BALKANS ADRIFT IN 2017
Janusz Bugajski, December 2016
Although seventeen years have elapsed since NATO’s military intervention, policy makers should not assume that all Balkan conflicts have been assigned to history. Disputes continue to fester over statehood, territory, and political authority, compounded by the uncertainties of international integration.
The prospect of EU and NATO membership has been the key incentive to democratize each state and promote inter-ethnic co-existence. Without that prospect reforms falter and local disputes are revived. In the wake of the EU crises and preoccupation with “Brexit,” enlargement is not high on the Union’s agenda. It seems unlikely that any country will be considered for accession for at least a decade. Receding opportunities for membership undermine Balkan commitments to the rule of law and engender democratic reversals.
The region confronts three kinds of danger: social unrest, minority turmoil, and foreign interference. In combination, such threats could destabilize some states and even provoke violent clashes. If such conflicts expand across borders, both NATO and Russia could be sucked into the escalating combat.
Several Western Balkan countries are currently stuck in a no-man’s land between democratic statehood and international integration. Two conflict scenarios in particular, in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia, need to be closely monitored, as they would prove the most threatening to regional stability.
In Bosnia-Herzegovina, the standoff between the Serbian entity and the government in Sarajevo may come to a head. RS representatives claim Bosniak Muslims are seeking to dominate the state and minoritize Serbs. If US and EU attention shifts away from the country, RS representatives may withdraw from central government institutions and stage a referendum on independence. This can sharpen political conflicts, provoke violence, and drag both Serbia and Croatia, a NATO member, into direct confrontation.
In Macedonia, Albanian frustration with government policy and political polarization among Slavs may disable the formation of a government following recent inconclusive parliamentary elections. Albanian leaders may call for federalization or a two-entity structure and even declare an autonomous region along the Albanian and Kosova borders. In response, Macedonian nationalists would mobilize the public to defend the country’s territorial integrity. Neighbors could be drawn into the dispute, with Serbia offering assistance to Skopje against Albanian separatism, while Kosova and Albania, a NATO member, will seek to protect their ethnic kindred.
A persistently unstable Balkans would radicalize sectors of the local population frustrated with the political elites and with receding prospects for international integration. Social unrest and a weakening government facilitates the infiltration of jihadist and other terrorists. Militant groups could target US and EU representatives or use the region to plan for attacks in the wider Europe. Balkan insecurity will also enable Russia to become more intrusive. The Kremlin may calculate that a Donald Trump administration in Washington may be less committed to the region and more willing to tolerate Russian intervention.
President Putin aims to maintain several “frozen states” in the Balkans to prevent Western integration, as is the case with Ukraine and Georgia. He encourages the autonomist RS entity to keep Bosnia divided and question its future as a single state. In Kosova, the Serbian minority is backed by Moscow as a repressed nationality in order to uphold the specter of partition. In Montenegro, Kremlin proxies were evidently behind a failed coup attempt in October, with the country on the verge of NATO accession. Moscow also manipulates Macedonia’s internal turmoil and its obstructed path toward NATO and the EU by the Greek veto.
Unresolved conflicts and disputed states empower the Kremlin and international terrorist networks to claim that NATO has failed to stabilize the region despite its military presence. Instability and escalating conflict will symbolize Western disarray and America’s decline and encourage ultra-nationalist groups and neo-imperial states to pursue their ambitions in other unsettled regions.
The incoming US administration needs to focus on four core policies that will simultaneously serve Balkan, European, and American interests. First, Washington has to avoid any display of military weakness or diplomatic withdrawal, as this will convince aggressors that they have the green light to precipitate conflict. US disengagement can incapacitate NATO and undermine America’s global stature and leadership role.
Second, Washington should continue working closely with Brussels and Berlin to push for reforms in all Western Balkan states in order to stimulate economic development and help stabilize the region. It is ultimately Europe’s responsibility to assist in institutional reform, but the US provides an essential supportive role at a time when EU leadership may be viewed as weak and preoccupied.
Third, Washington needs to work closely with all governments to help secure the region from jihadist infiltration and enhance Western security. And fourth, the Trump administration should view South East Europe as part of a larger emerging market, increasingly interconnected through energy, transportation, and trade networks not only with the EU but with Turkey, the Middle East, the Caspian Basin, Central Asia, and China. A stable and secure Balkans will create fresh opportunities for investment and development across several potentially profitable regions.
MOSCOW’S BIGGEST DECEPTION
Janusz Bugajski, December 2016
The Putin administration thrives in the world of social media and mass disinformation. In this “information war,” lies and deception are credible means to achieve strategic ends. In stark reality, however, Russia is a declining power that disguises its slow collapse with a strategic offensive against its archrival, the West.
Russia’s newly issued national security and military doctrines create the illusion of “the rebirth of a superpower.” According to these documents, Moscow’s policy must focus primarily on the “the consolidation of the position of Russia as one of the influential centers of the contemporary world.”
In reality, Russia’s global level is rapidly decreasing. Through a combination of low fossil fuel prices, failed economic diversification, industrial ossification, infrastructural decay, official corruption, and Western sanctions, state revenues are declining, living standards falling, regional disquiet mounting, and social conflicts intensifying.
The size of Russia’s economy is comparable to that of Italy but contracting, while the US and China continue to grow. Its population is less than Nigeria’s or Bangladesh’s and its GDP per capita ranks 66th in the world. Low oil prices and international sanctions have contributed to crippling Russia’s economy and its Reserve Fund is projected to run out in 2017. The World Bank has warned that the poverty rate is rising sharply and increasing number of Russians face destitution.
Russia’s longer-term prospects look even bleaker. Demographic problems include a shrinking population with high mortality, low fertility, and high emigration of the best educated. Russia’s population has dipped from 148 million after the breakup of the Soviet Union to 140 million today. The UN estimates that the total will fall to around 130 million by 2025. Life expectancy among Russian males stands at about 60 years, or 15 years less than in industrialized states and lower than in many African countries.
Even in the military, an arena where Russia traditionally prides itself, conditions are unsettling. A massive program to modernize the military has brought mixed results. The overhaul has included building new bases, conducting extensive military exercises, and updating equipment. However, because of the revenue squeeze the expansion has stopped and the defense budget is being cut. Corruption is rampant and many troops are demoralized and unpaid. Increased defense spending has also come at the expense of education, health care, and infrastructure.
Two-thirds of the promised military procurement of $700 billion by 2020, including 1,500 new aircraft and 2,300 new tanks, has not materialized. The poor performance of many shipyards and other production facilities amidst several high profile corruption scandals, means that most new equipment for Russian forces has taken years longer than expected if it is delivered at all.
Due to the economic crisis and international financial sanctions, Moscow’s military spending levels simply cannot be sustained. The defense budget will continue to shrink and the modernization program is likely to grind to a halt. Even the lifting of Western sanctions, in retaliation for Russia’s attack on Ukraine, will have little visible impact on state revenues. Over the coming decade, Russia’s military will steadily fall even further behind that of the US and China.
Even as Russia sinks economically and demographically, its ambitions expand. When the Kremlin cannot provide bread to its citizens it offers circuses. Moscow’s response to the country’s decay is to engage in disguise and deflect it outwards. Such camouflage is pursued through a sustained campaign of global disinformation, creating an illusion of limitless military strength with Russia posing as an indispensable power in various crisis points such as the Middle East.
Despite Russia’s decline, President-elect Donald Trump has painted the country as a major power on a level with the US and a potential partner. Similar sentiments were expressed by every US administration since the end of the Cold War when it first assumed office and each President was quickly disillusioned.
In reality, Moscow is seeking to weaken and divide the West and sees Trump as a businessman who will overlook Russia’s aggression in the wider Europe as long as this does not impinge directly on US economic interests. Putin has no interest in helping the West defeat international terrorism, as persistent jihadism weakens Western resolve and distracts Washington’s attention from Moscow’s attacks on its neighbors. The Kremlin will help Trump only as far as it can benefit from the propaganda of cooperation.
It is time to start thinking and planning for the next stage of struggle between the West and Russia rather than simply dealing with yesterday’s conflicts or deluding ourselves about a golden new era of collaboration. Russia is in serious decline and a new time of turmoil is fast approaching.
If Putin breaks any deals struck with the White House, Trump’s disappointment could rapidly turn to resentment and overreaction. To avoid sudden shocks and possible military confrontations, the new US administration would prove more effective by planning to manage Russia’s decline rather than helping to prop up a failing state and an obsolete empire.
MACEDONIA CLOSER TO SHOWDOWN
Janusz Bugajski, December 2016
Following the weekend elections, Macedonia is moving closer toward outright conflict over the structure of the state. The governing VMRO coalition gained a narrow plurality of parliamentary seats over the opposition Social Democrats (SDSM). This will ensure that Albanian parties will play a greater role in coalition politics and escalate their demands for administrative restructuring.
With a two seat lead in parliament VMRO will attempt to form the next government. Most probably, it will again try to bring the largest Albanian party, the Democratic Union for Integration (DUI), into a governing coalition. At the same time, SDSM leaders will challenge the legitimacy of any VMRO-led coalition and renew their protest actions. Alternatively, if VMRO fails to muster a majority coalition a new SDSM alignment could be forged with Albanians that would also remain fragile.
The outgoing VMRO government was embroiled in a major wire tapping scandal. Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski’s administration reportedly spied on thousands of officials, including ministers, opposition figures, civil society activists, journalists, businessmen, ambassadors, and religious leaders.
The illicit recordings revealed major abuses of power. Gruevski and his colleagues discussed how to forge elections through ballot stuffing and voter intimidation, as well as deciding on appointments to the judiciary. VMRO officials were also charged with coercing journalists and businesses to tow the party line.
Fearing mass unrest and instability, international diplomats pressed the government to allow for early elections. As a result, the Przino Agreement was signed in July 2015 by all major parties, requiring new elections despite months of delays and boycotts. Large-scale protests brought together both Macedonians and Albanians demanding the resignation of the two governing parties.
VMRO is as a monopolistic party with a tight grip on government institutions, including the judiciary, public administration, police, army, intelligence services, educational and cultural institutions, and numerous public enterprises. Although Macedonia has attracted significant foreign business and invested heavily in infrastructure, as evident in the extensive rebuilding of Skopje, the net result is a massive increase in the public debt. Moreover, the economy is unlikely to grow if political gridlock continues.
VMRO has managed to uphold a measure of inter-ethnic peace through a power sharing arrangement in which the DUI has developed its own patronage network among its Albanian supporters especially in Albanian majority districts of western Macedonia. However, this co-existence is ultimately dependent on delivering a slice of the national economic pie to the Albanian community.
Macedonia will witness growing conflict, not only between VMRO and SDSM supporters, but also within the Albanian community. VMRO’s nationalism and focus on the historical identity of Macedonians has alienated Albanians who believe that this has blocked the country’s entry into the EU and NATO and thereby denied citizens both security and prosperity. There is also resentment over VMRO’s implicit drive to turn the country into the national state of Slavic Macedonians.
Because of the Greek veto and limited prospects for Macedonia’s EU and NATO accession, the government is subject to limited outside pressure to carry out democratic reforms. Brussels and Washington may actually tolerate a quasi-authoritarian party-state as long as the government maintains ethnic peace. In addition, Skopje’s moves to control illicit immigration that impacts on the EU has gained it supporters in capitals that would normally be highly critical of democratic backsliding.
But Albanian discontent is growing fuelled by economic deprivation and continuing discrimination in employment and in the justice system. Local self-government has also been limited by insufficient funds allocated by Skopje to Albanian municipalities and activists believe that businesses linked with VMRO have benefited most from the rebuilding of Skopje.
A growing number of Albanians are becoming actively opposed to DUI leaders, viewing them as benefiting from state corruption at the expense of ordinary citizens. The past few months have seen protest actions, defections from the DUI, and the creation of new political parties with more radical programs.
If another VMRO-DUI coalition is formed, or even an SDSM-DUI coalition, it will experience mass pressure to achieve a better deal for Albanians, even including constitutional parity with Macedonians. The DUI pledged to make Albanian an official language throughout the country, greater economic opportunities for Albanians, and more effective inputs by Albanian representatives in government decisions.
If the DUI fails to deliver and is widely perceived as a token partner for either VMRO or the SDSM, Macedonia will undergo escalating unrest and the emergence of more militant movements claiming to be genuine representatives of Albanian interests. Such a scenario could break the government coalition and threaten the unitary state.
Indeed, new Albanian parties such as “Besa,” which scored second place among Albanian voters, have voiced demands for a federal state structure or even a two-entity administrative division based on ethnic lines, similar to Bosnia-Herzegovina. This could become a stepping-stone toward demands for separation and independence. Such developments would unleash new violence in a country that remains uncertain about its future.
THE BATTLE FOR EUROPE
Janusz Bugajski December 2016
The result of Italy’s referendum has intensified the battle over the pan-European project. Amidst growing populism, protectionism, xenophobia, and nationalism, a series of elections in 2017 will help determine whether the EU will consolidate or contract.
In essence, Italy’s vote against constitutional reform and reducing the powers of Italy’s twenty regions was a victory for the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) and the separatist Northern League. Prime Minister Matteo Renzi immediately resigned after losing the ballot, potentially triggering new elections and ushering in a period of political instability.
The anti-government vote sent a powerful message of public dissatisfaction with Italy’s traditional parties. The referendum will boost M5S, which has scored equal to Renzi’s Democrats in recent opinion polls. Led by former comedian Beppe Grillo, M5S is an anti-establishment and Eurosceptic party. Although it is the largest opposition group, 5 Star has no conventional ideology. It gained popularity by focusing on official corruption, and its mixed bag of policies include environmental protection, ensuring public control over water and other resources, and free internet access. It has also become anti-globalist and anti-immigrant.
Luigi Di Maio, the M5S figure who is expected to become prime minister if it gains power, has pledged a referendum on Italy’s membership in the eurozone and renegotiation of the country’s massive public debt. In addition to casting doubts on Rome’s commitment to the EU, such a scenario could rekindle the euro crisis with a looming collapse of the monetary zone if Italy withdraws.
Even if Italians do not vote to leave the eurozone, the mere prospect of such a ballot will undermine markets and place pressure on the weaker eurozone economies. Italy is the eighth largest economy in the world and uncertainty over its development will have negative reverberations around the continent.
The Italian vote heralds a cascade of national elections over the coming months that threatens to hollow out Europe’s political center. The same day as the Italian referendum, Austrians elected a new President, choosing former Green party leader Alexander Van der Bellen over the far-right Norbert Hofer. Despite losing the election, Hofer’s Freedom Party will benefit from his performance, as he gained 47% of the national vote.
The French presidential elections in April and May 2017 will be a contest between conservative Francois Fillon and far-right leader Marion Le Pen. The latter’s National Front favors a referendum on leaving the EU and Le Pen styles herself as ‘Madam Frexit.’ Even if she loses the second round run-off, Le Pen’s anti-Brussels and anti-immigrant populism will resonate on the eve of France’s June parliamentary elections.
Germany, the bedrock of the EU, faces key regional ballots in Schleswig-Holstein and North-Rhine Westphalia in May 2017 followed by parliamentary elections in September 2017. In recent local ballots, the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) made significant gains at the expense of Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU). AfD won 14.2% of the vote and gained its first seats in the Berlin state parliament, signifying the first such success by a populist formation since German reunification. A debt restructuring or financial bailout for Italy at the cost of German taxpayers will further increase support for the AfD.
The CDU will face an uphill struggle in national elections as the party’s popularity has drastically diminished in a swell of opposition to Berlin’s tolerant immigration policy. It is still uncertain whether Merkel herself will run for a fourth term for Chancellor. Her potential withdrawal will further raise uncertainty over Germany’s continuing commitment to a more integrated EU.
Holland is due to stage parliamentary election in March 2017. The populist and Eurosceptic Dutch Freedom Party (PVV) led by the controversial Geert Wilders, has a chance of forming the next government. Wilders has gained support for his campaign slogan to stop the “Islamization of the Netherlands.” The PVV now scores second in opinion polls behind the ruling Party for Freedom and Democracy.
Elections are also due in Central-Eastern Europe where populism and Euroscepticism have gathered momentum. The Czech Republic holds its parliamentary ballot in October 2017. The ruling Czech Social Democrats of Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka performed poorly in recent regional relations. They were beaten by ANO, a protest movement and coalition partner headed by Andrej Babis, a billionaire businessman and finance minister who has capitalized on public distrust of traditional parties. The success of populists and nationalists in the major West European states will certainly benefit ANO.
Hungary is also scheduled to hold parliamentary elections in the spring of 2018. Prime Minister Viktor Orban is one of the EU’s leading Eurosceptics and looks poised to renew his mandate in the wake of Budapest’s resistance to allowing the inflow of Syrian refugees despite EU stipulations and his demand for greater national sovereignty.
The coming year will seriously test the EU’s raison d’etre. Each EU capital will not only be monitoring the results of a series of national elections but also the impact of Brexit on the British economy. Even the absence of a major downturn in the UK is certain to encourage anti-Brussels sentiments.
THE POPULISM SPECTER
Janusz Bugajski, December 2016
Following the US elections, the Brexit vote, and the rise of non-conventional parties throughout Europe, the populist wave is sweeping both sides of the Atlantic. Populism is a revolutionary movement, but unlike its 20th century predecessors, such as communism or fascism, it eschews violent rebellion and favors a democratic replacement of incumbent governments.
Traditional and mainstream political parties need to learn lessons from the rise of populism rather than simply condemning the phenomenon and bemoaning their election losses. Ultimately, populism can contribute to democratic development by exposing the fissures, frustrations, and failures in Western societies, by involving new players in the political process, by reconnecting politicians with the populace, and by energizing the electorate to view politics as the responsibility of every citizen.
In its essence, populism has two main components: ant-elitism and nativism. The first element is manifest in an anti-establishment movement of rebellion by political formations claiming to represent the disempowered ordinary citizens. The second element places the narrowly defined interests of the nation above all international commitments.
Populism is usually protectionist economically, by seeking to strengthen the national economy and challenges the principles of globalization and free trade. It veers toward political isolation, in seeking to ensure and defend national sovereignty from the restrictions of international institutions and regional alliances. And it is commonly conservative culturally in claiming to defend national traditions from the global multi-cultural melting pot.
However, beyond these basic commonalities, populism can blend with various ideologies and its policies differ between European countries. Populism can be authoritarian or democratic. Modern rightist populists, unlike their radical right predecessors, claim they are defending popular democracy from a corrupt and elitist government. They can either campaign against liberalism by opposing state-imposed secularism and what are viewed as deviations from traditional social norms.
Conversely, populists can claim they are actually defending liberalism by opposing immigrants who are intolerant of liberalism, such as ultra-conservative Muslims. The Dutch Freedom Party and its equivalents in Austria and Denmark assert that that they are promoting human rights against an anti-democratic Islamic onslaught.
Populism can be ethno-nationalist domestically or primarily xenophobic against foreigners but not necessarily against various long-resident ethnicities. Contemporary rightist populists tend not to racially scapegoat ethnic minorities but focus on recent immigrants who are supposedly taking jobs and government benefits away from natives and subverting the nation’s identity. For instance, one of the key actors in the Brexit campaign was the UK Independence Party, which seeks comprehensive restrictions on immigration but does not have an explicitly racist platform in a multi-colored British society.
Economically, populism may have either statist-leftist or laissez faire rightist prescriptions. Both varieties tend to rally against the economic establishment, particularly big business and multi-national enterprises that are depicted as either restricting domestic competition or damaging the working class by moving industries abroad.
Leftist populism seeks a more extensive redistributive economy with high taxes for the wealthy and a more intrusive government role, while rightist populism seeks tax breaks for business and deregulation to stimulate the national economy. Such commonalities and differences were visible during the US presidential election campaign between the leftist Bernie Sanders “progressives” and the rightist Donald Trump “America firsters.”
On the international arena, populism in Europe may be anti-American and pro-Russian or the exact opposite, or it may oppose both American and Russian influence and veer toward national neutrality. Several West European populist parties, whether leftist or rightist, seek to limit US engagement, viewing this as a form of economic dominance and “cultural imperialism.” Nevertheless, several of these groups supported a Trump presidency, not only because this has made populism more electable but also because they believe Trump’s White House will curtail US involvement in European affairs and support EU dissolution.
Populists may be anti-EU and pro-NATO, or they can reject both international alliances, viewing them as expensive and unacceptable constraints on national sovereignty. In Central-Eastern Europe populist-veering parties in Poland and Hungary may seek a lessened EU role in domestic affairs but they do not support leaving NATO. In contrast, nationalist populists in Bulgaria and Serbia view Russia as their patron and oppose the NATO alliance.
During a period of widespread anti-establishment sentiments, the durability of the populist wave in Europe and the US cannot be forecast. However, any government that is elected on an openly populist platform will ultimately be judged by its economic results rather than its political rhetoric. Indeed, if it is to retain power, its vehement anti-elite positions and expansive economic promises issued during election campaigns will necessitate greater achievements than a non-populist administration.
Without significant economic successes some populists may increasingly veer toward ethno-nationalism and divisive racism. In such instances, populism can be transformed into an outright danger to democracy and to inter-ethnic coexistence. The lessons of populism for democratic development need to be heeded or they may be repeated in a more revolutionary and destabilizing form.
TRUMP OR PUTIN?
Janusz Bugajski, November 2016
Russian leaders reportedly cheered when Donald Trump was declared the winner of the US presidential elections. However, they will need to be careful what they wished for, as Trump may not be as malleable and gullible as he appeared in the election campaign.
Vladimir Putin’s Russia calculates that it stands to benefit from a Trump presidency. But reality may not be all it appears, as political office does not always mirror election campaigns and actual policies may not reflect pledges trumpeted at rallies.
During the election campaign Trump periodically praised Putin as a great leader, described NATO as obsolete, and proposed a warmer relationship with Moscow. At the same time, some of his foreign policy advisors have maintained links to the Kremlin or its surrogates. As a result of such factors, European allies may no longer be certain that the US will remain committed to NATO and help defend their national security.
Trump’s comments about NATO’s redundancy generated nervous reverberations along the eastern front from the Baltic states to the Black Sea littoral. Several allies now fear that Putin may be tempted to test Trump’s reaction through a rapid assault on a country such as Estonia or Latvia while claiming that it is a local dispute and not in America’s national interest to become militarily involved.
Putin may calculate that Trump would desist from engaging in a war that would be deeply unpopular at home and lead to a direct confrontation with Russia early in his presidency. Moscow’s primary purpose in such a short and sharp military assault would not be to permanently occupy territory or to replace the government, but simply to demonstrate NATO’s impotence under the new US administration.
If successful, such a signal would demoralize every state neighboring Russia and make it easier for the Kremlin to exert pressure and to influence their foreign and security policies. The absence of American leadership will actually become the self-fulfilling prophecy that would make NATO obsolete. In sum, growing disarray inside the EU would be combined with US disengagement to Moscow’s benefit.
Russian officials view the Trump victory as an American version of Brexit, a move that further undermines European and trans-Atlantic unity. Unsurprisingly, Trump’s triumph is raising fears in several Central-East European capitals that Washington will sell them out to Moscow or that confusion in the Trump team may provide Russia with fresh opportunities for subversion. Ukraine in particular is concerned that Trump will make a deal with Putin that will involve lifting international sanctions on Moscow and recognizing the annexation of Crimea as legitimate.
The Kremlin’s broader strategy would be to lure Trump into a new division of Europe in return for an international “anti-terrorism coalition” that will help Russia portray itself as an indispensable global power. A new division of Europe is not that far-fetched especially as the President does not depend on Congress for foreign policy initiatives. Moreover, candidate Trump often spoke about a partnership with Russia to combat international terrorism, evidently unaware of how the Kremlin actually stimulates jihadism through its brutal internal and external policies.
Trump’s selection of General Michael Flynn as his National Security Advisor also looks beneficial for Moscow, as Flynn is one of the main proponents of a partnership with Russia to combat international terrorism. However, Flynn will face opposition to a Russia-friendly policy from a number of traditional Republicans close to Trump including his Vice President Mike Pence and several high-ranking Senators.
Trump stated during the campaign that he would be willing to delegate foreign policy to a qualified Republican while focusing his energy on domestic policies, especially in fulfilling his pledge to stimulate economic growth. Indeed, VP Pence could be ideal for such a position.
Pence is a stalwart Atlanticist and has been outspoken on the dangers stemming from a resurgent Russia. If indeed Trump is not hiding any existing business ties with Moscow that will continue to mute his criticisms of Putin, a Pence-directed foreign policy could prove more effective than Obama’s relatively tepid approach toward Russia’s aggression in Georgia, Ukraine, and elsewhere.
The possibility also remains that Russia may grievously miscalculate in dealing with Washington. Trump can prove much more strongly reactive than Obama to what he may perceive as a personal insult from Putin where a bilateral deal has been broken. Moscow persistently violates international agreements but thus far has managed to avoid serious censure. Trump’s unpredictability could lead to more dangerous international confrontations and in the worst-case scenario even pull both countries into a regional war.
