In recent days, the ceasefire in Syria has fallen apart, leading to a pessimistic viewpoint for the future of ending the devastating Syrian civil war. The focus of the ceasefire was to stop the fighting in order to reinstate confidence between states fighting and allow for vital aid to reach the desperate regions of Syria (1). In addition, the ceasefire would allow the United States to refocus its strategy toward combating ISIL and Jabhat Fatah al-Sham. However, the ceasefire is over, and along with other events in the last month, such as U.S. special forces being driven out by the Free Syrian Army, the conflict is looking like there is no end in sight. Complexities between groups in the region and conflicting strategies from the great powers still rage on. At this point, the Syrian civil war has become so complex on multiple levels––including rebel groups, terrorist organizations and states, such as the US and Russia, each with a different stake and strategy in the conflict––that the likelihood of immediately ending this war and restoring stability to the region is growing increasingly thin.
As far as terrorist organizations and groups in the region are concerned, changes are causing more complexity and confusion. Jabhat Fatah al-Sham is the Syrian jihadist terrorist organization that use to be known as al-Nusra, which was an al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria. The name change was prompted in July of 2016 due to cutting ties with al-Qaeda. The group now mainly operates in northwest Syria and is estimated to have between 5,000-10,000 fighters (2). The group's separation from al-Qaeda demonstrates the increasing complexity of the Syrian conflict, terrorist organizations, and the stability of the region. As more factions are created by splitting jihadist groups, the more difficult it will be to have an effective counterterrorism strategy and an end to the conflict. Not to mention, once the conflict is brought to an end, whenever that may be, the vast number of terrorist and jihadist organizations will make long-term security in the region much more difficult, as multiple groups will attempt to fill the political and power vacuums.
In addition, many rebel groups within Syria are also changing their goals and reshaping who they choose to align with. In mid-September, a video showed Free Syrian Army rebels shouting “infidels” at U.S. Special Forces on the ground in the northern Syrian town of al-Rai (3). The video appeared to show U.S. Special Forces leaving the area due to the hostilities of the FSA. The United States does support the FSA fighting ISIL, but this video shows the reluctance of some groups to receive foreign assistance when they believe they have the upper hand.
Although U.S. Special Forces were met with hostilities in parts of Syria, they will still be sent into Syria with Turkish forces to train and assist those fighting ISIL. The Pentagon backed the U.S. special operations mission even after the video surfaced out of al-Rai, as a Pentagon spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis explained that “U.S. personnel operating with Turkish forces and Syrian opposition forces will provide the same train, advise and assist support they have been providing to other local partners in Syria fighting [the Islamic State]” (4). The Pentagon’s strategy indicates the defeat of ISIL as a high priority for U.S. foreign policy, especially with the coming presidential election. The alarming issue that arises from the video is that if these groups defeat ISIL or finally topple the Assad regime, it is unclear what their new targets and goals will be after they have received training and weapons.
The complexities of the conflict extend beyond the indigenous groups and terrorist organizations in the region and into the state level. Part of this conflict is somewhat reminiscent of Cold War-style conflicts with Russia and the United States being heavily involved, but not having their interests aligned. Russia and the United States do have common goals of ensuring that terrorists organizations, such as ISIL, do not have freedom of movement or territory to operate freely. However, these interests only go so far when geo-politics come into play.
The emergence of ISIL due to the lack of government in Syria and surrounding areas made the Syrian civil war into a global conflict. Besides the human rights issues and mass migration, ensuring that Syria doesn’t become a terrorist safe haven is vital to many countries that have seen a rise in terrorist attacks, such as Western European countries and the US. However, Russia and the United States have conflicting foreign policies when it comes to achieving an end goal. Russia’s intervention was partially an attempt by Putin to show the rest of the world that Russia still is a great power that has influence throughout the world. It seems that much of Putin’s foreign policy is based on protecting Russia’s image and ensuring that they have a role when it comes to international events.
The United States has a vested interest in ensuring that Syria does not become a complete failed state; however, the issue with U.S. policy in the area is that it is ambiguous and doesn’t have a plan for the conflict once it is over. The U.S. clearly is not supportive of the Assad regime due to the human rights issues surrounding the conflict, but the ousting of Assad will likely lead to a complete failed state, filled with thousands of militia groups. In addition, establishing a government within Syria that would fit the criteria to be recognized by the international community would be highly unlikely.
