Showing posts with label UNITED (DIS) EUROPE. Show all posts
Showing posts with label UNITED (DIS) EUROPE. Show all posts

Monday, April 6

EUROPE BYE BYE .THAT'S REALLY TOO MUCH FOR ALL OF US!

Europe losing Italy for COVIN-19? Furious at their plight being ignored and over resistance to coronabonds, Italians’ sense of betrayal deepens. Miles Johnson in Rome, Sam Fleming in Brussels and Guy Chazan in Berlin wrote.  Please use the sharing tools found via the share button at the top or side of articles.

A year ago Carlo Calenda ran in European parliamentary elections in Italy under the slogan “We are Europeans”, a rallying cry to defend his country’s place in the EU at a time of rising nationalism. Now even Mr Calenda, a 46-year-old former minister and Italian permanent representative to the EU, is experiencing a crisis of faith in an idea he has spent a lifetime fighting for. 

“This is an existential threat, I am not sure if we are going to make it,” he says. “You have to consider my party is one of the most pro-European parties in Italy and I now have members writing to me saying: ‘Why do we want to stay in the EU? It is useless.’” 

As Italy faces its most severe crisis since the second world war, with more than 15,000 deaths from coronavirus and its economy on course to suffer the deepest recession in its modern history, there is a rising feeling among even its pro-European elite that the country is being abandoned by its neighbours. 

As Italy faces its most severe crisis since the second world war, with more than 15,000 deaths from coronavirus and its economy on course to suffer the deepest recession in its modern history, there is a rising feeling among even its pro-European elite that the country is being abandoned by its neighbours. 

“A massive, massive shift is happening in Italy. You have thousands of pro-Europeans moving to this position,” says Mr Calenda, who leads the recently formed liberal Action party. 

Last month Sergio Mattarella Italy’s softly-spoken 78-year-old president, and the man its establishment has relied on to safeguard its constitution and international alliances, warned the future of Europe was at stake if its institutions did not show solidarity with their country. 

“I hope that everyone fully understands, before it is too late, the seriousness of the threat to Europe,” he said in an evening television address beamed into the homes of millions of Italians. Many in Rome now feel that unless bold action is taken by northern European countries, they risk Italy turning its back on the European project forever. 

There are already signs that Italian faith in the EU has been damaged. In a survey conducted last month by Tecnè, 67 per cent of respondents said they believed being part of the union was a disadvantage for their country, up from 47 per cent in November 2018.

Donald Tusk, the former European Council president, told the FT the situation today was much more worrying than during the euro crisis — both politically and economically. 

Southern European expectations of a rapid demonstration of solidarity from the rest of the EU early in the pandemic were not met, even if the bloc has subsequently ramped up its assistance including financial aid and equipment. 

“I hope everything can be fixed, but the loss of reputation is huge,” says Mr Tusk, who is now president of the European People’s party, the centre-right political alliance. “We must save Italy, Spain and the whole of Europe and not be afraid of extraordinary measures. This is a state of emergency.” 

Mr Tusk says the EU’s assistance for Italy and other hard-hit countries is vastly more substantial than that from China and Russia, but he warns that “in politics perception can be more important than fact”. 

In 2018 Italy became the first founding member to elect a government hostile to the EU, with Matteo Salvini, the anti-immigration League leader and then deputy prime minister of the coalition government, raging against “the Brussels bunker”. 

The following year that government fell, and Mr Salvini was banished to opposition, giving pro-Europeans hope that the nationalist threat had faded. But many believe bitterness felt from events over the past month could permanently alter the country’s politics in Mr Salvini’s favour.

“There was a feeling before that the political system had marginalised the anti-EU forces,” says Lorenzo Pregliasco, a pollster at YouTrend. “Now if pro-European party activists and politicians are no longer so sure how they feel, imagine what the voters think.”

Figure 1

At the core of the argument is a bitter divide over the extent to which euro area countries should be pursuing a far more unified economic response to the crisis. Finance ministers will meet on Tuesday to attempt to agree a package of measures aimed at marshalling greater Europe-wide fiscal firepower.

Italy is among the member states that are pushing for the euro area to be far more ambitious by collectively selling bonds to help fund the massive economic rebuilding efforts that lie ahead. 

The discussions mark just the latest iteration of a longstanding dispute over collective fiscal action that economists call debt mutualisation and which many see as the biggest missing element of the single currency. 

The EU does have a rescue fund called the European Stability Mechanism which countries can use. But despite assurances to the contrary from the ESM’s managing director, Klaus Regling, many Italians still fear lending from the institution would come with tough conditions attached and would stigmatise the country. It would feel to many that their country was being punished for a disaster that was outside of its control.

Roberto Gualtieri, Italy’s finance minister, has said that Italian gross domestic product is likely to fall by 6 per cent this year. Other economists believe this may be a conservative estimate. With the country entering the crisis with a debt-to-GDP ratio already at 136 per cent, there is a real threat that Italy’s debt reaches a level that brings into question its sustainability. 

In March, with the virus already ripping through southern Europe, nine euro members led by France, Italy and Spain signed a joint letter pushing for so-called coronabonds — jointly issued debt backed by all euro countries including deep-pocketed Germany — to help pay for the recovery effort. 

The depth of divisions over the topic was exposed at a tough EU leaders’ video conference call in late March in which the Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte and his allies pushed hard for the door to be opened to coronabonds. 

