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Diplomacy & Crisis News

Arm Ukraine or Prepare for China? Wrong Question.

Foreign Policy - Mon, 13/03/2023 - 17:41
Washington needs to quickly ramp up defense production, especially munitions.

Sunak Pulls a Brexit Rabbit Out of His Hat

Foreign Policy - Mon, 13/03/2023 - 16:02
Northern Ireland’s thorny border problem may finally have an answer.

The U.S.-Israel Relationship No Longer Makes Sense

Foreign Policy - Mon, 13/03/2023 - 15:50
If Israel and its supporters want the country to continue receiving U.S. largesse, they will need to come up with a new narrative.

U.S. Slams Iran’s Claim of Prisoner Swap as ‘Cruel Lie’

Foreign Policy - Mon, 13/03/2023 - 11:08
The news comes days after Iran and Saudi Arabia announced they were reinstating ties with China’s help.

Don’t Trust Russia’s Numbers

Foreign Policy - Mon, 13/03/2023 - 11:00
Moscow has made economic statistics a central part of its information war.

The Russia That Might Have Been

Foreign Affairs - Mon, 13/03/2023 - 05:00
Moscow squandered its power and influence.

The Counterinsurgent’s Curriculum

Foreign Affairs - Mon, 13/03/2023 - 05:00
Why American troops should study the Iraq War.

How Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine Exposed NATO’s Fault Lines

The National Interest - Mon, 13/03/2023 - 00:00

The Russian invasion of Ukraine initially seemed to galvanize the United States’ NATO allies and encourage them to take a more energetic role in Europe’s defense. But some analysts have recently noted that the war actually seems to have had the contrary effect of increasing Europe’s dependence on Washington. This should not be a surprise to anyone, since Europe’s dependence will inevitably increase in proportion to the United States’ own commitment to the continent’s security.

While French president Emmanuel Macron has championed strategic autonomy in recent years, and German chancellor Olaf Scholz announced a historic “Zeitenwende” in defense policy in response to the Russian invasion, both countries have proceeded cautiously over the course of the war. Germany only grudgingly sent Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine following parallel moves by the United States and the UK, while Macron has insisted that a post-war resolution must include a recognition of Russian security concerns.

This has increasingly frustrated Eastern European allies like Poland and the Baltic States, whose hard line on Russia has put them at odds with what they perceive as their Western counterparts’ ambivalence, making them all the more eager to maintain the U.S. presence in Europe.

But the more restrained attitude of France and Germany towards Russia is not based on spinelessness or frugality. Instead, due to geography, relative power, and history, Western and Eastern Europeans have profoundly different threat perceptions of Russia.

This would normally suggest that the two halves of Europe do not in fact make natural treaty allies. Historically, Eastern Europe suffered the misfortune of being a buffer zone between Western Europe and Russia—a role to which Eastern Europeans, all too understandably, do not want to return.

This fundamental asymmetry was introduced into the alliance by enlarging NATO to include Eastern European states from the 1990s onwards—a faultline papered over by the continuing leadership of the United States, but which reduces any incentive for Western Europeans to “step up” the way Washington (officially) wants them to.

The reflexive argument among many Western commentators is to blame France and Germany for not backing Ukraine more aggressively, reducing their credibility in the eyes of Eastern Europe, and compelling the latter to lean even more heavily on Washington to allay their security fears. According to these arguments, Western Europe should instead put itself on a serious war footing and help lead the charge against Russia.

But there are a couple of reasons to view such assertions skeptically. In the first place, the Russian military’s performance makes France and Germany’s response seem relatively proportionate. Russia has been struggling for months to conquer the small regional city of Bakhmut; it is not marching on Warsaw anytime soon. Moreover, while Eastern Europeans would probably like nothing more than for Russian fields to be sowed with salt, France and Germany recognize that Russia will likely always be a power in the region, and that peaceful coexistence requires some sort of reasonable mutual accommodation.

Secondly, the United States shouldn’t expect the over-the-top measures it relies on to prop up the credibility of extended deterrence to be mimicked by Europe should the latter transition towards strategic autonomy and deterring Russia directly. Nor should the Eastern Europeans.

Finally, and more to the point, one would think when listening to American officials and analysts who lament Europe’s security dependence that these folks want the United States out of Europe as quickly as possible. And yet the opposite is the case; most of these same voices are deeply dedicated to America remaining permanently committed to NATO.

According to conventional arguments for greater “burden-sharing” among the allies, the best way for the United States to encourage its capable allies to do more for their own defense is to redouble our own efforts on their behalf and fall over ourselves to insist upon our commitments to them. The causal logic here has never been explained, but it seems self-evidently contradictory: if we do more, we incentivize our allies to do less.

The alternative view is that the best way to encourage the rich and capable countries of Western Europe to assume greater responsibility in a European alliance is to slowly, but steadily and openly, reduce our own contribution to the continent’s security. This would not be greater “burden-sharing,” but rather “burden-shifting.”

If European security is truly the goal, we should expect capable states like France and Germany to act like any other state without a guarantor: to develop the independent capabilities they deem necessary for their own threat environment, and to manage their own alliances. Poland and the Baltic states prefer an American guarantee, but they’ll likely still be able to sleep well at night with a guarantee from their more powerful and nuclear-armed Western neighbors.

If we’re being frank, however, the contradiction at the heart of calls for more “burden-sharing” is probably recognized by those devoted to the permanence of the transatlantic alliance, and this incoherence is precisely its utility. Virtually no one in the American foreign policy establishment actually wants to give up the United States’ seat at the head of the table in NATO, which places Europe within America’s sphere of influence. And for some time, therefore, NATO’s existence, to quote the historian Richard Sakwa, will continue to be “justified by the need to manage the security threats provoked by its [own] enlargement.

