[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] G [/yt_dropcap]uy Verhofstadt, an insightful European liberal Parlamentarian and lawmaker, former Belgian premier and chief Brexit negotiator, has already sounded the alarm: World War III may already be in the making and the election of a Donald Trump portents it. He is convinced that a “ring of autocrats” is presently trying to wreck the EU and cites the presidents of Russia and Turkey and their counterpart Donald Trump who will soon be joining them.
He has also accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of “openly financing” populist and Eurosceptic parties while Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan targets Turkish opposition members in Europe. He has also pointed out that Trump’s chief strategists Steve Bannon has hinted at plans to open new bureaus for his right-wing Breitbart News website in France and Germany in order to influence elections there. This may not yet constitute an international conspiracy to destroy EU values but the signs are surely there constituted by the three stooges, Putin, Erdogan, and Trump, who rather than constituting a ring of allies and friends of Europe cooperating with the EU (after all, two are in NATO, and one has applied for entry into the EU) are perhaps better characterized as a menacing ring of autocrats planning its demise.
Donald Trump, who soon will be the de facto “autocrat” (whether or not he thinks of himself as one such) of all the democratic forces of the North Atlantic Alliance (NATO) will soon have to face the dilemma of whether defending a Baltic NATO member against Vladimir Putin is worth sparking World War III, because that’s the choice that may eventually need to be confronted.
The war may be ignited in Latvia, or perhaps neighboring Estonia or Lithuania, the so called Baltic nations which, after Crimea, may well be next on the Russian bear’s hit list. They are former satellites of the Soviet Union, and are now NATO members. Under article five of the NATO alliance treaty all member nations are compelled to come to the rescue of a member threatened with invasion, no matter how small or insignificant that nation may or may not be on the world’s political stage. Such a stipulation, if adhered to, may well ignite World War III.
The omens are all there: Russian strongman Vladimir Putin has claimed recently that he is proceeding with the mending of broken ties with Trump-led America, while he continues his firm support for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. And why shouldn’t he? After all, during the presidential campaign Trump expressed reservations about coming to rescue of any NATO allies citing financial problems. He also encouraged Russian hackers to delve in Clinton’s e-mails and reveal their content while keeping quite all along about the efforts of Putin to interfere and influence the US presidential election; something the strong-man of Russia has acknowledged and seems even to be proud of.
The question arises: will Putin invade any of the 3 tiny countries with conventional troops? Probably not, he doesn’t have to be that blatant. All he needs to do is incite civil unrest among ethnic Russians which are a sizeable part of the population (25% in Latvia alone). He may simply instigate a militarized crisis using deniable proxies. One way to do it is to have Russian-speaking Latvians or Estonians riot in the streets, protesting persecution, violation of their rights and demanding international protection.
Then a well-armed and well-trained ‘Popular Front for the Liberation of the Russian Baltics’ will suddenly appear. Moreover, a few high-profile assassinations and bombings will ensue bringing the Baltics to the edge of a civil war or at least a low-grade insurgency. Then, voilà, Mr. Fix-all will enter the stage, first blocking an international peacekeeping force at the UN with his veto power, then intervening to settle the conflict in the interests of peace, of course! Have we not seen this movie before in Crimea? We know how it ends. Putin calls it “hybrid warfare.” It is an underhand technique which avoids conventional attacks and it involves militia not officially attached to a country’s force, ultimately justifying military intervention.
But, to return to the circle of autocrats, there is also China for the EU to worry about, for Turkey is actively looking into joining a Chinese-and Russian-led political, economic and military alliance known as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), as an alternative to joining the European Union, which has not been receptive to Turkey’s repeated bids for membership initiated way back in 1963.
France, Germany, and Belgium have long opposed Turkey’s accession into the EU. Erdogan’s reluctance to sign on to certain membership requirements, and his increasingly authoritarian leadership over Turkey, has also sparked concern among European leaders that he is not committed to a Western conception of human rights and civil liberties. The European Commission has warned Turkey that it is “backsliding in human rights and democracy” but Erdogan appears to merely scoff at the accusation with statements such as this: “From time to time, we see insults directed at myself, claims that there was no freedom of expression in Turkey, meanwhile, terrorists prance around in French, German and Belgian streets. This is what they understand of freedom.”
