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Black swans haunt Eurasia’s Great Game

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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The battle lines in the 21st century’s Great Game aimed at shaping the creation of a new Eurasia-centred world, built on the likely fusion of Europe and Asia into what former Portuguese Europe minister Bruno Macaes calls a “supercontinent,” are all but cast in cement.

For now, the Great Game pits China together with Russia, Turkey and Iran against the United States, India, Japan and Australia. The two camps compete for influence, if not dominance, in a swath of land that stretches from the China Sea to the Atlantic coast of Europe.

The flashpoints are multiple. They range from the China Sea to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, Turkey, Iran, and Central European nations and, most recently, far beyond with Russia, China and Turkey supporting embattled Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro.

The rivalry resembles Risk, a popular game of diplomacy, conflict and conquest played on a board depicting a political map of the earth, divided into forty-two territories, which are grouped into six continents. Multiple players commanding armies that seek to capture territories engage in a complex dance as they strive for advantage and seek to compensate for weaknesses. Players form opportunistic alliances that could change at any moment. Potential black swans threaten to disrupt.

The black swans in the Great Game are multiple and far more numerous than those developed in a just published report by the Paris-based European Union Institute for Security Studies (EUISS). Nonetheless, the scenarios conceptualized in the report, ‘What If? Scanning the horizon: 12 scenarios for 2021,” are grounded in recent trends and could prove to be game changers that radically rejigger the Great Game’s current line-up.

The scenarios or grey swans in the report’s terminology, if they unfold in reality, suggest that alliances in Eurasia are opportunistic and transactional and like with Risk can turn players on their erstwhile allies as interests diverge and re-converge. Analysis of five of the scenarios suggests that fragility is greatest in the efforts of China, Russia, Turkey and Iran to rebalance global power in their favour.

They suggest that strains in the United States’ relations with Russia and Turkey are not immutable. Similarly, Russia’s effort to lock in former Soviet republics with its Eurasian Economic Union (EEU) that groups Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan Belarus, and Armenia could prove to be on shaky ground. Russia’s alliance with Turkey and China as well as Iran even if the report has not developed the latter possibility may be on thinner ice than meets the eye.

The same can be said for grey swans in the United States’ ties to its long-standing allies as is played out in the report’s scenario for a withdrawal of US troops from Europe as a result of President Donald J. Trump’s accentuation of diverging trans-Atlantic interests.

With a multi-polar world the likely outcome of the battle for Eurasia, the scenarios suggest that the perceived decline of the United States, despite Mr. Trump’s unilateralism, is not irreversible. Similarly, depending on how it plays its cards, Iran could emerge either as a winner or a loser.

The four scenarios involve a renewed round of popular protest in the Arab world following the reversal of successful revolts in 2011 in Egypt, Libya and Yemen and the embrace of brutal repression; political violence in the Caucasus that pits Turkey against Russia and could threaten key nodes along China’s Belt and Road; the dissolution of the Eurasian Economic Union in an approaching post-Vladimir Putin era; a rejiggering of the political map of south-eastern Europe and  a strengthening of European cohesion with the US troop withdrawal and resolution of tension between Serbia and Kosovo.

The notion of renewed popular Arab protests, including resistance to the influence of militias in Syria and Libya, that could rewrite the political map of the Middle East  is hardly far-fetched with mass anti-government demonstrations in Sudan persisting for more than a month; riots in Tunisia, the one relatively successful 2011 revolt; protests on the West Bank against a new social security law; and anti-government marches in Iraq.

If anything, the revolts highlight the risks that all players in the Great Game run by supporting autocratic regimes that have largely failed to sustainably deliver public goods and services and/or offer good governance and cater to the social, economic and political aspirations of young populations.

“Pressure for change across the Arab world is likely to continue to grow, keeping pace with the growth in populations, inequality and social injustice,” concluded journalist Simon Tisdall on the eighth anniversary of the uprising in Egypt that toppled president Hosni Mubarak but was ultimately defeated by a military coup two years later.

The European Union Institute’s report imagines a massive attack on the Baku Kars rail line, a vital node in the Belt and Road’s linking of China to Europe that rekindles dormant local animosities as well as competing Russian and Turkish economic and geostrategic interests, prompting both Moscow and Ankara to lobby Washington for US support.

Similarly, a scenario envisaging Kazakhstan and Belarus withdrawing from the Eurasian union because of its inability to live up to its ambition of furthering regional integration sparks fears in Moscow that the demise of the regional consortium could spark the collapse of the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), a military alliance that groups the five Eurasian union members as well as Tajikistan and hosts Afghanistan and Serbia as observers. The dissolution of the two organizations would significantly undermine Russia’s regional standing.

