peace in a Member State or in a neighboring country of the European Union.”

Die Welt continued its interview by asking Mr. Juncker if he thinks that Russia would have thought twice before annexing Crimea if the EU had had a European army. Juncker responded by arguing that military response should not be the initial strategy and only complement diplomacy and politics. However, Juncker went on claiming that “a joint army of Europeans would give the clear impression [to Russia] that we are serious about defending the European values.” Juncker denied the fact that a European army would compete with NATO. As per Juncker, the European army would permit to demonstrate the seriousness of the EU in foreign policy; and contribute to the deepening process of the Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP).

On Monday, March 9th, the Commission tried to narrow and justify some of the comments made by President Juncker. Chief Commission Spokesman, Margaritas Schinas, underlined that the pooling and sharing (P&S) in defense capabilities make financial sense for the EU-28 (watch his response here). Mr. Schinas called for going beyond the interview and work on the substance of the question of a European army.

Such comment is not surprising coming from Mr. Juncker, as even before becoming President of the Commission, Mr. Juncker was in favor of the creation of a European army. As a Prime-Minister of Luxembourg, a small EU Member State in terms of military power, Mr. Juncker has long been in favor of a common EU force. During his candidacy to the presidency of the Commission, Mr. Juncker reiterated the call for a European army.

The Cyclical Desire for a European Army

The question of European defense is directly intertwined with the story of European integration. As developed in his latest analysis on the Juncker’s proposal, Jan Techau of the Carnegie Endowment wrote that:

The oldest item on the European list of utopian integration topics is a federal superstate. The second oldest is the creation of an EU army. Despite the obvious hopelessness of getting such a thing started and of making it work, this latter idea has been remarkably resilient.

The fight between the Gaullist vision – independent EU army – and the Altanticist – Europe9781472409959.PPC_PPC Template under the US nuclear umbrella – has remained ever since. But one should distinguish six important periods in explaining the tentatives of development/integration in high politics at the EU level (for an in-depth look at the question of the European Defense, refer to the following book Debating European Security and Defense Policy. Understanding the Complexity):

  • 1954 – European Defense Cooperation (EDC) was initiated by the French and killed by the French. The EDC was supposed to create a standing European army.
  • Cold War – Europe under the NATO umbrella. For over 30 years the baseline of European security and defense was enforced by the transatlantic alliance, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The US provided the bulk of the military protection with its military bases around Europe. NATO offered a security blanket to the European Communities, allowing its Member States to focus on economic integration.
  • 1992 – The Treaty of Maastricht and the CFSP. With the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, the collapse of the Soviet Union and the reunification of Germany, powerful EC Member States, France and the UK, felt that deepening the integration process with a new treaty would permit to absorb a reunified Germany. The 1992 Treaty of Maastricht created the European Union and its pillar system. The new institutional design based on a three-pillar structure established the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) permitting the creation of a common EU foreign policy.
  • 1998 – The Declaration of Saint Malo. Over a two-day bilateral meeting in the French town of Saint Malo, French President Chirac and British Prime Minister Blair agreed on bilateral basis to create a common European defense system permitting the EU to respond to regional crisis threatening the security of the Union and the continent. The Saint Malo Declaration was a response to European inabilities in acting and responding to the war in the Balkans and the 1998 war in Kosovo. Both regional crises highlighted the lack of hard power and unity from the Europeans and their dependence on NATO.
  • 1999-2007 – From summits to deployments. From 1999 to 2007, under the leadership of the first High Representative Javier Solana, the EU institutionalized the European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP) permitting the Union to deploy national forces under the EU flag for civilian and military missions. Many ESDP missions were deployed in Africa, Europe, and Asia (see the map below).
Source: EU ISS. 2014. "#CSDPbasics leaflet." September 26: 5.
Source: EU ISS. 2014. “#CSDPbasics leaflet.” September 26: 5.
  • 2007 to today – Financial crisis and CSDP. Since the 2007 collapse of the financial markets, the global balance of power has been shifting. The US and European economies were on the brink of collapse, and in the specialized literature, the declinist argument, looking at the end of the liberal world order, has illustrated the decline of American hegemony and the rise of new powers. In parallel, a series of crises surrounding Europe initiated by the Arab Spring have caused grave concerns in European capitals and Washington. Europe has been circled by a ‘ring of fire’ from all sides, Ukraine, Syria, Libya, MENA and Central Africa. Inside this ‘ring of fire’ many threats have directly challenged Europeans such as terrorism, mass-migration, war, trafficking, and failed-states. In this environment, the EU has tried to increase its defense harmonization through the Pooling & Sharing (P&S) in order to avoid duplication at the European level as well as responding to the declining of share of national GDP committed to military expenditures. Because of lack of national commitment, the P&S and CSDP have not received the attention required. In such environment, the argument of a European Defense Union (EDU), as raised by Solana and Blockmans, should permit greater strategic, institutional, capabilities, and resources cooperation between the EU-28.