It is clear that Erdogan feels much more comfortable and at home among the authoritarian regimes of the SCO organization rather than facing the scrutiny and criticism of the EU. He knows full well that even just threatening to join the Shanghai bloc would rattle the West and “considerably broaden Turkey’s room to maneuver” as Erdogan himself has declared.
If Turkey were to actually join the SCO, it would be viewed as a rejection of the Western alliance, and make it incredibly difficult to include Turkey in any type of high-level strategic dialogue, given concerns about Russian expansionism. But it remains unclear, even to Erdogan, whether a closer alliance with Russia and China would benefit Turkey politically or economically. Erdogan has made those overtures toward Russia and China before but they failed to materialize. It may simply be a ploy to gain concessions and access to the EU which so far has been denied him. He wants the EU to be more forthcoming, especially since he has consented to help stem the flow of refugees trying to enter Europe. In some way Erdogan has already been successful. Over the summer, the EU agreed to pay Turkey €3 billion — and German Chancellor Angela Merkel promised to speed up Turkey’s EU bid — if it pledged to harbor the vast amount of refugees and migrants seeking asylum in Europe.
Turkey’s possible entry into the SCO would also complicate its relationship with NATO. In theory, SCO membership would not require Turkey’s exit from NATO, but in practice, however, it would severely strain Turkey’s ties with other NATO members. Erdogan is reassuring in this respect. He told CBS that “Turkey is moving in the same direction with NATO that we have always done.” But at the same time Putin is making sure that the strains in the transatlantic alliance continue, for he knows that as a rogue and dysfunctional NATO ally, Turkey is a great advantage to Moscow’s devious policy of divide and conquer.
What his relationship to Trump and an America that is no longer seen as a stabilizer in NATO but a destabilizer, turns out to be, remains to be seen. The omens, however, are not good and the danger of a Third World War persist in a global atmosphere that has still to learn that a tone of cooperation is much more desirable than one of domination and competition; that social Darwinism will only insure that our planet becomes a social jungle with winners and losers. In the end, we all lose. We in the West ought to hope for the best but prepare for the worst that may be coming. Let those who have ears, let them hear.
An Austro-Franco-German Proposal for a European Post Covid-19 Recovery Programme
The conference named “75 years of Europe’s Collective Security and Human Rights System”, which took place on the 1st of July at the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna, brought together experts related to the reality of the Old Continent and its Union over the course of the past 75 years of its post-WWII anti-fascist existence. It was jointly organized by four different entities (the International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies IFIMES, Media Platform Modern Diplomacy, Scientific Journal European Perspectives, and Action Platform Culture for Peace) with the support of the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna, numerous academia supporting and media partners.
The conference gathered over twenty high ranking speakers from Canada to Australia, and audience physically in the venue while many others attended online – from Chile to Far East. The day was filled by three panels focusing on the legacy of WWII, Nuremberg Trials, the European Human Rights Charter and their relevance in the 21st century; on the importance of culture for peace and culture of peace – culture, science, arts, sports – as a way to reinforce a collective identity in Europe; on the importance of accelerating on universalism and pan-European Multilateralism while integrating further the Euro-MED within Europe, or as the Romano Prodi’s EU Commission coined it back in 2000s – “from Morocco to Russia – everything but the institutions”.
The event itself was probably the largest physical gathering past the early spring lock down to this very day in this part of Europe. No wonder that it marked a launch of the political rethink and recalibration named – Vienna Process.
The panel under the name “Future to Europe: Is there any alternative to universal and pan-European Multilateralism? Revisiting and recalibrating the Euro-MED and cross-continental affairs”, was focused on discussing the determinants of Europe’s relations with its strategic Euro-MED and Eurasian neighborhood, the possible pan-European political architecture as well as on the forthcoming post-crisis recovery.
