Tag: #Europe

Can the relationship between Europe and Africa stand the test of time?

The signing of the Treaty of Rome, which established the European Economic Community (EEC) 60 years ago in March 1957, came at a tumultuous time in relations between Europe and Africa.

Just weeks earlier Kwame Nkrumah had declared Ghana a republic, an event which was a turning point in the decolonisation of sub-Saharan Africa.

Nkrumah remarked that the treaty’s inclusion of colonial territories was to neocolonialism what the Berlin Treaty of 1885 had been to colonialism.

He had a point. Two of the six founding members of the EEC – Belgium and France – still held substantial colonial interests on the continent. Accession to the community thus posed the crucial question of what to do about them.

The question became contentious enough to threaten the collapse of the entire Treaty of Rome negotiation process. The other four members of the EEC were Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and the Netherlands.

France in particular was steadfast that its colonies be “associated” with the community. Paris envisaged that its preferential colonial terms of trade would be extended to the entire EEC. But Germany and the Netherlands were opposed, wary of being forced to share the financial and political responsibilities that came with trading with former colonies.

The French argument ultimately won, albeit with some compromises. The treaty’s association agreement would last five years and the preferences France enjoyed from its colonies would be gradually expanded to the rest of the EEC.

The agreement, inscribed into articles 131-136 of the treaty, served as the originator of Europe’s subsequent relationship with the African, Caribbean and Pacific Group of States (ACP). This was codified in the Yaoundé Agreements, the Lomé Convention and today’s Cotonou Agreement.

So this 60th anniversary is not just about Europe. The treaty created a framework for multilateral relations between Europe and Africa.

The principles of trade and aid enshrined in the treaty’s association agreement form the basis of Europe’s development agenda in Africa to this day, even though relations have expanded into many more areas in the 21st century.

A common future

The Treaty of Rome laid out the blueprint for the creation of the world’s largest single market. It also contributed to the post World War II process of cooperation and reconciliation in Europe.

The push for European unity persisted for 37 years, culminating in the creation of the European Union (EU) under the Maastricht Treaty in 1993.

Although difficult to imagine amid the doom and gloom of Brexit, rising populism and the migration crisis, there is still reason to celebrate when you consider the region’s relationship with Africa.

The EU, for all of its troubles, has generally been a progressive partner to Africa, especially with respect to the establishment of the Joint Africa-EU Strategy and the unique programming efforts it has generated.

This of course does not negate instances of neocolonialism, nor the damage done by the clumsy promotion of the European Partnership Agreements (EPAs).

The EPAs in particular remain a sore point. Indeed, the preferential trade terms given to African countries by EU member states have been judged discriminatory and in contravention of World Trade Organisation rules.

Beyond the EPA debate, a number of factors have contributed to challenges facing some of the original asymmetries between the two sides.

For one, the global South, and China in particular, continues to alter global trade dynamics. African countries and regional organisations now have more trading partners to turn to.

In addition, Africa is in the middle of constructive upheaval, brought on by more than 20 years of robust growth.

The Africa of today is not the Africa of 1957. The African Union is also a more robust partner than its predecessor, the Organisation of Africa Unity.

Trade and aid

Back in 1957, the Treaty of Rome laid down the twin principles of EU-Africa relations throughout the 20th century and beyond: trade and aid. These principles were framed within the larger idea of development cooperation.

The association agreement provided reciprocal trading arrangements between 31 ‘overseas territories’ – including 18 African ones – and the ECC countries. An overseas development fund was also created, with all six EEC members contributing to it.

Controversially, the agreement served to perpetuate African dependency on Europe. Even the Lome Convention’s much touted “non-reciprocal” principle, which was supposed to nurture African industries, further attached them to Europe.

The convention eventually met strong criticism as a system of “collective clientelism”, which was perpetuating dependency and “elite capture” in Africa.

This contradictory relationship between dependency and progressive thinking has made Africans understandably circumspect.

What next for Europe and Africa?

The twin principles of trade and aid still exist. But the growth of the EU-Africa partnership since 2000 – outside of EU-ACP channels – has broadened the relationship into less traditional areas such as science and technology, higher education, private investment, infrastructure and continental integration.

But Kwame Nkurumah’s 1957 criticism is still being levied at the EU today for its alleged neocolonial promotion of the EPAs. Pundits in East and Central Africa have been vociferous in their opposition to the agreements.

However, EU officials have a dramatically different interpretation. The EU Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, Neven Mimica, described the 2016 EPA with six Southern African Development Community (SADC) members as helping to tap the economic potential of the private sector and increase trade.

With such contrasting perceptions, it is perhaps unsurprising that SADC is the only regional body to have signed an EPA with the EU despite more than 10 years of negotiation.