Mr Conte said the euro area’s bailout instruments had been developed for the last crisis and were ill-suited to the current symmetric shock hitting the entire continent. “What will we tell our citizens if Europe does not prove capable of a united, strong and cohesive reaction in the face of a symmetrical, unpredictable shock of this historical magnitude?” he asked.

Leaders eventually struck a compromise and issued a statement using vague language that effectively kicked deliberations in to Tuesday’s eurogroup meeting of finance ministers. 

But the truce did not last long. Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president and a former German defence minister, appeared to use dismissive language in an interview, describing coronabonds as a slogan and appearing to express sympathy with Germany’s concerns about the idea.

The language provoked immediate rebukes from Mr Conte and Mr Gualtieri, forcing the commission to issue a late-night statement that vowed to leave open all options that are compatible with the EU treaty. 

Ms.Von der Leyen’s shifting positions reflected in part sharp divisions among her commissioners as well as the EU as a whole over the idea of coronabonds. 

While the discussion over which financial instruments can be used to help Italy is technical, the tone of the debate has become emotionally charged in both southern Europe and in the north, where the Netherlands has sided with Germany in opposing coronabonds.

Mr Calenda last week took out a full-page advert in the German daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, signed by himself and a number of leftwing mayors and governors from the regions worst-hit by the outbreak. 

In it they attacked the Dutch position as “an example of a lack of ethics and solidarity”, called the country a tax haven and compared German reluctance to support joint European debt with the partial cancellation of Nazi war debts by European countries including Italy after the second world war.

“Germany could never have paid it,” the letter said. “Your place is with the Europe of institutions, of values of freedom and solidarity. Not following small national egoisms.”

“They shouldn’t be using such emotional arguments,” says Eckhardt Rehberg, a German MP in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union. “Every country should ask itself whether it bears some responsibility for the situation it is in. Look at Italy’s health system. You cannot blame all your difficulties on Europe and Germany. As a German politician, I find that unfair.

The current German-Italian tensions are part of a much longer dispute, stretching back to the eurozone sovereign debt crisis of 2010-12. 

Even back then, many in southern Europe saw eurobonds as a potential solution. But Ms Merkel was always opposed, saying in 2012 that there would be no such instruments “as long as I live”. For the chancellor and her CDU party, the EU treaties were sacrosanct: and they expressly forbade the mutualisation of debt. The rule was clear: states cannot finance each other.

Yet in the eurozone more broadly, her reputation suffered. Southerners increasingly saw her as Europe’s great disciplinarian. Posters appeared in Greece showing her with a Hitler moustache. She was depicted as a witch, a dominatrix or a wicked stepmother, and accused of trying to subjugate the whole continent.

In Italy the hostility to her was fanned by the media empire of then prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. Records of bugged phone calls emerged in which he referred to the chancellor in extremely disparaging terms. In August 2012 the newspaper Il Giornale, owned by Mr Berlusconi’s brother, had a front-page picture of Ms Merkel raising her hand in a vaguely fascist salute, accompanied by an article claiming Italy was “no longer in Europe, it is in the Fourth Reich”. 

The crisis has emboldened politicians on Italy’s right who sense the mood in the country is shifting against Brussels, as well as becoming more anti-German. 

“The EU has gone from doing absolutely nothing to some trying to profit from the difficulties we are facing,” says Giorgia Meloni, leader of the far-right Brothers of Italy, which has made significant gains in opinion polls to become the second most popular rightwing party after Mr Salvini’s League.

“There are people who are trying to use the virus to speculate. There is a game to weaken Italy and buy its strategic assets,” she told the FT. “While we are counting our dead, they are counting the risk of losing interest on their bonds.”

Claudio Borghi, a League MP who has led a ferocious campaign against Italy accepting money from the ESM — arguing it would be tantamount to a surrender of sovereignty — this week posted an Italian Fascist era poster with a smiling German soldier extending his hand. The text reads “Germany is truly your friend”. Mr Borghi wrote: “Time goes on, but the tactics are always the same.”

Franziska Brantner, a German Green MP, says the Italians she has spoken to see themselves as “a laboratory for corona”, adding: “They feel, Germany is just watching them and trying to learn from their experience. There is real bitterness among my pro-European friends in Italy. They’re saying what have we done to the Germans to make them treat us like this?”

Italy’s pro-Europeans are hoping that the mounting shock from the Covid-19 crisis will jolt recalcitrant northern European countries into making a large enough gesture of solidarity to repair the damage that has been done. 

In recent days opponents of collective fiscal action have been on the defensive as the sheer scale of the economic slump has become clearer. In the Netherlands, the government of prime minister Mark Rutte last Wednesday proposed a solidarity fund worth €20bn, with cash transfers set to go straight to the coffers of Rome and Madrid to fund emergency medical spending. 

His finance minister Wopke Hoekstra had been criticised in the south after he called on Brussels to investigate why some economies did not have fiscal buffers to see them through a crisis. Portugal’s prime minister António Costa called the remarks “repulsive”. 

Mr Rutte’s proposal would only fill a small part of the gap given the vertiginous public finance challenges facing Italy and Spain, but the very fact that a country that has traditionally been a vociferous opponent of any fiscal transfers between euro area members should make such a suggestion is indicative of the changing public mood. 

