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Updated: 6 days 2 hours ago

Corruption Almost Never Disappears

Fri, 03/05/2019 - 19:14
Corruption can easily come to be seen as an inevitable part of the system (Christopher Dombres, public domain)

Since the Americas became home to millions of refugees from Venezuela over the last year, a great deal of attention has been given to the situation in the country. With a new government in waiting declaring their legitimacy and international condemnation of the Maduro government, little has changed however in Venezuela or for Venezuelans. Maduro’s government was able to ride out the international media attention it seems, and once there was less focus on the actions of his government he sought to ban, block and arrest his opposition and re-enforce his power in the country. While these actions run contrary to much of international law and breaks several human rights laws in the process, it was not the first time Maduro sought to jail his opposition. Despite an international effort to return rudimentary democracy to Venezuela, it looks as if the international community were only willing to support the democratic movement in Venezuela for a limited period of time with a limited amount of effort. No one is willing to take a large risk to end corruption in the country unfortunately, and those who do take the risk often do not succeed as the institutions of government have already been corrupted.

While people on both sides of the political spectrum in Brazil have aligned themselves closely with many of their political representatives, there is little doubt that corruption by many politicians is a serious problem with almost all political actors in Brazil. After several scandals and the realisation by many in the public sphere that corrupt practices have greatly reduced the per capita wealth and standard of living of average Brazilians, the judicial community advanced investigations into corruption that has placed a few ex-Presidents in jail and have gutted the established political order in Brazil. Brazilian society was made aware of how corruption operated between large corporations and their government, and how millions upon millions in revenue went to a few politicians and business leaders. Hard fought and well established judicial independence was able to challenge a system that was completely corrupt because the public demanded real justice. This was possible because while absolute corruption corrupts absolutely, it also makes the average citizen pay for it without restrictions or barriers, and will bankrupt every country that suffers from corrupt practices and institutions. Besides the moral deficits, it makes everyone poorer for the experience. The only way to eliminate it is to make sure it never takes hold in the first place.

Even countries with healthy democracies can become victim to corrupt practices. Canada has been suffering since February of this year with a corruption scandal where two whistle blowers in the current government have been kicked out of their party for protecting the judicial independence of Canada from a government that wishes to change the law to benefit a specific company. Canadian Parliamentary Democracy is built on the British Parliamentary system, where customary laws and etiquette have governed democratic practices for generations, but are often not codified in Commonwealth governmental systems. When the country’s Attorney General and fellow Ministers supported Minister Wilson Rayboult in her role to keep the Prime Minister from influencing the judicial process, she was castigated. When committees were formed to investigate, they were shut down by the Prime Minister’s party and those who did their job protecting Canada’s justice system were tainted by the same party and their reputations attacked. This leads to the conclusion that in the wrong hands, the Parliamentary Democratic system can be severely abused if the governing party lacks moral fibre. An immoral Prime Minister is able to infect the institutions and democratic protections in the government to such a great degree that they themselves believe they can permeate the barriers between the Executive, Legislative body and the Judiciary for their own political benefits. If the end result of such a political system is that there is little difference between holding a PM accountable and an Elected King accountable, the system is unable to protect its citizens from corrupt practices. Canada’s Venezuelan and Brazilian neighbours struggle with the end results of absolute power. Canada is far from having those problems to the same degree, but they are rapidly making inroads towards institutionalizing corruption in their country. Once installed in a society, it is almost impossible to remove and always is a detriment to the public.

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Sri Lanka bombings and the rise of ISIS in Asia

Thu, 02/05/2019 - 15:00

After I reported that ISIS is starting to move its forces to Africa and Asia following the destruction of the Caliphate, the Sri Lanka bombings occurred.   Across Asia, ISIS is on the ascent.  How should American policy makers respond?  

Last week, as Christians across the globe were celebrating Easter and Jews throughout the world were enjoying Passover, suicide bombers blew up three churches and three luxury hotels in Colombo, Sri Lanka.  Later on the same day, there were additional smaller explosions within the country.  259 people were massacred and 500 others were injured in one of the worst coordinated terror attacks in recent history.  ISIS claimed responsibility for the coordinated terror attacks in Sri Lanka.  This came after I reported, “The murderous terror group is starting to move its forces to Africa and Asia.”   The question remains, in the wake of the fall of the Caliphate in Iraq and Syria, to what extent does ISIS pose a threat to Asia following the Sri Lanka bombings?

Although US President Donald Trump had claimed that the War against ISIS is over due to the collapse of the Caliphate in Syria and Iraq, many counter-terror analysts warned that such statements were premature given that ISIS terror leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi remains free and the terror group still has the potential to wage deadly terror attacks worldwide.  Furthermore, in the wake of the fall of the Caliphate, many ISIS terrorists have returned to their home countries in Asia, where they are beginning to claim territory.

 Already, ISIS has captured a number of villages in Afghanistan and ISIS is attempting to establish itself in Bangladesh.  Not too long ago, Bangladeshi MP Assaduzzaman Noor claimed that “IS is not the Islamic State but rather the Israeli state.  Israel is the biggest enemy of Islam.”  Shipan Kumer Basu, President of the World Hindu Struggle Committee, proclaimed that in the absence of vigilance by the authorities in suppressing the brutal terror group, there are many local supporters for the murderous terror group within the Asian country.  Aside from Afghanistan and Bangladesh, ISIS had also attempted to gain territory in the Philippines but they were repelled by the local authorities, who recently eliminated Abu Dar, the ISIS leader of the Philippines.  In 2017, ISIS terrorists in the Philippines held an entire island hostage for 5 months.  Over 1,000 people were killed as part of efforts for the local government to retain the main city.  Furthermore, according to the Clarion Project, the Rohingya rebels are linked to ISIS as well and they managed to initiate a major conflict against the Myanmar government.    

In the wake of the inroads that ISIS is making in Asia, the risk of another series of terror attacks occurring in the continent could not be greater.  Brahama Challeley, a professor for strategic studies at the New Delhi based Center for Policy Research, explained, “The defeat of ISIS in Syria and Iraq has only intensified the terrorism challenge because battle-hardened fighters with the operational training to stage savage attacks are now returning home.” He claimed that the presence of such ISIS returnees in Sri Lanka explains how such a horrific and sophisticated coordinated series of terror attacks were able to occur within the Asian country.  

However, the threat of such a coordinated series of terror attacks occurring did not begin with the fall of the Caliphate.  It began in 2017, when Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi appealed to his followers to avoid feeling defeated: “Oh soldiers of the Caliphate, fan the flames of war on your enemies, take it to them and besiege them in every corner and stand fast and courageous.”  The following year, in 2018, the New Yorker reported that ISIS was linked to 3,670 terror attacks worldwide with more than 300 taking place in Afghanistan, more than 180 in Egypt, about six dozen in Somalia, more than 40 each year in Nigeria and Yemen, and 27 in the Philippines.   Not too long before the Sri Lanka bombings this year, ISIS took responsibility for a terror attack that killed 16 in Afghanistan, a suicide bombing that killed 18 in a Pakistani market and twin bomb blasts in a Philippines church which slaughtered 23 others.   Indeed, ISIS making inroads in another Asian country was only a matter of time. 

For ISIS, Sri Lanka was a soft target.  The local authorities, who are Buddhist, fought a long and bloody civil war against the Tamil Tigers, a brutal terror group that implemented numerous suicide bombing attacks that included the use of female suicide bombers.  Given that brute force and not a peace agreement ended the civil war, keeping the peace on the island meant a constant suppression of Tamil (who are mainly Hindu) separatism.   Given this, Israel Hayom claimed that the Sri Lankan authorities turned a blind eye to the threat that Islamist extremism posed to the country.  Since the local Muslims were victims of many atrocities implemented by the Tamil Tigers, they were not on the radar screen of the Sri Lankan authorities.  However, Challeny claims that as the Sri Lankan authorities focused mainly upon suppressing Tamil separatism, there has been a surge in Saudi funded madrassas springing up who preach the radical Wahhabi ideology not only in Sri Lanka but also Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Kazakhstan and Pakistan.  

The very presence of these madrassas provide a fertile ideological breeding ground for ISIS to set themselves up in a number of Asian countries.   This is demonstrated by the fact that Salafi Wahhabi Indian preacher Zakir Naik, who equates music with alcohol, believes people should have their hands chopped off for stealing, supports wife beating and death for homosexuals, blamed Bush for September 11, supports Al Qaeda terrorizing America and is ideologically opposed to the propagation of non-Muslim faiths, promotes the same radical ideology that is propagated in the Saudi-funded madrassas.   According to Basu, his preaching were very popular not only among the Sri Lanka bombers but also among the perpetrators of the 2016 Dhaka terror attack in the Holey Artisan Bakery, which led to the slaughter of 22 people.  Interestingly, Saudi Arabia granted Naik citizenship merely so that he would not be prosecuted in India for promoting Islamist radicalism.   According to Basu, these Saudi-funded madrassas in Asia not only promote the teachings of Naik but other radically minded individuals as well, thus leading to the rise of radical Islam in Asia.   If one wants to understand the magnitude of the rise of ISIS in Asia, it is of critical importance to understand in depth all of ISIS’s present activities in Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar, where the murderous terror group has made numerous inroads in recent times.  

Is the Pakistani ISI helping ISIS?

According to the Business Standard, during the Sri Lanka bombings, “ISIS honed in on Sri Lanka as a soft target because of the relative peace post conflict with LTTE, using the NTJ, which had not yet earned notoriety for major violence and marked it for possible terror attacks of this nature.  Surprisingly, there is no mention of the role of Pakistan played in the past as a coordinator between the NTJ and ISIS, which is perhaps by design or default.  When an Indian Peace-Keeping Force returned from Sri Lanka in 1990, Pakistan posted a colonel from ISI as deputy high commissioner for its mission in Colombo.   He organized the aOsama Brigade, comprising Muslim Tamils of North Sri Lanka, to provide a base for terror attacks in Southern India.”  According to the report, Amir Zubair Siddiqi, who served as the ISI man in Colombo, was the one who trained Tamil Muslim Zakir Hussein, who later on planned to attack the US and Israeli Consulates.   Hussein was later arrested but was subsequently released and then went to Malaysia.  

The plans to attack the Israeli and US Consulate are not the only terror attacks that Pakistan stands behind.  The Brookings Institution claims that “Pakistan has long been a difficult and disruptive neighbor to Afghanistan, hoping to limit India’s influence there and cultivating radical groups in Afghanistan as proxies.  It has augmented Afghanistan’s instability by providing intelligence, weapons and protection to the Afghan Taliban.”  However, does the Pakistani ISI support ISIS, do they merely enable them like the Sheikh Hasina government does or do they work for the ascendancy of radical Islamist terror generally speaking but not ISIS in particular?

In 2017, a research report titled “ISIS in Pakistan” claimed that ISIS was alarmingly increasing their presence in the country while the government turned a blind eye to the phenomenon, claiming that the brutal terror group either did not exist within their borders or did not pose as grave of a threat to Pakistan as it did to other places.  A couple of years later, the Pakistan Market Terror Attack that was implemented by ISIS took place within the country.  Since then, the author has not been able to find any recent evidence of Pakistan assisting ISIS.   Pakistan has a new Prime Minister Imran Khan, who has barred militant groups from attacking from Pakistani soil and who has started to crack down on radical Islam.  Nevertheless, despite his good intentions, a Pakistani drug cartel may have financed the Sri Lanka bombings and Pakistan still has a long sordid history of enabling radical Islamist terror across the region, which has worked to the benefit of Al Qaeda, the Taliban, Lashkar e-Toiba, Jaish e-Mohammed, and now potentially also ISIS.      