What is crucial is that both sides recognise how far they have come since the Treaty of Rome. And that they accept that a more equitable partnership requires continued commitment to cooperation.

John Kotsopoulos, Research Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Governance Innovation, University of Pretoria

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

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This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Article 50 triggered – but is a Brexit deal really possible in two years?

The phony war phase of Brexit is brought to an end by the UK government’s decision to formally submit its request to leave the European Union. After a protracted period of speculation, now begins the two-year formal countdown for Britain to depart from the EU.

But the question of whether Brexit will be completed in an orderly fashion within that timeframe will be determined between now and the summer.

Three key objectives will need to be realized by then. First, the divorce settlement. This is the outline of the exit agreement on what the UK owes the EU in funding commitments and otherwise. Then the two sides will need to agree on the contours of their trade and immigration relationship. The UK wants to leave the EU’s single market and customs union and strike a comprehensive free trade and investment agreement instead. Both sides need to agree on that, as well as how immigration is going to work in the future.

There will need to be a deal on the principle of a transition agreement. This is to cover the period of time between the end of the two-year negotiation and any successor agreement coming into force. This is to avoid any disconnection (a cliff-edge Brexit) between the current membership relationship and whatever comes next.

Ticking clock

Realistically, a full Brexit agreement cannot be reached by March 2019 but its broad principles will need to be determined before the UK’s EU exit to allow for clarity on what will need to be covered in a transition agreement. Reaching a consensus between the UK and the EU on what should be included in the exit, successor and transition agreements by the summer of 2017 would allow for a substantive period of negotiations (and the ratification of exit and transition agreements) by the end of the two-year period covered under the provisions of Article 50.

But this is unlikely to happen either. This is due to the different political and economic forces at work on both sides. The UK government will approach the negotiations from a much more settled political and economic condition than the EU. Prime Minister Theresa May leads a party and government which is now overwhelmingly committed to Brexit. For the foreseeable future, she faces no serious parliamentary, party, public opinion or electoral threat to her commitment to see through on her plans.

In contrast, the EU faces a period of uncertainty in political leadership. Elections loom in France, Germany, and Ireland. More problematically, substantive disagreements exist between the member states over the future goals of the EU project – and especially whether they should loosen or deepen their integration. A lack of a settled consensus among the member states on the future shape of the EU will significantly affect their ability to agree on what they, as a group, want their relationship with the UK to be in the future.

They do agree, however, that the divorce settlement is a priority. They’ve made this clear through very public statements about the UK’s outstanding financial commitments to the EU, even before Article 50 was triggered.

The UK, though, looks to be hardening its negotiating stance on the divorce settlement. The continuing absence of a “Brexit shock” to the economy has provided a political morale booster by creating the sense that the UK can weather the economic consequences of EU departure. An extended period of megaphone diplomacy over UK debts to the EU will make the political climate for consensus on both sides for the outlines of the exit, transition and successor agreements impossible.

In the absence of agreement by the summer of 2017 on the broad objectives for the two-year Article 50 timetable the negotiations will settle into a condition of “muddling through”. Work will continue on the technical and legal aspects of Brexit but the significant questions about the shape of the future EU-UK relationship will remain undecided after 2019. The UK is due to have a general election in 2020 – and its future relationship with the EU could be a key issue.

Richard Whitman, Director of the Global Europe Centre, University of Kent and Senior Visiting Fellow, Chatham House, University of Kent

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

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This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

As the European Union celebrates 60 years, can Asia use it as a model for economic integration?

On 25 March 2017, the European Union’s heads of state and government will meet in Rome to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the European project. The date marks the signing of the Treaties of Rome, which established the foundations of European Community that preceded the EU.

While the EU is a unique experiment in integration in many ways, the world abounds in other kinds of regional trade agreements; the World Trade Organization records more than 635. Still, as the most advanced form of market integration in the world, the EU provides a good model for other regions, including Asia.

Why the EU is a good model

Market integration is one of the tools that helped take Europe out of the ashes of the world wars and supported its transition out of the Cold War into peace. It provided a historically fragmented, war-torn, extremely diverse continent with a period of geopolitical stability, and thus brought wealth and prosperity.

Despite Britain’s impending exit from the group, the EU remains the most advanced and successful model for peace through economics in Europe’s history. The bloc continues to attract neighboring countries, having expanded from the original group of six to the current 28, with a combined population of more than 500 million and GDP of more than €14 billion. These countries work together across a single market and carefully selected common policy areas.

The EU’s market integration began with the free circulation of goods, based on the logic that the more states trade with one another and become interdependent, the less they are likely to go to war. It has extended to the free movement of people (stimulating travel, work abroad and cultural exchange), and enhanced economic integration through freer movement of capital and services, the option of joining a common currency, and other joint initiatives and policies.