Bruno Le Maire, France’s finance minister, on Thursday laid out plans for an “exceptional and temporary” joint fund that would help countries kick-start their recoveries. This would issue bonds with the joint guarantee of all EU member states and be operated by the European Commission. 


For Mr Tusk there is now little time left for the EU’s richest nations to come forward with bold and positive initiatives and avoid instilling any sense of humiliation in countries that needed help. “People are suffering now — it is not a political game,” he says. “People have to feel that we are a real community and a real family in such a time.”

Wednesday, June 27

MACEDONIA AND ALBANIA? YES - MONTENEGRO? NO!

Macedonian and Albanian leaders on Wednesday 27 welcomed the decision by European ministers to give a conditional green light to their EU accession talks.

“There will be sweat, tears and many disappointments but we will succeed!” Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov wrote on Facebook.

“Now we will climb a mountain road, narrow and steep, marred by rain and ghastly wind, but we will succeed,” he added.

Macedonia’s Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said it was great news for the country and offered a major “motivation” for achieving a “European Macedonia”.

After a long debate on Tuesday among the bloc's European affairs ministers, it was decided that Albania and Macedonia’s EU accession talks will start in June next year, dependent on certain conditions being fulfilled.

The unexpected outcome, despite broad EU support, showed French President Emmanuel Macron’s determination to postpone the decision until after European Parliament elections in May, for fear of stoking anti-immigrant sentiment, diplomats said.

It also puts a brake on the momentum Germany and EU chief executive Jean-Claude Juncker had sought in the Western Balkans to counter Russian influence by offering six countries a path to EU membership.

EU governments will “set out the path towards accession negotiations in June 2019” for Macedonia and Albania, according to a document agreed by the bloc’s 28 Europe ministers at what diplomats said was a long, fraught meeting in Luxembourg.

“It was a very difficult birth,” Germany’s EU minister Michael Roth said of the compromise decision.

Germany, Austria, Sweden, Slovakia and many other EU countries had hoped for an agreement on Tuesday that would give clear approval for membership talks to start. EU leaders were due to have signed off at a summit on Thursday in Brussels.

Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia all hope to join the EU.

Membership talks are already underway with Serbia and Montenegro. Albania, which is NATO member, and Macedonia, which has reached an agreement to resolve a dispute over its name with Greece, had won the support of the European Commission, which recommended that membership talks be opened.

Even with the delay, Macedonia’s deputy prime minister for European Affairs, Bujar Osmani, said on Twitter his country was now “on the path to open the accession negotiations next June”.

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama also hailed the ministers’ decision “after 72 hours of stormy debate” as a victory. “The results of our huge reforms finally led even the sceptics to accept that Albania and Macedonia are ready to negotiate,” Rama tweeted in English.

However, opposition leader Lulzim Basha said Albania would be turned away in a year if it did not fight crime and corruption.

COUNTERING CORRUPTION
Macron, backed by the Netherlands, has said the bloc must first reform itself before taking on new members, although EU diplomats say Paris is mainly concerned about anti-immigrant sentiment at home.

The rushed accession of Romania and Bulgaria in 2007 and the poorly managed migration of eastern European workers to Britain, which turned many Britons against the European project, have made EU enlargement more difficult, officials say.

The Dutch parliament has approved opening EU membership talks with Macedonia after the agreement with Greece to change the country’s official name to Republic of North Macedonia. But the Dutch government was unwilling to move before France, diplomats said.

In their statement, EU ministers said both Albania and Macedonia needed to do more on judicial reforms, corruption and organised crime. Depending on progress next June and another report by the Commission, which oversees membership talks, EU governments could formally open negotiations by the end of next year.

Both countries have to show “a track record both in improving the rule of law and fighting organised crime”, Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok told reporters.

Many European countries, including Austria which will chair the EU rotating presidency from July, want to send a signal to Albania, Macedonia and other Western Balkan countries that the way to EU membership is still is open, especially as Macedonia looks set to be welcomed into the NATO alliance in July.Albanian PM Edi Rama said that "after 72 hours of stormy debate" the decision comes as a victory.

Albania and Macedonia hope the decision will clear the way for approval by EU leaders at a summit on June 28-29. EU enlargement commissioner Johannes Hahn said after the meeting that the decision was a “key signal to the region that progress is rewarded”.

While most of the EU's member states supported opening the accession talks immediately, France and the Netherlands opposed the move, saying they first wanted to see Macedonia and Albania sustain their reforms.

The two countries were given several key conditions to meet before starting the talks. They include judicial reforms, active investigations and verdicts in high-level corruption cases, reforms in the intelligence and security sectors and public administration reform.

Arguably the most important condition for Macedonia is the implementation of the recent ‘name’ deal with Greece, under which the country should change its name to the Republic of North Macedonia.

Sunday, April 15

CHEMICAL ARMS (WEAPONS) THE TRUTH FROM 1918 TO 2018

Edward M. Spiers, professor of strategic studies at Leeds University, in England, explores both the myths and realities of chemical and biological warfare. Organized more or less
chronologically, Spiers recounts the evolution of chemical and biological weapons from the first mass uses of chemical weapons in World War I to the potential of modern biology to transform bioterrorism.