Why Sheikh Hasina’s government in Bangladesh is enabling ISIS

According to Basu, it is the dream of the present ruling government in Bangladesh to create an exclusively Muslim country.  He claims that in Bangladesh, Islam is the official state religion, Hindu writers are being removed from the school curriculum, more and more madrassas are getting built as minority places of worship are getting desecrated and minority faiths are slowly being ethnically cleansed from the country. 

Although the Western media claims that Bangladesh has been fighting against ISIS since 2016, when ISIS attacked a Dhaka café, killing 22 people, according to Basu, the reality on the ground has shown that the Sheikh Hasina government has been turning a blind eye to ISIS increasing their presence within her country and in public statements, the Bangladeshi Prime Minister denies their existence in Bangladesh.  Basu claims that Sheikh Hasina does this while taking a few symbolic acts to appease the West in order to serve the purpose of using ISIS to create an exclusively Muslim country for herself and her radical Islamist supporters.   Basu claims that ISIS and other radical Muslims are doing Sheikh Hasina’s dirty work of pushing the minorities out of the country for her.  Therefore, even as ISIS recently injured several Bangladeshi police officers who raided a radical Islamist hideout that turned out to be affiliated with ISIS, where a couple of terrorists were eliminated, the Sheikh Hasina government continues to deny the existence of ISIS in Bangladesh.   This remains the situation even after ISIS claimed responsibility for detonating an IED on the police, just a week after the deadly Sri Lanka bombings.

Due to this systematic Awami League policy of ignoring ISIS and other radical Islamist activities in Bangladesh in order to let them suppress minorities, Basu notes that the number of incidents targeting minorities within the country is on the ascendency.  They include but are not limited to:

  • A Hindu housewife was kidnapped in Manikganj
  • Hindu temples were vandalized in Madaripur
  • A 15-year-old Hindu girl committed suicide after being sexually harassed
  • Six idols in the Rodha Govinda Temple were vandalized
  • 20 Hindus were beaten to death by Muslim mobs in Sakhira Puja Mandap
  • In Jamalpur Sadar, a Hindu woman was tied to a tree and left there all tied up
  • A Hindu school teacher was attacked with harsh objects
  • The abduction of a seventh-grade Hindu girl
  • The abduction, selling and sexual enslavement of a Hindu girl by a Muslim trafficker
  • The Mosque Committee threatened to burn a Hindu crematorium if it was not shut down and handed over to them
  • A Hindu religious function in Dhaka was interrupted by Muslim mobs

According to Basu, although ISIS cannot be blamed for all of these incidents, the systematic persecution of the minorities of Bangladesh and the government’s encouragement of radical Islam breeds an environment where ISIS can flourish under the radar screen of the international community. 

For this reason, he claimed that the desire of 40 ISIS members of Bangladeshi origin to return to Bangladesh could be realized, even though the Border Security was given instructions to bar their entry.   As he told me previously, there are plenty of Bangladeshis who are sympathetic to ISIS that would volunteer to get them past Border Security, give them shelter and help them to build up ISIS bases within the country.  He claims that all they would have to do is change the name in order to avoid problems with the Bangladeshi authorities.   And for this reason, he predicts that unless the international government is vigilant in tackling the rise of ISIS in Asia by placing pressure on the Sheikh Hasina government, it is possible that something similar to the Sri Lanka bombings could also happen within his country.  This is especially so after ISIS recently released a telegram in Bangla proclaiming “coming soon,” implying that their next attack will be in Bangladesh.  

The ARSA-ISIS Connection

According to a report in the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, although ARSA, the main Rohingya rebel group, denies any links to ISIS, both the Indian and the Bangladeshi governments claim that ARSA is in fact linked to ISIS: “The smoking gun was an interception of long-distance calls between Hafez Tohar, the chief of ARSA’s military wing, on August 23 and 24, 2007, just prior to the large scale Rohingya rebels attack on Myanmar’s military outposts on August 25 that triggered a crackdown that led to the mass exodus of Rohingya from North Rakhine in Myanmar.   The incriminating testimony is a call from an Iraq number initiated by someone introducing himself as al Amin of Daesh in which ISIS wished ARSA the best in its jihad against the Burmese colonists, Buddhists and Hindu fanatics.”

The Myanmar media outlet Mizzama reported that a top Indian intelligence official claimed, “After ISIS’s huge failures in the Middle East in the face of Russian and US-led Western military action, there is a clear attempt to create a new theater of jihad where the narrative of torture and human rights violations reinforced by heavy-handed Burmese action can destabilize India’s east.  That will divert Indian military attention from Kashmir.  It is a clear Pakistani ploy.” 

A press release issued by a Myanmar government spokesman confirmed the above report, adding that recently ISIS has shifted its focus away from the Middle East and towards them: “ISIS mainly nurtured home-grown cells (a likely reference to ARSA).  The terrorists who entered from outside linked and worked with radical elements inside the country, as in the case of Sri Lanka.”  

 In recent days, the Economic Times of India have reported that armed gangs with potential links to ISIS have taken over Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh, where they have been kidnapping people and threatening women with violence.  A rise in extremist ideology has been reported among the 900,000 Rohingya Muslim refugees currently living in Bangladesh.   According to the World Hindu Struggle Committee, in recent days, there has been an armed clash in the Rohingya camp of Cox Bazaar: “There are many horrendous crimes being reported including murders, kidnappings, disappearing and looting.” He claims that these radical Rohingya rebels who have taken over the Bangladeshi refugee camps have threatened to topple any Bangladeshi government that dares to react to their crimes.    

How America can fight against ISIS in Asia

In the wake of the Sri Lanka bombings and the ascendance of ISIS in Asia, it is of critical importance for American policy makers to re-evaluate Trump’s declaration regarding the defeat of ISIS and to formulate a strategy for struggling against the murderous terror group as they transform from an Iraqi and Syrian insurgency into a global clandestine terror group, which poses a threat to not only Asia but the entire free world.   Following recent developments, international cooperation between the US, India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, the Philippines and other governments that are facing a radical Islamist threat in Asia is of utmost importance. 

As recent reports had suggested, India had supplied Sri Lanka with vital intelligence about the Sri Lanka bombings, which could have saved lives.   According to these reports, an internal feud among officials prevented this intelligence from being used properly.  If we want to prevent the next Sri Lanka, we all must work with each other regardless what our nationality is and what our political affiliation is.  Terrorism harms us all equally.  The political partisanship must end here.    

Furthermore, in light of recent gains made by ISIS in Afghanistan, a US withdrawal from the region at this time is not advised.  If anything, the US must put forward the same amount of efforts and resources into fighting against ISIS in Afghanistan that they did towards fighting against ISIS in Iraq and Syria.  On top of that, pressure must be placed on any governments who do anything in order to enable ISIS terrorism within their borders.  The Sheikh Hasina government should not be able to ignore ISIS merely so that minorities can be ethnically cleansed from the country.  While Pakistan’s new leader has made some progress, more pressure should be applied on him so that he continues to move in the right direction and does not regress due to domestic pressure.  There should be zero toleration for ISIS, even if they change their names while merging with local Islamist groups. 

Furthermore, even if we don’t like the human rights records of certain countries, we should be willing to overlook it enough so that cooperation against ISIS won’t be impeded for the rise of radical Islam is the greatest threat to the free world of our times.  Just because we don’t like how Myanmar is heavily repressing Rohingya civilians does not mean that we should avoid cooperating with them, when their very conflict was initiated by a rebel group linked to ISIS.  As Edmund Burke once said, “The only thing necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.”  In light of this, more than anything, it is critical for American policy makers to act in order to prevent the rise of ISIS in Asia and not to sit by and let it happen.  

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Op-Ed: Unreality in Thinking about the Unthinkable

Tue, 23/04/2019 - 16:30

In a recent Wall Street Journal article, George Schultz, William Perry and Sam Nunn argued for “a world without nuclear weapons, [as] dangers continue to mount.” Lamenting “a dangerous policy paralysis” among the US, its allies and Russia, they write that the road to denuclearization is through “re-engagement” with Russia, a “joint declaration,” and “dialogue,” all with a goal of reaching “stability”.

The authors’ respective positions as former Secretary of State, Secretary of Defense and Senator and Chair of the Armed Services Committee lend an implicit gravitas to their writing. But their writing  does them no credit. They remain damningly silent about what happened to the largest country in Europe that also took their advice.

Following the fall of the USSR in 1991, Ukraine became the world’s third largest nuclear power (only after Russia and the US). Three years later Ukraine acceded to the very Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (“NPT”) that the authors celebrate. Kyiv surrendered its nuclear arsenal (under American hectoring) to, yes, Russia: 176 ICBM’s armed with 1,240 nuclear warheads, 44 strategic bombers armed with 1081 nuclear-tipped cruise missiles, and an unspecified number of tactical nuclear warheads. Predictably enough, this also meant the implosion of Ukraine’s scientific-military-industrial complex that produced or maintained that arsenal, including the worlds’ largest ICBM plant. Never did anything even remotely resembling Ukraine’s surrender occur. Nor will it ever again. 


In exchange for Ukraine’s denuclearization, the infamous 1994 “Memorandum on Security Assurances” (signed by Russia, the US, and the United Kingdom in Budapest) was intended to ensure Ukrainian sovereignty and national security. In early 2014, Russia (itself an NPT signatory and, bizarrely, the very recipient of Ukraine’s arsenal) nonetheless invaded, occupied and annexed Ukrainian territory, shattering its obligations under the Memorandum. Both from the standpoint of preventing any such violation by Russia in the first place (which was the entire purpose of the Memorandum) and from the standpoint of causing Russia’s withdrawal from Ukraine, America “policy” has failed. Ukraine’s human costs, alone, in the ensuing more than half a decade has been heinous–the disemboweling of children is a war crime. The costs to our own, and regional and global security, has been accelerating, and may easily expand beyond the monetary.

It can be argued that the Memorandum literally obligates the US only to enter into “consultations” with the other parties. Yet that hardly rises to an “assurance of security.” It manifestly was never the intention of the parties to hinge Ukraine’s denuclearization on  Washington’s commitment to place a phone call to the UN in the event of a Russian invasion.  Further, the Memorandum essentially restates the obligations already extant in the UN Charter and other international agreements of the parties. Regardless, given Russia’s breach there is nothing to keep Ukraine from withdrawing from the NPT and renewing its nuclear arsenal. Little wonder that the authors don’t mention this reality.

A year before invading Ukraine, Putin wrote in a  New York Times Op-Ed: “[I]f you cannot count on international law, then you must find other ways to ensure your security. Thus, a growing number of countries seek to acquire weapons of mass destruction. This is logical: if you have the bomb, no one will touch you. We are left with talk of the need to strengthen non-proliferation, when in reality this is being eroded.”  While we intone the need for denuclearization, our flaccid response endorses Putin having turned the very concept into a sad joke. Why should tyrants or allies ever again trust an arrangement such Ukraine entered into? Moreover, Ukraine’s was not the case of foregoing hypothetical acquisition of a nuclear arsenal, but of surrendering an existing one–as stated, the world’s third largest. And to its historic and predictable persecutor, no less. 

Interring any realistic prospects for denuclearization that the WSJ article champions is bad enough. But the proximate consequences have been even greater. In that same NYTimes Op-Ed, Putin further wrote: “We . . . believe that preserving law and order in today’s complex and turbulent world is one of the few ways to keep international relations from sliding into chaos. The law is still the law and we must follow it whether we like it or not.  Under current international law, force is permitted only in self-defense or by the decision of the Security Council.  Anything else is unacceptable under the United Nations charter and would constitute an act of aggression.”  True to form, Putin crow-barred denuclearization, using Ukraine as a fulcrum to upend the world order that has prevailed since WWII, sliding the world precisely into that very chaos. Overnight, he collapsed the “stable security architecture” that Messrs. Schultz, Perry and Nunn assume he wants to rebuild.