On the latter topic, the panelist Mario Holzner, who is the Director-General of the WIIW Austria, outlined the policy proposal on the post-pandemic European recovery programme, elaborated by his Viennese Institute in collaboration with the Paris-based research institute OFCE and the German IMK Macroeconomic Policy Institute. The Recovery Fund recently proposed by the European Commission represents a benchmark in the era of stalled European integration, and during the unstable and precarious post-pandemic times it holds a crucial role for overcoming the immense political and economic crisis of 2020 . Following on much public debate about the recovery financing, which however has heretofore lacked the proposals for concreteprojects that the EU should allocate the funds into, it is now urgently needed to come up with these.
WIIW, OFCE and IMK, three research tanks dealing with economic topics, suggested two main pillars – an EU one, and a national one- for the spending of the Commission’s recovery programme that reaches the amount of €2tn and is to allotted over a 10-year horizon. The spending of the EU pillar is to be channeled into the area of healthcare, eventually giving rise to a pan-European health project under the name Health4EU. Not least, another efficient allocation of the funds located in the programme’sEU pillar is to projects helping to mitigate the risks resulting from climate change, as well as to develop an EU-wide rail infrastructure that would substantively contribute to achieving the Commission’s goals of carbon-neutrality at the continent.
Among other, the proposal introduces two ambitious transport projects- a European high-speed rail infrastructure called Ultra-Rapid-Train, which would cut the travel time between Europe’s capitals, as well as disparate regions of the Union. Another suggested initiative is an integrated European Silk Road which would combine transport modes according to the equally-named Chinese undertaking.
Mr. Holzner’s experts team put forward the idea to “electrify” the European Commission’s Green Deal. Such electrification is feasible through the realisation of an integrated electricity grid for 100%-renewable energy transmission (e-highway), the support for complementary battery and green-hydrogen projects, as well as a programme of co-financing member states’ decarbonisation and Just Transition policies. Together, the suggested policy proposals provide the basis for creating a truly sustainable European energy infrastructure.
From the national pillar, it should be the member states themselves who benefit from the funding allocation in the overall amount of €500bn. According to the experts from WIIW, these resources should be focused on the hardest-hit countries and regions, whereas it is imperative that they are front-loaded (over the time span of three years).
The overall architecture of the programme’s spending, involving the largest part of the budget, needs to be focused on long-term projects and investment opportunities that would serve as a value added for the European integration, while also allowing to build resilience against the major challenges that the EU currently faces. The proposed sectors for the initiatives which could be launched from the EU’s funding programme are public health, transport infrastructure, as well as energy/decarbonisation scheme. Accordingly, it is needed that the funding programme is primarily focused on the structural and increasingly alarming threat of climate change.
As stated in the closing remarks, to make this memorable event a long-lasting process, the organisers as well as the participants of this unique conference initiated an action plan named “Vienna Process: Common Future – One Europe.” In the framework of this enterprise, the contributing policy-makers and academics will continue to engage in meaningful activities to reflect on the trends and developments forming the European reality while simultaneously affecting the lives of millions. The European system, formed over centuries and having spanned to a political and economic Union comprising 27 states, is currently being reconfigured as a result of numerous external factors such as Brexit, the pandemic, as well as the dynamics in neighbouring regions. All of these are engendering the conditions for a novel modus operandi on the continent, whereby it is in the best intention of those partaking at this conference to contribute to a more just, secure, and peaceful European future.
Britain, Greece, Turkey and The Aegean: Does Anything Change?
Since at least 1955, the Aegean Sea has long been an area of contention between local powers Greece and Turkey on the one hand, and the US-UK-Israeli strategic axis on the other, with the Soviet Union and then Russia defending its interests when necessary, since the Aegean cannot be separated from the Eastern Mediterranean as a strategic whole, nor from Syria, Cyprus, Egypt, Palestine and Israel. In this essay, we shall, by using original documents, unravel the background to the present media hysteria over a potential war between Greece and Turkey.
As Giambattista Vico, beloved by James Joyce, wrote, the world moves between periods of order and disorder. At the moment, there certainly seems to be a surfeit of disorder or, in the words of some attention-grabbing media pundits, chaos. We should also bear in mind Francesco Guicciardini’s dictum that things have always been the same, that the past sheds light on the future, and that the same things return with different colours. The current Aegean clash between Greece and Turkey is no exception. Let us look briefly at British policy to gain a more realistic insight into what is really happening, and slice through the emotional and warlike rhetoric emanating mainly from President Erdogan, emphasising as it does Ottomanism and Sunni Mohammedanism (thus undermining Kemalism), and in turn holding NATO to ransom, and distracting the Turkish people from an impending economic crisis.