Later members joined for mainly economic reasons; many others to fill the geopolitical void left by the collapse of the Soviet Union and its regime transition. Central and Eastern European countries, for instance, were supported in their transition to market economy and democracy by joining the EU and various other international institutions.

All signed up to trade with each other, but also to promote shared values of freedom, democracy, human rights, peace, solidarity, strength through diversity and the rule of law. But increasingly negative attitudes towards the EU in some member states, and the EU’s struggle with confidence in its achievements and its future potential is a sign this stability came at the price of dynamic decision-making.

Integration in Asia

Asia is home to more than half of the world’s population and to most of the world’s production. These make it one of the most dynamic regions in the world, with huge economic potential.

Just as for the EU and its members, some countries in the region feel a certain frustration with the lack of progress by the World Trade Organization in dealing with the most urgent economic issues. While this may make regional integration à la EU seem desirable, the scope to achieve similar outcomes in Asia is shaky.

National contexts and ideologies in the region differ as much as economic structures, institutional differences, geopolitical, cultural and historic conditions. The motivation in Asia to work towards greater integration is often subject to the economies’ interdependence through trade and production networks within the global value chain, and is often commercially driven.

Nonetheless, Asia has numerous geo-economic groupings that may lead to EU-like integration including the East Asia Free Trade Agreement (EAFTA), the Comprehensive Economic Partnership in East Asia (CEPEA) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). These already make it the world’s second-most integrated region after the EU.

ASEAN also has a network of additional free trade agreements with neighboring countries, such as those between Australia and New Zealand (AANZFTA, China (ACFTA), South Korea (AKFTA), India (AIFTA) and a Comprehensive Economic Partnership with Japan (AJCEP).

Then there is ASEAN+3 – China, Japan, and South Korea, which has an ambitious Master Plan on ASEAN Connectivity, which aims to expand sectors and topics of interaction by 2025.

Countries in the area are also working towards the establishment of a Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) as an alternative to Trans Pacific Partnership, which has been rejected by US President Donald Trump.

The scene for further economic integration across Asia is clearly set. The RCEP would be a good start, providing the basis for economic cooperation, poverty alleviation, facilitation of trade in products and services and more.

Hurdles for further integration

But significant hurdles would need to be overcome if this project were to succeed along similar lines to the long-term achievements of the EU.

The first involves the question of will for unity in diversity, an idea that guides the EU. The region’s cultures, political regimes, economic systems and religious beliefs are more disparate than Europe. And we can count on many governments resisting sufficient institutional proximity, which would necessarily result in some diluting of sovereignty, non-interference, and territorial integrity.

The second hurdle entails superpower interests in seeing such integration take place – or not – and in what shape. Asia remains under the influence of fiercely competing superpowers, buffeted by the conflicting interests of China, the United States, and Russia. What are the chances the region can achieve equal partnership rather than extending the predominance of major regional actors; of reaching partnership rather than absorption?

There is no power balance between states in Asia as exists in Europe with Germany and France. These countries share a strong belief in European integration, and social and cultural understanding. What would be the parallel historical, ideological and social drivers in Asia? What or who would hold Asian integration together in times of crisis, something the more consolidated and stable EU is currently struggling with?

If Asia could integrate in its own way – most likely much more loosely than the EU and with fewer joint institutions and policies – then the formidable growth potential of the region could become a great driving force for dealing with the biggest challenges of today and tomorrow. These include national security, migration, competition and the re-emergence of protectionism, automation and unemployment, and aging work forces.

Working together to solve these complex challenges would make them much easier to deal with.

In December 2016, the EU and ASEAN celebrated the 40th anniversary of their relationship. As a summary to their underlying beliefs, they stated that “regional integration (is) the most effective way to foster stability, build prosperity and address global challenges.”

Each needs to promote this in its own setting to succeed.

Gabriele Suder, Principal Fellow, Faculty of Business & Economics/Melbourne Business School, University of Melbourne

Photo Credit: Europa.eu

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This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

A history of Dutch populism, from the murder of Pim Fortuyn to the rise of Geert Wilders

The 2017 Dutch election has taken on a significance for the international media that we haven’t seen for a long time here in the Netherlands.

Placed in the context of other European elections in France and Germany this spring and summer, the elections in the Netherlands are now often perceived as the first step in a populist revolution which has been shaking up Europe and the rest of the Western world.

In the wake of the Brexit referendum and Trump’s unexpected victory in the United States, populism now seems destined to conquer Europe’s mainland, starting with the Netherlands.

But all this analysis comes as somewhat of a surprise for the Dutch. There is no reason for us to talk about a new populist revolution at all. Ever since Pim Fortuyn’s revolt in the early 2000s, we have become all too familiar with the problems and anxieties of populism.

