Archive for the ‘Foreign Policy’ Category

1
Feb

Lights Out for the Putin Regime

Written on February 1, 2016 by Waya Quiviger in Democracy & Human Rights, Europe, Foreign Policy, Security

Russian President Vladimir Putin poses for a selfie with members of the youth military patriotic club "Vympel" (The Pennant), November 4, 2015.

Russian President Vladimir Putin used to seem invincible. Today, he and his regime look enervated, confused, and desperate. Increasingly, both Russian and Western commentators suggest that Russia may be on the verge of deep instability, possibly evencollapse.

This perceptual shift is unsurprising. Last year, Russia was basking in the glow of its annexation of Crimea and aggression in the Donbas. The economy, although stagnant, seemed stable. Putin was running circles around Western policymakers and domestic critics. His popularity was sky-high. Now it is only his popularity that remains; everything else has turned for the worse. Crimea and the Donbas are economic hellholes andhuge drains on Russian resources. The war with Ukraine has stalemated. Energy prices are collapsing, and the Russian economy is in recession. Putin’s punitive economic measures against Ukraine, Turkey, and the West have only harmed the Russian economy further. Meanwhile, the country’s intervention in Syria is poised to become a quagmire.

Things are probably  much worse for Russia than this cursory survey ofnegative trends suggests. The country is weathering three crises brought about by Putin’s rule—and Russia’s foreign-policy misadventures in Ukraine and Syria are only exacerbating them.

First, the Russian economy is in free fall. That oil and gas prices are unlikely to rise much anytime soon is bad enough. Far worse, Russia’s energy-dependent economy is unreformed, uncompetitive, and un-modernized and will remain so as long as it serves as a wealth-producing machine for Russia’s political elite. Second, Putin’s political system is disintegrating. His brand of authoritarian centralization was supposed to create a strong “power vertical” that would bring order to the administrative apparatus, rid it of corruption, and subordinate regional Russian and non-Russian elites to Moscow’s will. Instead, over-centralization has produced the opposite effect, fragmenting the bureaucracy, encouraging bureaucrats to pursue their own interests, and enabling regional elites to become increasingly insubordinate—withRamzan Kadyrov, Putin’s strongman in Chechnya, being the prime example. Third, Putin himself, as the linchpin of the Russian system, has clearly passed his prime. Since his catastrophic decision to prevent Ukraine from signing an Association Agreement with the European Union in 2013, he has committed strategic blunder after strategic blunder. His formerly attractive macho image is wearing thin, and his recent attempts to promote his cult of personality by publishing a book of his quotes and a Putin calendar look laughable and desperate. Read more…

 

Published on Jan. 27 in foreignaffairs.com; Written by By Alexander J. Motyl

29
Jan

 

One day in 2008, a friend called to tell me that he thought the world might be coming to an end. He was not a religious fanatic; he worked in markets. Lehman Brothers had just gone bankrupt and the international financial system appeared to be in its death agony. As Marx might have put it, the final “crisis of capitalism” seemed to have arrived.

But the world did not end. The international proletarian revolution did not arrive either, though a few decades earlier, it might have done. Financial collapse on the scale of 2008 might, once upon a time, have inspired the formerly powerful revolutionary Marxist and near-Marxist political parties of western Europe to take to the streets. But because Marxism was so thoroughly discredited by the collapse of the Soviet Union, there was no appetite for radical revolution two decades later. Economic fashion, even on the political left, seemed to have moved on.

Fast forward eight years and the situation is drastically different. Many have noticed that the old-fashioned left is back. Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain and Jeremy Corbyn’s British Labour party all now contain radicals who would, if they could, renationalise industry and put an end to free trade. But the more remarkable and less obvious change is taking place on what we used to call the far right. The nationalist parties of Europe, long dismissed as fringe groupings, are now winning votes by adopting previously discredited “leftwing” ideas.

Exhibit A is France’s National Front. Though better known for its anti-immigration rhetoric, the party, under Marine Le Pen’s leadership, has also taken over some of the symbols of the old left, as well as some of its economic policies. A few years ago, the party began holding rallies on May 1, the traditional international socialists’ holiday.

At one of those rallies in 2014, Ms Le Pen attacked the “draconian policy of austerity” that favoured “globalised elites at the expense of the people”. She and her colleagues have also denounced the “neoliberal” policies that supposedly unite the French left, the French right and the EU. Instead, the National Front wants to replace the “establishment” with a “muscular state” that taxes imports and nationalises foreign companies and banks. Read more…

 

By Anne Applebaum; Published on Jan. 27 in www.ft.com

27
Jan

 

Why Arabs would regret a toothless Chinese dragon

Xi Jinping has left the Middle East, but the first visit of his presidency to the region has set pundits wondering if the Chinese dragon is preparing to replace the American eagle.

