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A New Era for the Philippines: How the Return of the Marcos Family Could Impact U.S.-Philippine Relations

Mon, 23/05/2022 - 20:02

A supporter of presidential candidate Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. holds up a newspaper with the winning of Marcos Jr. on the headline, as people gather to celebrate as partial results of the 2022 national elections show him with a wide lead over rivals, at the candidate’s headquarters in Mandaluyong City, Philippines, May 10, 2022. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan

On Monday, May 9th, the Philippines held a presidential election to replace President Rodrigo Duterte. Critics characterize Duterte’s presidency as ruthless and authoritarian, moving the Philippines away from a democratic culture. Duterte gained a legacy for using brutal tactics in his approach to countering crime. His violent war on drugs resulted in tens of thousands of killings by state security forces, leading to an investigation by the International Criminal Court. His foreign policy focused on building stronger relationships with Russia and China, while drifting further away from a strong relationship with the United States. Duterte’s decision to retire from politics left a vacuum in Filipino politics. In the May 2022 elections, two candidates became the frontrunners to replace him: Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and former Vice President Leni Robredo. The two ran on opposing platforms. While Robredo promised accountable and transparent governance, Marcos Jr. built his campaign around the legacy of his father. Ferdinand Marcos Senior ruled the Philippines as a dictator for over 20 years, until a revolution ousted him in 1986. Marcos Sr.’s dictatorship marked one of the darkest periods in the Philippine’s history. It was marred by extrajudicial killings, tortures, forced disappearances, corruption, and economic turmoil. Marcos Jr. has utilized his campaign platform to rewrite that history, framing his father’s time in office as a “golden era” for his country. Marcos Jr. claimed a victory on May 9th, winning the election in a landslide. With the Philippines back in the hands of the Marcos family, the Biden Administration should beware of implications this election may have on U.S.-Philippine relations. The troubled history between the United States and the Marcos family may impact the Philippines’ foreign policy decisions. In a country caught between China and the West, the Marcos administration could facilitate the slow decay of democracy.

The relationship between the United States and the Philippines under Ferdinand Marcos Senior ended tumultuously. In the early days of Marcos’ presidency, he took a strong anti-communist stance that appealed to the Reagan administration. The two countries forged positive diplomatic relations. However, as his presidency evolved into a dictatorship, Marcos moved away from the United States. In 1975, his administration oversaw the establishment of diplomatic relations with China. Given Marcos’ shift in foreign policy, and mounting accusations of human rights violations, the United States began to rethink its initial support for Marcos. In 1985, the Reagan Administration took an “open view” about the removal of Marcos Senior from power. A year later, President Reagan reached out to Marcos and personally asked him to step down. It was under this increasing internal and international pressure that Marcos abandoned his post. The United States played a critical role in removing Marcos, which complicated the relationship between his family and the United States. This complicated relationship could be worrisome for today’s administration, as ill feelings may plague Marcos Jr.’s foreign policy. Even more pressing is the outstanding court order from the United States calling the Marcos family to pay millions of dollars in damages to the victims of human rights abuses

In 1995, a court case implicated the Marcos family in a series of human rights violations from the 1970s and 1980s. The U.S. 9th Circuit of Court Appeals affirmed a 1996 verdict labeling Ferdinand Marcos Senior “command responsibility” for the human rights abuses committed under his leadership.[1] The court called for a $2 billion payment from the Marcos family. However, it has been a decades-long struggle to collect that compensation. In 2012, a court upheld a contempt judgement against Marcos Jr. and his mother for failing to provide the compensation ordered in the 1996 verdict. The Marcos family continues to evade payment, despite the existing court order that has been extended until 2031. The outstanding order complicates the new administration’s ability to visit the United States on any official diplomatic business. Unless Marcos Jr. visits as part of a UN-sponsored event, or gains special permission from the United States court system, he runs the risk of being subpoenaed to face the court.

The strenuous circumstances surrounding the Marcos family’s relationship to the United States increases the motivation for Marcos Jr. to turn towards China. Despite disagreements over the South China Sea, Marcos Jr. recently called for shifting the Philippines’ relationship with China “to a higher gear.”[2] He has made promises to strengthen trade and diplomatic ties, as well as increase educational and cultural exchange. A new Philippines under the leadership of Marcos Jr. brings with it new fears. His father’s troubled humanitarian record, his family’s evasion of court orders, and his positioning towards Beijing have all raised concerns that he may bring in an era of democratic backsliding. For the United States, Biden will have to address the legal issues surrounding diplomatic relations with the Marcos family. The outstanding court order should not be abandoned in light of Marcos Jr.’s election; this is a crucial moment for the United States to maintain its commitment to human rights and to democracy worldwide. However, the Biden Administration’s approach to the Philippines will need to deeply consider how to engage with such a complicated figure.


Julia Sackett is an intern at the Foreign Policy Association and a ForeignPolicyBlogs contributor.




How has Shusha in the war-torn Karabakh region transformed over the past year?

Mon, 16/05/2022 - 20:37

Recently, I visited Shusha in the war-torn Karabakh region in order to partake in the International Food Festival that was hosted in Azerbaijan’s cultural capital city. After visiting the area last summer together with Ayoob Kara, who served as Israel’s Communication, Cyber and Satellite Minister under Netanyahu, I was pleasantly surprised to discover how much the area has improved over the past year.

For starters, there are now proper roads where one can travel from Baku to Shusha.  These roads did not exist last summer.  When I visited the area last summer, we had to travel on landmine-infested dirt roads, with multiple potholes in them. As a result, we had to zigzag as we drove and we saw many cars that broke down along the way due to these conditions. We ourselves got into a bus accident and were stranded for several hours in a landmine-infested area, till we were rescued by the Azerbaijani government and military.

But now, thanks to the better roads, what was an eight-hour journey became a five-to-six-hour journey from Baku to Shusha. On top of that, the area along the way has significantly improved.  For starters, the Azerbaijanis have rebuilt the city of Fizouli, which was nothing but a ghost town last year. This means that one can stop and eat in a café or go to get gasoline in Fizouli along the road between Shusha and Baku.  

Thus, instead of having our meal along the way on an Azerbaijani military base, we were able to dine in a nice Azerbaijani tea house. For me, this was a major development, as I keep kosher.  On my last visit, I literally starved on the journey, as the military base and convoy of Russian journalists lacked vegetarian options. So, I barely ate till we reached Shusha. But at the Azerbaijani tea house, I found myself in a more vegetarian friendly atmosphere.      

On top of that, all of the fires that were still raging last summer have been put out. Furthermore, the nature is beginning to recover from the fact that the area was left on fire, with uprooted trees, destroyed homes and burnt agricultural fields.  Now, one can see greenery and flowers along the road to Shusha, even though one can see that many homes still remain in ruins. 

Upon entering the city, we had to pass through a checkpoint manned by Russian peace-keepers. That did not exist last year. But upon entering the city, we were surprised to discover that we would be staying in the five-star Karabakh Hotel, which had a lovely gift shop that sold souvenirs connected with the historic city of Shusha, instead of a run-down leftover Armenian hotel, which lacked electricity in our rooms.

While staying at the Karabakh Hotel, we were able to attend concerts, puppet shows and other performances at the International Food Festival in Azerbaijan’s cultural capital city.  Foods from various regions of Azerbaijan were represented, as were a number of countries including Israel, Turkey, Georgia, China, Japan, France, Italy, Malaysia, etc. I was even able to purchase wine, cookbooks and other trinkets at the festival, in addition to meeting people from various parts of the world.

Last summer, they were putting the final touches on the Shusha Fort, but now it is open to the public and even has a market selling kebabs to Azerbaijani soldiers. That did not exist last summer. They also renovated a number of other buildings.  For example, the local elementary school is now totally renovated and I saw them putting the final touches upon a number of mosques.   With one exception, all of the mosques in Shusha last summer lay in ruins. Thus, after visiting Shusha, I am hopeful that within five years, the area can begin to flourish once again as Azerbaijan’s cultural capital city.     

How Azerbaijan assisted Turkish-Israeli reconciliation

Mon, 09/05/2022 - 18:43

In recent days, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sent a congratulatory letter to Israel’s President Isaac Herzog ahead of Israeli Independence Day.  In the letter, he said: “On the occasion of the National Day of the State of Israel, I extend congratulations to Your Excellency and the people of Israel on behalf of my nation and myself.”

“In the new period in our relations, heralded by Your Excellency’s visit to our country in March, I sincerely believe that the cooperation between our countries will develop in a way that serves our mutual national interests, as well as regional peace and stability,” he added.  Erdogan also extended his wishes “for the health and happiness of Your Excellency, and for the well-being and prosperity of the people of Israel.”  This was the third time in recent weeks that Herzog and Erdogan spoke over the phone.  The question remains, what role did Azerbaijan play in improving Turkish-Israeli relations?  

Lev Spivak, head of the Aziz organization, believes that Azerbaijan played a major role in this: “If you pay attention, when Herzog was in Turkey and spoke with Erdogan, Aliyev was also there.  They also wrote in the media that he was there, but did not say anything.  I think that Azerbaijan does everything to improve the relationship between Israel and Turkey because it is also good for Azerbaijan.”

According to him, “I believe that the gas between Israel and Europe should also include Turkey and Azerbaijan.  That is the basis of the reconciliation.   I think that Israel and Turkey can return to having good relations.  It will take some time.  But the mess between the two is only political.  The economic and trade relations are good.   Everything is fine except in the political arena.  Thus, it will be very easy for things to return to being good.”

Rabbi Shmuel Simantov concurred: “First of all, the president of Azerbaijan and the president of Turkey are close friends, like brothers.  Thus, Azerbaijan can help a lot.   Aside from that, there are many other things that can be utilized to improve the relationship.   The Turks and Azeris view the Jews to be loyal people.   Anti-Semitism is not a part of the culture.   That is why it is easy for Israel to make peace with Turkey.   The Diaspora of Turks and the Azerbaijan Diaspora influence each other all over the world.”

Turkish journalist Rafael Sadi added: “Good relations are a positive thing and there must be good relations with everybody.   Now, it sounds like a dream but if we do not dream, we will never progress.   Also Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had a dream.   For this to be realized, first Israel and Turkey must normalize the relationship and exchange ambassadors.  Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu is expected to visit on the 24th of this month in Israel.  From there, we will see if the relationship is moving in the right direction.”

Zali De Toledo, who served as Israel’s Cultural Attaché in Turkey and used to chair the Association of Turkish Jews in Israel, emphasized: “Azerbaijan is a sister country of Turkey because of the language and religion.   There is a 20,000 strong Jewish community in Azerbaijan living in peace.   We also have a good relationship with Azerbaijan.  Azerbaijan can improve the relationship between Turkey and Israel.  Improved relations are long overdue.”  Nevertheless, she noted that Turkey will have elections in 2023 and this could influence Turkish-Israeli reconciliation: “We don’t know what will happen in the 2023 elections.”       