How Pim Fortuyn changed politics for good

Fortuyn, an openly gay sociology professor and publicist, rocked the boat of Dutch politics significantly more than the current representative of populism, Geert Wilders, is expected to do this time around.

Fortuyn ran on an anti-Islam, anti-immigrant platform. He claimed that Islam presented a threat to Western values of openness and liberalism, and wanted to restrict all immigration to the Netherlands.

He was killed on the campaign trail in May 2002 just days before the election. His assassin, Volkert van der Graaf, was an animal rights activist, who said he feared the effect Fortuyn would have on minorities in the country.

Fortuyn’s party, List Pim Fortuyn (LPF), went on to win 26 of the 150 available seats in the May 2002 elections, more than 17% of the electoral vote and enough to form a coalition with the Christian Democratic Appeal and the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy. But the government of Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende was very short-lived, mainly because of internal frictions in the LPF.

Fortuyn and the LPD broke open the political system with a force that still baffles Dutch political scientists and commentators.

At the time there was no indication that the centrist parties which had been in power for eight years, a coalition of social democrats and liberals (the Purple Coalition), were headed for a major defeat.

And the populist wave did not subside with the demise of the LPF – Wilders, a former conservative parliamentarian, has picked up where Fortuyn and his friends left off.

21st-century populism

The central themes of the early 21st-century right-wing populism of Fortuyn and Wilders have been a fierce criticism of the political elite (usually portrayed as left-wing) combined with a steady flow of anti-Islam rhetoric and anti-EU sentiment.

Geert Wilders has repeatedly courted controversy, with his 2008 film Fitna, which compared Islam to Nazism, and a recent trial over his call to reduce the number of Moroccans in the Netherlands, expressed during a party rally just before the 2012 election, for which he was found guilty but not punished.

To acknowledge the fact that populism has been around in the Netherlands for quite a while already is not to underestimate its profound influence. As well as the far-right, it also affected some centrist parties, such as the and the Christian Democrats and People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy.

The famous Dutch tolerance and progressiveness, if ever it existed, has turned into intolerance and a prolonged and painstaking search for Dutch identity.

Public debate has taken a nasty turn, blaming and shaming “foreigners”, Muslims mostly, but also the elite and Europe for the problems people experience. This opened up tensions and rifts which had previously been covered by a soft blanket of “political correctness”, which used to be regarded as civilized behavior but is now seen as treason and deceitfulness.

Wilders’s first taste of power

Wilders has played a role in the Dutch government before. He won 24 seats (16%) in 2010, which gave him a role as a minor partner supporting a coalition between the Christian Democrats and the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy in the first cabinet of Mark Rutte. In 2012, Wilders refused to accept major budget cuts which the cabinet had to take in order to meet EU requirements. The government collapsed.

Since 2012, another Purple Coalition between the Labour Party and the People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy has been in power, headed again by Rutte. The current government can claim credit for financial and economic measures which helped the Dutch economy through the recent economic crisis.

But both parties, especially the Labour Party, are probably going to be punished by voters for the austerity measures they imposed on welfare and health care, as well as raising the retirement age from 65 to 67.

What to expect in 2017

This time around we can expect success, again, for Geert Wilders, despite the fact that his numbers in the polls have been dropping slowly since early January. The Dutch electoral system’s threshold of 0.7% makes it very open to new parties, so we may see a few new right-wing parties getting some seats alongside Wilders.

Wilders’s success however is not going to bring him into government, because none of the other centrist parties wants to collaborate with him. Another condoning role for Wilders in a right-wing coalition is highly improbable; everyone remembers the debacle of the first Rutte cabinet, when Wilders backed away from his responsibility to the government.

A left-wing coalition is also highly improbable, because even the most flattering polls show a collection of left-wing parties falling short of a majority.

The Christian Democrats, recovering from the 2012 debacle, have already made it clear they will not get on board with a left-wing coalition. So, the remaining centrist parties will have to build a new coalition which will probably take a considerable amount of time to materialize.

The new nostalgia

Most scholars tend to interpret populism as a reaction to increasing inequality in the Netherlands, both in terms of income and of education. However, the Netherlands is still one of the most egalitarian countries in the world, and the rift between levels of education is not a new phenomenon either.

The so-called “losers of globalization” are not the only ones who vote for Wilders these days. Nor do these voters in many cases seriously believe that Wilders should rule the country. What matters is that he is tapping into the anxieties of many voters.

It is better to see these rifts and the turbulent public debate as the right-wing of the country calling to be heard and taken seriously. It involves people who don’t believe that things are going to get better. They long for the return to an imaginary former Dutch culture in which migrants, minorities, and women don’t challenge the status quo and where the debate about blackface is not, as they see it, undermining Dutch culture.