A Hopeless Call?

The call for an EU army is only part of the revival of an old federalist dream. The gap between Juncker’s proposal and the European realities is extremely wide. For instance, the United Kingdom under Prime Minister Cameron has fought all European initiatives towards the furthering of European integration. During the selection and appointment process of Mr. Juncker, the UK opposed his nomination fearing that he would continuously call for deeper integration as he had done in the past. With Juncker at the helm of the Commission for a little less than a year, he has certainly launched a series of initiatives inCAMERON-UK-EU order to re-boost the EU. From the Juncker Plan to launch the European economies (read two previous analyses here and here), to the EU Energy Union to now the call for a EU army, Juncker’ strategy is to demonstrate that ‘more Europe’ is necessary in order to solving Europe’s problems.

Even though the United Kingdom was a pioneer with France in December 1998 when agreeing to the creation of the ESDP, the UK has since changed its position on greater defense integration. Ensuing the Juncker interview, London’s reaction was “Our position is crystal clear that defense is a national, not an EU responsibility and that there is no prospect of that position changing and no prospect of a European army.” The reactions by British politicians have been along the same line, a clear opposition to the Juncker’s proposal of a European army. That does not mean that the UK is opposed to a more integrated CSDP, but the country is in election-mode and being pro-European seems to be a no-go in this election.

If the UK finds Juncker’s call outraging, Germany welcomed it. For instance, German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen told German radio that “Our [German] future as Europeans will at some point be with a European army.” France has not been very vocal on Juncker’s comments. So far, France has been very active in his perceived sphere of influence and has been deploying his national troops in Libya, Mali, CAR and throughout the Sahel region at the expense of the CSDP.

The question of a EU army is always of actuality and will remain in the federalist arsenal. President Juncker is correct in his analysis of the state of the world in 2015 and the challenges/threats facing the Union and its 28 Member States. In this ever-changing world and increasing degree of

Photo: Vadim Braydov/Associated Press
Photo: Vadim Braydov/Associated Press

complexity of the challenges, the EU-28 ought to understand that increasing the Pooling & Sharing falls under an improvement of their national security and interest. The regional instabilities equally threaten all EU Member States from Sofia to London, Rome to Copenhagen, Warsaw to Paris. An EU army may not be the appropriate option, but a common strategic thinking and common foreign policy and military vision ought to be addressed and adopted.

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

The State of the World through the Eyes of William J. Burns

Source: Getty
Source: Getty

US ambassador William J. Burns recently retired from his 33 years in office at the Department of State. After being one of the top US diplomats for decades, he recently became the president of the prestigious think tank The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. William Burns is only the second career diplomat to rise to the position of Deputy-Secretary at the Department of State. Secretary Kerry compared William Burns to George F. Kennan and Charles E. Bohlen, and claimed that M. Burns has “earned his place on a very short list of American diplomatic legends.” Thanks to his new position, Amb. Burns enjoys, as he mentioned, his newly acquired freedom of opinion and discussed his view of the state of the world with Tom Gjelten, guest host at the Diane Rehm Show, in an excellent hour long interview (listen here the interview).