Likewise, a swap of land between Serbia and Kosovo that purifies two countries whose inter-communal relations have been poisoned by historic prejudices and recent wars opens a Pandora’s Box across south-eastern Europe but eases their accession to the European Union while a US troop withdrawal would force EU members to focus on collective security.

It would only take one of these scenarios to unfold and potentially spark a revisiting of the current line-up in the Great Game. Any one of the scenarios is a realistic possibility.

Said European Union Institute deputy director Florence Gaub in her introduction to the report: ”Grey Swans share with Black Swans a high level of strategic impact, but there is more evidence to support the idea that they are actually possible… The analogy with the 1985 film ‘Back to the Future’ is pure coincidence, of course – but just as in the film, we sometimes need to take a trip to the future to inform our decision-making today.”

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title, Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario and three forthcoming books, Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africaas well as Creating Frankenstein: The Saudi Export of Ultra-conservatism and China and the Middle East: Venturing into the Maelstrom.

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Will the political face of France change?

Mohammad Ghaderi

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Political and social equations are wrapped up in France! Protests against President Emmanuel Macron continue. Most analysts from European affairs, however, believe that Macron will not have a chance to survive in the presidential race in the next presidential election.

On the other hand, many analysts believe the likelihood of a nationalist presence at the Elysees Palace is high! Le Pen is now trying to remove Macron from power through holding an early election; “It is necessary to implement proportional representation and dissolve the National Assembly in order to hold new proportional elections.”

Simultaneously, she attempts to attract the attention of French citizens to herself as France’s next president. “We believe that the way out of the crisis is essentially political. This decision excludes any use of violence that only adds chaos to adversity,” Le Pen said in a letter published on the party’s website.

Le Pen also emphasized that the political solution to the recent crisis depended on the French officials while uttering that French President Emmanuel Macron “is deprived of sympathy for the people, constrained by arrogance and indifference of the elites.”

As the French National Front can make its way to power, the EU and Euro area equilibrium will change: a matter that many European and French politicians have warned about.

In 2014, the President of the French National Rally political party, Marin Le Pen was able to shine exceptionally well in the European parliamentary elections and overcome other French political parties. In the 2017 general election, Le Pen was able to reach the final round of the presidential competitions for the first time since the establishment of the French National Rally. However, at that time, Le Pen couldn’t act against the broad opposition of the Socialist and Conservative parties. But the equation seems to have changed now!

The French president is not in good shape now! Polls conducted in France suggested a decline in the popularity of Emmanuel Macron as the country’s president. This is while only 21 months have passed since Macron’s presence at Elysee Palace. Under such circumstances, Le Pen and her companions will naturally try to change the French citizen’s mind to the benefit of the French National Rally. This is a very good time indeed, as many of the French citizens no longer trust Macron and his promises for making economic, social reforms in France.

The main question is whether the French National Front will succeed in achieving its goals? It is not clear, however, that Le Pen’s calculations would all come true. The French National Rally President opened a special account on Macron’s former supporters to change their minds, and as a result, their votes to her benefit! This is while some of these votes may turn into silent votes or white votes.

Also, it’s quite possible that France political atmosphere in 2017, would once again repeat in 2022, or during the country’s possible early elections. In this case, to right-wing extremists of French National Rally are going to lose the elections again. Therefore, Le Pen is really cautious about her positions right now, though she believes that Macron’s incapability provided the ground for her political and social success in Paris.

First published in our partner MNA

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Europe has changed its mask

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Face” of peaceful and friendly Europe has changed. Europe even does not try any more to wear a mask of past tolerance. Tensions are constantly increasing. Unrest like wildfire is sweeping across Europe. Though riots caused by different events and decisions, political convulsions make Europeans feel uncomfortable. People are tired of being unheard by the authorities.

Misunderstanding between ordinary people and authorities is more clearly visible, especially in the so-called “old Europe”. Once prosperous countries, France and Italy, actively resist the new world order. Social instability, deterioration of living standards on the background of militarization has led to unprecedented unrest. All attempts to reduce tensions have not brought about results.

Democracy has plaid a dirty trick with all of us. Freedom allows people to go on the streets and introduce their position. On the other hand, delegated powers give the authorities the possibility to “calm” the riots, to suspend the activities, to ban meetings, even using police.

French political movement for economic justice, the so-called “yellow vests”, went beyond the country and caused diplomatic crisis between France and Italy.

German workers also expressed solidarity with “yellow vest” protests in France. Workers in Germany share the same grievances and recognize they also confront policies that favour the rich.

