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Kosovo independence: Dilemmas on the NATO’s aggression in 1999

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Recent election of Hashim Tachi – a former military leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army (1998−1999), as a President of the Republic of Kosovo by Kosovo’s Parliament opened again a question of the NATO’s military intervention against the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (the FRY) in March−June 1999 as a foundation for Kosovo’s secession from Serbia and its unilateral proclamation of a quasi-independence in February 2008.

Kosovo became the first and only European state up today that is ruled by the terroristic warlords as a party’s possession – the (Albanian) Kosovo Liberation Army (the KLA). The aim of this article is to investigate the nature of the NATO’s war on Yugoslavia in 1999 which has as a final outcome the creation of the first terroristic state in Europe – Republic of Kosovo.

Terrorism and Kosovo independence

The KLA terrorists with a support by the US’ and the EU’s administrations launched a full scale of violence in December 1998 for the only purpose to provoke the NATO’s military intervention against the FRY as a precondition for Kosovo secession from Serbia hopefully followed by internationally recognized independence. In order to finally resolve the “Kosovo Question” in the favor of the Albanians, the US’ Clinton administration brought two confronting sides to formally negotiate in the French castle of Rambouillet in France in February 1999 but in fact to impose an ultimatum to Serbia to accept de facto secession of Kosovo. Regardless to the fact that the Rambouillet ultimatum de iure recognized Serbia’s territorial integrity, the disarmament of terroristic KLA and did not mention Kosovo independence from Serbia, as the conditions of the final agreement were in essence highly favorable to the KLA and its secessionist project towards the independent Kosovo, Serbia simply rejected them. The US’s answer was a military action led by the NATO as a “humanitarian intervention” in order to directly support the Kosovo Albanian separatism. Therefore, on March 24th, 1999 the NATO started its military operation against the FRY which lasted till June 10th 1999. Why the UN’s Security Council was not asked for the approval of the operation is clear from the following explanation:

Knowing that Russia would veto any effort to get UN backing for military action, NATO launched air strikes against Serbian forces in 1999, effectually supporting the Kosovar Albanian rebels”.[1]  

The crucial feature of this operation was a barbarian, coercive, inhuman, illegal, and above all merciless bombing of Serbia for almost three months. Nevertheless, that the NATO’s military intervention against the FRY – Operation Allied Force, was propagated by its proponents as a pure humanitarian operation, it is recognized by many Western and other scholars that the US and its client states of the NATO had mainly political and geostrategic aims that led them to this military action.

The legitimacy of the intervention of the brutal coercive bombing of both military and civilian targets in Kosovo province and the rest of Serbia became immediately controversial as the UN’s Security Council did not authorize the action. Surely, the action was illegal according to the international law but it was formally justified by the US’ administration and the NATO’s spokesman as a legitimate for the reason that it was unavoidable as all diplomatic options were exhausted to stop the war. However, a continuation of the military conflict in Kosovo between the KLA and Serbia’s state security forces would threaten to produce a humanitarian catastrophe and generate political instability of the region of the Balkans. Therefore, “in the context of fears about the ‘ethnic cleansing’ of the Albanian population, a campaign of air strikes, conducted by US-led NATO forces”[2] was executed with a final result of withdrawal of Serbia’s forces and administration from the province: that was exactly the main requirement of the Rambouillet ultimatum.

It is of the crucial importance to stress at least five facts in order to properly understand the nature and aims of the NATO’s military intervention against Serbia and Montenegro in 1999:

  • It was bombed only the Serbian side involved in the conflict in Kosovo while the KLA was allowed and even fully sponsored to continue its terroristic activities either against Serbia’s security forces or the Serbian civilians.
  • The ethnic cleansing of the Albanians by the Serbian security forces was only a potential action (in fact, only in the case of direct NATO’s military action against the FRY) but not a real fact as a reason for the NATO to start coercive bombing of the FRY.                                    
  • The NATO’s claim that the Serbian security forces killed up to 100.000 Albanian civilians during the Kosovo War of 1998−1999 was a pure propaganda lie as after the war it was found only 3.000 bodies of all nationalities in Kosovo.
  • The bombing of the FRY was promoted as the “humanitarian intervention”, what means as legitimate and defensible action, that scholarly should mean “…military intervention that is carried out in pursuit of humanitarian rather than strategic objectives”.[3] However, today it is quite clear that the intervention had political and geostrategic ultimate objectives but not the humanitarian one.
  • The NATO’s military intervention in 1999 was a direct violation of the UN principles of international conduct as it is said in the UN Charter that: “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations”.[4]

What happened in Kosovo when the NATO started its military campaign was quite expectable and above all wishful by the US’ administration and the KLA’s leaders: Serbia made much stronger military assault on the KLA and the ethnic Albanians who supported it. As a consequence, there was significantly increased number of the refugees – up to 800.000 according to the CIA’s and the UN’s sources. However, the US’s administration presented all of these refugees as the victims of the Serb-led policy of systematic and well-organized ethnic cleansing (alleged “Horse Shoe” operation) regardless on the facts that:

  • Overwhelming majority of them were not the real refugees but rather “TV refugees” for the Western mass media.
  • Minority of them were simply escaping from the consequences of the NATO’s merciless bombing.
  • Just part of the refugees has been the real victims of the Serbian “bloody revenge” policy for the NATO’s destruction of Serbia.

Nevertheless, the final result of the NATO’s sortie campaign against the FRY was that the UN’s Security Council formally authorized the NATO’s (under the official name of KFOR)[5] ground troops to occupy Kosovo and give to the KLA free hands to continue and finish with the ethnic cleansing of the province from all non-Albanians. That was the beginning of the making of the Kosovo independence which was finally proclaimed by the Kosovo Parliament (without national referenda) in February 2008 and immediately recognized by the main Western countries.[6] At such a way, Kosovo became the first legalized European mafia state.[7] Nevertheless, in addition, the EU’s and the US’s policies to rebuild peace on the territory of ex-Yugoslavia did not manage to deal successfully with probably the main and most serious challenge to their proclaimed task to re-establish the regional stability and security: al-Qaeda linked terrorism, especially in Bosnia-Herzegovina but also in Kosovo-Metochia.[8]      

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Members of the U.S.’s sponsored Kosovo Liberation Army in 1999 during the NATO’s aggression on the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia

Dilemmas

According to the NATO’s sources, there were two objectives of the alliance’s military intervention against the FRY in March−June 1999:

  • To force Slobodan Miloshevic, a President of Serbia, to accept a political plan for the autonomy status of Kosovo (designed by the US administration).
  • To prevent (alleged) ethnic cleansing of the Albanians by Serbia’s authorities and their armed forces.