The volatility of the conflict was exemplified by the recent ceasefire failing. The ceasefire was not upheld by the Syrian Regime on Sept. 19, as they accused the other side of not holding up the deal. Syria and Russia’s air campaign resumed, resulting in the bombing of a UN convoy (5). The agreement was originally negotiated by the Russian and U.S. governments in order to stop the fighting and allow for aid to reach desperate parts of Syria. This failure signals that an end to the conflict is not going to be coming any time soon. Further complicating matters, the United States is looking to arm Kurdish groups in the north, which would greatly unsettle Turkey, a NATO ally of the U.S. (6).
The Syrian conflict has become so complex at various levels, from the militias fighting to the states that are attempting to play a role in the outcome. The next U.S. administration will need to come up with a long-term plan in order to ensure that Syria does not become a complete failed state, if the Assad regime is toppled.
(1) "The Ceasefire Unravels." The Economist. The Economist Newspaper, 24 Sept. 2016. Web. 24 Sept. 2016. <http://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21707495-resumption-fighting-signals-even-darker-days-syria-ceasefire-unravels>.
(2) News, BBC. "Syria War: Who Are Jabhat Fateh Al-Sham?" BBC News. N.p., 1 Aug. 2016. Web. 24 Sept. 2016. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-36924000
(3) News, BBC. "US Special Forces 'chased from Syria Town Al-Rai' - BBC News." BBC News. N.p., 17 Sept. 2016. Web. 21 Sept. 2016. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-37396586
(4) Gibbens-Neff, Thomas. "U.S. Special Operations Forces Begin New Role alongside Turkish Troops in Syria." Washington Post. The Washington Post, 16 Sept. 2016. Web. 21 Sept. 2016. <https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/checkpoint/wp/2016/09/16/u-s-special-operations-forces-begin-new-role-alongside-turkish-troops-in-syria/>.
(5) "The Ceasefire Unravels." The Economist. The Economist Newspaper, 24 Sept. 2016. Web. 24 Sept. 2016. <http://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21707495-resumption-fighting-signals-even-darker-days-syria-ceasefire-unravels>.
Image: © Hunterbracewell | Dreamstime.com - Man Balancing On Tank Gun.Azaz,Syria. Photo
In July, the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline between Russia and the EU was halted after Poland’s anti-trust office blocked the transaction. The Nord Stream 2 is a proposed dual pipeline that would extend from Northern Russia, through the Baltics, to Germany. The entire project is set for 1,200 kilometers, and will have a capacity to transport 27.5 billion cubic meters of natural gas. The installation will require nearly 100,000 24-ton steel pipes to be laid on the sea bed of the Baltic Sea (1). The entire project was to be funded and owned by 6 different oil and gas companies. The Russian gas company, Gazprom, is the main contributor and owner with 50% equity. The other companies involved in the project include BASF/Wintershall, ENGIE, E. ON, OMV, and Shell; all maintaining 10% share (2). The pipeline is similar to Nord Stream, which was built in 2011; however, the new Nord Stream 2 is proving to be much more difficult to build due to geo-politics, anti-trust concerns, and energy security of Europe.
The Nord Stream 2 project was officially halted in August when Poland’s anti-trust commission blocked the mergers in order for the project to be completed. The Polish subsidiaries of the 6 large oil companies participating in the project will then not be allowed to participate; therefore, stopping the pipeline’s proposed construction (3). This forced a large debate on the future on energy security in Europe. Energy and gas is a useful geo-political tool for Russia and European states that consume large amounts of Russia’s natural gas. The Russian gas company Gazprom, the leader in the Nord Stream 2 project, supplies around one-third of the natural gas to Europe (4). Gazprom and the Russian government obtain substantial revenue and profits by transporting and selling gas to Europe. As a result, natural gas is often used as a political tool for both Europe and Russia; however, Russia often has better leverage due to the need of Russia’s gas to fuel Europe. However, that is beginning to change, as many European states are tired of allowing Russia to withhold gas or drive up prices, if there is political disagreement.
The European Union has taken steps in the past to try and reduce Russia’s leverage when it comes to energy security. The EU and Russia do not agree on many issues, and recently have further distanced themselves, as issues like Ukraine and Syria have driven a further geo-political divides between the EU and Russia. In February, the EU attempted to reduce their reliance on Russian gas, or at least try to increase competition, with a proposal by the European Commission which would allow European countries to explore contracts outside the European Union in order to prevent gas shortages, and increase transparency in order for Gazprom to not favor certain countries or make collusive deals (5). This is all to prevent large companies, such as Gazprom, and Russia from gaining to much control over the EU and giving them the ability to threaten withholding valuable resources from European economies, or driving up prices to punish European countries or to make up revenue lost due to sanctions.