Christopher McCallion is a Non-Resident Fellow at Defense Priorities.

Image: Shutterstock.

India’s G20 Presidency Is a Wake-Up Call for Washington

The National Interest - Mon, 13/03/2023 - 00:00

To a few onlookers’ surprise, last month’s G20 summit in India ended without an agreement on Ukraine. India’s tough non-alignment policy sees it continuing to walk a thin line when it comes to the NATO-Russia hostilities over the latter’s invasion of its neighbor last year. However, India’s G20 presidency presents NATO and the United States in particular with an opportunity to strengthen its ties with New Delhi.

While the G20 presidency might sound like yet another fluffy bureaucratic accolade to outsiders, it is a position with some significant bite. It is the largest multilateral platform in operation, with its member states representing more than 85 percent of world GDP and two-thirds of the human population. While its ability to influence security decisionmaking is lackluster, as the Ukraine debate exemplifies, it has long held a key role in managing talks over future international economic growth.

India is the world's seventh-largest economy, and unlike China, it is forecast to continue to expand into the near future. India is fast overtaking China in terms of population and will likely become the world’s third-largest economy and the “pharmacy of the world” before the end of the decade. 

Moreover, its ascendancy to the G20 presidency at the start of 2023 has come at a crucial time for the country and the world as it continues to reel from the financial impact of the coronavirus response, itself a knock-on effect of Beijing’s malfeasance.

Insiders have suggested that India will attempt to forge an expert group to tackle World Bank reforms in order to provide climate aid to developing economies. While the details of such plans are unconfirmed, they may be a promising step toward countering the exploitative debt diplomacy of China’s sprawling Belt and Road Initiative. India has already gone some way toward positioning itself as a voice for the Global South, while China continues to block solutions to the debt crisis crippling the developing world.

India is also keen to launch a Sustainable Development Goals stimulus package to provide low and middle-income governments with a fresh injection of investment support alongside offering debt relief and restructuring. New Delhi’s plans to use its G20 presidency to promote renewable energy and action on climate is also promising.

The G20 includes several Asian countries, and India’s presidency will of course provide a platform for regional cooperation and collaboration with U.S.-aligned states such as Japan and South Korea. But while there is constant establishment fanfare over established alliances in East Asia, the reality is that the opportunity of such states pales in comparison to what India can offer going forward. It is time the United States looked toward better building new bridges than simply preserving old ones.

With its recently hiked annual military budget of approximately $72.6 billion dollars and battle-hardened armed forces, India is the only serious contender to China in South and Southeast Asia. Border standoffs in Doklam (2017) and Galwan (2020) are just two recent cases in which China has sought to push its luck as regards India’s sovereignty, but has been forced to back down.

As former Trump administration defense official Elbridge Colby notes, India is the “rock of the anti-hegemonic coalition in S Asia,” and consequently the United States should be doing what it can to strengthen it.

India is the world’s largest democracy, and although its strain of nationalism may be at odds with many Western sensibilities, the foundations for a mutually beneficial relationship are far more plentiful than with China, the state the West has tiptoed into trade reliance on for decades. If Washington is keen on a secure future at home and in Asia, it must treat India’s G20 presidency as a wake-up call.

Georgia Leatherdale-Gilholy is a journalist based in the United Kingdom. She tweets at @llggeorgia.

Image: Shutterstock.

Can the South Korea-Japan Forced Labor Deal Last?

The National Interest - Mon, 13/03/2023 - 00:00

As soon as the South Korean government announced a tentative deal to solve its dispute with Japan over World War II-era forced labor, American officials and foreign policy experts celebrated a new step forward for cooperation between U.S. allies. But not so fast. 

President Joe Biden's quick response to the announcement suggests the United States is trying to lock this agreement in place, showing how Washington views South Korean and Japanese cooperation as critical for its agenda in Northeast Asia. Biden called it a “groundbreaking new chapter of cooperation and partnership between two of the United States’ closest allies” and said he “look[s] forward to continuing to strengthen and enhance the trilateral ties between the Republic of Korea, Japan, and the United States.”

Victor Cha, senior vice president for Asia at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said on MSNBC that it will help get Seol and Tokyo to cooperate on “everything from their support of Ukraine, defense in the Taiwan Straits, to, of course, North Korea’s unending ballistic missile tests.”

But it may be too early to say if this deal will stand and if South Koreans will accept it. Past attempts to resolve historical debates between South Korea and Japan have floundered. The proposal by the unpopular administration of President Yoon Suk-youl is already facing criticism. The progressive Hankyoreh paper criticized the deal in an editorial, saying it undermined the South Korean Constitution and Supreme Court, which ruled that Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Nippon Steel should compensate victims of forced labor. The paper raised concerns about the awkward timing, with the announcement coming just a week after the March 1 holiday commemorating South Korean resistance to the Japanese occupation. Opposition Democratic Party leader Lee Jae-Myung has called for the proposal to be withdrawn.

Activist groups and civic organizations compared Yoon’s proposal with the Park Geun-hye administration’s 2015 deal, which was meant to address the controversy over Japan’s use of sex slaves during the war but only resulted in protests outside of Japanese consulates and further poisoned the two countries’ relations.

"Why is the victim country trying so hard to exempt the perpetrator nation from responsibility,” said Lee Na-young, head of the Korean Council.

This gets to the crux of the criticism of the proposal. The foundation compensating the victims would be funded almost entirely—if not wholly—by South Korean entities. The two Japanese companies implicated in the Supreme Court case have stood firm, with the backing of the Japanese government, against paying. Two of the few surviving victims said they did not wish to receive Korean money and demanded Japan acknowledge their suffering.

