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Brexit – Pakistanization finally comes home

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Ever since the end of the WWI, and especially since the end of the WWII, the UK official foreign policy line was nearly always the same, imperial – partition and division. Divide/atomise and rule (divide at impere) ! Was it Asia, Latin America, Africa, Ukraine, Balkans or the Middle East – Pakistanization was the UK classical (colonial) concept, action and answer ! With the Brexit at sight, seems that the Pakistanization (finally) came home.

However, certain destructive UK quasi-intellectual circles are trying to postpone inevitable. Following lines are about that ill-fated attempt.

Foreign Affairs, a renowned American foreign policy journal, recently published an article under the title Dysfunction in the Balkans, written by Timothy Less. In this article the author offers his advice to the new American Administration, suggesting it to abandon the policy of support to the territorial integrity of the states created in the process of dissolution of the former Yugoslavia. Timothy Less advocates a total redesign of the existing state boundaries in the Balkans, on the basis of a rather problematic claim that the multiethnic states in the Balkans (such as Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia) proved to be dysfunctional, whereas the ethnically homogenous states (such as Croatia, Albania and Croatia) proved to be prosperous. Also, the author claims that the peoples in the Balkans, having lost any enthusiasm for the multiethnic status quo, predominantly strive to finally accomplish the imagined monoethnic greater state projects – so-called Greater Serbia, Greater Croatia and Greater Albania. According to Less’ design, the imagined Greater Serbia should embrace the existing Serb entity in Bosnia-Herzegovina (that is, 49% of the Bosnian territory), but also the entire internationally recognized Republic of Montenegro; the Greater Croatia should embrace a future Croatian entity in Bosnia-Herzegovina; the Greater Albania should embrace both Kosovo and the western part of Macedonia. All these territorial redesigns, claims Less, would eventually bring about a lasting peace and stability in the region. The question is, to what extent these proposals can be seen as founded in the geopolitical reality of the Balkans, or the author only acts as a spokesperson for particular interest groups whose aim is to accomplish their geopolitical projects, regardless of the price paid by the peoples of the Balkans?

First, let us take a look at the author’s professional background. According to his official biographies, Timothy Less was the head of the British diplomatic office in Banja Luka, the capital of the Serb entity in Bosnia-Herzegovina. He was also the political secretary of the British Embassy in Skopje, Macedonia. Now he runs a consulting agency called Nova Europa, so he has officially left the British diplomatic service. Thus he served as a diplomat exactly in those two states which are, according to his analysis, the most desirable candidates for dissolution. If one remembers that the British foreign policy, since the 1990s, has occassionally but unambiguously advocated the creation of the imagined monoethnic greater states – Greater Serbia, Greater Croatia and Greater Albania – as an alleged path towards lasting stability in the Balkans, it is difficult to escape the impression that this diplomat, having served in Banja Luka and Skopje, probably acted as an informal adviser to those very political forces, such as the Serbian and Albanian separatists, who should be the most active participants in the realization of those greater state projects. And ever since he left the diplomatic service, Timothy Less has regularly published articles in which he ‘foresees’, that is, invites new ethnic conflicts and ethnic divisions in the Balkans. In the Foreign Affairs article now he attempts to persuade the new American Administration that it should also adopt the policy of completion of the greater state projects in the region. Ironically, Less now makes that in order to prevent all those ethnic wars that he himself has been announcing, that is, inviting and advocating. Obviously, the long-term strategy of inviting ethnic conflicts in order to implement the greater state projects in the Balkans, together with the current strategy of advocating their completion in order to allegedly bring the stability back to the region, must be perceived as a serious geopolitical projection designed by one relatively influential part of the British foreign policy establishment. In that context, so-called ‘independent experts’, such as Timothy Less, have a task to persuade the world that such projections can be ‘the only reasonable solution’.