The Polish Rekonstuckcja

Thu, 05/05/2022 - 21:46

From the end of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth to their status during the Napoleonic Wars and Interwar period, Poland has always tried to achieve their own true independence. The post Soviet era gave rebirth to Poland as an independently governed nation state, separate from the direct influence of empires of the past like the Austro-Hungarians and Soviets, and persistent powers like Germany and Russia.

While freedom did come with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the position of Poland between two European powers meant that it had to always survive strategically, knowing that its borders will be challenged perpetually. This focus on tactical survival also gave rise to creative solutions in challenging great power struggles, with some notable successes that have influenced the rest of Europe and the world.

No one would doubt the great humanitarian relief effort Poland has engaged in helping their neighbours in Ukraine. Polish sympathies lay in the knowledge of their own history and risks to their nation. Ukraine has been affected recently by Putin’s Russia as Poland had been in the past, by both German and Russian invasions alike. Poland knows that much of the catalyst for this current conflict comes from their position in Europe and the world as well as a history of Realpolitik that has targeted Poland, and now Ukraine.

A struggle can be won in the long term through soft power, as much as it can be with tanks and artillery. Pope John Paul II was respected and loved by Catholics and non-Catholics alike through his peace initiatives in the 1980s and support for Polish freedom and a life outside of Communism. His movement encouraging his native Poland and Eastern Europeans to push away from communist values helped greatly in the peaceful protest against Soviet control in the region.

The Solidarnosc Movement in the early 80s helped tremendously in the defeat of Communist in Poland and Europe, but was the culmination of years of grass roots activism. The gradual gaining of support of workers unions due to higher living costs and food prices established the Solidarity Movement, one of the largest political challenges to Moscow in the last years of the Soviet Union. This workers movement against Communism lead to the leader of the movement, Lech Walesa, and the Solidarity Party to lead Poland out of the Soviet era and helped put Poland in line for EU membership.

Poland knows what can come from threats to their borders and that their borders have not always been where they now stand. Much of the humanitarian relief at the Polish border is connected to cities like Lviv that used to itself be a part of Poland before it was annexed by the Soviets. Along with humanitarian aid that has stressed the capabilities for assistance for Poland and its people, military aid from Poland’s older Soviet era military stocks have been dedicated to Ukraine’s War effort. Despite some hiccups in the past in rearming its defense capabilities, Poland is now due to receive US made M1 Abrams tanks to displace its T-72 types donated to Ukraine, along with the more modern anti-missile versions of the Patriot PAC-3 missile systems. Poland will most likely have its military rearmed and upgraded while giving its current inventory to Ukraine. This will result in one of the most powerful and modern militaries in Europe.

Turning Poland into a defensive fortress and protected humanitarian settlement while supporting Ukrainian fighters shows that Poland likely understand more than any other nation the suffering at the hands of a foreign power in Europe. This achievement may look short term, but it is the result of generations of Polish leaders and citizens working to keep Poland free from influence and enshrine its place in Europe and the world.

What to expect from a Russian rebound

Thu, 28/04/2022 - 18:31

Despite strong sanctions from the West, the Ruble has begun to show signs of a recovery.

The first wave of the Russian offensive in Ukraine has fallen short of Russian autocrat Vladmir Putin’s ambitions. Most analysts deduced that Putin had hoped to achieve a decapitation strike of the Ukrainian government- taking Kiev and replacing Ukrainian President Vladimir Zolinski with a pro-Kremlin voice. Kiev has been threatened repeatedly through the course of the invasion but it has consistently remained in Ukrainian control, and despite Putin’s desire to make Zolinski “disappear”, Zolinski has risen to the level of international acclaim where, even if he were killed in the defense of Kiev, he would sooner rise to martyrdom than be forgotten.

Despite failing to achieve its initial objectives, the Russian military has suffered heavy losses. At the time of this writing some 850 Russian tanks have been destroyed by drones or towed off by Ukrainian tractors. Some 180 Russian planes have met similar fates at the hands of Ukrainian anti-aircraft systems or Ukrainian fighter pilots who have well outperformed their initial expectations. Over 2,000 armored transport vehicles and other units of supply infrastructure have been knocked out on the front lines. More than that, the flagship of the Russian navy in the Black Sea, the Moskva, was sunk by Ukranian weaponry dealing a significant blow to both Russia’s capacity and morale.

The Ukrainian military achieved these early results by targeting the Russian military’s most notorious shortcoming- thin logistical supply lines. During the first few weeks of the invasion there was regular reporting of abandoned Russian tanks and artillery pieces- this was in part due to Russia’s minimalist approach to logistics and in part a consequence of the Ukrainian military’s decision to target supply shipments and Russian logistical hubs. For every six Russian combat units in Ukraine, only one unit is employed in supporting roles- in comparison, the U.S. employed a ratio of six supporting personnel for every individual American fighter during its counter-insurgencies in the Middle East.

None of this yet mentions Russia’s enlisting conscripts, or the almost 22,000 Russian soldiers who have been wounded or killed in action. Among these casualties are a large number tactical commanders, including at least five generals. These sorts of losses among commanding officers have not been seen since the Second World War, and unstable leadership surely exacerbates the problem of managing already stressed supply lines.

If we can believe the reports that Putin has become increasingly isolated from his advisors and ill-informed about the situation in Ukraine, then each of these problems become more severe for the Russian military. The less accurately informed the autocrat is, the less likely it is that he will be able to implement the sort of tactical adjustments that would allow for greater Russian successes.

By decapitating Russian tactical command and disrupting resource shipments, the Ukranians have made it difficult for the Russian military to put the full volume of its military to bear.

We must celebrate the early success of Ukraine’s resistance. In earning these early victories Ukraine’s fighting men and women likely guaranteed that their homeland will continue to exist as an independent and democratic nation.

However, it is important to keep the larger context in mind. Large swaths of eastern Ukraine are occupied by the Russian military and only 16% of the world’s population live in nations with governments that have actively condemned Russia’s invasion. In truth, we have achieved little more than avoiding the worst case scenario and forcing Putin to reevaluate his strategy. More to the point, there is a chance that the Russian military’s many early mistakes give Putin the opportunity to make the necessary strategic adjustments before even more of Russia’s fighting capacity is rendered useless.

Yes- Ukrainian forces have survived the initial shock of the invasion, much of the early commitment of Russian heavy weaponry has been taken out of the field, and Russian tactical command structure is shaken. However, as a consequence of these Ukrainian successes, the Russian military may have begun to adapt. Since mid-April, the Russian military has carried out a retreat from some of the most far-flung battlefields in order to restructure command of the military operation and refocus firepower in eastern Ukraine where the Kremlin employs the trumped-up casus belli of liberating the “breakaway republics” of Luhansk and Donetsk.  

This refocused military strategy coupled with some indications that the Russian economy has adjusted to the impact of sanctions and apparent growing support for the conflict within Russia should create anxiety among those of us who wish to see a free and prosperous Ukraine. This anxiety should be amplified by the fact that the American public has a short memory as it pertains to foreign policy issues- this is particularly the case when other concerns (both real and hyperbolic) come increasingly into focus with the 2022 elections on the horizon.

We cannot allow ourselves to believe that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is mere days or weeks from ending- to do so would be to make the same mistake that Putin apparently made when first authorizing the conflict. As any student of foreign policy knows, occupations (and the counter-insurgencies they beget) are long-term commitments that are costly in terms of both blood and treasure. Unless we are willing to believe that Putin launched his invasion without this knowledge, we must believe that he is prepared for a long term conflict that takes numerous twists and turns.

Putin’s initial attempt to strike at the heart of Ukraine has failed, but we should not be lulled into the sense that this war is over. The war will continue to rage in eastern Ukraine much as it has for the last eight years in Crimea. The United States and its global partners should continue to apply economic pressure and focus the international community on Russia’s imperialistic behavior. In addition, anti-imperial nations around the world should continue to supply the Ukrainian military with the information, supplies, and weaponry needed to sustain the fight for Ukrainian independence without risking escalation into an even more destructive war. 

Not only is the principle of national self-determination at stake in Ukraine, but so too is our shared commitment to democratic values and our opposition to violent expansionism. We cannot afford to avert our attention just as Putin corrects the missteps of his initial invasion.

Peter Scaturro is the Director of Studies at the Foreign Policy Association

Azerbaijan marks twenty-ninth anniversary of Bashlibel Massacre

Mon, 25/04/2022 - 15:47

This month, Azerbaijanis marked the 29th anniversary of the Bashlibel massacre, which took place in 1993 following the Armenian occupation of Kalbajar.   In early April 1993, 62 residents of Bashlibel sought refuge in the mountains as the Armenian forces advanced in the area. 

Ismat Azizov, a resident of Bashlibel, told the Azerbaijani media the following about the attack: “From April 5 to April 18, 1993, we were able to hide inside caves from the Armenian militants.  When the Armenian armed groups found out we were hiding in the mountains, they opened fire on us.”    14 residents were taken hostage and 18 others were ruthlessly slaughtered.   The remaining 30 managed to escape. 

Another massacre survivor Salim Mehydiyev recounted that the Armenian militants callously told the women and children to come out of the cave, claiming that they would be safe, and then shot at them: “I witnessed Armenian militants torturing not only people but cattle in the village.”  

Vasif Huseyiv, another survivor, wrote in the J.CA: “Picture a remote village nestled in a valley surrounded by rugged yet scenic mountains. A prosperous and peaceful place with a population of fewer than 2,000 living in an ideally natural place. As in the neighboring villages, most residents subsist by farming and beekeeping. They export a bountiful surplus to the rest of the country. The villagers are fond of reading verses aloud, often poems they have written themselves. They are proud of the achievements of their school, one of the largest schools in the region, and the aspirations of their young people to go to university, in the national capital or further afield.”

“Such was Bashlibel, at the southeastern edge of the Kalbajar district of Azerbaijan,” he continued.  “But it is now necessary to talk about this beautiful village in the past tense. That is because Bashlibel, together with hundreds of other villages in the Karabakh region, fell victim to the full-scale war launched by Armenia in the early 1990s. Within a short time, the village had been all but razed to the ground.”

According to him, “It is particularly hard, even heartbreaking, for me to tell the history of the occupation to which Bashlibel was subjected, as it is the place where, in 1989, my mother gave birth to me and where I lived in happiness until, in 1993, the armed forces of Armenia swept in.  As a 4-year-old child, I had no clue what was happening, why people were leaving their homes in panic, or where we were heading on foot in the cold morning.”

“I hardly remember the shock my family experienced then, but, retrospectively, I can see how traumatic it must have been for my mother, then seven months pregnant with my sister, and my disabled grandmother, who could not walk without assistance,” Huseyiv added.  “The residents of Bashlibel had no access to the helicopters and only a few automobiles to save their families from the horror that Armenian troops brought to their village.”