Nostalgia is what moves them into the belief that new Dutch dikes are needed: to keep an ever-more-threatening outside world out of this low country.

Jacques Paulus Koenis, Professor of Social Philosophy, Maastricht University

Photo Credit: Wikipedia


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This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Will Dutch immigrant voters fight back at the ballot box?

The recent dispute between Turkish President Recip Tayepp Erdoğan and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, concerning Rutte’s refusal to allow Turkish ministers to campaign abroad, has only made life worse for Turks in the Netherlands.

People from a Turkish background in the Netherlands are being forced to take a side in an unpalatable diplomatic dispute in which they have nothing to win and everything to lose. Erdoğan uses them to strengthen his position ahead of a referendum to increase his own powers, and Dutch politicians use them to show voters how tough they are on immigrants refusing to integrate.

The person who benefits, of course, is Geert Wilders: the most famous man in Dutch politics right now.

Wilders has had an enormous influence on the Dutch political debate. His harsh anti-immigrant and anti-Islam rhetoric has completely transformed the Dutch integration debate. Because of Wilders, all mainstream parties have shifted to the right on immigration, Islam and integration.

This means that Dutch voters with an immigrant background, especially Muslims, are increasingly less represented by secular progressive parties, such as the Social Democrats and the Greens, which have traditionally received the most support from immigrant voters.

An open system for minority representation

Almost 20% of the Dutch population is from a first-generation or second-generation immigrant background; around 12%, or two million people, have a “non-Western” background. This group is the main target of Wilders and his Freedom Party.

The Dutch political system of proportionality generally favors the representation of minorities in terms of gender, ethnicity and social background. Elections in the Netherlands use a party list system with pure proportionality, very low thresholds, and the ability to cast preferential votes.

Party lists compete in elections. The order of candidates is decided upon by each party, though voters can select a listed candidate who will independently earn a seat upon getting enough votes. Parties only need about 60,000 votes (in a country of almost 17 million) to win one of 150 seats in the Dutch parliament.

As a result of this open political system, the percentage of politicians with an immigrant background in the Dutch parliament is among the highest in Europe.

The birth of DENK

As mainstream parties moved further to the right in order to defend themselves against Wilders, these politicians and their constituencies have become increasingly frustrated.

Two politicians of Turkish descent, Tunahan Kuzu and Selçuk Öztürk, who have strong ties to the conservative religious part of the Turkish-Dutch community, left the Social Democratic Party after intense internal fights about the extent to which Turkish religious organizations are an obstacle for integration and should be monitored and perhaps even forbidden. Kuzu and Öztürk started their own party, DENK, meaning “think” in Dutch and “equality” in Turkish.

Our research shows support for secular progressive parties among immigrant communities has decreased rapidly, and their trust and interest in Dutch politics has further decreased, affecting participation rates significantly.

Studies of young people from an immigrant background illustrate that an ever-increasing proportion of this group does not identify with Dutch society or politics any more, feels frustrated and stigmatized and believes that their interests are not represented by the mainstream political parties.

DENK is projected to win two seats in parliament. Considering that the conservative Turkish-Dutch community is relatively large, well-organized and politically active, this does not seem unreasonable.

But whether this will signal a process of emancipation of voters with an immigrant background, and whether DENK will be able to represent their interest successfully, remains an open question.

Although the main message of the DENK party program is “connection”, their campaign strategy so far is to aggressively attack political rivals (especially if these rivals have an immigrant background themselves), along with the media and Wilders’s supporters.

In the short term, this tactic may fulfill their constituents’ need to voice anger and frustration. But in the long term it will further fuel polarization and possibly segregation, two things that are certainly not in the interest of this group.

The future of Dutch integration

Voters with an immigrant background both need to believe that it still matters to fight for something and to receive some commitment from and connection to their country of settlement, our studies illustrate.

Current political debates tend to focus whether immigrants are assimilating to Dutch culture. This approach portrays a connection with migrants’ origin country as a problem, leaving no room for dual identification. It will only lead to further polarization and segregation rather than create a political discourse that allows everyone to participate.

Who will take the first step to build bridges between the Netherlands’ different groups and constituencies? The longer we wait, the more difficult it will get.

Floris Vermeulen, Associate Professor, University of Amsterdam and Maria Kranendonk, Phd Candidate, University of Amsterdam

Photo Credit: Xinhuanet.com

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This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Could NATO go to war with Russia … and what would happen if it did?

A new book by General Sir Richard Shirreff, Nato’s deputy supreme allied commander for Europe between 2011 and 2014, evokes a potential scenario that leads to a devastating future war with Russia.