Spiers writes that chemical and biological weapons have probably been around as long as warfare itself. Ancient European, Indian, and Chinese history is replete with the use of poisonous snakes, insects, diseased animals, incendiaries, poison-tipped weapons, and poisoned water supplies in warfare. The first large-scale use of chemical weapons occurred in World War I, when the Germans discharged chlorine gas from cylinders at Ypres, Belgium, in 1915. 

Reported casualties from the gas ranged from 7,000 to 15,000 people, but after the initial surprise, the Allies were able to improvise protective measures. Within five months, the British were able to retaliate at the Battle of Loos, but they suffered 2,000 casualties to their own gas.

The failures of gas to break the enemy’s lines at Ypres, Loos, and other battles contributed to the legacy of gas warfare in World War I as a failure. However, Spiers argues, this legacy was largely shaped by postwar historians, because few participants shared that view. The use of gas actually increased over the course of the war. In addition to consequent casualties, gas negatively affected morale and considerably contributed to psychological and physical stress. Antigas defenses also made warfare more cumbersome, exacerbating logistical and communication challenges.

As evidence of the effectiveness of chemical weapons, real or imagined, Spiers writes that the Allies prohibited Germany from manufacturing and importing asphyxiating or poisonous
gases as part of the Treaty of Versailles that ended the war. Furthermore, in 1925, 44 nations signed the Geneva Protocol, which prohibited the use of chemical and biological weapons by international law and the “conscience and practice of nations.” Nonetheless, during the period between World Wars I and II, Britain considered but, for largely moral and political reasons, did not use chemical weapons in Egypt, Afghanistan, India, and Iraq.

Winston Churchill himself was “strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes,” Spiers writes. The eventual use of gas bombs by the Italians in Ethiopia in 1935–36, however, in direct contravention of the Ge ne va Protocol, reawakened Europe to the possibility of gas warfare. In Britain, more than 50 million “antigas” helmets had been distributed by the beginning of World War II. 

INHUMANE

A Kurdish woman carries photos of relatives killed in chemical weapons attacks ordered
Questions of efficacy aside, Spiers writes that a combination of other factors averted the use
of chemical weapons during the Second World War. Because of the industrial and economic
hardships engendered as a result of the First World War, German, French, and British
chemical production capacity was limited. Hitler personally disdained chemical weapons,
which had injured him during World War I

Moreover, early in World War II, Germany did not need to resort to chemical weapons, and the Allies could not risk using them near friendlycivilian populations. Eventually, Germany did test its V1 and V2 rockets with chemical warheads, although the nation was deterred from using them by fear of reprisal against its civilian population. 

By the end of the war, U.S. military-industrial might had produced the world’s largest stock of chemical weapons and the air power to deliver them. However, the development of the atomic bomb, and success on other fronts, made their use unnecessary.

Biological weapons were not used to a significant extent in either the First or Second World
Wars. Nonetheless, as Spiers describes, there were still chilling reminders of the potential
power of even crude biological weapons. After the Japanese surrender in 1945, six Japanese soldiers released hordes of plague-infested rats and 60 horses infected with glanders into the Chinese countryside, leaving Changchun and surrounding environs uninhabitable until the mid-1950s.

Nuclear weapons, of course, came to dominate deterrence strategies during the Cold War.
Nonetheless, the proliferation of a new class of chemical weapons, nerve agents such as
sarin [2-(fluoro-methylphosphoryl)oxypropane], touched off a new chemical arms race, Spiers writes. From 1954 to 1969, the U.S. also manufactured and stockpiled numerous antiplant and antipersonnel biological weapons.

In Vietnam, the U.S. faced criticism, both at home and abroad, for its use of riot-control agents (to clear tunnels, for example), defoliants, and chemical weapons to kill crops and render soils infertile. In 1967 alone, the U.S. defoliated 1.5 million acres of vegetation and destroyed 220,000 acres of crops in Vietnam. In 1969, the Nixon Administration announced the end of the U.S. biological weapons program, in part, Spiers argues, to blunt criticism for its use of herbicides and riot control agents in Vietnam.

In the meantime, Spiers writes, the Soviets were developing the world’s most advanced chemical and biological weapons program.

During the Cold War, Iran and Iraq also waged a devastating war (1980–88) that again witnessed the mass by former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein.

Credit: Newscom use of chemical weapons. The Iraq Survey Group (ISG) later confirmed that the Iraqis had used some 1,800 tons of mustard agent, 140 tons of tabun (ethyl Ndimethyl phosphoramido cyanidate), and 600 tons of sarin. 

Iraq estimated these attacks resulted in more than 30,000 Iranian casualties (compared with the 500,000 to 1 million estimated total Iranian casualties). As Spiers notes, although the number of casualties from chemical weapons may have been small on a relative basis, the psychological impact was significant. Iraq’s ballistic missiles, and the fear of their potential to deliver chemical warheads to Iranian cities, played a role in Iran’s accepting the United Nations-brokered truce in 1988. Iraqi chemical weapons also helped to suppress the internal Kurdish rebellion, killing and injuring thousands of Kurds and leading to the flight of 65,000 others to Turkey in 1988, Spiers writes.

By the 1990 invasion of Kuwait, Iraq had significantly restocked and improved its chemical weapons capabilities. U.S. Central Commander Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf originally planned for 10,000 to 20,000 chemical weapons casualties, but Iraq never resorted to chemical weapons. The George H. W. Bush Administration had already decided not to respond with nuclear or chemical weapons if coalition forces were attacked with chemical weapons, but they deliberately conveyed the opposite impression.