The tour of horizon was broad, complete and nicely framed. Starting with a comparison of the state of the world from three decades ago to today, he affirms that the world may be as complex like never before but remains as lethal as during the Cold War. The core distinction is, as he argues, that power is much more diffuse than ever before. He certainly admits that the complexity of the state of the world is due to several aspects:

  • From bipolar to multipolar world order – the rise of new powers like China and India has affected the global dynamics and forces. The balance of power is not as clear as once during the Cold War between two superpowers locked against one another with their large nuclear arsenals;
  • new security threats – during the Cold War, the threats were nuclear proliferation and destruction as well as other traditional geopolitical tensions (proxy wars). Today states face other types of threats such as terrorism (principally radical islamism), cyberthreats, environmental problems and so forth;
  • the range of actors – the Cold War was about states and their ideologies at least two of them. The world was divided between two nuclear superpowers, the US and the Soviet Union, followed by mid-sized powers. Today states ought to deal with more actors than ever before like international organizations and non-state actors ranging from benign ones – NGOs and Transnational Corporations – to malign non-state actors like radical islamist groups – Boko Haram, Islamic State (IS) – and others.

Unfortunately, the discussion was mainly centered around the recent international events, namely the nuclear negotiations with Iran (which he led secretly back in 2013 telling his Iranian counterpart that the US could accept a deal seeing Iran maintaining nuclear power for civilian and peaceful purpose); the threat of the IS and combating it through filling the regional void and implementing a political solution to solving IS; Russia (as he was Ambassador from 2005 to 2008); the opening of US policy towards Cuba; and the role of diplomacy in American foreign policy. On the making of American diplomacy, William J. Burns indicates the complexity in balancing american power in order to advance American interests. Certainly, American power is too often being perceived based on its hard power – military power and economic sanctions -, rather than its soft power.

One dimension that was missing in the discussion was the relationship with American allies and partners. Such missing element is representative of the American debate on foreign policy. Partnership and cooperation with allies seem to always be on the second row for Americans. There are two reasons for such rational: first, American hard power is the most predominant in world affairs – for example the US is the only country with 10 aircraft carriers in service followed by Italy and India with two active carriers – allowing autonomous action throughout the world; second, a large dimension of American foreign policy is informed on the premise of american exceptionalism (this does not appear in Burns’ narratives). In Europe, cooperation and multilateralism are core component of European foreign policy. The EU for instance is always seeking for deepening its strategic partnerships with relevant powers. As opposed to the US, the EU and its Member States see the role of international organizations, like the UN and NATO, as vital dimension of their making of foreign policy.

As the ninth president of The Carnegie, William J. Burns is not stepping down as he will continue to promote American power and interests and shape the debates in American foreign policy.

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

Vinyl Diplomacy – A refreshing look at US Diplomacy

Source: UN Photo (14 October 1952)
Source: UN Photo (14 October 1952)

Diplomacy is more than high-level meetings behind closed-doors. Diplomacy is primarily the art of building relationship between humans. However, it seems that this core component has been lost leading to a decline of Diplomacy in its role, perceptions and successes, at least since the end of the Cold War. Even though American diplomacy seems to have failed on many levels, as demonstrated in this piece, there are still some glimpses of successful use of diplomatic instruments, like music, in order to deepen ties between nations and individuals. The rise of ‘vinyl diplomacy’ in an over militarized diplomacy can speak volumes about American soft power.

The Militarization of Diplomacy and its Demise

With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the beginning of the American hegemony, diplomacy has been confused between foreign policy and defense policy. How many times since 9/11 has the Secretary of Defense taken the lead on issues that should be first undertaken and/or overtaken by diplomats? In the US, the Department of Defense, in charged of military affairs and the use of force, tend to have too much power over the decision-making processes in diplomatic affairs and the solution implemented. Diplomacy should always be first, followed by military power, in the last resort.

The most obvious case was the race to the Iraq war in 2002-03 when diplomacy was sidelined, and even diminished/discredited, by the Bush administration in order to use the ‘almighty’ american power against Saddam Hussein and Iraq. Diplomacy, at least the American and British, was irrelevant and to some degree useless. The Anglo-American couple undermined the primacy of international law, diplomacy and international organizations like the United Nations. One of the most memorable moments on the road to Iraq was the speech made by Colin Powell, at the time US Secretary of State, before the

Photograph: Timothy A Clary/EPA
Photograph: Timothy A Clary/EPA

United Nations Security Council demonstrating that Iraq had in its possession weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). The fact that Powell was a four-star general leading the American diplomatic service demonstrated the militarization of American diplomacy. In the last decade, the US has not conducted proper diplomacy where it should have been; military power has been now framed as part of diplomacy. Well it should be the other way around: first, diplomacy (but credible policies with a ‘real’ support at home) and then the threat of military power in order to provide the stick. In the post-9/11 world, diplomacy is now perceived as a sign of weakness from the highest-elected officials and large segment of population.