Here’s the short answer: it is not. Even if it were, the Arabs will not find a Chinese superpower more to their liking than the US one.

Much as the Middle East dislikes US foreign policy, Chinese foreign policy will bring with it its own problems. In particular, the Chinese policy of “non-interference” in the affairs of other nations, if applied to the Middle East, would not please the Arabs.

Here’s why. China has touted its policy of non-interference for decades. On one level, that sounds good – after all, non-interference in the affairs of other nation states is one of the pillars of the global system.

Perhaps a better way of thinking about it would be remaining neutral in the face of threats to allies. And that kind of “neutrality” is emphatically not what the Arabs want.

Neutrality, understood in that way, has two serious problems for the Middle East. It takes no sides in disputes and it entrenches the status quo. Neither of which is what the region needs right now.

Start with the disputes. As China’s global power rises, it gains greater leverage over international institutions such as the UN and over individual countries. As trade and cooperation increase between Arab countries and China, there is a natural next step where, having gained significant influence in Beijing, the Arab world will look to China to use its influence around the world in their favour. That’s what allies do, they support their allies.

What happens then, if China maintains its policy of strict neutrality? What happens when the Arab world asks China to use its influence at the UN to support the Palestinians – and China says no, on the ground of neutrality? Read more…

By Faisal Al Yafai; Published on Jan. 25 in thenational.ae

18
Jan

The centrifuges are packed up, the sanctions are lifted, and President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran is now a fact on the ground.

But managing the deal’s aftermath in Obama’s final year could be nearly as hard as the process of striking it, say current and former administration officials involved in the issue.

Resentful Iranian hardliners may provoke new confrontations with the U.S. Republicans will push for new sanctions and issue threats of war. Israel and Saudi Arabia will pounce on any hint of Iranian misbehavior. And even as Hillary Clinton took partial credit for the deal on Saturday, she described Iran as “a regime that continues to threaten the peace and security of the Middle East” and called for new sanctions to punish it for recent missile tests.

People familiar with Obama’s thinking say none of this will come as a surprise to a president who hopes that the U.S. and Iran can start moving past more than 35 years of hostility, but who also knows that old habits die hard.

“I don’t think Obama was ever starry-eyed about where this was headed,” said one former senior administration official. “His goal in this was not a full-blown rapprochement where the U.S. and Iran are strategic partners.” Read more…

By  

1/17/16; published in Politico.eu

7
Jan

Those of us who’ve worked on foreign affairs for decades disagree often and about much, but the advent of 2016 finds us all in agreement, to the point of cliché, on one thing: We’ve never seen a world so chockablock full of complex, dangerous and interlocking issues. For anything comparable in modern times, you’d have to go back to the late 1940s and the chaos following World War II.

Prediction now is as perilous as it was back then. Dozens of issues are rushing toward us, headlong, but we’re plunging in and highlighting the five biggest global issues of 2016: Syria, Iran nukes, China, Russia and the EU, and oil prices. In each of these areas, changes in one direction or another would be truly consequential — that is, they would ripple out broadly, like rocks thrown into the geopolitical pond.

To be sure, other issues, like cybersecurity, North Korea and climate change, will have short- and long-term effects, and, of course, no one is thinking about what inevitably will surprise us. Still, it’s a safe bet that the following five will absorb much of the world’s foreign policy attention in 2016. Here’s why:

1. Dealing With Syria

The country, now heading toward year five of a gruesome civil war, must come first. How the conflict evolves in 2016 will affect everything from the fate of the Islamic State to the European migration crisis, the stability of regional neighbors, volatility on the oil market, the status of Russia, and the terrorist threat level inside the United States.

The U.S. is pursuing a two-pronged strategy: gradually increasing military pressure on the IS by bombing, while seeking a diplomatic settlement satisfactory to Syria’s competing factions and the major powers trying to protect their conflicting interests — the U.S., Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. The big benefit of this strategy is that it minimizes the United States’ chances of getting sucked into a quagmire.

But the big risk is that it is eminently gradualist — and assumes that the Islamic State is gradualist too. That is wrong. The IS continues to grow rapidly and expand geographically. Despite some recent setbacks – Iraqi forces appear close to recovering Ramadi city – the IS will likely achieve the capability to carry out or inspire more attacks like those on Paris and San Bernardino long before our gradualist strategy achieves its goal. Read more…

 

Published in  on Jan. 4, 2016 in http://www.ozy.com/

By John McLaughlin

The author, deputy director and acting director of the CIA from 2000 to 2004.

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