But it’s a shared accomplishment.  Measured against the egregiousness of Russian shattering of the very notion of denuclearization, as well as a dozen solemn international agreements,  our impotent  sanctions, furrowed brows and sonorous condemnations amount to little more than barring Russia from Disney World. Our lack of political will, naivete and, indeed, pusillanimity, have multiplied the consequences of Putin’s war against Ukraine.  We have been  the accelerant, not only for  Putin’s marauding elsewhere (including the Potomac), but also for much of the chaos roiling the globe. “Dangers continue to mount,” as the authors write. Is this consistent with the author’s urging that “we [must] respond firmly to Russia’s aggressions,” “maintain our values and protect our vital interests,” and “where treaties are not likely or feasible, understandings and red lines are imperative”?

Except that Messrs. Schultz, Perry, and Nunn don’t recognize the “red line.” It was identified already in 1997 by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and to which I have referred in the past: “Whether Russian led integration on the territory of the former USSR will pose a serious, long-term military challenge to the West, depends in large part on the role that Ukraine plays or is compelled to play. . . . Ukraine will do much to determine whether Europe and the world in the twenty-first century will be as bloody as they were in the twentieth.” 

Twenty two ensuing years have not muted, but reinforced, that reality. The just released Special Counsel Mueller’s report records that Paul Manafort acknowledged a “backdoor” plan for Russia’s control of Ukraine.  Putin most certainly understands the stakes even if America’s “Cold War statesmen” do not.  They either  do not understand or–rather to their credit–do not remember that Ukraine’s reclamation of its independence in 1991 ensured the unravelling of the USSR and the seeming end of the Cold War. And here, it should be recalled, it was the US that strove to derail Ukraine’s independence. Where is the logic or consistency, where is the recognition of our fundamental national self-interest, in not having correspondingly supported and reinforced from the very outset the player that was the determinative factor in securing that epochal event? That was not done then, and the failure was compounded with the Memorandum and since. How more monumental can it all be?  How do friend and foe assess our judgment and common sense?

And Russia? It suffers none of the “policy paralysis” that the authors ascribe to it.  Russian military doctrine has jettisoned the notion of non-survivability of a nuclear war and embraced a doctrine of first-strike capability . . .  and more.   Underway are a score of nuclear modernization programs for land-based, air and sea weaponry, much of it hypersonic, such as the Tsirkon and Avangard missiles successfully tested last December.  And in an interview for the  documentary “The World Order 2018,” Putin commented on the prospects for nuclear war, asking, “Why would we want a world without Russia?” A performance by the Saint Petersburg’s Concert Choir in the Isakyev Cathedral on 23rd February 2019, Russian Armed Forces Day, unveils the mindset:  

Aboard a nuclear-powered submarine

With a dozen 100-megaton bombs

I crossed the Atlantic and told the gunner:

“Take aim, Petrov”, I said, “at Washington city!”

*           *          * 

Hail the enemy’s New World!

My friend, little Vova [Putin], flying in the airplane above

Didn’t come to visit with his bomb bay hatches empty

Aboard the nuclear-powered submarine

The crew sang a merry song:

*           *          * 

Burn, you Land of the Enemy!

The lights along Norfolk’s shore are napping sweetly

Tired toys and negroes [sic], all sleeping quietly,

Forgive me, good America,

But five hundred years ago they discovered you in vain. 

*.          *           *

Half burned is the land of the Enemy!

This is not because Putin seeks nuclear Armageddon, but because our sophomoric understanding of Russia and lack of political will provide Putin with predictability and certainty. Each step for him is less and less a roll of the dice.  At a conference in November 2014, I warned that that pattern will spawn another Cuban missile crisis, except that it will not end as characterized by then Secretary of State Dean Rusk, “We were eyeball to eyeball, and I think the other guy just blinked.”

Truly, it’s not (as the authors captioned their WSJ article) that  “The Threat of Nuclear War is Still With Us.”  It’s rather that our fecklessness has increased that threat.  Monumentally. The only unassailable part of Messrs. Schultz’, Perry’s and Nunn’s assessment is their conclusion that American policy is “dysfunctional” . . . but not in the way they think or deign to admit.



Victor Rud is past Chairman of the Ukrainian American Bar Association, and currently chairs its Committee on Foreign Affairs

The post Op-Ed: Unreality in Thinking about the Unthinkable appeared first on Foreign Policy Blogs.

Op-Ed: The repression of Bangladesh’s indigenous culture

Fri, 19/04/2019 - 15:53

Shipan Kumer Basu, President of the World Hindu Struggle Committee, calls for the end of the repression of Hindu and other minority cultures within Bangladesh.  

The Bengal region, which is located in a certain region of India and Bangladesh today, used to be entirely part of India until the area was divided politically by the British.   Under the British, Muslim East Bengal and the Assam Province (present-Day Bangladesh) were divided from the Hindu-majority area of Bengal Pradesh, which is located in today’s India.   Following the colonial partition of the country into India, East and West Pakistan, the Hindus became a minority community in East and West Pakistan, where they faced intense oppression from the Muslim majority. 

The partition of India in 1947 was a very bloody conflict for both the Muslims and the Hindus. Several hundred thousand people were killed, at least 75,000 women were raped, 83,000 women were abducted, many non-Muslims were forcefully converted to Islam and 12 million people became refugees.  While the Muslims also suffered during the partition of India, at least today, the Muslims who live in India enjoy democratic rights. Sadly, this is not the case for the Hindus of the Bengal region, who are still living in the shadow of the Noakhali Riots of 1946 and the Great Calcutta Killings, as the persecution of the Hindu community did not end with the partition of India.

 Later on, during the Liberation War of 1971, Pakistani soldiers massacred Hindu men and raped their women en masse.   Many people in Bangladesh consider what the Pakistani Army did to the Hindus and other non-Pakistani peoples of the Bengal region to be genocide.  However, while many across the globe believe that the oppression ended with the Pakistani occupation, this is not the case.  Following Bangladeshi independence, numerous Hindus continue to flee to India from Bangladesh due to the murder, rape and forceful conversions of their people that never came to an end, despite the end of Pakistani rule over the region.  In fact, according to Shipan Kumer Basu, the President of the World Hindu Struggle Committee, within the past year, 107 Hindus were murdered, 25 Hindus women were raped and 235 Hindu temples were vandalized in Bangladesh.  

To this day, Basu claims that the Islamists in Bangladesh view Bengali culture to be equivalent to Hindu culture and based on this inherent belief, they have begun a process of replacing Bengali words with Arabic and Urdu words in order to “purify the language” of its non-Muslim heritage.  In addition, he added that Islamist groups such as Jamaat e-Islam, Hefajat e-Islam, Olamama and the Islami Movement are now demanding the elimination of Hindu writers from the school system and their replacement with Muslim writers.  He claims that both BNP leader Khaleda Zia and Awami League leader Sheikh Hasina are trying to transform the country into an Islamic state and are cooperating with these Islamist groups in their quest to purge Hindu culture from the country.   

Mendi Safadi, who heads the Safadi Center for International Diplomacy, Research, Public Relations and Human Rights, has condemned the oppression of the indigenous Bengali culture in Bangladesh and stressed that the State of Israel always stands beside the Hindu people in their hour of need.    Furthermore, Bangladeshi human rights activist Aslam Chowdhury added that it is critical for all Muslims to stand in solidarity with the oppressed Hindu minority of Bangladesh and to work in order to preserve the indigenous Bengali heritage, even if it is not Muslim. 

As Dr. Martin Luther King once stated, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”   For this reason, respecting minority cultures is of utmost importance to the historic preservation of nations throughout the world.   Just as America would not be the same without having a respect for Hispanic, Native American, African American, Asian American, Jewish American and Muslim American culture, the preservation of Bangladesh also requires respecting the Hindu, Buddhist, Christian and indigenous heritage of the nation.  In the name of preserving Hindu and other minority cultures in Bangladesh, Basu calls upon the international community to pressure his government to end the repression of Hindu culture within Bangladesh.   

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Quick Takeaways from the Latest Border “Crisis”

Tue, 16/04/2019 - 19:40

A Border Patrol agent guards detainees at a holding facility near the border. (Photo: U.S. Customs and Border Protection)

The southern border has been in the news again, and once again the Trump administration in speaking in terms of crisis. The number of migrant families arriving from Central America has spiked in the early months of 2019, leading the commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to declare that his agency is at the “breaking point.” Here are a few quick comments on the situation.

First, the recent twist in the migration trend line—assuming that it is not a blip and perhaps even if it is—further undermines longstanding Republican assumptions concerning the forces that drive migration. The underlying assumption is that lenient U.S. border policy encourages people to come and that tougher treatment will deter them. Migration trends have not followed that pattern. Illegal crossings at the southern border peaked back in 2000, when 1.6 million were apprehended. The accumulated illegal population peaked back in 2007, at about 12.5 million, and has fallen off since. During the Obama administration, when Republicans continuously accused the president of leaving the border open and allowing masses of illegal immigrants to enter, more people were leaving than entering. This was true during Obama’s first term, when he deported unprecedented numbers of undocumented immigrants (a policy that had no effect on Republican rhetoric or willingness to cooperate on border issues), and it was true during his second term when he cut back on that. When Trump was running for office and complaining about the numbers of illegal aliens entering the country, the actual number was at a 45 year low. After more than two years of Trump’s “get tough” policies, the number is on the rise again. In the meantime, the nature of the migrant flow has changed from young Mexican men to Central American families. To the best of my knowledge, no one has explained what changes in U.S. border policy led young Mexican men to stop coming and Central American families to start. The root causes of the current migration wave most likely involve rampant violence, unemployment, poverty, and especially these days, rust fungus (which attacks coffee crops), drought, and famine in parts of Central America. Whatever is driving migration, it is not U.S. border policy.

Second, if CBP is facing a breaking point, it is a direct consequence of Trump administration policy. The administration opted to treat all people crossing the border without authorization as criminals and to detain and try them. Although administration officials constantly claim that they are only following the law and have no choice in the matter, this is not required by the law, no previous administration—Democratic or Republican—has done it, and detainees released with an ankle bracelet do show up for court hearings. (By the way, crossing the border without authorization is a misdemeanor. When the defendants are tried and convicted, the most common sentence is time served and a $10 fine.) The policy’s deterrent effect can be divined from the previous paragraph. It is the administration’s decision of what to do with the migrants, not their raw numbers, that has overwhelmed CBP.

Third, the administration’s proposed remedies do not address the problems at hand. The failure of the “get tough” policy to deter migration has already been noted. President Trump’s most famous proposal, of course, is to build a wall along the border. This, however, will have little impact on the recent waves of Central American migrants, who have not been sneaking in but presenting themselves to the Border Patrol and requesting asylum. (Incidentally, a recent Republican proposal has been to insist that asylum seekers apply from their home countries, but that is not a legal option. Asylum must be requested on U.S. territory, regardless of whether the asylum seeker entered the country legally, generally within one year of arrival.) Likewise, most illegal drugs are smuggled through legal ports of entry hidden in cars or trucks, so a wall between ports of entry would not even pose a minor inconvenience. Trump’s most recent proposals—closing the border with Mexico (our third largest trading partner) to all traffic and cutting off foreign aid that was intended to address the root sources of migration in Central America (announced one day after signing a memorandum of cooperation with those same countries)—will only create new problems. As always with this administration, the latest proposals lack meaningful details and whether they will actually be carried out is anyone’s guess.