Still, it is clear that he is as independent as his solutions are reasonable. For example, Less claims that multiethnic states, in which the aforementioned national projects have remained unaccomplished, are the main impediments to stability in the Balkans. However, the historical reality has demonstrated that this claim is a simple red herring fallacy. For, the very concept of completed ethnonational states is a concept that has only led towards perpetual instability wherever applied, because such ethnonational territories cannot be created without violence, that is, without ethnic cleansing and wars. The strategy of ‘solving national issues’ has always led, both in the Balkans and elsewhere, only towards permanent instability, never towards final stability. What is particularly interesting, in accordance with the principle of national self-determination promoted at the Peace Conference in Versailles the winners in the World War I advocated the creation of the common national state of the Southern Slavs. Some seventy years later, the same great powers accepted, and sometimes advocated, the dissolution of that very state in the name of self-determination of some other national states, since all the former Yugoslav republics, with the exception of Bosnia-Herzegovina, had been constituted as national states. And now, their spokespersons, like Less, advocate a dissolution of most of these states in order to complete some greater state projects – of course, again in the name of national self-determination. Looking from that perspective, one can only conclude that national self-determination, as much as the nation itself, is a totally arbitrary category, changeable in accordance with current geopolitical interests – of course, the interests of the big ones, not of those small ones whose ‘problem of national self-determination’ is allegedly being solved.

Since we cannot reject Less’ proposal as a mere list of the author’s wishes and desires, let us ask ourselves what is the true relevance of Foreign Affairs in international political circles and how much this article can really influence future actions of the new American Administration. Foreign Affairs is a publication sposored by the body called the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), whose membership from the very beginning consisted of senior politicians, secretaries of state, directors of CIA, bankers, academics, lawyers and senior media figures. This body was founded in 1921 as a common Anglo-American project, conceived as the embodiment of the so-called special relationship between the United States and Great Britain, which had been created during the World War I and has remained present to the present day. In this sense, there can hardly be a journal in the entire world with greater political influence, comparable only with the influence of the CFR itself. Therefore, the geopolitical manifesto written by Timothy Less must be taken with ultimate seriousness, because it certainly reflects the interests of some influential circles within the Anglo-American foreign policy establishment. Bearing in mind all the public support that Hillary Clinton enjoyed during her presidential campaign from the people gathered around Foreign Affairs, it is reasonable to assume that she would probably adopt Less’ suggestions. However, it is less likely that the newly-elected President of the United States, Donald Trump, who did not enjoy a slightest support from these circles, will not be so naive as to adopt the strategy of completion of greater state projects presented in Foreign Affairs as his own strategy and a vision that can contribute to peace and stability in any part of the world. However, if that happens, we shall face not only new ethnic conflicts in the Balkans, but also a lasting instability in the rest of the world.

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Election Monitoring in 2018: What Not to Expect

Alina Toporas

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This year’s election calendar released by OSCE showcases a broad display of future presidential, parliamentary and general elections with hefty political subjecthoods which have the potential of transforming in their entirety particularly the European Union, the African Union and the Latin American sub-continent. A wide sample of these countries welcoming elections are currently facing a breadth of challenges in terms of the level of transparency in their election processes. To this end, election observation campaigns conducted by the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), the Council of Europe, the Organisation for American States (OAS), the United Nations Electoral Assistance Division, the National Democratic Institute, Carter Center and even youth organisations such as AEGEE and Silba are of paramount importance in safeguarding the incorruptibility of election proceedings in fraudulent and what cannot be seen with the naked eye type of fraudulent political systems, making sure elections unfold abiding national legislation and international standards.

What exactly does an election observation mission supposed to accomplish?   