One additional factor should not be neglected in an increasingly unpredictable geopolitical environment. The widely discussed anti-establishment populism that Trump represents may eventually have reverberations in Russia itself where the economy is declining and living standards are nose-diving amidst massive official corruption. Maybe Trump can serve as an example for ordinary Russians that it is time to “drain the swamp” not only in Washington but also in Moscow.
Janusz Bugajski, November 2016
The next four years will be a severe test for American unity and stability. America’s divisions have been starkly exposed by the long and raucous presidential election campaign and the incoming Donald Trump administration looks set to deepen them.
There are numerous fissures in American society. The post-election map displayed a stark geographic division between the “red” Republican states and “blue” Democrat states, with several contested states in between. Clinton won overwhelmingly along the north eastern and western seaboards although failing to regain the northern “rust belt” where Obama triumphed eight years ago.
Trump and the Republicans captured significant majorities across the north, center, and south of the country and even managed to regain a more evenly balanced Florida. These inter-state divisions in some ways mirror the Union-Confederate fracture during the 1861-1865 Civil War between the Deep South and the Yankee North. Some radicals are even proposing the secession of California where Clinton gained 62% of the vote. Although such desperate calls will not succeed they indicate the depth of emotion generated by the election results.
An even starker contrast in American society is the urban-rural divide that many public opinion polls failed to properly monitor. The overwhelming majority of rural and small town dwellers voted for Trump. They are traditionally suspicious of the “Washington establishment” and believed that Trump was an outsider who would shake up the federal government and root out what is widely perceived as official corruption and elite self-interest.
The geographic divisions have been reinforced by the contrast between blue and white collar workers. Manual workers laid off during the “great recession” in 2008 have struggled to gain full employment and bitterly complain that their manufacturing jobs are no longer available. Indeed, it has become more profitable for US companies to move their factories abroad. Trump himself has business outlets overseas but tried to disguise this during the elections.
Trump made repeated promises to “bring back” jobs to the US that have been lost in competitive globalization. His protectionist prescriptions may actually worsen economic conditions but at a basic level they appeal to citizens. Many of his worker supporters have a sense of entitlement to well-paid jobs, resent immigrants who are willing to work for less, and feel abandoned by the Democratic Party.
All these antagonisms feed into the immigrant-native divisions that were constantly exploited by the Trump campaign. The Republican candidate singled out Mexicans and Muslims in stereotypes that appealed to angry workers and white Christian nationalists. He painted them not only as a threat to security but also to American employment and economic prosperity.
Rising xenophobia is also reflected in persistent racial divisions, despite the fact that America has had a black president for the past eight years. Trump’s campaign brought many of the grievances and prejudices to the forefront and opened the gates to white supremacist support, even though Trump belatedly sought to distance himself from openly racist groups.
Muslims were depicted as a suspicious element in American society who could be harboring terrorists. Trump’s threat to ban all Muslims from entering the country sent shock waves not only through the Islamic community but also among other religious minorities. He has since reversed his position but the bitter taste of prejudice and discrimination remains.
Another key division in the election race emerged between people with higher education and those with only a rudimentary schooling and nostalgic for a mythical past. The latter voted overwhelmingly for Trump, as they soaked in his simplistic messages to “Make America Great Again” without any rational explanation of how he intended to do it.
A generational gap also emerged during the campaign, with many of the “millenials” who backed Democrat Party socialist Bernie Sanders in the primary elections switching their support to Hillary Clinton. Exit polls indicated that older people, especially pensioners, tended to vote for Trump largely because they did not trust Clinton or had little faith in a woman as commander-in-chief. This gender gap remains evident across the nation, which Trump adroitly exploited.
Frustration among young people has been on display since the elections with protest marches and demonstrations against Trump breaking out in over a dozen cities. It remains to be seen whether the protest will be transformed into some constructive political activism or if they will generate various forms of anti-government militancy.
In the post-election malaise, several political figures have called on Trump to repudiate some of the statements that deepened the divisions in American society. Although the President elect has asserted that he wants to bring the country together, it remains to be seen whether Trump actually reaches out to a number of communities that were alienated by his campaign. With or without reconciliation from the top, American society is undergoing convulsions that no one would have imagined before the elections. The next four years will be an unpredictable journey through social politics.
PRESIDENT TRUMP’S HARD AGENDA
Janusz Bugajski, November 2016
America has a new President and enters an unpredictable and volatile new era. President-elect Donald Trump faces a fundamental dilemma – either he follows through on his campaign pledges and sparks major conflicts inside and outside the US, or he rolls back his threats and alienates half of the electorate who viewed him as a populist savior.
Donald Trump will be inaugurated on January 20. He will face enormous domestic and foreign policy challenges following an election that has sharply divided the population and disturbed many of America’s allies. Indeed, the two candidates have split the country more than any politicians in recent history.
On the domestic front, there is an urgent need for reconciliation among a frustrated public many of whom view the federal government in Washington as a corrupt elite. Trump pledged to “clean the swamp” in the capital, but it is unclear what this would mean in practice. Any attempted purges or investigations of politicians such as the Clintons could further jeopardize political bi-partisanship in Congress.
An equally severe danger is the public reaction against Trump if he begins to implement his promises to deport millions of Mexicans and other Latino immigrants and if he bans Muslims from entering the country or engages in “extreme vetting” for potential terrorists. It cannot be excluded that America will witness mass violence on the scale not seen since the civil rights movement and anti-Vietnam war campaigns during the 1960s.
Trump’s economic program is big on promises but lacks any detail. The notion that the federal government can ensure accelerated economic growth and create millions of new jobs is simplistic and misleading. However, a failure to deliver on such campaign statements will lead to even more public alienation and Trump himself could be exposed as another Washington insider or even as an outright fraud.
Fortunately, the checks and balances embedded in the American system of government will mute some of Trump’s authoritarian temptations, such as muzzling the press or imprisoning his political rivals. Nonetheless, because both houses of Congress (Senate and House of Representatives) have been retained by Republicans, it will be easier for Trump to try and push through policies that will further split the nation.
In particular, a social conservative agenda such as restricting abortions or rolling back some of the liberal legislation through his appointments to the Supreme Court will outrage large sectors of the population. Again, protests and even violence can be expected if Trump tries to push through his conservative election promises.
A whole host of other polarizing issues will now be in question, including comprehensive health care, minimum wages, and income taxation. The expectations of students and poor workers are unlikely to be fulfilled as Trump has pledged to roll back business regulations, implement major tax cuts for big business, and does not support an increase in the minimal wage.
On the international arena, Trumpism is part of a wider rightist populist movement that is gaining ground in Europe and is based around xenophobia, anti-globalism, political nationalism, and economic protectionism.
Trump’s economic prescriptions will ensure that all free trade deals will be reviewed and no new ones signed with Europe or East Asia. Paradoxically, this will undermine the creation of new business, raise prices on goods, and ultimately hurt the American worker. It will also alienate China and other key powers and create further tensions in contested regions such as East Asia.
Trump’s pledge to destroy ISIS and to cancel the nuclear disarmament deal with Iran could foreshadow a new arms race in the Middle East, with Saudi Arabia seeking nuclear weapons. Trump actually supported nuclear proliferation in the Middle East and the Far East during the election campaign.
The state that stands to gain the most from a Trump presidency is Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Trump has praised Putin as a great leader, he has called NATO obsolete, and some of his foreign policy advisors have close business and personal links to the Kremlin.
No European ally can now be certain that the US will remain committed to NATO and defend their national security. Indeed, Trump’s comments about NATO’s redundancy has had serious reverberations along the eastern front from the Baltics to the Black Seas. Putin may even test Trump’s reaction through a quick war with a country like Estonia and claim that it is a local dispute and not America’s business.
Even more likely, the Kremlin will try and lure Trump into a new division of Europe in return for a grandiose anti-terrorism coalition that is advantageous for Moscow. Such an approach will also embolden Russia’s allies and partners such as Serbia to become more assertive in the Balkans without fear of any significant American reaction at a time of European disarray.
The danger also remains that Russia may miscalculate and overreach in dealing with Washington. Trump may prove to be more strongly reactive to what he may interpret as an insult from Moscow or where a bilateral deal is broken. Such unpredictability could result in a sudden and much more dangerous international confrontation.
RUSSIA AND NATO BUILDUP
Janusz Bugajski, November 2016
Russia is threatening war with the West. In response, NATO is launching the most extensive military build-up since the Cold War along Europe’s eastern flank. President Vladimir Putin intends to keep the West guessing about his true intentions while using the prospect of war to garner public support at home at a time of serious economic decline. But his time may be running out.
In recent weeks, Moscow has adopted a war footing, by intensifying its program of militarization, preparing the public for a major conflict with the US, and ratcheting up its anti-Western propaganda. According to the government media, the West is preparing to attack Russia by encroaching on its historical possessions in Europe’s east.
The rhetoric of all-out war with America is intended to demonstrate that Russia is again a major power equal with the US. The threat of war also distracts pubic attention from the economic recession in which Putin’s approval ratings are dropping and regional unrest is growing inside the Russian Federation.
Four days of nuclear war survival drills were recently conducted across Russia. Shelters have been upgraded and gas masks tested by the public, as the Kremlin updates its civil-defense preparations. An inventory was taken in Moscow of the city’s underground spaces, in order to allow for sheltering the city’s population.
To demonstrate its nuclear capabilities and stir anxiety in the West, the Kremlin has unveiled a new “Satan 2” nuclear missile and suspended a weapons-grade plutonium agreement with the US. It has also emplaced nuclear-capable Iskander missiles in its Kaliningrad exclave on the Baltic coast that can hit targets across Poland and the three Baltic states.
On the conventional front, the government is investing heavily in military infrastructure and stages regular offensive exercises along NATO’s borders despite Russia’s contracting budget. The Kremlin is enhancing its military deployments in several adjacent regions, including the Baltic and Black Seas, along Ukraine’s border, and in the Eastern Mediterranean. Moscow is reinforcing its Baltic Fleet in Kaliningrad and its Black Sea fleet in Sevastopol with warships armed with long-range cruise missiles.
US presidential candidate Donald Trump fell into the Kremlin trap by claiming that a Hillary Clinton victory would precipitate World War III, in imitation of warnings by Russian nationalist leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky. Although Trump was simply electioneering, such statements feed into the paranoia deliberately generated by the Kremlin in order to undermine support for NATO deterrents.
In response to Russia’s build-up and persistent military threats, NATO has decided to fulfill pledges made at the July summit in Warsaw to more effectively deter Moscow’s aggression. NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg announced that the Alliance was increasing deployments of troops to countries most exposed to Russian offensives.
Several NATO states have agreed to contribute to a new 4,000-strong force in the Baltics states and Central Europe in reaction to what military intelligence calculates are over 330,000 Russian troops stationed along NATO’s eastern borders. The Alliance will dispatch four multinational battalions to several countries adjacent to Russia.
All the new forces consist of multinational troops led by a battalion headquarters from a single state. US Secretary of Defense Ash Carter announced that a “battle-ready battalion task force” of 900 soldiers would be sent to eastern Poland: the largest force dispatched to the region. In addition, a German-led battalion will reinforce Lithuania, a Canadian-led battalion is reporting in Latvia, and a British-led battalion is deploying in Estonia. Most of the forces are due to arrive at their destinations during 2017.
Washington has pledged $3.4 billion to upgrade the defense of Europe in 2017 and a portion of this amount is earmarked for military equipment to the most vulnerable NATO countries. The US has pledged to supply tanks and artillery to Poland. London is sending Typhoon fighter aircraft to Romania to patrol around the Black Sea, partly in support of Turkey. The British government has asserted that although the UK is leaving the EU, it is determined to intensify its support of NATO’s eastern and southern flanks.
The goal of the multinational force is to deter a conventional Russian assault by acting as a tripwire that, if breached, would trigger the deployment of a 40,000-strong rapid-reaction force. However, this force has yet to be established and there are fears that Western Europe’s reduced military budgets will make it difficult to assemble and deploy such a sizeable army. However, aggressive actions by Moscow may actually speed up NATO mobilization.
The clock is also ticking on Moscow. The longer it simply threatens without striking the more NATO is likely to rearm and prepare. Although Russian officials have announced that defense spending will be boosted over the next three years, in reality the country cannot afford a new arms race. If it starts one with the West then the Russian Federation may suffer the same fate as the Soviet Union, which could not keep up with America’s Star Wars program.
THE RISE AND FALL OF DONALD TRUMP
Janusz Bugajski, October 2016
Although nothing seems impossible in politics, Donald Trump’s chances of winning the US presidential elections are slipping away. Whatever the result, the Trump phenomenon will be discussed by politologists and psychiatrists for many years to come and certain basic lessons have already been learned.
Despite his complaints that the “mainstream media” is corrupt and biased against him, Trump was created by the media. Seeking high ratings, the mass media is fixated on a celebrity culture in which reality shows are conflated with reality and entertainment is blended with politics.
The showman Trump, known for his widely watched television spectacles, such as “The Apprentice,” was given exceptional coverage by journalists who viewed him as an entertaining oddity. His controversial statements were barely challenged. Instead, his entertainer status was contrasted with that of allegedly dull and tedious politicians in the Republican Party.
Pop culture becomes pop politics with a year of Trump rallies, election interviews, and Republican candidate debates in which he hurled insults against his opponents and gained further popularity. The social media contributed to fuelling this publicity, in which offensive language and unfounded assertions became normal means of communication.
It took most of the media an entire year to finally understand Trump’s dark side. It became increasingly obvious that his simplistic populism was designed to divide the electorate and to tap into public dissatisfaction, resentment, fear, anger, and hatred.
Trump consistently spouts xenophobia against immigrants from Latin America, accusing Mexicans in particular of having a disproportionate number of rapists and murderers. He exploits racism against Muslims by asserting that they are prone to terrorism and should be banned from the country. And he depicts women as objects and second-class citizens, as evident in his boasts of sexually groping women.
To gain support among the most gullible or partially educated citizenry Trump has peddled various conspiracy theories. A sector of Americans have always been drawn to the notion that certain people or organizations are working in secret against the public good. However, most politicians have steered clear of paranoia. In contrast, Trump has transformed conspiracy theories into a major component of his election campaign.
By branding himself as an “outsider” Trump launches attacks on the “Washington establishment.” This resonates among an electorate frustrated with legislative gridlock and unfulfilled promises from both major parties. He casts himself as an ordinary man even though he is part of a small billionaire class and the “celebrity establishment.”
The most dangerous part of his mass paranoia is the notion that the entire political system is corrupt and “rigged” against the ordinary citizen. It is not just the election process that he has called into question, by spuriously claiming voter fraud despite having no evidence. Much more serious is the allegation that the entire political structure is rigged against ordinary people.
Trump’s threat that he may not accept the result of the elections calls into question the legitimacy of the democratic system and would undermine the functioning of a Clinton administration. It could even lead to violence, as his supporters may act upon his threats against various minorities or against government institutions.
Trump has even suggested that the Obama White House, in league with Hillary Clinton, in engaged in a major cover-up regarding its links with international terrorism. At one point he even claimed that Obama and Clinton actually established ISIS. In Trump’s campaign there is no distinction between truth and falsehood. Any charge can be concocted to discredit the opponent and feed mass hysteria and rage. If his supporters act on this and do not recognize a Clinton presidency the US could face years of turmoil.
Fortunately for America, an increasing number of people have seen through the Trump façade and realize that the position of President cannot be given to a volatile and paranoid egotist. Many are dismayed by Trump’s staggering ignorance of basic facts, his limited vocabulary, and they dismiss his claims of utopian salvation if he becomes President. His weaknesses were clearly exposed in the three debates, in which Clinton was victorious in all major opinion polls
Although Clinton is not a popular politician, comparisons with Trump have raised her credentials and capabilities. Despite questions about her honesty and the Russian-Wikileaks assault on Democratic Party Emails, Clinton looks increasingly likely to prevail in the 8th November balloting.
Trump’s opinion poll numbers continue to plummet. Nonetheless, each day remains unpredictable and a last minute surprise that will reverse current trends cannot be discounted. In the world of pop politics and presidential entertainment, Trump could still spring a November surprise. This could be the result of some shocking revelations in Clinton’s hacked Emails or a major terrorist attack on US soil that convinces a sufficient number of people that Trump’s xenophobia and tough stance on immigration is the only way to ensure public safety and national security.
MONTENEGRO ON TRACK
Janusz Bugajski, October 2016
Montenegro’s electorate has confirmed the country’s path toward NATO and the EU despite concerted attempts to derail the process. The incoming government looks set to provide continuity and enable Montenegro to become NATO’s 29th member ten years after regaining its independence.
Two issues were central in the parliamentary elections – relations with the West and ties with Russia. The authorities accused Moscow of direct interference in the election process. Indeed, with the Kremlin seeking to influence the US elections through Emails hacks against Hillary Clinton, it is certainly even more interventionist in a small state like Montenegro where it seeks to prevent NATO accession. Montenegro’s membership is due to be ratified by Podgorica as well as other member states in the coming year.
Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic presented the vote as a choice between becoming an EU and NATO member or a “Russian colony.” Although this may sound like an election slogan, Moscow has subversive ambitions in the region. Above all, it wants to preclude further NATO and EU enlargement, cultivate Kremlin allies such as Serbia, and foster dysfunctional states, such as Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Montenegro has spent the past few years extricating itself from the tightening Moscow grip after mistakenly permitting corrosive Russian investments. Djukanovic realized that any major Russian business comes with political strings and ultimately proved unwilling to become another Putin ally like Serbia.
Russian investment in Montenegro has markedly dropped. Part of this is due to the decline of the Russian economy as a consequence of Western financial sanctions and a severe drop in oil process. Russia was once the leading foreign investor in Montenegro but in 2015 it cut its annual investment by half to just €68.9 million. This total fell to €22 million in the first six months of 2016.
Moscow has also tried to exert its influence through other channels. It has reportedly funded and promoted several opposition parties, particularly the Serb nationalists in the Democratic Front. The Kremlin-backed Sputnik news agency set up a local language portal from Belgrade last year and broadcasts anti-Western diatribes and conspiracies into Montenegro. Russian officials have also blackmailed Podgorica by threatening severe consequences if it enters NATO. It has fed the constant propaganda barrage about government corruption and tried to undermine Djukanovic’s popularity.
Montenegro has a diverse opposition and not all are anti-NATO. The Democratic Front ran the most vehement anti-NATO campaign, organized rallies that occasionally turned violent, and called for unrest if the government joined the alliance without holding a public referendum. Its leaders also claimed that they would abolish sanctions against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine and develop the “closest economic and political ties with Moscow.”
On the eve of the election, police in Montenegro arrested twenty Serbs for allegedly planning to carry out armed attacks. Officials claimed that those arrested planned to use automatic weapons to attack state institutions, police officers, and state officials such as Djukanovic. Moscow is more likely to be behind such a provocation than Belgrade, which has more to lose in Brussels if it is caught destabilizing its neighbor.
The ruling Democratic Party of Socialist (DPS) and its traditional allies, including the minority parties, did not win an absolute parliamentary majority and will need to broaden the coalition. The Former DPS coalition partner, the Social Democratic Party (SDP), which ran on its own in the elections, may decide to rejoin the coalition to help finalize NATO accession.
Minority support from Albanians, Bosniaks, and Croats, has been crucial for Montenegro in gaining independence and is now vital for maintaining an alliance to join NATO and eventually the EU. Albanians in particular calculate that the victory of anti-Djukanovic parties would have been damaging for Kosova.
The current coalition was among the first to recognize Kosova’s independence in 2008, despite the furor from Belgrade, and is more likely to settle the current dispute over border demarcations. An anti-Djukanovic coalition would be beneficial to nationalists in Belgrade in their anti-Kosovar campaign and inject greater Russian influence throughout the region.
Just as it stood up to Milosevic, the Djukanovic government continues to defy Putin, despite the barrage of attacks and threats from the Kremlin. Unlike Serbia, it continues to support the EU’s policy of sanctions against Russia over its ongoing attack on Ukraine, its annexation of Crimea, and the continuing murder of Ukrainian civilians.
However, the Kremlin is unlikely to desist from further provocations, as it seeks to expand its influence in the Balkans and to create fresh problems for the West. In one particularly dangerous scenario, it may seek to create a parallel authority or another Republika Srpska in northern Montenegro where a majority of people identify themselves as Serbs.
The incoming government must therefore prepare itself for an intensified Kremlin operation to destabilize and divide Montenegro. Declarations by the Democratic Front that it does not recognize the election result looks like a step in that direction.
SPLITTING WSTERN ALLIANCES
Janusz Bugajski, October 2016
Three destabilizing forces are contributing to pulling the European Union and the North Atlantic Alliance apart – the actions of several dissatisfied members, the threat of US disengagement, and the long-term ambitions of the Russian regime.
Britain’s imminent exit has been compounded by persistent opposition to EU rulings in countries such as Poland and Hungary, threats to leave the Eurozone in Italy and other parts of southern Europe, and growing populist nationalism in several Western Europe states. Several capitals will be looking at the results of Brexit to see whether they could benefit by following London out of the Union.
The US presidential election has certainly not helped the EU cause. Indeed, the Republican candidate Donald Trump applauded Brexit and evidently favors the loosening or even disintegration of the Union. Trump has also given fresh impetus to Europe’s anti-Americanism, which is often combined with calls for national sovereignty that would eliminate the trans-Atlantic alliance.
Although no major European politician will admit it publicly, Trump presents a unique opportunity for mobilizing anti-Americanism and removing unwanted US influence. For many national and party leaders America is a convenient scapegoat for many of Europe’s shortcomings. However, it was difficult to be anti-American under the moderate Obama administration or a possible Hillary Clinton successor. Trump, by contrast, embodies all that European love to hate about America.
His astonishing arrogance and ignorance, his denigration of women and minorities, and his claims of America’s greatness all help those who seek to weaken the trans-Atlantic link. A large sector of the European public resents the notion of American “exceptionalism,” viewing it as claims to moral and political superiority. A Trump presidency would demonstrate that the US is no different from any other country and is led by a megalomaniac and demagogue.
One of the major policy initiatives pursued by anti-Americans, which Trump himself supports, is an end to the free trade initiative, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) currently under negotiation. Critics of the deal argue that it will give U.S. companies even more unwanted power and influence in Europe.
Paradoxically, Trump believes that free trade damages American workers. The termination of free trade will also provide an opportunity to curtail the allegedly pernicious influence of Wall Street banks in Europe. Both populist and establishment figures have long berated what they consider as America’s financial manipulation.
Leftists are also elated that Trump’s rhetoric is helping to undermine NATO. While some European federalists, in France and Germany in particular, will seek an alternative EU army, most nationalists will seek to eliminate all alliances and either become neutral or rely on their own independent military forces.
Another major European perception is that America acts like Big Brother by engaging in mass surveillance. Indeed, many Europeans seem convinced that the CIA is listening to their phone calls and monitoring their Emails and social media posts on the pretext of combating Islamist extremism. A potential Trump presidency would increase calls for terminating trans-Atlantic intelligence cooperation.
The third danger to Western unity is Russian policy. Attacking NATO is a useful method for getting the Europeans to disarm themselves and preventing the defense of countries attacked by Moscow, such as Ukraine. However, the EU project is perceived as a more fundamental threat than NATO to Moscow’s Eurasian ambitions.
The Union’s standards of legality, transparency, and competition challenge the Russian business model based on corruption, opaqueness, and monopolization. The EU’s political and human rights stipulations undermine the autocratic model of governance preferred by Moscow among neighbors, as it is easier to manipulate such alliances than with democracies that regularly change governments.
Brexit and other problems within the EU are welcomed in Moscow as they divide the Union and encourage bilateral deals between individual countries and Russia, limit further EU enlargement, and may curtail aspirations for EU membership among Moscow’s immediate neighbors such as Ukraine, Moldova, and Georgia.
In its propaganda assaults, Moscow seeks to drive a wedge between the “Anglo-Saxon” states of the US, UK, and Canada and continental Europe. The latter is viewed as more corruptible and exploitable. The Kremlin’s objective is to divide the West and preclude any lasting trans-Atlantic solidarity against Russia and in support of Moscow’s pressurized neighbors.
Instructively, reports have recently leaked in Germany that Putin is working to topple Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is viewed as being too supportive of Washington and the economic sanctions regime against Moscow.
Germany’s domestic security agency, the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), has revealed that the Kremlin is systematically pursuing destabilization and disinformation in the country. It supports anti-government demonstrations by nationalist and anti-immigrant groupings and wages an information war designed to stir up public anger against Berlin over the influx of refugees. In a wider context, all EU states have become increasingly vulnerable to Russia’s assaults.
FINAL US ELECTION SPRINT
Janusz Bugajski, October 2016
The US Presidential elections have entered the final phase. Following the first national debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, the characters and capabilities of both candidates have become starker. During this final month of the campaign the electorate can decide who is fit to lead the country, or more accurately who is less unfit.
Both Trump and Clinton remain widely unpopular. Paradoxically, almost any Republican other than Trump could beat Clinton and almost any Democrat with the possible exception of Clinton could beat Trump. Neither scenario can be guaranteed in these elections.