British Imperial Origins
The origins of Turkish claims go back to Britain bringing Turkey into the Cyprus question in 1955, in breach of Article 16 of the Treaty of Lausanne, and then helping Turkey with its propaganda.1 This enabled Turkey to link the Cyprus issue to unfounded claims in the Aegean. Let us look more closely at British policy.
In 1972, Turkey was threatening Greece over its legitimate building of a radar station on Limnos, first for national defence purposes, and then integrated into NATO’s radar network. Britain recognised Greece’s objections to Turkish sabre-rattling: the Head of the FCO’s Southern European Department (SED) consulted Western Organisations Department (WOD), including the comment ‘what looked prima facie like a strong Greek case in law’.2 In a typical bout of taking French leave of the problem, WOD replied: ‘The last thing that we want to do is to find ourselves playing any part in it’.3 Thus, the rights and wrongs of the case were irrelevant to the FCO. Non-involvement was the order of the day.
But internally the debate continued. On 28 September, an FCO legal adviser wrote: ‘My preliminary view is that I agree with the Greek contention that when the Montreux Convention entered into force the provisions of the Lausanne Straits Convention concerning the de-militarisation of Lemnos terminated. I am of this opinion because of the plain words of the two treaties in their context and in the light of their object and purpose.’4
In the event, the issue was fudged, and war was avoided. But the claims remained, to be resuscitated whenever it suited Turkish foreign policy, as in 1975 and in the wake of the invasion and occupation of over one third of Cyprus. Turkey expanded its claims to cover several Greek islands. Again, in private, the FCO revealed the absurdity of the Turkish claims, with the Head of Chancery at British Embassy in Ankara writing: ‘Another example of perhaps typically Turkish thinking on this occurred when I was discussing this subject with Mr Dag, a First Secretary who works to Mr Süleymez […] He said that all that was needed for progress was that the Greeks should give in! I was left with the impression that reference to the International Court was still seen as something rather irrelevant and that the Turks hankered firmly, however unrealistically, for a bilateral solution. This is perhaps not surprising as they can presumably not have very much confidence in winning their case at the Court on its merits alone.’5 In this connexion, Henry Kissinger also pressurised the British Prime Minister to water down a draft UN resolution, so as to appear less supportive of the Greek position.6
The British position can be seen even more plainly in an FCO brief in 1977: ‘It happens that the British Government’s view of the issue is much closer to the Greek than the Turkish view. In particular, Britain supports the entitlement of islands to have a continental shelf.’7
The backstage reality is however better encapsulated in the following extract from an FCO paper: ‘We should also recognise that in the final analysis Turkey must be regarded as more important to Western strategic interests than Greece and that, if risks must be run, they should be risks of further straining Greek rather than Turkish relations with West.’8
At the Moment
The question arises as to whether anything will alter intrinsically in Greek-Turkish relations and in Anglo-Saxon support for Turkey. We are currently witnessing a repeat of previous illegal Turkish actions in the Aegean. France, as often in the past, tends to support Greece more openly, and now Italy has joined in a naval exercise with the French and Greeks. Germany is more difficult, as it still seems to place its enormous business interests in Turkey (its ally in the Great War), including large arms sales, above international law. Britain, the US’s acolyte in the Eastern Mediterranean, is enjoying the possibility of a Franco-German EU-weakening split, as it always has.
If it does however come to serious push and shove, Germany will have to succumb to the French view on Turkish law-breaking, since the EU depends more than ever on the Franco-German axis, and irritated commentators are starting to make comparisons between the Nazi genocide of Jews and Turkey’s genocide of Armenians and others. This is likely to have an effect on the German institutional psyche, still intent on being seen to be humanitarian, to balance the horrors perpetrated in the past. This leaves us with a potential disagreement between the Franco-German axis and thus the EU (even with a Germany being reluctant to criticise Turkey too obviously) on the one hand, and the US-UK-Israel axis on the other. Although the US is still trying, with the UK (and, until recently, Germany) to force Greece and Turkey to talk to each other on an equal footing, this is precisely what Turkey wants, so as to avoid its claims going to the International Court at the Hague. Russia, although happy to see two alleged NATO allies talking about war against each other, and undermining an organisation that it sees as obsolete and a threat to world peace, would not like to see major disorder on its southern flank, as this could affect its strategic interests in Syria and the region as a whole, interests that are considered by many to more legitimate than those of the US, thousands and thousands of miles away.