Iraqi Ambassador to the U.S. Tariq Aziz later commented that the Iraqis understood that the use of chemical weapons might very well provoke the use of nuclear weapons against Baghdad by the U.S. Although Iraq’s SCUD missile attacks against Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain inflicted minimal physical damage, the specter of chemical warheads inflicted great psychological damage. Spiers quotes Schwarzkopf: “The biggest concern was a chemical warhead threat. … Each time they launched … the question was, is this going to be a chemical missile. That was what you were concerned about.” 

Their unique ability to engender such fears, of course, is precisely what makes chemical and biological weapons appealing to terrorists. As Spiers astutely notes, “terrorists can choose when, where, and how to attack their targets, they can avoid many of the uncertainties that have bedeviled the military use of chemical and biological weapons. By maximizing the element of surprise, they can attack targets with low or non-existent levels of protection; by careful choice of target environment, especially an enclosed facility, they need not wait upon optimum meteorological conditions; by attacking highly vulnerable areas, they may use a less than optimal mode of delivery; and by making a chemical or biological assault, they may expect to capture media attention and cause widespread panic.”

Although chemical weapons have been used much more frequently, Spiers notes that on a per-mass basis, biological weapons are more lethal than chemical weapons. As advances in production technologies can simultaneously result in increased yields in smaller, harder-todetect facilities, the potential utility of biological weapons to terrorists will become even more significant. 


In the most well-known example of biological terrorism to date, in October 2001, just after the 9/11 attacks, anthrax-tainted letters began appearing in the U.S. Despite fears of another international attack, the strain was identified as having come from a domestic source, the Army research facility at Fort Detrick, Md. Letters were received in Florida, New York, Connecticut, and Washington, D.C., including a Senate office building. As Spiers described it, “massive panic and chaos” erupted, and Congress and the Supreme Court were closed for several days, although only 22 cases of anthrax actually resulted, including just five fatalities.


One of the most sobering developments outlined in the book is the application and
proliferation of emergent molecular biology techniques to the production of biological
weapons. Through the use of genetic engineering, new or modified organisms of greater
virulence, antibiotic resistance, and environmental stability may be produced. 

In one notable example foreshadowing the utility of biotechnology to weapons production, the Soviets developed the host bacterium Yersinia pseudotuberculosis, which through genetic engineering could also produce the myelin toxin. Infected animals developed both the tuberculosis-like symptoms caused by the bacteria and the paralysis induced by the myelin toxin. One former Soviet scientist recalled that after a briefing on the results, “the room was absolutely silent. We all recognized the implications of what the scientists had achieved. A new class of weapon had been found.”

Additional topics in this comprehensive book include the various international attempts at chemical and biological weapons disarmament, deterrence, and nonproliferation, including the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention; the sarin attacks on the Japanese subways in the mid-1990s; the use of chemical warfare in developing-world conflicts; and the embarrassing failures of American and British intelligence regarding Iraqi chemical weapons that led to the second Gulf War. 

For those of us interested in the potential impacts of chemistry and biology on humankind, Spiers’s book is a thoroughly documented, no-nonsense (often to the point of being dry) review of the malevolent potential of our science.

Read also here
and here
here

Sunday, June 11

LIBYA STABILITY PASS FROM KHALIFA HAFTAR

From ECOR Libya has been in the news over the past week, for grim reasons. The Manchester bomber, Salman Abedi, was a Brit of Libyan descent.  He is suspected to have been radicalized by ISIS in Libya, and went there just days before the attack. In Egypt, the government has alleged that last Friday’s deadly attack against Christians in Minya, south of Cairo, was carried out by militants who trained in Libya, and ordered retaliatory airstrikes against camps there. 

Meanwhile, in Libya’s capital, Tripoli, recent fighting between rival militias has left dozens dead. The country’s severe instability and ongoing conflicts continue to have local, regional, and international ramifications.

Increasingly, many Western capitals see Egypt as a key component to a diplomatic solution in Libya. But while Egypt may deliver its Libyan proxies, it will be a challenge for the United Nations to keep them under the same tent as those who backed its mediation from the start—and which Cairo, incidentally, considers to be by and large too Islamist.

A year and a half since the signing of the U.N.-backed Libyan Political Agreement (LPA) in Skhirat, Morocco, the political process in Libya needs a reboot. The LPA sought to create a single national unity government for all of Libya—but after five years of conflict following the fall of Gadhafi, three governments compete for dominance. 

The Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), headed by Prime Minister Fayez Serraj, is recognized by the U.N. and the international community. It has so far proven highly ineffective. In the east, the House of Representatives and its allied strongman, Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, never approved the LPA, while an interim government headed by Abdullah al Thinni keeps operating in this part of the country. Finally, a third government is based in Tripoli: the National Salvation Government, which represents the more radical anti-Gadhafi militias loyal to the country’s mufti.

Egypt and the UAE have been backing Haftar militarily and financially since the beginning of the conflict. Despite their general distaste for the strongman, the United States and Europe have finally acquiesced over the last year to the fact that given that backing, Haftar has to be part of a solution, or there will be no solution. And almost inevitably, they have been looking to Egypt as the country that—in cooperation with its UAE backers—can deliver Haftar.