Another irritating thing is militarization of the region, NATO expansion. Many Europeans link the fact of increasing national defence expenditures with deterioration of life. That is why anti-NATO and anti-war campaigns on the Internet gain momentum. Among them are: no-to-nato.network, notonato.org, no2nato2019.org, popularresistance.org/no-to-nato-spring-actions-in-washington-dc. The more so, “Stop Air Base Ramstein” campaign in Germany started October 5th, 2008, gains more popularity and organizes protests in Germany and abroad. It has its representatives in the US, Austria, Australia, Poland, Ireland, France, Japan and the UK. The international network No to War – No to NATO calls for broad actions against NATO in Washington DC and worldwide.

The next occasion for such organizations to become more active is the signing an agreement with Macedonia on February, 6 allowing the country to become the military alliance’s 30th member. This particular step could become the catalyzer for more violent protests and political disobedience. It brings chaos to Europe, raises tensions and leads to the loss of trust in Peace and Democracy.

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Unrest in Bosnia

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For Bosnia and Herzegovina many analysts will say that is artificial creation. That is why there is a saying for Bosnia: ”Where logic ends, Bosnia begins”. Anyway, the latest Bosniak initiative, has surprised many, because it strikes at the very basis of existence of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Recently, the Party for Democratic Action (SDA), the main Bosniak party in the country, announced that will initiate a legal procedure before the Constitututional Court to challenge the name of Bosnia`s Serb-dominated Republika Srpska.

”The previous practice of the Republika Srpska institutions showed that the entyty`s name was intensively and efficiently used to discriminate against the other two constituent peoples – Bosniaks and Croats, “ the SDA said. “Linking the name to only one people living in the multi-ethnic Bosnia and Herzegovina is contrary to the Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights.” The strongest Bosniak national party, further said that the Constitutional Court made an earlier decision on the constituency of the people which stipulated that the entities must ensure full equality of all constituent peoples in their legal systems.

Reacting to calls for the Constitutional Court to review the legality of the name of Bosnia’s Serb-dominated Republika Srpska, the leader of ruling Republika Srpska party Alliance of Independent Social Democrats and current Chairman of Bosnia’s Tripartite Presidency, Milorad Dodik, strongly condemned the Party for Democratic Action initiative at a press conference the same day and called upon the SDS (second strongest Serb party) to support a decision on the “independence of the Republika Srpska” if the initiative is submitted to the Constitutional Court.

“Our authentic and original constitutional rights is for us to decide on our status. We will do that,” he said, dismissing earlier statements by the High Representative Valentin Inzko, named by the international community to oversee the civilian implementation of the Dayton Agreement, who said that Republika Srpska can not secede. ”He was put here to conduct repercussions against Republika Srpska. But this is a moment where there will be no calculations,” Dodik said. ”If you wanted to throw us, Republika Srpska, out of Bosnia and Herzegovina, you are doing best job possible. Finish it. I have nothing against it,” Dodik said, referring to the Party for Democratic Action.

This attack on Republika Srpska showed that Serbian politicians are united in its defense. The move drew condemnation from both the ruling Republika Srpska Alliance of Independent Social Democrats (SNSD), and Bosnian Serb opposition parties in the entity, such as the Serb Democratic Party (SDS) and the Party of Democratic Progress (PDP).

In one of the first reactions to the Bosniak Party for Democratic Action announcement, the Republika Srpska National Assembly Speaker Nedeljko Cubrilovic said this was a nothing but a provocation and that it represents an anti-Constitutional act.

”The SDA’s claims are disgusting and laughable at the same time because they are the ones who refuse to implement the Constitutional Court’s decision issued 12 years ago, stipulating that Serbs must be equally represented in the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina,” Cubrilovic said. ”Initiating a Constitutional Court discussion on the name of the Republika Srpska would mark the end of the project called Bosnia and Herzegovina,” Cubrilovic noted.

The Office of the High Representative (OHR), top international institution overseesing the peace implementation in the country stated that the initiative to dispute the name of Bosnia’s Republika Srpska entity before the Constitutional Court amid the post-election government formation is “irresponsible and counterproductive.” Bosnia and Herzegovina consists of two entities, the OHR said, and the Peace Implementation Council continuosly expresses its commitment to basic structure of Bosnia and Herzegovina as an integral, sovereign state that consists of the two entities.

The international community’s High Representative was installed to oversee the civilian part of the implementation of the Dayton Peace Agreement, the peace threaty that ended the 1992-1995 Bosnian war. Its Peace Implementation Council (PIC) Steering Board, which is composed of foreign ambassadors in Bosnia, meets twice a year to assess the progress in the process.