However, while the political objective was in principle achieved, the humanitarian one was with quite opposite results. By bombing the FRY in the three air strikes phases the NATO succeeded to force Miloshevic to sign political-military capitulation in Kumanovo on June 9th, 1999, to handle Kosovo to the NATO’s administration and practically to authorize the KLA’s-led Islamic terror against the Christian Serbs.[9] A direct outcome of the operation was surely negative as the NATO’s sorties caused approximately 3000 killed Serbian military and civilians in addition to unknown number of killed ethnic Albanians. An indirect impact of the operation cost a number of the ethnic Albanian killed civilians followed by massive refugee flows of Kosovo Albanians[10] as it provoked the Serbian police and the Yugoslav army to attack. We can not forget that a greatest scale of war crimes against the Albanian civilians in Kosovo during the NATO’s bombing of the FRY was most probably, according to some research investigations, committed by the Krayina refugee Serbs from Croatia who were after August 1995 in the uniforms of the regular police forces of Serbia as a matter of revenge for the terrible Albanian atrocities committed in the Krayina region in Croatia only several years ago against the Serb civilians[11] when many of Kosovo Albanians fought the Serbs in the Croatian uniforms.    

The fundamental dilemma is why the NATO directly supported the KLA – an organization that was previously clearly called as a “terrorist” by many Western Governments including and the US’s one? It was known that a KLA’s warfare of partisan strategy[12] was based only on direct provoking of the Serbia’s security forces to respond by attacking the KLA’s posts with unavoidable number of civilian casualties. However, these Albanian civilian victims were not understood by the NATO’s authorities as a “collateral damage” but rather as the victims of deliberate ethnic cleansing. Nevertheless, all civilian victims of the NATO’s bombing in 1999 were presented by the NATO’s authorities exactly as a “collateral damage” of the NATO’s “just war”[13] against the oppressive regime in Belgrade.

Here we will present the basic (academic) principles of a “just war”:

  • Last resort – All diplomatic options are exhausted before the force is used.
  • Just cause – The ultimate purpose of use of force is to self-defend its own territory or people from military attack by the others.
  • Legitimate authority – To imply the legitimate constituted Government of a sovereign state, but not by some private (individual) or group (organization).
  • Right intention – The use of force, or war, had to be prosecuted on the morally acceptable reasons, but not based on revenge or the intention to inflict the damage.
  • Reasonable prospect of success – The use of force should not be activated in some hopeless cause, in which the human lives are exposed for no real benefits.
  • Proportionality – The military intervention has to have more benefits than loses.
  • Discrimination – The use of force must be directed only at the purely military targets as the civilians are considered to be innocent.
  • Proportionality – The used force has to be no greater than it is needed to achieve morally acceptable aims and must not be greater than the provoking cause.
  • Humanity – The use of force cannot be directed ever against the enemy personnel if they are captured (the prisoners of war) or wounded.[14]      

If we analyze the NATO’s military campaign in regard to just above presented basic (academic) principles of the “just war”, the fundamental conclusions will be as following:

  • The US’s administration in 1999 did not use any real diplomatic effort to settle the Kosovo crisis as Washington simply gave the political-military ultimatum in Rambouillet only to one side (Serbia) to either accept or not in full required blackmails: 1) To withdraw all Serbian military and police forces from Kosovo; 2) To give Kosovo administration to the NATO’s troops; and 3) To allow the NATO’s troops to use a whole territory of Serbia for the transit purpose. In the other words, the basic point of the US’s ultimatum to Belgrade was that Serbia will voluntarily become a US’s colony but without Kosovo province. Even the US’s President at that time – Bill Clinton, confirmed that Miloshevic’s rejection of the Rambouillet ultimatum was understandable and logical. It can be said that Serbia in 1999 did the same as the Kingdom of Serbia did in July 1914 by rejecting the Austro-Hungarian ultimatum which was also absurd and abusive.[15]    
  • This principle was absolutely misused by the NATO’s administration as no one NATO’s country was attacked or occupied by the FRY. In Kosovo at that time it was a classic anti-terroristic war launched by the state authorities against the illegal separatist movement but fully sponsored in this case by the neighboring Albania and the NATO.[16] In the other words, this second principle of the “just war” can be only applied to the anti-terroristic operations by the state authorities of Serbia in Kosovo province against the KLA rather than to the NATO’s military intervention against the FRY.
  • The Legitimate authority principle in the Kosovo conflict case of 1998−1999 can be applied only to Serbia and her legitimate state institutions and authority which were recognized as legitimate by the international community and above all by the UN.
  • The morally acceptable reasons officially used by the NATO’s authorities to justify its own military action against the FRY in 1999 were quite unclear and above all unproved and misused for the very political and geostrategic purposes in the coming future. Today we know that the NATO’s military campaign was not based on the morally proved claims to stop a mass expulsion of the ethnic Albanians from their homes in Kosovo as a mass number of displaced persons appeared during the NATO’s military intervention but not before.
  • The consequences of the fifth principle were selectively applied as only Kosovo Albanians benefited from both short and long term perspectives by the NATO’s military engagement in the Balkans in 1999.
  • The sixth principle also became practically applied only to Kosovo Albanians what was in fact and the ultimate task of the US’ and the NATO’s administrations. In the other words, the benefits of the action were overwhelmingly single-sided. However, from the long-term geostrategic and political aspects the action was very profitable with a minimum loses for the Western military alliance during the campaign.
  • The practical consequences of the seventh principle became mostly criticized as the NATO obviously did not make any difference between the military and civilian targets. Moreover, the NATO’s alliance deliberately bombed much more civilian objects and non-combat citizens than the military objects and personnel. However, all civilian victims of the bombing of all nationalities became simply presented by the NATO’s authority as an unavoidable “collateral damage”, but it fact it was a clear violation of the international law and one of the basic principles of the concept of a “just war”.
  • The eighth principle of a “just was” surely was not respected by the NATO as the used force was much higher as needed to achieve proclaimed tasks and above all was much stronger that the opposite side had. However, the morally acceptable aims of the western policymakers were based on the wrong and deliberately misused “facts” in regard to the ethnic Albanian victims of the Kosovo War in 1998−1999 as it was primarily with the “brutal massacre of forty-five civilians in the Kosovo village of Račak in January 1999”[17] which became a formal pretext for the NATO’s intervention. Nevertheless, it is known today that those Albanian “brutally massacred civilians” were in fact the members of the KLA killed during the regular fight but not executed by the Serbian security forces.[18]
  • Only the last principle of a “just war” was respected by the NATO for the very reason that there were no captured soldiers from the opponent side. The Serbian authorities also respected this principle as all two NATO’s captured pilots were treated as the prisoners of war according to the international standards and even were free very soon after the imprisonment.[19]