The book, 2017 War with Russia, is clearly labeled as a work of fiction. But it portrays a fairly convincing manufactured incident that the fictional president of Russia uses as a causus belli for a clash with NATO. In his account, Russia rapidly expands its war aims by invading the Baltic States, which are NATO members, and world war ensues. Perhaps more worryingly, the author has since told BBC Radio 4’s Today program that such a conflict is “entirely plausible”.

Fact vs fiction

I do not want to give any more away about the book (it is a good and authentic, if gloomy, read). But the general’s underlying political message – clearly articulated in the book’s preface – is that the hollowing out of defense capabilities across the West and its reluctance and inability to stand up to Russia is making war ever more likely. Is this an accurate assessment of the real world?

NATO countries (in green).
By Addicted04, own work, CC BY

The novel is reminiscent of Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October and the excellent The Third World War: August 1985 by General John Hackett. The latter, written at the height of the Cold War, was conceived as a “future history”, supposedly looking back at the outbreak and subsequent unfolding of a full-blown NATO vs Warsaw Pact war.

Shirreff’s book, however, is a far more overtly political piece and is deeply critical of the West’s reduced defense spending and its unwillingness – and inability – to stand up to the Russian threat. At first sight, this appears a persuasive case, but on reflection is perhaps slightly less so.

Shirreff’s scenario assumes either that the Russian president had no other option to achieve his political goals than through the use of military force – or “hard power” – or that he is what might be termed “an irrational actor” in the mold of North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. Neither strikes me as convincing.

Russia has undoubtedly suffered economically from the global downturn in energy prices and from economic sanctions following the annexation of the Crimea, but the degree of dependence, in particular energy dependence, that Western Europe has on Russia is highly significant.

The security of co-dependence

For example, the Nord Stream pipeline laid in international waters along the Baltic from Russia to Germany supplies a significant – according to EU figures, 38.7% – proportion of Western Europe’s gas needs. In turn, Russia desperately needs the foreign earnings this generates. Consequently, the two sides of this hypothetical war are heavily economically inter-dependent. Put another way, Russia rationally could bring much more significant, and cheaper, political pressure to bear by turning off the gas supply: why resort to the chancier option of war?

Looked at from the viewpoint of Russia, and especially European Russia, she is being hemmed-in by her opponents with more and more of her neighbors coming under the sway of the US, the West … and NATO. Turkey, on Russia’s southern border, joined the military alliance in 1952, and since the end of the Cold War, many of Russia’s former Warsaw Pact allies, including Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria and the Baltic States have signed up, too. Many in Russia want their leader to kick back against this. But is the real President Putin irrational? A real-life analysis of the Russian president’s actions would suggest that he is being entirely rational and that his actions are those or an arch-realist who places the needs of his country first. Putin, it seems, is looking to play the long game.

Russia has, moreover, always respected a strong leader, and the present incumbent of the Kremlin enjoys levels of popularity – at least 80% – that Western politicians can only dream of. Sabre-rattling is all part of this strongman image, but why risk it all by undertaking that most risky of maneuvers in international politics: war?

It’s certainly in Putin’s interests that the West cuts defence spending and has a diminished appetite for brinkmanship and it is perhaps understandable that a recently retired general should push for this to be reversed. But does that really make a war any more likely? Probably not – although there’s always that niggling possibility.

World War III

But if there was to be war with Russia, what might it look like? The Cold War scenario of vast armies fighting a large-scale conventional war dominated by tanks and aircraft directly supporting the battlefield is as outdated a concept as it is unlikely.

Both sides have considerable resources at their disposal but NATO is significantly larger than Russia in simple numbers: NATO has a total of 3.6m personnel in uniform, Russia 800,000; NATO 7,500 tanks, Russia 2,750; NATO 5,900 combat aircraft, Russia 1,571. However, these bald figures do not tell the whole story as NATO’s forces are deployed globally to a far greater extent than Russia’s, and even acknowledging that Russia could achieve a temporary military advantage in, say, the Baltic, for how long and at what price? Nevertheless, today’s armies are smaller and more reliant on technology than they were during much of the 20th century and the likelihood of a Kursk-style pitched battle between heavy armor is highly unlikely.

That said, the ever-greater reach of missiles and artillery, the accuracy and potency of modern precision-guided munitions, the extensive use of surveillance systems (from space, via drones, and through highly sophisticated electronic eavesdropping) would make a contemporary battlefield highly dangerous and highly destructive, as pictures from even relatively small-scale recent conflicts from Grozny to Aleppo show.

Consequently, while the armies and individual battles might be smaller than those in World War II, the death toll, the loss of war-making material and both sides’ ability to reduce everything in their paths to rubble would make a large-scale conflict far more wide-reaching and, in terms of recovery, longer-lasting than anything we have seen before.

In such a conflict, the very term “battlefield” would itself be highly misleading: such a war, employing ships, submarines, and aircraft with truly global reach, would indeed be a world war and would pay scant attention to the difference between military and civilian targets: this would truly be a war among the peoples.