Both candidates have strengths and weaknesses. On the positive side, Trump has raised several pressing issues that need to be more effectively addressed by the next administration, including job creation, urban unrest and street violence, international terrorism, political gridlock in Washington, and the influence of moneyed interests in election campaigns.
Nonetheless, his negatives outweigh the positives. During the first debate, watched by a record audience, his volatility and vindictiveness were obvious. His angry outbursts highlighted that he lacks the temperament to be a rational leader and is prone to anger at the slightest insult. Observers are concerned that in an international crisis he may overreact and escalate a conflict.
Trump also exhibits an inadequate knowledge of both domestic and foreign policy issues and many experts consider him ill-equipped to be commander in chief. His foreign policy statements are either simplistic, contradictory, or incoherent. Dozens of Republican national security leaders have signed an open letter calling Trump’s foreign policy vision “wildly inconsistent and unmoored in principle.”
Domestically, Trump persistently alienates various groups who will be crucial in the elections. For instance, his obsessive Twitter attacks on a former Miss Universe and a popular Latin American actress who has accused Trump of sexism will backfire on him among women and Latino voters – two blocs he is in danger of losing on a massive scale.
From the beginning of the primaries, Trump has built his campaign on appeals to bigotry and xenophobia, whipping up resentment against Mexicans, Muslims, and migrants in particular. His proposals for mass deportations of immigrants and religious tests for Muslims are ultimately unworkable and contrary to America’s principles. Voicing such proposals may appeal to Trump’s base of support but they alienate the majority of voters.
Trump is also believed to be dishonest in his business dealings. Although his companies have had some financial successes, he has also had six major bankruptcies, misused his family’s charitable foundation, and allegedly defrauded clients who enrolled in Trump University. In addition, Trump has been involved in thousands of lawsuits over the past three decades, including at least sixty involving small businesses and contract employees who were unpaid by Trump.
Trump has also refused to release his tax returns, thus raising numerous questions about the size of his wealth and his tax status. Recently disclosed documents indicate that Trump has not paid income tax for nearly two decades, a charge that could seriously damage him in the elections. In addition, Trump has avoided providing information about the sources of his loans and his foreign financial connections that could disclose significant conflicts of interest if he is elected President.
Clinton has her own flaws, many of them revolving around her perceived secrecy, lack of empathy, and potential dishonesty. Trump and his proxies also accuse her of using the Clinton Foundation to peddle political influence for substantial payments.
Although Clinton is much less likely than Trump to threaten national security or lead the country into a constitutional crisis, her use of a private Email server when she was US Secretary of State remains under FBI investigation. She stands accused of being careless at best and reckless at worst in handling classified information.
Clinton will continue to struggle with sectors of the electorate who do not trust her or condemn her personal ambitions and see her as part of the discredited establishment. This includes many independent voters who will form a critical bloc if the elections are close. Trump will intensify his attacks on various fronts against Clinton, including her private life and alleged cover-up of her husband’s infidelities. Republicans claim that she enabled his affairs with several women while her husband served as President in the 1990s.
On the positive side, Clinton’s long record of public service, as first lady in the White House, US Senator for New York, and Secretary of State, give her a clear advantage. Trump has never held public office and his business management model simply cannot be applied to politics as he would alienate Congress and undermine America’s global alliances.
Moreover, unlike Trump, Clinton has command of all major foreign and domestic policy issues. Her performance during the first national debate demonstrated that unlike Trump she is immersed in policy questions and has generally adopted consistent positions. She is also renowned for being hard working and focused, unlike her rival who is easily diverted by personal attacks and scandals. All eyes will be on the upcoming second debate in what promises to be a combustible contest.
WILL AN EU ARMY REPLACE NATO?
Janusz Bugajski, September 2016
EU leaders are reviving the notion of an EU army to demonstrate that the Union remains a dynamic organization after a disastrous year. A single army has been under discussion for several decades but never came into existence. The proposal continues to have vigorous opponents who view it as an unnecessary challenge to NATO.
In his State of the Union address in the European Parliament, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker claimed that the EU needs a permanent security headquarters and a common defense force. He now feels emboldened with London on the verge of exiting the Union, as Britain has always argued that an EU army would simply dilute NATO.
German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen echoed Juncker by stating that it was time to construct a European defense union. The proposal may sound impressive in theory, but in practice it could prove to be another misfiring disaster because of three major factors: weakness, opposition, and the existence of NATO.
Paradoxically, without the UK, the EU will become a much weaker security player. Britain and France are the two strongest European militaries and are not averse to engaging in combat, unlike Germany, which shuns war-fighting for peace-keeping. London obstructed any moves that would duplicate NATO and divert scarce funds. It was also determined to maintain the trans-Atlantic link with the US. But without the UK inside the EU that link may significantly soften.
Most Central and East European leaders oppose any distinct EU force, contending that a separate defense structure will undermine NATO at a time when the Alliance is most needed to defend against Moscow’s aggression. Indeed, resources should be focused on improving NATO capabilities instead of creating weaker substitutes without Washington.
Officials in the three Baltic countries and other front line states, such as Poland and Romania, are adamant that only NATO possesses the military might to deter Moscow and any proposals that divert resources to an EU outfit would undermine their precarious security. However, national armies need to be strengthened to make NATO more effective while maintaining and increasing the American presence.
European Council President Donald Tusk has warned that the EU should be mindful of its own ambitions after the Brexit vote. EU institutions need to support initiatives agreed among member states, but not impose their own projects, as this could push more capitals toward the exit door.
The idea of a “European army” is itself misleading, as it creates the impression of a permanent standing army. In reality, countries enter into military alliances because pooling resources provides greater capabilities. However, there is no NATO army but national forces are integrated within a common command structure. These only become NATO forces in the event of war or some other international emergency.
Indeed, the bigger problem for any proposed EU army is NATO itself because defense resources and military personnel are finite. Moreover, in order to be effective any common military force needs to complement NATO and not dilute transatlantic solidarity. Without US involvement Europe simply could not handle a major war within or outside its borders.
Juncker argues that the EU must improve its command and control facilities, so that military missions are coordinated out of the same headquarters. If he is suggesting a limited mandate for a small multi-national crisis-response force then that could prove valuable.
In fact, since 2003 the EU has launched more than thirty international missions, including military, peacekeeping, and police-training operations from Afghanistan to the Democratic Republic of Congo. However, critics charge that the Union lacks an overarching strategy, while missions are usually slow to be decided and deployed.
Hence, the creation of an international force with a central HQ can help strengthen the EU’s borders, intercept refugee smuggling and other forms of trafficking, combat piracy, rescue distressed ships, provide humanitarian assistance, and contribute to counter-terrorism operations in any part of Europe. Such mission would not require US involvement or massive military weight.
Another positive outcome would be to integrate the fractured EU defense industry. Analysts estimate that EU governments could save more than €25 billion annually if they coordinated their defense purchases to focus on the bloc’s overall security needs.
The motive behind an EU army may be rational – to demonstrate that Europe should be taken more seriously as an international player, particularly in Moscow. However, another failed project that is more rhetoric than reality will simply deepen the Union’s decline.
The EU has been rocked by failures in dealing with several crises, including the surge of refugees from the Middle East. Instead of trumpeting the vision of a European Army, the Union needs more modest and achievable targets, such as a crisis-response force. Failure to mobilize support for any effective multi-national unit will further damage the European project. It will also boost isolationist voices in the US who will claim that the allies are unwilling to pay for their own defense.
RS REFERENDUM MANUEVERS
Janusz Bugajski, September 2016
Whether the planned constitutional referendum in Republika Srpska takes place or not, it is clear that the leadership in Banja Luka is seeking any opportunities to push for greater sovereignty. President Milorad Dodik is calculating that he will lead the entity to independent statehood before he leaves the political scene.
The planned referendum is intended not only to undermine Bosnia’s Constitutional Court but above all to legitimize the self-determination of the Serbian entity. Banja Luka wants the annual Day of RS to continue to be celebrated on January 9, despite the fact that it was ruled unconstitutional and discriminatory against non-Serbs.
Various reasons have been suggested for a likely postponement of the referendum. Dodik can claim that the plebiscite will be held when all Bosnian Serb parties finally agree to it, in order to ensure full consensus. Several Serb opposition parties, including some of Dodik’s political allies, oppose the referendum.
Some observers believe that Dodik will buckle under growing international pressure. EU and US officials warned Dodik that the referendum would be considered illegitimate and could lead to personal financial sanctions against him, his family members, and some of his supporters.
However, one of the most persuasive factors for Dodik is the role played by Serbia. Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic and Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic both desisted from openly supporting the ballot. Without Belgrade’s support, Banja Luka would be left isolated in the region.
Analysts are also speculating whether the cancellation of the referendum would signify the end of Dodik’s political career. More likely, Dodik will stage a final dramatic exit from the political stage with a referendum on independence in order to ensure that he leaves behind a historical legacy.
To demonstrate his nationalist credentials and regain popularity ahead of local elections on 2 October, Dodik announced a new initiative to abolish the RS’s House of Peoples. This parliamentary chamber plays an important role in protecting the rights of non-Serbs and its disbandment will be viewed as consolidating ethnic homogeneity ahead of a potential referendum on independence.
Dodik has already pledged that an independence vote will be held during 2018, if various jurisdictions are not returned to the Serbian entity by 2017 in accordance with Dayton and the Bosnian Constitution. Such a referendum could be moved forward if a major political crisis erupts in Bosnia, if protests escalate against worsening economic conditions in the RS, or if attention needs to be shifted from the Serbian entity’s internal power struggles.
An independence referendum could also be pushed through when the international climate becomes advantageous. If the rift between the West and Russia widens, Moscow will oppose any international intervention while backing the RS’s right to self-determination. In the event of an East-West crisis elsewhere, Moscow can play the Bosnia card against Washington and Brussels by raising the prospects of a new Balkan war.
Even with regard to the constitutional referendum, divisions have been evident in the international community, with no consensus on possible sanctions. Even some EU and NATO members remain strongly opposed to applying the OHR’s executive powers, arguing that Bosnia should no longer be micro-managed by international players. Moreover, OHR has limited means to implement its decisions. This itself could encourage Bosnia’s Serbs to ignore its decisions and escalate the crisis without fear of retribution.
Banja Luka will also be emboldened by a weakening EU, especially if the Union is shaken by a new economic or refugee crisis or nationalist and anti-enlargement sentiments continue to expand. Additionally, a distracted Washington could mean a lessened US role in the Balkans. A Donald Trump presidency, if it premised on America’s military and political downsizing in Europe, will present new opportunities for separatism in various parts of the region.
Much also depends on Serbia’s calculations. The government in Belgrade has staked its future on EU accession. If prospects for membership are indefinitely postponed, nationalism will rise in Serbia and could push the government toward backing the creation of a second Serbian state. Officials will argue that the Kosova precedent should also be applied in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
In the midst of the current standoff, RS and Serbia held their first joint “anti-terrorist” maneuvers at the end of August. The exercises heightened regional concerns that Belgrade is preparing to defend the entity in the event of conflict with Sarajevo. Some 200 members of RS’s and Serbia’s special police units, together with armored vehicles, helicopters, police riverboats, and gunships, simulated a battle against terrorists along the Drina, close to Zvornik. Both Presidents Nikolic and Dodik attended the exercises.
The maneuvers raised ethnic tensions in the country. The Bosniak vice-president of RS, Ramiz Salkic, accused Serbian leaders of “rattling their sabres.” The Drina exercise was primarily designed to demonstrate to Sarajevo that Banja Luka possesses its own fighting units and can combine with forces from Serbia in the event of armed conflict with Bosniaks.
ANOTHER ELECTION TEST FOR CROATIA
Janusz Bugajski, September 2016
If the results of Croatia’s September 11 election are a replay of the last balloting, then the country faces another period of political infighting, institutional stagnation, and international irrelevance. A series of weak and transitional governments preclude Croatia from becoming an influential regional or European player.
The election campaign itself is a reflection of the country’s ongoing political paralysis. Instead of focusing on key domestic reforms, stimulating economic development, promoting regional reconstruction, and strengthening international security, the current campaign is again stuck in personal attacks and stale historical comparisons.
Former Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic appears to be the main culprit in lowering the tone of what should be a campaign about Croatia’s future. He has made several controversial statements, presumably in an effort to gain votes beyond the Social Democrat left, and contributed to stirring domestic and international disputes. Maybe this style of politics is the wave of the future – an imitation of Donald Trump’s abusive approach.
HDZ leader Andrej Plenkovic appears to be more restrained even though Milanovic may be trying to provoke him into open confrontation about his character and patriotism. Subsidiary issues shift the spotlight away from policy prescriptions, with similarities to the Trump approach, in which conspiracy theories, character assassinations, and dubious allegations drive the presidential campaign.
Neither of the main parties appears to have detailed proposals in such essential arenas as public administration and pension fund reform. There is insufficient discussion about energy strategy, investment decisions, and growth stimulus, and little detail on how to make INA a primarily Croatian enterprise that serves the nation’s interests. Instead, both sides are taking credit for relatively positive economic results in the second quarter of 2016 and claiming that they have the best ideas for absorbing EU funds.
The most substantive reform proposals appear to come from MOST, although these have a populist flavor intended to appeal to disillusioned voters. Few citizens would oppose reducing state funding for political parties, cutting privileges for members of parliament, or cutting back on the size of the civil service in municipalities. The question is whether such moves would be beneficial or damaging for the public administration in its primary task of providing services to ordinary citizens.
In the foreign policy field, stereotyping and insulting neighbors is a favorite ploy of populists seeking to prove their patriotic credentials by denigrating alleged opponents. We see this constantly in the US elections with Trump’s routine attacks on Mexicans and Muslims. This simplistic scapegoating virus has evidently spread to Europe.
Milanovic’s comments to Croatian war veterans, accusing Serbia of “arrogance” and describing Bosnia-Herzegovina as a failed state were supposed to give him a more patriotic image and undermine depictions of the SDP as a post-communist formation that still harbors sympathies toward Titoism. However, such public comments do little to strengthen Croatia’s regional authority and play into the hands of nationalists in Serbia and separatists in Bosnia.
Unfortunately, serious foreign policy discussions have not featured in the election campaign, whether about regional security, energy development, trade and infrastructure, mass immigration, or consolidating and redefining Croatia’s position in a rapidly evolving European Union. Most shocking, with Bosnia on the verge of a destabilizing referendum in the RS, neither of the two major Croatian parties have spelled out the dire regional consequences or pledged any initiatives to help prevent conflict.
One would think that the average Croatian voter is not naïve enough to rely on the words rather than the deeds of politicians. However, Trump’s success in the US indicates that a large sector of the public in any democracy remains poorly educated and easily deceived. If this gullibility is combined with anger against economic conditions and resentment against political elites then a combustible mood can be exacerbated and exploited.
The results of Croatia’s elections are likely to be inconclusive, with no party winning a governing majority. The upshot will be prolonged maneuvering to form a working coalition, whether between the HDZ and MOST or the SDP and MOST, together with some smaller parliamentary formations. A grand HDZ-SDP coalition seems unlikely and is probably unwise. It will simply become a perpetually feuding and dysfunctional administration that will sooner or later collapse once again.
The most successful European states are not merely stable democracies, but ones in which a government has the mandate to govern – to push through legislation, conduct reforms, and lay the foundations for further economic development. Problems arise when the political scene is polarized to such a degree that compromises are precluded, decision-making is paralyzed, and the public suffers. But then again it is up to citizens to provide a stronger mandate to the party that seems most capable on delivering on its pledges and is most focused on Croatia’s future.
TRUMP’S EURO-NATIONALIST CONNECTIONS
Janusz Bugajski, August 2016
Republican presidential contender Donald Trump has not only aligned himself with the ultra-right in the United States, he is also gaining support from an assortment of European nationalist, populist, and neo-fascists movements.
Trump’s appointment of Stephen Bannon as his campaign’s chief executive has provoked dismay and anger in the country. Bannon is an ultra-rightist demagogue and former chairman of the radical nationalist Breitbart News. This network is notorious for its nationalistic and racist interpretation of the news and has supported Trump’s campaign from the outset.
In reaction to Trump’s appointment, Democratic presidential contender Hilary Clinton launched a heated attack on Trump, describing him as a vessel for hate speech, a champion of conspiracy theories, and a representative of the far-right fringe of the Republican Party. She claimed that the real estate oligarch had built his campaign around prejudice and paranoia and enabled a radical hate group to essentially take over the Republican Party.
Clinton also pointed out that Trump himself had a long history of racial discrimination. In the 1970s, the US Justice Department took Trump, his father, and their real estate management corporation to court for racial discrimination in housing following numerous complaints from prospective tenants. The buildings in question included 14,000 units throughout greater New York City. The case ended in a settlement in which the Trumps were required to abide with the Fair Housing Act.
During the election campaign, Trump has used racist language against Mexicans, Muslims, and other minorities. His supporters openly include members of the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist and racial segregationist networks. David Duke, former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, frequently praises Trump as the inspiration for his decision to run for the U.S. Senate in November.
Although Trump claims he has no links with America’s rightist fringe, he frequently repeats conspiracy theories propounded by various radical groups, including AltRight (alternative Right), of which Bannon is a major figure. AltRight depicts itself as an anti-establishment network and is closely tied with white nationalism. It has been criticized for persistent racism, anti-Semitism, and misogynism. Clinton is stressing Trump’s connections with extremists in order to appeal to independents and moderate Republicans who are alarmed by their candidate’s political connections.
In addition to being a champion for ethno-nationalists in the US, Trump has gained support from a host of right radical parties in the EU. The list includes Greece’s Golden Dawn, France’s Front National, the Dutch Party of Freedom, and Italy’s Northern League. Also openly backing Trump’s anti-immigrant policies are Belgium’s far-right Flemish Interest (Vlaams Belang), the ultra-rightist Swedish Democrats, the Danish People’s Party, the Swiss People’s Party, the English Defense League, and the Alternative for Germany.
In Italy, rightists and neo-fascists glowingly refer to Trump as the new Benito Mussolini. Serbian Radical Party leader Vojislav Seselj also supports Trump and has called on Serbs in the US to vote for him in November. Trump’s victory would certainly encourage a host of nationalist, racist, and neo-fascist parties throughout Europe. It would give trans-Atlantic credibility to xenophobia, anti-globalism, and mono-culturalism.
Trump recently hosted Britain’s Nigel Farage at one of his election rallies – the leader of the hardline anti-EU UK Independence Party (UKIP), which contributed to creating a xenophobic atmosphere that helped to drive the country into a Brexit. Trump introduced Farage as someone who had “brilliantly” led the campaign to take Britain out of the EU, while Trump himself openly supports breaking up the Union.
Bannon is reportedly intent on assisting populists and radical rightists throughout Europe after the US elections. He will seek to capitalize on the rise in right-wing, nationalist politics and persistent anti-EU feelings in several West European states. Rising tensions over immigration and the angry anti-establishment mood provides fertile ground for Bannon’s form of propaganda.
He aims to help groom a new crop of European readers to the US brand of anti-establishment journalism. Germany, Belgium, and France are especially attractive for Breitbart after it opened an office in London. Any country where there are pronounced fears of terrorism and the impact of Islam on local society are eminently exploitable.
Regular themes in the articles produced from London focus on the threat of rising immigration, the menace of Islamic fundamentalism, and the success of populist right-wing parties across Europe. The site constantly beats the drum that the most serious domestic problems throughout Europe are caused by Muslim immigration.
The Breitbart site has proved extremely successful on social platforms and numbered first in the world for political social media earlier this year. It claimed two million more Facebook and Twitter engagements than its closest competitor, the leftist Huffington Post. Whether Trump wins or loses the November elections, he will be hailed as a hero among nationalist circles in Europe and a number of little Trumps will seek to emulate him. The media and social outlets to promote their policies will be readily available.
REVIVAL OF CROATIA-SERBIA CONFLICT
Janusz Bugajski, August 2016
The simmering feud between Croatia and Serbia has been revived in the midst of critical political turning points in both countries. Nationalist rhetoric has again gained prominence with the installation of a new Serbian government and with Croatia facing general elections on September 11. The current disputes demonstrate how conflicting historical interpretations sour bilateral relations and undermine regional stability by fueling resentment over numerous contemporary issues.
Historical reconciliation over the war in the 1990s does not mean the equalization of guilt but the acceptance of comparative responsibility. The anti-civilian war launched by Belgrade and its proxies in 1991 led to the occupation of Croatian territories and the slaughter of thousands of civilians. Belgrade’s denials of responsibility have been evident in the rehabilitation of Slobodan Milosevic among some political circles in Belgrade and the return to parliament of Vojislav Seselj, a key militia leader in the attack on Croatia, who captured over 8% of the popular vote and 22 out of 250 seats in the May elections.
For its part, Zagreb must take responsibility in fully investigating the murder of several hundred Serb civilians during Operation Storm that liberated occupied Croatian territories in August 1995, even if the government did not orchestrate the massacres. The contemporary scrutiny of war crimes is much more intense than it was in World War Two when massacres of German civilians was overlooked by the Allies as an unfortunate byproduct of liberation from Nazism.
Comparisons made by some Serb officials between Croatia today and the Nazi-allied Independent State of Croatia (NDH) during World War Two are not simply inaccurate but they create a climate of fear and anger in both capitals. Croatian Foreign Minister Miro Kovac rightly dismissed accusations by Serbian Labor Minister Aleksandar Vulin that Croatia’s Interior Minister Vlaho Orepic was turning the country into the NDH.
For his part, Minister Orepic has stirred controversy by claiming that that the actual Serbian population in the city of Vukovar is under 30%, and hence they may not be entitled to the use of their language and alphabet in local affairs, as stipulated in Croatian law. Without providing proof of false residence registrations among Serbs, the impression is created that Zagreb is intent on denying minority rights.
Allegations by Serbian officials that Croatia is introducing “racial laws” against the Serbian population do not contribute to improving relations at a time when Serbia itself is criticized for its faltering media freedoms, politically corrupted judicial system, and rising jingoistic nationalism. Studies by the Serbia’s Institute for European Affairs showing that people in Serbia still see Croatia as their biggest enemy, even ahead of the US and Albania, do not bode well for inter-state reconciliation.
Paradoxically, Serbia has become dependent on Croatia’s good will and support since it embarked on the long and winding road to EU accession, as any member state can block enlargement. There will be numerous sticking points along this route, as Croatia itself discovered when its disputes with Slovenia threatened to obstruct EU entry. In Belgrade’s case, Zagreb continues to demand that Belgrade change its law on jurisdiction over war crimes in line with Chapter 23 of the Acquis Communautaire. In addition, Serbia will be expected to cooperate with Croatian courts and agencies investigating missing persons from the 1990s war.
Croatia and Serbia have a long list of disagreements in which every niggling dispute takes on more menacing dimensions. These include property disputes concerning Croatian firms in Serbia that were nationalized and the possessions of Serbs who were expelled or fled Croatia in August 1995. There are also border disputes along the Danube where the river has changed its course during the last twenty-five years.
But above all hovers the question of minority rights. Both capitals claim that their kindred are subject to discrimination in such areas as employment and housing and do not benefit from the full array of collective rights. Undoubtedly, as Serbia seeks to move closer to the EU its treatment of various ethnic and religious minorities will come under increasing scrutiny.
While some politicians in both states restoke historical myths, genuine reconciliation is pushed aside. If self-interest actually prevailed then both Belgrade and Zagreb would leave history to historians while focusing on contemporary legal, economic, or social impediments that prevent Serbian minority integration in Croatia and Croatian minority integration in Serbia.
Both sides must also focus on developing economic cooperation through joint projects such as the EU’s Danube strategy, or various initiatives that can alleviate common problems in energy supplies. Both countries need to look at how German-Polish reconciliation has been pursued during the past two decades. The millennium long history of war between Poles and Germans and the genocide perpetrated by the Nazis during World War Two has not prevented reconciliation and the development of enormously beneficial economic ties. The past cannot be allowed to stand in the way of the future.
PUTIN’S WAR OPPORTUNITY
Janusz Bugajski, August 2016
Russia usually strikes against its neighbors when the world is distracted. August is historically the optimum month for Moscow’s military aggression and this year a confluence of factors may precipitate a renewed war over Ukraine. Moreover, President Vladimir Putin will be banking on a confused, divided, and ultimately weak Western response.
Similarly to a criminal investigation, observers need to assess four factors that could drive a new Russian assault: record, motive, opportunity, and objective. Historically, Moscow has taken numerous aggressive initiatives in August: the Berlin Wall was built in 1961, the invasion of Czechoslovakia was staged in 1968, and in August 2008, Russia invaded and partitioned Georgia in the middle of the Beijing Olympics.
With regard to motives, Putin has grown increasingly frustrated with the Ukrainian government, which has refused to make concessions in the Minsk “peace process.” Moscow has pushed Kyiv to recognize the proxy insurgents in the eastern region of Donbas as a legitimate government, but without success. Instead, Ukraine has steadily built up a more formidable fighting force and initiated a series of reforms to move the country closer to the West. A direct military strike may therefore be intended to take pressure off Russia’s proxies and to further destabilize Ukraine.