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Crucified Christian (Serb Orthodox) Kosovo after the war by the KLA’s members in power

Conclusions      

The crucial conclusions of the article after the investigation of the nature of NATO’s “humanitarian” military intervention in Kosovo in 1999 are:

  • The NATO’s military intervention against the FRY during the Kosovo War in 1998−1999 was done primarily for the political and geostrategic purposes.
  • A declarative “humanitarian” nature of the operation just served as a formal moral framework of the realization of the genuine goals of the post-Cold War US’s policy at the Balkans which foundations were laid down by the Dayton Accords in November 1995.
  • The US’s administration of Bill Clinton used the terrorist KLA for pressing and blackmailing the Serbian Government to accept the ultimatum by Washington to transform Serbia into the US’s military, political and economic colony with a NATO’s membership in the future for the exchange of formal preservation of Serbia’s territorial integrity.
  • The Western Governments originally labeled the KLA as a “terrorist organization” – that is combat strategy of direct provoking Serbia’s security forces was morally unacceptable and would not result in either diplomatic or military support.
  • During the Kosovo War in 1998−1999 the KLA basically served as the NATO’s ground forces in Kosovo for direct destabilization of Serbia’s state security which were militarily defeated at the very beginning of 1999 by Serbia’s regular police forces.  
  • The NATO’s sorties in 1999 have as the main goal to force Belgrade to give Kosovo province to the US’s and EU’s administration in order to transform it into the biggest US’s and NATO’s military base in Europe.
  • The NATO’s “humanitarian” intervention in 1999 against the FRY violated almost all principles of the “just war” and the international law – an intervention which became one of the best examples in the post-Cold War history of unjust use of coercive power for the political and geostrategic purposes and at the same time a classic case of coercive diplomacy that fully engaged the Western Governments.
  • Some 50.000 NATO’s troops displaced in Kosovo after June 10th, 1999 did not fulfilled the basic tasks of their mission: 1) Demilitarization of the KLA as this paramilitary formation was never properly disarmed; 2) Protection of all Kosovo inhabitants as only up to January 2001 there were at least 700 Kosovo citizens murdered on the ethnic basis (mostly of them were the Serbs); 3) Stability and security of the province as most of the Serbs and other non-Albanians fled the province as a consequence of systematic ethnic cleansing policy committed by the KLA in power after June 1999.
  • The US’s reward for the KLA’s loyalty was to install the army’s members to the key governmental posts of today “independent” Republic of Kosovo which became the first European state administered by the leaders of ex-terrorist organization who started immediately after the war to execute a policy of ethnic cleansing of all non-Albanian population and to Islamize the province.
  • The ultimate national-political goal of the KLA in power in Kosovo is to include this province into the Greater Albania projected by the First Albanian Prizren League in 1878−1881 and for the first time realized during the WWII.[20]
  • Probably, the main consequence of the NATO’s occupation of Kosovo after June 1999 up today is a systematic destruction of the Christian (Serb) cultural inheritance and feature of the province followed by its obvious and comprehensive Islamization and therefore transformation of Kosovo into a new Islamic State.    
  • What concerns the case of the Kosovo crisis in 1998−1999, the first and authentic “humanitarian” intervention was that of Serbia’s security forces against the terroristic KLA in order to preserve the human lives of the ethnic Serbs and anti-KLA Albanians in the province.
  • The Balkan Stability Pact for both Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo-Metochia attempted to under-emphasize traditional concept of sovereignty giving a full practical possibility to the UN’s (in fact the West’s) administrative control over these two ex-Yugoslav territories.[21]    
  • The NATO’s “humanitarian” intervention in 1999 against the FRY clearly violated the recognized international standards of non-intervention, based on the principle of the “inviolability of borders” going beyond the idea of “just war” according to which the self-defense is the crucial reason, or at least formal justification, for the use of force.
  • While the NATO declaratively fulfilled “the international responsibility to protect” (the ethnic Albanians) by heavily bombing Serbia and too much little extent Montenegro, bypassing the UN’s Security Council it is clear that this 78-days terror effort was counterproductive as “creating as much human suffer-refugees as it relieved”.[22]                      
  • The fundamental question in regard to the Kosovo “humanitarian” interventions today is why the Western Governments are not taking another “humanitarian” coercive military intervention after June 1999 in order to prevent further ethnic cleansing and brutal violation of human rights against all non-Albanian population in Kosovo but above all against the Serbs?
  • Finally, the NATO’s military intervention was seen by many social constructivists as a phenomenon of “warlike democracies” as a demonstration how the ideas of liberal democracy “undermine the logic of democratic peace theory”.[23]

 