As of this writing, surveys have yet to be released on the plan's popularity. Many South Koreans have expressed support; they are tired of having their country’s foreign policy constrained by a tragic history that cannot be undone. 

Seok Dong-Hyeon, a lawyer and the secretary general of the Peaceful Unification Advisory Council, wrote on Facebook that the “exhausting controversy and damage” caused by a single ruling by a few judges acting by themselves was “too great.” The Choson Ilbo’s editorial stated the need to cooperate to address the North Korean threat and Chinese hegemony and pointed out that previous Korean Democratic Party presidents like Kim Dae-Jung had welcomed a “new era” of relations with Japan.

Positive relations between South Korea and Japan cannot be maintained in the long run if it is a politicized issue; a new South Korean president in 2027 or 2032 may demand Japan apologize for its history.

Lawyers representing the victims of forced labor say they will persist in bringing lawsuits and attempting to collect compensation from the companies, including through attempts to liquidate Mitsubishi’s and Nippon Steel’s assets in Japan. The Yoon administration could not easily force an independent judiciary to block such a case just because of an agreement it made at the executive level, which will not be ratified in South Korea’s opposition-controlled legislature. If a court does rule against Japan again, then what?

It is clear that this proposal is being championed by Yoon and the United States to further the foreign policy goals of the China hawks within the American and South Korean administrations. But it does not address the needs of the victims who took the case to pursue justice. While it would be impossible to compel a foreign country or its leadership to apologize with sincerity, there are some things Japan could do to make the deal easier for the Korean public to swallow.

At a minimum, Mitsubishi and Nippon Steel should partially fund the settlement. Mitsubishi agreed to compensate over 3,000 Chinese victims of forced labor in 2016. They are still in the process of completing payments to some of the victims even as they refuse to compensate the much smaller group of Korean plaintiffs. Although it is likely some South Koreans would still not be satisfied, at least it would be easier for Yoon to make the case that his administration had extracted some kind of concessions from Japan.

As it is, it seems like South Korea gave in to most of the Japanese demands. South Koreans are getting no compensation as a result of the forced labor case, although Japan and South Korea are both going to be jointly funding a scholarship program for youths. The Japan Business Federation (Keidanren) will pay for part of it. Still, the money isn’t coming from the implicated corporations (except in so much as they are dues-paying members of the Keidanren) and isn’t going to the victims. South Korea will be reinstated to Japan’s trade whitelist, but that is just a return to the status quo.

Japan got South Korea to give up on almost everything with only a token scholarship program, the kind of thing two amicable nations might create in ordinary times just as a show of goodwill.

Yoon views the Korea-Japan-U.S. relationship as critical for their mutual foreign policy interests. He must calculate that there is more for Korea to gain from harmonizing relations than from trying to extract more in negotiations. But why doesn’t Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida feel the same? Why doesn’t he give in to some of Korea’s demands for the sake of the trilateral relationship?

There can be a debate about which side is most to blame for things deteriorating—and a convincing case can be made that South Korea’s unforgiving attitude may be the primary cause—but there needs to be mutual trust. In order for there to be healthy relations, two countries need to both make contributions and compromises.

Mitchell Blatt is the Founder of the US-Korea Policy Project and a frequent contributor to The National Interest.

Image: Flickr/White House.

How the World Forgot About Russian Imperialism

Foreign Policy - Sun, 12/03/2023 - 15:00
And why recovering this history matters for understanding the war in Ukraine.

India’s Global Blockbusters Paint an Incomplete Picture

Foreign Policy - Sun, 12/03/2023 - 11:00
Online streaming is more representative of the country's diversity but is becoming a double-edged sword.

Saudi Arabia Has Become the Next Tech Battleground

The National Interest - Sun, 12/03/2023 - 00:00

Technological innovations have brought tectonic shifts in global geopolitical dynamics over the past decade. A technological competition between the two major powers, China and the United States, is now underway, with implications for the globe. And like every war needs a battleground, the emergent tech war, too, needs a platform for the tech powers to showcase their strength and achieve victories. 

Saudi Arabia has embraced the situation with both hands. Having laid its Vision 2030 plan, which seeks to diversify its economy through increased focus on innovation, Riyadh has made digital transformation a critical goal. However, considering the contemporary geopolitical realities, Riyadh must also embrace diplomacy, strategic autonomy, and a multipolar perspective. There is reason to believe that the Saudis are ready to do so. 

Saudi Arabia organizes several of the world’s biggest forums and platforms in the tech space.  Its annual Global Cybersecurity Forum discusses the universal opportunities and challenges posed by the evolving cyber order, and the LEAP Tech Conference—an annual tech convention—serves as a global platform to exhibit future technologies and some of the most disruptive tech professionals from around the world.

But before taking over as a center for global tech attention, Riyadh has brought its house in order with strong policy and strategy frameworks, reflected in its second rank in the International Telecommunication Union’s Global Cybersecurity Index—a reference that measures the commitment of countries to cybersecurity at the global level. 

After creating a National Cybersecurity Authority in 2017, Saudi Arabia created a Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority (SDAIA) in 2019 and launched the “CyberIC” program in 2022, seeking to develop its cybersecurity sector by localizing cybersecurity technology and encouraging indigenous cybersecurity startups. 

The China story

The recently concluded LEAP 2023 gave a glimpse of Chinese interest and inroads in Saudi Arabia’s tech oasis. While Huawei displayed its latest innovation solutions under the theme “Unleash Digital,” demonstrating end-to-end innovations and industrial applications for some of Riyadh’s key focus sectors like oil, gas, and governance, Huawei Cloud announced its plans to invest $400 million over the next five years to establish its infrastructure in the country.