Putin’s war motives are also domestic. During the past two years, Russia’s economy has sunk into recession and state revenues have drastically declined. Traditionally, Moscow hits out at neighbors to remove attention from deteriorating internal conditions: a small local war enables the Kremlin to mobilize the disoriented public against an alleged external enemy.
The month of August also provides a clearer window of military opportunity for Russia simply because many Western decision-makers are either on holiday or involved in upcoming elections. The Barack Obama administration is on its last legs and the heated US presidential election campaign has focused attention on pressing domestic problems and the threat of international terrorism.
There are some obvious parallels with the short August 2008 Russian-Georgian war. President George W. Bush was a lame duck in the midst of the presidential elections. Moscow was also engaged a large-scale military exercise styled as Caucasus 2008 in the Northern Caucasus republics and blamed Georgia for an attack on one of its separatist regions – in South Ossetia.
During the past week, Moscow has blamed Ukraine for alleged “terrorist attacks” in the annexed Crimean peninsula. It claimed that two members of its security forces were killed, while the FSB (the former KGB) had averted terrorist attacks organized by Ukraine’s special forces against critical infrastructure in Crimea. According to Russia’s state-controlled media, several Ukrainian and Russian citizens were arrested carrying homemade bombs purportedly aimed at assassinating Russia’s Crimean leaders. This is reminiscent of the Georgian scenario as a staged pretext for intervention.
Moscow also accuses Kyiv of orchestrating an assassination attempt on the puppet leader of the separatist Luhansk People’s Republic, Igor Plotnitsky. The insurgent commander was seriously injured in a bomb attack. Contradicting Kremlin accusations, Ukrainian intelligence blamed internal power struggles in Luhansk where economic conditions are rapidly deteriorating.
Simultaneously, Russia is engaged in a military buildup and has initiated large-scale exercises. There are reports about the movement of hundreds of tanks and heavy artillery in Crimea and along Ukraine’s eastern borders. These are part of a large Russian military exercise named Caucasus 2016. In response, President Petro Poroshenko has placed Ukraine’s military on high alert. Putin responded that “Ukraine is choosing terror” and was intent on provoking conflict with Moscow.
In terms of objectives, Moscow may be prepared to seize the strategically significant land bridge from the port of Mariupol to Crimea after failing to build an actual bridge over the Kerch Strait with mainland Russia because of financial costs and technical difficulties. This could entail a sizeable and intense military operation, as Ukraine has emplaced its elite troops in this sensitive region.
Some observers calculate that Moscow is unlikely to launch a major war but instead intends to use the threat of such a conflict to force Kyiv into agreeing to a Bosnian-type solution. If the Donetsk-Luhansk separatist regions are given equal federal status with the rest of Ukraine this will effectively block the country’s development and its progress in qualifying for membership of international institutions. In effect, a pro-Kremlin enclave would obstruct a pro-western majority from developing into a fully European state.
There is an additional interpretation of Putin’s threats against Ukraine. The specter of another impending war could help ensure a more sizeable victory for Putin’s United Russia party in parliamentary elections that have been moved forward to September 18. By focusing on foreign threats and the dangers of war, Putin and his party will be seen as the defenders of an endangered Russia regardless of the poor state of the economy. And behind the “Ukrainian terrorists” lurks the inevitable hand of the CIA, thus fueling anti-Americanism among Russia’s gullible electorate.
TESTING AMERICAN DEMOCRACY
Janusz Bugajski, August 2016
In an increasingly tumultuous presidential campaign, Republican candidate Donald Trump has questioned the legitimacy of American democracy. Trump’s warning that the November 8th elections may be falsified can undermine the democratic process and provoke civil conflict if he loses.
After trailing in opinion polls after the party conventions, Trump issued a warning to his voters that the election will be “rigged” against him, and he could lose as a result. The latest polls demonstrate that Clinton has been pulling ahead and leads Trump nationally by ten or more points. Trump may be preparing the ground for defeat even though a public opinion can shift dramatically during three months.
In his election rallies, Trump has pointed to several court cases nationwide in which restrictive laws requiring voters to show identification have been rejected as long as people are on voting lists. He claimed that such decisions open the door to fraud in November.
Traditionally, a low turnout favors the Republican Party and in some states minority groups have faced various hurdles to register and cast their ballots. The Clinton campaign has made voter registration a primary focus of the campaign and sought to overturn restrictive registration laws in Republican-run states. Those laws have already been challenged successfully in North Carolina, North Dakota, and Wisconsin.
Trump is tapping into long-standing conspiracy theories among a broad section of citizens. These claim that elections are always stolen by the elites, so that voters are cheated by Wall Street, Washington officials, and a complicit mass media. For the first time in a century, a possible loser in the presidential contest is making an issue out of the election process itself and questioning the validity of the democratic system.
In reality, voter fraud is extremely rare in the US. A 2014 in-depth study at Loyola Law School found only 31 possible instances of fraud over 14 years of elections out of a total of one billion votes cast. Although some supporters of the losing Democratic Party candidate, Bernie Sanders, claimed that the primary elections were stolen by Hillary Clinton, each accusation has been investigated and debunked.
Sanders supporters also latched onto internal emails between staff members at the Democratic National Committee, in which they speculated about a Clinton nomination even before the primaries were over. Trump also tried to exploit this scandal to his advantage, but it backfired when he appealed to Russia to reveal hacked Clinton and Democratic Party E Mails.
Some pro-Trump demagogues and radio hosts are warning of a violent post-election scenario if their candidate loses the count. Trump adviser Roger Stone has asserted that Trump supporters will engage in civil disobedience in order to shut down the government if Clinton wins. In some states this could escalate into outright violence with law enforcement agencies and Clinton supporters.
Trump’s supporters tend to blindly believe what he says even when he has been caught in an outright fabrication. There are millions of people prepared to believe that a loss means the election has been stolen. Following the balloting, professional provocateurs on talk radio and the internet may encourage them to reject the results and challenge the peaceful transfer of power.
Trump himself may claim the election was illegitimate and that the new President should not be recognized in order to provoke a constitutional crisis. If he asserts that Clinton stole the election, many of his most loyal followers who have been fed on anger and resentment are likely to blame African American and Latino voters, setting the stage for civil clashes.
By questioning the democratic process Trump may be tapping into sentiments beyond his capacity to control. A significant proportion of the population unfamiliar with the process of democratic voting is likely to believe that their party was cheated. The figure may reach 50% of voters according to some surveys. Such private beliefs are significantly boosted when they are validated by a contender for President. At a time when anti-establishment sentiments are running high, this becomes an appealing message.
For Trump himself it is important to have well-prepared excuses if he fails. He spent the primary elections berating Republicans like John McCain and Mitt Romney who lost elections to Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. Trump has a long record of blaming everybody else when one of his business ventures fails and wants to make sure that he emerges from any loss unscathed and untainted as a “loser.”
It is difficult to restore legitimacy to a system once a substantial section of the population has challenged it. And many observers believe that Trumpism will outlast Trump and could become even more militant. Democratic institutions are only as strong as they are legitimate. When this primary source of authority is challenged either by unaccountable elites or by reckless politicians, democracy is weakened.
Janusz Bugajski, August 2016
The threat of terrorism is gripping Europe and the United States following a series of bloody mass murders in Nice, Orlando, Istanbul, Brussels, and several other locations. Populist politicians have compounded the fear of terrorist attacks by preying on the sense of danger to stir anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiments and promote divisive social conflicts.
Terrorism can be defined as random violent attacks on unarmed civilians. Given the dangers to security generated by terrorism, it is vital to pinpoint the three kinds of actors engaging in domestic and international terrorism – religious zealots, political fanatics, and sociopathic individuals.
Despite sensationalist news coverage, not all terrorism is perpetrated by Islamic radicals and not all religious fundamentalists engage in terrorism. Terrorism has a long history on both sides of the Atlantic and was initially mostly associated with militant political causes. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries anti-establishment anarchists and various militant leftist assassinated state officials and occasionally bombed civilian targets.
A number of nationalist and independence movements such as Macedonia’s VMRO and Serbia’s Black Hand also engaged in terrorism and sabotage to undermine the occupying powers. Similar attacks were staged in all parts of occupied Europe against Nazi officials and their supporters throughout World War Two.
In the modern era, terrorism was pursued by leftist and rightist radicals in Germany, Greece, Italy, Britain, Spain, and other states. Irish and Basque nationalists also committed terrorist attacks again the state and killed dozens of innocent civilians. Some small militant cells still remain active in parts of Western Europe and could receive a new impetus with the growth of radical populist and anti-immigrant sentiments.
Religious terrorism is a term that people avoid, as religions are commonly depicted as moral and peace loving. However, such a designation should be more widely used to identify dogmatic believers who engage in terrorist atrocities against innocent civilians. Militant forms of Islam have produced the bloodiest examples of this form of terrorism in recent years, particularly the jihadist “holy warriors” who blindly believe that killing is justified to please their God and to enter paradise.
In reality, all religions have produced radical fringes that engage in terrorism, including Christian fanatics who attacked Muslims in Lebanon, Hindu radicals targeting Muslims in India, and Jewish terrorists who staged assaults on Muslim Palestinians. In the last two decades it is radical Islamists that have engaged in the most extensive slaughters in the name of God, particularly against their co-religionists who they claim are deviating from the Quran.
Indeed, where religion becomes a dogma forced upon others it differs little from secular authoritarian ideologies such as communism or fascism and it produces fanatics who are convinced that they hold the truth and everyone needs to either obey or be killed. And no major world religion is immune from this delusion of omnipotence and from aspirations to martyrdom.
In the US and parts of Western Europe, individual terrorism has become the most frequent form of mass civilian murder. Deranged psychopaths with guns have targeted numerous schools and other public places in several American states and killed dozens of civilians. The easy availability of pistols and automatic weapons in the US has increased the chances that angry young men can murder their contemporaries before they are gunned down by the police.
There is also a growing intersection between individual terrorism and professed religious and political causes. “Lone wolf” operators have become the norm in recent months, in which individuals may not belong to any organization or network but commit mass murders in the name of certain religious or political ideologies. Of course, ISIS or some other terrorist group can subsequently claim responsibility for the attack in order to raise perceptions of their reach and effectiveness.
It is unlikely that mass terrorism will ever be fully eradicated in free societies, but the public needs to better understand when politicians exploit the threat to their advantage. The most obvious example is the US presidential campaign of Donald Trump, who has fanned fears of terrorism to target specific groups in American society and pose as the only true defender of personal safety and national security.
Europe is also not immune from attempts to divide societies and foster anger and hatred against targeted groups. Divide and rule is the oldest and easiest form of politics and ordinary citizens continue to fall victim to its false promises. A number of populist and nationalist groups from Denmark to Greece have broadened their appeal and may actually welcome terrorist outrages to increase public support against immigrants and foreigners. They can then claim they are best equipped to remove the alien scourge and guarantee security.
The main goal of organized terrorism is not to kill and maim but to foster fear, paranoia, division, and conflict in targeted societies. When individuals become suspicious about their neighbors and societies discriminate against those of other religions or ethnicities because of their fears, then a tiny minority of terrorists can claim victory over a vast majority of citizens.
DANGERS FROM TURKEY
Janusz Bugajski, July 2016
The failed military coup has plunged Turkey into political crisis and will impact on the future of NATO and the security of several adjacent regions. It may also allow Russia to extend its influences along Europe’s most vulnerable southeastern flank.
Turkey is a key member of the Alliance, possessing the second largest military in NATO after the US, with an estimated force of 411,000 soldiers, and is the seventh largest defense spender. Ankara has made significant contributions to NATO operations, including NATO’s maritime presence in the Mediterranean and the Aegean to prevent human smuggling and in NATO’s Operation Active Endeavor patrol mission.
Turkey forms a geo-political bridge between Europe, the Middle East, and Asia and hosts several US bases, including the Incirlik Air Base located in the south of the country, from where US aircraft operate against ISIS. The looming danger is that the government of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan veers away from Washington and becomes a less reliable NATO ally, thus exacerbating volatility in several already unstable regions.
Erdogan has imposed a three-month state of emergency and is purging the military with the arrest of about one third of all senior officers. This will affect Ankara’s ability to defend itself and contribute to common NATO security. The purpose of the crackdown in various state institutions, including the army, is to eliminate the network of supporters of Fethullah Gulen, Erdogan’s exiled arch-rival who the President accuses of inspiring the coup and wants extradited from the US.
Turkey’s army, which was once a bastion of secular Kemalist ideology and pro-Western democracy, has largely become a battleground between two essentially Islamist factions, in which nationalist anti-Westernism is growing. As a consequence, the integrity and performance of the military will be severely affected and its role in NATO undermined. Erdogan’s purge will rid the army of Gulenist influence but it can also inflict major damage on the upper command while lowering morale and capabilities.
A weaker Turkey would become more vulnerable to terrorist attacks, increasingly prone to Kurdish separatism, less effective in the Middle East, and more exposed to Russia’s expansive influences. At the same time, Ankara’s relations with the US will experience severe strain. Without the extradition of Gulen, presumably based on credible evidence that he was involved in the coup attempt, Washington will be increasingly seen as seeking to overthrow the Erdogan administration.
President Putin’s Kremlin wants to welcome Erdogan as a fellow autocrat jointly resisting American meddling, including the alleged export of color revolutions under the cover of democracy building and coup attempts to effect regime change. Rationally speaking, Turkey needs NATO as a sword and a shield given the conflicts in the Middle East, escalating Russian assertiveness, and Ankara’s competitive relationship with Iran. However, Moscow is hoping to benefit from Turkish disarray and any weakening of its military potential and calculates that it will gain advantages in several nearby regions.
In the Black Sea, Ankara will be less likely to support Romania’s initiative for strengthening the NATO naval presence as protection against Russia’s expansionism and militarization. In the Middle East, Russia’s role will rise if Turkey curtails support for US missions against ISIS and focuses on combating the Kurdish threat. In the South Caucasus, Azerbaijan may find itself more isolated from the West if Turkey, its key regional partner, swings in a more pro-Moscow direction. The resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict and the return of Azerbaijan’s territory occupied by Armenia will become even more problematic.
In the Balkans, Turkish influence is likely to wane if the country consolidates its authoritarianism and Islamism, thus alienating the secular democracies in the Balkans that aspire to EU membership. This can leave more terrain open to Russian influence, whether through economic or political penetration. Moreover, Moscow will be able to exploit Ankara’s economic needs for its own ambitions. For instance, one can expect the revival of the Turkish Stream natural gas pipeline designed to make the Balkans more dependent on Russia.
Turkey’s volatility will also impact on the EU, where Ankara’s support is crucial in stemming mass migration and the flow of terrorist recruits. An agreement signed between Brussels and Ankara in March 2016 has greatly contributed to reducing refugee inflows this summer. This flow could again be unplugged if the Turkish government feels it is unjustifiably under attack by its EU partners.
The results of Erdogan’s visit to Moscow in early August need to be closely monitored, as the West risks losing Turkey as a NATO ally if Ankara decides on a closer security link with Russia. During the Cold War, NATO dealt with much more serious setbacks to democratic rule than we are currently witnessing in Turkey, such as successful military coups in Greece and Turkey and a dictatorship in Portugal. But the stakes were too high to abandon a vital alliance. In an increasingly conflictive and unstable mega-region that Turkey straddles the stakes may be even higher than during the Cold War.
US CONVENTION BATTLES
Janusz Bugajski, July 2016
The Republicans and Democrats are holding their national conventions this month to officially launch America’s presidential elections. The conventions will set the tone for what will be a bitter fight between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton until election day itself on November 8.
US conventions are huge gatherings of all sectors of the party. Their official purpose is to select a presidential and vice presidential nominee and to issue a policy platform for the elections. In reality, much is already decided before the conventions, including the identities of the presidential nominees through the primary elections. Nonetheless, conventions serve an important function to mobilize the party and appeal to the general electorate.
Major political figures deliver speeches because it is a valuable format to obtain extensive coverage. Although conventions do not sway many undecided voters, they can better define the candidates to the electorate. They also serve as a means for unification between diverse elements that were competing in the primaries. Both Clinton and Trump have experienced problems in gaining the support of many rank-and-file members.
Democrats who supported the more radical Bernie Sanders will now switch over to Clinton especially after the appeals of Barack Obama, Joe Biden, and Bill Clinton at the Philadelphia convention on July 25-28. Unlike in the 1960s and 1970s, rival factions will no longer battle over party platforms that have been largely decided beforehand. Sanders himself will be on stage to deliver a speech in support of Clinton on the first night of the gathering.
While the Democrat convention will include many political heavyweights, the Trump convention in Cleveland is more unusual. Many key Republican leaders who do not support him were absent, including former Presidents George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. A large number of elected officials avoided the convention altogether including many rising stars in the Republican Party who do not want to be associated with Trump. Instead, the list of speakers included a colorful mix of controversial politicians, entertainers, and Trump family members.
Each night of the four-day gathering in Cleveland centered on a different theme, including national security, immigration, and the economy. It could also include presentations on controversial subjects such as former President Bill Clinton’s reported infidelities and Hillary Clinton’s alleged involvement in covering up his affairs.
Trump has made one significant decision in recent days by recruiting Indiana Governor Mike Pence as his running mate for Vice President. Pence is an evangelical Christian and will appeal to the large conservative wing of the Republican Party. However, the choice of Pence paradoxically contradicts many of the basic arguments that Trump has employed against Hillary Clinton.
Trump claims that Clinton is a “Washington insider” out of touch with ordinary Americans. However, Pence himself has held elective office for the over fifteen years, twelve of them in the US Congress and three as governor of Indiana. In Congress, he chaired the House Republican Conference, the fourth-highest leadership position in that chamber, making him a member of the elite that Trump claims he despises.
Trump has depicted himself as being opposed to the Iraq War that Clinton voted to authorize. By calling it a disaster he is questioning her judgment and national security credentials.. The problem for Trump is that Pence was among the most vehement supporters of the war. Indeed, he was a co-sponsor of the initial resolution authorizing military intervention in Iraq. Trump has also cast Clinton as soft on potentially dangerous refugees. Unfortunately for him, Pence has also denounced Trump’s proposed ban on Muslim immigration.
On the economic front, Trump has condemned all free trade agreements that allegedly take jobs away from American workers and favor other countries. He has attacked Clinton for supporting free trade and thereby decimating the US working class. Antithetically, his own running mate opposes Trump’s simplistic formulations about free trade.
Pence is one of the most pro-free trade lawmakers in US Congress. He voted for every free-trade deal while in the legislature and has continued to promote free trade as Indiana governor, including President Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership that Trump has berated throughout the election campaign.
The differences between Trump and Pence will give the Democrats plenty of ammunition not only to attack Trump but also to defend Clinton. It seems that in trying to find a viable conservative to secure the Republican base, Trump overlooked the actual views of his vice presidential choice.
Clinton has yet to pick a running mate but will make her decision shortly before the Democrat convention. Her shortlist includes Senators Tim Kaine and Elizabeth Warren, Secretary of Labor Tom Perez, and James Stavridis, NATO’s former Supreme Allied Commander in Europe.
Although Kaine is the favorite, Stavridis would be the most sensible choice given the growing importance of NATO in protection Europe’s east against Russia’s resurgence and combating terrorism generated from the Middle East. The coup attempt in a key state like Turkey should also focus attention on the importance of America’s military alliances.
THE INDISPENSABLE ALLIANCE
Janusz Bugajski, July 2016
The security of the North Atlantic Alliance is under growing threat, as Vladimir Putin’s Russia is resurgent, instability is spreading along NATO’s southern and southeastern flanks, and the EU is suffering a prolonged crisis. To remain effective as the indispensible Alliance, NATO must identify and counter the core threats. In this context, the Warsaw Summit was a step forward but its results can only be assessed in their delivery.
To be effective NATO must perform four critical functions – identify adversaries, demonstrate unity, ensure adequate resources, and provide sufficient deterrence. Warsaw underscored that Russia is an adversary threatening NATO’s eastern flank. According to the Summit Communique, “Russia’s aggressive actions,” including provocative military activities close to NATO territory and willingness to attain political goals by force, are a source of regional instability that damage Euro-Atlantic security.
Although some NATO statements continue to offer rapprochement with Putin’s Russia, in practice an aggressive adversary cannot simultaneously be treated as a credible collaborator. A demonstration of unity is vital at a time when the Kremlin is trying to drive wedges between Europe and America. Consequently, NATO enlargement through Montenegro’s membership sends two important signals – Alliance decisions will not be blocked by Russia and any European state has the right to join.
In addition, as Sweden and Finland seek closer ties with NATO to deter Russia’s belligerence, the Alliance asserted that it would deepen its political and military links with both states. The Summit also offered Ukraine a Comprehensive Assistance Package although it falls short of providing the weapons Kyiv needs to forestall Moscow’s future offensives.
A key element of NATO effectiveness is adequate spending on defense. Burden sharing has bedeviled trans-Atlantic relations for decades and has featured in the US presidential elections. Washington’s impatience with the failure of European Allies to contribute more to their own defense creates friction, especially as pledges made at the Wales Summit in 2014 have not been fulfilled by each ally.
Over the past decade only a handful of NATO members have consistently spent 2% of GDP on defense. Several eastern flank states are now committed to steadily increasing their defense budgets in the face of escalating threats from Russia, including Poland, Romania, and the three Baltic countries.
Sufficient deterrence from attack is the core of NATO’s rationale. The Warsaw summit took several steps in that direction but the measures are yet to be tested. Over the coming year, it will be important to demonstrate progress in building the planned Very High Readiness Joint Task Force in order to reach the NATO Forces 2020 target set out in Summit declarations.
NATO will not build permanent bases in Central-Eastern Europe (CEE) despite the appeals of front line members. Instead, it intends to boost rapid reinforcement plans by dispatching four battalions to Poland and the Baltics, including forces from all four Visegrad states. Even if the battalions materialize, fears remain that they would be insufficient to deter the substantial military force Russia has amassed along NATO’s borders. The spearhead units are to be part of a larger NATO response force of some 30,000 troops, but this could take weeks to mobilize in a crisis.
The Summit underscored NATO’s responsibility to ensure the security of its members in the Black Sea. In order to defend its eastern flank, the Alliance must neutralize Russia’s threatening posture aimed at ensuring supremacy in the Black Sea and projecting power toward the Mediterranean and Middle East.
The Summit declared that NATO would develop a tailored forward presence in the Black Sea region and include Romania’s initiative for a multinational brigade to improve training of Allied units under Headquarters Multinational Division Southeast. However, even an upgraded rotational maritime presence by the US and other allies will be insufficient to deter further Kremlin aggression given the weakness of Romanian and Bulgarian naval capabilities and Turkey’s unwillingness to confront Moscow. Romania’s proposal for a more formidable Black Sea flotilla appears to be dead in the water.
Following the capture of Crimea, Russia’s control of ports and sea-lanes prevents NATO from projecting sufficient security for its Black Sea members or to intervene on behalf of vulnerable neighbors. Additionally, it threatens to choke the trade and energy routes of states not in compliance with Russia’s national ambitions.
The Warsaw Summit also responded to a wider assortment of unconventional threats by launching two new initiatives. The Cyber Defense Pledge identified cyberspace as an “operational domain” alongside air, land, and sea and a new Intelligence Division within NATO will better position the Alliance to respond to evolving threats by sharing critical information.
Nonetheless, more potent tools are needed to confront the eclectic forms of contemporary warfare, including externally generated insurgencies, cyber-attacks, information warfare, and political and economic penetration that undermine state independence. As Russia applies its aggressive tools of subversion, NATO must develop commensurate counter-measures to protect all members and project its own power into strategically vital regions.
Janusz Bugajski, July 2016
Britain’s decision to exit the European Union has sparked unprecedented political and social divisions in the country. One of the gravest dangers is ideological and political polarization that will undermine economic development and national stability.
The “Brexit” vote surprised even those leaders who campaigned to leave the EU while propelling both of the major political parties toward fracture. The public mood is also turning volatile through a mixture of fear and rising anger at the political elites for misrepresenting Britain’s role in the EU.
The next few months will be critical for the future of a country that once prided itself on its pragmatism and rationality. While some politicians are calling for slowing down invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the trigger for leaving the EU, others believe the process should be speeded up. The dispute is emblematic of much broader conflicts.
“Brexit” has unearthed deep ideological fissures and destructive polarization between centrist and radical wings in both the Labor and Conservative parties. David Cameron, the lame duck Conservative Prime Minister has resigned pending a new struggle for the Tory leadership this summer. Meanwhile, the opposition Labor party is on the verge of splitting into rival factions, with no other credible political formation waiting in the wings.
For the Conservatives a new party leader and Prime Minister has to be nominated. Boris Johnson, the former Mayor of London and champion of ‘Brexit,’ will not be running as his support dropped dramatically after the referendum. Senior Tories blamed him for Cameron’s downfall and for the result of the vote.