References

[1]S. L. Spiegel, J. M. Taw, F. L. Wehling, K. P. Williams, World Politics in a New Era, Thomson Wadsworth, 2004, 319.
  [2]A. Heywood, Global Politics, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011, 320.
 [3] Ibid., 319.
  [4]J. Haynes, P. Hough, Sh. Malik, L. Pettiford, World Politics, Harlow: Pearson Education Limited, 2011, 639.
  [5]The 1244 UN Security Council Resolution on June 10th, 1999. The KFOR’s basic responsibilities were:
1)    To protect aid operations.
2)    To protect all Kosovo population.
3)    To create a stable security in the province in order that the international administration can function normally.   
  [6]This recognition of the self-proclaimed Kosovo independence from a democratic country of Serbia with a pro-Western regime, basically gave victory to the Albanian Kosovo radicals of the ethnic cleansing after June 1999. The Albanians from Kosovo started their atrocities against the Serbs immediately after the Kumanovo Agreement in June 1999 when the KLA returned back to Kosovo together with the NATO’s occupation ground troops. Up to February 2008 there were around 200.000 expelled Serbs from Kosovo and 1.248 non-Albanians who have been killed in some cases even very brutally. The number of kidnapped non-Albanians is still not known but presumably majority of them were killed. There were 151 Serb Orthodox spiritual and cultural monuments in Kosovo destroyed by the Albanians in addition to 213 mosques built with financial support from Saudi Arabia. Before Kosovo independence was proclaimed, there were 80 percent of graveyards which were either completely destroyed or partially desecrated by the Albanians. On Kosovo right to independence, see [M. Sterio, The Right to Self-Determination under International Law: “Selfistans”, Secession, and the Rule of the Great Powers, New York−London: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2013, 116−129]. On secession from the point of the international law, see [M. G. Kohen, Secession: International Law Perspectives, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006].
  [7]T. Burghardt, “Kosovo: Europe’s Mafia State. Hub of the EU-NATO Drug Trail”, 22-12-2010, http://www.globalresearch.ca/kosovo-europe-s-mafia-state-hub-of-the-eu-nato-drug-trail/22486.
 [8] J. Haynes, P. Hough, Sh. Malik, L. Pettiford, World Politics, Harlow: Pearson Education Limited, 2011, 588.
  [9]On the “just peace”, see [P. Allan, A. Keller (eds.), What is a Just Peace?, Oxford−New York: Oxford University Press, 2006].
  [10]According to the official Western sources, even up to 90 percent of the Kosovo Albanian population became refugees during the NATO’s military intervention. Therefore, it should be the largest displacement of the civilians in Europe after the WWII. Nevertheless, all of these Albanian refugees are unquestionably considered to be “expelled” from their homes by Serbia’s security forces and the Yugoslav army.
  [11]For example, in the “Medak Pocket” operation on September 9th, 1993 there were killed around 80 Serbian civilians by the Croatian forces [В. Ђ. Мишина (уредник), Република Српска Крајина: Десет година послије, Београд: Добра воља Београд, 2005, 35] in which Kosovo Albanians served too.
  [12]The “partisan” or “guerrilla” war is fought by irregular troops using mainly tactics that are fitting to the geographical features of the terrain. The crucial characteristic of the tactics of the partisan war is that it uses mobility and surprise but not direct frontal battles with the enemy. Usually, the civilians are paying the highest price in the course of the partisan war. In the other words, it is “war conducted by irregulars or guerrillas, usually against regular, uniformed forces, employing hit-and-run, ambush, and other tactics that allow smaller numbers of guerrillas to win battles against numerically superior, often heavily-armed regular forces” [P. R. Viotti, M. V. Kauppi, International Relations and World Politics: Secularity, Economy, Identity, Harlow: Pearson Education Limited, 2009, 544]. With regard to the Kosovo War in 1998−1999 the reconstruction of the Albanian guerrilla strategy is as following:
“…a police patrol is passing a village, when a sudden fire is open and some policemen killed and wounded. The police return the fire and the further development depends on the strength of the rebellious unit engaged. If the village appears well protected and risky to attack by the ordinary units, the latter stops fighting and calls for additional support. It arrives usually as a paramilitary unit, which launches a fierce onslaught” [P. V. Grujić, Kosovo Knot, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: RoseDog Books, 2014, 193].      
  [13]The “just war” is considered to be a war that has a purpose to satisfy certain ethical standards, and therefore is (allegedly) morally justified.  
  [14]A. Heywood, Global Politics, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011, 257.
  [15]М. Радојевић, Љ. Димић, Србија у Великом рату 1914−1915, Београд: Српска књижевна задруга−Београдски форум за свет равноправних, 2014, 94−95.
  [16]For instance, Albania supplied the Albanian Kosovo separatists by weapons in 1997 when around 700.000 guns were “stolen” by the Albanian mob from Albania’s army’s magazines but majority of these weapons found their way exactly to the neighboring Kosovo. The members of the KLA were trained in Albania with the help of the NATO’s military instructors and then sent to Kosovo.    
  [17]R. J. Art, K. N. Waltz (eds.), The Use of Force: Military Power and International Politics, Lanham−Boulder−New York−Toronto−Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2004, 257.
  [18]В. Б. Сотировић, Огледи из југославологије, Виљнус: приватно издање, 2013, 19−29.
  [19]On the NATO’s “humanitarian” intervention in the FRY in 1999, see more in [G. Szamuely, Bombs for Peace: NATO’s Humanitarian War on Yugoslavia, Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2013].
  [20]A Greater Albania as a project is “envisaged to be an area of some 90.000 square kilometres (36.000 square miles), including Kosovo, Greece, Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro” [J. Haynes, P. Hough, Sh. Malik, L. Pettiford, World Politics, Harlow: Pearson Education Limited, 2011, 588].
 [21] R. Johnson, “Reconstructing the Balkans: The effects of a global governance approach”, M. Lederer, P. Müller (eds.), Criticizing Global Governance, New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005, 177.
  [22]A. F. Cooper, J. Heine, R. Thakur (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Modern Diplomacy, Oxford−New York: Oxford University Press, 2015, 766.
  [23]J. Haynes, P. Hough, Sh. Malik, L. Pettiford, World Politics, Harlow: Pearson Education Limited, 2011, 225.

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Tackling migration crises: Fighting corruption may help

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Increasing numbers of migrants are moving towards the Belarus/Poland border.photo: Belarus Red Cross

Twenty-three-year-old Mohamed Rasheed was at a loss after returning to Iraq from a grueling failed attempt to cross the Belarus-Polish border. “There’s no life for us here. There are no jobs; there is no future,” he told a Washington Post reporter.

Another man, who had just disembarked from a repatriation flight from the Belarus capital of Minsk to Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan, frowned and obscured his face with a scarf, according to the reporter, as he responded to a question about why he had left.

“Those words cannot leave my mouth. Who dares to tell the truth here?” the man said.

The two men were returning to a country whose population has largely been excluded from sharing in the benefits of its oil wealth. Youth unemployment hovers at about 25 per cent. Public good and services are poor at best. Security forces and militias crackdown on and fire live ammunition at protesters demanding wholesale change.

Mohammed and his fellow returnee could have been from Lebanon, a middle-income country in which three-quarters of the population lives under the poverty line thanks to a corrupt elite unwilling to surrender vested interests irrespective of the cost to others.

In fact, they could have been from any number of countries in the Middle East, North Africa, and their African and Asian peripheries.

Almost half of the youth from non-Gulf countries in the Middle East and North Africa want nothing more than to leave in the absence of opportunities and prospects. They are exasperated with corrupt, self-serving elites.

This is a part of the world where devastating wars have wracked Syria, Yemen, and Libya. More recently, these countries were joined by Ethiopia while others in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel reel from jihadist violence that feeds on social and economic grievances.

To primarily hold responsible for the migrant crisis, human traffickers and cynical authoritarian leaders like Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko, who are willing to play power games and turn a profit on the back of innocent men, women, and children is swatting at symptoms of a problem that goes to the root of instability in the Middle East and North Africa.

To be sure, Mr. Lukashenko and the traffickers are part of the problem. Moreover, many Middle Easterners on the Belarus-Polish border appear to be economic, not political refugees with a legal right to asylum.

One could argue that the European Union’s refusal to take in the refugees on humanitarian grounds led to their repatriation to Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan, which may have shortened their ordeal. Many risked being ultimately rejected, even if they had been granted entry to the EU because they were not political refugees.

The jury is out on whether the refusal will serve as a warning to the many in the Middle East and North Africa contemplating ways to get to Europe by hook or by crook.

All of this describes the immediate aspects of a dramatic crisis. The danger is that the focus on the immediate will obstruct badly needed thinking of ways to prevent or reduce the risk of future such crises and human suffering, aggravated by the willingness of governments to fight their battles on the backs of the least protected.