For Huawei, Saudi Arabia is a platform to present its advances in the cloud and artificial intelligence. This is exemplified by the unveiling of Huawei’s second store in Saudi Arabia in early February this year, having opened its biggest flagship store outside China precisely one year ago in Riyadh in February 2022. Furthermore, to strengthen the partnership, the Saudi Arabia-China Entrepreneur Association (SCEA) has been launched, comprising over 100 Saudi and Chinese businesses, government entities, academic institutions, and non-governmental organizations. 

While Chinese media underlines SCEA as pivotal to driving continued progress in the digital transformation of both Saudi Arabia and China, in Saudi Arabia, it is seen as a critical step toward the Saudi-China strategic partnership in terms of tech and innovation.

A U.S. comeback?

The United States shifted attention to the Indo-Pacific in the past decade due to its decreased reliance on the Middle East region for energy needs. However, in light of accelerated decoupling from China, Washington is rejuvenating its regional strategic partnerships. This is visible in several recent announcements like I2U2 (a grouping of India, Israel, the United States, and the United Arab Emirates) and the expansion of the Abraham Accords to include cyber collaboration. 

In May 2022, the Saudi minister of communications and internet technology met with the U.S. deputy national security advisor for cyber and emerging technology to review efforts to foster the partnership and develop bilateral cooperation in cybersecurity and emerging technologies. Then in July, Saudi Arabia and the United States signed the “Jeddah Communique,” outlining the strategic partnership between the two over the coming decades, aiming to advance mutual interests and offering a shared vision for a more peaceful, secure, prosperous, and stable Middle East. U.S. president Joe Biden remarked that Saudi Arabia would invest in new U.S.-led technologies to develop secure and reliable 5G and 6G networks, in Saudi Arabia as well as in developing countries, in coordination with the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment. This collaborative effort by the G7 countries is based on trust principles of the Blue Dot Network (a multi-stakeholder initiative by the United States, Japan, and Australia) and is a vital component of the “Biden doctrine.”  

These agreements are seen as a boost to containment efforts by the United States against the accelerating proliferation of Chinese technologies in the region.

A third tech pole?

Indian-Saudi Arabian relations have intensified on the political, diplomatic, and tech front in recent years. In November 2022, India’s national cybersecurity coordinator, Lt. Gen. Rajesh Pant, remarked that Saudi Arabia and India would soon sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to elevate cooperation in cybersecurity and that the bilateral talks are steadily progressing. Several major Indian companies like Tata, Wipro, and TCS have a strong presence in Saudi Arabia, with many others now in line to get a piece of Riyadh’s investment offerings. This was also visible at the LEAP 2023, which saw participation from over forty-five Indian companies and a delegation from the Confederation of Indian Industry—a non-governmental trade association and advocacy group representing the Indian industry’s interests. 

On the sidelines of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos earlier this year, the Saudi minister of communications and internet technology met with his Indian counterpart to discuss strengthening the Indian-Saudi strategic partnership in technology, innovation, and digital entrepreneurship. At the recently concluded LEAP, the results emanating from the WEF meeting were underlined by Tech Mahindra—one of India’s top software companies—signing a MoU with the Ministry of Communication and IT to set up a “Data & AI and Cloud Centre of Excellence” in Riyadh, and Zoho Corp—another leading Indian multinational software company—announced plans to boost investment in Saudi Arabia.

Trends for 2023

Saudi Arabia has faced a slew of cyberattacks on its critical industrial sectors in recent years. In one estimate, 54 percent of Saudi organizations experienced business-impacting security incidents, while over 56 percent of organizations in the country faced ransomware attacks in 2021. Today, while over 50 percent of the Saudi IT sector workforce is non-Saudi, Riyadh has focused on encouraging universities to invest heavily in curricula to develop the required cyber skills among students. In the past decade, major international companies have hired and trained Saudis, and government policies now encourage companies to employ local talent aggressively. In addition, the Saudi government has inked an agreement with the WEF to explore cybersecurity cooperation and a deal with the United Nations to empower children in cyberspace. 

Strengthened by internal strategic cohesion, Riyadh is transforming into a tech hub for competing global technologies. At the WEF in Davos, the Saudi finance minister emphasized that the country can be a conduit between China and the United States during heightened geopolitical tensions. While the United States has been a long-standing strategic partner, China and Saudi Arabia signed a strategic partnership agreement in December 2022—described by the Chinese Foreign Ministry as “an epoch-making milestone in the history of China-Arab relations.” Moreover, while Huawei has a broad penetration in the region—posing difficulties for new entrants—the new partnership with the United States based on open technology frameworks can help offset China’s inroads. 

Indeed, it appears that there are three countries looking to develop and enhance strategic partnerships with Riyadh. As the United States and India embolden their bilateral partnership under the initiative on the Critical and Emerging Technology paradigm, it remains to be seen if a trilateral strategic partnership framework can emerge between India, the United States, and Saudi Arabia. For now, all the tech roads seem to be heading to Riyadh.

Divyanshu Jindal is a Research Associate at NatStrat, India. His research revolves around geopolitics, cyber, and influence operations. Views are personal.

Image: Shutterstock.

Europe Must Act to Solve Its Migration Problem

The National Interest - Sun, 12/03/2023 - 00:00

Migration, especially from Africa, has been rising over the past decade. But Europe’s leadership does not seem particularly focused on it. At the forefront is Italy, which for years has been trying to stem an increasing flow of migrants, along with other Mediterranean nations—Greece, Spain, Malta, and Cyprus. Planning a truly shared policy among European states is certainly difficult, but the migration phenomenon will likely increase exponentially in the coming years. Libya is the springboard for thousands of migrants. Its weak government is not up to the challenge, presenting an obstacle that the European Union must deal with soon.