Increased European integration and higher rates of immigration have provoked a nationalist backlash among Conservatives and fueled the rise of the hard-right UK Independence Party (UKIP). The Brexit victory is a clear mandate for Tory anti-Europeans who will seek to prevent UKIP from benefiting from the referendum. This will drive the party toward the hard right.
The pro-Europe Conservative establishment that has led the party has been discredited and the next leader will need to prove his or her Euroskeptic credentials. Home Secretary Theresa May and Justice Minister Michael Gove are the favorite candidates and both have vowed to cut immigration by blocking the free movement of people from the EU. Candidates will take part in a series of ballots among the party’s 330 parliamentary members. The two most popular will then face a vote from the wider party membership, with the result due early September.
On the other side of the political divide, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is facing all-out rebellion from his shadow cabinet. He sacked his popular foreign affairs spokesperson Hillary Benn for attempting to engineer a coup and most of his shadow ministers promptly resigned. Labour is fracturing and “Brexit” has exposed Labour’s historical factions between a hard socialist left and a soft social democrat center.
Instead of seeing the EU as a neoliberal plot, New Labour leaders saw it as a vehicle for building a more prosperous Europe. Corbyn’s victory in September 2015 for the party leadership was a throwback to Old Labour, involving policies such as re-nationalizing British industry. Corbyn won the election despite being opposed by most of the Labour establishment. While Corbyn eventually came out in favor of remaining in the EU, his campaign was weak and ineffective and he refused to appear with Cameron to send a message of bipartisan solidarity.
The “Brexit” option scored large victories among traditional Labour voters, which a serious Corbyn campaign could have prevented. As a result, many in the Labor Party accuse Corbyn of responsibility for “Brexit” and 172 out of 212 MPs have backed a no confidence vote. Labour is holding a party conference in September where a major struggle for power could split the party between pro and anti-Corbyn factions.
With a vacuum at the top levels of government, there is uncertainty as to when the UK will officially start the process of leaving the EU. Whoever is elected Conservative leader in September will succeed Cameron as Prime Minister and be responsible for negotiating the UK’s exit.
Some view the next premier’s mandate as a suicide mission. He or she will need to enact “Brexit” and live with the consequences, including a looming economic recession. They will also be unable to deliver on promises made by the “Leave” campaign, including an injection of £350 million for the health care system and a clampdown on immigration. Key “Brexit” supporters have admitted that neither of these promises can be fulfilled.
The next Prime minister will face a backlash not only from the general public, because of growing economic uncertainty, but also from the Euroskeptics, for failing to accomplish the things “Brexiters” pledged to voters. The possibility of an early general election can also not be discounted with the emergence of two harder line left and right political formations. Whatever the result, the UK faces a major shake-up of its entire political order and the radicalization of politics outside the EU.
THE END OF THE WEST?
Janusz Bugajski, July 2016
The world has suddenly slipped into a new era that could culminate in the unraveling of the West. With Britain exiting from the EU in a dramatic national referendum, Western institutions, especially the EU and NATO, are facing an accelerating and prolonged battle for legitimacy and ultimate survival.
Although Brexit itself may take several years to complete, both its short and long-team consequences will damage the European project. It disengages the world’s fifth-largest economy from its biggest market and weakens EU security by removing a significant foreign policy actor. Even more importantly, it sends a powerful signal that no multi-national institution is sacrosanct.
The forces of nationalist conservatism and illiberal populism are gaining ground throughout Europe, and they also resonate in the US presidential elections. Britain’s’ departure from the EU will generate economic uncertainty throughout the continent and could encourage other states to follow London’s lead by electing populist politicians who will claim that they also need to restore national sovereignty. France and the Netherlands hold elections in the coming months in which far-right parties opposed to both the EU and NATO are projected to perform well.
Brexit could also fracture the UK itself, especially as Scotland and Northern Ireland are more pro-EU than the rest of the country. Scotland is likely to hold another referendum on independence that could gain majority support. The country voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU and the momentum for statehood will be difficult to stop.
Northern Ireland’s main nationalist party, Sinn Féin, asserted that the British government had forfeited any mandate to represent the economic or political interests of people in Northern Ireland. It will push for a poll on whether the province should stay in the UK or unite with the Republic of Ireland and thereby remain within the EU. The majority of people in Northern Ireland voted against Brexit, although opposition among Protestants to unification with Ireland could lead to renewed conflicts with pro-unification Catholics.
As Britain becomes embroiled in constitutional and economic turmoil, its role in the world will further decline. Simultaneously, a smaller EU with a more restricted market will also diminish on the global stage and its alliance with the US could significantly weaken. Russian officials believe that Brexit would make the U.K. less relevant on the international stage. Anti-corruption activists in London are also concerned that Brexit could lead to looser market regulations and more corrupt Russian money entering the English. capital.
The reaction in Europe’s east to Britain’s withdrawal from the EU is clear-cut. The Central-East European states are fearful that the UK decision will undermine their own security. In stark contrast, Moscow is elated that it can expand its influence over a fragmenting Europe. Kremlin officials calculate that a domino effect triggered by London could also enfeeble NATO and cripple the trans-Atlantic alliance.
The newest EU members believe that a smaller EU without a British voice will be easier for Russia to manipulate. And the first benefit for Putin will be the easing of sanctions imposed for the invasion of Ukraine. Echoing this sentiment, Moscow mayor Sergei Sobyanin stated that without the UK there will be nobody in the EU to defend sanctions against Russia so zealously.
The Brexit impact in the Western Balkans could be particularly unsettling. It will curb EU enthusiasm for further enlargement, as it removes the UK from petitioning for wider entry. London was one of the strongest supporters of Union enlargement but will no longer have a voice.
Although NATO leaders are trying to limit any collateral damage from Brexit, speculations will also grow about the future of the North Atlantic Alliance. Populists and nationalists in England and elsewhere will seek to curtail Europe’s security links with the US on the premise of regaining national sovereignty.
Former NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has asserted that the Kremlin welcomes any weakening of the EU, as the impact on Western security will be “devastating.” Russia’s officials may indeed be celebrating a split they have always wanted – between the European continent and the two Anglo-Saxon countries.
Donald Trump agrees with Putin on a Brexit but for different reasons. For Trump, it is one more policy on which to oppose Obama and Hilary Clinton and reinforce his anti-immigration posture. Trump sees Brexit as a referendum on national identity, reflected in his own campaign for US sovereignty. He welcomed the result, calling it a declaration of independence and claiming that the US has the same opportunity in November by voting for him.
The West faces its most severe challenge since the end of the Cold War, as the institutions that defined and defended its identity are beginning to fragment. It is the responsibility of world statesmen to counter the cheap populism of politicians who prey on public frustration and confusion but without offering any viable alternative. Life may be difficult within the EU and NATO, but without them it becomes much more unpredictable and unstable.
RUSSIA STIFLES SERBIA
Janusz Bugajski, June 2016
Prime Minister Aleksander Vucic’s sudden cancellation of visits to Brussels and Washington illustrates Serbian government susceptibility to Kremlin pressure. The trips were postponed after reports in a pro-government Serbian newspaper that the EU and US embassies were fueling street protests against the government in order to destabilize the country.
Vucic was scheduled to travel to Brussels for the formal opening of EU membership talks and to the US on an inaugural Air Serbia flight to New York, followed by talks with American officials on June 21. But the visits were cut short by Russia’s growing concern that Serbia was finally moving into Western institutions.
Moscow has threatened to revise or renege on a series of economic agreements with Belgrade if the country pursues deeper integration into the EU. Sergei Zheleznyak, vice president of Russia’s State Duma, has also warned Serbia not to follow Montenegro toward NATO membership. Instructively, Kremlin threats against the Montenegrin leadership failed to divert Podgorica from its Western path.
Vucic made an unannounced visit to President Vladimir Putin at the end of May. It culminated in calls by the Kremlin that pro-Russian ministers be included in Serbia’s new government. Putin reportedly insisted that the Socialists, led by Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic, must remain in the administration because of their pro-Russian stance. Underlying Putin’s message was that Belgrade should desist from rushing into the EU or forging closer ties with NATO. During a recent visit to Moscow, Dacic asserted that Serbia would not become part of the EU at the cost of damaging relations with Russia.
Despite a decade of effort, Russia has few genuine allies in the Balkans. Croatia and Slovenia have joined both the EU and NATO. Albania is also an Alliance member, soon to be joined by Montenegro. Macedonia and Kosovo also aim to enter both Western institutions, while Bosnia-Herzegovina remains paralyzed through its internal divisions. This leaves Serbia on the front line of Kremlin attention.
Serbia is the Kremlin’s most reliable political link not because of any Slavic-Orthodox fraternity, but as a consequence of cold political calculation. Moscow has spent the past decade impregnating itself in Serbian society, especially in the sphere of propaganda through the local media, Internet, and social networks. Kremlin spokesmen and their media colleagues focus on three themes to influence Serb politicians and citizens: historical solidarity, the pernicious West, and defense of traditional values.
Moscow consistently appeals to pan-Slavic and pan-Orthodox ties between Russia and Serbia and amplifies Russia’s assistance in Serbia’s liberation from Ottoman Turkey in the 19th century. It ignores historical episodes when the two states were in conflict, especially after World War Two when Belgrade broke with Moscow and was vilified by Soviet propaganda as betraying the principles of international communism and threatened with invasion.
After the collapse of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, nationalist politicians in Belgrade called for Russian solidarity, whether over preserving Yugoslavia’s integrity, carving out a Greater Serbia, or retaining control over Kosova, which gained independence in February 2008 and was recognized by the US and the majority of EU and NATO members.
Moscow exploits and deepens Serbia’s grievances against the US and NATO to demonstrate that Moscow protects vulnerable states from disintegration and foreign domination. Russian state propaganda has vilified the West for allegedly engineering state collapse and carving up Serbia through a NATO attack. It now claims that the West is seeking to subdue and dominate Serbia and tear the country away from Mother Russia. The objective is to undermine Western institutions and to discredit local politicians who favor the EU, NATO, and the US.
Such strident messages repeated by nationalist Serbs are intended to appeal to anti-globalist, Eurosceptic, anti-American, ultra-conservative, and religious orthodox constituencies in which Russia masquerades as the defender of traditional values and the EU and US are depicted as deviant and immoral. Russia’s Orthodox Church also upholds close ties with the Serbian Orthodox Church to coordinate their promulgation of ultra-conservatism, anti-liberalism, and anti-Westernism.
Protests by citizens over a rebuilding project in Belgrade, financed by the United Arab Emirates and supported by the Prime Minister, have been portrayed as an anti-government plot. Russia has injected itself in this domestic standoff as the protector of a legitimate government against a potential “colored revolution” manufactured by Washington and Brussels. Both the European Commission and the U.S. ambassador vehemently deny that they have played any role in street demonstrations.
The Vucic government must be careful not to fall into Russia’s trap by repressing public opposition or parroting conspiracy theories that will alienate it from the EU and US. Belgrade can no longer play the role of non-aligned Yugoslavia during the Cold War by balancing West and East. If Serbia does not resolutely pursue the path of EU and eventual NATO entry it will become increasingly embroiled in anti-Western intrigues concocted by the Kremlin.
CLINTON MAKES HISTORY
Janusz Bugajski, June 2016
After long and difficult primary elections, Hillary Clinton has become the first woman in US history to become a presidential nominee for a major party. In November she could become the country’s first female commander-in-chief. However, her path to the White House will be a mud-slinging contest with Donald Trump in which scandals will be more important than policies.
Despite claiming to be the beacon of equality and democracy, America trails the world in electing a woman as head of state. The “glass ceiling” to a country’s top office has been shattered in many locations, including in the new democracies such as Croatia.
There are currently 18 female world leaders, including 12 prime ministers and 11 elected presidents. India can claim the longest period with a woman in power. Former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and President Pratibha Patil served a combined 21 years during the last half-century.
The world has also had two “iron ladies” – tough women who changed the world – Golda Meir, a founder of the state of Israel and Margaret Thatcher, who transformed Britain into a modern state through free market policies that became known as Thatcherism. Angela Merkel could be added to that elite group. Germany’s first female chancellor is one of the key leaders of the EU.
America’s presidential system has made it difficult for women to be elected. In a parliamentary system citizens tend to vote for parties that may emplace a woman as premier after elections. A female victory in a direct presidential election is much more impressive, as it demonstrates a broad public mandate.
Paradoxically, Clinton is facing an alleged misogynist as her Republican rival for the presidency. Numerous politicians have condemned Donald Trump for insulting women because of their gender and some analysts speculate that he is afraid of women who compete against him and are mentally stronger.
Clinton consistently criticizes Trump’s positions on issues important to women. She has highlighted not only his opposition to abortion, but also his ambiguous statements about equal pay, paid family leave, and the qualifications he would consider in a nominee for the Supreme Court.
Although Clinton is not a highly popular candidate nationwide, in recent opinion polls 51% of women view her favorably, with 47% having a negative opinion. In stark contrast, 67% of respondents have an unfavorable opinion of Trump. The gap between the two candidates is even bigger when it comes to trust in handling issues that concern women: 66% trust Clinton while only 23% trust Trump.
Since clinching the Democratic Party nomination, Clinton has received a significant boost in opinion polls. In a Reuters/Ipsos poll, she leads Trump by 11 points after being level following Trump’s Republican nomination. The poll shows that 46% of likely voters support Clinton while 34.8% back Trump. Clinton’s support may further grow after winning the endorsements of President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, and other senior party leaders. They will now be campaigning for Clinton and attacking Trump on a host of defects.
Clinton’s biggest weaknesses are the scandals that continue to bedevil her. Trump is digging up controversies that have revolved around her since the 1980s – from suspect financial dealings to allegations of marital infidelities by Bill Clinton that his wife allegedly covered up by threatening the women involved.
She is currently facing an FBI investigation over her handling of Emails when she served as US Secretary of State. Her use of a private server could have jeopardized national security by enabling the penetration of classified information. Clinton also continues to face questions over the Benghazi incident, when on September 11, 2012, terrorists overran the U.S. mission in Libya, killing the Ambassador and three other Americans. Republicans charge that Clinton failed to adequately protect U.S. installations and depicted the attacks as spontaneous rather than a planned terrorist operation.
Despite these potential landmines, Clinton is fortunate that she is facing Trump, as he has accumulated even more extensive business scandals. The latest controversy revolves around Trump University – widely considered a swindle in which hundreds of students were defrauded of a total of $40 million on the promise of learning the secrets of getting rich. New York city is currently suing Trump, as many students complained that the university was a scam.
In another recent media investigation, Trump has been exposed as an exploiter of workers. Since the 1980s, Trump has allegedly reneged on hundreds of contracts by refusing to pay workers and contractors what they were owed. The list includes waiters, electricians, builders, and plumbers who have worked on various Trump projects.
While claiming to defend workers, Trump in effect defrauded hundreds of employees and small businesses. In some cases, even the lawyers Trump hired to defend him sued him for failing to pay his bills. Such scandals will embolden Clinton’s attack on the billionaire. Instead of fighting for the working American, as he claims in his election campaign, Trump evidently defrauds them.
IS TRUMP A FASCIST?
Janusz Bugajski, June 2016
Donald Trump has come under consistent fire not only as a demagogue but much more seriously as a fascist. A dispassionate assessment of the Republican candidate for US President requires an examination of the political evidence for and against Trump’s alleged fascism.
Fascism traditionally consists of three core elements. First, it contains a comprehensive ideology that combines exclusivist nationalism, institutionalized racism, and highly centralized state power. Second, it necessitates a tightly organized party machine that aims to control all state institutions and key economic and social networks. And third, it operates according to the “fuhrer principle,” in which a cult of personality is built around the untouchable leader of the party depicted as the embodiment of the nation.
On the first count, Trumpism contains no coherent ideology, but is more of a protest movement based on socio-economic resentment and utopian restorationism. It therefore resembles several nativist and populist movements in contemporary Europe. It focuses on two main issues – economic stagnation and cultural xenophobia – and scapegoats specific targets such as Mexicans, immigrants, and Muslims.
In this sense, the Trump movement resembles parties in the EU who oppose multi-culturalism and an open economy and seek to restore a national culture that predates the influx of foreigners. In the worst-case scenario this could develop into forms of discrimination against minorities and even embrace the idea of ethnic or racial separation and expulsion. Although Trump flirts with racism, his diatribes against Muslims and Mexicans lack coherence and may be moderated during the national election campaign so as not to alienate a wider electorate.
Traditional fascism supported corporate capitalism in the service of the state and conflicts with the core values of US Republicanism that favors free markets. There are elements of such a doctrine in Trump’s statements that tap into public disillusionment with the economic results of globalization. In fact, his position on trade protection overlaps with the leftist populism of the “progressive” or socialist wing of the Democratic Party, even though it falls short of supporting an expansive welfare state.
Unlike many of his European counterparts, Trump is unpredictable and eclectic on social issues, sometimes liberal, sometimes conservative, and he does not fit into the traditional Republican Christian conservative mold. Fascism by contrast is socially conservative, stressing traditional families and gender inequality in promoting the nation over the individual.
In the second measure of fascism, Trump has not created any institutional structures either within the Republican Party or outside it that would mirror a fascist movement. In America’s two party system, populists organize and mobilize within the two major parties in an attempt to capture them rather than creating their own structures. This moderates their impact, as they have to appeal to a wider party base and helps prevent the formation of extra-institutional structures.
Trump flirts with the idea of a stronger state, but is constrained by core Republican beliefs about limiting the role of government and decentralizing decision-making from federal to state and local level. America’s right wing has historically opposed political strongmen and does not support Trump’s idea of a more intrusive government combating the forces of disorder and ensuring domestic security. He is riding on the fear of terrorism to gain support for a stronger state, but will face significant opposition even within the Republican Party.
The closest that Trump comes to fascism is in the leadership dimension and a fixation on his own role in transforming America. He continually berates voters to trust him, claims that he possesses all the solutions to reconstruct the country, and asserts that his political opponents are failures or “losers.”
Trump boasts about an almost divine mission to “make America great again” by overturning the political establishment and dealing more forcefully with foreign governments. There are clear echoes of Mussolini, Franco, and Hitler in such pronouncements. Indeed, Trump is celebrated among neo-fascists in Italy, especially by leaders of the Northern League.
In sum, although Trump has fascist characteristics and Trumpism includes elements of fascism it lacks the entire package. Even more importantly, America’s political system seems to be sufficiently protected with checks and balancers to disable attempts to mutate the country into a fascist state.
However, some US legal scholars are ringing alarm bells about Trump’s evident contempt for the Constitution, especially the separation of powers and the primacy of the rule of law. Even conservative and libertarian legal scholars are warning that a Trump presidency could presage a constitutional crisis.
Trump has claimed that he would “loosen” libel laws to make it easier to sue media organizations that issue unfavorable reports about him. He has threatened his critics with prosecution, challenged federal judges about their impartiality because of their ethnic heritage, and questioned religious freedom and equality under the law by proposing to ban Muslims from entering the country. If he is elected President, Trump may feel empowered to push for such measures, thus propelling America into unchartered political waters.
EU-RUSSIA RELATIONS AT CROSSROADS
Janusz Bugajski, June 2016
Decision time is approaching for the EU on whether to lift financial and economic sanctions on Russia for its occupation and partition of Ukrainian territory. Moscow has calculated that the Union loses focus and interest when Russia’s aggression is frozen. It seeks to return to “business as usual,” while the US is preoccupied with other priorities.
At their June 28-29 summit, EU leaders will discuss whether to renew sanctions on Russia’s banking, defense, and energy sectors for Kremlin aggression in Ukraine. The sanctions have proved relatively effective in denying Russian companies access to Western loans and capital and have contributed to Russia’s precipitous economic decline during the past two years..
Although some officials believe that sanctions are likely to be extended, EU fractures are widening. And Moscow is adept at weakening any emabargoes to undermine EU cohesion. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has revealed that resistance is growing within the EU, which requires a unanimous vote. Greece, Italy, and Hungary have been among the most obstructive, while Poland and the Baltic states want to maintain pressure on Moscow.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s plans to meet President Putin during an economic forum in St Petersburg on June 16. And diplomats in Brussels believe that he is laying the ground for a softening policy toward Russia in the second half of the year.
Steinmeier floated the possibility of a “step by step” reduction of sanctions even if the Minsk agreements for resolving the Ukraine conflict are not fulfilled. Despite it pledges, Russia has not withdrawn troops and weapons from occupied parts of the Donbas or allowed Ukraine to control its easternmost borders.
Although EU Council President Donald Tusk has asserted that sanctions will be renewed in June, demands to drop the sanctions are escalating. For instance, French parliamentarian recently adopted a resolution calling for lifting sanctions and other EU legislatures are expected to follow suit.
Bankrupt Greece is one of Putin’s staunchest supporters within the EU and has obstructed the issuing of a joint EU statement on extending sanctions. During Putin’s recent visit to Athens, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras criticized the embargo on Russia and asserted that Greece had an independent foreign policy. He failed to mention that Greece is also fully dependent economically and would not even have a budget without bailouts from EU tax payers.
Tsipras urged Europe to cooperate with Russia, and to abandon what he branded a futile cycle of sanctions and militarization. In other words, according to the Greek government, NATO protection of its easternmost members is a form of militarism and Russia’s partition of Ukraine should be tolerated.
Greece is desperate for investment and is fully exposing itself to Russian influence in the Balkans. In addition to energy deals, Russia is interested in Greek rail assets and the port of Thessaloniki, a major gateway into the region, in competition with China. In return, Moscow has indicated that it will exempt Greece, Hungary, and other “friendly” states from the counter-sanctions it has imposed on EU agricultural produce.
Moscow has also been courting populist, leftist, and rightist parties throughout the EU to push for lifting sanctions, accept Moscow’s dominant role in Ukraine, and oppose NATO’s plans to more effectively defend its eastern flank from a potential Russian assault.
In Italy, the regional council of Veneto (which includes Venice), a stronghold of the rightist Northern League, has voted to lift sanctions and to recognize Moscow’s annexation of Crimea. Russia’s foreign ministry claimed that the vote was the start of a wider popular backlash against the sanctions.
The leader of France’s far-right National Front party, Marine Le Pen, claims that she is prepared to recognize the “reunification” of Crimea with Russia as legitimate if she is elected to the French presidency in April 2017. The National Front has spoken out against anti-Kremlin policies from the moment sanctions were imposed. In mid-February 2016, the National Front asked Russia for a 27 million euro loan to fund Le Pen’s 2017 presidential campaign.
In a further attempt to divide the EU and to create splits between Europe and the US, Putin has warned Romania and Poland that they could find themselves in the sights of Russian rockets because they are hosting elements of a U.S. missile shield that Moscow considers a threat to its security. In reality, the missile shield being constructed in Romania and Poland is part of a global Americah network that is purely defensive in scope and not targeted against Russia’s missiles.
By depicting the US and some eastern NATO states as warmongers and by temporarily freezing the conflict in Ukraine, Moscow can pose as a peacekeeper that is simply defending its national interests. With populists, rightists, and leftists gaining strength in different parts of the EU, with EU business lobbies seeking new deals with Moscow, and with the US turning more inward during the presidential elections, the Kremlin is calculating that geopolitics will swing in its favor during the coming year.
STRIPPING RUSSIA OF 2018 WORLD CUP
Janusz Bugajski, May 2016
On the eve of the Euro championships, international football bodies need to send a strong message to future aspirants for hosting World Cups and other major sporting competitions. Corruption, doping, and racism should not be tolerated and as an example Russia should be stripped of the 2018 World Cup.
Moscow is implicated in the worst corruption scandal in sports history – the extensive bribe taking uncovered within FIFA, football’s world body, particularly in awarding World Cup competitions. President Vladimir Putin has accused the US of being behind attempts to oust Russia from the World Cup, because FBI investigations finally unearthed what many people had suspected for years about the criminal nature of the FIFA management.
As with the 2014 Winter Olympics, the choice of Russia as host of the 2018 World Cup has been challenged. Although both Russia (2018) and Qatar (2012) were cleared by FIFA’s internal investigation of bribing officials in the bidding process, this was widely dismissed as whitewashing. According to the Swiss attorney general, Michael Lauber, who leads the criminal inquiry into the 2018 and 2022 awards, Russia and Qatar could still be stripped of the next two World Cups.
High-level corruption has been unearthed in the bidding process, which formed the basis for Lauber’s inquiry, in which millions of dollars was paid into the bank accounts of FIFA officials to buy the World Cup. In a revealing interview with the Russian media, former FIFA President Sepp Blatter confessed that the World Cup host nation selections for 2018 and 2022 were decided before the official voting process took place in December 2010.
The English Football Association, which competed against Russia to host the 2018 tournament, was outraged by incompetent internal FIFA investigations. Former FA Chairman David Bernstein called on all UEFA countries to boycott the 2018 tournament. Reinhard Raubell, the President of the German Football League, even called on UEFA to secede from FIFA unless the corruption investigations were effective.