In conclusion, he proclaimed: “Nevertheless, we had to reach the other side of Murovdag on foot. Fortunately, there were two horses at our disposal; my mother and one-year-old brother used one, my grandmother the other. Halfway, some of us – my grandparents, mom, me and my brother – were taken by a Soviet-made car whose Bashlibeli driver Tahir Samadov was driving back to Bashlibel to help people. Thanks to him, we safely arrived in Khanlar district in unoccupied Azerbaijan, where many other Kalbajari people, already termed internally displaced people (IDP), came together to wait to be provided with “temporary” shelters. Tahir left again for Bashlibel to help others but never came back. My dad, together with my uncles arrived in Khanlar a few days later; they had walked all the way from Bashlibel, like many others.”

In honor of the 29th anniversary of this massacre, Azerbaijani Human Rights Commissioner Sabina Aliyeva declared: “We believe that those responsible for numerous crimes committed by Armenia against peaceful Azerbaijanis including the Bashlibel massacre will soon be brought to justice and answer before the country.   Villagers including children, women, people with disabilities and the elderly were tortured to death and some of them were even burned alive.”

It should be added that following the Second Karabakh War, the Azerbaijani government inspected Bashlibel village by a drone and discovered that all of the homes in the village were ruined during Armenia’s occupation of the area.   According to reports in the Azerbaijani media, the remains of 12 unarmed Azerbaijanis including a 12-year-old child, a 16-year-old teenager and six women, were unearthed around the village.

Negotiating with gangs- advantages and drawbacks

Fri, 22/04/2022 - 16:11

On the weekend of March 26th, the notorious MS-13 gang went on a massive killing spree in El Salvador which left more than 70 people dead by Sunday. Even for a country where powerful gangs hold massive sway, this recent tragedy stands out considering that it was the bloodiest day on record since the civil war ended 30 years ago. The current president of El Salvador, Nayib Bukele, campaigned and won the election three years ago on a strict law and order platform. Mr. Bukele, only 40 years old, is largely well liked in his country, with an approval rating of 85 percent. Until this recent killing spree, violence in El Salvador had dropped significantly, from 105 homicides per 100,000 in 2015 to 17.6 homicides per 100,000 in 2021. Bukele was credited as contributing in large part to this drop in deaths, which makes these recent events a potential upset to his public image. The government reacted swiftly and firmly to the massacre, arresting more than 1,000 suspected gang members, cutting food rations in the prisons, and seizing inmates’ mattresses. In addition, El Salvador’s Congress declared a state of emergency that suspends constitutional guarantees of freedom, allows police to conduct deeper searches, and restricts suspects’ rights to legal representation.

The real question is, why would gang members embark on such a bloody rampage? Many of the victims had no real connection to any Salvadoran gang, which leads many to assume that the killings were intended more as a means of sending a message to the government. If there is a message which the gang members are intending to send, it is likely related to allegations that President Bukele’s government established a truce with the gangs MS-13 and Barrio 18 back in 2019. The US government as well as major media sources such as El Faro claim that Bukele’s administration gave gang leadership financial incentives and perks for imprisoned gang members in return for assurances “that incidents of gang violence and the number of confirmed homicides remained low.” While President Bukele denies that any conversation and truce ever happened, many believe that the killing spree was an attempt by the gangs to let the government know they want to renegotiate the terms of the agreement. If these allegations are true, it calls into question the success Bukele appeared to have with reducing gang violence, as well as the ethics surrounding the negotiations.

While negotiating with criminal organizations is morally and legally frowned upon, there have been instances of it resulting in a drop in violence in other Latin American contexts. In Brazil, negotiations between the state of São Paulo and the gang First Capital Command (PCC) in 2006 resulted in homicides falling for years afterward. Similar negotiations between the government and gangs have occurred in Colombia, Ecuador, Haiti, Honduras, and Mexico. The fact that these talks are not a rarity is tantamount to the sheer power of the gangs, as well as the inability of officials to combat them with official means. The recent killing spree clearly shows that such negotiations are not failproof when it comes to stopping gang violence. However, the brief drop in violence during Bukele’s first three years in office demonstrates that there may be some merit for entering into such negotiations in the first place.

Graham Nau is the Assistant Editor at the Foreign Policy Association.

Remembering the Agdaban Tragedy

Tue, 19/04/2022 - 19:47

About thirty years ago, the Armenians seized control of the Kalbajar district of Azerbaijan and attacked the village of Agbadan, burning down 130 homes and torturing 779 civilians in one night, with 67 slaughtered with particular cruelty.  Some of the women were even burned alive.  Meanwhile, the Armenians desecrated cemeteries and destroyed historic manuscripts of Azerbaijani poetry and other cultural landmarks belonging to Azerbaijanis in Agdaban.

Around this same period of time, one fifth of the Azerbaijani population was ethnically cleansed from the Karabakh region and the seven adjacent Azerbaijani districts, which led to one million people becoming refugees.    Around the same period of time, the Khojaly genocide happened, leading to 613 innocent Azerbaijani men, women and children getting slaughtered for the crime of being Azerbaijani.  

However, despite the thirty-year anniversary of the Agdaban massacre occurring over the past week, not many members of the international community have much to say about it.   French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian is ready to mediate peace talks between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and calls for stability in the Caucuses, yet did not mention what happened in Agdaban, even though the thirty-year anniversary for this massacre occurred around the same period of time.    

Within the past few weeks, US President Joe Biden pledged $24 million in foreign aid and $600,000 in military assistance to Armenia, the nation that perpetrated a horrific genocide against Azerbaijanis in Agdaban, Khojaly, Agdam and other areas of Karabakh in the 1990’s.   Biden says that what the Armenians suffered during World War I was genocide.   However, he is mute on what happened in Adaban, Khojaly and other atrocities that the Armenians committed against Azerbaijanis more recently in the 1990’s. 

Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid recently welcomed the Armenians back in Israel, as they just decided to reopen their embassy in the country after it was closed following the Second Karabakh War.  He discussed what could be done to improve Armenian-Jewish relations, yet made no mention of what the Armenians did to Azerbaijanis in the 1990’s. 

In fact, Lapid is on record calling upon the State of Israel to join Biden in recognizing that what happened to the Armenians in 1915 as genocide, yet he does not make a similar call concerning the classification of Armenian crimes in Agdaban, Agdam, Khojaly and other areas of Karabakh as genocide.   It should be stressed that former Israeli President Reuven Rivlin recognized what happened in Khojaly at the UN General Assembly as a crime against humanity and genocide, but this Bennett government has been mute on the topic.   

Azerbaijan’s late President Heydar Aliyev once stated, “The acts committed against our people should be characterized as a crime against humanity and their ideologists and organizers decently punished.  We have no right to forget these actions and their lessons.   Historical absent-mindedness and forgetfulness can result in a bad ending for our nation.”    However, it appears that the community of nations has forgotten the lessons that history has to teach us and are effectively ignoring the crimes against humanity that the Armenians perpetrated against the Azerbaijani people. 

Yet, as concerned citizens, we have a duty to stand up and object to this reality.  As famous Holocaust scholar Elie Wiesel once stated, “Without memory, there is no culture.  Without memory, there is no society and no future.  We must take sides.  Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim.  Silence encourages the tormenter, never the tormented.”  Therefore, the community of nations must remember what happened in Agdaban, Khojaly, Agdam and other areas of Karabakh and the seven adjacent Azerbaijani districts, for forgetfulness only invites future atrocities.   


By Rachel Avraham

Plus Ça Change

Mon, 18/04/2022 - 16:51

Russia has some of the largest natural gas and oil reserves in Europe. The future of European development may rest on Russia’s energy supply to the heart of the continent. MAP BY VIRGINIA W. MASON, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC


Many Western countries decided to put themselves in a poor strategic defensive position when they decided to push technologies that were not yet refined for their energy needs, while depending on countries and regions of the world where energy and human rights abuses sometimes went hand in hand. Europe is currently struggling to find alternative energy sources so they can move their internal economies and the well being of their citizens off Russian oil and gas. This is being done while some leaders are still failing to embrace the reality that gave Vladimir Putin the leverage to act while still being funded by Western Europeans and their allies.

While many economies have tried to move away from their dependence on Russian Oil, many have only done so partially, or will only be able to make such a maneuver over a few months or even years. The inability for oil producing allies of the West not mired in their own human rights issues and their own refugee crises to act have been hampered by the same policy decisions that is currently fuelling Russian tank and missile production. The issue of a lacking infrastructure to integrate North American oil and gas into European ports needs to be given the same level of precedence that is given to supporting Ukraine, as without this displacement, we are funding Russia’s tanks and artillery with our energy needs. Without a clear and realistic acknowledgment of the strategic value of oil and gas in addressing the crisis in Ukraine, the war will be greatly funded by their Euros, Dollars and Pound Sterling.

The approach that has been made was that the West has given funds and an ethical hall pass to countries that fuel human rights abuses with their revenues from oil. While this might displace Russian oil, it will not displace human rights atrocities. These atrocities will just change their location in the world, still being subject to our catalysts. While the resistance to using oil and gas from stable nations means it is being red taped out of existence in our communities, it also means that the refugee crisis currently taking shape in Ukraine will just occur in another part of the world. It guarantees that another aggressive Authoritarian will use their oil revenues to attack innocent civilians, although we have known for years that this is already occurring.

The history of resource conflicts is the history of war. One of the catalysts that lead Japan to entering the Second World War was the lack of natural resources held by the islands of Japan. Japan’s subsequent invasion of mainland China and eventual assault on European supported nations in the region at the time was partly done to secure added wealth and resources. The notable Battle of Stalingrad during the Second World War was over a small city named after a tyrant that was a valuable transport point for resources from the Caucasus, needed by both the Soviets and Germans if their were to continue fighting towards victory in Eastern Europe. While oil and gas is not the only catalyst for conflict, it is often one of the main elements that people need to survive and thrive at that time, and for much of the current era as well. We can see this in the recent past during drug conflicts in Mexico. When it became difficult to transport narcotics over the border, cartels and interested individuals took to tapping oil pipelines. Shortening the supply of a needed resource is the catalyst for conflict, in many cases they are related to resources that fuel, heat and feed our communities. Unfortunately, we still use and require oil and gas, even in 2022.

We know what must be done, because we are not much different than our parents and grandparents nor are we better or more capable than those that came before us. The evolution of technology is shared by all, and clean and cheap energy has been sought since the time the first steam engines pushed trains across the continent and windmills ground wheat and corn to feed the ever growing human expansion on Earth. What was known back then is that the rights and civility of people must come first, and that achievement can only be sought with justice and freedom for all.

On the real goal of Russian disinformation

Wed, 13/04/2022 - 20:40

The Russian invasion of Ukraine has been going on for well over a month. Those of us who live in nations with a commitment to free speech and the free press have become accustomed to seeing articles with headlines like “At the Edge of Kyiv, Ukrainians Show Off Their Counteroffensive”, “Putin ‘Misinformed’ by Advisers on the War, White House Says”, and “Russian troops ‘drive tank over commander’ amid anger at high casualties”. Upon reading those articles, the overwhelming majority of Americans choose to believe that the information they provide us with is correct.