The framing of the crisis as a security rather than a political, economic, and social problem further takes away from the development of policies and tools to tackle the root causes of repeated migrant crises – economic mismanagement; political, economic, and financial corruption; nepotism; and loss of confidence in political systems and leadership.

“Addressing population challenges, the youth bulge, and refugee and migration pressure from natural or man-made crises will require measures to promote sustainable economic growth and enhanced educational and healthy capacities,” said George M. Feierstein, senior vice president of the Washington-based Middle East Institute and a former State Department official with multiple postings in the Middle East and North Africa.

Acknowledging that a broader US policy focus is likely to prove more challenging than one narrowly concentrated on security, Mr. Feierstein argued that the United States could “bring assets to the table that could potentially enhance its role in the region and strengthen its position as the preeminent outside power.” The former diplomat was referring to big power rivalry with China and Russia in the Middle East and North Africa.

Adopting Mr. Feierstein’s policy prescription would involve greater emphasis on regional approaches to global challenges, including climate change and public health; conflict management and resolution efforts to safeguard populations and minimize internal displacement and migration; and institutional capacity and resilience building; all backed by greater US private sector engagement.

Kyrgyzstan has potentially emerged in what could provide evidence that a de-emphasis of the security aspects of the migration crisis would not automatically surrender real estate and /or leverage and influence to China and Russia.

Part of a Central Asian world sandwiched between Russia and China on which the United States has seemingly turned its back with its withdrawal from Afghanistan in August, Kyrgyz President Sadyr Japarov is using his election pledges to fight corruption and offer financial rewards to whistleblowers to lure the US back.

Mr. Japarov’s proposition, designed to rescue Kyrgyzstan from the clutches of Russia and China, is the central theme of a document that he has sent to the US State Department. The document outlines proposals to revive a broad political, economic, and civic engagement with the US bolstered by anti-corruption measures and affirmation of democratic freedoms.

S. Frederick Starr, founding chairman of the Central Asia-Caucasus Institute, suggested that Mr. Japarov is providing a template for US reengagement with Central Asia and Afghanistan. In fact, the Kyrgyz president is offering a formula equally relevant to the Middle East and North Africa.

If adopted by the Biden administration, Kyrgyzstan “would become ‘The Mouse that Roared’ to cite the title of the droll 1959 British film.  This time, however, the lesser power will have advanced its cause not by threatening military action…but with a sensible proposal by which a great power—the United States—…can once more become a serious presence in a major part of Asia that lies on China’s and Russia’s doorstep,” Mr. Starr said.

In contrast to Central Asia, the United States remains the dominant power in the Middle East and North Africa. But it’s a power seeking to redefine the role it wishes to play going forward in a region struggling to come to grips with an uncertain but changing US approach.

Kyrgyzstan could be showing the way for both United States and the Middle East. However, to make it work and reduce, if not stop, migration flows, the United States and its Western partners would have to prioritise confronting corrupt elites who will stop at nothing, including displacing populations, to preserve their illicitly gained privileges.

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An election, another one, and yet another one: Will Bulgaria finally have a functioning government?

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As of November, Bulgarian voters headed to the polls four times this year. Therefore, the news of a new election evokes little surprise — almost like in Israel before Netanyahu’s ousting. In both countries, the tension kept rising while expectations became more and more modest with each successive electoral round. However, the contests that took place on Sunday 14th were of the utmost importance for the country; and not only. In fact, Bulgaria is the EU’s and NATO’s south-eastern bulwark and hosts a tract of the South Stream gas duct. Moreover, Sofia is currently blockingthe next round of EU enlargement negotiations over North Macedonia’s disrespect of extant bilateral obligations. Finally, the Biden administration has manifested the US’s renewed interest in the Bulgaria’s internal politics and international orientations. Thus, the result of the vote has wider implication for the European and Euro-Atlantic political and geo-strategic stability.

Background — Two failed elections

April 2021: How the parties ‘hung’ the parliament

Last April, Bulgarians voted to renew the sitting parliament in the general elections. However, after a summer-long wave of protests against the Prime Minister and the Attorney General, established parties looked rather weak.

According to most experts, this new season of contestation has mobilised new voters, previously disenchanted about politics. As a result, the parties and the leaders who casted themselvesas supportive of the protests increased their votes. In particular, the neo-liberal coalition Democratic Bulgaria (DB) got the support of the well-educated and those residing in bigger cities. Meanwhile, the personal parties Stand Up! Bastards Out! (ISMV) and There is Such a People (ITN) fished across the board.

But they cannot persuadePM Boyko Borisov’s supporters that his removal from office is a precondition for societal improvement. Thus, despite the many corruption scandals involving Borisov’s cliques, all polls forecasted his party, GERB, would have won the election.

Or, to be more precise, GERB won the ballot count — but without a majority (see Figure 1). Moreover, the indignation did not spare the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), which sometimes vents sympathies  for GERB despite its corruption. In addition, the elderlies are overrepresented amongst the BSP’s voters, the party suffered from Covid’s increasing morbidity during the spring. Hence, the main traditional opposition party lost votes in favour of the abovementioned ‘protest parties’, weakening the wider anti-Borisov front.

Against this background, there was absolutely no chance of seeing a cabinet get through a vote of confidence. In fact, GERB won 75 seats and the DPS, an ethnic-Turkish party closely associated with GERB, got other 30. Meanwhile, the so-called “parties of the protest” had only 93 representatives on the 121 needed to form a government. True, the BSP managed to hold on to 43 seats — enough to make the protest parties’ eventual confidence motion pass. But DB and ITN refused to engage in serious negotiations with the socialists, forcing the parliament to disband.

The President scheduled new election in July.

July 2021: How politicians (did not) made it through another hung parliament

Most Bulgarian parties and their leaders failed to understand the real meaning of the election results in July. In fact, for the first timesince its appearance in 2009, GERB failed to win the most votes. In part, this could be explained arguing that a large share of GERB’s constituency does not vote ideologically. On the contrary, researchers hypothesise that support for Borisov’s party stems chiefly from the networks of clienteleshe has established. Thus, it was relatively uncomplicated for the President-appointed caretaker government to disincentivise practices such as vote buying and controlled voting. Either way, subsequent sociological analyses and available data show that GERB’s voters demobilised more than other parties’ supporters in July.

Conversely, the so-called ‘parties of the protest’ were the main beneficiary of the disengagement of GERB’s voters. True, most of the ITN’s, DB’s and ISMV’s voters were not ideologically committed to their party of choice either. Nevertheless, the results showed that protest voting can be powerful enough of a force to uproot an already-destabilised party system. In fact, all three parties increased their share of the vote and number of seats (see Figure 2). In addition, ITN’s votes increased in absolute terms by 92,000 units despite an eight-percent reduction in turnout.