Russia is also implicated in an expanding doping scandal involving dozens of athletes and Olympic medal winners. Some Western athletes believe that Russian athletes should be banned from the Olympics in Brazil because of their government’s close involvement in the scandal.
Soviet and Russian athletes regularly used performance enhancing drugs for several decades. Initial investigations led to the suspension on the All-Russia Athletics Federation from international competitions. However, the International Association of Athletics Federations is expected to lift the ban before the summer Olympics.
Pressure on Olympic governing bodies to bar Russia from the games intensified after it was revealed that state officials obstructed the work of the UK Anti-Doping Agency’s mission in Russia. Many of the doping tests could not be carried out due to the alleged unavailability of athletes. Of those that were successfully completed, over 20% of the total tested positive.
The Anti-Doping Agency revealed that when doping control officers were in the midst of the testing, members of the FSB, Russia’s security service, showed up and threatened them with expulsion from the country. The former head of Russian Anti-Doping Grigory Rodchenkov admitted supplying drugs to dozens of medal-winning athletes and swapping dirty samples for clean ones during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Some believe that Russian footballers also participate in doping to enhance their performance.
In addition to bribery and doping, Moscow has failed to tackle the prevalence of racism in Russian football. Rafał Pankowski, head of UEFA’s Monitoring Centre, accused the Russian Football Union of downplaying racist chants in numerous stadiums. After being racially abused by fans of the Russian club CSKA Moscow, Ivorian footballer Yaya Toure stated that black players might boycott the 2018 World Cup unless Russia tackles racism in football.
In addition to state-organized doping of athletes and the racism of many Russian soccer fans, there is another reason for stripping Russia of the right to host the 2018 World Cup. Kremlin policy is forcing several regions to cut spending on infrastructure and health care in order to finance new stadiums for the World Cup.
In Nizhny Novgorod, the local government has been forced to cut back spending not only on kindergartens, schools, roads, and bridges but also to delay plans to build a cancer treatment center — even though cancer is the number one killer in the region. Despite mounting economic problems, Moscow is spending at least ten billion US dollars on the World Cup. Moreover, the Kremlin is forcing various regions where the competition is scheduled to be held to bear most of the cost, making them choose between public health and football.
For President Putin, Olympics and World Cups are prestige projects that raise Russia’s stature. They also help pacify the public in an increasingly repressive state facing prolonged economic decline. Although politics cannot be fully separated from international sport, a strong warning can be delivered to uphold the core principles of sportsmanship. Cheating through bribery and doping must not be tolerated and its practitioners should forfeit the right to host international competitions.
LOBBYING AS POLITICS
Janusz Bugajski, May 2016
The outcry in Croatia over the consultancy business run by the spouse of the Deputy Prime Minister indicates that Europe’s new democracies may be unfamiliar with the role of lobbying. Consulting and lobbying are a normal part of the political process in a democratic society and are viewed as the right of citizens to affect decisions and petition the government.
In the US, lobbying and consultancy can be distinguished. A consultant offers their services based on expertize and experience to paying clients. The latter are usually local or international businesses, but they can also include interest groups, such as the National Rifle Association, and non-profit organizations, such as anti-smoking groups or other consumer associations.
Lobbying is a form of advocacy, in which a lobbyist not only delivers advice but also contacts, exposure, and influence for a client. In the US, all lobbyist are required to register, especially if they are lobbying for a foreign government. But there is nothing illegal about their activities and their objectives are clear – to advance the interests of clients in the political arena.
All major US businesses hire lobbyists in Washington who can help them maneuver in a complex and competitive political environment. Lobbyists advocate their interests in Congress and seek to influence legislation that can help corporate investments. Businesses offer to create jobs in specific locations and thereby indirectly enable congressmen to be elected because they are seen as serving their constituents.
Many former US officials and Congresspeople became lobbyists after leaving office or they establish lobbying firms that serve businesses and foreign governments. However, legislation tries to ensure that the open system of government is not abused. For instance, regulations require a “cooling off” period whereby individuals must desist from lobbying activities for up to two years after leaving office. This is intended to ensure that they are fully removed from political decision-making when they embark on their lobbying ventures.
Federal laws are frequently amended to try and ensure that US officials are not influenced by foreign interests to the detriment of national security. Moreover, no legislator or elected official can benefit directly or indirectly from any lobbying funds, gifts, or services, as this would be viewed as a form of corruption.
A valuable example of lobbying is the current US presidential election. Lobbyists will be involved on both sides throughout the campaign. Donald Trump has a large business empire that lobbies for his corporate interests when dealing with Congress and officialdom. It can also be used for advancing his political ambitions. Trump will deploy his wealth to hire public relations firms that will seek to clean up his image, gain positive media exposure, and attack his Democratic opponent.
On the Democratic side, Hilary Clinton is no stranger to lobbying and has several firms working to promote her image and policies. Indeed, the Chairman of her 2016 campaign is John Podesta, who once served as Chief of Staff to President Bill Clinton and as Counselor to President Barack Obama. He also founded the Podesta Group, one of the most influential lobbying firms in Washington that advocates for numerous corporations and foreign governments.
Lobbyists will directly impact on the presidential elections. For Clinton, nearly two thirds of the Democrat superdelegates who will vote for her at the July National Convention in Philadelphia are establishment insiders. Of the total 4,763 delegates, 717 are superdelegates — almost a third of the total required to win the nomination. They obtained their status following years of donations and service to the party. 67 are members of the Democratic National Committee and are registered as federal or state level lobbyists.
In addition, Hillary’s husband and former president Bill Clinton has advocated on her behalf for political office. He receives substantial payments and donations for various ventures including the Clinton Foundation. Questions have been raised about the Foundation’s fundraising from foreign governments and corporations and about the transparency of its reporting of donors.
Critics have speculated about possible conflicts of interest between donations to the Clinton Foundation and Hillary’s actions when she served as Secretary of State between 2009 and 2013. She claims that she did not run the Foundation and was not responsible for fund raising. Nonetheless, some of the foreign financial sources may become an issue during the election campaign. Hilary could be accused by Trump of receiving money from foreign governments who will allegedly influence her decisions if she becomes President.
Hillary will respond that she has received no foreign funds for her campaign and she is not involved in her husband’s businesses. The key question, which also needs to be addressed in Croatia, is whether there is a conflict of interest between holding a government post and having a spouse engaged in various consultancy work for national and international corporations. It seems highly unlikely that Clinton will be disqualified because of her husband’s activities. Croatia will need to make its own decision.
TWO UNPOPULAR CANDIDATES
Janusz Bugajski, May 2016
Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton are the two most unpopular nominees for US President in recent history. A majority of Americans are deeply disappointed over the choice they have been offered in the November elections and many will vote simply to keep out the candidate they dislike more.
Major opinion polls for many months have consistently indicated that Trump and Clinton have the highest unfavorable ratings of prospective nominees since the 1970s. In a recent poll issued by the Associated Press 55% of Americans say they have a negative opinion of Clinton, while 69% dislike Trump and will not vote for him.
Clinton’s problems are deep rooted, dating back to her days as First Lady in the White House, when she was seen as interfering too much with policy questions even though she was not an elected official. She has been a polarizing figure between Democrats and Republicans and does not project a compassionate persona, with about half of all Americans viewing her as dishonest and untrustworthy. Her experience and competence are less in question, as she has served as US Senator and US Secretary of State.
Trump’s problems are more recent and obvious. He is widely perceived as arrogant, ignorant, and inexperienced. His base of support, as evident in the primaries, are angry white voters, predominantly male, poorly educated and older, who are dissatisfied with the political establishment and with economic conditions. However, there are not enough of such voters to guarantee electoral victory.
Since June 2015, about 60% of Americans have stated an unfavorable opinion of Trump, with only 35% favorable. In recent polls, 80% of respondents do not find Trump compassionate or likable. And unlike Clinton, even members of the Republican party do not trust him. In particular, religious conservatives see him as a liberal, while Republican internationalists view him as an isolationist. Only 53% of Republicans have a favorable view of Trump.
Seven out of ten registered Democrats have a favorable opinion of Clinton and only 17% of Democrat voters say they would not vote for her. In contrast, 31% of Republicans claim they will not vote for Trump. Even more starkly, a majority of voters have consistently asserted that they would vote for Clinton over Trump regardless of their opinion of her. Out of 67 polls conducted during the past year, in 58 polls respondents chose Clinton, while Trump narrowly won only in six.
Both Trump and Clinton have poor ratings among the numerous Independent voters, who do not identify with either major party. The percentage of Americans defining themselves as Independent now stands at 42%, while 29% say they are Democrat and 26% Republican.
For Trump, two more categories of voters remain extremely problematic – women and ethnic and religious minorities. Trump is widely viewed as as sexist who has made insulting statements about women throughout his campaign. Unfortunately for him, records demonstrate that it is impossible to win the presidency without a sizeable bloc of women. In fact, no candidate has been elected without winning at least 43% of the female vote.
The turnout rate for women has been higher than that for men in every election since 1980. In 2012, 63.7% of women voted compared to 59.8% of men, and in the previous six elections women have largely voted Democrat. A recent CNN poll reveals that 73% of women have a negative view of Trump. Unlike in the primaries, in the November election about 54% of voters will be women.
Trump’s second biggest demographic problem is the growing Latino vote – people he has largely alienated during the primary elections because of his attacks on immigrants. It is becoming increasingly difficult to win the White House if you cannot secure Latino votes, as they make up 17% of the population and form much larger minorities in states such as California, Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, and Florida.
Trump is calculating that his populist anti-establishment message will resonate in north eastern states with large working classes that have traditionally voted Democrat. Of the 18 states that provide the majority of Democrat votes, Trump claims he can gain New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin and cut into Clinton’s base. He is banking on attracting a high turnout among white workers formerly known as “Reagan Democrats.”
On the other hand, Democrats believe they can become more competitive in some traditionally Republican southern and western states, especially those with growing minority populations that feel under attack from Trump’s pandering to racism and xenophobia. These would include Florida, Georgia, Virginia, North Carolina, Colorado, and Arizona.
One additional indicator also needs to be carefully watched in the upcoming elections. It remains to be seen whether the passion of keeping one of the candidates out of office prevails over the disillusionment with both choices. If not, then turnout in November could be exceptionally low and the outcome will be less predictable.
BALTIC SEA BOILING
Janusz Bugajski, May 2016
In recent weeks, tensions between the US and Russia have escalated in the Baltic Sea. On at least two occasions, Russian warplanes have flown perilously close to an American warship, igniting protests and warnings from US commanders. Moscow may be gearing up for an escalation of military action in the Baltic to test NATO resolve.
The Baltic Sea occupies a pivotal position in Moscow’s plans to consolidate the western flank of its expansionist Eurasian project. It provides a vital trade route to Russia’s second largest city, St. Petersburg, hosts the Nord Stream natural gas pipeline to Germany, and is the location of the Baltic fleet headquartered in Russia’s Kaliningrad exclave. But above all, in the event that Moscow decides to attack Estonia, Latvia, or Lithuania it will seek full military maneuverability in the Baltic and to restrict NATO’s response.
Over the past two decades the Baltic Sea has become a largely NATO lake, with six member states now having coastlines: the traditional members, Denmark and Germany, and new members Poland and the three Baltic countries. And since Russia’s assault on Ukraine, the remaining two neutral states, Sweden and Finland, are moving closer to NATO to better protect their security in an increasingly unpredictable region.
In flexing its military muscles through large-scale maneuvers, the construction of new bases, and frequent violations of the air space and coastal waters of littoral states, Moscow seeks two objectives. First, the military buildup is supposed to demonstrate that Russia is again a great power and is testing NATO’s political and military responses. And second, in the case of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, military pressures are part of a broader offensive to weaken their governments, stir social and ethnic conflicts, and demonstrate that NATO will be unable to defend them in the event of outright war.
At the same time, Russia’s propaganda offensive claims that Western forces are acting aggressively throughout the Baltic region and threatening Kaliningrad. In reality, the Alliance has been criticized for not providing sufficient military deterrence to countries that fear Moscow’s subversion or outright attack. The three Baltic states have requested a permanent NATO military presence, consisting of a battalion of ground forces.
In a climate of escalating conflict, the Kremlin wants to keep Sweden and Finland as neutrals and preclude them from assisting any NATO operations to defend Estonia, Latvia, or Lithuania. A variety of pressures have been applied, including military threats, violations of territorial waters, diplomatic offensives, propaganda attacks, and disinformation campaigns. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has warned of a direct military response if they join NATO.
However, Kremlin actions may have the reverse effect in both Sweden and Finland, as public and political opinion is shifting. In its Policy Position statement, Finland’s center-right coalition has included the option of applying for NATO membership. Prime Minister Juha Sipilä’s administration has also drafted a new foreign and security policy calculating the monetary costs and implications of Finland’s NATO accession.
Disarmed neutrality is no longer seen as feasible even in Sweden, which has no experience of defensive war in the modern era. The numbers supporting NATO accession is growing and includes over a third of the population, while opposition to NATO entry is diminishing. Regardless of attitudes toward NATO accession, all major parties support raising defense spending.
Over the past twenty years, Stockholm has dramatically scaled back its defensive capabilities. It has finally decided to raise its military expenditures, although its program of rearmament will not happen overnight and the country remains vulnerable to further Russian provocations. These include the potential capture of Sweden’s island of Gotland in the middle of the Baltic to deny NATO a valuable platform for anti-aircraft defense and to disrupt supply routes.
Although many in Sweden believe that NATO would defend their territory, no one can be certain whether it would risk a war with Russia over a non-NATO member. Even the NATO Host Nation Status obtained by Sweden and Finland at the Wales Summit in September 2014, which allows for the deployment of NATO rapid reaction forces on their territory, does not guarantee their defense if attacked by a third party.
In the case of Finland, there is more immediate Russian concern that Finns would come to the aid of nearby Estonia. For instance, it could offer NATO its land, air, and sea facilities to defend an Alliance member, and supply weapons and other equipment to Tallinn. Unlike Sweden, Finland has maintained a respectable defense sector with a sizable conscript based army. Helsinki also has direct experience of Russia’s aggression, following two attempts by Moscow to occupy the country during and after World War Two.
Finland and Sweden are expanding their military cooperation and strengthening security ties with NATO members Norway and Denmark. The five Nordic capitals have signed a joint defense pact designed to boost defense sector cooperation, intelligence sharing, and joint military exercises. The initiative was attacked by Moscow as a “confrontational approach” to regional security. Russia’s new maneuvers in the Baltic indicate that the danger of armed conflict continues to escalate.
US FOREIGN POLICY CHOICES
Janusz Bugajski, April 2016
The US primary elections are heading toward a climax in the next two months. And unless there is a dramatic reversal of voter trends, Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton will be the presidential candidates at their respective party conventions in July. The real election race will then begin in earnest and both contenders will need to clearly present and debate their foreign policy positions.
Whereas Trump is an unpredictable character, Clinton is a known factor on the international stage having served as US Secretary of State during the first Obama administration. She is likely to continue Obama’s low-key approach to foreign policy and favor prolonged diplomacy. Critics will charge that she focuses too much of her time on social issues such as women’s rights rather than on more threatening strategic questions. Nonetheless, she will reassure America’s allies than no risky initiatives will be undertaken and America will not withdraw from its global responsibilities.
In contrast to Clinton, Trump has generated severe anxiety around the globe in his foreign policy pronouncements. Trump appears to be a mixture of isolationist and aggressor who has lambasted numerous foreign powers, from Mexico to Japan. He has also dismissed NATO as irrelevant, pledged to withdraw US troops from Europe, Japan, and South Korea, favored the development of nuclear weapons by various allies, praised Vladimir Putin as a stellar leader, and threatened to renegotiate or terminate various international free trade agreements.
Some leaders are angered that they have been portrayed as useless freeloaders by Trump, living on the American tax payer. In reality, although the Europeans fail to adequately contribute funds to NATO, all US Allies help finance America’s long-term troop presence in Europe and Asia. Indeed, American generals have recently testified in Congress that it would be more expensive to bring the troops home than to keep them abroad.
During his recent trip to Europe, President Obama tried to reassure foreign leaders that Trump will not become the next US president. They responded skeptically, by pointing out that the White House has been wrong on Trump’s successes for the past six months. World leaders are urgently seeking explanations from Obama as well as Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry, Defense Secretary Ash Carter, and Trade Representative Michael Froman on guidance about what they are supposed to say about future US policy.
While Obama spent the last two years reassuring the Central Europeans against aggressive Putinism, he is now reassuring all Europeans against the specter of Trumpism. Some leaders are afraid that if they say anything negative about Trump he will extract revenge when he is elected President. But the biggest fear in Europe is that the U.S. will turn more isolationist, fully withdraw its troops from Europe, and refuse to participate in any security operations to defend its NATO allies.
World leaders are worried what a Trump victory would mean on a range of important issues, including arms negotiations, trade deals, and international funding. Obama administration officials try to assuage such concerns by claiming that Trump will be unable to follow through on his most provocative pronouncements if he enters the White House. The Europeans are not convinced and are seeking to speed up talks on the developing Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) aggreement. There has also been an accelerated level of engagement by foreign capitals at the US Department of Energy, in dealing with climate change, boosting the security of nuclear weapons, and cooperating on several civilian power projects.
In Europe’s east, fears are palpable that Trump would hand Ukraine, Georgia, the Baltic region, and other former Soviet territories to Moscow in exchange for alleged cooperation in counter-terrorism. He would end the policy of reassurance and withdraw funding from new NATO initiatives designed to give the Alliance a more effective forward presence on the eastern front. Putin is a master at manipulation and will endeavor to exploit Trump’s naivety.
America’s East Asian allies are especially concerned that Trump will withdraw from US security commitments and initiate a full-scale military evacuation. This would boost Chinese influence in the region, lead to Beijing’s takeover of Taiwan, precipitate an armed conflict between North and South Korea, and potentially provoke war between China and Japan. Trump’s comments that Japan and South Korea should opt to develop nuclear weapons to defend themselves have further heated up the atmosphere.
Many Europeans believe that Trump is arrogant, unscrupulous, and prepared to say and do anything to maintain his populist vote. Some are also becoming anxious that a Trump victory will empower demagogues, populists, and nationalists in their own countries. Several nationalist groups have already reached out to the Trump campaign to offer their collaboration, including France’s National Front, the Freedom Party in the Netherlands, and Italy’s Northern League. They will feel especially emboldened if Trump actually wins the November elections.
CENTRAL EUROPE’S FASCIST REVIVAL
Janusz Bugajski, April 2016
Slovakia’s recent general elections have catapulted a neo-fascist party into parliament and strengthened the position of another ultra-nationalist formation. The results highlight a broader European trend of public disillusionment with the major parties and anger with stagnant economic conditions. They also indicate that a sizeable portion of the electorate remains susceptible to ethnic exclusivity and authoritarianism.
In Slovakia, Prime Minister Robert Fico lost his parliamentary majority and needed to forge a broader governing coalition that includes the ultra-nationalist Slovak National Party (SNP). The SNP returned to parliament after a four-year absence by capturing 8.6 percent of the vote and 15 seats in the 150-member assembly. More troubling, the People’s Party-Our Slovakia (PP-OS) – a movement that openly praises the Nazi-sponsored clerico-fascist Slovak government during World War Two – won 8 percent of the vote. It entered parliament for the first time with 14 members.
PP-OS leader Marian Kotleba, the regional governor of Banská Bystrica in central Slovakia, is a self-professed neo-fascist. His party staunchly opposes both the EU and NATO, and has attracted many young people living in depressed areas by stoking Islamophobia and inflaming fears over the EU migrant crisis.
Until now, the starkest example of radical rightist popularity has been evident in Hungary. Jobbik, the Movement for a Better Hungary, is the third-largest party in parliament, having won 20.5 percent of the vote in Hungary’s April 2014 elections. The party is ethno-exclusivist, anti-Roma, anti-Semitic, and anti-immigrant. Similarly to other militant leftist or rightist movements, it rejects “global capitalism” and European integration. Jobbik also openly interferes in the politics of Hungary’s neighbors by claiming territorial autonomy for Hungarians in Romania, Slovakia, and Ukraine.
Ultra-right groups are also present in Poland and the Czech Republic. In Poland, the National Movement, which resembles Hungary’s Jobbik, claims five of the 40 seats held by the “Kukiz ’15” movement in the 460-seat parliament. An even more extremist but extra-parliamentary formation, the Polish Defense League, wants to create a register of Muslims to protect Poland against this alleged threat. The PDL has close links to Islamophobic organizations across the EU.
As in Western Europe, the new ultra-right formations in Central Europe prey on social discontent and fear of foreigners. Although Slovakia’s democratic institutions appear strong enough to withstand any fascist impulses, the relative triumph of militants spotlight four main negatives that need to be monitored throughout the region.
First, any ultra-right successes generate a negative image of Central Europe in the EU and the US. While observers largely dismiss French xenophobes such as Le Pen’s National Front — or their Italian, Dutch, Scandinavian, Greek, and British equivalents — as irritants to otherwise healthy democracies, Slovakia’s elections reinforce the perception of the Central Europeans as tenuous democrats. Pundits and politicians can claim that the region is turning toward fascism, thus bolstering the notion that they are political infants needing outside supervision. They ignore the fact that the revival of radical movements across the political spectrum— from nihilist and leftist to nationalist and fascist — has become a pan-European trend.
The neo-fascist revival is producing a second, more disturbing phenomenon: the rising popularity of racism and xenophobia among the younger generation, and the increasing nostalgia for a “golden era” of fascism among some disoriented youths. It demonstrates the inadequacies of the public education system and the yearning for simplistic solutions, phenomena we are also witnessing in the US presidential elections
A third danger is when ultra-rightists convince ruling parties, which are fearful of losing votes, to adopt some of their positions, which then become mainstream. Conversely, if a major party adopts xenophobic policies then it gives credence to even more radical programs. For example, SMER — Fico’s center-left party — campaigned intensely about Europe’s refugee crisis, warning about an “invasion” of Muslim migrants in Slovakia, thus legitimizing PP-OS’s more militant anti-immigrant platform.
Fourth, but certainly not least, a radical rightist revival leaves countries more exposed to Russia’s anti-Western influences. Extremist parties anywhere in Europe receive an inordinate degree of attention in the Russian media, and Slovakia’s election results figured prominently in the Kremlin’s international broadcasts.
Moscow seeks to benefit from popular dissatisfaction with Brussels across the EU. It has focused in particular on radical groups espousing anti-liberalism, anti-globalism, anti-Americanism, ethnic intolerance, Islamophobia, and combative Christianity. Militant parties and personalities are invited to Moscow for international conferences at which Russia is lauded as the bastion of traditional values and monoculturalism, while the West is lambasted for its “moral bankruptcy.”
Perversely, while organizations tied to the Kremlin fund and publicize ultra-nationalist formations in several European states, Russian officials simultaneously seek to discredit targeted governments by claiming they tolerate the rise of fascism. Moscow deliberately espouses contradictory positions to contrasting audiences in order to undermine European unity and to dismantle the West.
SERBIA’S SLOW EU PATH
Janusz Bugajski, April 2016
The Progressive Party government has declared Serbia’s parliamentary elections on April 24 as a plebiscite on EU entry. According to Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, the ballot will decide “whether Serbia wants to be a modern European country and whether it wants the future or the past.” But while government ambitions are admirable, Belgrade’s prospects for EU accession remain distant.
A recent Dutch referendum that opposed an economic Association Agreement with Ukraine, initially offered by Brussels in November 2014, demonstrates how fractured and resistant the Union has become in pursuing further enlargement. Growing populism, nationalism, and protectionism even in the most pro-EU states indicates that Serbia’s path towards Union accession will be long and arduous.
Belgrade aspires to join the EU for two fundamental reasons: to improve economic conditions in Serbia and not to be left behind in the region as a “grey zone” of insecurity. And Belgrade’s progress to meet EU standards has been noteworthy under the Progressive government despite the party’s ultra-nationalist pedigree.
Having begun accession talks with the EU in December 2013, Serbia now faces the most protracted and contentious process of closing all 35 chapters of the acquis communautaire – the most important step in gaining a formal invitation to enter the Union.
Eight of the acquis chapters are being opened this year and in several Belgrade will find it difficult to meet the necessary EU standards. In particular, chapters on the judiciary and fundamental rights, on justice, freedom, and security, on financial control, and on the environment will be particularly onerous.
Just as Slovenia proved to be both a partner and an obstacle to Croatia’s membership of the Union, until several bilateral disputes were settled, Croatia may now adopt the same position toward Serbia. For Zagreb, Serbia’s EU entry boosts regional security and can enhance regional economic development. It may also help pull Belgrade away from Russia’s embrace and contribute to stitching together a functional Bosnian state.
On the other hand, Serbia’s aspirations present a valuable opportunity for Croatia to extract concessions from its southern neighbor as a condition for approving its EU entry.
In recent days, the European Council working group removed from its agenda debates on Serbia’s opening of chapters 23 and 24, dealing with the rule of law, the judiciary and human rights, after Zagreb questioned Belgrade’s readiness. The EU requires unanimous consent by all 28 EU member states.