One of the most interesting case is the nuclear negotiations with Iran. The current negotiations are complex, difficult, and lengthy. Diplomacy is and should be all of the above. The fact that the legislature, and especially the Republican party, continuously threaten to deepen sanctions against Iran and even use force affect the credibility of the American diplomatic machine. This raises important questions: Can diplomacy bring everything wished for the two negotiating parties? No and it has never been the case. Now, is the use of force against Iran a credible scenario? No. Americans are not ready to start a war requiring at least 100,000 soldiers on the ground with an endless war in sight. Americans have grown war-weary since the failures in Iraq and Afghanistan. One of the fascinating components behind the lack of trust in diplomacy and negotiation lays in the polarization of domestic debates. How can a country show unity and trust in its diplomatic body when domestically the different political forces are unable to communicate, interact, negotiate, and compromise? Once again the failure of American diplomacy is not caused by the complexity of the current global issues and/or the inability by American diplomats to do their jobs, but in fact by the degree of incoherence and cacophony in domestic political debates.

Vinyl diplomacy

Photograph: State Department
Photograph: State Department

So how can American diplomacy address these problems? What elements could be integrated in order to do diplomacy? In a recent interview for PRI’s the World, Matthew Barzun, US Ambassador to the United Kingdom has been working on his ‘vinyl diplomacy’ (listen to the interview here). In this enlightening and refreshing interview, Matthew Barzun talks about his love for music and how the US embassy has become a concert hall featuring bands like the National and Belle and Sebastian with spectators counting Prime Minister David Cameron and his spouse among others. As he argues in this interview, “Diplomacy at its fundamental level is about connecting with people. And it’s not just elected or official government-to-government relationships. … We actually do get the government leaders but in a different context. all together in one place, united by a love of music and the particular band we’re featuring that night.”

The ‘vinyl diplomacy’ is a wonderful initiative with most likely real success in building human relations outside of closed-meetings. It is a trademark of the diplomat in charged and demonstrate one of the many ways to strengthen ties between countries. Certainly, doing ‘vinyl diplomacy’ in the UK could seem routine in between two close-partners and among anglo-saxon countries. The ‘vinyl diplomacy’ falls directly under the broad umbrella of American soft power. Would any other world ambassadors initiate such type of diplomacy?

Last but not least, Marco Werman, host of PRI’s The World, asked Matthew Barzun about one of his favorite songs. It was difficult to resist and underline a common pleasure for Iron & Wine’s ‘The Trapeze Swinger.’ Let’s finish with one of America’s best dimension of soft power, music.

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

The Berlin Wall – The Centerpiece of European Integration?

Photograph: Rex Features
Photograph: Rex Features

The fall of the Berlin Wall on November 9th, 1989 is one of the most important geopolitical events of the late 20th century. It marks the onset of the fall of the Soviet Union, symbolizes the end of the Cold War, and launches a new round in the construction of the European Union. Germany, and especially Berlin, were celebrating on Sunday the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

On the one hand, the fall is a direct celebration of the freedom and liberty of the people from state-oppression. On the other, the fall of the Wall created a series of fears and concerns in Western Europe and the US wondering about: What would a reunified Germany look like? Can a reunified Germany be left unchecked? How can the West maintain strong ties with Germany? The answer was: incorporation of the reunified Germany into the Western institutional networks, meaning the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union (EU). In the case of NATO, a reunified Germany did neither affect its institutional design nor its principles, but it permitted Western powers to ‘control’ Germany on questions of defense and security. However, in the case of the EU, the reunification was an axiomatic moment leading to an unprecedented effort towards greater and deeper integration.