After having seen the results, Borisov’s adversaries, especially President Radev, imagined the parties could agree on a new cabinet. In fact, GERB and the DPS lost 13 seats. Meanwhile, the so-called “parties of the protest” had as many as 112 representatives and the BSP was left with 36. Eventually, strong of its 65 deputies, ITN came up with the offer for DB, ISMV and the BPS. Essentially, ITN would form a minority “cabinet of experts” following an agenda agreed amongst the four parties. In other words, ITN came up with a confidence-and-supply arrangement which would have denied its partners any post. However, the populist reason which drives ITN’s strategy led to a massive failure although there was a draft government programme. Namely, according to several rumours, DB requested to rediscuss some of the cabinet members’ nomination as part of the agreement. Predictably, ITN’s preconceived denial to negotiate on the names caused DB’s rebuttalof the entire confidence-and-supply mechanism. Obviously, the BSP and ISMV opportunistically abandoned ITN’s wretched locomotive before the egregious failure of its government in pectore.

The President scheduled new election in November.

Yet another parliamentary… and finally a cabinet?

Considering the previous two votes’ result, it is unsurprising that few analysts tried to call the last electoral round. Indeed, much of this unpredictability stemmed from the decision of two President-appointed caretaker ministers to form a new party. Actually, the names of former finance minister Kirill Petkov and former economy minister Asen Vasilev were little known until May. However, the former’s intense public activity in the revealing the corrupt practicesof Borisov’s administration made him very popular. Moreover, Petkov’s rhetoric emphasises, unlike that of most other Bulgarian political leaders, dialogue, trust and teamwork— especially with Vasilev. Lastly, Petkov and Vasilev made a wit choice in calling their party We Continue the Change (PP). In fact, the name underlines continuity with the caretaker government’s activity and suggests a connection with its appointer, President Radev. After all, the President remains the most popular Bulgarian politician and PP benefitted from his informal blessing (Figure 3).

Overall, the results are surprisingto say the least (Figure 4). Although the turnout fell again to slightly less than 40% of eligible voters, PP achieved a convincing lead over GERB. At the same time, the entire political panorama changed dramatically virtually overnight. After a months-long decline, ISMV failed to clear the four-percent threshold to enter the parliament and risks disappearing. Evidently, the BSP continued its decline, ranking fourth – even after the DPS – and losing 54 seats on its pre-2021 level. Interestingly, PP seems to have syphoned offso many votes from the protest party par excellence, ITN, to shrink it to 25 seats.  The same dynamic drove votes from PP to DB, whose leader admitted the two parties’ self-evident ideological affinity recently. Finally, a nationalist ‘protest’ formationmanged to elect 13 deputies, remedying nationalists’ failures in April and July: Văzrazhdane (‘National Revival’).

Looking at the mere numbers of seats in the parliament, one would reach a simple conclusion. And some already say that the Bulgarians will soon have to deal with a new cabinet, with Petkov as PM. However, the most refined analysts have noted that the parties may fail to form a government for the third time.

Conclusion — What to look for in the next weeks and months

The most fascinating aspects of Bulgaria’s current election cycle is not new to those who follow Israeli politics, for instance. In fact, as it happened in Tel Aviv after Netanyahu’s failure to form a government, many feel changes coming. However, in Sofia like in Tel Aviv, there are still many unknown quantities to deal with in politics’ general equation.

Obviously, the reference is most directly to Văzrazhdane — this absolute newcomer to parliamentary politics. First, the party has adopted rather ‘atypical’ stances on, amongst other topics, Bulgaria’s NATO and EU membership. Curiously, most of the party’s propaganda material is freely and easily accessible online through social networksand Văzrazhdane’s website. Besides the fact that the majority of its activists and candidates are open to have an online chat with anyone. Hence, it is reasonable to expect that at least part of Văzrazhdane’s 127,568 voters is well aware of its ideals. Nevertheless, it may not be able to coalesce with a strongly pro-EU, neo-liberal and verticalized party as PP without denaturing.  Second, the party’s modest success may be more sustainable in the medium to long term than that of PP. Differently from PP, ITN, ISMV and otherBulgarian leader-driven political projects, Văzrazhdane has been growing up for year. In effect, a few sociologists and analysts were already singling out the party’s positive trajectory in July. Thus, its ideas may turn into a long-lasting destabilising factor for Bulgaria’s usually dull foreign policy in the coming years.

Furthermore, one can argue at length on what these results say on the state of Bulgaria’s liberal democracy. Sure, neither PP nor GERB are a serious threat to democracy as a procedural rule involving elections. However, both parties pose an unmistakable menace to the country’s already fledging liberal institutions. In fact, both Borisov and, in his short tenure to nowadays, Petkovhave shown little appreciation of parliamentarism. Moreover, Petkov embraces a brand of neoliberalismwhich implies a few carrots(e.g., raising pensions) and much more stick. In fact, he has only criticised entrepreneurs whom others have already associated with Borisov and promised not to raise taxes. In addition, he has an open feud with the Constitutional Courtover his dual citizenship — which invalidated his ministerial appointment. Finally, Petkov and his associated have approached the pandemicas a common-sense matterdespite the ongoing compression of citizens’ freedoms.

Therefore, the future remains unpredictable. Especially assuming that a Petkov cabinet would have the support of both the EU and the President. In fact, left unconstrained by Brussels in the name of stabilitocracy and supported by Radev to finish off his archenemy, Borisov, Petkov and his associated may end up rewriting the rules of Bulgarian politics in an elitist way. After all, they have already done it by violating all constitutional customs on caretaker governments’ self-restraint. Why not to try again?

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Engaging Morocco: A Chess Game Spain Does Not Want to Lose

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In a game of chess, each player knows the type of game they are playing and takes turns moving the pieces. In addition to the relative advantage of making an opening consistent with your objectives, you must anticipate your opponent’s moves and plan accordingly.

Morocco moved pieces on May 17 and 18, 2021, when it let in 8,000 immigrants in the city of Ceuta, a Spanish territory in Africa and external border of the European Union. It did so without warning, neglecting its functions as border guardian and allowing the entry of a mass of migrants amounting to 9.5% of Ceuta’s population.

This episode is of unprecedented character: it occurred in the context of a geopolitical change in the Maghreb, within an unparalleled worsening of Rabat-Madrid relations, and it was of an unmatched magnitude. The particularity of the event demands an assessment of the relations between both countries and of Spain’s strategy towards Morocco. Does Madrid know that it is playing chess with Rabat? Is it capable of reading the moves of Morocco in advance? Does it have an effective strategy?