More than that, we see a flow of more casual information through the guise of social media that highlights the struggle of everyday life for individual Ukranians, Russia’s targeting of civilian buildings, and even the resistance music that plays on radio stations in Kyiv. This further validates the information we receive from traditional media outlets. 

Many Russians, and countless other individuals who do not have their right to free speech and a free press actualized are not granted access to this information- instead, citizens of repressive countries are stuck tuning in to state media for most of their information. In Russia this media diet consists of the state television channel Rossiya, well known (but scarcely trusted) sources like Russia Today and Sputnik News, and whatever scatterings of international media can weave their way through the various censorship blacklists that have restricted the content that Russians can consume both online and through their television screens for well over a decade.

VPNs and apps like Telegram provide greater access to Russians who use them, but doing so comes with legal risks. More than that, these people make up a small portion of the Russian population and are overwhelmingly young and urban. Many of them, presumably, are already in jail for demonstrating against the war.

The West often misunderstands the purpose of Russian disinformation both in how it shapes political discourse in Russia and how it impacts the larger world. The goal is not to persuade Russians that the Kremlin cannot tell a lie, nor is it to completely censor all narratives that might push back against the Russian position. Frankly, individual Russian citizens are too smart to fall for such obvious propaganda.

Instead, Russians are given the impression of a semi-free media through the occasional sample of some of the West’s most controversial political personalities, “what about-isim”, and the frequent exaggeration of otherwise honest stories. This maelstrom of political repression and half-truths serves to discredit the media in its entirety in the eyes of the Russian people- leaving the Kremlin as the last remaining viable narrator. Similarly, Russian disinformation within the United States is designed much more towards facilitating distrust and political disengagement than it is towards the benefit of one political party over another.

Putin and his crownies know that Russia is too deeply integrated in the international community to pursue a full “Hermit Kingdom” strategy. Putin also knows that the strength of the American free press will make it all but impossible for reasonable Americans to be outright duped by his lies. So, in lieu of this, Russian officials have adopted a strategy of sewing confusion and general distrust.

Eventually, the Kremlin hopes that this distrust will turn to disinterest. That the public’s attention will shift away from Putin’s atrocities, and that Ukraine-aligned governments will decide that cheaper gas and grain is more desirable than a drawn out (economic) conflict with autocracy. 

What can those of us in the West do to thwart Putin’s efforts? We can continue to pay attention to what is taking place in Ukraine, we can continue to seek out information from a broad range of sources, and we can inspire our fellows to do the same. More than anything else we can keep the pressure on elected representatives and media outlets alike to shine a light on these critically important issues. 

Putin does not need to persuade you of his lies to win out in Ukraine, all he needs you to do is stop caring.


Peter Scaturro is the Director of Studies at the Foreign Policy Association

A New Strategy for Iran’s Nuclear Deal

Mon, 11/04/2022 - 17:41

Former-President Trump’s decision to remove the United States from the JCPOA was misguided. Now President Biden negotiates with Iran after years of obscure nuclear development. It is time to reconsider foreign policy objectives for Iran’s nuclear program.

Trump argued the nuclear deal failed to address Iran’s motive for nuclear weapons, and he stands correct. Trump abandoned the deal and Iran doubled their nuclear stockpile near weapon-grade attainment. However, Trump’s objectives lied in binary conclusions of prevention and attainment. Such objectives have two fundamental challenges: extreme binary measures generate lower levels of success and greater tension between outcomes. Prioritizing motives as an element of the JCPOA’s success was misguided. Iran’s nuclear program made considerable progress and the U.S. is now pressured to restore a deal.

Restoring a nuclear deal comes with two caveats. Any agreement will not eliminate Iran’s years of added technical knowledge and skills. Consequently, restoring a deal now only stretches Iran’s breakout time to roughly half of the original 1-year timeframe. Developed expertise leverages negotiation and Iran is a greater threat today with or without a nuclear deal. A shortened breakout time has prompted senate republicans to warn any weakened deal will prompt a red line.


A viable solution to incapacitate Iran’s nuclear program may not exist.

Airstrikes on nuclear infrastructure do not yield promise. Iranian retaliation would be expected and can incentivize bolder nuclear development. Economic sanctions prove ineffective. Integrating the global economy is not an Iranian priority and sanctions impact medically conditioned civilians to suffer most. Iran devotes itself to absorbing sanctions and depicting itself as a guardian from Israel and the West. Prioritizing an immediate solution to Iran’s nuclear program will be to no avail.

Failure to incapacitate Iran’s nuclear program will further complicate its unstable region. The response to strengthen regional defense systems as Russia invades Ukraine exemplifies how Iran’s nuclear weapon attainment will prompt the region. Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey is likely to declare or develop their nuclear arsenals. U.S. foreign policy ought to force Iran to prioritize long-term motives rather than attainment ability.


Detecting secret nuclear facilities is a greater threat to U.S. interests. Iran’s Fordow and Natanz nuclear facilities remained undeclared until western intelligence, suggesting Tehran intended secrecy after beginning operations. Now IAEA is barred from accessing a centrifuge manufacturing site as of 2021. The U.S. must depend more on its intelligence apparatus without a deal; meaning, the threat of secret facilities outweighs the threat of declared facilities.

The U.S. has leverage should Iran induce a breakout dash with declared facilities. IAEA inspections complicate Iran’s ability to operate in secrecy. Iran would need to bar inspectors, transport nuclear material and build a weapon prior to a U.S. response. A considerable level of confidence or accepted risk of disaster would be required. Expect Iran to continue mastering its nuclear program. However, weaponizing nuclear material without prompting a military response is unlikely.


Successful U.S. foreign policy ought to accept Iran’s developed nuclear expertise. Over a decade of diplomatic, economic and military efforts have led Iran to years of technical advancement and near weapon-grade attainment. Deter motives to weaponize nuclear material. Israel’s former national intelligence chief once declared, “In the Middle East, a decade is eternity.” Prevent political wins in the region and continue to monitor nuclear operations.

Leaving the JCPOA put the U.S. in an inadequate position to monitor Iran’s nuclear program. President Biden must now realign political strategy from prevention to containment. Sanctions on Russia elevated oil prices and Iran is keen to strike a deal that would allow benefitting from oil exports. Leverage Iran’s potential revenue for greater U.S. intelligence capacities.

Rafael Prado is an analyst with the U.S. Department of State. He is an alumnus from The Pennsylvania State University and continues to study security policy at George Washington’s Elliott School of International Affairs. Follow him on Twitter @_pradoiii.

Hate Politics and the Critical Faith Theory

Tue, 05/04/2022 - 17:43

Hate Politics and the Critical Faith Theory

As the midterm elections get closer, the debate on whether or not it is appropriate to teach the Critical Race Theory (CRT) in schools is likely to intensify. It is the most contentious and indeed most misconstrued sociopolitical issue facing America since the ‘abortion debate.’

According to the right-wing politicians and their supporters, it is a sinister movement driven by certain ‘woke mobs’ that are bent on destroying America by rewriting school textbooks in order to poison the young minds into self-hating monsters. And that self-hating generation, the right-wing groups warn, will reject values of self-reliance, hard-work, and patriotism.

In reality, CRT is an academic concept that is more than four decades old that argues racism is not merely the byproduct of individual bias or prejudice. It is a value implanted and sustained in systems and policies that shape and drive critical institutions such as the education, political, legal, and financial systems for othering or disenfranchising certain segments of American society.

This article advocates and affirms the importance of teaching CRT in schools in order to cultivate enlightened generations that are not afraid to trace back sources of the dysfunctional impulses that fuel societal division. The U.S. constitution spells out legal protection against race and faith-based discrimination. It is within this framework that this article makes the case for what I call Critical Faith Theory (CFT)- the other side of the same coin or the prevalent Islamophobia based systemic discrimination.


Systemic Racism Cannot Be Ignored

Pathways to opportunities and failures are often paved by the choices people make as individuals; and there is no argument over that. That said, throughout history and indeed in various parts of the world, systemic conveyor belts were set up to facilitate the advancement of certain societal elites and steer others toward failure based on their race, faith, and economic class.    

It is not by sheer coincidence that public transportation systems in America are designed to keep suburbs where most jobs are located as exclusive economic islands. “From funding, planning and infrastructure, to design and policing, many transit agencies essentially have built two systems with different standards for “choice” and “dependent” riders (that is to say white and Black),” argues Christof Spieler, senior lecturer at Rice University.

Imagine this recurring scenario in many inner-city neighborhoods across America. A young Black man who grew up in a disadvantaged neighborhood decides to look for an opportunity.  He borrows a car from a family member and heads off to a suburb nearby.  On his way back, he is stopped by the police for an expired license plate. Fortunately, he survives that potentially deadly encounter, but not without setting in motion a chain of problems for him and the car owner.

The police officer asks for a driver’s license, car registration, and insurance. The young man ends up with a hefty ticket for an expired license plate and for not having insurance; but that is not enough. The car is impounded because the owner, though living at the same address, was someone other than the driver.  

Since neither the young man nor the family member whose car he borrowed have insurance, they are required to purchase high risk insurance (SR-22) that costs roughly 5 times the ordinary insurance; but that is not all. They still must pay for towing and the cost of each day that the car remains in the police impound lot.

In most cases when the poor people face such overwhelming financial burden, they end up losing their vehicles. And if they fail to pay those tickets on time, arrest warrants are issued, and nightmare scenarios ensue. 

Consequence of Racialized Islam

In her well-researched book, The Racial Muslim, Sahar Aziz offers a profoundly piercing argument that the civil rights and civil liberties of American Muslims have been steadily violated. Politicians, media, think tanks, and various hate groups have played noteworthy roles. Liberals erroneously rationalized that “eroding the civil liberties of Muslims was….a small price to pay for securing the nation.”

Moreover, conservatives, especially after Donald Trump was elected president in 2017, became ”bolder and more aggressive in their attempts to expel, exclude, and prosecute Muslims.” The so-called Muslim ban was not merely a misguided executive order or a divisive slogan, it was a deliberately crafted dog-whistle to project Muslims as the most dangerous threat facing America.          

Campaign To Criminalize Islam and Muslims

Unlike all other forms of bigotry, Islamophobia in United States is not simply expressed in hate speech, discrimination, vandalism, and threat of violence, all Islamic institutions—including mosques—are in the crosshairs. The paranoia that Sharia was going to replace the U.S. Constitution took hold of many people in many critical institutions.                  

Lawmakers used to routinely make outlandish claims against Muslim communities in the US and accuse their mosques of being centers for radicalization. The most belligerent among them was retired Congressman Peter King who chaired the House Committee on Homeland Security. Among the many Islamophobic statements he made are:

There aretoo many mosques in this country (and) we should be looking at them more carefully and finding out how we can infiltrate them.”