Finally, the U.S. economy could probably use these people. The argument for keeping them out has never made much sense. Given low birth rates and the retirement of the Baby Boom generation, the native-born working-age population with nonimmigrant parents in the United States is shrinking after growing for decades. The Pew Research Center has projected that between 2015 and 2035, it will shrink by 8.2 million. Fortunately, the United States attracts millions of working-age people who are eager to take jobs. Unfortunately, many Americans think the number of jobs is fixed, so that more jobs for immigrants means fewer for native-born Americans. Well, between 1970 and 2010, the U.S. population increased by about 105 million (from 203 million to 308 million). If the number of jobs were fixed, there would be a lot more unemployed people around than there are now. At the moment, there are more job openings than there are unemployed people. Growth is the natural order, and growth requires people. The appropriate solution to the illegal immigration issue is not to throw them out, but to devise legal ways to bring them in.

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When Wings Fail and Accountability Follows

Fri, 12/04/2019 - 17:24
The Comet was one of the Worlds First Jetliners. Poor design lead to the plane coming apart mid-air.

One of the first jetliners after the Second World War was the British made Comet. It was a symbol of the post war era, and a new way of seeing the world after the Blitz and over a decade of an economy that focused purely on need as opposed to any sort of luxury. The Comet was to transform the expectations of the average person, who could save up and afford the trip of a lifetime on an aircraft that seemed like it arrived from the future. As one of the first jetliners, the Comet established much of the modern air transport industry we use today. As with the recent crashes of the 737 Max 8s however, the failure of the Comet due to the pressurized cabin creating cracks in the rectangular window frames lead to a few successive disasters. The design of the windows required a rounded design, as the edges of the passenger windows lead to the air frame eventually coming apart. The Comet was modernized and the windows changed. While it became safer however, the reputation of the Comet lead to its premature fall from grace, especially when the 1960s era Boeing planes came into their own.

Air safety became paramount and more people would take advantage of lower cost flights and faster travel. The future of the industry eventually turned to larger aircraft and lower cost as opposed to smaller planes with tremendous speed. The latter still existed as a service however with the Concorde. For most of its career, Condordes had excellent safety records until a tragic crash late in its life in Paris in 2000. What stood out at the time was the assumptions surrounding Concorde’s crash, with British officials placing an excessive amount of fault at the hands of the crew, and continuing to operate the aircraft before it had been subject to a full investigation by Air France and the French government. For a period of time, Concordes were flying out of Heathrow while it was suspected it was not safe. A mixture of money, bias and pride left their passengers in danger before any conclusive report was issued to ensure its safety. The cause for the crash eventually was released, but in the end the Concorde’s reputation and age meant that they no longer are offered as a service by either country.

The evolution of the travel industry owes a lot to the first several versions of the Boeing 737s. If you have flown on any airline, the chances are that you have been on a 737. The record of the several versions of the 737 have likely the best safety record of any aircraft flying today, and it is why when two 737 Max 8s crashed within a year of each other, the planes should be grounded and sent back for intense testing. While the 737 Max 8 and Max 9s may not ruin the reputation of the older 737 versions, it will take a toll on customer satisfaction and preceived safety for the next few years. What should be avoided are shortcuts and poor communications by the companies that produce the aircraft and use the aircraft when addressing passenger concerns. Unlike the Comet, the 737 does not come from a new technology nor are they a special case or pride of national industry like Concorde. Until the 737 Max 8s can overtly demonstrate their safety, no one should take added risks boarding that airliner.

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Foreign Policy and the Green New Deal

Wed, 03/04/2019 - 19:19

In their support of the Green New Deal, did some Democrats call for a return to American global leadership – or even endorse American Exceptionalism?

First-term Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D.-NY) and forty-year veteran Senator Ed Markey (D.- Mass.) put forth a dramatic re-imagining of the approach the U.S. government should take toward climate change and economic affairs, with important emphasis on social justice questions.  The announcement on Rep. Ocasio-Cortez’s web site described it as “a 10-year plan to create a greenhouse gas neutral society that creates unprecedented levels of prosperity and wealth for all while ensuring economic and environmental justice and security” with a “World War II scale mobilization.”

Media attention went quickly to interpretations of some of the most curious proposals: eliminating air travel, retrofitting “all buildings,” and ensuring economic security “to all who are unable or unwilling to work.”  Supporters clarified that these items were in earlier, unfinished drafts.

When “House Resolution 109 – Recognizing the duty of the Federal Government to create a Green New Deal” was formally introduced in Congress, it had lost references to banning fossil fuels, decommissioning every nuclear power plant, and the trouble of “cow emissions.”  It emphasized instead that inducing the private sector to implement small-scale climate change-fighting technologies was not sufficient.  It promised economic prosperity for all as a result of government-led shift to renewable energy and post-oil infrastructure. It focused on the importance of re-structuring the economy and the environment for the benefit of “frontline and vulnerable communities” – that is, those exposed to “systemic racial, regional, social, environmental, and economic injustices [including] indigenous peoples, communities of color, migrant communities, deindustrialized communities, depopulated rural communities, the poor, low-income workers, women, the elderly, the unhoused, people with disabilities, and youth.”

Foreign Policy Questions

What the media did not discuss, though, were the foreign policy implications in the advocacy of the Green New Deal.

Rapidly shifting away from a carbon-based economy could have obvious impacts on the oil-producing world.  Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and other Middle Eastern states might come to mind first, but countries as different as Nigeria, Russia, and Mexico – and many others – rely on energy exports for large parts of their GDP, export earnings, or government revenue.  Losing significant amounts of income could have destabilizing effects in even otherwise stable countries around the world.

Less predictable, perhaps, was the emphasis by Green New Deal advocates on restoring the United States’ role as a global leader, at times even seeming to invoke the ideals of American exceptionalism.

At the press conference announcing the Green New Deal, Sen. Markey talked in universal terms:  “We will save all of Creation by massive job creation.”  That is, “we” the U.S. government will save not just Europe from fascism but the whole world from global warming. Citing FDR, the New Deal, and World War II, Markey said, “We have acted on this scale before, and we must do it again.”

Markey continued by pointing out that when President Kennedy said we would go to the moon, he didn’t say how, because the methods hadn’t been invented yet. Markey left no room for modesty or half-measures: “We are reclaiming our leadership on the most important issue facing humankind,” toward a Lincoln-esque “new climate democracy: of the people, by the people, for the planet.”

Rep. Ocasio-Cortez was as grand: “Economic, racial, and social justice in America – that’s what this agenda is all about.”  “Climate change,” she continued. “is one of the biggest existential threats to our way of life – not just as a nation but as a world…Today is also the day that we choose to assert ourselves as a global leader in transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy and to charting that path…. We should do it because we should lead.  We should do it because that is what this nation is about.  We should do it because we are a country that is founded on ideals, on a culture that is innovative…. We should do it because we are an example to the world…. We need to save ourselves and we can save the rest of the world with us.”

In previous weeks, other Democrats had supported this kind of globalism.  In December 2018, Governor Jerry Brown (D-CA) compared the scale of urgency and effort of combating climate change to fighting World War II and the Nazis.  In October 2018, climate scientist Kevin Anderson called for a “Marshall Plan.”

In response to Markey and Ocasio-Cortez, support came with the same magnitude. Obama-era Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz criticized the Trump administration for leaving the Paris climate treaty and “not exercising the global leadership that we need to bring the whole world along.”

Democratic presidential hopefuls joined the chorus.  New Jersey Senator Corey Booker introduced an environment bill in 2017 that emphasized social and economic justice; last week he adopted the Green New Deal’s World War II and Moon Landing analogies.  “When the planet has been in peril in the past, who came forward to save Earth from the scourge of Nazis and totalitarian regimes?” the Washington Post reported on Booker in Iowa, “We came forward.”  Booker elaborated: “So the question is, what’s the United States of America going to do? Is it going to lead the planet in terms of dealing with this crisis? Or is it going to pull back from global leadership when we are the biggest economy on the planet Earth? I believe that America should lead, and it should lead boldly”

California Senator Kamala Harris endorsed the Green New Deal by identifying climate change as  “an existential threat to our country, our planet, and our future” and called for urgent action “to protect ourselves and our planet.”

In January, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand used President Kennedy’s own words from his pledge to go to the Moon:  “Why not create a moonshot? Say in the next ten years we are going to create an entire economy based on our innovations, based on what we can do, not because it is easy, but because it is hard.” She repeated this Kennedy language after the Markey–Ocasio-Cortez release.

A New Global Leadership – Narrow or Broad-based?

Together, these calls for American global leadership reverse much of the last two decades’ mixed commitment to lead.  As a candidate and before the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush pledged to quit nation-building and to abandon the ABM treaty (US did end the ABM treaty in 2002).  The global war on terror at times lacked key allies and raised human rights questions.  Barack Obama was elected on his promise to withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan.  Later, he drew “a line in the sand” over Syria’s use of chemical weapons but then ceded the issue to Congress and Russia.  Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders railed against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in 2016, surrendering the region’s American diplomatic and economic leadership to China.  Eventual nominee Hillary Clinton finally joined him on TPP, reversing her earlier commitments as Secretary of State.  Donald Trump has criticized NATO and other essential allies, decried and replaced NAFTA, battled China over trade, and fiercely opposed illegal and much legal immigration. These are not the leadership principles of American globalism from World War II to the 1990s “indispensable nation.”

Democratic advocates of the Green New Deal, rooted in the left-wing of the party, are drawing on America’s historic global leadership roles to justify and demand a leadership role in today’s environmental/economic/social justice questions.  The call is for a “shining progressive city on a hill” to lead the world and save the world.  American Exceptionalism language is unusual from the U.S. political left. Observers will watch carefully to see if calls like these expand to other issues.

Photo from C-SPAN


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Is ISIS terror spreading its tentacles to other parts of the world?

Tue, 02/04/2019 - 20:44

A member loyal to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) waves an ISIL flag in Raqqa June 29, 2014. The offshoot of al Qaeda which has captured swathes of territory in Iraq and Syria has declared itself an Islamic “Caliphate” and called on factions worldwide to pledge their allegiance, a statement posted on jihadist websites said on Sunday. The group, previously known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also known as ISIS, has renamed itself “Islamic State” and proclaimed its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghadi as “Caliph” – the head of the state, the statement said. REUTERS/Stringer

After ISIS was forced out of Baghouz, Syria, the murderous terror group is starting to move its forces to Africa and Asia.  

After the last ISIS-held area in Syria fell in Baghouz, many people in the West are under the impression that the murderous terror group notorious for beheading Westerners, raping Yezidis and Christians en masse, and massacring minorities is now finished.  Even US President Donald Trump tweeted, “We have defeated ISIS.” However, what many people in the West fail to grasp is while the last ISIS strongholds in the Middle East may be gone, the murderous terror group has merely transformed from having a base to being a clandestine terror network, which is capable of emerging in any part of the world, terrorizing innocents across the globe.  

In a recent press release, the Meir Amit Intelligence and Information Center, while acknowledging that ISIS no longer controls a third of Iraq and Syria, a huge mass of land that included between 5 to 6 million people and a great portion of the world’s petroleum, the murderous terror group still has “active provinces in Iraq and Syria and in countries in Asia and Africa, where the local regimes find it difficult to uproot the organization.”  Furthermore, they added, “ISIS’s charismatic leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi and several other senior figures have so far managed to survive the blows and continue to lead the organization and control its various provinces, even if it is decentralized.  The ISIS brand has eroded to a certain extend but the organization and the ideology behind it continues to attract young Muslims in Iraq and Syria, in other countries in the Middle East and around the world.”