Background

This act takes place during a period of dramatic change in the Maghreb area. Namely, hostilities over Western Sahara broke out again in 2019. Further, Morocco’s relations with Algiers have drastically deteriorated, while its relations with Europe have become more strained following the CJEU rulings in 2021 and conflicts with France and Berlin. Washington has increased its support for Morocco, recognizing its sovereignty over Western Sahara and providing arms supplies and military cooperation. In parallel, Rabat is making a pivot to Africa, strengthening ties with the Sahel and extending its diplomatic contacts with Nigeria, Senegal and other West African countries. These changes enhance the importance of Morocco’s movements and highlight the relevance of its interactions with its only European neighbor: Spain.

Relations between Spain and Morocco have always been conflictive and prosperous in equal parts. In addition to the positive aspects of trade relations, economic complementarity and cooperation in the fight against terrorism, there are also problematic aspects: territorial claims over Spanish possessions in Africa, maritime delimitation issues and immigration. Morocco’s rejection of the principle of Uti possidetis juris, seeking to change the borders inherited from colonialism, has brought conflict to its relations with its neighbors. With Spain, this is evident in events such as the Ifni War (Morocco-Spain), the Green March, the Perejil crisis and the events in Ceuta in May of this year.

In the media, relations between the kingdoms of Spain and Morocco are shaped by conflicts, such as the Perejil Crisis in 2002 and 2010-2011 without a Moroccan ambassador to Madrid. These confrontations, usually involving Spanish territories in Africa or issues of great public sensitivity such as migration or the Western Sahara, are short-lived and normally quickly resolved. As a result, relations between Madrid and Rabat are cyclical in nature and form part of Spanish domestic politics. This conditions that the high points in their relations never last long and that Spain’s responses in discussing the Sahara, Ceuta and Melilla publicly are avoidant rather than assertive. Within this framework, the events in Ceuta 2021 can be understood as a new setback in the development of complex relations.

These conflicts contrast with Spain’s deeply intertwined economic interaction with Morocco. Sectors such as automobiles, textiles and agriculture form part of the same value chain. Morocco is Spain’s second largest non-EU partner while Spain has overtaken France as the main supplier to Morocco. This responds to the concept of the “cushion of interests” put forward by Spain in the 1990s. The core idea of this strategy is that increased economic interdependence will reduce political tensions. According to this theory, since Morocco’s economy is more dependent on Spain than Spain is on Morocco, Rabat would be constrained in its political movements. However, given the frequency of conflicts between the two kingdoms, this liberal approach is of doubtful effectiveness.

The combination of frequent misunderstandings and growing economic interaction is not the only paradox to be noted in the relations of the two kingdoms. On the political level, the synchronization between the countries’ royal houses (mainly between Juan Carlos I and Hassan II in the past but also between Mohamed VI and Felipe VI at present) stands in contrast to the six years without the annual high-level meetings required by the Treaty of Friendship between the two countries. Moreover, Prime Minister Sanchez has broken with the Spanish tradition of paying the first foreign trip to Morocco, in place since the 1980s.

In short, the problems between Madrid and Rabat are cyclical and greatly affect Spanish domestic politics. Neither the strength of the commercial interaction nor the closeness between their kings are enough to smooth relations between the two countries.

The axes of the relationship between Spain and Morocco

The complexity of the relationship between Spain and Morocco revolves around six axes: migration, terrorism, energy, Sahara, Ceuta and Melilla, and the European Union. Each axis generates a series of opportunities and vulnerabilities for Spain, and it is the confluence of these axes that determines the ups and downs between the two countries.

The first of these axes is migration. Due to its sustained omnipresence in the media, it is the one that most concerns Spanish domestic policy. Sub-Saharan and Moroccan immigrants arrive to Spain through two different routes: by sea (to the peninsula and the Canary Islands) and by land (through the Spanish cities in Africa of Ceuta and Melilla). Since 1992, Madrid has increased cooperation with Rabat in this area.

Currently, the border externalization system is present in the repatriation of immigrants, the joint maritime police patrols, the joint police stations, the raids against massive assaults on border fences, and the construction and control of the Nador fence in Morocco. These projects are financed by European funds, which Morocco would like to see increase. This collaboration is asymmetrical: Morocco has sole control of the border, and Spain depends on its goodwill. Rabat, aware of this, does not hesitate to instrumentalize the issue.

The second axis is anti-terrorism and security cooperation. Collaboration in this area originated with the terrorist attacks in Madrid on March 11, 2004. Cooperation now extends to police, judicial and intelligence cooperation. In addition, with the aim of controlling radicalization, Rabat appoints part of the imams in Spain. Here again, the asymmetry is in favor of Morocco. The Moroccan imams could position themselves in favor of the interests of their country of origin. Moreover, anti-terrorist cooperation is essential for Spain’s national security, and its potential loss would put Spain at risk.

The third axis is energy. The Spanish presence in this field is extensive, with participation in Morocco’s solar and wind power development and in its combined cycle power plants. In addition, Spain exports electricity to Morocco through two interconnections with the Iberian Peninsula, which accounts for 20% of the Moroccan demand. Spain used to be dependent on the Maghreb-Europe gas pipeline, which passed through Morocco. Its closure in November 2021 has reduced this dependence but has posed a problem to guaranteeing gas supplies to Spain. In this field, Spain has the upper hand: it has vetoed the Mediterranean Solar Plan in Morocco (to avoid competition with Spanish renewable production) and has rejected a 3rd electricity interconnection requested by Morocco.

The fourth axis is that of Western Sahara. This former Spanish colony is of visceral importance to Morocco. In the heart of its territorial claims, the conflict remains ongoing since it began in the 1970s, and Rabat lacks international support on its position. Moreover, it is a topical issue, around which Morocco has recently won American support, French and German rejection, and on which it has declared that it will not sign trade agreements that do not include Western Sahara.

Spain faces a dilemma since it must choose between its public opinion (sensitive to the Saharawi cause) and its trade relations with Morocco. As a result, it maintains a dual position. Officially, Spain supports a solution through the UN, sends humanitarian aid to the Saharawi refugee camps in Tindouf, recognizes the Polisario Front as representative of the Saharawi people and rejects Moroccan claims to Canary Islands waters on the grounds that Rabat has no sovereignty over Western Sahara.

Nevertheless, it applauds the autonomy project proposed in 2007 by Morocco (which does not envisage independence), rejected the US initiative to extend MINURSO’s mandate to human rights monitoring in 2013, and defends Morocco’s interests (and its own) before the judgments of the CJEU on trade agreements involving Western Sahara. The complexity of this axis, which forces Spain to walk in two directions at the same time, is a threat to any constructive relationship with Morocco.

The fifth axis is Morocco’s claims over the autonomous cities of Ceuta and Melilla and the Spanish islands off the Moroccan coast. Rabat’s endeavor to re-establish its “authentic” borders does not end in the Sahara, further extending into these Spanish territories, over which it has a permanent claim.