Congressman King used to hold Joseph MacCarthy-like hearings on “homegrown Islamic terrorism” in order to sustain the post 9/11 othering of Muslims. In one such hearing, retired Congressman Keith Ellison told a story of an American-Muslim hero whose story was smeared because of his faith and name [video]

Not even The Council on American–Islamic Relations (CAIR), which is the leading Muslim advocate for justice and mutual understanding is safe. Despite its exemplary record, certain conservative law-makers, media, think tanks, and a wide array of hate groups relentlessly target it with vicious smearing campaigns.  

When CAIR National recently discovered it was being spied on by an anti-Muslim organization named Investigative Project On Terrorism led by notorious Islamophobe Stephen Emerson, it followed the dollars. 

Over $100 million in funding came from various organizations, including some household investment company names such as Charles Schwab and Vanguard. 

Global Islamophobia

In the West, though countries such as Germany launched a critical initiative against hate crimes and included Islamophobia as a subcategory of the law-enforcement statistics of “politically motivated criminal acts” other European countries are instituting policies that target Muslims.

Countries such as France and Sweden that are considered some of the most liberal in Europe have been instituting policies that are unapologetically Islamophobic and inflammatory political rhetoric intended to turn public opinion against Muslims and Islam. This latest database on anti-Muslim Hatred published by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights underscores an alarming trend.

Likewise in the East, countries such as China and India have been resorting to more repressive policies that pave the way for ethnic-cleansing. China holds between 1 and 3 million Muslims of the Uyghur minority in concentration camps for what it calls reeducation. India instituted a policy citizenship revocation and the current ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) supports the Hindutva extremists who routinely attack Muslims in mobs.      

Policies Cannot Be Neutral On Hate

Hate speech directed toward Muslims is widely tolerated. Should you as a reader find this claim incredulous or mere hyperbole, you should not hesitate to put it to test. Take any of caustic Islamophobic tropes and bigoted attacks that the former President and some of his supporters in Congress and media continuously spew at the only hijab-wearing Muslim law-maker, Rep. Ilhan Omar, and imagine her being a Jewish representative.          

Those of us advocating for the CRT and CFT are not bringing fabricated claims for historical revisionism; we are merely asking for a level playing field. Students are already taught about antisemitism in schools and the systemic bigotry that led to the Holocaust. Why not expand that teaching to include how systemic racism is othering minority communities such Blacks and Muslims?     

Interpreting Through the Fog

Thu, 31/03/2022 - 18:39

Getty Images

With the War in Ukraine having been part of the international dialogue over the last month, the language and policies that were once thought to be something of the past has become part of our immediate future. Defense spending and policies on oil and gas had to meet the reality of the current situation, and when not altered, was accepted in part as a failed approach. It is clear now that bad foreign policy decisions can lead to horrific consequences, and that freedom and democracy must not only be enshrined in Constitutions, but be acted upon as a way of life as a covenant between just nations.

There have been some movement towards effectively helping Ukraine beat back Russia’s assaults on their nation. The move to provide Ukraine with not only shoulder launched short range anti-aircraft missiles, but also longer ranger S-300 type systems and medium range systems like the 1970s era SA-8 Gecko has made the skies over Ukraine’s Western cities dangerous for Russian aircraft. Even old systems like the SA-8 and SA-13 have created a major problem for modern Russian aircraft. Anti-tank weapons has made the invasion of Ukraine costly, with only the most protected tanks being able to contend with the different types of rockets designed to obliterate Russian Armour.

Slight changes towards providing Europe with North American energy is a move in the right direction, but slow and not effective in the immediate term. There needs to be a serious human rights discussion on reality vs. ideology. The effects of these decisions on Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Latin America and Asia must be carefully considered when taking policy decisions on energy. Neglecting reality will just lead to a future conflict without fail. No one wants to donate their citizens to a future war in the cold fields of Ukraine or deserts of Iraq any longer. For this to occur, intelligent policies must become paramount.

Strategic losses seen on raw film and video has been one of the most useful ways to interpret the changing winds of war during this conflict. With so little reliable information being produced and focused information from different sides of the conflict being highlighted or actively blocked, the only information that can be relied upon is a knowledge of the region and the weapons used therein.

Losses of systems that are required by Russia to win a modern conflict in Ukraine shows how difficult it has been on Russian forces. With numerous BMP and BMD light armoured vehicles being destroyed, and older T-72 type tanks making up much more of Russia’s tank arms than expected, it seems as if Russia was not as well equipped as many would have thought against a country on its own border. Losses of modern attack helicopters like the KA-52s and low flying SU-33s jets by shoulder launched missiles or dated anti-aircraft systems from the Cold War also show the difficulty in challenging Ukraine’s armed forces, which was one of the best armies during the Cold War era.

Losses of ground based artillery and anti-aircraft systems are likely why challenging larger cities has been a complex exercise for Russia. Launching a siege or bombardment is required before entering a city, and when photos of lost 2S3 Akasiya and 2S19 MSTA are found, there is certainly a problem in their campaign. Losing vital anti-aircraft systems like the SA-11/17 BUK to drones has been surprising but has occurred on a few occasions. Seeing ultra modern Pantsir systems stuck in the mud, or seeing two separate SA-15 Gauntlet systems being dragged by farm equipment may be why drones and ballistic missiles from Ukraine are constantly harassing Russian forces, as those two systems are designed to defend the skies over Russian tanks and artillery. Trying to dominate the second largest country in Europe next to your own is difficult, but to do it with lost equipment in a region that was designed to repel a NATO attack with old systems that are as effective against modern equipment as it was against equipment from thirty years ago is almost impossible.

While it will become apparent that Russia made a mistake in invading Ukraine, the chance that an end to hostilities will restore all of Ukraine’s territory is not likely. Poor policy decisions in 2014 and the simmering conflict in the East of Ukraine will likely not be of interest to the West a few short months after the end of the wider conflict. Empowering Russian allies and enriching petro economies with poor human rights records will create similar conflicts in other regions of the world, and the current disinterest in those regions during the current conflict in Ukraine will result in repeated conflict and violence. Preventing a global conflict will not just come from sanctions and protests, but from policy decisions that seek long term solutions, not just ads for the next election.


Generational Differences in Russian Resistance

Wed, 30/03/2022 - 21:07

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s relentless invasion of Ukraine shocked the international community. Individuals around the world are observing horrors unfold as Russian troops continue their siege on major Ukrainian cities. Information regarding the invasion is nearly impossible to ignore, with coverage flooding in from every major news outlet. In Russia, the story looks different. Russia’s censorship of media prevents citizens from gaining access to accurate information. Independent media is virtually non-existent; the Kremlin indoctrinates Russians with propaganda spread through state-controlled television. Despite the breadth of this disinformation campaign, it has had varied results. Most notably, there’s been a generational gap regarding perceptions of Russia’s behavior. Older generations tend to be more supportive of the Kremlin, whereas younger generations tend to be more resistant to Russian disinformation. A 2022 survey conducted by an independent organization in Russia found that 75% of Russians aged 66 or older support the war in Ukraine. Comparatively, only 29% of those aged 18-24 support the war. The disconnect comes from two sources: Soviet Nostalgia and social media.

Soviet Nostalgia refers to Putin’s desire to bring back the sphere of influence once held by the Soviet Union. In a 2005 State of the Union Address, he declared the collapse of the USSR to be the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.”. Putin’s yearning for the days of Soviet power have guided much of his policy – it motivated him annex Crimea in 2014. Putin’s most recent invasion of Ukraine follows this same logic. He believes that because of their shared history, Russia has a right to Ukrainian territory. Older generations of Russians vividly remember the days of the USSR. They can envision a time when Ukraine and Russia existed under one regime. As a result, they are more susceptible to Putin’s Soviet Nostalgia.

Many older Russians pinpoint 1991 as the start of their financial duress. Putin has repeatedly blamed the economic disaster accompanying the downfall of the USSR on western influence. The overnight emergence of a privatized economy created hyperinflation, and increased poverty quickly followed. Putin amassed heavy support in the 2000 elections from older Russians who believed Putin would “lead them out of [the] shame and poverty” brought on by the West. He continues to spin narratives of a return to soviet economic success, despite taking little concrete action to improve the Russian economy. These narratives appeal directly to Russians who suffered financially in the early 1990s. They more easily believe that recreating the Soviet Union’s former prestige will result in economic progress.

Older Russians’ disengagement with social media heightens their vulnerability to Putin’s narratives. Their consumption of information consists almost exclusively of state-controlled media. State media circulates propaganda painting Ukrainian leadership as a neo-Nazi regime. It describes Russian troops as liberators of Ukraine, while censoring any coverage of devastation created by the war. Older generations who don’t utilize sites like Facebook or Twitter don’t have access to alternative information. A Russian in Moscow, interviewed by Aljazeera, told journalists that older Russians are “drowning in propaganda…” and thus support Putin’s actions. Younger generations, on the other hand, frequent social media. Putin’s regime severely restricted sites including Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter in early March 2022. However, prior to this restriction, younger Russians engaged with outside accounts of Russian behavior. As such, they struggle with conflicting narratives.  Katya, a 20-year-old Russian, told Aljazeera that state television programs “blatantly lie” about the situation in Ukraine. She and her peers rely heavily on social networks and platforms like Telegram, attempting to discern the truth.

Younger Russians’ disconnect from the Soviet era further distances them from Putin’s influence. 18- to 24-year-old Russians were born into a post-Soviet world – they cannot envision a Soviet world the same ways their grandparents can. They have only ever known Ukraine as a sovereign nation. Propaganda promoting a return to former Soviet glory fails to significantly impact these younger generations.

Hopeful images of resistance in Russia have emerged in recent weeks: rallies led by college students on university campuses, a news reporter interrupting a broadcast to counter propaganda, and anti-war protests in major cities across the country. While the war in Ukraine rages on, the intergenerational battle of public opinion within Russia rages alongside it. Older generations continue to engage with Putin’s disinformation campaign, stubborn in their belief that Russia has been mistreated by the West. Younger Russians find creative new ways to access genuine news: through VPNs, alternative platforms like Telegram, and word of mouth. The burden of resistance weighs heavily on younger shoulders, as they fight to see an end to senseless violence.

Brazil Election 2022- Parallels between Trump and Bolsonaro

Tue, 29/03/2022 - 17:09

In October of 2022, Brazilians will go to the polls to determine if Jair Bolsonaro remains president of Brazil. After three years as president, Bolsonaro has earned a reputation at home and abroad as an erratic far-right populist leader. Initially being elected in 2018, Bolsonaro won the presidency on his conservative values and disdain for political correctness. His opposition to abortion was applauded by the country’s sizable evangelical population, and his tough-on-crime stance was well received by many Brazilians concerned with rising violence in the country. His values and posturing have often echoed those of US President Donald Trump, and as a result, he has at times been referred to as the “Trump of the Tropics”. Indeed, from the beginning of his tenure as president on January 1st, 2019, to his current rhetoric revolving around the upcoming election, Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro share much in common.