And not just an earth-bound war: outer space would be a highly contested arena as would cyberspace, with both sides seeking to disrupt all aspects of normal life as the war was taken into the realms of politics, infrastructure, information, and commerce, too.

Despite Shirreff’s warnings, the nightmare scenario of nuclear war is highly unlikely as neither side ultimately would wish to unleash destruction on that scale. Likewise, chemical and biological weapons would if employed at all, be used at a very local level, and sparingly.

That is not to say that the scale of the destruction would not be significant, however. This would be total war, waged on every imaginable front, from the internet and the stock market to outer space.

The general has, then, written an excellent and compelling novel. But while there might be some argument in favor of a more robust foreign policy and greater defense spending, to dismiss the Russian leadership purely as aggressively irrational is both naive and shortsighted. Ultimately, when it comes to a new world war, both sides now have far too much to lose.

For an alternative view, read more here

The Conversation

Ian Shields -Associate Lecturer in International Relations, Anglia Ruskin University

Photo Credit: Kremlin

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This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Terrorism, the far-right and Russian meddling: the biggest threats to Europe in 2017

The European Union endured a series of political shocks and strains in 2016 that threatened to tear the bloc apart: an ongoing migration crisis; the United Kingdom’s vote in June to exit the union; lackluster growth and stubbornly high unemployment in the euro zone; terrorist attacks that killed and injured scores; and surging support for populist and anti-EU political parties.

Against this recent history, there can be no doubt that 2017 will be one of the most important and fateful years in the EU’s six-decade history.

There are five acute dangers facing the EU in 2017. These are not isolated challenges. Instead, they are intertwined and mutually reinforcing. Addressing one of them would be a formidable test. That all five are happening simultaneously presents an unparalleled trial for European leaders.

The rise of the far-right

Voters in France, the Netherlands, Germany, and possibly Italy will vote in national elections in 2017. Populist, anti-EU parties are expected to perform strongly in all four contests.

France’s presidential election is likely to pit former prime minister François Fillon and nominee of the center-right Republicans against Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front, in the second round of voting in May.

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Marine Le Pen- Far Right leader in France-Wikipedia

Support for the National Front has surged in recent years. In the 2012 presidential election, Le Pen received less than 18% of the vote, failing to make it to the second round runoff. But recent polls show her receiving as much as 24% of the vote in the first round this year.

While polls suggest that a Le Pen victory is unlikely (current forecasts show Fillon getting 65% of the votes to Le Pen’s 35% in the second round), following a year of electoral surprises — from Brexit to Donald Trump’s triumph in the US presidential election – it would be foolish to write Le Pen off completely.

In the Netherlands, polls show the anti-immigration, anti-EU Party for Freedom in the lead ahead of parliamentary elections in March. Party leader Geert Wilders proposes the closure of mosques in the Netherlands, as well as a Dutch exit from the EU.

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Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel-Wikipedia

In Germany, for the first time since the end of World War II, the far-right could make substantial electoral gains in parliamentary elections, likely to be held in September. The Alternative for Germany party is currently polling around 13%, virtually ensuring that it will clear the 5% threshold and attain representation in Germany’s federal parliament.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel remains popular, and her Christian Democratic Union party leads comfortably in the polls. But her decision to allow more than a million migrants into Germany last year has been attacked from all sides of the political spectrum, and her position could be weakened further if there are additional terror attacks in Germany, following the truck attack on a Berlin Christmas market in December 2016, which killed 12 people.

Terrorism

The Christmas market attack in Berlin showed that Europe remains vulnerable to terrorist violence.

According to Europol, the EU’s law enforcement agency, 151 people died from terrorist attacks in the EU in 2015, and a further 360 were injured. The same year, there were more than 200 failed, foiled, or completed terrorist attacks in EU member states, and more than 1,000 people were arrested on terrorism-related charges.

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Berlin Terror Attack- The Duran

These trends continued in 2016. Scores have been killed and hundreds more injured in attacks in Belgium, France, and Germany. French police arrested five Islamic State operatives in Strasbourg and Marseilles suspected of planning an “imminent” attack.

Europol estimates that as many as 5,000 Europeans have gone to fight in Syria or Iraq, and hundreds have returned home. Many others across Europe have become radicalized online or by local recruiters. They have formed terrorist cells across the continent, lying dormant but capable of planning, financing, and executing deadly attacks.

As a result, many Europeans fear that terrorist violence in their homelands has become the new normal.

Watch out for Russia

Tensions between the West and Russia are at their highest level since the end of the Cold War. Over the past several years, Russia has emerged as a much more aggressive and unpredictable power, invading and annexing Crimea in 2014 and supporting separatist rebels in eastern Ukraine.