Background

The statement of Bakir Izetbegovic, leader of the strongest Bosniak party SDA, who addressed the public saying that he is ready to consider abandoning the initiative to change the name of Republika Srpska, if in the next six months “the SNSD change its behavior”, and accept the further path of Bosnia and Herzegovina towards NATO, clearly shows who is standing behind this initiative. Even “Croatian” member of Bosnia and Herzegovina Presidency Željko Komšić – several days before Bakir Izetbegovic- conditioned the appointment of a mandate for the Council of Ministers (which currently belongs to the Serbs) by membership in the NATO. It should be added that this initiative of the Bosniaks comes shortly after the visit of Russian President Vladimir Putin to Serbia, where he met, among other things, with the leadership of Republika Srpska.

An interesting analysis of the events in Bosnia was published on January 13 in National Interest, American bimonthly international affairs magazine, by Sean Maguire and Ryan Scherba, with title: “The Bosnia Boondoggle: This is Why Sarajevo Can’t Join NATO”. In the analysis, among other things, is written: “If the United States is serious about backing NATO membership for Bosnia and Herzegovina, then it has to get serious about the failures of the Dayton Peace Accords and drop its support for them as Bosnia’s governance system. They may have ended Bosnia’s civil war in 1995, but they have become synonymous with stagnation, frustration, despair, poor governance and weak institutions. This not only hinders the joint U.S.-Bosnian aspirations to join NATO, but has stagnated Bosnia overall, enshrining ethnic divisions (and tensions) legally between Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims), Croats, and Serbs that have left Bosnia divided and ripe for geopolitical goals of Russia. The recent elections in October that delivered a hardline Serb-nationalist who is stridently anti-West and NATO to the Bosnian presidency are evidence of this, while serving as a wake-up call to Washington that it is time to re-engage in Bosnia.” In addition to the National Interest, from Turkey also arrived messages regarding Bosnia and Herzegovina future. During a meeting with Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic, the President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan urged for the revision of the Dayton Agreement. Turkish President and Croatian President apparently agreed that this document, prepared in haste for only three weeks to stop the war, did not create the conditions for finding a stable solution for the future of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The Steering Board of the Peace Implementation Council (PIC), the international community representatives who oversee the implementation of the agreement that ended Bosnia’s war, said they recognize the concerns regarding discrimination of constituent peoples and citizens across the country as legitimate, but that the name “Republika Srpska” is enshrined in the Constitution. The PIC recalled that the Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina recognizes that the country consists of two entites, the Bosniak-Croat shared Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Republika Srpska.

Challenging the name of the Republika Srpska entity before the Constitutional Court would be counterproductive and irresponsible, the Peace Implementation Council Steering Board stated while it also condemned recent rhetoric and actions that question the territorial integrity of Bosnia.

Russia refused to join the statement that foreign diplomats in Bosnia issued in response to the recent initiative to challenge the name of Republia Srpska before Bosnia’s Constitutional Court, the Russian Ambasador confirmed to journalists.

”Russia did not give consent for the PIC’s (Peace Implementation Council) joint statement because it is too general. It is everyone’s yet no one’s fault,” Petr Ivantsov told media after the meeting of ambassadors. The conclusions his colleagues passed has a broad meaning that speaks of mistakes of all political actors in Bosnia, said Russia’s diplomat, adding that the statement does not focus on current problems. According to Mr. Ivantsov, the SDA’s “threat” to dispute the Republika Srpska’s name at the Constitutional Court is “a serious mistake” and is not in line with the 1995 Dayton Peace Agreement.

Conclusion

The Bosniaks would never undertake such a radical move if they did not have the support in the first place of the West, and also Turkey. After undemocratic accession of Montenegro into NATO, and soon Macedonia, NATO directs its attention to Bosnia and Herzegovina. The main opponent of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s entry into NATO is Republika Srpska, whose Assembly passed a resolution on military neutrality.

The West makes it clear that it will not give up until all Balkan states become NATO members. The most important land and riparian transportation corridors between Western Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean, and between the Baltic and Aegean Seas, run through Serbia. Because of that, the main goal of the West is Serbia’s entry into NATO, which would also leave Russia without a strategic ally in the Balkans. The main obstacle to this is the “second Serbian state in the Balkans”, that is Republika Srpska. This is precisely why the Bosniaks are encouraged to strike on the basis of Dayton.

The structure of Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina plays a major role in the political life of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and it consists of three foreign judges, two Bosniaks, two Serbs and two Croats, which means in practice and it has been established so far – that three foreign and two Bosniak judges have majority, and they use it. So arbitrarily impose their decisions on all citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

If the initiative to abolish the name of Republika Srpska go to Constitutional Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Serbs must show their determination, which is now announced by the most powerful Serb politician Milorad Dodik. A decision must be made to declare the independence of the Republika Srpska. Such a decision carries a risk of conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina, however, Republika Srpska has no other choice.

First published in our partner International Affairs

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