Croatian officials have not explicitly stated that they intend to block Serbia’s progress. Instead, Zagreb is demanding that Belgrade delivers on several core conditions, such as full respect for minority rights, including that of Croats in Serbia, unhindered cooperation with the Hague war crimes tribunal, and the annulment of a Serbian law on universal jurisdiction for war crimes committed in the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s. Croatian officials point out that Serbia cannot act as a mini-Hague in the region especially in dealing with the wars that Belgrade initiated.
Serbian officials assert that they need a new mandate to pursue the difficult reforms necessary for EU accession and a resounding election victory for Vucic’s Progressives will boost talks in several acquis chapters. Ultra-right parties have little traction and opposition to EU integration has minimal backing. Recent attempts by the opposition to create a united front against Vucic have failed, opening the way for the Progressives to gain a two-thirds majority, which they narrowly failed to do in the last elections.
The process of closing the acquis chapters is likely to take several years. But even then the path into the EU is not assured because each member state needs to ratify the entry of any new aspirant. And with a possible fracture of the EU on the horizon following the UK vote in June, and other countries seeking to loosen their bonds with Brussels, Serbia’s membership of the Union could be indefinitely postponed.
There is one further stumbling block on Serbia’s path to the EU – relations with Kosova included in the final acquis chapter. Improved relations are seen by EU officials as a prerequisite for the two countries to join the bloc. This condition could be used to deny Belgrade entry even if it meets all other requirements.
Zagreb and other capitals in the region will also be closely watching the next steps of the Vojislav Seselji trial. They were outraged by his acquittal, given the accumulated evidence of involvement in war crimes in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. They will be monitoring the appeal process led by Serge Brammertz, the prosecutor at the UN Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals.
Without a reversal of the court’s ruling on Seselji, the Hague will simply encourage other ambitious war criminals, who can argue that the expulsion of civilians was a humanitarian gesture, that hate speech was a morale booster, and that ethnic expulsions was simply a means to protect the Serbian population.
AMERICA’S POPULIST UTOPIAS
Janusz Bugajski, April 2016
All elections involve promises by candidates that they will improve economic conditions and bolster national security. However, America’s current presidential race revolves around two populist candidates who are pledging to deliver some version of utopia, whether of a rightist or a leftist variety.
In the rightist or conservative corner stands billionaire Donald Trump, the leading contender for the Republican Party. His campaign slogan, which promises to restore an imagined historical utopia, is to “Make America Great Again.” Trump appeals to those who feel left behind in global competition and yearn for a simpler past when America was the undisputed richest and strongest global power.
Trump poses as the national savior who will deliver an even more perfect past and his loud and aggressive cult of personality exudes confidence and strength. He is not an egalitarian and does not claim to be a common man, but an anti-establishment elitist, asserting that he is better than any current politician.
Trump proclaims that he can deliver the Promised Land based on his successful business enterprises – studiously avoiding mentioning those businesses that went bankrupt. He asserts that soon after attaining office he will create millions of new jobs, eliminate the national debt, and eradicate the threat of terrorism.
In the leftist or progressive corner stands self-declared democratic socialist Bernie Sanders. One of his key campaign slogans, “The Revolution is Coming,” promises a future egalitarian utopia to the American masses. Sanders, unlike Trump, poses as the common man and has not developed a strong personality cult. Nonetheless, he pledges that his revolution will deliver happiness and prosperity to the vast majority of citizens.
These two utopian visions are underpinned by populist agendas where the similarities overshadow the differences. Although Trump and Sanders boast of being political “outsiders,” in reality both are part of the national elite. Trump is an entrepreneur who has funded numerous politicians over the years to bolster his business interests. Sanders has been in politics for over three decades and has served as a US Congressman for Vermont for almost a decade.
Unlike their communist and fascist predecessors, neither of the current populists focuses on the “working class.” They understand that society today is more diverse and multi-layered than a few decades ago; hence, “the people” is the catch phrase. Sanders disguises the fact that he is a former fellow traveller who tacitly supported various communist regimes from Havana to Moscow. And Trump camouflages the fact that he has been exploiting migrant workers by paying low wages for many years.
Trump’s campaign is a populist insurgency within the Republican Party, consisting of an anti-Washington message designed to mobilize the estranged masses. He focuses in particular on one one aspect of populism – anger at the allegedly corrupt establishment and claims that Americans have been betrayed by their political elites.
Because of his TV shows, Trump is a familiar celebrity to people who feel more comfortable with him than other politicians. He taps into a real fear among poorer whites that they are losing their country, both economically and culturally. Hence, he panders to xenophobic, nationalist, and even racist undercurrents in American society. Trump’s populism is nativist with a core issue of stopping illegal immigration, which allegedly leads to job loss and terrorism.
Sanders has focused his attacks on the economic elites even more so than on the Washington establishment. According to him, 99 percent of the population is exploited by the super rich who brazenly buy out politicians such as Hilary Clinton. Sanders insists that the “billionaire class” has rigged the political and economic systems and he mobilizes the anger of young people against the wealthy while promising free and comprehensive health care and college education.
In terms of national security and foreign policy both of the populists are isolationists. Trump wants to withhold spending on NATO and reduce the defense of allies such as Japan and South Korea. He will only intervene internationally if American interests are directly threatened. Sanders is a pacifist isolationist who would also rather disband unnecessary alliances and withdraw militarily from various regions. And both support curtailing free trade and adopting a more protectionist economic agenda.
Trump and Sanders do not exist in isolation. Both are part of a dramatic populist surge occurring within most Western democracies. Protest parties are spreading throughout Europe and often defy any clear ideology. Their core divers are a sense that the current economy does not work for ordinary people and that immigrants are threatening their culture and identity.
Populists speak directly to the populace and appear authentic and honest unlike the established politicians. Populism can evolve into authoritarianism where it capitalizes on public alienation from political institutions and exploits social anxiety about globalization and multi-culturalism. Some observers believe that growing populism could portend a new era of dictatorship and even violence across Europe and the US.
THE IMPORTANCE OF NATO
Janusz Bugajski, March 2016
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has asserted that NATO is obsolete and he wants to reduce American commitments to the alliance. Given the gravity of such a proposal it is imperative to underscore why NATO remains essential not only for providing security for Central and Eastern Europe but also for precluding major conflicts that could again embroil the US.
The North Atlantic Alliance remains indispensable for four core reasons. First, there is no viable alternative to NATO’s military structure because the EU or other multi-national organizations do not provide security for states facing potential aggression.
The EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy is a diplomatic mechanism, which openly acknowledges that NATO remains responsible for Europe’s territorial defense. Although the EU has engaged in peacekeeping, policing, and humanitarian missions, NATO possesses the main combat force not only of its European members but most importantly of the United States.
Second, an effective NATO contributes to ensuring the institutional integrity of all members and promotes regional stability between them. Its entry stipulations include functional statehood, minority rights, civilian control over the military, and settled borders with neighbors. NATO’s core criteria encourage such constructive reforms and initiatives.
The third rationale for a strong NATO revolves around the sovereign choice of every independent state to determine its alliances and security connections and not remain vulnerable to pressure from predatory powers such as Russia. If Moscow’s neighbors join NATO, this poses no threat to Russia’s security—contrary to the Kremlin’s claims. However, membership in NATO does thwart Moscow’s ability to control the security postures and foreign policies of any state.
The fourth fundamental reason why a NATO military presence particularly in Europe’s east is vital is that it forms the most effective deterrent and responder to major new instabilities. Two core challenges emanate from Russia: expansion and implosion. Moscow’s primary objective is to restore Russia as a “pole of power” and reverse US influence in Europe. This has generated the subversion of neighbors, proxy wars, and even outright Russian military invasions, as evident in Georgia and Ukraine, together with periodic military threats against NATO’s eastern flank, particularly Poland and the Baltic states.
Furthermore, Russia’s potential implosion due to escalating economic, social, political, and sub-regional turmoil could foreshadow an even more unpredictable future. A huge failed state on Europe’s doorstep would have numerous destabilizing consequences—whether through refugee outflows, the spillover of violence, and spreading civil wars, together with the emergence of unpredictable new states. In particular, Russia’s neighbors must be shielded from the most destabilizing conflict scenarios, which could spill on to NATO territory.
Trump is correct about NATO in one sense, in that the European allies are not pulling their weight within the Alliance. NATO’s European flank remains dependent on the US for its security, while many West European allies are failing in their mutual defense responsibilities. Washington provides 70% of all NATO defense spending, while Europe’s contribution to NATO’s military capabilities is less than 25%.
Several countries have decimated their budgets and equipment to such an extent that they may be incapable of deploying more than a few thousand troops in the event of outright war on the continent. Meanwhile, Russia is planning to re-arm to the tune of $700 billion over the next decade and is preparing to introduce the next generation of armor, aircraft, and missiles, and to modernize its nuclear forces.
Since the end of the Cold War, a number of American officials have pressed their European counterparts to increase defense spending in line with NATO guidelines of 2% of Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Unfortunately, despite repeated promises over the past decade, only a handful of NATO members have consistently met Alliance requirements. In addition to increased defense funding, the Europeans must pursue a program of military modernization and eliminate waste, duplication, and mismanagement in their defense structures.
If the current feebleness in European defense spending continues, the next US President, whether it is Trump or another candidate, will come under increasing domestic pressure to curtail America’s spending and commitment to Europe’s security. EU states will be portrayed as over-dependent on US funding and manpower and unwilling to defend themselves.
Nonetheless, in the clamor over budgets Washington must not lose sight of the benefits that NATO ultimately brings to the US. In addition to intelligence sharing and multilateral political and military cooperation in confronting common security challenges, the Alliance remains the most effective tool for preventing any single power from dominating Europe – a scenario that dragged America into two destructive wars during the 20th century.
The further weakening of NATO through a diminished US role would simply provoke new aggression both against and within Europe. And the ultimate cost to America would be far greater than the current one.
GERMANY’S RISING ALTERNATIVE
Janusz Bugajski, March 2016
Germany is being swept by an anti-immigrant and anti-European Union movement that could significantly change the country’s politics. The Federal Republic of Germany has spawned various marginal populist and nationalist groupings in the past, but the recent election success of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) could prove far more menacing.
The AfD held its founding convention in Berlin in April 2013, established mostly by rightist academics and business people. They quickly tapped into public disaffection with the political establishment of all the major parties and focused on restoring German sovereignty, which they claimed had been lost to bureaucrats in Brussels.
In the mid-March regional elections in three German states, the AfD won representation for the first time. In Baden-Wuerttemberg it captured 15% of the vote, in Rhineland-Palatinate 12.6%, and in Saxony-Anhalt it finished second with 24% and became the second largest party in the legislature. The three states have a combined population of some 17 million people, around a fifth of Germany’s total. The AfD is now represented in eight of Germany’s 16 regional parliaments.
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union suffered losses across the board. According to AfD leader Frauke Petry, large numbers of voters are turning away from the large established parties, which they feel no longer represent their interests.
AfD is a nationalist populist movement and focuses on the alleged negative impact of Germany’s EU membership. It appeals to the economically insecure as well as other politically alienated social sectors. In Saxony-Anhalt unemployment stands at more than 10 percent, but economic conditions are only one reason behind the AfD surge. Its main plank now focuses on Germany’s exposure to unwelcome immigration.
AfD has links with the “Pegida” movement (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West), a far-rightist group founded in October 2014, which is even more vehemently anti-Islamic. Pegida campaigns for an end to Muslim immigration and resists multiculturalism. It has also opposed EU and NATO membership and supports closer relations with Russia.
According to the AfD platform, Germany finds itself in the deepest crisis in its modern history. The party initially focused attention on the Greek financial crisis and vigorously opposed the Berlin-led bailout of Athens. It claimed that German citizens were paying for lazy and incompetent Greeks and undermining the country’s development.
Moreover, AfD leaders asserted that the introduction of the euro currency was a fatal mistake that threatened Germany’s prosperity. The Movement has demanded Berlin’s withdrawal from the euro and a return to the Deutsch-Mark, or the creation of a separate currency with Holland, Austria, and other financially stable economies. They propose either the dissolution of the EU altogether or the emergence of a core Europe without the south European countries that are viewed as corrupt and mismanaged.
During the past year, the AfD has shifted its focus toward a tough anti-immigration and anti-establishment stance. Its election rhetoric fired up voters who are vigorously dissatisfied with Merkel’s “open-door” immigration policy. Over one million migrants and refugees entered Germany during 2015, more than all other EU states, with Merkel facing increasing political and public pressure to reduce the number of new arrivals.
AfD leaders sharpened their anti-immigrant tone at numerous campaign rallies, especially in the east of the country where anti-immigrant sentiments are especially virulent, aiming to capitalize on a growing sense of anger and fear. It has played on perceptions of rising crime and disorder allegedly fuelled by North African and Middle Eastern migrants. It also benefits from any terrorist attacks in Europe, including the recent atrocities in Brussels, which it can blame on Muslim immigrants.
Party leader Petry asserted that the German police should have the right to shoot at illegal migrants at the border because “Germany has a responsibility – the survival of its own people.” She also urged Germans to produce an average of three children to counter the rising numbers of foreigners and immigrants.
In a challenge to the rise of the AfD, Chancellor Merkel claimed that the movement was based on prejudice and was polarizing and radicalizing German society. But her statements have had limited appeal, as growing sectors of society have lost trust in the political elites, particularly in the two major parties. Some analysts are even claiming that Germany’s post-war party-political culture is coming to an end. German Vice Chancellor and Social Democrat leader Sigmar Gabriel declared that the election results posed an existential challenge to “Germany’s democratic center.”
The German government will lose even more support this year if the recent EU agreement with Turkey fails to stem the flow of hundreds of thousands of refugees from the Middle East. All eyes will then be on the German federal elections scheduled for October 2017. If Europe’s migrant crisis continues and radicalizes broader sectors of the population, AfD could enter the national parliament and present an even more direct threat to Germany’s political status quo.
AMERICA’S UNCIVIL WAR
Janusz Bugajski, March 2016
The presidential election campaign is entering a critical period. The disruption of a Donald Trump rally in Chicago by thousands of protestors could be the start of major public confrontations, as the leading Republican candidate continues to radicalize the population.
Trump is a polarizing and divisive figure. He deliberately incites fear, hatred, and anger, and condones violence against protestors during his rallies. He thrives on conflict and draws out the dark side of human behavior. Instead of toning down his rhetoric after the cancelled Chicago event, Trump further inflamed the environment by threatening to disrupt the rallies of his Democrat rivals.
His persistent attacks on immigrants, Mexicans, Muslims, and other scapegoated groups have provided an aura of legitimacy to racists and xenophobes at Trump gatherings. He has created an “us against them” mentality that can degenerate into violence, while numerous other groups can be targeted for his next verbal assaults. As with all demagogues, Trump deflects responsibility by blaming others for his own divisive tactics, particularly President Barack Obama.
Not surprisingly, Trump has received the endorsement of both White supremacists and Black separatists for his presidency. These marginal but vocal radical groups view Trump as the best political hope for generating a race war that they have fantasized about since the 1960s. Trump’s rhetoric is incendiary and we are beginning to witness a growing public reaction uncontrolled by either party.
Trump’s verbal attacks have also mobilized opposition protestors across the country. What began as small demonstrations have evolved into larger movements that will be encouraged by extensive media coverage and the successful cancellation of a Trump rally.
Although disrupting authorized public meetings is illegal, some people are now asking whether Trump’s free speech can be defined as “hate speech” that can be prosecuted. Regardless of the legal interpretations, the number of protestors is growing and includes a diverse mixture of students, Latinos, African Americans, and outraged Whites of various age groups.
Thus far, we have witnessed fairly well organized and orderly protests, sparked by frustration with Trump’s constant baiting of Muslims and Latinos and anyone who disagrees with him. However, on both sides of the Trump divide there are elements who thrive on violence and will wait for the opportunity to strike.
If the two movements are not better controlled, the hard-core radicals of both left and right variety could escalate from verbal abuse to outright violence. They are a reminder of the violent fascist-communist battles in the streets of Europe during the 1920s and 1930s. Some fear that an incident at a rally or street demonstration could turn into a wider conflagration.
Trump’s fellow Republicans have blamed him for encouraging conflict and demanded that he take responsibility to prevent any outbreak of violence at his rallies. All three of his rivals for the party nomination linked Trump directly to the growing conflicts. Ohio Governor John Kasich accused him of creating a “toxic environment” at his rallies.
Trump has also stirred a fierce political debate on America’s relations with the Muslim world and the place of Islam in American society, in which over three million people or one percent of the population declare themselves as Muslim.
If Trump moves nearer to the White House, the US risks an internal campaign against Muslims and the alienation of numerous foreign allies. This will also boost global jihadism against Washington because Trump’s rhetoric plays directly into terrorist hands and is an effective means of recruitment.
Despite claiming that he is a “unifier,” Trump continues to add fuel to the flames by claiming that “Islam hates us,” drawing little distinction between the mainstream religion and radical Islamic terrorism. He asserts that “tremendous hatred” helps to define the Muslim religion, thus casting Christianity as its polar opposite.
In December, Trump called for a temporary ban on all Muslims from entering the US, “until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” He has defended these comments despite widespread condemnation from his political opponents. He also asserted that he would target and eliminate the families of terrorists and use torture to extract information from prisoners.
Trump demonstrates a remarkable ignorance about the principles and practice of global Islam. Indeed, his lack of foreign policy knowledge is only matched by his simplistic or non-existent policy prescriptions. Unfortunately, many of his supporters are also poorly informed and are looking for simple solutions to the country’s problems.
Ultimately, Trump’s violent and scapegoating rhetoric will rebound against him whether in the primary ballots or in the general elections in November. Although it may mobilize his angry and gullible supporters, the majority of the American public does not want to see their country descend into ethnic and religious division, and spiral down into conflict and chaos. It is up to them to vote for his Republican and Democrat rivals if they want to avoid any nightmare scenarios.
Janusz Bugajski, March 2016
A series of primary election victories for oligarch Donald Trump has stunned the Republican Party leadership. Trump’s successes have exposed the deep divisions in the Republican Party and threaten a major fracture before or during the party’s national convention in July.
Although the US has a two party system, both the Democrats and Republicans are coalitions of various political interest groups and diverse ideologies. The primary elections are intra-party contests in which the most popular faction prevails or where compromises are reached between them. In the case of the Republicans, such compromises appear remote because Trump is a polarizing figure at war with the traditional Republican establishment.
Trump was allowed to run as a Republican because party leaders and senior statesman calculated that he would bring in an army of new voters due to his populist style. They also believed that he would be overtaken during the primary contests by a more respectable Republican candidate.
However, it did not work the way the leadership had planned. Instead, Trump’s fortune has enabled him to finance his own campaign and his popularity has soared among frustrated American voters. He has mobilized a committed regiment of the electorate that has appeared in every primary. Instead of yielding to the party hierarchy, Trump continually insults them as failures unable to beat the Democrats in national elections.
Republicans fear that Trump’s populism, xenophobia, and economic protectionism will inevitably hand victory to the Democrats who will appeal to a much wider electorate in November. Current public opinion polls indicate that Trump will lose to Hillary Clinton. Moreover, there is a danger that Republicans could also lose many Senate elections in November and fail to emplace their candidate for the key vacancy on the Supreme Court.
In fear of failure, Republican leaders are scheming on how to prevent Trump from gaining the Republican nomination for President. A group of prominent conservative national security experts including Arizona Senator John McCain issued a statement that Trump lacked understanding of foreign affairs and was not qualified to be President. The last Republican presidential nominee, Mitt Romney, has blasted Trump as a phony and immoral fraud.
Marko Rubio, one of Trump’s key rivals for the nomination, has attacked him for not being a true conservative and for constantly changing his positions simply in order to get elected. His main current rival for nomination, Ted Cruz, has also denounced Trump as an unpredictable demagogue.
Both moderate and conservative Republicans view Trump as the antithesis of Republicanism. He is an economic nationalist, opposes free trade, favors isolationism, is a hardliner on immigration, and has unclear or flexible positions on social issues that are important for conservative Republicans. This is in stark contrast with Republican traditions of pro-globalization, internationalism, interventionism, and a commitment to small government.
Paradoxically, attacks by Republican leaders may actually harden support for Trump among his core followers. With Trump continuing to accumulate delegates in various states but with no candidate gaining the required majority of 1,237, the July convention promises to be a confrontational showdown.
In 1912, the Republican Party split over its rejection of a comeback attempt by former President Theodore Roosevelt, who subsequently decided to establish a new party. As a result, Democrat Woodrow Wilson won the White House. Indeed, the Republican Party itself emerged after a schism in the Whig Party in the 1850s over the question of slavery.
There is a danger in the war against Trump that if he gains the required majority of delegates by the time of the convention, he will be able to change the party itself, while the Republican leadership would be powerless. Such a scenario could dramatically alter the party base, with many moderates and conservatives leaving to form a new organization.
The most likely scenario is that none of the three main Republican candidates, Trump, Cruz, or Rubio, will gain over half the delegates. This could result in a brokered convention in which the candidates will compete for delegates to gain a majority. Ironically, second placed Cruz is also disliked by party leaders. They view him as an ideologically polarizing figure, too conservative for the majority of American voters, and unlikely to defeat Clinton.
Following Cruz’s recent victories in several primaries, it appears that nobody will enter the convention with enough delegates. Assuming that Trump has a plurality, but not a majority, of delegates, Cruz or Rubio can take the nomination away from him by convincing delegates not to support Trump at the national convention.
However, a brokered convention in which Trump loses to another candidate, could also trigger a split in the party. Trump’s supporters will feel cheated and betrayed by the Republican hierarchy and Trump has already indicated that he would be willing to form and fund a third party. In any scenario of fragmentation, only the Democrats would benefit in November.
Janusz Bugajski, March 2016
A British exit (Brexit) from the European Union is now a distinct possibility. This will not only generate widespread economic uncertainty throughout the continent, it can also encourage other states to follow London out of the Union.
According to the EU Treaty, withdrawal from the Union is a basic right of every member, although no state has ever done so. The United Kingdom held a national referendum in 1975 when over 67% of the electorate decided to stay in the EU’s predecessor, the European Economic Community. On June 23, British voters go back to the polling stations to decide whether the UK will remain in the EU.
There are two schools of thought on a potential Brexit: those that believe that it will weaken and unravel the EU and those who argue that it will actually strengthen the European core. There is also a heated dispute whether a Brexit will damage or benefit Britain itself.
Opinion polls indicate that British voters are evenly split on whether to stay in the EU and accept the limited “opt-out” concessions that Prime Minister David Cameron obtained at the recent EU summit. Several cabinet ministers are now campaigning for a Brexit and the highly popular Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has also come out in favor of a UK withdrawal.
Critics argue that a vote to leave would damage the economy and London would no longer have any say in decision-making that affects everything from trade to security policy. Even the reclaimed sovereign right to stop immigration from the EU would mean losing full access to the single market, while reducing the number of immigrants is likely to hurt Britain’s businesses and public services.
Brexit could also fracture the UK itself, especially as Scotland is more pro-EU than the rest of the country and may decide to have another referendum on independence that could gain majority support.
British Eurosceptics contend that the country needs to reclaim its sovereignty from unelected Brussels bureaucrats. They believe that the UK is held back by Europe and could boom as a more open economy that will continued to trade with the EU but will also increase its global reach. They point to Norway and Switzerland as models for Britain; both countries have open access to the Union market.
In stark contrast, the pessimists assert that a Brexit would damage the rest of Europe. It would disengage the world’s fifth-largest economy from its biggest market and weaken EU security by removing a significant defense spender and foreign policy actor. Instructively, while President Vladimir Putin is keen on a Brexit to weaken the EU and help split the Alliance, President Barack Obama is strongly against it.
A disunited and less secure EU will also seek to discourage other countries from following the UK. Paradoxically, any opposition by Brussels for other capitals to negotiate “opt-out” clauses may actually encourage them to head for the exit door in defense of their sovereignty. UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond has warned that a Brexit could lead to a domino effect by creating a template for other Euroskeptic parties elsewhere in the EU to become more mainstream.
Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka has warned that a Brexit would encourage debate in several countries on whether to follow suit. It would make it politically acceptable for others to propose exits, even though only small fringe parties currently propose a full withdrawal. As an example, Hungary’s planned referendum on EU migrant relocation could stimulate other moves to weaken its links with the EU.
A contrary stream of opinion in Europe argues that a Brexit would actually be a valuable stimulant for the rest of the EU. They argue that other waverers should follow the UK so that the remaining core could develop into a more integrated bloc through a fiscal union and a political federation.
In this equation, countries that have resisted more intense integration, such as Denmark and Sweden, could also evacuate. Proponents of a “core Europe” argue that the policy of “opting out” from some EU provisions, which London has pursued, should be eliminated because it simply contributes to division and confusion. By attempting to accommodate the disparate positions of its many members, the EU has become timid and ineffective and unable to pursue deeper integration.