Even though the reunification of Germany triggered a new round in the integration process of the Union, at first Western EU Member States were extremely concerned of this geopolitical shift. Soon after the reunification of Germany, a year later, France and Britain understood the need to incorporate the unified Germany inside the European Communities (EC). But the period from November 9th, 1989 to the signature of the

Source: Madame Le Figaro
Source: Madame Le Figaro

Two-Plus Four Treaty (between the US, the Soviet Union, UK and France) on September 12, 1990, granting full sovereignty to Germany,  was very tense. At first, London and Paris were opposed to the reunification as they feared that it would upset the balance of power on the European chessboard. For instance, during a meeting on December 8th, 1989, Margaret Thatcher expressed her fears to her French counterpart, François Mitterrand, about the resurgence of a ‘Grand Reich.’ Additionally, France did not want to see its deep ties with West Germany being upset by a new Germany; while, the UK aspired to maintain its special relationship with the US.

Ultimately, the integration process of the EC was closely linked to the desire to ‘anchor’ the reunified Germany inside a European network of institutions, rules, principles and procedures. In parallel, Paris and London were disagreeing on the degree of European integration required. The 1986 Single European Act (SEA) laying out the foundation of the future European Monetary Union (EMU) and a 1990 intergovernmental meeting pushed the trend towards deeper political, economic and even security integration. The SEA established the common market, the heart and soul of the EU. London was not ready to accept deeper integration as it saw it as a threat to its national sovereignty (seems familiar?). Nevertheless, the 1992 Treaty of Maastricht, incorporating all these dimensions, was a solution to the ‘German dilemma.’ Following the fall of the Wall, “the Treaty of Maastricht became a priority in order to solidify the Union and integrate a reunified Germany inside Europe” (refer to Chapter 5 of Debating European Security and Defense Policy).

The construction of the European experiment took a sharp turn moving from the European Communities (EC) to the European Union (EU). In a matter of three years, the Maastricht Treaty strengthened and deepened the integration process of the European construction. Maastricht laid out the EU under a three-pillars system (see illustration below):

  • the first pillar, the European Communities, dealt with the Common Market and the four freedoms linked to it (under supranational decision-making process)
  • the second pillar, the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), offered the Union and its Member States an institutionalized external policy (under intergovernmental decision-making process)
  • the third pillar, the Justice and Home Affairs (JHA), dealt with the policies of the sector of justice and police (under intergovernmental decision-making process)
Source: Institute for Language and Speech Processing (ILSP)
Source: Institute for Language and Speech Processing (ILSP)

Undeniably, the European Communities was a passive geopolitical entity, principally focusing on trade and economics, throughout the Cold War. Such risk-aversion was possible for several reasons: NATO offering a security umbrella over the continent; and active Member States like France and the United Kingdom provided security and did not want to see the EC overshadowing their national sovereignty. As well, the European Communities was not design to be an active security and defense actor. With the end of the Cold War and the reunification of the Germany, the EU understood the importance to increase its role in geopolitics and foreign affairs. Despite the creation of the CFSP, it took almost a decade for the creation of the European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP). The 1990s demonstrated, once again, the European inabilities to secure its neighborhood. Additionally, the integration of a reunified Germany as a full NATO member soon after the fall of the Wall was an important moment in order to lower some of the transatlantic concerns about the future of Germany as a regional actor.

Lastly, the fall of the Berlin Wall symbolizes the end of an era for Western power, the victory of liberal democracy over communism (remember Fukuyama’s “End of History”) and underlines the power of individual freedoms in Germany and Europe. The fall of the Wall illustrates the end of the Cold War, which has appeared to be dearly missed in the BRITAIN-G8-SUMMITWest, especially in America. The Cold War was a period of relative stability, offered by the bipolarity of the world order (as theorized and advanced by neorealism), between two blocs, two models. 25 years later, American leadership, especially its most conservative/hawkish branch, is looking back at the Cold War with a certain degree of nostalgia. Today’s world does not hold such clear cut enemy and strategic approach to containing and/or confronting the enemy. All these narratives and actions are all intertwined inside this axiomatic moment of the Fall of the Berlin Wall.