In parallel with the decline of the U.N. mission to Libya, Egyptian diplomacy has gained momentum and is now seen in many Western capitals as the key to a new settlement. In conjunction with soft power diplomacy, Egypt has also showed that hard power is firmly on the table. The second wave of airstrikes against militants, regardless of whether they were involved in the Minya attack or not, mark an escalation of the Egyptian military’s now-open involvement in Libya.

If Egyptian involvement is key in Libya, the inverse is also true: Libya is pivotal to Egypt’s security and economic interests. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi said in his recent Riyadh speech that the disintegration of state institutions has benefitted terrorist organizations and that Egypt fully supports efforts to maintain the “unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity” of states in the region. One could tell that Libya weighed heavily on his mind, and Cairo has been working hard to achieve favorable outcomes. But does the road to stability in Libya pass through Cairo?

On security, Egypt is set on avoiding the breakup of the Libyan state and fighting extremist elements there, including al-Qaida and ISIS affiliates. Egypt’s long border with Libya has been porous since 2011, with weapons, militants, and drugs passing back and forth. 

As Egypt is fighting its own ISIS affiliate in the east of the country, the stability and security of its western border is paramount. The wide open border, which runs 1,115 kilometers, has been increasingly difficult to police: In 2015, eight Mexican tourists who were on safari in the Western desert were killed when an Egyptian army helicopter mistook their group for militants and fired on them.

On economics, an estimated 750,000 Egyptians live and work in Libya. While this is a sizable drop from the 2 million Egyptians who resided in Libya before Gadhafi was toppled, it is still a significant number. In addition, Egyptian oil companies are planning to resume operations in Libya, including the large-scale importation of hydrocarbons.

Cairo’s third motivation is ideological. Following the ouster of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood-led government in 2013, Cairo declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization and has aimed to suppress the movement in Libya as well. Cairo fears that if the Brotherhood and other Islamist groups gain a stronger governing foothold in Libya, the country might become a safe haven for the Egyptian Brotherhood (much like Turkey and Qatar have been). Especially on this last point, Haftar, who recently cited Egypt’s 2013 coup as a source of inspiration, has been a natural ally. From start, he has construed the fight against the Muslim Brotherhood within the broader fight against terrorism.

Haftar rose to prominence by waging war on Islamists of all stripes in eastern Libya. Because of their ideological alignment, Egypt and the UAE have bet on Haftar and his Libyan National Army (LNA). Haftar also provides some prospect of stability, so despite being weary of his unpredictability, Cairo has had no better choice than to support him.

Thanks to Egyptian and Emirati support, Haftar’s military fortunes improved in 2016. The LNA took control of most of Benghazi and made headway in the Oil Crescent, the crucial resource-rich region just east of Sirte. Egypt tried to capitalize on this new balance of forces through diplomacy by convening a meeting of Libyan members of parliament in December 2016.

The resulting “Cairo Declaration” contained the main elements of what could soon become the U.N.-endorsed road map for Libya. It called for delegations from the House of Representatives and the Tripoli-based Council of State to agree on shrinking the Presidency Council from nine members to three, accelerating the approval of a new constitution, and holding parliamentary and presidential elections in early 2018.

For his part, Haftar refused to sit with Serraj in Cairo in February 2017, despite heavy pressure from Egypt. A so-called breakthrough came on May 2 in Abu Dhabi when the two finally met. Both Egypt and the UAE hailed this as evidence that a new agreement was at hand. Many in Western capitals want to believe it, too.

The election of Donald Trump has contributed to the shifting balance of power in Libya. He brought to power a group of advisers committed to fighting Islamists above all other concerns in the region. That, in turn, has given hope to Haftar and many members of his camp that the Libyan Field Marshal could be the focus of a new convergence between Egypt, the UAE, and the United States in the name of the fight against Islamists of all persuasions, both militant and moderate.

Members of President Trump’s inner circle, such as Steve Bannon, viewed the Muslim Brotherhood with hostility for years, suspecting it of being a Trojan horse to turn the United States into the “Islamic States of America.” An executive order to designate the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group had gathered steam in the White House—while it has been put aside for now, as it risked alienating regional allies, the administration has viewed Islamist political actors and their backers with increased hostility.

Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Palestinian offshoot, has been trying hard to rebrand and move away from its Egyptian counterpart. Nonetheless, it has found itself also in the line of fire. A new bill was introduced last week in the U.S. House of Representatives threatening to impose sanctions on Hamas’ international backers, such as Qatar. 

At a recent conference in Washington, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates stated that Qatar risked U.S. sanctions if it continued its support of the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas. Overall, there is a hardening of the U.S. position towards all Islamists, which means that on Libya, there is an alignment of interests between the United States on one hand, and Egypt and the UAE on the other.

Furthermore, the Manchester attack is likely to accelerate this Western move toward seeing Haftar’s LNA as a dependable partner in the fight against terrorism. The new French administration has already signaled that its priority will be building a Libyan army, and that this will have to include Haftar. Whether this pro-LNA shift will be combined with a new, inclusive political agreement is an open question.

While raising high hopes internationally, the Haftar-Serraj meeting in Abu Dhabi received mixed reactions in Libya. Militias from the city of Misrata, key to supporting Serraj and fighting ISIS in the past, are now divided. Some are increasingly siding with the rival National Salvation Government in Tripoli, a coalition of radicals supported by the Mufti Gharyani. It is now clear that this coalition will oppose any move forward by Serraj in the dialogue with Haftar, threatening the fragile balance of power in Tripoli.