Shortly after the ISIS terror group fell in Baghouz, the New York Times reported that the ISIS flag was waving in Mindanao Island in the Philippines.  Last January, two bombs went off in a Philippines church, slaughtering 23 people.  ISIS claimed responsibility for that terror attack.   Since then, ISIS has been taunting the leadership in the country.  The Philippines government responded forcefully with airstrikes and 10,000 soldiers in Jolo.   Rommel Banlaoi, chairman of the Philippine Institute for Peace, Violence and Terrorism Research, stressed that ISIS is the “most complicated, evolving problem for the Philippines today and we should not pretend that it doesn’t exist.”

Aside from the Philippines, 40 ISIS terrorists of Bangladeshi origin are seeking to return to their country of origin in the wake of the fall of the Caliphate, the World Hindu Struggle Committee reported: “They are suspected to be a threat to the Bangladeshi Security Services.  According to the sources, they are all relatives of high level officials in the country.”  Nevertheless, the head of the Counter-Terrorism Unit in the country said that all of their names have been handed over to airport officials and that they will be arrested upon arrival. 

However, Shipan Kumer Basu, President of the World Hindu Struggle Committee, has emphasized that in the past the Bangladeshi government has turned a blind eye to ISIS supporters active within its borders in the name of promoting the ethnic cleansing of the Hindu, Buddhist, indigenous and Christian minorities from the country: “The local Islamists force the Hindus to convert to Islam by force.  They frequently murder innocent Hindu men and rape their women and girls. The minorities of Bangladesh are tortured daily.  The Hindus have not enjoyed the country’s independence from Pakistan.”  He stresses that these 40 ISIS terrorists returning from the Middle East have local supporters to hide amongst and that they thus could potentially manage to evade border security, thus enabling them to hide among local supporters and to build up a base in the country under a different name.

“ISIS has many supporters in Bangladesh,” Basu proclaimed. “I warned of this before. Nobody believed me. Moreover, the Sheikh Hasina government has repeatedly denied the existence of ISIS within the country. Hopefully, now the world will wake up and recognize the threat that ISIS poses to Asia.”

Furthermore, as ISIS makes inroads in Asia, the murderous terror group is doing likewise in Africa.  According to Nigerian Archbiship Ignatius Kaigama, “Boko Haram has territorial ambitions and is evolving into the Islamic State of the West Africa Province, manifesting a desire to have their own expanded Islamic country.”  Earlier this year, ISIS-backed terrorists overrun a Nigerian military base.  Towards the end of last year, they seized Baga.  In recent years, Nigeria has been overrun in many areas by Boko Horom and other Islamist groups, who are notorious for slaughtering, abducting and raping local Christians.   In the wake of the Caliphate collapsing in the Middle East, ISIS could easily claim a base in the war-torn African country.  

Nigeria is not the only concerning area in Africa.  Recently, Malian Prime Minister Soumeylou Boubeye Maiga visited Washington, DC in an effort to bolster US support for his country, warning that a weakened ISIS in Iraq and Syria could lead to an increased ISIS presence in Sahel: “The United States should have the same level of engagement in Sahel as it does in the Middle East.” In 2012, al Qaeda terrorists infiltrated Mali and destroyed numerous historic treasures in Timbuktu.  Only a French intervention prevented them from overrunning the entire country.  However, parts of Mali remain a hotbed for Islamist extremists, a situation that ISIS could exploit in the wake of the fall of the Caliphate.

The time has come for the American public to focus on how ISIS is spreading its tentacles in Africa and Asia.  Americans must stop living under the false illusion that ISIS is entirely defeated.  In the eyes of the murderous terror organization, they did lose a battle in Iraq and Syria but they have not yet lost the war.  If Americans give up on fighting ISIS now, the terror group can reemerge and everything that we gained in Iraq and Syria can be lost.  For this reason, Americans must start paying attention to how ISIS is reemerging itself in Africa and Asia, and to start investing resources in fighting against ISIS there.  At the same time, we must not close our eyes to the fact that ISIS can still remerge in the Middle East at any moment and can undo all of the gains that the International Coalition against ISIS made.  America must pay attention to what is happening in the world.  Isolationism is a failed policy, which always leads to more intense bloodshed at a later date.  

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Call for manuscripts for the new book series “Ukrainian Voices” published by ibidem-Verlag & distributed by Columbia University Press

Sat, 30/03/2019 - 17:17

The book series “Ukrainian Voices” publishes English- and German-language monographs, edited volumes, document collections and anthologies of articles authored and composed by Ukrainian politicians, intellectuals, activists, officials, researchers, entrepreneurs, artists, and diplomats. The series’ aim is to introduce Western and other audiences to Ukrainian explorations and interpretations of historic and current domestic as well as international affairs. The purpose of these books is to make non-Ukrainian readers familiar with how some prominent Ukrainians approach, research and assess their country’s development and position in the world.

The series was founded in 2019, and the volumes are collected by Andreas Umland, Dr. phil. (FU Berlin), Ph. D. (Cambridge), Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for Euro-Atlantic Сooperation in Kyiv.

Please, send your inquiries and proposals to:

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So You’ve Been Fined Again by the EU

Thu, 28/03/2019 - 17:24

It is remarkable that large corporations do not employ many people in their organisations that have the foresight to warn their Directors that what they might be doing will not only subject them to record breaking fines by the EU, but will also cost them billions. I had time to ponder this while going through several evasive security checks the other day at a bank that was one of the past winners of an EU fine. The EU not only sets a fine on large corporations for violations of competition and anti-trust, they also will target fines on violations of GDPR to anyone worldwide who does not respect the privacy rights of a European citizen or company connected in some way to the EU. Fines have a set standard but could be more or less broad, often involving a certain percentage of the company’s global value. Because the EU will go after profits the company obtained outside of the EU, it makes these fines very large, and theoretically acts as an effective deterrent against the problematic actions taken by the company. This week, Google received its third penalty from the EU and was fined 1.5 billion Euros for abusing its market dominance by restricting third-party rivals from displaying search ads between 2006 and 2016.

While the EU is known for setting strict fines, and the US anti-trust authorities often target the same violations and add fines independently themselves. It is not as if EU penalties are a new phenomenon, as record breaking fines by the EU have been placed over ten years ago on companies like Microsoft. With the GDPR it becomes even more interesting. In theory, someone who was born in Germany over forty years ago but lived abroad the entire time might be able to file a complaint against the country they immigrated to for violating their privacy rights via a foreign non-EU bank operating in that third country. An evasive non-European government policy that affects someone connected to the EU may produce a right for the EU to penalise the other government if they violate the privacy rights of an EU citizen. Theoretically, if a foreign government allowed a large corporation to violate the GDPR of one of its citizens abroad, with support of the foreign government, it could allow the EU to punish corrupt foreign practices via a privacy rights violation. This would be a very broad and unlikely application of the GDPR or the role of the EU Commission itself, but companies should assume the risk in any case.

Sanctions as well as penalties are often justified in order to limit financing of organsations that create harm to individuals and groups. Effective application of these acts and pieces of legislation promote open and transparent governments, even when those same governments block access to duly owed information or act in the interests of a private company over the interests of people and their democracy. It is hard to justify that the actions of a large company or a government bending the rules to support that company benefits citizens. Even if the action was done in the past, the damage to their competitors and consumers was done. Even if done in the past, damage to a democratic system has taken hold, and if a large fine is the best or only method to challenge such power, it should be that companies take responsibility for their own actions, and pay when they violate everyone else’s rights.

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Will Ukraine’s Far Right Parties Fail Again in 2019?

Wed, 27/03/2019 - 17:31
The flag of the All-Ukrainian Union “Svoboda” (Freedom).

Ever since the beginning of its armed struggle against Moscow during World War II, the Ukrainian far right has been used by the Kremlin as a bogeyman. The political radicalism, war-time mass crimes, fascist leanings, and manifest militancy of historic Ukrainian ultra-nationalism has been employed by Soviet and post-Soviet Russian agitation among Russian and Western publics, otherwise largely ignorant about Ukrainian matters. The Banderite label, derived from the surname of the one-time leader of Ukrainian nationalism’s most radical wing, was and is being used to stigmatize Ukrainians from Galicia and Volynia, Ukrainian patriots, in general, or even merely self-ascribed Ukrainians, as universally xenophobic, antisemitic and genocidal.

As a result of decades of relentless
campaigning, the term “Banderite” (banderivets,
) eventually become defiantly adopted, as a self-description, by
many Ukrainians. This is in spite of the fact that most of today Ukraine’s self-ascribed
“Banderites” share little to nothing with historic Stepan Bandera’s political aims,
beyond their common goal of Ukrainian independence. Parts of the Western public,
nevertheless, continue to see little difference between, on the one side, liberationist
as well as emancipatory, and, on the other side, extremist and ethno-centrist, impulses
of Ukrainian nationalism and their related diverging political permutations, in
the past and present.

The Rise and Fall of
the Freedom Party

The entry, in 2012, of the radical nationalist
and explicitly anti-Russian All-Ukrainian Union “Svoboda” (Freedom) into
Ukraine’s parliament, with 10.44% in the proportional part of the elections,
and appearance, in 2014, of new extra-parliamentary far right groups, like the
Right Sector and Azov battalion, provided new fodder for Moscow’s campaign.
Especially, the first leader of the Right Sector, Dmytro Yarosh, was singled
out, by Kremlin-controlled mass media, as allegedly posing, in spite of his
origins in the eastern Dnipropetrovsk oblast, a deadly threat to Russophones in
Ukraine. Russian TV’s frantic propaganda crusade against him made Yarosh – an
actually minor figure in Ukrainian politics – a celebrity of sorts, in Ukraine
and beyond.

Yet, the surprisingly weak performance of
Yarosh in the May 2014 presidential elections (0.7%) and of his Right Sector
party in the October 2014 parliamentary elections (1.8%) took the steam out of
the Kremlin’s defamation campaign. Even more astonishing (and, perhaps, for the
Kremlin also curiously disappointing) were the only somewhat less meagre
results of Svoboda and its head Oleh Tyahnybok in the presidential and
parliamentary elections – 1.16% and 4.71% respectively. The latter result was below
the parliament’s 5% entry barrier and has thus led to the disappearance of the far
right’s short-lived faction in the Verkhovna Rada which has since only contained
some individual ultra-nationalists who do not cooperate much with each other, within
the legislature.

Svoboda’s decline, if compared to its 2012
result, was even more surprising in view of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, the
ongoing war in the Donbas, and its repercussions in Ukrainian society. In spite
of heightening patriotism, rising irregular armed groups, and spreading Russophobia
(fear of Russia) within Ukraine’s population, Svoboda lost percentagewise more
than half of its popular support, in October 2014. In fact, it lost actually overall
even more because voters on Crimea and in much of the Donbas – i.e. those parts
of the Ukrainian electorate with especially little sympathy for Svoboda – did
not take part in the elections. The frustration among the far right may have
been especially high in view of the fact that Svoboda and the Right Sector had,
in sum, received more than 5% in the parliamentary elections. Had they formed a
united list, they might have been able to jointly pass the entry barrier and to
thereby preserve a far-right faction in parliament.

Towards a United
Ultra-Nationalist Front

In March 2017, so it seemed, Ukraine’s radical
nationalists had finally learned their lesson, and adopted a joint so-called National
Manifesto. The heads of the three main parties, Svoboda’s Oleh Tyahnibok, the
Right Sector’s Andriy Tarasenko and the National Corps’s Andriy Biletskii,
signed – in a solemn ceremony, at Kyiv’s House of Teachers – a common
programmatic document. It demanded, among others, creating a Baltic-Black Sea
Alliance of East European countries, as well as reestablishing Ukraine as a
nuclear-weapons-state. The novel coalition now explicitly united the two
parties that had run separately, in the two 2014 national elections.