An election monitoring mission consists of operational experts and analysts who are all part of a core team and are conducting their assignments for a period of time varying between 8 and 12 weeks. Aside from the core team experts and analysts, there can be short-term or long-term observers and seconded observers or funded observers. Joining them, there is usually a massive local support staff acting as interpreters and intermediaries. Generally, an election observer does not interfere with the process, but merely takes informative notes. With this in mind, it is imperative of the observer to make sure there isn’t any meddling with votes at polling stations by parties and individual candidates; that the people facilitating the election process are picked according to fair and rigorous benchmarks; that these same people can be held accountable for the final results and that, at the end of the day, the election system put in place by the national and local authorities is solid from both a physical and logical standpoint. Oftentimes, particularly in emerging democracies, the election monitoring process goes beyond the actual process of voting by extending to campaign monitoring.

In practical terms, the average election observer needs to abide by certain guidelines for a smooth and standardised monitoring process. Of course, these rules can vary slightly, depending on the sending institution. Typically, once the election observer has landed in the country awaiting elections, their first two days are normally filled with seminars on the electoral system of the country and on the electoral law. Meetings with candidates from the opposition are sometimes organised by the electoral commission. Talking to ordinary voters from builders to cleaners, from artists to businesspeople is another way through which an election observer can get a sense of what social classes pledged their allegiances to what candidates. After two days in training and the one day testing political preferences on the ground, election day begins. Since the early bird gets the worm, polling stations open at least two hours earlier than the work day starts, at around 7am. Throughout the day, observers ask voters whether they feel they need to complain about anything and whether they were asked to identify themselves when voting. Other details such as the polling stations opening on time are very much within the scope of investigation for election monitors. Observers visit both urban voting centres and rural ones. In the afternoon, counting begins with observers carefully watching the volunteers from at least 3 metres away. At the end of the day, observers go back to their hotels and begin filling in their initial questionnaires with their immediate reactions on the whole voting process. In a few weeks time, a detailed report would be issued in cooperation with all the other election observers deployed in various regions of the country and under the supervision of the mission coordinators.   

Why are these upcoming elections particularly challenging to monitor?  

Talks of potential Russian interference into the U.S. elections have led to full-on FBI investigations. Moreover, the idea of Russian interference in the Brexit vote is slowly creeping into the British political discourse. Therefore, it does not take a quantum physicist to see a pattern here. Hacking the voting mechanism is yet another not-so-classic conundrum election observers are facing. We’re in the midst of election hacking at the cognitive level in the form of influence operations, doxing and propaganda. But, even more disturbingly, we’re helpless witnesses to interference at the technical level as well. Removing opposition’s website from the Internet through DDOS attacks to downright political web-hacking in Ukraine’s Central Election Commission to show as winner a far-right candidate are only some of the ways which present an unprecedented political savviness and sophistication directed at the tampering of the election machinery. Even in a country such as the U.S. (or Sweden – their elections being held September of this year) where there is a great deal of control over the physical vote, there is not much election monitoring can do to enhance the transparency of it all when interference occurs by way of the cyber domain affecting palpable election-related infrastructure.

Sketching ideational terrains seems like a fruitful exercise in imagining worst-case scenarios which call for the design of a comprehensive pre-emptive approach for election fraud. But how do you prevent election fraud? Sometimes, the election observer needs to come to terms with the fact that they are merely a reporter, a pawn which notwithstanding the action of finding oneself in the middle of it all, can generally use only its hindsight perspective. Sometimes, that perspective is good enough when employed to draft comprehensive electoral reports, making a difference between the blurry lines of legitimate and illegitimate political and electoral systems.

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Can Europe successfully rein in Big Tobacco?

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Photo by Mateo Avila Chinchilla on Unsplash

In what looks set to become the ‘dieselgate’ of the tobacco industry, a French anti-smoking organization has filed a lawsuit against four major tobacco brands for knowingly selling cigarettes with tar and nicotine levels that were between 2 and 10 times higher than what was indicated on the packs. Because the firms had manipulated the testing process, smokers who thought they were smoking a pack a day were in fact lighting up the equivalent of up to 10, significantly raising their risk for lung cancer and other diseases.

