9
Dec

Will drawing new borders create and sustain peace?

Could we be facing the prospect of boundaries in the Middle East being redrawn, or seeing states reconstituted out of all recognition? In the past week, two experts have suggested this is the only viable solution to the civil wars in Iraq and Syria and to defeating ISIL.

Anatol Lieven, a professor at Georgetown University in Qatar and a former chair of international relations and terrorism studies at King’s College, London, advocates “the creation of fully autonomous areas in Sunni northern Iraq and eastern Syria, along similar lines to the present Kurdish region of Iraq and with full control over their internal affairs”.

Writing in Foreign Affairs, the scholar Barak Mendelsohn goes further. American “attachment to the artificial Sykes-Picot borders demarcated by France and Britain a century ago no longer makes sense”, he argues, adding that Syria and Iraq are finished as unitary states. He proposes “an independent Sunni state that would link Sunni-dominated territories on both sides of the border”.

This sounds remarkably radical, but US vice president Joe Biden, for one, can feel somewhat justified after the fact. He had suggested tripartite autonomy in Iraq nearly 10 years ago – “giving each ethno-religious group – Kurd, Sunni Arab and Shiite Arab – room to run its own affairs”. He may not have included the Sunni areas of Syria at that point, but then that was before Bashar Al Assad declared war on his own people, and before the rise of ISIL and the effective disappearance of the border with Iraq. Read more…

Published on Dec. 8th, 2015, http://www.thenational.ae/

By Sholto Byrnes

7
Dec

Marion Marechal-Le Pen greets supporters (6 Dec)

The far-right National Front’s victory in the first round of French regional elections on Sunday will have an impact far beyond the composition of local governments and the shock it will have sent through the French political establishment.

In every single European capital, politicians will ponder the results and wonder how an anti-immigration, anti-European movement could become France’s first political party. They will also worry about what it means for Europe in a time of crisis — economic and existential.

The National Front may take over two, three or even more French regions after a second round of voting on December 13, but for many, the damage has been done.
1. Le Pen’s mainstream push pays off

Marine Le Pen, the National Front’s current leader and daughter of the party’s founder Jean-Marie, is reaping the rewards for her strategy of pulling the party away from the far-right fringes, ridding it of its extremist stigma, and courting the disenfranchised working class she says is being abandoned by the mainstream political parties of both right and left.

She stands a good chance of winning and then running the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region, an area more populous than 12 EU countries. Her personal victory, winning more than 40 percent of the popular vote in an industrial area that was historically a stronghold of the Communist and Socialist parties, shows how many voters have drifted away from the ruling left, after seven years of economic crisis.

Le Pen’s niece, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, who is seen as more conservative than her aunt, notably on social issues, did even better in the Provence region. Other leading candidates also did better than expected, showing that the party has developed a grassroots following far beyond mere adhesion to Marine Le Pen herself. Read more…

12/7/15; http://www.politico.eu

4
Dec

Among the consequences of the atrocities in Paris – many of them impossible to foresee so soon after the terrible events – one seems reasonably clear. The state is returning to its primary function, which is the provision of security. If the SAS has been on the streets of London and Brussels under lockdown, these are more than responses to the prospect that further attacks may occur. What we are witnessing is the rediscovery of an essential truth: our freedoms are not free-standing absolutes but fragile constructions that remain intact only under the shelter of state power. The ideal liberal order that was supposedly emerging in Europe is history. The task of defending public safety has devolved to national governments – the only institutions with the ability to protect their citizens.

The progressive narrative in which freedom is advancing throughout the world has left liberal societies unaware of their fragility. Overthrowing despots in the name of freedom, we have ended up facing a situation in which our own freedom is at stake. According to the liberal catechism, freedom is a sacred value, indivisible and overriding, which cannot be compromised. Grandiose theories of human rights have asserted that stringent limitations on state power are a universal requirement of justice. That endemic anarchy can be a more intractable obstacle to civilised existence than many kinds of despotism has been disregarded and passed over as too disturbing to dwell on. Read more…

Published in the New Statesman on 3 DECEMBER 2015

John Gray is the New Statesman’s lead book reviewer. His latest book is The Soul of the Marionette: A Short Enquiry into Human Freedom.