Until recently, this alliance also included the
National Corps, a dynamic new party that had grown out of the Azov movement and
is continuing the tradition of the pre-Euromaidan racist groupuscules “Patriot
of Ukraine” and Social-National Assembly also once headed by Biletskiy. The new
tripartite alliance was  joined by three additional
minor far right groups – the Congress of Ukrainian Nationalists, Organization
of Ukrainian Nationalists, as well as C14, a notorious neo-Nazi grouplet. Conspicuously
though, another notable nationalist group, the so-called Statesman Initiative
of Yarosh, a split-off from the Right Sector, was absent at the March 2017 unification
meeting, and did not sign the joint Manifesto. Yarosh’s demonstrative
non-engagement turned out be a harbinger of things to come.

Throughout 2018, the far right’s leaders and
activists were discussing a joint strategy for the 2019 presidential and
parliamentary elections. Much of their public rhetoric was about the ultra-nationalist
groups’ need to campaign jointly and run united. A major issue though remained
who of their two most popular leaders, Tyahnybok or Biletskiy, would be the far
right’s single presidential candidate. Tyahnybok (b. 1968) is a veteran
Ukrainian politician from Galicia who had prominently participated in the 1990,
2004 and 2014 Revolutions on the Granite, in Orange and of Dignity. He also had
10 years of experience as a Rada deputy until 2014. Biletskiy (b. 1979), in
contrast, is from Kharkiv, did not participate in high politics until after the
Euromaidan, and acquired his fame only in 2014 as commander of the Azov
volunteer battalion, as a result of which he won a single-member district in
Kyiv’s Obolon district, in that year’s Rada elections. While Biletskiy has little
political experience, he apparently pretends to play a role equal or superior to
Tyahnybok, within the united ultra-nationalist camp.

At first it seemed that the far right had found
a solution to the thorny of selecting only one joint presidential candidate. It
nominated by, in November 2018, neither Tyahnybok nor Biletskiy, but a third
prominent politician, Ruslan Koshulynskyi (b. 1969), as its candidate for
President of Ukraine. Like Tyahnybok, a Galician Svoboda leader, Koshulynskyi
had been Deputy Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada in 2012-2014. He had acquired
national recognition and a good reputation in that function and as a volunteer soldier
in the Donbas.

Koshulynskyi thus seemed like a good choice.
Yet, it became soon apparent that Koshulynskyi’s nomination by the signatory
organizations of the far right’s 2017 National Manifesto had, for one reason or
another, either not at all or insufficiently been agreed with Biletskiy’s
National Corps. Svoboda and its allies, on the one side, and the National
Corps, on the other, have since accused each other of sabotaging the
coordination process before Koshulynskyi’s nomination.

In any way, for the presidential elections,
neither the apparent break of the 2017 coalition nor Dmytro Yarosh’s public
support for Koshulynskyi candidacy since are of much political importance. In
fact, Koshulynskyi’s possibly weak performance in the upcoming elections could turn
into a public relations disaster for the far right. In an opinion poll released by the reputed
Razumkov Center on 20 February 2019
, Koshulynskyi had the support of only 0.9% of
those intending to vote in presidential elections. With such a result,
Koshulynskyi would remain even below the already embarrassing result of 1.16% that
his party colleague Tyahnybok had obtained during the 2014 presidential
elections. It would be stunning, if Koshulynskyi will indeed receive so little
support although he, unlike Tyahnybok who in 2014 competed with Yarosh, does
not have a competitor on the far-right flank. Neither Biletskyi nor Yarosh or
any other prominent ultra-nationalists decided to also run, in the presidential

The by far most important aspect of the current
tensions between the National Corps, on the one side, and the other
ultra-nationalist groups, on the other, is thus that it could mean that they
run separately in the parliamentary elections, in October 2019. Such a division
of their vote could repeat the far right’s fiasco of 2014. In fact, it is not
entirely clear that even a fully united far right list would be able to pass
the 5% threshold.

That is because, in the words of prominent Kyiv
political analyst Volodymyr Fesenko, “Petro Poroshenko’s broad campaign
is build on militant patriotic rhetoric as well as on support for the candidacy
of Ukraine’s incumbent President by some influential nationalists [which]
greatly diminishes Koshulynskyi’s chances, in the presidential elections, and
the chances of Svoboda, not to mention other nationalist parties, in the
parliamentary elections.”

In the words of the Vienna political scientist
Anton Shekhovtsov too, the far right has now “low chances to get into the Rada
because, above all, the political system of Ukraine is again extremely
polarized (as was the case in the 1990s and early 2000s). The conflict in the political center
is currently so intense that there is, for all peripheral parties, little hope
to join this confrontation within the center and thereby enter the national
debate. In some way, the situation of ‘Svoboda’ and the National Corps is
similar to that of small liberal parties like the Democratic Alliance or ‘Power
of the People.’ They too have no chance – and not so much because they do not
unite, but because the current system’s center is battle field of much stronger
political players. Moreover, it is important to remember that ‘Svoboda’ managed
to enter the Rada in 2012 because it was helped by the President Viktor
Yanukovych. Today, nobody needs the right-wing radicals apart from certain
business projects that require their services for raiding attacks or similar

The Ambitious National

As of February 2019, the summary support of
those intending to vote in parliamentary elections for Svoboda (1.4%), the
National Corps (0.2%), the Statesman Initiative of Yarosh (0.1%), and the Right
Sector (0.0%) was, in the mentioned Razumkov Center poll, altogether just 1.7%.
To be sure, Ukraine’s far right has sometimes performed much better in real elections
than in pre-electoral surveys. Yet, the currently measured support for the far
right would have to triple during the actual voting, in order for a united
list, to pass the 5% threshold.

In spite of the sobering polling results,
Biletskyi seems to be currently still planning a separate list of his party in
the upcoming parliamentary elections. A representative of the National Corps
reportedly asserted, in November 2018, that his organization’s “potential and human resources are
much larger than those of all the other [signatory organizations of the far
right’s 2017 National Manifesto] combined.”
A competition between the National Corps, on
the one hand, and a united list of the remaining parties, on the other, could
become significant, if Poroshenko is not reelected in April 2019 and a less
militantly patriotic candidate becomes President. In such a case, nationalist
voters currently attracted to the incumbent President could decide to support
the ultra-nationalists in subsequent elections. This could provide the far
right with an opportunity to regain a faction, in the next parliament. However,
if, in such favorable conditions, Biletskyi’s National Corps runs an effective
parallel campaign, Svoboda’s list – the currently most likely and most
prospective option – could, in October 2019, again miss the 5% barrier, as it
did in October 2014.    

Much of this is, so far, however, speculation.
Ukrainian party politics and national elections are notoriously unpredictable
matters. The first two months of 2019 and meteoric rise of Volodymyr Zelenskiy,
within only a few weeks, have shown how fast and radical, the “correlation of
forces,” as a prime term of Soviet political analysis goes, can change, in
post-Soviet Ukrainian domestic affairs. Moreover, it is likely that Moscow
will, in one way or another, try to leave its imprint on, at least, the
parliamentary elections in October. Such attempts may not necessarily be
successful, in terms of the Kremlin’s interest. Yet, they could change public
opinion and the party-political constellation – perhaps, even to the advantage
of the far right. As of late February 2019, notwithstanding, it looks as if Ukraine’s
far right may perform calamitously in both, the spring presidential and autumn
parliamentary elections.

The post Will Ukraine’s Far Right Parties Fail Again in 2019? appeared first on Foreign Policy Blogs.

Ukraine’s 2019 Presidential Elections: The Yuri Tymoshenko Risk

Tue, 26/03/2019 - 19:30

In a worst-case
scenario, political-technological trickery could, after the first round of
Ukraine’s upcoming presidential elections, unsettle social stability in Ukraine.
Cynical puppet masters are prepared to risk the outbreak of a major domestic
civil conflict for the sake of securing re-election of Ukraine’s incumbent

The relatively pluralistic political competition
that emerged after the collapse of the USSR has seen the emergence of new political
manipulation strategies outlined in Andrew Wilson’s seminal monograph Virtual Politics: Faking Democracy in
Post-Soviet World
(Yale UP, 2005). This type of distinctly cynical usage of
various deception and falsification tricks for the sake of achieving an electoral
victory has become known under the label “political technology” – a major
vocation for thousands of alumni of post-Soviet “politology” departments. The
roots of “political technology” go back to tactics of the KGB for promoting disarray,
mistrust and factionalism among anti-Soviet dissidents and emigres. While the prime
social function of traditional political science is to help making democracy
work, the purpose of post-Soviet political technology is to prevent democracy
from working as it is supposed to do.

What Is in a Name?

A major instrument of “political technologists’”
ruses, over the last thirty years, has been to subvert fair political
competition via purposefully misleading voters, via word games, about the
choices they are making on election day. Post-Soviet politics has a rich
history of the creation of pseudo-parties associated with names and programs specifically
chosen to confuse electorates about the identities and ideologies of real competitors
in elections. The, perhaps, most infamous such example is Vladimir Zhirinovskii’s
ultra-nationalist “Liberal-Democratic Party” that the Soviet ancien regime invented in 1990, initially
as a mere instrument, to discredit and obscure the real liberal-democratic
movement emerging, in the late USSR, at that time. Since then, there have been hundreds
of examples of elections, in the post-Soviet space, muddled by the appearance
of so-called “technical” parties and candidates the names or/and programs of
which sounded similar to those of some genuine political force whose electoral
support they were designed to dilute.

One would have hoped that Ukraine has overcome
this pathology, at least on the national level, after almost 30 years of
independence, and its three pro-democratic upheavals since then, the so-called Revolution
on Granit of 1990, Orange Revolution of 2004, and Revolution of Dignity of
2013-2014. Alas, this year’s presidential election sees a surprisingly egregious
revival of dirty political deceit strategies, among them the use of, at least,
two especially “technical” candidates. The 2019 presidential candidacies of the
two political nobodies Yuri Tymoshenko, a volunteer soldier, and Yuliya Lytvynenko,
a TV journalist, have clearly the purpose to confuse the voters on election day.
Every Ukrainian citizen has, of course, the right to propose her or his candidacy,
in the elections. Yet, these two candidates are such marginal political
personalities that they are not even mentioned in most opinion polls published
in the run-up to the elections.

The appearance of these two names on the ballot
sheet that voters will be filing in, on 31 March 2019, is a plain attempt to mislead
some of those who would like to elect Yuliya Tymoshenko. A certain amount of voters
will probably make their marks on the wrong line, in the list of presidential
candidates, and mark not Yuliya Tymoshenko, but the minions Yuri Tymoshenko or
Yuliya Lytvynenko. To be sure, both of them have biographies that do not make
them entirely inapt participants of Ukrainian politics. Yet, most Ukrainians
would not be able to identify these two persons who have neither sharp public
profiles nor a political organization or campaign, behind them.

The False Tymoshenko

The re-appearance of such dirty electoral manipulation
strategies could be seen as a minor incident. But the phenomenon is noteworthy
for, at least, three reasons. First, the successful registration, as
presidential candidates, of Yuri Tymoshenko and Yuliya Lytvynenko would not
have been possible without the silent approval from the very state that
currently benefits from large-scale Western support. Ukraine’s president, parliament,
government, general procuracy and electoral commission are permitting or even advancing
this and other trickery, in the run-up to the presidential elections, in spite
of their loud adherence to “Western standards” and “European values,” as well
as pompous claim for soon accession to the EU and NATO. That this and other “political-technological”
deceit is still being actively used in a country with a ratified and especially
far-reaching Association Agreement with Brussels and a Strategic Partnership
Charter with Washington should give Kyiv’s Western partners reason for pause.