For almost all the forces in Western Libya, where the majority of Libyans live, there are two red lines in the current talks. First, the army needs to be under civilian oversight and the army cannot only consist of Haftar’s LNA. Second, and less explicit, the agreement will need to include also forces that Haftar and the Egyptians consider “too Islamist.” International pressure on Tripoli and Misrata to eliminate these red lines is unlikely to work.

It is up to the United Nations to navigate this minefield. Egypt has laid the groundwork for a new diplomatic initiative, but now the United Nations must turn it into a stabilizing factor and not the trigger of a new conflict in the relatively peaceful western half of Libya. 

The challenge is to include Haftar without losing the majority of Misrata and Tripoli. Ultimately, U.N. Secretary General  António Guterres and the new Special Representative he will soon have to appoint will have to expand the base of support for the Cairo Agreement to include eastern Libya, not shift its core from Tripoli to Marj, where Haftar’s headquarters are.

Ultimately, the road to stability in Libya does pass through Cairo, but also through New York, Brussels, Abu Dhabi, Washington, and Moscow—and most importantly through Tripoli and Misrata. Regional and international buy-in for a new settlement is important, but Libyan buy-in is key. 

An agreement built around the “independence” of the military from the civilian government (as Haftar insists) and the exclusion of the forces that Cairo considers “too Islamist” is unlikely to get the support of key factions in Western Libya. Ultimately, these ambiguities in the Egyptian plan risk jeopardizing a core agreement between the local powers in Tripoli, Misrata, and Marj, making any deal external actors hammer out fragile at best.

While the meeting in Abu Dhabi may have raised hopes of a breakthrough in many Western capitals, the Egyptian (and Emirati) mediation is unlikely to work, unless these countries and their Libyan proxy Khalifa Haftar are ready for a real compromise. This will need to include crucial issues such as the inclusion of all actors in the political framework and civilian oversight of the military. Absent this, instability, and possibly escalation could still be part of the picture in Libya.

Thursday, June 8

THE BALKANS WILL BE U.E. PROBLEM, SAYS DONALD TRUMP

BalkanInSight:. Not everything about Donald Trump is unpredictable. At least towards the Balkans, his policy so far has be­en entirely consistent in its general indifference.

Not only is the region irrelevant to his political programme, it’s also of marginal interest to the country he leads. No doubt Trump wants the best for the Balkans. But as the EU’s backyard, he would no doubt argue it’s a place where Europeans must take the lead.

So Florian Bieber shouldn’t be surprised that American policy toward the Balkans has not changed discernibly since Trump took office.

It’s business as usual on the ground as ambassadors press ahead with their civilising mission bringing democracy, justice and prosperity to the natives, guiding the region towards the sunlit uplands of the European Union, and clamping down on the nationalists who threaten to return the region to barbarity.

However, it would be wrong to conclude from all this that American policy towards the Balkans is set in stone. On the contrary, an important debate is beginning in the media and the political institutions about the United States’ approach to the region.

Bieber cites dissenting comments by the congressman and Chairman of the House’s Europe, Subcommittee Dana Rohrabacher and the security analyst John R. Schindler. He could have added those of the former Deputy Chief of the CIA’s Balkan Task Force, Steven Meyer. 

In my own country, the UK, an ex-ambassador to Belgrade, Ivor Roberts, has suggested a land swap between Serbia and Kosovo and another, Charles Crawford, has written about the ‘existential instability’ of the current regional settlement.

These comments have received extensive scrutiny from defenders of the current policy, generating a loud and vigorous online discussion.

The debate is also taking place outside the media glare. Various think tanks have been holding seminars that invite ‘blue skies’ thinking about international policy towards the Balkans. 

And after setting out my views in Foreign Affairs, I received a plethora of mail from individuals in the US who question its approach.

Florian Bieber dismisses those who advocate a change in policy as pipe-dreamers. But to do so is to misunderstand how foreign policy evolves over time.

As I discovered during my time as a diplomat, there is no document lying in a drawer which permanently defines a government’s policy towards the Balkans or any other region. 

Instead, policy is the product of a continuous dialogue within a specialist community encompassing officials, special advisers, intelligence analysts, parliamentarians, academics, think tankers, journalists and lobbyists who are actively monitoring and responding to events on the ground.

When the dialogue between these people begins to change, so, eventually, does the policy. Why, then, is the dialogue now changing?

It is not, I would suggest, because of the ‘void of no discernible Balkan policy’ created by Trump. In the absence of new instructions, the institutions are continuing to run with the policy from the Obama era: nationalist politicians have been sanctioned and sidelined, Montenegro has joined NATO, and so on. 

More precisely, the debate about the Balkans is changing because it’s increasingly clear to many observers that Western policy towards the region is just not working.

In its simplest form, the West has tried to nurture a durable peace in the Balkans by offering it the prospect of integration with NATO and the EU. This, it was hoped, would stabilise the region by guaranteeing its security and prosperity, and allowing divided nations to be reunited in a borderless Europe.

Twenty years on, however, reality falls far short of this ideal. Sometime during the last decade, the basic goal of peace in the region got lost as the EU insisted that weak and economically handicapped states meet an impossible number of political and technical conditions before they could be accepted as members.