Of particular concern is irregular migration, which happens outside the laws of the sending or receiving countries. In 2022, the European Border Security Agency, FRONTEX, counted 330,000 irregular entries within European borders: an increase of 64 percent compared to the previous year and the highest number since 2016. These numbers did not include the more than 13 million Ukrainian refugees who “were counted on entry” after fleeing Russia’s invasion.

To be sure, this year’s preliminary figures were down 12 percent from the previous year, in large part due to poor weather conditions on sea routes to Europe. Numbers are still lower than in 2015, when nearly a million migrants, asylum-seekers, and refugees entered Europe. However, the flow of migrants is unlikely to peter out.

Why Migration Will Continue to Be a Problem for Europe

Libya is historically a jumping-off point for departure to Europe and neighboring countries such as Egypt and Tunisia. Nearly 680,000 migrants of more than forty-one nationalities were registered in Libya in July-August 2022, mostly coming from Niger, Egypt, Sudan, Chad, and Nigeria.

In addition to migrants fleeing political, security, and economic crises, migrants are coming in increasing numbers from crises related to climate change. These so-called climate migrants have always been there, but the trend looks set to increase. The World Bank has released staggering numbers, indicating 86 million climate change migrants by 2050.

At the same time, Africa’s population growth is surging. Its population rise will require an extraordinary increase in natural resources that is very unlikely to be met. Future rainfall projections indicate a decrease that will affect water resources, in particular the surface water that supplies the largest dams and reservoirs in North Africa. Faced with the desertification of the Sahel belt, migration flows from Libya across the Mediterranean, will likely intensify, impacting coastal nations such as Spain, Italy, Greece, Cyprus, and Malta. These countries have suffered greatly in recent years due to European policies that are now out of step with the times, such as the criteria of the Dublin Convention—an international treaty signed in 1990 by the then twelve member states of the European Community and entered into force in 1997. Things got worse following the fall of Muammar el-Qaddafi and his regime, which caused the loss of control of migratory flows from Libya, impacting Italy first and foremost.

Italy in the Front Row

For Italy, Libya is not only the most important departure point for migrants traveling to its shores, but also of enormous strategic value in terms of energy. Yet Italian prime minister Giorgia Meloni has not revealed how her government will tackle migration in practical terms. Likewise, the European Council’s meeting on February 9–10 reiterated that immigration needs a common response, but little has been done to help Italy and other coastal countries deal with this emergency. In November 2022, the European Council proposed twenty rather generic measures to reduce irregular migration. These measures are along three lines: working with countries such as Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt to control migrant departures; promoting “more coordinated” search and rescue in the Mediterranean; and strengthening the implementation of the voluntary migrant redistribution mechanism introduced in June 2022, which, however, has so far failed to yield satisfactory results.

It is difficult to develop a coherent, long-term strategy with weak, delegitimized, and even overlapping governments in Libya, as happened last spring when the “outgoing” government of National Unity in Tripoli led by Abdulhamid Dbeibah was pitted against the sham government of National Stability led by former Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha.

Italy, for better or for worse, collaborated in the past with the Qaddafi regime. It has continued to come to compromises with Libya in recent years through official memoranda and less-than-clear agreements. The first memorandum between the two countries was signed in 2008 by then-Italian interior minister Roberto Maroni and Qaddafi, and stipulated that Italy had to pay Libya $5 billion in aid in exchange for constant patrolling of the coast to prevent migrants from leaving. The agreement was heavily criticized for the arbitrary detention, mistreatment, and torture of migrants by Libyan authorities. In 2012, Rome renewed the agreement with Tripoli, to control Libya's southern borders and train local border police. In 2017, then-Italian interior minister Marco Minniti signed a memorandum of understanding with then Libyan prime minister Fayez al Serraj on migration management, border control, and countering human trafficking. That so-called “memorandum of shame” has drawn much criticism regarding the migrants’ safety. Renewed in 2020, it was extended again on November 2, 2022, provoking a chorus of protests among civil society groups. Yet these memoranda are not part of a long-term strategy shared with Brussels, but rather the result of ongoing emergencies.

In September 2022, European Parliament president Roberta Metsola and senior European representatives agreed to conduct negotiations to reform EU migration and asylum rules by February 2024, with the chair of the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties Committee, Juan Fernando López Aguilar, the chair of the Asylum Contact Group, Elena Yoncheva, and the permanent representatives of Czechia, Sweden, Spain, Belgium, and France. This step reinforces the European Commission’s proposal of a new pact on migration and asylum in September 2020 to improve procedures and share responsibilities fairly among member states while managing migration flows.

Actions, unfortunately, have not lived up to words, and while Europe languishes, other nations are establishing themselves in Africa. The widespread presence of Russia’s Wagner Group is one example, but China, Turkey, and the Gulf states are also present. Libya has provided an important haven for jihadist groups such as the Islamic State that have maintained cells in the border territories and the southern province of Fezzan. Hundreds of armed militia groups are also present—some purely local, others outright criminal cartels. These groups have shared control of Libya through constant violence and extortion. In many respects, they now hold Libyan institutions hostage.

In the face of these troubling scenarios, the real issue is what can realistically be done to staunch the flow of migration and control the doors of the Maghreb and Libya as migration superhighways to Europe. To remedy this crisis, there must first be some semblance of a coherent process to create credible, implementable policy recommendations. That process is broken, principally because the right players are not at the table, and those who are, on balance, are not contributing to a workable solution.