Bolsonaro secured the presidency in October with 55% of the vote. As an outside anti-establishment candidate, he was able to win over many Brazilians fed up with the poor state of the country following the presidencies of Dilma Rousseff and Michel Temer. The economy was in recession, and the Petrobras Scandal led to targeted accusations against many high-level Brazilian politicians, including then-president Temer. While Bolsonaro was able to ride this wave of discontentment to victory, over the past year his image has begun to sour for many Brazilians. By the end of 2021, the approval rating for Bolsonaro had fallen below 30%. The reasons for Bolsonaro’s struggling public image can largely be chalked up to three factors: the deforestation of the Amazon, mishandling of the Covid-19 crisis, and the worsening state of the Brazilian economy. Bolsonaro’s damaging environmental policies in the Amazon rainforest have drawn scorn from heads of state around the world. His decisions to ignore six offerings of Covid-19 vaccines from Pfizer elicited anger from many Brazilians as the virus ravaged the country. But the biggest contributing factor to the discontentment towards Bolsonaro is by far the worsening state of the economy. As of late 2021, 14% of the Brazilian population was unemployed, and that figure will likely not go down in 2022 as the GDP is expected to grow by only 1%. Inflation has surged with the national currency, the Brazilian Real, trading at an all-new low against the dollar. Many believe the root of the new-found inflation is due to Bolsonaro’s decision to massively expand the Bolsa Família, a cash transfer program for the poor that he has utilized to win votes among the lower class. This expansion of the budget deficit (surprising for such a right-wing politician) has caused Bolsonaro’s relationship with the business elite to also go south, resulting in a loss of favor from one of his biggest voting blocs. The end result of all these factors is that 70% of Brazilians think the economy has worsened, and 41% say that the state of the economy will be the biggest influencer in how they cast their vote, which puts Bolsonaro in a difficult position for the October election.

The biggest challenger to Jair Bolsonaro is Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Former union leader and leftist president of Brazil from 2003-2010, Lula will be the chosen candidate for the left-wing Partido dos Trabalhadores, the Worker’s Party of Brazil. Lula’s campaign for office is mainly based off his hope that he will serve as a moderating force against Bolsonaro’s reckless decision making. He has specifically taken aim at Bolsonaro’s reckless behavior regarding the Covid-19 pandemic. Lula faces some big obstacles in his way as well, largely due to the recession occurring during his tenure as president and possible involvement in the Petrobras Scandal. One-quarter of Brazilians say that they will not vote for either Bolsonaro nor Lula, which means those votes will likely go to centrist contenders such as São Paulo governor João Doria, former health minister Luiz Henrique Mandetta, or former governor Ciro Gomes. Many anticipate that these contenders will split the vote, resulting in a second-round between Lula and Bolsonaro.

It is against this backdrop that we approach the Brazilian presidential elections. Just like Donald Trump in the lead up to the 2020 US elections, Bolsonaro is laying the groundwork to challenge unsavory results in October. During a campaign rally last September, he announced “Only God will remove me” showing his disdain toward democratic transitions of power. He has claimed, without proper evidence, that the country’s electronic voting system is rife with fraud. He has dismissed federal police chiefs probing into his family affairs. Finally, he has used national security laws to persecute his critics. Many of these moves were blocked as unlawful by the supreme court, resulting in a massive protest outside the courts. Bolsonaro’s false claims about election fraud, dismissal of disloyal appointees, and willingness to spur on his followers into rallies against the judicial system hold many parallels to the behavior Donald Trump exhibited as president and leading up to the 2020 US election.

However, while Bolsonaro and Trump share many characteristics in common with their populist undemocratic behavior, Brazil is a country with a much younger and weaker democracy than the United States. The reason that is relevant is because there is a much greater risk that Bolsonaro will be able to flout the rules in Brazil and be able to get away with it. Bolsonaro is an open and avowed supporter of the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil from 1964-1985 and as explained above, has been known to stretch his presidential powers while in office. It is for these reasons that a loss for Bolsonaro may result in a strong rejection of the results by him and his supporters. The most extreme event of a coup is unlikely, but there is a good chance that violence and upheaval will take place in Brasília, testing the strength of Brazil’s democratic institutions.



Graham Nau is the Assistant Editor at the Foreign Policy Association.

Closing The Skies

Tue, 22/03/2022 - 19:39


The debate of the day is being highlighted by Ukrainian President Zelinsky’s direct and open communications with semi-supportive world leaders over the next few days while he addresses their legislative bodies, and in turn, their citizenry. While Ukraine’s Armed Forces and locals taking up arms have fought hard and have done a measurable amount of damage to Russian Armour, the situation on the ground has notably changed due to their effective resistance. The importation of anti-tank weaponry has been incredibly effective for close in combat and has made invading cities an assured kill box for Russian tanks and support vehicles. In turn, Russia, who faced similar obstacles in the earlier Chechen conflicts, have resorted to tactics they saw as effective in later Chechen conflicts by using long range artillery and missile systems to punish towns, cities and the remaining population. Russia has essentially been trying to put in a siege of all major cities in Ukraine in range of their artillery systems.

Ukraine has only a few options in bringing an end to this conflict on their end and that of their allies, but friendly gestures will not save more lives. If Western Allies do not help immediately to Displace Russia’s military funding, defend the skies over Ukraine from artillery strikes on their populations, and create disarray in Russia’s artillery units, then the only outcome will result in close in combat with anti-tank rockets as a last resort.

The most stark policy development lately has been the lack of effort from European and other Western countries to displace Russian oil and gas in their economies. Partial restrictions, especially from oil and gas producing nations, in the importation of Russian products is partially contributing to continued violence. While European countries are closely tied to Russian oil and gas imports, the refusal of North American oil and gas to immediately increase production and actively displace Russian oil and gas for Europe is indirectly funding hundreds of Russian tanks and missiles. By allowing a large and consistent funding source to Russia, you are allowing the war to continue. It is not a solution to displace Russian energy products with oil and gas from conflict zones and those that have themselves created refugee crises of hundreds of thousands of people, or who shell civilians themselves. Ignoring violence will result in another future war. It is simply displacing violence, not oil.

The recent debate on the importation of MiG-29 fighter jets from Poland to Ukraine and its resulting failure injected a great blow to the confidence Ukraine has in the support it has been receiving from abroad. The request Ukraine has asked for, to help close the skies over the country to Russian attacks, may only have one effective solution. Ukrainian jets have been targeted by S-400 anti-aircraft systems based in Belarus that has caused a tremendous amount of damage. Most likely the sophistication of the S-400 and its long range would render Ukrainian responses in the air mute. While Starstreak, Stinger and Igla MANPADS is an incredibly powerful low level defense for Ukraine, the need for systems that can target high flying aircraft and incoming cruise missiles and artillery is needed to blunt the siege on Ukrainian cities.

While the ability to ship items to Ukraine through its Western borders is still open, Ukraine’s allies who are not willing to implement a no-fly zone should rapidly implement a missile umbrella over major populations centres. It has been demonstrated that even older Soviet era systems like the SA-8 and SA-13 have stood up to aircraft like the SU-25, and MANPADS have even destroyed modern aircraft like the Russian SU-34. Older and very effective systems that are known to the Ukrainian forces should be pushed into the country immediately as their effectiveness in numbers is a game changer. With more modern systems possessed by Ukraine like the SA-11 and SA-15, additional systems should be given to Ukraine supported by Western systems that operate in a similar fashion. SA-15 type systems are designed to target cruise missiles and other artillery, and any system that can stop a Russian barrage may make a Russian siege a futile exercise.

The intense response by Ukraine has pushed the tactics of Russia’s invasion into one where Russian Armed Forces have decided to preserve themselves by using their artillery systems to bombard targets before sending forces in to take over major metropolitan areas. The result of using artillery shells and multiple launch rocket systems is what is creating a human rights disaster as those weapons are not precise and are used to destroy large sections of the city as was the case in Grozny during the Chechen wars. While only used on a few occasions, Ukraine needs long range counter artillery battery systems like an MLRS, or Katyusha type artillery and systems like the SS-21 Tochka and SS-23 Oka to respond to Russian artillery units surrounding major cities. While drones have committed some impressive attacks, surprisingly without being shot down, they can also provide a firing solution to counter artillery while focusing in on valuable targets. The lack of effective Russian air cover over their units also means that sending combat capable drones to Ukraine would likely help tremendously, as Russian Armour and mobile air defense have been lost to drone attacks by Ukraine. Even the most modern systems like the S-400 would not be able to defend against a swarm of drones and could act to deplete the missile site of missiles against human pilots if needed.

It appears to be the case that the most modern and impressive of Russia’s military equipment was designed not solely to support the local army, but to encourage sales of their military technology abroad. Newer systems that have seldom been used in real combat are not working as planned possibly, and the best equipment is so few in numbers that it is not being used on the battlefield. While T-90 tanks have been destroyed by anti-tank rockets, a tank designed to protect its crew with high tech systems against such equipment, the majority of the tanks are upgraded T-72 tanks, followed by other Soviet era equipment that one would have thought would have been scrapped or sold abroad by the 2020s. The most modern of systems are Russian designed anti-air systems like the S-400, as the Soviet Union was designed more to defend against invasion as to not repeat the past during the Second World War. That technology however is still effective, and Ukraine possessed many older systems that have shot down modern Russian aircraft.

Ukraine was always the best and first line of defense against NATO during the Cold War, and the Soviet Union planned their defense and accompanying technologies out for generations. Forces in the Ukraine SSR were the tip of the spear for defending the Soviet Union, and much of that Cold War defense technology works incredibly well to this day. Russia’s armed forces are linked to their Soviet heritage, and is the best defensive force in the world. It was never going to be easy invading Ukraine, at a point one of the best defensive forces in the world with the best defensive force in the world. Ukraine was the site of some of the biggest Soviet victories against the Germans in the Second World War. For the Soviets, Ukraine was created to defend a future attack.

The Ukraine War and the Testing of America

Mon, 21/03/2022 - 19:38

How much danger does this pose to us?


Ukrainians’ courage and conviction constantly amazes Americans watching the awful news from that nation.  We should take their inspiration to heart.  Not only will watching become more painful, but we will feel our own repercussions.  Some are scarier, and closer to reality, than we might think. 

We understand that Putin cannot afford to lose this war.  He apparently could not leave Ukraine in peace either.  Its independence and liberalization posed a standing rebuke to his rule.  In a certain logic of Russian leadership, any rebuke can lead to ouster or death.

