Power Transition from Ashton to Mogherini

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On November 1st, 2014, the transfer of power from Catherine Ashton to Frederica Mogherini was finally official. Federica Mogherini is the third High Representative (HR), as well referred as EU foreign minister, in EU history. The first HR, Javier Solana of Spain, was appointed in 1999 and remained at the helm for two mandates (1999-2009), followed by Catherine Ashton of the UK for one mandate (2009-2014), to now Federica Mogherini of Italy (2014-).

Before drawing some expectations on what the EU under HR Mogherini may look like, one should reflect on the transition of power from one High Representative to another: Solana to Ashton to Mogherini. Out of the three High Representatives, Mogherini seats comfortably behind Solana in terms of promising situations, meaning EU Member States’ willingness to commit to EU foreign affairs, economic position of the EU, and global forces. Catherine Ashton received the worst situation possible once appointed as HR in 2009. Considering the domestic, regional and international situations, it would have been very difficult for any appointee to make it into a successful tenure.

The Position and Role of the High Representative

The position of High Representative was established at the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1997 Solana-fermeture-014and the first High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy was appointed in 1999 after the European Council meeting of Cologne (for more in depth analysis on the position of the HR refer to these books, here and here). The article J.8.3 of the Amsterdam Treaty mentions the position of HR and states that the Presidency will be assisted by the HR. The description of the job requirements was very broad, as the HR ought to contribute with assistance of the Council to the “formulation, preparation, and implementation of policy decisions” on foreign and security policy matters (Official Journal of the European Union 2007: Article J.16). The HR was supposed to increase the cooperation between the various actors in Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP), bring coherence in the rotating processes of the six-month presidencies, and to make the EU a more visible international actor.

Until the Treaty of Lisbon (2009), the position of the HR did not evolve institutionally speaking. Javier Solana made his marks all over the position during his tenure. With Lisbon, the new position became the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and Vice-President of the European Commission. The Lisbon Treaty made the position of HR more complex and as well cross-institutional, as the HR sits now at the Commission and at the Council, whereas before the Treaty of Lisbon, the HR was only sitting at the Secretariat of the Council. The position of the HR is now the bridge between a supranational institution, the Commission, the Member States, the Council, and the institution at the HR’s disposition, the European External Action Service (EEAS). The most important change in the position of the HR is its double-role, supranational and intergovernmental all at the same time. As opposed to her predecessor, HR Mogherini has announced her moving from the EEAS building to the Commission’s building, wherein she will be residing. The Treaty of Lisbon made the position of the HR one of the most powerful and visible figure in the Union.

From Ashton to Mogherini

A vast literature, mostly from media and think tanks, have demonstrated, since her appointment, how Catherine Ashton has been a weak HR and certainly not very savvy in dealing with foreign affairs. Cathy Ashton even describes herself as the “accidental diplomat” (O’Connor 2010). HR Ashton certainly scored some late successes with the agreement in Kosovo (despite the recent scandal over the EU mission in Kosovo) and Iran. For the rest, HR Ashton has been invisible and quiet.  As compared to Federica Mogherini, Catherine Ashton took the helm of European foreign policy at a very difficult time. One should recognize that Ashton faced three fundamental difficulties when appointed HR/VP in 2009.

First, the world markets were at their lowest after the collapse of the global financial markets in 2007. The Eurozone was already feeling the tension and several EU Member States were already showing serious signs of weakness such asPortugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece, and Spain, formerly known as the PIIGS. The future of the Union looked very bleak at that point and many thought that neither the EU nor the Euro would survive the crisis. The financial crisis, and its consequences on the eurozone, was the first real challenge ever faced by the EU. Many realized the degree of incoherence, unpreparedness in the design of the Union and its monetary union. Ultimately, the CSDP was not the priority for neither the EU nor the Member States. The Union turned into crisis-mode and let the CSDP on the side. The CSDP was after ten years of existence considered a luxury good that Member States could easily dispense themselves from, especially the European powerhouses with effective diplomatic and defense instruments. During the Solana era, Member States were committed to the CSDP experiment and were willing to spend money and contribute in terms of capabilities and humans. This was not the same under Ashton, whom had to deal with less money, less political will, and an messy world order.