The United States must provide strategic leadership to the entire process in close partnership with the EU and other key European countries. The wave of migration in 2015, which nearly destabilized European politics, was a harbinger of things to come. Europe’s political stability—which, if this continues, is by no means assured—is a vital interest of the United States. The EU must demand a more energetic and participatory U.S. involvement. The sources of migration are an African continental matter, not a North African one, so the African Union cannot sit this one out. It too must be at the table and a full participant, as should the Arab League, with a very different motivation from what we have seen so far.

As to the policies themselves, because their formulation process is sub-optimal from the start, they should focus on three principal goals.

First, the reasons for migration must be addressed on the African continent itself. These are complex and can seem beyond the reach of credible policy. People are leaving in droves because of a lack of economic opportunity and grinding poverty; vast and seemingly insoluble governmental corruption; local and transnational conflict fueled by strongmen, mercenaries, militias, and gangs; and, increasingly, climate change.

Second, policy formulation should propose how to manage, mitigate, or prevent illegal migration into Europe. A security solution to migration seems fraught, but it must be considered. This is a maritime and border security issue and will require a coordinated effort by the Mediterranean nations’ coast guards, navies, and border control organizations.

Third, migrants who legally arrive on the shores of Europe should be compassionately processed and supported through comprehensive European programs. These three domains must be seen as a policy whole.

Unless the policy formulation process is fixed, there can be no comprehensive approach to migration. It is a threat to African nations, and to Europe. And it is a threat to American vital interests in Africa and Europe as well.

Federica Saini Fasanotti is a military historian specializing in irregular wars. She is a nonresident senior fellow of the Brookings Institution in Washington DC and an associate senior fellow of the Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI) in Milan.


Wagner Group and the IRGC: The Rise of Self-Sustaining Military Proxies

The National Interest - Sun, 12/03/2023 - 00:00

The lessons-learned doctrine from the war in Ukraine is yet to be written, but the conflict has clearly demonstrated how paramilitary forces, such as Russia’s Wagner Private Military Company (better known simply as the Wagner Group) can reinforce state militaries.

Of course, proxies and non-state partnerships have influenced the contours of conflicts in the Middle East for many years. Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) has led the curve via its relationships with Shia militia groups in Iraq and across the Levant.

Yet the IRGC is more than a fighting force. Despite sanctions on its commercial affiliates, most notably Khatam al-Anbia, it is a financially self-sustaining military. Beyond this, the IRGC created a systemic model of establishing a presence in vulnerable states and regions, and followed with front and shell companies for funding and sanctions circumvention. And the Wagner Group appears to be following a similar path. Moreover, Wagner serves as a tool of foreign policy for Moscow, just as the IRGC does for Iran.

There are key differences to be sure. The IRGC was created by and is recognized as a military institution of the Iranian regime. The Wagner Group is a private military company, owned by one man—Yevgeny Prigozhin. And while it works in tandem with the Russian defense forces, it also competes with them for resources and funding. Yet while Prigozhin is the owner, the group is believed to be loosely managed by Russia’s Ministry of Defense and the GRU, its military intelligence office.

Just as the IRGC’s operations have spread from Iran to Syria and beyond, so have Wagner Group operations extended from Ukraine through much of Africa. The use of self-sustaining fighting groups appeals to certain states, because they allow them to impose greater losses and costs on their enemies and alter global order. This model is gradually becoming the norm in warfare and international relations.

The IRGC Model

The dark alliance between Russia and Iran is a study with multiple variables. It ranges from military-to-military coordination in Syria (to keep Bashar al-Assad in power) to arming Russian forces with Iranian drones to fight Ukraine. The scope of cooperation is determined by the necessities of the conflict.

The Iranian Artesh has always been considered the conventional state military. The 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran ushered in an era of regional change and domestic turmoil that called for a force that could temper anti-regime ambitions. The IRGC was born from this state of affairs. Gradually, this export arm of the Islamic Revolution transitioned into a major player in Iran’s economy, politics, and even foreign affairs. But it was a series of crises that catapulted the IRGC to self-sufficiency and political dominance.

The Iran-Iraq War was a pivotal moment not just for the region, but for Iran to reevaluate its priorities and define its defense doctrine. The IRGC-owned Khatam al-Anbia was established to rebuild the country following the war. It became the leading engineering and construction company in Iran, which continually wins multi-billion-dollar contracts from the state because of the lack of competition. It was beyond domestic control; the IRGC expanded abroad and exploited vacuums.

Following the 2003 Iraq war, U.S. political maneuvering with the new government in Baghdad left open pockets of opportunity ripe for Iranian influence. This influence expanded vastly from 2013–2017; while the United States was focused on combating the Islamic State, the IRGC Qods Force created parameters for Iranian staying power in both Iraq and Syria.

This was accomplished largely through the efforts of former IRGC-QF commander General Qasem Soleimani, who cultivated a variety of lethal Shia militia groups that were both nationalist, but loyal to him personally. This facilitated a political, economic, and military power grab along the Shia crescent. Front and shell companies have been weaved into the IRGC defense doctrine. Once a presence is established, a range of regionally based companies facilitate the IRGC’s illicit activities.

Likewise, Russia’s war in Ukraine is serving a comparable purpose for the Wagner Group. A private military company is not the same as a state-run military, but there is nothing inherently unique about the Wagner Group that separates its activities from those of Iran’s IRGC. Prigozhin is seizing an opportunity to vault the Wagner Group to greater prominence. Much like Khatam al-Anbia, the financial arm of the Revolutionary Guard, Prigozhin’s Concord Management has signed lucrative contracts in Russia and abroad thanks to his relationship with Russian president Vladimir Putin.