As a possible path to winning, Putin can cast free nations as weak and hypocritical, so long as he continues his attack and the West continues to tiptoe around his red lines.  If we allow Ukraine to be crushed, in this view we reveal the emptiness of our claims of principle.  We “forcefully” pushed our Liberal World Order, starting with color revolutions and progressing to NATO expansion, but cower when force pushes back.  The West is no different from any other regime.  Our rules based order is only an order based on our rules.  Any advance in that perception is a win.

This logic might see America as the font of the trouble.  It is not incorrect: America cannot but stand as a rebuke to any dictator in the world.  This nation conceived itself on a principle, that all persons are equally endowed with rights we couldn’t give away, and that governments’ purpose is to secure those rights.  We rejected a standing government on this premise.  Thus, as John Quincy Adams said, “wherever the standard of freedom and independence has been or will be unfurled, there will (America’s) heart, her benedictions and her prayers be.”  We believe all people have unalienable rights and cannot help but favor any who claim them, anywhere on the planet.  Promoting freedom is aggression for any dictator, and the most powerful nation identifies itself this way. 

This zero-sum logic leads to a clear, if we hope distant, danger.  Putin follows that logic in his warning not to “interfere in the Ukraine invasion and his alert of Russian nuclear forces.  On March 9, the Duma formalized his claim that the West is waging “economic warfare” on Russia, the same kind of sham threat he invoked for the invasion.  Putin points the nuclear gun at us, just as he pointed the invasion gun at Ukraine. 

If nuclear wars were deterred by the fear of Mutually Assured Destruction, Putin also saw America’s moral power destroy a Russian state.  He needs to erode that power.  Today he might settle for embarrassing us – if China brokers a peace, an effective dictatorship shows up free societies’ fecklessness.  But ultimately, the only difference between our threat of freedom and his threat of nuclear warfare is who gets destroyed.  In this calculus, a nuclear strike on an American target might help.  Saddling a free society with the choice whether or not to retaliate and risk Armageddon could make free society look either incompetent or immoral.  Putin could get a win.  It is an evil, but strategic, logic.

In Fiona Hill’s words, “yes he would, and he wants us to know that.”  We cannot know why, whether as negotiating maneuver, as key to some grand purpose, or simply to bully.  Michael O’Hanlon points out precedents in US-Soviet behavior.  Lawrence Freedman assesses Putin’s objectives as still strategically defensive.  But Americans cannot dismiss the threat because we think Putin would be crazy to act on it.  And people do copy others’ methods.  The question is how to deal with a strategically logical bully.

Would America abandon a nation under attack precisely for its freedom because Putin points the nuclear gun at us?  Are Americans ready to live under a nuclear threat over Ukraine?  How about for our creed?  We need to think about how we carry our founding tenets.  Our creed is the one thing American cannot afford to lose.  We must ensure its viability and our fidelity. 

This imperative puts certain demands on our responses.  First, our interest is not only to stop Putin but to keep fidelity to our principles.  Stopping him is urgent and imperative but he is not the only threat.  Losing a fully democratic – not just democratizing – Taiwan to PRC coercion would be at least as damaging as losing Ukraine.  Second, any compromise to our principles must be carefully weighed, or rejected outright.  Putin’s raw aggression may justify some easing of scruples, but engaging Venezuela to replace Russian oil – keeping prices down to limit our costs – risks moral debasement.  Third, we need to make clear that our sanctions aim at Putin’s regime, not the Russian people.  We must mount our opposition with judiciousness and clarity lest we paint ourselves as Putin would, interested really in power, not freedom.  Fourth, again, our standing rebuke will draw nuclear threats.  Our own nuclear force is a deterrent, but dictators will test it and confrontation always risks war. 

There is a logic that says Putin will eventually raise another threat, and not stopping him now will create a bigger problem later. By this logic we should defy Putin’s warnings, whether by setting a “no-fly zone” or sealing off western Ukraine from Russian troops.  Tempted as we may be, are we prepared for nuclear brinkmanship, unscrupulous countermoves, and casualties?  Have we devised ways to manage China relations, absorb economic costs, and deal with other painful effects?  The logic of calling the bluff is balanced by logics of prudence and preparation.  Convictions are meaningful only when followers shoulder the burdens, and we must acknowledge the burdens to truly shoulder them. 

Far from least, Americans need to commit at home as well as abroad, in our own lives and with each other, to realize our national identity of the self-evident truths.  We are tired, of pandemic, shortages, the presumptions of experts, the selfishness of the secure, the institutional callousness and personal meanness or condescension.  We are polarized by self seeking factions and their careerist leaders.  But the choices we demand, the equality we deserve, all rest on the creed we all share.  America cannot be the nation conceived in 1776 unless we validate its premises.  Tests are coming. 

A Strong Hand and Outstretched Arm

Fri, 11/03/2022 - 17:31

In this photo taken from video and released by the Russian Defense Ministry Press Service on Friday, Feb. 4, 2022, tanks and armored vehicles move during the Belarusian and Russian joint military drills at Brestsky firing range, Belarus. (Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP, File)

There have been several theories and muted responses to how to manage the Russian attack on Ukraine, but to this point the people of Ukraine have been mostly failed by the international community. Without truly committing to an effective plan of action, or delaying vital responses with full knowledge of the consequences, Ukraine has been effectively given to the winds.

Ukrainian leadership have been voicing a consistent message to us since well before this recent conflict, being met with deafening silence. When Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 was shot down over Ukraine by what was thought to be a BUK-M1 missile system in 2014, the victims were mostly ignored by the rest of the world after a few weeks. An incident like having an airliner full of innocents being destroyed would have contributed to the end of a regime as it did in the past with Korean Airlines Flight 007, but now victim’s families of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 and Ukraine International Flight 752 need to beg for the most basic application of justice, and are ignored in many cases by their own Government.

Following the details of how assistance to Ukraine is being applied, International Lawyer Mark Warner has shared information demonstrating that some of the aid is limited. It could be the case that due to the interests of some in power, aid is restrained to the point of being knowingly ineffective. Sanctions being put in by banks often ignore funds related to Russian oil and gas production. In a callous move, Russian oil and gas bans have been applied to crude oil that is not currently being imported, but ignore refined products that are still flowing to nations worldwide.

Oil and gas is the industry that runs money to Russia’s power elite, and as a result fuels the military with political leverage, petrol and ammunition. Effectively, each litre of gas you put in your tank is like giving a handful of bullets to a Russian soldier in Ukraine. The continued limitation of other oil producing nations in ignoring their ability to displace Russian fuel and dilute Russian leverage contributes greatly to the conflict at this very moment. Every delay in limiting the conflict results in lives lost.

The initial attack on Ukraine was done using common modern techniques, with cruise missiles and air to surface missile systems targeting Ukraine’s Air assets and their Air Defence network. Despite much bravado from international experts claiming the superiority of Russia’s military, much of Russia’s experience was based on using high tech missile systems and air power in Syria. Ground force operations were mostly clouded by their several difficult on the ground missions in Chechnya, many that were lost until the Russian Armed Forced decided to raze Grozny to the ground on their third major attempt. While more complex anti-tank equipment is making a great difference in the battles in Ukraine presently, they still lack many of the systems they have been asking for well before this conflict began. As has been pointed out by Ukraine’s leadership, they not only need ammunition, they need certain types of systems to stand up to Putin.

In this situation, the financial sanctions and displacement of Russian finances need to not only be done in a meaningful way, but rapidly. Delays are tantamount to death in the current siege of Ukraine, and masking real help with virtue is as bad as not helping at all.

To manage the threat of Russian Armour by inexperienced soldiers or average citizens, the anti-tank systems given to people need to be simple to use and effective. Advanced NATO systems will not be easily used by those without experience, and RPG-7 or other simple systems need to be sent to Ukraine to help over the next few days.

While Stinger and SA-7/SA-14 shoulder launched MANPADS are being used in Ukraine right now against air threats, they are not wholly effective against the protection of the SU-25 ground attack aircraft, faster attack aircraft and standard countermeasures. Shoulder launched missiles cannot stop long range missiles like the OKA or Iskander missiles that are being used to target Ukraine’s defenses. Systems like the 2S6 Tunguska and TOR-M1 and NATO systems like the Roland and the Patriot systems are what is needed desperately in Ukraine at this very moment. None of the coming supplies seem to address this crucial need, and with so many delays in supplying Ukraine’s Armed Forces with lethal weapons while ground is being lost, there is little chance that Russia’s Armed Forces would allow the transfer of those critical weapons systems to the front.

The lack of assistance to Ukraine over the period from 2014 until 2021 is notable, as it demonstrates the clear and present ignorance on foreign policy issues of those outside of Eastern Europe. The knowledge of the coming war in 2022 was at no point met with enough physical assistance in effectively blunting an attack, and initially rode on a narrative of hopelessness as an excuse for absent policy. Despite the knowledge and experience from countries like Poland in assisting Ukraine’s defense posture and the incredible aid given to Ukrainians fleeing the violence, intended delays and crumbs of assistance from those outside of the region has not reflected the language coming from average citizens all over the world claiming their support for the Ukrainian people. With so little attention acknowledging other human rights atrocities in the last few years, future generations will surely not look kindly on us.

Sun Tzu’s Seven Searching Questions for the War in Ukraine

Thu, 10/03/2022 - 19:03

Ukrainian civilians practice throwing Molotov cocktails to defend the city of Zhytomyr as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continued on March 1, 2022.

Most of you will have heard of Sun Tzu- the Chinese author and military tactician who rose to prominence in the 4th century BC. Some of you may be familiar with his most prominent work- The Art of War. 

By now, you have heard about Vladmir Putin’s unwarranted aggression and despicable drive towards conquest in Ukraine. This expansionism has led to levels of violence in Europe that have not been seen since World War II,  and has forced the entire global community into a heightened state of military readiness. When troubling times like these arise, it can be useful to turn to trusted sources of guidance, and Sun Tzu’s Art of War is no exception.

While the Ukrainian force have achieved early successes in slowing Putin’s advance, the bulk of the fighting is yet to take place and the end result is far from determined. In the very first chapter of The Art of War Sun Tzu provides Seven Searching Questions through which he suggests we evaluate the outcome of a conflict. 

First, we are told to ask “Which sovereign is imbued with the moral law?” I understand this as a way of assessing morale and discipline. Which leader has the ability to rally and unify their nation behind their efforts?

Here, there can be little doubt that the advantage goes to the Ukranians, who have shown a resolve beyond the world’s highest expectations. Reports suggest that Ukranians both young and old, men and women, have rallied in support of their nation’s defense and have begun to form local militias and take on the auspices of military order. On the other hand, there are consistent reports about the lack of both training and low morale among Putin’s forces on the front and growing domestic dissent from all walks of life in Russia. The Ukranians appear far more unified behind President Zelensky than the Russians seem committed to Putin, and the loyalty that Zelensky has earned comes from respect rather than through fear.

Second, we are asked, “Which of the generals have the most ability?” There is no misunderstanding about  what Sun Tzu is asking here, but we do not yet quite know the answer as it pertains to this conflict.