Second, Ashton was being appointed right after the adoption of the Treaty of Lisbon in December 2009. The Treaty of Lisbon changed a lot the EU in terms of foreign and security policy. First, the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) – or foreign policy – and the European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP) – or European defense – were merged into the Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP). Second, the Treaty of Lisbon established the European External Action Service (EEAS). Cathy Ashton had one year to design a new institution and make it operational. Third, the position of High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy was transformed into a double-hatted position, the High Representative of European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy / Vice-President of the European Commission (HR/VP). Prior to Ashton, the HR was simply part of the Secretary of the Council of the EU, now the HR is not only leading a new body, the EEAS, and chairing at the Commission. The double-hatted position merges two contradictory institutional forces, inter-governmentalism and supranationalism.

Las but not least, Cathy Ashton took over European foreign policy after its first and very successful HR Javier Solana. Javier Solana, a savvy Spanish politician, was prior hisCatherine_Ashton_and_solana appointment at the helm of European foreign affairs in 1999, Secretary General of NATO from 1995 to 1999. During his leadership at the head of the Alliance, he oversaw the massive air campaign over Kosovo in 1998 and demonstrated on the international stage his savviness in working with Europe and the US. During his time at the head of European foreign policy, he was the person that pushed the ESDP from its paper-status into a civilian-military instruments seeing its first action in 2003. He has as well axiomatic during the nuclear negotiation with Iran in 2002-03, known as the EU3+1. The +1 being HR Solana, which rose the question of knowing if Solana was speaking in the name of Europe, or simply being an intermediary between the EU3 and the rest of the Union. Last, Solana finally was important in answering Kissinger’s question, “what is the phone number of Europe?”

Yes, Cathy Ashton was not the best HR/VP that European experts were dreaming about. But she embodied what the powerful EU Member States wanted, a leaderless HR/VP shifting the EU from a risk-taking EU into a risk-averse EU. EU Member States, especially France, Germany and the UK, wanted in 2009 to avoid another Solana and settled on the appointment of Ashton. For her defense, as demonstrated above, her set of cards could not really allow her to do anything positive. During her mandate, she illustrated herself more as an administrator than a strategic leader. Her clear achievement, though, is the EEAS, that she was able to create and implement in one year.

A Welcome’s Note

hq_hp_mogherini_enAs opposed to Ashton, Mogherini’ situation is much more promising and could allow her to be an effective HR/VP. She embodies a new generation of European leaders and is from Italy, a founding Member State, that wants to redeem itself after the years of crisis. Mogherini’s experience in foreign affairs is certainly greater than Ashton’s, but lesser than Solana. It will be interesting to see what Mogherini decides to focus on: foreign policy and/or defense. Will she help in strengthening the CSDP – civilian-military instrument -? Or, would she facilitate the transition to a more NATO integrated instrument? In terms of foreign policy issues, she has several important ones in her hands (see the excellent memo by Daniel Keohane, Stefan Lehne, Ulrich Speck, Jan Techau about the challenges facing HR Mogherini):

  • short-term, ebola, the direct threat of the Islamic State (IS), and Eastern violences in Ukraine. They all represent direct threats to the security of the Union.
  • mid-term, stabilizing the neighborhoods (Eastern and Southern) through economic and development assistances. Countries in Northern-Africa and Central Africa are facing serious domestic challenges that could completely destabilize the region. For the Union, it means rise of ethnic violence in Africa, illegal trafficking, rise of mass-migrations, and eventually rise of radical islamism, all these directly threatening the stability of the Union. The CSDP was created for exactly this purpose to stabilize the neighborhoods. Would it become the primary instrument for stabilization, peace-keeping, and institutional solidification?
  • long-term (well beyond her tenure), the survival of European influence in global affairs and the maintenance of its strategic role side by side with new powers like China and Brazil. Ashton did not have a long-term vision, will Mogherini have one? The EU still holds a favorable position in the current global order. Its Member States are key actors in international organizations, with France and Britain at the UN Security Council, with NATO, the WTO, the IMF – Christine Lagarde of France is leading it -, the World Bank and so forth. Multilateralism has always been a core component of European global strategy, now EU Member States have to solidify and empower these international organizations in order to keep them relevant in a more multipolar system. The EU has a role to play in the 21st century, but if it does not secure a seat in this new multipolar global order, it will simply become a second/third rank power.