The only question is whether there will be another international fudge – which means only postponing the problem – or whether UN Law of the Sea will prevail (of course Turkey has not signed the UNLOSC Convention) and put Turkey in its place, with a concomitant return to Kemalism and friendship with neighbours, or even a weakened but less jingoistic Turkish state.
1 – Mallinson, William, Cyprus: a Modern History, I.B. Tauris, London and New York, 2005, 2008, and 2012 (now Bloomsbury), pp. 22-25.
2 – Hitch to McLaren, minute, 7 September 1972, BNA FCO9/1525, file WSG 3/318/1, in Mallinson, William, Britain and Cyprus, Bloomsbury Academic, 2020.
3 – Ibid., Ramsay to McLaren, minute, 13 September 1972.
4 – Ibid., Wood to Hitch, minute, 28 September 1972.
5 – Fullerton to Wright, letter, 28 September 1975, BNA FCO 9/2233, file WSG 3/318/1.
6 -Telephone conversation between Kissinger and Callaghan, BNA PREM 16/1157.
7 – FCO brief, May 1977, BNA PREM16/1624.
8 – ‘British Interests in the Eastern Mediterranean’, FCO paper prepared by South East Europe Department, 11 April 1975, BNA FCO 46/1248, file DP1/516/1.
From our partner RIAC
From Intellectual Powerhouse to Playing Second Fiddle
A multi-ethnic, multi-religious culture built Spain into an intellectual powerhouse so much so that after the reconquesta scholars from various parts of Europe flocked there to translate the scientific and philosophical works from classical Arabic into Latin triggering the European renaissance.
But soon there were other changes. The Holy Office of the Inquisition was born. Muslim dress, Arab names and the Arabic language were outlawed. A new inferior class of people emerged – Moriscos. They were Muslims who had converted to Catholicism under threat, usually of exile and loss of property. Many of course continued to practice Islam in secret.
Discrimination and mistreatment led to Morisco rebellions which were crushed. Eventually they were forced into internal exile to the northern provinces of Extremadura, La Mancha and New Castile where there was greater tolerance particularly in La Mancha.
In Toledo, the area around the cathedral gained fame as an informal school of translators. Often Morisco, these translators’ services were available to scholars or others requiring translation of Arabic texts. It is here that the narrator of Cervantes’ epic Don Quixote of La Mancha finds a translator for an Arabic manuscript, a supposedly historical account of Don Quixote’s adventures. The author of the fictional text is Cide Hamete Benengeli, a name that is clearly of a Morisco. If Spain was busy making Moriscos a non-people, Cervantes was reminding them of their heritage.
In 1492 when the last Arab Emirate (Grenada) was relinquished to Catholic Spain the treaty signed promised Muslims the right to their way of life in perpetuity. Their Catholic Majesties Ferdinand II and Isabella I soon reneged on the deal. Restrictions, internal exile, discrimination and forced conversions were the result. But even the converted were not safe. As Ottoman power expanded to the Mediterranean, Spain felt threatened. Morisco loyalty became suspect and in the early 17th century they were expelled from Spain as were the Jews. So ended 900 years of coexistence, fruitful and friendly that changed to suspicions and final expulsion under Catholic Spain.
And what of Spain? Having lost its intellectual dynamism, it took its brand of intolerant Christianity to the Americas and added it to European diseases to which the people there had no immunity. A devastated but Christianized population was the result. Time and immigration have changed demographics. A majority of Argentines for example have Italian ancestry; German influence in Chile which encouraged immigration from there in the 19th century is another example.
Our own Ferdinand and Isabella composite resides in the White House with a good chance he will not next year. Life will go on and people will continue to practice the religion of their birth or choice.
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