The Wagner Group is believed to have been heavily involved with the 2014 Russian invasion and annexation of the Crimean Peninsula. Wagner mercenaries are also believed to have fought on behalf of the Donetsk People’s Republic and Luhansk People’s Republic in Ukraine in 2015, as well as having a footprint in Donbas and being active in the ongoing war in Ukraine.

Wagner fighters were deployed to Syria in 2014 and 2015 to help Assad remain in power. Wagner struggled against U.S.-backed Syrian Defense Forces (SDF) in 2018 in the battle for Deir ez-Zor province. But with lessons learned, they have since increased the areas under their control in Syria and are now more influential than Iran in that country. The group has now expanded its operations to the African continent, particularly across Sub-Saharan Africa. Libya was a gateway into this venture, in part because of Wagner's mild successes with Khalifa Haftar.

Filling vacuums is part of the IRGC model. They had success in parts of South America, but its ascension in Iraq serves as the standard. Sub-Saharan Africa is becoming the Wagner Group’s Iraq. Wagner fighters appear to be most heavily present in Mali, allegedly conducting counterinsurgency operations at the behest of the Malian government. Wagner’s commercial operations are reportedly tapping into Mali’s rich natural resources to illicitly fund their activities.

The Central African Republic is the latest African country to be experiencing Wagner’s influence. Prigozhin’s Internet Research Agency, a troll farm, has been spreading pro-Russian disinformation there. Wagner recruiters are now reportedly following up by actively recruiting prisoners there to fight in Ukraine. To the west, Burkina Faso is being increasingly pressured by Mali to embrace Wagner’s services to help forge bilateral ties with Russia. Elsewhere, Wagner personnel are present following Russia and Cameroon’s signing of a defense agreement in April 2022. Wagner operations are also active in the Democratic Republic of Congo, specifically through front companies that support influence operations.

The Role of Sanctions

The Iranian regime has expertly circumvented U.S. and international sanctions for over four decades. We should assume that Moscow is Tehran’s apprentice in evading sanctions. This Russia-Iran cooperation is merely one of convenience for Moscow; there are other relationships that are far more significant as Russia is pushed further out of the global markets.

When used correctly, sanctions are an effective foreign policy tool. For instance, Iran’s Khatam al-Anbia, through its various financial holdings and virtual monopoly on Iranian construction bids, is a highly lucrative source of funding for the IRGC. When the U.S. sanctioned its engineering subsidiary, it proved one of the most effective sanctions to hit the IRGC. Since then, sanctions against other subsidiaries have increased, but so too has the IRGC’s creativity in sustaining this model.

The Wagner Group is slowly experiencing similar economic straits. Prigozhin was designated in 2014 for his ties to the conflict in Ukraine and again in 2015 for his links to malicious cyber activities. Concord Management and Consulting, Prigozhin’s leading company, was sanctioned in 2017 for ties to the war in eastern Ukraine. With Concord sanctioned, Prigozhin is doubtless using other front companies and subsidiaries to bankroll his military operations. When these are discovered and exposed, sanctions will presumably follow. In 2021, the EU, led by France, sanctioned the Wagner Group for its activities in Libya, Syria, and Ukraine, which includes human rights abuses.

Working in tandem with both defense and intelligence forces, Wagner affiliates are actively engaging in disinformation campaigns to influence foreign elections. Sanctions are starting to roll on these operations, too. Perhaps the most significant designations came in 2018 (for U.S. and foreign government election interference) and again in 2022 (when cited for U.S. election interference by the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control). Relatedly, in February 2022, Prigozhin’s Internet Research Agency was added to European Union sanctions for running disinformation campaigns to manipulate public opinion.

But though the United States and the rest of the international community have ramped up sanctions against Wagner, challenges remain. Washington should pivot resources toward affiliated individuals and entities, with a special emphasis on the likelihood of front and shell companies tied to Prigozhin and Wagner, to ensure a sustained campaign of aggressive sanctions enforcement that will ultimately lead to broader sanctions implementations. In 2022, a significant increase in pressure was added to Wagner with the designation by multiple countries, including the United States, as an international criminal organization.

Wagner’s Future

The feud between Prigozhin and Russian defense minister Sergei Shoigu—who has support from the chief of staff of the Russian military—led to setbacks in weapons and funding for Wagner. But as the invasion of Ukraine floundered in 2022, the need for the group’s services and cooperation grew. This has led to a more robust relationship with the GRU. Wagner forces are gradually blending into Russia’s defense doctrine, which was recently updated to reflect changes in both tactical and operational doctrines, closely mirroring the Wagners.

But the make-up of the Wagner forces is distinct from Russian forces. Wagner's military recruiters draw largely from prisons. As of this writing, roughly 50,000 Wagner fighters are in Ukraine: 10,000 are “traditional” mercenary contractors, while 40,000 are convicts. Wagner publicly ended this practice on  February 8 of this year.

The Treasury Department’s designation of the Wagner’s as a “transnational criminal organization” (TCO) is a significant step toward exposing greater Wagner atrocities. Transnational criminal organizations threaten U.S. interests through diversified criminal activities. Violence and corruption are at the heart of TCOs and how they conduct their illicit activities.

It is an open question as to whether or not Wagner is trying to outshine and even outlast the Russian state military. Continued sanctions hurt, and continuing exposures of direct ties to the Kremlin make it easier to impose more effective sanctions. It’s improbable that Wagner will create a shadow government as the IRGC have done in Iran, but they can become self-sustaining to such a degree as to offer Moscow parallel militaries to achieve its geostrategic ambitions counter to NATO and abroad in the most vulnerable parts of Africa. While the Kremlin writ large is not altogether supportive of Wagner (or Prigozhin for that matter), the group has Putin’s support—unless Putin changes his perspective on his old friend.