In any case, Politipond wishes the best of luck to Federica Mogherini. She published on the EEAS website a simple message marking her commencement and calling for a new beginning:

Today we start a new story. The next five years will be challenging, we are all well aware of the difficulties that lie ahead of us. Our part of the world is facing one of the most complex periods of our recent history, still I believe we have all the tools and the capacity to overcome these times of tensions and crisis, and build peace, stability and prosperity all around Europe.
 
It’s up to us and we have great opportunities too. Vision, political will and teamwork can make us shape a much better future. Not only for Europe, but for the rest of the world. Today I start my mandate knowing that I can build on the good lessons we can learn from the past and counting on an excellent team: in the EEAS, in the Commission, in the Council and with all Member States. We know the next five years will be a turning point: we feel the responsibility to make the European dream come true.
 
Generations of Europeans expect from us a new beginning. So, ready to start!
 
Federica Mogherini
 
(Copyright 2014 by Politipond. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission).

The War on ISIS – Violating Western Values and Principles in the name of security?

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Credit: NBC News

The use of airstrikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), referred by the Obama administration as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) or even the Islamic State (IS), has raised serious legal concerns about the legality of the use of force ordered by the executive branch. ISIS is creating a serious dilemma for the West, which can be identified as such: use of military force against an eventual threat at the cost of violating core national and international legal principals and values.

The sudden rise of ISIS and its fast path in taking territories in Iraq and Syria has been one of the main topics at the forefront of government narratives and the media. ISIS, according to CRS experts, is a “transnational Sunni Islamist insurgent and terrorist group.” ISIS took over large segment of northeastern Syria and northwestern Iraq. The ultimate objective of ISIS is to establish a caliphate in Syria and Iraq under the leadership of Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi. According to the CIA spokesperson, the ISIS forces could fluctuate as of September from 20,000 to 31,500 individuals. At the difference of other groups, ISIS is extremely well financed and structured. “The group is sophisticated, strategic, financially savvy and building structures” argues Patrick B. Johnston, “that could survive for years to come.” ISIS gets its wealth from oil production and wealthy foreign donors. So ultimately, the West will have to find a way to disrupt the flow of money to ISIS and identify the wealthy donors.

Early September President Obama announced before the nation that the US will have to engage military, only through airstrikes, against ISIS. President Obama declared the use of military force to fight ISIS and ultimately ‘degrade and destroy’ it. He told the nation that ISIS poses a direct “threat to the people of Iraq and Syria, and the broader Middle East” and “If left unchecked, these terrorists could pose a growing threat beyond that region, including to the United States.” For now, as underscored by Obama in his speech, ISIS does not represent an immediate security threat to the United States. The use of preemptive actions, adopted from the Bush doctrine, is a clear shift from the Obama doctrine.

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Two documents are often referred in order to understand the legality of the use of force by the US President. The War Powers Resolution of 1973 and the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). As argued in his September 10th speech, President Obama claims that “I have the authority to address the threat from ISIL.” This question of authority has become a real problem for constitutional lawyers and the legislature. Let’s reflect on the type of authority Obama is speaking about (listen here a discussion between two legal experts on the constitutionality of the war against ISIS).

First, the 1973 War Powers Resolution drafted and adopted by the Congress at the end of the Vietnam war changed to so degree the legality of the use of force by giving more autonomy to the President at first before using congressional approach. The 1973 War Powers Resolution adapted the use of force to its global environment allowing quick response if necessary. However, it requires the President to obtain congressional approval after 60 days of the first use of force, and the President must stop the ‘hostilities’ 30 days after if he fails to receive Congress’ approval. The war on ISIS is once again underscoring the complexity of the US Constitution. Does the Constitution shape politics and policy-making? Or is Politics cherry-pick the Constitution for its end? As argued by Ben Wittes, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, “The Declaration of War is kind of a dead instrument of national law.” It is even worst when the Congress is not doing its job of balancing the power of the executive branch. The current Congress is obsessed with the looming November 4th elections and won’t do anything until then. The structure of electoral system in the US has made governing a second task well behind campaigning and fundraising. Obama is taking advantage of it, as any other Presidents would have.