Second, during the last two months, the manipulative
candidacies of Yuri Tymoshenko and Yuliya Lytvynenko have, in view of changing
opinion polling results, acquired a potential importance they had not had
before. As a result of the sudden rise of the recent presidential candidate
Volodymyr Zelenskiy, the competition for the second place during the presidential
elections’ first round on 31 March has transformed into the major issue of this
vote. According to surveys, Zelenskiy will most probably win in the first round.
But, so far, it is an open question whether incumbent President Petro
Poroshenko or challenger Yuliya Tymoshenko will take the second position – and thus
also advance to the election’s second round on 21 April. Only the first two
candidates in the March round have a chance to become elected president in the April
final vote.

During the last weeks, opinion polls are
producing contradictory results on who will come second in the first round. In
some polls, Poroshenko is ahead of Yuliya Tymoshenko. In others, she takes
second place after Zelenskiy while Poroshenko falls to the third position. The
latter would mean that the incumbent does not make it to the second round and will
have no chance for re-election. Poroshenko’s and Yuliya Tymoshenko’s shares of
support in most polls, regarding the first round, are close or even very close
to each other.

In such a situation, the hitherto irrelevant “technical”
candidacies of Yuri Tymoshenko and Yuliya Lytvynenko have become politically explosive.
That is because a scenario has become possible in which Yuliya Tymoshenko could
come third in the elections’ first round, but may not be ready to accept such a
result in view of the impact of the two “technical” candidates. An
uncompromising stance by Yuliya Tymoshenko would gain legitimacy in the case
that the difference between her voters’ support and Poroshenko’s winning result
would be approximately similar or even smaller than the percentages acquired by
the political nobodies Yuri Tymoshenko and/or Yuliya Lytvynenko. The problematic
aspect of such an outcome would be especially grave, if Poroshenko would then
go on to win, in the second round, against Zelenskiy. In such a case, it would
become plausible to argue that Yuri Tymoshenko and/or Yuliya Lytvynenko stole Yuliya
Tymoshenko’s presidency.

To be sure, Ukraine has its way to deal with such
a situation. In autumn 2004, the Ukrainian elite and population did not accept
the results of the second round of the presidential elections fraudulently won
by Viktor Yanukovych. What followed was a two-months electoral uprising that
became known as the Orange Revolution – which was, by the way, principally led by
Yuliya Tymoshenko. The second round of the elections was repeated on 26
December 2004, after which Petro Poroshenko’s then patron Viktor Yushchenko was
duly inaugurated as President of Ukraine, on 23 January 2005.

Against the background of this and other Ukrainian
uprisings, it is not unlikely that, in case of a dubiously obtained electoral
advantage for Poroshenko, Ukraine could see new mass protests by disenchanted
Tymoshenko voters. If the difference between Poroshenko and Yuliya Tymoshenko
will be smaller than the share of voters for Yuri Tymoshenko or/and Yuliya
Lytvynenko, hundreds of thousands of demonstrators across Ukraine could start demanding
a repetition of the elections’ first round. A crucial difference of such a new uprising
from that of 2004 would not only be that, given the enormous amount of fire weapons
nowadays circulating among Ukrainians, it could easily turn violent.

After Me the Deluge

A third and the major worrisome aspect of the
candidacies of Yuri Tymoshenko and Yuliya Lytvynenko is that such potentially explosive
political manipulation happens at a time when Ukraine is in a war for survival.
To be sure, the probability of the above scenario is low. Most likely,
Poroshenko will either come third. Or he comes second and the margin of his
lead, compared to Yuliya Tymoshenko’s result, will be sufficiently significant to
avoid fundamental questions. In such a case, Yuliya Tymoshenko could – at
least, in that regard – not plausibly claim that the voters were deceived and
the elections stolen via this particular “political technology.” An ambivalent
situation would only emerge, if Poroshenko overtakes Yuliya Tymoshenko with a very
small margin – a constellation that will hopefully not emerge.

Yet, the likelihood of this outcome, in the
first round, does not equal zero. While the odds of such a scenario are certainly
small, the stakes are massive. A major conflict inside Ukraine between
pro-Western forces, who may even end up using firearms, would lead to ecstatic celebration
in Moscow, and deep frustration in the West. Worse, large civil unrest in
Ukraine could provide the Kremlin with a window of opportunity to snatch
another chunk of Ukrainian territory, or even crush the Ukrainian state in its
entirety. Again, this is not likely to happen, but cannot be fully excluded, in
the case of an obviously illegitimate loss by Tymoshenko, as a result of dirty “political

The fact that the current power-holders are
ready to run such an – even if only improbable, yet – enormous risk in order to
preserve their power is not encouraging. It a stark illustration of the
continuing rapaciousness, immorality and pseudo-patriotism of the loudly pro-Ukrainian
incumbent clan nowadays dominating, in Kyiv. Most Western observers hope for a
continuation of Poroshenko’s presidency after April 2019. Their expectations of
his possible second term should, in view of the dangerous tools Poroshenko’s “political
technologists” have been employing to achieve it, not be high.

The post Ukraine’s 2019 Presidential Elections: The Yuri Tymoshenko Risk appeared first on Foreign Policy Blogs.

The Dangers of a Future Mission

Thu, 21/03/2019 - 21:38
Russian-made S-400 air defense systems. (Photo: Sergey Malgavko/Sputnik)

A few short weeks ago, a shipment of S-400 missiles from Russia to China were lost at sea. While the shipment was replaced and likely covered by some type of insurance, the notable issue should be that S-400 missiles are now being exported outside of Russia. The export of the older S-300 system was always an issue in the West with regards many countries, including Iran. The S-300 was held from being exported from Russia to Iran due to sanctions against Iran for many years. The S-300 were only placed in Syria recently for political reasons following an incident where a Russian IL-20 crew was lost to an S-200 missile because of a misidentification by Syrian forces. While the S-300 is seen as a significant threat to opposing aircraft and missiles, the S-400 was considered a system that would likely only be encountered within Russian territory and is state of the art.

It will likely be the case that the S-400 will become more common in countries that may not share American or European policy approaches. It has even been ordered by NATO allies like Turkey who would normally choose Western equipment, and India that possesses a defense approach with systems from the West and from Russia. Missions like those that could possibly be proposed against Venezuela may not be able to take shape without some expected losses to the S-400 systems. With the S-500 covertly being used in Russia, it is now the case that systems considered part of a future defense structure will be a current threat in the active modern battlefield.

While technology is eventually
defeated, modern air forces must consider scenarios now with the
S-400 challenging their soldiers in the air for many years to come
before an effective solution is developed. Using older equipment will
likely make any pilot an initial target for the S-400 and make any
action against an S-400 protected target extremely dangerous.
Missions may need to be cancelled if an air arm does not possess the
right equipment to keep their pilots safe, and pilots themselves may
choose to refuse orders if a country does not equip them with
reasonably effective airplanes for future missions. Surface to Air
missiles often change the politics around an issue, with the S-400,
politics will have to adapt to future aggressors and conflicts.

The post The Dangers of a Future Mission appeared first on Foreign Policy Blogs.

Op-Ed: Do Hindus in Bangladesh, Kashmir and Pakistan have a future?

Fri, 15/03/2019 - 19:24

Following the recent terror in Kashmir, will Hindus be forced out of every area in the Indian subcontinent that presently has a Muslim majority?  

Last week, a grenade blew up in Kashmir, injuring 18 people.  This incident occurred after a Pakistani Islamist terror group murdered 40 Indian soldiers in the disputed region, which both Pakistan and India have fought over for decades.  Jaish-e-Mohammed, a Pakistani Islamist terror group, took responsibility for both attacks.  In the wake of these two incidents, what is one of the most picturesque and colorful regions of India is now suffering gravely.  However, this beautiful region of India was not always so bloody. 

In the past, there were no radical Islamism in Kashmir and Hindus were the majority in the area.  At that time, Kashmir was peaceful.  But since the beginning of the first millennium, radical Islam started to dominate in the region.  With the rise of radical Islam in Kashmir, Hindus were raped, murdered and forcefully converted to Islam.  Due to this reality, only 1.84% of Kashmir is Hindu today.  In light of this, one must ponder, do Hindus have a future in any of the Muslim lands in the Indian subcontinent following the rise of radical Islam in the area? 

Shipan Kumer Basu, President of the World Hindu Struggle Committee, proclaimed: “No one is paying attention to the plight of Hindus in Bangladesh.  The torture of Hindus there began in the early 20th century.  Under the British, thousands of Hindus were murdered in a riot in Dhaka.  10,000 Hindus were massacred in 1946 in Noakhali.  Numerous Hindu women were raped as well while others were forcefully converted to Islam.  At that time, Hindus started to flee the area for India.”

“Later on, during the Liberation War in 1971, Pakistani soldiers massacred Hindus and raped their women en masse,” he added.  “More and more Hindus proceeded to flee to India.  Since then, the Hindus of Bangladesh continue to flee for the murder, rape and forceful conversion of Hindus never came to an end.”  In fact, within the past year, 107 Hindus were murdered, 25 Hindu women were raped and 235 Hindu temples were vandalized in Bangladesh. 

The persecution of Hindus does not occur in a vacuum.  The oppression experienced by the Hindu minority begins with incitement in the educational system.  In a school textbook titled “Islamic Religion and Ethics,” which was issued by the Bangladeshi government, Hindus are portrayed as liars, property embezzlers, and even worse than animals.  According to Basu, over the past few years, Hefazat-e-Islam has been demanding that the government remove all stories, poems, essays and plays written by Hindus and other non-Muslim writers from the school curriculum.  He noted that subsequently, such writings were partially removed from secondary school books. 

Mendi Safadi, who heads the Safadi Center for International Diplomacy, Research, Public Relations and Human Rights, proclaimed: “This approach displays more than anything the radical Islam of Sheikh Hasina’s government, a policy which encourages and fosters early childhood terror.  This is the kind of terrorism that the international community needs to untie and fight against, an ideology that begins in the schools and mosques of radical governments like Bangladesh.”    Safadi’s statement is backed up by the head of the Workers Party, Rashed Khan Menon, who noted that Sheikh Hasina has sown the seeds of fundamentalism by partnering together with Hefazat e-Islam.    

The plight of Hindus in Pakistan is even worse.   Recently, Pakistan’s Punjab Information and Culture Minister Fayyazul Hassan Chohan described Hindus as “cow urine drinking people.” It is true that Pakistan’s new Prime Minister Imran Khan did sack that minister over his remarks.  Furthermore, he did order a probe into an attack upon a Hindu temple within the country.   However, at the same time, he also continues to support the Blasphemy Law, which is often used as a weapon against Hindus, Christians and other minorities in Pakistan. 

For example, in one case sited by the Pakistan Christian Post, a 14-year-old minority girl was raped, abducted and forcefully converted to Islam.  She was forced to marry one of her captors as well.  Her father fought hard to get her back and managed to do so.  However, under the Pakistani legal system, in retaliation, he could face blasphemy charges if his daughter ever chose to return to the religion of her ancestors.   Under Pakistani law, one must have four male witnesses to prove any crime.  This law permits the rape, robbery and murder of minorities within Pakistan with impunity.  And should India be forced entirely from the Kashmir region, these are the kind of atrocities that the Hindus remaining in Kashmir can expect. 

And sadly, under the Sheikh Hasina government, Bangladesh is heading in that direction of Pakistan too.  As Safadi noted, “Every time, we see more crimes against minorities, restrictions on freedom, etc.”  He insists that this must happen or else Bangladesh will become just another Pakistan or Kashmir, a place where Hindus won’t be granted the right to live. 