According to the National Committee Against Smoking (CNCT), cigarettes sold by the four companies have small holes in the filter that ventilate smoke inhaled under test conditions. But when smoked by a person, the holes compress due to pressure from the lips and fingers, causing the smoker to inhale higher levels of tar and nicotine. According to the lawsuit, the irregularity “tricks smokers because they are unaware of the degree of risk they are taking.”

It was only the most recent example of what appears to be a deeply entrenched propensity for malfeasance in the tobacco industry. And unfortunately, regulatory authorities across Europe still appear unprepared to just say no to big tobacco.

Earlier this month, for instance, Public Health England published a report which shines a positive light on “tobacco heating products” and indicates that electronic cigarettes pose minimal health risks. Unsurprisingly, the UK report has been welcomed by big tobacco, with British American Tobacco praising the clear-sightedness of Public Health England.

Meanwhile, on an EU-wide level, lawmakers are cooperating too closely for comfort with tobacco industry executives in their efforts to craft new cigarette tracking rules for the bloc.

The new rules are part of a campaign to clamp down on tobacco smuggling, a problem that is particularly insidious in Europe and is often attributed to the tobacco industry’s own efforts to stiff the taxman. According to the WHO, the illicit cigarette market makes up between 6-10% of the total market, and Europe ranks first worldwide in terms of the number of seized cigarettes. According to studies, tobacco smuggling is also estimated to cost national and EU budgets more than €10 billion each year in lost public revenue and is a significant source of cash for organized crime. Not surprisingly, cheap availability of illegally traded cigarettes is also a major cause of persistently high smoking rates in the bloc.

To help curtail cigarette smuggling and set best practices in the fight against the tobacco epidemic, the WHO established the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) in 2005. The first protocol to the FCTC, the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products, was adopted in 2012 and later ratified by the EU. Among other criteria, the Protocol requires all cigarette packs to be marked with unique identifiers to ensure they can be tracked and traced, thereby making smuggling more difficult.

Unsurprisingly, the tobacco industry has come up with its own candidates to meet track and trace requirements, notably Codentify, a system developed by PMI. From 2005 through 2016, PMI used Codentify as part of an anti-smuggling agreement with the EU. But the agreement was subject to withering criticism from the WHO and other stakeholders for going against the Protocol, which requires the EU and other parties to exclude the tobacco industry from participating in anti-smuggling efforts.

The EU-PMI agreement expired in 2016 and any hopes of reviving it collapsed after the European Parliament, at loggerheads with the Commission, overwhelmingly voted against a new deal and decided to ratify the WHO’s Protocol instead. Codentify has since been sold to the French firm Impala and was rebranded as Inexto – which critics say is nothing but a front company for PMI since its leadership is made out of former PMI executives. Nonetheless, due to lack of stringency in the EU’s draft track and trace proposal, there is still a chance that Inexto may play a role in any new track and trace system, sidelining efforts to set up a system that is completely independent of the tobacco industry.

This could end up by seriously derailing the EU’s efforts to curb tobacco smuggling, given the industry’s history of active involvement in covertly propping up the black market for cigarettes. In 2004, PMI paid $1.25 billion to the EU to settle claims that it was complicit in tobacco smuggling. As part of the settlement, PMI agreed to issue an annual report about tobacco smuggling in the EU, a report that independent researchers found “served the interests of PMI over those of the EU and its member states.”

Given the industry’s sordid history of efforts to prop up the illicit tobacco trade, it’s little surprise that critics are still dissatisfied with the current version of the EU’s track and trace proposal.

Now, the CNCT’s lawsuit against four major tobacco firms gives all the more reason to take a harder line against the industry. After all, if big tobacco can’t even be honest with authorities about the real levels of chemicals in their own products, what makes lawmakers think that they can play a viable role in any effort to quell the illegal cigarette trade – one that directly benefits the industry?