Second, the AUMF drafted on September 21st, 2001 and soon after adopted by Congress consists in (read here a previous analysis on the AUMF)

That the President is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organization, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2011, or harbored such organizations or persons in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or person.
 

The problem with the AUMF is that it does not apply to the war on ISIS for one simple reason: the precedent established by the Bush and Obama administration has been the use of the AUMF in order to go after members of Al-Qaeda and its ‘associate forces.’ Even though ISIS emerged from Al-Qaeda in Iraq, ISIS is not an associate force, or even an affiliate of Al-Qaeda, it is in fact a separate entity that split from Al-Qaeda years ago, some argues in 2006. As exposed in a 2014 CRS Report, the experts wrote that “In recent months, Islamic State leaders have stated their view that their group ‘is not and has never been an offshoot of Al Qaeda,’ and that, given that they view themselves as a state and a sovereign political entity, they have given leaders of the Al Qaeda organization deference rather than pledges of obedience.” Professor of Law at Yale, Bruce Ackerman in his latest op-ed in the New York Times, writes that “it’s preposterous to suggest that a congressional vote 13 years ago can be used to legalize new bombings in Syria and additional (noncombat) forces in Iraq.”

Last but not least, the latest US and Western military intervention and airstrikes against ISIS violate to some extent the core basis of international law in the use of force embodied in the Charter of the United Nations. Because the US, France and Britain, three members of the UN Security Council, knew that they would have never been able to adopt a UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) allowing the use of force threatened by an eventual Chinese and/or Russian veto, decided to go alone. Russia and China would not have accepted to vote and adopt a UNSCR after the turn of events in the 2011 war in Libya mandated by a UNSCR. In recent years, the West has criticized Russia for using unilateral force to advance its national interests and influence, but the West has done the same against ISIS. Certainly, the West is not looking at occupying neither Syria nor Iraq, but it has nevertheless used military forces against a perceived threat abroad without an international legal authority. The use of military force is in direct continuity of the war on terror launched by President Bush giving some sort of ‘moral duty’ to destroy any terrorist threats anywhere in the world.

Unmistakably, this piece is not seeking to give legitimacy to the existence of ISIS or its cause. ISIS has demonstrated an horrific degree of violence and horror used in order to assert itsabc_news_western_fighters power and undermined anyone with different belief system and ideology. Experts and journalists have demonstrated that ISIS is creating a real power vacuum in the region and cannot be left unchecked. However, the West ought to abide and believe in its own legal system and international principles and values. Violating them would create a terrible precedent and demonstrate their inutility. ISIS has been a difficult problem for Euro-Atlantic members as it has been attracting a large number of westerners deciding to join the cause in Iraq and Syria. The numbers are estimation but believed to be around 2,000 westerners counting 500 British and 700 French citizens.

The West is facing a difficult threat in ISIS, as it has been able to shape and advance a narrative attracting individuals to join its cause. For such reason, the use of the words ‘destroy’ and neverend‘degrade’ by President Obama was an obvious rhetorical and strategic mistake. From a public opinion standpoint, Obama was able to look strong domestically and finally been perceived as a though foreign policy chief (at least in theory). But the execution of western journalists/humanitarian workers had an impact in the decision making of the Obama administration. They were/are facing a moral dilemma: on the one hand, there is a legal problem, on the other hand there is a drive to defend ‘western lives’ from ISIL – Should such defiance go unpunished? From a foreign policy/strategic standpoint, these two words are an obvious miscalculation. They are fantastic tools of recruitment for ISIS. ISIS can shape its narrative and ideology around the fact that the West does not want to recognize its existence and right to be. The identification of a clear threat to its existence permits ISIS to frame an ideology and make individuals fight for its cause. From ideational standpoint, Obama is now speaking like a neo-conservative. He is adopting words that would have been expected from Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and George W. Bush. ISIS may only represent a future threat to the security of Western homelands, but it has already seriously shaken up Western commitments to its own values and principles. Ultimately, one should wonder about a simple question: Is the West undermining the legal national and international system developed, promoted and defended since the end of World War two in order to ‘destroy and degrade’ ISIS?

 

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