A Future of Private Military Groups?

Institutions like the IRGC and Wagner are tools of foreign policy by their respective states. Ever opportunistic, these states look to expand their influence in global hotspots where the United States is minimally present, taking advantage of the fact that Washington is focused is on higher-priority issues elsewhere. When a foothold is established, front and shell companies are propped up to enable illicit activities and evade sanctions. In the Wagner case, African countries are strategic access points for a regional presence that could assist Moscow’s economy through the impact and re-export of globally banned items due to sanctions. While Iraq was a political and military access point for Iran’s IRGC, African countries offer commercial activities that support Moscow, and could potentially lengthen the war in Ukraine.

For years, Prigozhin and his group went unnoticed, wreaking havoc in unstable environments while eluding the attention of the international community. Then, again, the world didn’t see the rise of the IRGC coming either. With the ongoing war in Ukraine, it’s essential to set our sights on Wagner before it becomes too powerful to scale back.

Alma Keshavarz is a visiting professor in international relations at Pepperdine University, School of Public Policy. She previously served in the Secretary of State’s Policy Planning Staff at the Department of State.

Kiron K. Skinner is the Taube Professor of International Relations and Politics at Pepperdine University’s School of Public Policy, W. Glenn Campbell Research Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, and a Visiting Fellow at the Heritage Foundation.

Image: Shutterstock.

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Marxism Is Harming China’s Intelligent Power

The National Interest - Sat, 11/03/2023 - 00:00

The United States’ lasting prosperity and global muscle can be credited in part to its hard and soft power, but they also owe to another strong force: intelligent power. Intelligent power is the ability of a country to influence other players to follow or emulate its political system, social structure, development pathway, and lifestyle through its morality, culture, and values. It refers to the natural projection of moral appeal, cultural inclusiveness, and values.

Intelligent power is endogenous, resilient, and magnetic. A country with strong intelligent power sets an example worldwide, one that is the object of study of other countries, inspiring imitation in the political, economic, social, and judicial sectors. The unique intelligent power of China during the Song dynasty, Italy during the Renaissance, and the United Kingdom during the Industrial Revolution served as a model to inspire the development efforts of other countries.

With high levels of political morality based on the rule of law, inclusive multiculturalism, and broadly accepted values, countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Canada, Australia, and Singapore appeal to people pursuing their dreams around the world. At the same time, these people bring their own special wisdom, knowledge, and cultures, which are used to further enhance the intelligent power of these countries.

In contemporary international relations, hard power—which relies on military intervention, coercive diplomacy, and economic sanctions—is becoming less useful as the global system changes. Soft power stresses the ability of a country to persuade others to do what it wants without force or coercion, but it is not easily wielded to achieve specific outcomes. By contrast, intelligent power is a fundamentally progressive force of human civilization grounded in its common morality, inclusive culture, and universal values. A country with intelligent power has a worldwide network of alliances that helps to strengthen both its hard and soft power.

Due to its strong intelligent power, the United States has long been considered one of the most attractive places on the planet, its voice and proposals are heard and followed by most countries, and its political system and values are followed by many other governments. A country with only hard power, like Russia, cannot earn the respect of others nor gain power through discourse in the international community.

No one denies that China is endowed with huge intelligent power. Its unique culture has assimilated civilized achievements from the East and the West; its traditional morality of benevolence, righteousness, propriety, wisdom, and fidelity is the cornerstone of China’s social order; and its common values of the “golden mean” are commonly accepted by the people of Asia.

In his efforts to consolidate the legitimacy of his regime, Chinese president Xi Jinping has been peddling Marxism packaged with Chinese culture and values to the world. As of 2018, 530 Confucius Institutes and more than 1,100 Confucius Classrooms were set up in 149 countries to promote and teach Chinese culture, language, and art. However, more and more critics argue that they are, in the words of Ethan Epstein, "an important part of China's overseas propaganda set-up”

To show “the spirit of struggle” that Xi has urged officials to implement, Chinese diplomats have embraced an aggressive “wolf warrior” ethos, discarding the professionalism, rationality, and courtesy that Chinese culture upholds. Chinese state media has embarked on advertising campaigns to bolster its Marxist ideology on Western platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

At home, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has launched a sweeping Mao-style ideological campaign. Xi called for China to build cultural confidence and oppose the transmission of Western cultures in China, blurring the distinction between ideology and culture. Moreover, Chinese authorities have intensified their crackdown on religious groups.

In the age of globalization, universal values are needed more than ever before to manage differences among countries without resorting to violence. Since Xi took office, the CCP has begun to distort or undermine universal values, portraying universal values as a force that threatens the CCP’s rule. Recently, the CCP urged China never to follow the path of Western constitutionalism, separation of powers, or judicial independence.

Xi’s ideological push has severely harmed China’s intelligent power. Many Confucius Institutes are banned in Western countries, while many countries and human rights groups have accused Beijing of serious human rights violations. “Wolf Warrior diplomacy” has frequently undermined Beijing’s reputation and interests. Indeed, Xi’s stigmatization of universal values has caused most modern, civilized countries to reject China as a world leader.

The CCP’s propaganda campaign to disseminate Marxism under the guise of promoting China’s culture and values cannot succeed. Because of this, China is unlikely to develop intelligent power in the near future.

Chris Lee is a Chinese economist and political strategist. He has published more than 60 papers. His latest piece in The National Interest is China Faces a Looming Economic Disaster.

Image: Salma Bashir Motiwala /