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Russian Troops in Crimea-ScrapeTV

Since 2012, Russia has been rapidly modernising its military, making it a much more formidable threat to European and NATO defense planners. Russia is building and expanding bases in the Arctic, has made big increases to its military budget, conducted several large-scale military exercises that simulate war with NATO, deployed its military in foreign conflicts such as Syria, stationed nuclear weapons in the Kaliningrad region bordering Poland and Lithuania, and upgraded its military equipment. Russian fighter planes also regularly enter or skirt the airspace of NATO countries.

European and NATO military planners worry that Russia might seek to expand its power and influence in the Baltic states. A recent war-gaming exercise from the Rand Corporation showed that Russia could seize one of the Baltic capitals within 60 hours.

Following revelations that Russia had interfered in this year’s US presidential election, signs indicate that it may try to do the same in European elections this year. In an attempt to destabilize or disorient Europe, Russia is pursuing a disinformation and propaganda campaign intended to bolster politicians and political parties sympathetic to Russia and its interests in Eastern Europe.

Russia has also cultivated a number of fringe or extremist political groups across Europe, such as the far-right Jobbik party in Hungary and the National Front in France.

A new migration crisis

Following a controversial agreement reached between the EU and Turkey last March, the number of migrants reaching Europe dropped dramatically in 2016. According to the UN refugee agency, 359,000 migrants and refugees reached Europe in 2016 — down from more than a million in 2015 – with Italy now the top destination.

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Refugee Camp in Europe – Bambinoides

But the EU deal with Turkey appears on the verge of collapse. EU-Turkish relations have become increasingly strained following July’s failed coup attempt in Turkey, and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s subsequent crackdown on dissent. Following a non-binding vote by the European Parliament in November to suspend EU membership negotiations with Turkey, Erdoğan threatened to cancel the agreement and let the flow of migrants into Europe resume.

The United Nations estimates that 2.8 million refugees are currently in Turkey. A return of migration on the scale of 2015 would put significant stress on Europe’s system of open internal borders, threatening to permanently undo one of the EU’s signature achievements.

A teetering euro-zone

For almost a decade now, the euro-zone has been in a near-permanent state of crisis. Far from ushering in a period of greater political unity and economic integration in Europe, the euro has introduced new grievances and inequalities among the countries that use it.

Fed up with austerity, tepid economic growth, and an unemployment rate of just below 10% in the euro-zone, which is much higher for young workers, many Europeans have become disenchanted with the single currency. Across the 19 countries that use the euro, only 56% of respondents in a recent poll said it was “a good thing” for their country, down five points from last year. Only 41% of Italians polled thought the euro was good for Italy.

The European Commission’s Autumn 2016 economic forecast warned that “uncertainties and vulnerabilities” in the European economy remain “large and widespread”. Greece is in a veritable economic depression. Its economy has shrunk by more than a quarter since 2010 and 23% of its available workforce is unemployed. Italy’s economy is smaller than it was a decade ago, and its national debt stands at more than 130% of GDP.

Italian banks — hobbled by €360 billion of bad loans and a weak national economy — are in desperate need of recapitalization. Monte dei Paschi di Siena, Italy’s third biggest bank, flunked the European stress test on financial institutions in July, ranking last of the 51 banks tested.

The failed referendum on constitutional reforms in December 2016 presented a further dose of economic and political uncertainty for the euro-zone’s third-biggest economy. Italy’s anti-establishment, anti-euro Five Star Movement is currently polling neck-and-neck with the Democratic Party, still led by Matteo Renzi, who resigned as prime minister after the referendum.

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Five Star Movement Co-Founder and leader, Beppe Grillo – Polikracia

Parliamentary elections could be held as early this year. The Five Star Movement advocates a non-binding national referendum to determine whether Italy should abandon the euro.

One country’s exit from the euro-zone could set in motion an unraveling of the entire currency area. The political fallout from the economic pain and uncertainty that would result would be immense.

End of an era?

The European project of political and economic integration has been one the greatest achievements in modern history. For decades, it has brought peace and prosperity to a continent shattered by cycles of war, economic turmoil, and political extremism.

But European integration has never proceeded in a linear manner. For much of its history, the EU has stumbled through one crisis after another. As Jean Monnet, one of the founding fathers of European integration, said, “I have always believed that Europe would be built through crises and that it would be the sum of their solutions.”

But Monnet also said that solutions had to be intelligently proposed and skillfully applied. That is the challenge that confronts European leaders today: can they apply the right solutions to Europe’s present troubles? They must show citizens that the EU can help address the current difficulties, rather than making them worse. Otherwise, the very future of the union may be at risk.

The Conversation

Richard Maher -Research Fellow, Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies

Photo Credits: The Moderate Voice

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This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.