3
Dec

WITH the world’s attention focused on the Nov. 13 attacks in Paris that killed 130 people, there was a flurry of debate about how much more media coverage France had received than Beirut, where, a day earlier, suicide bombers sent by the Islamic State killed 43 people. In Nigeria, we expect most terrorist attacks to go unnoticed by the world.

Considering the global attention paid to the Islamic State, you would not guess that Boko Haram is actually the world’s deadliest terrorist organization, according to the Global Terrorism Index. While the Islamic State operates in an oil-rich region and directly threatens the West, Boko Haram’s brutality remains largely confined to remote, sparsely populated parts of Nigeria. The group has reinforced this isolation by attacking telecommunications towers.

At the turn of the year, the group occupied territory estimated to be the size of Belgium. In March, its leader, Abubakar Shekau, released an audio message, pledging allegiance to the Islamic State. But he has not appeared in public since then, fueling speculation that he is dead or incapacitated. And Boko Haram has been pushed on the defensive, pummeled by a coalition of troops from Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Niger, briefly supported by mercenaries from South Africa and the former Soviet Union.

In August, I visited Yola — home to at least three camps for internally displaced persons, as Boko Haram’s refugees are known. The Yola I encountered was actually a less beleaguered place than it had been a year earlier, when Boko Haram fighters were virtually knocking on its doors, having overrun a string of nearby towns.

In Maiduguri, about 250 miles away, where Boko Haram first burst onto the national scene in a bloody uprising six years ago, the airport reopened to commercial flights in July, after being closed for about 18 months. The city’s public secondary schools, shuttered since early 2014, started reopening in October.

While Boko Haram may have been weakened, it has yet to lose its capacity to sow terror. The suicide bomb attacks — some carried out by young girls, not even teenagers — now blur with surreal intensity into one another. Many attacks go unclaimed; everyone assumes it’s Boko Haram, as usual. Read more…

Published in the New York Times on Dec. 2nd, 2015

Tolu Ogunlesi is the West Africa editor for The Africa Report and the author, most recently, of the novella “Conquest and Conviviality.”

2
Dec

Putin Seeks Entente Cordiale With the West

Written on December 2, 2015 by Waya Quiviger in Americas, Europe, Foreign Policy, Op Ed

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin is not the type of leader who wastes a geopolitical opportunity. This is his way of making foreign policy. As Center for Strategic and International Studies scholar Olga Oliker points out, “Russia does not have a strategy. While it has strategic goals, it pursues them primarily by seeking opportunities, rather than developing clear plans.”

Faced with the need to shore up militarily Bashar Assad’s faltering regime in Syria in the summer of 2015, Putin saw in this a broader opportunity to bring Russia back in from the cold, after months of Western isolation and pressure for Moscow’s shenanigans in Ukraine, by casting its intervention in Syria as a valiant contribution to the war on terror.

Putin’s “Syrian Gambit” aimed at transforming the relationship with the West on Russia’s terms to regain Russia’s rightful place as a global power. The Kremlin realized that it was getting stuck in Ukraine, where it could not re-establish Russia’s geopolitical parity with the United States. For Washington to take Moscow seriously, Russia needed to reassert its role on a stage where vital U.S. interests were at stake and where Moscow’s limited capability could make a global splash. Syria was a perfect fit.

The immediate rationale for Russia’s plunge into Syria’s bloody civil war was to save a friendly regime in deep trouble, forestall a Western military intervention, contain instability and the threat of Islamist terrorism away from Russia’s borders, while teaching the West a lesson that regime change through democracy promotion in countries of interest to Russia would no longer be tolerated and even reversed by force if necessary. Read more…

Vladimir Frolov is president of LEFF Group, a government relations and PR company.

Published Nov. 24 in the Moscow Times

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