These territories have four problems.

  1. Economically, they are dependent on Moroccan trade and on Spanish subsidies,
  2. demographically, the growth of the population of Moroccan origin causes changes in the social structure that can be a source of conflict,
  3. international protection is relative, since the Spanish territories are not explicitly protected by NATO, and although they are part of the EU and the Schengen Area, they are not within the Customs Union,
  4. the islands do not appear in the Spanish Constitution nor in the Spanish territorial organization.

Taking advantage of these weaknesses, Morocco has used different strategies to strengthen its claims: economic blockades, vetoes against further integration into the EU, a rhetoric of colonialism, and comparisons to Gibraltar, and even the Perejil crisis in 2002, in which a small group from the Moroccan navy occupied one of the Spanish islands. This axis has a latent presence in the relations between both countries: although Madrid avoids its public mention, Rabat’s claims may end up in direct confrontation Spanish national interests.

Finally, the sixth and last axis is the European Union. Spain´s relationship with Morocco is based on the European Neighborhood Policy and on the Union for the Mediterranean. Besides, this relationship currently revolves around the provision of funds to Morocco for the externalization of borders, the agriculture and fisheries trade agreements, and the rulings of the CJEU on these, which since 2015 have complicated Brussels’ relations with Rabat. Indeed, Morocco has changed its attitude towards the EU since 2008, reducing its concessions, increasing its demands and adopting a more pragmatic discourse. In the framework of Madrid-Rabat relations, the EU has acted as an appeaser, reducing bilateral conflicts. However, Spain is limited within the multilateral structure, since it cannot impose its preferences and its power is confined to blocking initiatives (as it did with agricultural liberalization for example). Moreover, the judgments of the CJEU have poisoned the bilateral relations between Spain and Morocco.

What nowadays is cooperation in migration, security and energy, due to conflicts around the Sahara or Ceuta and Melilla may one day become an undesirable dependency. Too many issues related to Spanish national security are subject to Rabat’s goodwill. That is why the disagreements between the two countries cause so much commotion in Spain, even if they do not always revolve around each of the 6 axes described above.

Ceuta 2021 — Another crisis or a point of no return?

This article begins with the events of May 18, 2021, when Morocco loosened its border controls and allowed more than 8,000 undocumented migrants, mostly young Moroccans, to enter the city of Ceuta. The figure is unprecedented, around 10 times higher than what used to be received until then. It is worth asking whether this event is a simple downturn in the cyclical relations between Morocco and Spain, or whether it implies something different.

When the Ceuta crisis in 2021 is put into context, an extraordinary deterioration of relations between Morocco and Spain is observed, enhanced by unilateral actions by Rabat. In 2018, Morocco closed the commercial border with Melilla. In 2019, it toughened the fight against smuggling in Ceuta, hindering the border crossing and prohibited its officials from entering Ceuta or Melilla. To this day, this has subjected both cities to an unprecedented economic asphyxiation. In 2020, Morocco vetoed the entry of Moroccan fish into Ceuta and revived the dispute over the delimitation of maritime borders in Canary waters. In 2021, it installed a fish farm in Spanish waters near the Chafarinas Islands without permission. In recent years relations between the two countries have worsened gradually, camouflaged behind the Covid-19 pandemic and around issues of relative relevance, which only indirectly affect the 6 axes above mentioned.

In contrast, the Ceuta crisis is relevant in almost every aspect.

  1. Morocco is instrumentalizing immigration, leaving aside its obligations as border guardian.
  2. The Western Sahara conflict lingers in the background: the crisis was a form of protest by Rabat against the hospitalization in Spain of the Polisario Front leader Brahim Ghali, organized in an opaque manner by Madrid.
  3. Despite Rabat’s attempts to keep the crisis within the bilateral framework, it escalated to the European Union, where Spain received the support of the European Commission, the European Parliament (which issued a condemnation for violation of children’s rights against Morocco), and even of France.
  4. The crisis was followed by the reactivation of territorial claims over Ceuta and Melilla: The Moroccan Prime Minister compared the situation to Western Sahara.

Faced with the numerous and unusual vectors of this crisis, Spain must identify what objective Morocco is pursuing, and what its next steps will be. Rabat is obviously trying to capitalize on the momentum provided by the U.S. recognition of its sovereignty over the Sahara and its vigorous relations with some of its African neighbors.

Moreover, the deterioration of relations has coincided with a deterioration of Spanish domestic politics, while Morocco is taking advantage of independence, government instability, COVID-19, etc. Is Morocco pursuing a strategy against Spain? That is what the Spanish intelligence presumes, without knowing very well what strategy it is. In fact, the CNI considers the Ceuta crisis not to be an immigration problem, but an invasion that can be repeated again. Rabat could have taken the conflict into a gray zone, in which case it would be establishing the environment, waiting for opportunities.

The current situation is not part of the cyclical pattern that characterizes its relations with Morocco. Ceuta and Melilla are suffocating, Spanish intelligence fears losing anti-terrorist collaboration with Morocco, Rabat is in a strong position, and Madrid is unable to recognize what Morocco’s next step will be, limiting itself to trying to put an increasingly entrenched relationship back on track. The impetus with which Rabat is pushing for the recognition of its sovereignty over the Sahara, and its extrapolation of this to Ceuta and Melilla, suggests that the disagreements with Spain are not over.

In all this, Spain’s strategy towards Morocco is ineffective. The liberalism of the cushion of interests has failed. It was based on elements that were of national interest for Spain (migration, terrorism, etc.) but not for Morocco. The only sphere where Madrid has an advantageous position is energy: Spain exports electricity to Morocco, continues to refuse to establish a third electricity interconnection, and is receiving Moroccan requests for Spain to re-export Algerian gas. Moreover, Spain has learned that Morocco fears losing its reputation with the European Union and is trying to prevent the EU from getting involved in its bilateral relations. Thanks to the EU intervention, Morocco made a misstep during the Ceuta crisis this year.

However, everything suggests that Madrid is confident that the ups and downs will continue to prevail in its relations with Rabat and it accepts Mohamed VI’s invitation to inaugurate an unprecedented stage in the relations between the two countries. It is foreseeable, therefore, that Spain will keep Morocco as one of the two pilot countries of its Focus Africa 2023 plan, giving it and Senegal unparalleled attention in the development of constructive relations, and will export this experience to other African countries. In a game of chess, each player knows the type of game he is playing and takes turns moving the pieces. Spain knows that it is playing, but it has not realized that the game has changed, and that the chessboard is different. It has skipped several turns and, for too long now, its pieces have been sitting immobile.

From our partner RIAC

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