Later this month, the European Parliament will have a new chance to show they’re ready to get tough on tobacco, when they vote on the pending proposal for an EU-wide track and trace system. French MEP Younous Omarjee has already filed a motion against the system due to its incompatibility with the letter of the WHO. Perhaps a ‘dieselgate’ for the tobacco industry might be just the catalyst they need to finally say no to PMI and its co-conspirators.

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Bureaucrats’ Crusade: The European Commission’s Strategy for the Western Balkans

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The European Commission set a target date of 2025 for some of the Balkan countries to join. However, Brussels sees only Serbia and Montenegro as actual candidates. The door formally remains open to Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo and Macedonia, but these countries have been put into a grey zone with no time frames and road maps. They have been put on hold with no tangible prospects for membership, left without any explanation of what makes them less valid candidates than Serbia and Montenegro, with these two being as poor, illiberal and undemocratic as the remaining four.

With a dose of instant cynicism, one might conclude that Serbia and Montenegro have been rewarded for their military aggressions on Bosnia and Kosovo, and Serbia’s permanent pressures on Macedonia, whereas the latter ones have been punished for being the former’s victims. However, a more careful look at the population structure of the four non-rewarded countries reveals that these, unlike Serbia and Montenegro, have a relative excess of Muslim population. So far, there have been dilemmas whether the European Union is to be regarded as an exclusive Christian club, bearing in mind the prolonged discriminatory treatment of Turkey as an unwanted candidate. After the European Commission’s new strategy for the Balkans, there can be no such dilemmas: the countries perceived by Brussels bureaucrats as Muslim ones – regardless of the actual percentage of their Muslim population – are not to be treated as European.

The resurrection of this logic, now embodied in the actual strategy, takes Europe back to its pre-Westphalian roots, to the faraway times of the Crusades or the times of the Siege of Vienna. It also signals the ultimate triumph of the most reactionary populist ideologies in the contemporary Europe, based on exclusion of all who are perceived as „others“. It signals the ultimate triumph of the European ineradicable xenophobia. Or – to put it in terms more familiar to the likely author of the strategy, the European Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, Johannes Hahn – the triumph of Ausländerfeindlichkeit.

Now, what options are left to the practically excluded Balkan countries, after so many efforts to present themselves as valid candidates for EU membership? There is a point in claims that some of their oligarchies, particularly the tripartite one in Bosnia-Herzegovina, have never actually wanted to join the EU, because their arbitrary rule would be significantly undermined by the EU’s rule of law. It is logical, then, that the tripartite oligarchy welcomes the strategy that keeps the country away from the EU membership, while at the same time deceiving the population that the strategy is a certain path to the EU. Yet, what about these people, separated into three ethnic quarantines, who believe that joining the EU would simply solve all their political and economic problems, and who refuse to accept the idea that the EU might be an exclusive club, not open to them? What are the remaining options for them?

They cannot launch a comprehensive revolution and completely replace the tripartite oligarchy by their democratic representatives. Still, they can press it to adopt and conduct a multi-optional foreign policy, oriented towards several geopolitical centers: one of them may remain Brussels, but  Washington, Moscow, Beijing, Ankara, Tehran, and others, should also be taken into account. For, a no-alternative policy, as the one which only repeats its devotion to the EU integrations without any other geopolitical options, is no policy at all. In this sense, the presented EU strategy has clearly demonstrated the futility of such a no-alternative approach: regardless of how many times you repeat your devotion to the EU values, principles and integrations, the EU bureaucrats can simply tell you that you will never play in the same team with them. However, such an arbitrary but definite rejection logically pushes the country to look for geopolitical alternatives. And it is high time for Bosnia-Herzegovina’s people and intellectual and political elites to understand that Brussels is not the only option on the table, and that there are other geopolitical centers whose interests might be identified as convergent with the interests of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Still, all of them should first demonstrate the ability to identify the interests of Bosnia-Herzegovina, which means that they should first recognize it as a sovereign state with its own interests, rather than someone else’s proxy.

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