Indeed, keeping Britain inside the EU would make it more difficult for other members to implement the necessary reforms to repair the Union’s structural shortcomings. Once the UK and other obstructionist countries are allowed to leave, the original founding members, particularly Germany and France, will pursue more vigorous multi-national integration. In such a scenario, some believe the EU will become “leaner but meaner.”
Despite such projections, a smaller EU with a more restricted market will become a second rate player on the global scene and its alliance with the US would significantly weaken. One also wonders how this would impact on the NATO alliance, whether it too would splinter or whether on the contrary it would become stronger as the only organization holding the continent together.
RUSSIA PROMOTES REFUGEE INFLOWS
Janusz Bugajski, February 2016
While Bashar al-Assad wants to drain Syria of potential civilian opposition, Vladimir Putin seeks to flood Europe with unwelcome Syrian refugees. With Russian planes pounding civilian targets in Syria, it clearly fits into Moscow’s strategy not only to eliminate the armed resistance to Assad and preserve a close ally in power, but also to trigger a new wave of refugees into Europe.
Senator John McCain hit the nail on the head in a speech at the annual security conference in Munich. He astutely observed that Russia’s primary strategy was “to exacerbate the refugee crisis and use it as a weapon to divide the transatlantic alliance and undermine the European project.”
President Vladimir Putin has long calculated that a divided and disrupted European Union will weaken the current consensus on prolonging financial and economic sanctions against Moscow for its continuing attack on Ukraine. EU division also boosts nationalist fervor throughout the continent, unsettles certain unfriendly politicians, and provides opportunities for the Kremlin’s political inroads.
A special target of Putin’s attention is Germany, where without Chancellor Angela Merkel the EU’s Russia sanctions would already have been lifted. Despite pressure from coalition partners, business lobbies, and several Union capitals, Merkel has stood firm on maintaining sanctions.
However, the Chancellor has faced mounting criticism within the ruling coalition for her “open-door” migrant policy, which allowed over one million asylum seekers to enter Germany in 2015. Germany’s Economics Minister Gerd Muller has stated that an estimated eight to ten million refugees could try to enter Europe over the coming years. A new wave of refugees this year would seriously weaken Merkel both domestically and internationally. Opinion polls indicate that about 40% of German voters already want her to resign over her asylum policy.
A lame Merkel will be more easily undermined by her Social Democratic partners who favor lifting sanctions and returning to business as usual with Russia. This was evident in recent visits to Moscow by Sigmar Gabriel, German vice chancellor and Social Democrat leader, and by Horst Seehofer, leader of the Christian Social Union, the Bavarian sister party of Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union. Federica Mogherini, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, supports their accommodating stance toward the Kremlin.
Refugees could be the key to Merkel’s political survival. Brussels is pursuing an arrangement with Turkey to reduce the flow of refugees crossing to Greece. If this fails, Berlin plans to close its frontiers to passport-free travel in March, a move that will precipitate a chain reaction of border controls through Central Europe and into the Balkans. But there is great uncertainty regarding the effectiveness of such a policy in stemming the refugee inflow.
A new influx of migrants will deepen splits between EU capitals and undermine the Schengen system of free movement. Moscow benefits from this continental emergency in several ways. It poses as the defender of state sovereignty against EU uniformity, as a bulwark of patriotism and traditionalism against liberal multiculturalism, and as a partner for the West in combating international terrorism. All three propaganda devices are crafted to eliminate international sanctions and restore Russia’s diplomatic credibility.
Putin’s strategy has four core objectives. First, by helping to undermine EU unity and reverse prospects for deeper integration, the Kremlin calculates that it will develop beneficial partnerships with several states that do not feel threatened by Russia’s neo-imperial project. This will help restore economic and business contacts and favor new energy contracts with Moscow.
Second, Russia’s revived prestige will serve to isolate countries such as Poland, Romania, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania from other EU members. These front line states are calling for a more assertive Union stance toward Russia in response to the forceful partition of Ukraine and Georgia and as protection against persistent threats to their own sovereignty.
Third, a disunited Europe gives Russia a freer hand in dealing with its numerous neighbors without Western interference. For instance, Moscow calculates that the Minsk agreements over Ukraine will be diluted or neglected, that its proxy control over the Donbas will be accepted, and that Kyiv will make little progress in its EU aspirations. Moreover, the Kremlin is designing scenarios whereby any future military moves in the South Caucasus against Georgia or Azerbaijan will be perceived as anti-terrorist operations rather than as empire building.
And fourth, European disunity will help justify Russia’s accelerating militarization and power projection in the Middle East, the Black Sea, and the eastern Mediterranean. Moscow poses as an indispensable partner against international jihadism and will claim that unlike the US and the EU it possesses both the capabilities and the political will to destroy such threats to European security. Unfortunately, despite all evidence to the contrary, some EU governments and business interests remain prone to the Kremlin’s persistent deceptions.
NATO INTENSIFIES EUROPE’S DEFENSE
Janusz Bugajski, February 2016
NATO is intensifying its defense of Europe on two fronts. Along the eastern flank, the Alliance is pledging more direct military assistance to vulnerable Central European states facing an aggressive Russia. And on the southern front with the Middle East and North Africa, NATO is stepping up its patrols of illegal refugee routes toward Europe.
With the EU facing another refugee wave this summer that could further divide the Union, NATO has decided to take action. Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg confirmed that the Alliance would contribute intelligence and surveillance to help counter human trafficking and criminal networks operating in the eastern Mediterranean. Several ships are being deployed to the Aegean Sea to deter migrant smuggling from Turkey to Greece.
NATO’s Standing Maritime Group 2, currently under German command, will lead the Aegean operation with five ships from different allied states. It will share information with the Greek and Turkish coastguards and the EU border agency Frontex. A European Commission spokesman claimed that the mission was the first step in creating a European coast guard.
On the eastern front, on 10 February Stoltenberg declared “the most significant boost to our collective defense since the end of the Cold War.” NATO is bolstering its deterrence of Russia’s threats against the Baltics and Central Europe by agreeing to rapidly deploy air, naval, and ground forces in the event of military crisis. To prepare for such deployments, NATO is establishing a network of new outposts, rotational forces, warehoused equipment, and regular war games, to be backed by a rapid-reaction force.
NATO could have a brigade of up to 1,000 troops on a rotational basis in key countries needing reinforcement: Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, Bulgaria, and Romania. They will be backed by a rapid-reaction force planned to include air, naval, and special operations units of up to 40,000 personnel. U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter asserted that the plan aimed to move NATO to a “full deterrence posture.”
The Alliance is not preparing to establish permanent military bases, but will instead rotate troops through the six frontline countries. Command centers will be established in each state to connect national forces with Alliance reinforcements. They will be used for logistics, reconnaissance, and planning missions with a multinational headquarters in Szczecin, on Poland’s Baltic coast. This will enable a rapid influx of thousands of NATO troops in the event of conflict. Further decisions on exact troop numbers will be made at NATO’s Warsaw Summit in July.
However, despite NATO’s forward progress, questions have been raised about the effectiveness of its deployments. The positioning of military hardware without the constant presence of US and other allied troops is premised on the assumption that local armed forces would be capable of defending the country for a sufficient time to allow for the arrival of sizeable NATO units. However, a recent study by the US Rand Corporation reveals that Russian forces could occupy the Baltic capitals in a matter of hours if the NATO presence is not bolstered.
Each state bordering Russia requires three fundamental elements: adequate infrastructure and prepositioned equipment to allow for speedy deployment of NATO troops; early warning of Russian covert attack; and capable forces that can respond quickly to an assault on territorial integrity.
Each country needs well positioned US and West European forces on a permanent basis as a tripwire against potential Russian attack. Front line states also require an offensive component that can threaten Russia’s aggressive operations by targeting its staging areas, airports, radar installations, sea and river ports, and logistical nodes. Defensive capabilities alone will be insufficient to deter a military assault.
General Philip Breedlove, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander for Europe, called Moscow’s conquest of Crimea a “paradigm shift” that requires a fundamental rethinking of where American forces are located. To maintain NATO as an effective deterrent, Washington needs to reposition bases from Western to Central Europe.
Earlier in February, Secretary of State John Kerry announced that the U.S. will significantly upgrade its commitment to the security of Europe’s eastern flank, with a planned four-fold increase in spending on the European Reassurance Initiative, from $790 million to $3.4 billion.
For the US, an unstable and insecure Europe that fractures internally and whose borders are challenged by a belligerent Russia would constitute the greatest foreign policy disaster since World War Two. To prevent such scenarios, NATO must fully revive its core mandate of defending the European homeland and focusing less on out-of-area operations.
By shifting bases and equipment eastward to confront the newest threats, NATO must ensure that it has sufficient firepower to dissuade a Russian offensive against Alliance members. An effective NATO remains the key institution that not only protects Europe’s security but may also become the sole multi-national organization that can provide Europe with institutional and policy coherence while maintaining the essential trans-Atlantic link.
Janusz Bugajski, February 2016
The Visegrad Four (V4) initiative, combining Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic, celebrates its 25th anniversary this February. This presents a timely opportunity to either position V4 for a more significant strategic role in the heart of Central Europe or to declare it defunct in the wake of a resurgent Russia and an increasingly fractured European Union.
The original purpose of the V4 was for the four re-emerging Central and East European democracies to coordinate their pursuit of NATO and EU membership. However, since achieving its primary targets the V4 has proved unable to coordinate the disparate foreign policies of its members and it lacks a clear geopolitical identity or a strategic objective.
Competitive geopolitics has returned to Central Europe with a vengeance through Russia’s pursuit of a new Moscow-centered “pole of power” that seeks to subordinate its neighbors. But the V4 response has been tepid and rudderless. Worse still, the region has exposed itself to Kremlin inroads through economic, political, and intelligence penetration. In sum, Visegrad has become a microcosm of EU disunity.
Warsaw remains more assertive in focusing EU and NATO attention on Russia’s aggression against neighboring states and has viewed transatlantic relations as paramount. In contrast, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic remain circumspect. After Russia’s attack on Ukraine in 2014 all three governments were hesitant in supporting sanctions against Moscow partly for economic reasons, especially where there is high dependence on Russian energy. In some cases, political leaders display sympathy toward a more authoritarian or nationalist political model or view Moscow as a potential counterbalance to Brussels.
By focusing on short-term national interests rather than more significant strategic imperatives, Visegrad governments play into Moscow’s hands and encourage Putin’s ambitions in restoring Russia’s regional hegemony. The partition of Ukraine did not convince Budapest to terminate the contract with Rosatom for the modernization of the nuclear power plant in Paks, as Prime Minister Viktor Orban avoided confrontation with Moscow. Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka opposed strengthening NATO forces in Europe, while Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico protested against increasing America’s military presence in Central Europe.
Russia’s officials focus on influencing political decisions in each Visegrad capital through a combination of diplomatic pressure, personal and professional contacts, economic enticements, and energy dependence. Old comrade networks from Soviet times enable the Kremlin to exert political influence over certain officials and governments, challenge common EU and NATO positions, and assist Moscow’s international aspirations. Lucrative business contracts, donations to political campaigns, and various forms of financial corruption allow Moscow to exert political leverage and convince politicians to favor Russian investments.
Moscow also endeavors to benefit from political, ethnic, religious, and social turbulence in the region in order to keep governments off balance. Putin’s Kremlin appeals to both the leftist old guard and the ultra-nationalist conservative Euroskeptics. Any democratic regression combined with the growth of nationalism and populism can favor Russia’s regional objectives by weakening democratic institutions, engendering EU divisions, and undermining NATO’s effectiveness.
As a result of the Russia-Ukraine war, the Visegrad Group has been weakened, as has the Weimar Triangle, established in 1991 as a consulting mechanism between Germany, France, and Poland. Warsaw has been largely sidelined over the past year, while Berlin and Paris pursue their own attempts with Moscow to resolve the conflict over Ukraine by in effect freezing the proxy occupation of Donbas.
In addition, the emergence of a new Central European regional grouping, the Slavkov Triangle, involving Austria, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia, will further undermine the V4. In January 2015, Czech Prime Minister Sobotka, Slovak Prime Minister Fico, and Austrian Chancellor Werner Faymann met at Slavkov near Brno in the Czech Republic. They adopted a joint position against tightening sanctions on Moscow, claiming that all sanctions are ineffective and should be lifted. The Slavkov initiative constitutes a tactical victory for the Kremlin, because a new crack has appeared in EU policy toward Russia that cuts across Central Europe.
The Slavkov Triangle is designed to coordinate infrastructure, transport, and energy projects between the three countries. In contrast with the V4, the initiative is to become institutionalized, with a permanent tripartite working group on the level of deputy foreign ministers. This model of cooperation may become an incentive to include other countries, such as Slovenia and Croatia, in regional economic endeavors that could provide new inroads for Moscow.
Unless it can adopt a more assertive Atlanticist and Europeanist position to help defend the eastern part of the continent against Moscow’s subversion, the V4 will remain divided and ineffective. Without a new impetus in coordinating resistance to Kremlin pressures and enticements, the V4 will be unable to play a constructive role in the geopolitical struggle for the long-term security and independence of Central and Eastern Europe.
Janusz Bugajski, January 2016
The dramatic collapse of crude oil prices is changing the role of energy in international affairs and the strategic position of various states. In particular, it has buttressed America’s role, diminished Russia’s position, increased the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran, and could decrease the strategic significance of the Middle East.
Crude oil is currently selling at $33 per barrel, only one-third of its price eighteen months ago. It has fallen below the break-even price for extraction estimated at $50 per barrel. The International Energy Agency now concludes that oil prices might not reach $50 again until the 2020s. During the boom year in 2008 prices reached a record $143 per barrel. Even in June 2014, oil was selling at $115 and analysts believed that the price would remain in excess of $100 for years to come.
In reality, the oil-centered world of the 20th century is reaching its end. This has serious implications not only for the largest oil companies but will also have a major impact on the biggest oil-exporting countries. Given the importance of oil revenues for Russia, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Venezuela, the Gulf States, and other producers, the oil bust will threaten the survival of existing regimes.
Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, Moscow has used crude oil and natural gas, whose price is closely tied to that of oil, as a weapon against its former satellites and a form of leverage against the EU. Threats to cut supplies or raise prices and the purchase of energy infrastructure in neighboring states enabled the Kremlin to inject itself into its neighbors’ affairs.
But the floor is now collapsing under President Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin, as he loses his key energy weapon. In order to balance the budget, Russia needs oil prices at $80 a barrel, otherwise the economy will severely contract. Plunging oil prices are fuelling a prolonged economic downturn, reducing investments, diminishing living standards, raising unemployment, and provoking social and regional unrest.
Some analysts believe that Putin took the costly and risky step of intervening in the Syrian war largely to deflect public attention from deteriorating economic conditions and to mobilize Russian nationalism. The urgent need to prevent social revolution and regime collapse could trigger further regional instability as the Kremlin turns against alternative neighbors to raise public support at home.
Several other states, including Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela, are also experiencing economic and political turmoil as a result of the oil crash. The longer that prices remain low, the more devastating the consequences. Saudi Arabia’s substantial cash reserves have been dramatically reduced since last year and the government has announced cutbacks in public spending,
Saudi resistance to any proposals to curtail oil extraction has contributed to keeping prices low. There are several reasons for Saudi resistance to production cutbacks, including a desire to punish Iran and Russia for supporting the Assad regime in Syria. The Kingdom also wants to maintain low energy prices in order to push U.S. energy producers out of the market. The Saudis see themselves as better positioned than their rivals for weathering a long-term price decline. However, Saudi Arabia now has a new regional competitor with Western sanctions lifted against Iran. Iranian oil production will increase, as Tehran returns to the global market and imports modern oil extracting technology.
Oil prices rise when the global economy is growing and demand is accelerating. They contract when the global economy is stagnant and energy demand is weak. When China, India, Brazil, and other economies were booming the demand for oil increased. But each of these developing economies is now stagnating, especially as the demand for their manufactured exports is declining.
Since 2014, a major factor in the decline of oil prices has been the dramatic increase in domestic US oil production. This has risen from a mere 5.5 million barrels in January 2010 to 9.6 million barrels in July 2015. Virtually all of the additional oil comes from newly exploited shale formations in North Dakota and Texas.
In a longer-term perspective, many factors are working against a new surge in oil prices, especially as America, the world’s biggest importer, has found alternatives. In addition to rising home production, increased fuel efficiency in the US has markedly reduced the country’s demand for petroleum and alternative energies are gaining in prominence.
Many American and European consumers now prefer hybrid and all-electric cars, or favor different means of transportation. Moreover, the use of renewable energy sources, including solar, wind, water, and bio power, is projected to grow significantly over the coming decade and further reduce the demand for oil products.
Such trends indicate that global oil demand will undergo long-term decline. This also means that the Middle East will diminish in importance as a security priority for Washington. Paradoxically, this could actually generate further instability in the region, as Saudi Arabia and Iran compete for regional predominance without the American deterrent to prevent all-out war.
Janusz Bugajski, January 2016
A crime wave involving violent sex attacks on women in Germany and other EU states has intensified anti-immigrant sentiments throughout Europe. Public reaction will contribute to constructing a “fortress Europe” to prevent any more waves of refugees from the Middle East and North Africa.
A Europe-wide populist backlash against refugees has been boosted by the crime reportage in Germany that involved recent immigrants. The assaults have heightened public concerns about safety and security and migrants have been depicted as the “enemy within.”
Outrage over the attacks by a small minority of refugees on EU citizens is boosting Islamophobia and xenophobic nationalism. It will also deepen the already existing splits between EU capitals on how to deal with mass refugee inflows, undermine the Schengen system of free movement, and even contribute to fracturing Europe.
After admitting over a million refugees during 2015, German Chancellor Angela Merkel now faces an increasingly pessimistic public that is skeptical that she has a long-term plan for assimilating the immigrants. She is under growing domestic pressure to place clear limits on German tolerance and is under international pressure to forestall any future waves of refugees from the Middle East.
In Germany itself, anti-immigration campaigners have focused on the sex assaults in Cologne, Hamburg, and several other cities as an example of the failure of the country’s asylum policy. Subsequent allegations that the German police and the media were instructed to engage in an institutional cover-up over the attacks in order to lessen anti-immigrant sentiments, pilled further pressure on Merkel.
Germany’s radical right and anti-immigrant Pegida movement (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West) has received a new impetus as a result of public reaction to the sex attacks. It is now using the incidents as a valuable propaganda tool to gain supporters and hound the new migrants. Meanwhile, established Islamic groups have voiced fears that the crimes of a few recent migrants may jeopardies the future of tens of thousands of peaceful people.
Outside Germany, political leaders in several states are benefiting from the criminal incidents to call for a ban on future migration and the sealing of Europe’s borders. In particular, governments in Central and Eastern Europe have asserted that the idea of a “multicultural Europe” is now dead and that all borders should be better protected against any new influx of refugees.
Among the most outspoken are Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico, who claimed that it was impossible to integrate migrants from the Middle East and North Africa in European states. He also called for an extraordinary summit of EU leaders to discuss the consequences of the migrant attacks in Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Austria and Finland. Bohuslav Sobotka, the Czech Prime Minister, backed Fico’s demands.
Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who has been most outspoken in the region, called for a complete halt to all migration into Europe and the establishment of a new “European defense line” on Greece’s northern borders with Macedonia and Bulgaria. Orban also warned that the Schengen system of visa-free travel that was established to stimulate Europe’s single market would collapse if outside borders were not comprehensively controlled.
Countries in Central and Eastern Europe that have refused to accept any refugee quotas outlined last year by the European Commission are now in a stronger position to resist. They will increasingly appeal to anti-immigrant sentiments in Germany and in other Western European countries where anti-refugee activism is on the rise.
Even the most liberal and tolerant states are now taking precautions against the free movement of people that would potentially flood them with new refugees. In the most glaring example, Sweden and Denmark tightened their border controls on the Oresund Bridge linking the two states in response to escalating political, economic, and social pressures.
Sweden, formerly one of the most welcoming countries for refugees, has introduced new identity checks for travelers arriving from Denmark. Meanwhile, the Danish government acted swiftly to impose its own controls on people coming from Germany. Copenhagen is anxious that migrants who would normally transit Denmark on the way to Sweden would now be unable to leave.
Checkpoints, fences, and border patrols are springing up in other parts of Europe along the migrant trail. Austria is reinforcing its border with Germany, Italy is planning to introduce controls on its border with Slovenia, and Hungary is helping Macedonia to build a ten-foot high razor-wire fence.
The chain reaction of border closures and tighter migrant controls will undermine the Schengen system of borderless travel across most of the EU. In addition to the fear of escalating economic costs in accommodating migrants, there is growing concern about public order, social safety, and the threat that terrorists may enter Europe masquerading as refugees. 2016 promises to be landmark year for the European project and whether it will now be closed to new migrants.
Janusz Bugajski, January 2016
President Vladimir Putin has challenged the United States at the start of the New Year by approving an aggressive new national security strategy. The document accuses Washington of trying to undermine Russia through “political, economic, military, and informational pressures” and blames the White House for the wars in Ukraine and the Middle East.
The 40-page document underscores the sharp decline in Russia’s ties with America since the previous document was issued in May 2009 at the beginning of U.S. President Barack Obama’s “reset” policy with Moscow. It charges Washington with “seeking to dominate global affairs” and thereby risking even greater conflicts over the coming year.
The new strategy accuses the West of using “levers of tension” throughout Eurasia to damage Russia’s “national interests.” As an example, it cites the ouster of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, a Kremlin ally, in February 2014. It fails to specify that Moscow’s “national interests” consist of dominating its neighbors.
The new security strategy is depicted as a reaction to the new U.S. security strategy released last February. That document portrays Russia as a regional bully that threatens international stability, in stark contrast with the 2010 national security strategy, which claimed that Washington wanted to build a “stable, substantive, multidimensional relationship with Russia, based on mutual interests.”
Last July the Pentagon also strongly criticized Russia in an updated national military strategy, asserting that Moscow had “repeatedly demonstrated that it does not respect the sovereignty of its neighbors and it is willing to use force to achieve its goals.” The Kremlin’s military actions were deemed to be undermining regional security either directly or through proxy forces as in eastern Ukraine.
Moscow’s attack on Ukraine and its unilateral intervention in Syria against moderate opposition forces has sharply worsened relations with the West. Both Washington and Brussels imposed sanctions against Russia in reaction to its assault on Ukraine, and Moscow imposed its own sanctions against the import of EU produce.
Russia’s new security strategy is not only a list of grievances but it also outlines the country’s rising military capabilities designed to challenge the West. Twenty sections boast about Russi’s growing military potential to thwart NATO’s alleged aggressive posture and its ongoing enlargement. It fails to point out that unlike Russia’s international security structures, NATO is a voluntary organization and it does not threaten states that lie outside the organization.
In an inversion of the facts, Russian officials claim that NATO has greatly expanded its military presence in Europe’s east in order to threaten Russia’s vital interests and to undermine the government in Moscow. In actuality, the Alliance positioned some elements of its infrastructure in countries such as Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania that were pleading for protection after Moscow’s armed incursions into Ukraine. It has also increased the number of military exercises involving the new NATO states, as Russia conducts regular large-scale drills practicing for invading its neighbors or bombing their cities.
Perversely, Russia’s Foreign Ministry accuses Washington of inciting tensions and nurturing “anti-Russian phobia” among its many neighbors. The confrontation with Turkey over the shooting down of a Russian bomber is also cited in Moscow as evidence that Ankara is simply carrying out America’s anti-Russian agenda. In fact, one should not be surprised that almost every neighbor displays some fear of Russia’s actions based both on historical and contemporary experience.
On the domestic front, Russia’s national security strategy cites other significant threats emanating from the US, including economic pressure, energy weapons, and the instigation of “color revolutions to undermine Russia’s territorial integrity and national survival.
Some Russian parliamentarians even claim that Washington has deliberately flooded Europe with refugees in order to damage the EU economies and position itself as the only “safe harbor” for foreign investment. The imposition of financial sanctions on Russia was also allegedly intended to eliminate the country as a competitor in the global economy.
Moscow regularly projects its own ambitions and strategies on to the US. In reality, Russia presents the most persistent security threat to the West because President Putin’s neo-imperial goals undermine the stability of several regions from northern Europe to the Middle East and Central Asia, challenge NATO as a security provider, and undercut the EU project. Russia’s seizure of territory, including Crimea, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia also establishes a dangerous precedent for other ambitious powers that may seek to test NATO and US resolve.
Rather than backing down from a resurgent and revisionist Russia, 2016 will be a pivotal year for NATO to strengthen the defense of front line states. Each Alliance member bordering Russia requires three fundamental elements: adequate infrastructure and prepositioned equipment to allow for speedy deployment of indigenous and other NATO forces; early warning of Russia’s subversion and covert attack; and capable forces that can respond quickly to an assault on their territorial integrity.
Each state also needs the positioning of American and West European forces on a permanent basis as a tripwire against potential Russian attack. Rather than being a threat to Russia, NATO’s enhanced presence throughout Europe’s east primarily neutralizes the Russian threat and exhibits an Allied determination to defend Europe’s independent democracies.