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

The World a Scary Place? Think Again

Credit: TAIEB MAHJOUB/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
Credit: TAIEB MAHJOUB/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

The world may seem to spin out of control, at least from a Western point of view, with the incessant appearance of new crises. It certainly seemed like it this summer. In the post-9/11 world, crises appear to ensue one another in the last decade with the financial crisis, the Arab Spring, Russia resurgence, and the rise of of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Think again argues Bernard Guetta, geopolitical chronicler for France Inter (French public radio), in his recent chronicle (listen here to his short analysis in French). Bernard Guetta argues that one should look back and compare with the world pre-9/11, and it was still a scary place. Following the end of World War two, the Cold War was the backbone of world events. The 40 years of tensions between the Soviet Union and the US/West were surrounded by decolonization processes throughout Africa, the Vietnam War, energy crises (1973 and 1979), fear of a nuclear holocaust, high level of terrorism in Western Europe among many other threats. However, the one element making the Cold War appearing more stable was the West ability to understand and identify his adversary. In the 21st century, the threats embodied by different groups, like Al-Qaeda and its affiliates, are face-less aside from the leaders.

Instead the world, Guetta argues, is doing much better if one takes a moment to reflect on the development and evolutions of many countries around the globe such as Latin America, several African nations, and the rise of Asian powers. These developments, in

See here hosting site
See here hosting site

terms of economic and societal dimensions, translate into broader levels development for more humans around the globe. So why most Westerners feel that the world is becoming more threatening than before? Bernard Guetta responds that in Europe and in the United States, Western citizens have lived inside ‘golden parentheses/bubble’ thanks to permanent progress for too long (Here are his words in French: En Europe, en Europe occidentale, et aux Etats-Unis, nous avons connu une parenthèse tellement enchantée, non pas du tout riche d’ailleurs mais de progrès permanent, que l’incertitude de l’avenir nous est devenue insupportable et nous aveugle, jusqu’à l’obscénité). With the ending of this golden era with the 2007 financial crisis, Westerners have become fearful of their  future looking as uncertain as ever.

This outstanding and refreshing analysis by Bernard Guetta is facing one core problem. Since the end of history, World politics were understood as Western politics. In some way, what was good for the EU and the US was good for the world. However, in this post-9/11 global order, the West is not in the driver seat anymore, and is trying to remain in it. Throughout the last 13 years, the West, led by the US, France and Britain, have waged wars against potential threats around the world. The list of wars and military uses by the West in a 13 years window is certainly impressive: war in Afghanistan (13 years), war in Iraq (a third one is on its way), war in Libya, war in Mali, war in Central African Republic, war in Iraq against ISIS, and these do not include the use of tactical forces and drones in countries that the West is not at war with like Pakistan, Yemen or even Somalia. So the West has maintained a very aggressive approach in order to enforce their interests and perceived security. These wars and military actions contribute to the maintenance of the illusions of Western ability to shape the world.

Public opinions and experts thought that the use of preemptive war for advancing national interest and security died with the end of the Bush administration in 2008. Think again, the military intervention – at least airstrike for now – called by President Obama against ISIS is in the direct continuity of the Bush’s doctrine. In his September 10th speech President Obama clearly underscored the preemptive dimension of his strategy to fighting ISIS. He said “If left unchecked, these terrorists could pose a growing threat beyond that region, including to the United States.  While we have not yet detected specific plotting against our homeland, ISIL leaders have threatened America and our allies.”

The problem with Obama’s foreign policy is the lack of overarching strategy. He had argued in favor of a ‘don’t do stupid stuff’ type of foreign policy. But as demonstrated by Clinton and other experts, this is not a strategy. Obama is in fact doing ‘diplomatic public opinion.’ Obama is risking a new American intervention in Iraq because American citizens are majoritarly in favor of airstrikes against ISIS. But is it really in American interest?

More Say They Are ‘Very Concerned’ about Rise of Islamic Extremism

As underscored in previous analyses, Obama is facing a interesting dilemma, American citizens greatly support his foreign policy, but do not support him as the President.

Partisan Differences in Concerns over Islamic Extremism

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In the grand scheme of things, global politics have always been complex and messy. Yes, a greater majority of humans are living in better conditions that two decades ago. Yes, developing nations have increased their influence, power and provided greater good to their populations. But the West seems to be this declining bloc in search for this ‘golden parentheses’ at any cost. This last decade has been the story of Western powers seeking to prove to the world that their norms, values, institutions and relevance shall be adopted by all. Western powers, and their citizens, see a world going out of control – but when was it ever under control? – and are waging successive wars to remain on top. The lack of clarity and cohesion in Western foreign policies – especially in the case of Obama and some European leaders – demonstrate Western reluctance to fully re-engage with the world.

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