And as Hindus are forced out of more and more Muslim majority countries in the Indian subcontinent, the radical Muslims become emboldened to take even more.  According to the Indian media, there are plans by the Indian Muslim Congress Party to have Muslim only hospitals and to have free electricity for mosques and churches but not Hindu and Sikh places of worship.  There are also reports that they have a manifesto which seeks to give preference to Muslims over Hindus for employment and educational opportunities.  In fact, they reportedly give financial incentives to Muslim students only.

Safadi noted that for a hospital to give medical treatment to Muslims but not Hindus, Christians and Sikhs is a clear example of apartheid: “We have passed on this data to the EU Parliament and the US Congress.  Now is the time for the world to unite against the seeds of terror planted by the Bangladeshi government and to impose economic sanctions against the Sheikh Hasina government.”

The post Op-Ed: Do Hindus in Bangladesh, Kashmir and Pakistan have a future? appeared first on Foreign Policy Blogs.

How to Make Eastern Europe’s Gray Zone less Gray?

Thu, 14/03/2019 - 18:38

The US’s Baltic and Adriatic Charters could become templates for embedding Ukraine and Georgia as well as, perhaps, Moldova and Azerbaijan into a provisional multilateral security structure.


By Iryna Vereshchuk and Andreas Umland

It is remarkable how strongly some international organizations’ coverage of the East-Central European and South Caucasian post-Soviet space has come to correlate with the region’s states’ territorial integrity. Two large blocs are confronting each other in Eastern Europe: NATO as well as the EU, on the side, and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) as well as Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), both Moscow-dominated, on the other. Today, exactly those four countries – Georgia, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and Moldova (GUAM) – which are not members of either of these two coalitions do not fully control their territories. In contrast, such NATO and EU members with large Russian minorities and restrictive citizenship laws, as Estonia and Latvia, on the one side, or such, by themselves, economically weak CSTO and EEU member countries, as Belarus and Armenia, on the other, have fully preserved their internationally recognized borders.

In Azerbaijan’s Nagorno Karabakh, Moldova’s Transnistria, Georgia’s South Ossetia and Abkhazia as well as Ukraine’s Donets Basin (Donbas), on the contrary, six unrecognized pseudo-states were created, with direct or, in the case of Karabakh, indirect support from the Kremlin. Crimea has been simply annexed by Russia. In Moscow’s reading, the Ukrainian peninsula has, since March 2014, become an ordinary region within the Russian Federation. This interpretation has since been rejected in, among other international statements, several documents of the UN, OSCE and Council of Europe – organizations of which Russia or/and the Soviet Union have been full members for many years.

The Many Inconsequential Alliances of Eastern Europe

The prospects of a soon further eastern enlargement of the EU and NATO are dim. The UN, OSCE and Council of Europe have, despite clear statements in support of Ukraine and Georgia, demonstrated their unsuitability for resolving the East European gray zone’s fundamental security problem. This indicates that the GUAM region will remain a source of instability for years to come.

That is in spite of the fact that there have been various multilateral frameworks specifically designed to increase cooperation and stability, in East-Central Europe and the Southern Caucasus, during the last two decades. Among them are the:

Yet, these fora or structures where either, as in the case of GUAM, CDC or BSS, too weak or short-lived to make the region substantively more secure. Or they are relatively dynamic and strong, yet do not include, as in the case of the B9 and 3SI, any of the most vulnerable gray zone countries. In fact, the latter two projects deliberately excluded, from the outset, the four GUAM states.   

The EU’s Eastern Partnership led to the conclusion of impressive Association Agreements with three of the four gray zone countries, Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova, in 2014. These exceptionally large treaties, moreover, include articles addressing issues of security and defense. Yet, the EU – with the partial exception of its members Poland, Great Britain and Lithuania – did not follow up on filling these formulations with any notable substance beyond general financial and technical support. Since the three Agreements’ full ratification by all of the Union’s member states and by the European Parliament in 2014, Tbilisi, Kyiv and Chisinau have benefitted from only very limited military support from Brussels.

Worse, several EU member states have started to slowly rebuild, in one way or another, their economic and diplomatic relations with Moscow, after the introduction of sanctions in reaction to Russia’s attack on Ukraine since 2014. The most egregious such attempt is the currently build so-called Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline via the Baltic Sea. The Kremlin designed this project specifically to eliminate Moscow’s remaining partial dependence on the Ukrainian gas transportation system, and to thereby free its hands for future escalation.

The US as Eastern Europe’s Indispensable Nation

The embarrassing story of both trans- and East European institution-building over the last quarter of a century illustrate the need for the US to get finally involved. Not only for West but also East European political stability, an engagement of Washington was and remains crucial. This has been amply illustrated by the Baltic and Adriatic Charters signed by the United States with various post-communist countries in 1998 and 2003 respectively, and designed to prepare them for future NATO membership. After their allying with the US within the Baltic Charter, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia successfully entered NATO in 2004.

In the Western Balkans too, the United States’ Adriatic Charter has done – what would have been regarded twenty years ago as – wonders. In 2009, Croatia, a state that had not existed two decades earlier, and Albania, which had once been one of Europe’s most gruesome communist dictatorships, became NATO members. In 2017, Montenegro – which had been bombed by NATO war planes, less than twenty years before – became NATO’s 29th member country. Currently, Macedonia’s as well as Bosnia and Herzegovina’s accession to NATO is being prepared. Serbia, to be sure, is only a candidate for membership in the EU, and not a full signatory but only observer of the Adriatic Charter. Yet, it appears not unlikely that Serbia too will eventually apply for NATO membership, once it has entered the EU, and all other Balkan states have become full members of the alliance.

Already in 2008, Georgia and Ukraine officially applied for starting NATO’s Membership Action Plan. While these applications were rejected, in their Bucharest Summit Declaration of April 3rd, 2008, the then 26 member countries welcomed “Ukraine’s and Georgia’s Euro-Atlantic aspirations for membership in NATO. We agreed today that these countries will become members of NATO.” The ambivalent status of Georgia and Ukraine as official future members of NATO, yet without roadmaps for entering the Alliance, was among the determinants of Moscow’s occupation of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in 2008 as well as of Crimea and the eastern Donbas in 2014. Russia’s expansions, in turn, have increased wariness within the Alliance about further enlargement, and created an accession deadlock for Ukraine and Georgia. The lesson from the various stories of post-communist states is that political ambiguity and institutional indetermination breed instability and stalemate while resolute engagement and organizational structuring increase security and foster progress.

Towards a US Charter with the GUAM Group

The US, partly, learned its lesson from its earlier successes, and from the disaster of the August 2008 Russian-Georgian war. It signed bilateral Strategic Partnership Charters with Ukraine in December 2008, and with Georgia in January 2009. The two Charters announced that the parties will support the integration of Ukraine and Georgia into European and Euro-Atlantic structures, security cooperation, and preparing these countries for candidacy for NATO membership. The two new documents, however, did not send much of a signal to Russia. They remained largely unknown within even the publics of the three signatory states.

What is, against such a background, needed is an expansion of Washington’s current two bilateral Charters into a larger quasi-alliance. A new multilateral Charter should link the US demonstratively with the EU’s three associated Eastern partners Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine, as well as, perhaps, with Azerbaijan. This provisional semi-coalition could become a consequential upgrade for the GUAM group formed in 2001. It could be modelled on, or even go beyond, the Baltic and Adriatic Charters.

Ideas like that have been voiced before a number of times. For instance, at the 2009 meeting of foreign ministers of the Adriatic and Baltic countries as well as US in Riga, the Lithuanian MFA’s head Vygaudas Ušackas called for continuing NATO enlargement. Ušackas suggested to invite to such meetings of Balkan, Baltic and US department heads and ministers also representatives of Ukraine and Georgia. Ušackas noted that “Ukraine and Georgia that aspire NATO membership could make use of our experience in the conduct of military, political and economic reforms.”

A new multilateral US Charter for Eastern Europe and the Southern Caucasus will, to be sure, not offer nearly as much protection to GUAM, as Article 5 of the Washington Treaty provides for NATO’s members. The US’s assurances in such a document would, most probably, even remain significantly below those given to such countries as South Korea or Israel. Still, a US-GUAM Charter could provide elementary organizational structure to Eastern Europe’s gray zone during the interregnum, until these countries eventually become members of the EU, NATO or/and other relevant international institutions that embed them properly in the international system. Even a very cautiously formulated American Charter for the GUAM countries would have considerable symbolic power, increase East European security, and raise the stakes of further escalation in the current post-Soviet gray zone for Moscow.

Three caveats apply. First, the US would hardly and should not agree to promise helping the four countries to reconquer their lost territories. The eventual recovery of the separatist regions are major topics in Ukrainian, Moldovan, Georgian and Azeri domestic discourse, and subjects of constant patriotic outbidding. Thus, Washington should make clear, from the outset, that a return of the altogether seven seceded territories under GUAM’s control is not the Charter’s function. In arguing so, reference could be made, for instance, to Washington’s close pre-2008 cooperation with Tbilisi, yet eventual inability and unwillingness to interfere militarily in the five-day August war between Russia and Georgia.

Second, Azerbaijan has no announced ambition to join NATO or the EU while Moldova has, in its currently valid 1994 Constitution, defined itself as a permanently bloc-free country. Thus, the Charter should leave the question of a future entry of its signatory states into NATO and EU open – or even entirely ignore the issue. Oddly, exactly Moldova and Azerbaijan have both exceptionally close political, economic and ethno-linguistic links to a large NATO member country – Romania and Turkey respectively. Georgia and Ukraine, in contrast, have no comparably close relations to any Western country (Poland’s once close relations to Ukraine have deteriorated during the last years because of historical memory issues). Azerbaijan, moreover, has since 2010 a mutual aid treaty with Turkey that, at least formally, provides Baku with far-going security assurances, by a NATO member country.

Finally, Azerbaijan has – unlike Georgia, Ukraine and Moldova – not only no large Association Agreement with the EU. It is also, unlike the other three, not even an electoral democracy, but clearly an autocracy. The Charter would thus have to be careful in formulating its political standards. Support for Azerbaijan could be seen as contradicting the US’s general foreign policy goals. Yet, one should not forget that such inconsistencies are not unusual in Western geopolitical engagement. For instance, Azerbaijan is fully included into the EU’s Eastern Partnership program since 2009, and benefits from Brussels’s financial support. The NATO member countries Poland, Hungary and, especially, Turkey have recently suffered from significant setbacks in their political development which put into question their classification as proper liberal democracies.

In spite of caveats like these, a US-GUAM Charter following the examples of the Baltic and Adriatic Charters would be a small, but symbolically significant step forward in making Eastern Europe more secure. It would usefully parallel and demonstratively support Brussels’s European Neighborhood Policy, in general, and the Eastern Partnership initiative, in particular. While not providing yet a comprehensive solution to the fragile security situation in East-Central Europe and the Southern Caucasus, it would help making gradually Europe’s post-Soviet gray zone less gray.    


The article appeared first in the “Harvard International Review,” 2019, vol. 40, no. 1, pp. 38-41.

IRYNA VERESHCHUK is President of Kyiv’s International Centre for Black Sea-Baltic Studies and Consensus Practices which unites several former heads of state and government from various European post-communist countries.

ANDREAS UMLAND is Senior Non-Resident Fellow at the Institute of International Relations at Prague, Principal Researcher of the Institute for Euro-Atlantic Cooperation at Kyiv, and General Editor of the ibidem­-Verlag book series “Soviet and Post-Soviet Politics and Society” distributed by Columbia University Press.

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