There have been reports that Putin’s forces have been consistently undersupplied and that Putin’s generals struggle to communicate honestly with him. More than that, Putin’s forces have underperformed relative to their numerical advantage. Needless to say, these failures have resulted in the slow Russian advance that we have seen in the early days of the conflict. The quality of Ukrainian tactical leadership, however, is yet to be fully put on display. The United States and other democratic partners can aid Ukrainian generals by supplying timely, relevant battlefield information. With full engagement from democratic partners, Ukrainian generals may rise to the occasion, but we would be overly optimistic to assume that Putin will not address these early failures in tactics and logistics over time.

Third, Sun Tzu asks “With whom lie the advantages of the heaven and the earth?” Here, we are being asked to assess the battleground on which the conflict is being fought and the impact that weather will have on the fighting. 

Though Sun Tzu’s words may need parsing, there is no doubt that the Ukrainians, fighting from their homes (sometimes too literally) have a better sense of the terrain and are better prepared to use it to their advantage. Urban warfare is notoriously bloody, just as it is notoriously difficult for the aggressor. Similarly, as winter turns to spring, mud will increase the difficulty of Putin’s heavy artillery movements. Both literally and figuratively, the heavens and earth side with Ukraine’s defense.

Fourth, Sun Tzu asks us “On which side is discipline most rigorously enforced?” Unfortunately, this question continues the trend of Sun Tzu’s most direct questions resulting in our most murky answers.

Where the Ukrainian resistance is concerned, the idea of “discipline” as Sun Tzu means it is tough to evaluate. The formal Ukrainian military’s early success in deterring Putin’s aggression suggests that the troops are disciplined, but as the fighting takes place more and more in the streets, individual Ukranians defending their homes will likely lack a formal sense of “military discipline”. Russia’s sense of military discipline is more conventional, but there are serious questions about what that discipline entails and from where it originates. Certainly some (though not all) Russian soldiers on the front lines of the fighting have shown the “discipline”(however corrupted that sense of discipline may be) to carry out war crimes. However, if this discipline is derived from fear that Putin’s regime will punish desertion, it may falter as the Putin regime shows increasing signs of domestic cracks. Ultimately, time will tell if the righteousness of the Ukrainian cause will make up for their lack of formal military training. In either case, Ukraine’s democratic partners can bolster Ukrainian discipline by highlighting the righteousness of their cause in opposition to Putin’s growing list of war crimes. 

Fifth, we are asked the most direct question- “Which side has the stronger army?”

Putin has the stronger army– barring direct involvement from Ukraine’s democratic partners.  For those of us hoping to see a successful resistance to Putin’s aggression, this is by far the most challenging obstacle to overcome. This advantage is so flagrant that it has allowed Putin’s forces to maneuver in ways that would be easily punishable by a more heavily equipped foe- most notably the ever growing military caravan that has begun to surround Kieve. A Ukrainian resistance might still prove successful, but it will take place with a disadvantage of both soldiers and weaponry

Sixth, we are asked “On which side are the officers and men more highly trained?”. For those of us not seated in  the Pentagon, Kieve, or Moscow this is yet another difficult question to answer, but there are publicly available reports that can shed some light on the matter.

Reports suggest that Ukraine’s forces are relatively small, but highly effective. Many regiments of the Ukrainian army have undergone training with American partners following the 2014 invasion of Crimea, and stand prepared to face Putin’s offensive. Russian forces, on the other hand, appear to be largely conscripts, some of whom were brought to the front lines under false pretenses. The size and munitions possessed by Putin’s forces may eventually overwhelm the smaller Ukrainian force, but reports suggest that the average Ukrainian soldier has undergone more rigorous training than the average Russian fighting to advance Putin’s wicked cause. As the conflict rages on, democratic partners can aid the Ukrainian cause by providing tactical assessments and training exercises to maintain a heightened degree of readiness.

Seventh, Sun Tzu asks what might be his most important question, “In which army is their greater consistency in both rewards and punishment?” Yet again, we are being asked to consider the military motivation of both armies. 

More than that, we are being asked to evaluate how the stakes presented by the conflict will inspire the fighting that takes place on the ground. The stakes for the Ukrainian people could not be more clear- they are fighting for the future of their homeland as a free, independent, and democratic nation. As the fighting continues, their fighting will be inspired by the destruction of their homes and their desire to avenge loved ones who were killed or wounded in this senseless conflict. Both reward and punishment are crystal clear for Ukrain’s resistance. Individual Russians on the front lines are fighting for something somewhat less clear. Many are being told that they are fighting a “denazification” campaign, though that justification falls apart upon meeting with any honest intellectual resistance. Beyond that, individual Russians are fighting and dying for the deranged ambitions of a tyrant who has led their nation to economic ruin and global disrepute. 

On the basis of Sun Tzu’s Seven Searching Questions, the Ukrainians have three clear advantages- a “sovereign imbued with moral law”, “the advantages of heaven and earth”, and “greater consistency in both rewards and punishments”. Putin’s invading force has one clear advantage- its superior size. 

The remaining three matters – good generalship, discipline, and training all remain to be seen. However, in each instance Ukraine’s democratic partners can support the Ukrainian effort without a direct military intervention- through intelligence, international support, and armed assistance respectively. If the world’s democracies can turn these “toss-ups” into Ukraine’s favor, The Art of War may provide a pathway for Ukraine’s valiant defenders to win the day over Putin’s imperialistic ambition.

Peter Scaturro is the Director of Studies at the Foreign Policy Association

U.S. Policy Options in Japan Regarding a Rising China

Tue, 01/03/2022 - 20:12


ZHUHAI, CHINA NOVEMBER 18, 2019: Fishing vessels in the South China Sea. Artyom Ivanov/TASS (Photo by Artyom IvanovTASS via Getty Images)

      China rapidly grew into the world’s second largest economy after opening its doors in 1978. The emerging power’s economic success allows it to continually improve its conventional and nuclear capabilities. A rising China poses a threat to U.S. allies in East Asia, most notably Japan. Japan falls under the umbrella of U.S. extended nuclear deterrence – if China acts against Japan, the United States will be obligated to respond. Japan’s alliance with the United States remains its main defense. The Trump administration weakened the credibility of the U.S. commitment to Japan, both in the eyes of the Chinese and the Japanese. As such, the current U.S. administration must reconsider its policy options to negate a rising China. Biden should consider three policy options: encourage Japan to develop nuclear weapons, increase U.S. conventional forces in defense of Japan, or adopt a grand strategy of neo-isolationism. I ultimately recommend that Biden reinforces the U.S. conventional commitment to Japan, while emphasizing the defensive nature of that commitment.

        The development of a Japanese nuclear arsenal would create an effective deterrent against China. A nuclear threat must be credible in order for deterrence to work. The previous administration’s behavior towards U.S. allies weakened the credibility of U.S. extended deterrence to Japan. Trump’s administration pulled out of multiple agreements, including the Paris Climate Agreement, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. China may feel more empowered against Japan if it believes that the United States will not retaliate. By developing a nuclear arsenal, Japan would be less reliant on the United States. China would see the development of nuclear weapons as a credible threat and be less likely to act aggressively. The United States could continue supporting Japan without shouldering as much of the cost of defense. The development of Japanese nuclear weapons would also benefit U.S. relations with North Korea. In 2017, North Korea tested missiles able to reach mainland United States. Japan is situated approximately 700 miles from North Korea — if a nearby U.S. ally acquires nuclear weapons, it would deter North Korea from acting aggressively towards the United States.

         Encouraging nuclear development in East Asia comes at a great risk for both the United States and the international community. It could create a security dilemma domino effect – if Japan builds up its arsenal in response to insecurity created by China, China and North Korea will become increasingly insecure. These two nuclear states would in turn increase their own nuclear capabilities. Even current non-nuclear states could see the spread of nuclear weapons as a threat – South Korea may consider acquiring nuclear weapons. Encouraging nuclear development in Japan risks creating an arms race across Asia. The creation of more nuclear weapons, whether or not they are intended offensively, would increase the likelihood of nuclear war. The more weapons that circulate in the region, the higher the possibility that someone will use them. 

         Alternatively, the United States could decide to increase the capability of conventional forces dedicated to protecting Japan. This policy route would act within the boundaries of international norms; it does not threaten the use of nuclear weapons. Since the focus will be solely on conventional capabilities, this policy will reinforce the United States’ military commitment to Japan without encouraging proliferation. Additionally, this option greatly reduces the risk of igniting a nuclear arms race. Nuclear states will not be faced with an immediate nuclear threat, and the security dilemma on nuclear level will be much less severe.

         Increasing conventional capabilities does risk creating a security dilemma on a conventional level. The reinforcement of the U.S. conventional commitment to Japan could provoke China, who may decide to respond with conventional warfare. Considering the strength of Chinese forces, a conventional strike could be debilitating for Japan. On top of the economic costs of reinforcing conventional forces, the United States may have to face the human cost of a war with China. Conventional wars have the potential to turn nuclear, especially when nuclear states are involved. Considering both China and the United States possess nuclear weapons, a conventional war involving between the two has an increased probability of escalating.

         The United States could adopt a grand strategy of neo-isolationism, which would prevent U.S. involvement in an East Asian war. Neo-isolationism infers that the United States would step back from its alliances in Europe and Asia. The United States would no longer bear the burden of protecting Japan. It cost the United States nearly $34 billion to keep military forces in Japan from 2016 to 2019, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office. By ending alliances, the United States could reallocate billions of dollars to domestic issues. Because of the size and survivability of U.S. nuclear weapons, the United States would still maintain a sufficient nuclear deterrent against its adversaries.

         A shift to neo-isolationism would critically impact the United States’ reputation. The international community generally dislikes when states withdraw from prior commitments, as exemplified by Trump’s time in office. The United States would lose access to the various benefits of alliances – the economic benefits of trade, additional military aid, and support from the international community. The most significant cost of neo-isolationism is the loss of influence in the international community. Right now, the United States acts as a global hegemon. The respect and economic power held by the United States allows it to impose its influence globally. If the United States resigns from its commitments, it would have a harder time influencing other states to act within its interests. The United States would thus resort to military power to exert influence, which would be costly and inconvenient.

         The damage done to U.S. alliances by the Trump administration begs the question – how will the Biden administration address this issue? Will it continue down a treacherous road towards isolationism, or will it re-emphasize its commitments? In his first year of presidency, Biden has sent mixed messages. He rejoined the Paris Climate Accords and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but he withdrew forces from a 20-year commitment in Afghanistan.  Biden’s alliances in East Asia will deeply impact how China behaves throughout the rest of this administration. As such, Biden’s administration should consider the second policy option. Reinforcing the U.S. conventional commitment to Japan will emphasize the United States’ dedication to its alliances without risking nuclear proliferation. Biden should simultaneously emphasize the defensive nature of this commitment to avoid exacerbating the security dilemma in Asia.