Now the politics have turned against enlargement as the EU languishes in a state of apparently permanent crisis created by the intractable contradictions of the euro zone, differences over migration policy, and much more besides. In most EU countries, public opinion is hostile to further enlargement into the Balkans, whose problems can only add to the EU’s own.

This is having perverse effects in the region, where the failure of ‘Europeanisation’ is plunging almost every state into a political crisis of some kind, manifest in institutional paralysis, unrest on the streets, alienation from the political process and growing cynicism towards Western officials who appear to support any local leader who endorses Euro-Atlantic integration, regardless of their fitness for office.

As the promise of EU membership dies, people are instead investing their hopes and dreams in the nation, encouraged by corrupt politicians who are happy to champion nationalism to stay in power. Albanian leaders talk openly about the possibility of unifying their territory if they cannot join the EU. Macedonian protestors demonstrate against enhanced Albanian rights. 

A Serbian president threatens to go to war in Kosovo. Croatian politicians sing songs to Herzeg Bosnia.

Those who know the recent history of the Balkans should not be surprised by any of this. In different circumstances, the region is simply replaying the events of the 1980s when the failure of another ideological project, Titoist-style socialism, encouraged people to take refuge in the nation.

Not everyone, of course, has abandoned the European dream. Significant numbers still believe – in a triumph of hope over experience - that the mechanism of European integration can yet be made to work, just as many in the eighties believed that socialism could be revitalised.

But this belief relies on so much changing – a revival of the EU and eastward enlargement, an unprecedented drive at reform in the region, a decisive re-engagement by the United States and Russia’s willingness to stay out of the Balkans – that the chances of success are severely limited.

Since the existing policy is not working, and because the actual consequences are an uncontrolled rise in nationalism and civil unrest, various commentators are naturally coming forward with new suggestions for upholding stability in the Balkans that get beyond European integration.

For many, that means revisiting the question of borders. This is not because borders are the only problem in the region but because illegitimate borders - and everything that follows from them in terms of power, security, rights and opportunities - are the casus belli for any renewed inter-ethnic violence.

My own view is that the West should recognise the inevitability of a collapse of the ‘Post-Yugoslav settlement’ and switch its focus from trying to uphold something that cannot be preserved to managing its orderly undoing, with the end goal of establishing legitimate nation states.

This doesn’t mean the United States should charge in and carve up ostensibly peaceful countries in the manner of a nineteenth-century colonialist.

But it does mean that Western policymakers should generally support demands by minorities for greater devolution along national lines; accept closer cross-border cooperation between national kin; and stop promoting the ‘principle’ of multi-ethnicity, the main beneficiaries of which are opportunistic politicians who enrich themselves on the backs of people’s fears of what another national group will do to them.

Of course, nothing sufficiently dramatic has happened in the Balkans since Donald Trump came to power to compel the White House to take up these suggestions.

As I stated at the outset, policy continues to be run by local ambassadors who promote a theoretical process of European integration and leverage this to involve themselves in the nooks and crannies of their host countries’ domestic politics.

When things get out of control, as they did recently in Albania when the opposition boycotted the elections, or in Macedonia, where the president refused to give a mandate to a winning coalition, their superiors from the State Department fly in to bang local heads together.

All this is broadly in the American interest. For as long as these ambassadors and officials can keep a lid on things in the Balkans, they free up the president and the Secretary of State to focus on more urgent international problems such as Syria and North Korea.

However, this approach will be difficult to sustain into the next decade given the breakdown of the process of EU enlargement – the lynchpin of Western policy towards the Balkans – and growing instability in the region.

Whether a Serbian annexation of northern Kosovo or the de facto secession of minority groups like the Macedonian Albanians or Bosnian Serbs, some crisis will eventually become unmanageable by means of illusory enticements and emergency diplomacy.

At that point, unless the White House is willing to risk renewed conflict, it will be forced to re-engage with the Balkans, to think again about what the US is trying to achieve and how best to achieve it.

Will it insist forever on the preservation of arbitrary borders determined decades ago by a communist dictator in the face of profound local resistance? Or will it use its immense resources and diplomatic clout to engineer a durable solution that reflects demographic realities on the ground?

For the moment, all this is a matter of abstract debate within foreign policy circles. But the old assumptions about what the Balkans must and mustn’t be are now being scrutinised and re-examined from first principles, changing the intellectual environment in which policy is formulated.

Events will eventually force senior American policymakers to devise a new approach that catches up with political reality. While that may not be for some years, a debate about how to prevent a relapse into violence is already under way. As this debate progresses, it will lay the groundwork for that eventual check with reality to happen.

Saturday, May 27

2018-2020 BALKANS IN FIRE: RETURNING FOREIGN FIGHTERS

Those "Reports" explores the Security challenges posed by foreign fighter returnees. It argues that—contrary to popular belief—most foreign fighters do not die on battlefields or travel from conflict to conflict


This means that Law Enforcement, Intelligence, and other Security Officials should expect unprecedented numbers of returnees from Afghanistan, Indonesia, Africa, Mali, Libya, Syria and Iraq should a ceasefire hold. 

The challenge posed by returnees is threefold: Recidivism rates are uncertain, law enforcement cannot manage the numbers of prospective returnees alone, and returnees from non-Western countries also pose a threat to the United States. 

Findings suggest that a global architecture should be put in place to mitigate the threats from foreign fighter returnees.