Ukraine is also decreasing its dependence on Russian gas, due to the war that has engulfed the country. In 2011, imports of natural gas from Russia to Europe reached 40 billion cubic meters; however, in 2015, the amount is just over 6 billion cubic meters. This is due to a shrinking economy in Ukraine, but also a realization that getting away from Russian gas will not allow Russia to have such a great leverage tool against the country. Ukraine isn’t in the best position to negotiate given Russia’s annexation in Ukraine, overt and covert activity to destabilize the country in order to increase Russian influence. However in 2014, Ukraine started buying resold gas from Slovakia in order to decrease reliance on Russia gas and Gazprom. This was estimated to cost Gazprom $5.5 billion in lost revenue, as Eastern European countries resold their Russian supplied gas, which they had in surplus due to the warm winter (6). Ukraine exemplifies what much of the rest of Europe is trying to do: diversify their gas supply. The new Nord Stream 2 would allow Russian gas to bypass Ukraine and put Russia in a better position to not lose revenue in the future.
The United States government is also opposed to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline for geo-political reasons. Vice President Biden spoke against the pipeline, calling it a “bad deal for Europe” (7). Washington’s position shows how much deeper this pipeline goes beyond just supplying gas to Europe. In order to maintain energy security, Europe is changing its policies to increase competition with the support of the United States. Although the United States does not have a direct interest in the gas that Europe would receive, they do have an active interest in making sure that Russia does not have any control over its close European allies. A tough geo-political situation, which has happened in the past, could cause European countries to put in a tough position, if Gazprom and Moscow had further control over Europe’s energy security. With Putin in power, and issues around the world it is likely that Europe and the United States will continue to have disagreements, which will spill over into other geo-political tactics and resources.
The new proposed pipeline demonstrates Europe’s realization that over-reliance on Russian gas poses geo-political and energy security risks. Poland’s decision to block the pipeline does not guarantee it will not be completed. The oil and gas companies can still reconfigure the deal with different sub-contractors and re-do the deal. Europe is attempting to spread investment in the oil and gas industry in order to increase competitions to ensure that oligopolies are not established and governments are not held hostage by increasing gas prices or a vindictive Russian government. Europe will look to diversify their energy suppliers by further increasing their investment into renewable energy and ensuring anti-trust laws maintain diverse investment.
(1) "Nord Stream 2." Nord Stream 2. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Sept. 2016. <http://www.nord-stream2.com/our-project/pipeline/>.
(2) "Nord Stream 2." Gazprom. Gazprom, n.d. Web. 02 Sept. 2016. <http://www.gazprom.com/about/production/projects/pipelines/built/nord-stream2/>.
(3) Repoza, Kenneth. "Poland Roadblocks Russia's Nord Stream 2 Pipeline." Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 12 Aug. 2016. Web. 01 Sept. 2016. <http://www.forbes.com/sites/kenrapoza/2016/08/12/poland-roadblocks-russias-nord-stream-2-pipeline/#6ef7200f1f56>.
(4) Kanter, James. "Europe Seeks Alternatives to Russian Gas Imports." The New York Times. The New York Times, 16 Feb. 2016. Web. 01 Sept. 2016. <http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/17/business/energy-environment/european-union-seeks-to-reduce-reliance-on-russian-gas.html?_r=0>.
(6) Bershidsky, Leonid. "How Ukraine Weaned Itself Off Russian Gas." Bloomberg.com. Bloomberg, 12 Jan. 2016. Web. 04 Sept. 2016. <https://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2016-01-12/how-ukraine-weaned-itself-off-russian-gas>.
(7) "Russia's Nord Stream-2 Pipeline Is a 'bad Deal' for Europe - Biden." RT International. N.p., 26 Aug. 2016. Web. 01 Sept. 2016. <https://www.rt.com/business/357176-nord-stream2-biden-us-russia/>.
Image: © Ukrphoto | Dreamstime.com - Chairman Of The Management Committee Of Gazprom Alexey Miller Photo
In recent years, cocaine and other illegal drug trafficking has increased in the Caribbean and around the world, due to the ‘balloon effect’ of drug cartels intending to get their products to the United States and Europe. In regards to drug trafficking, the balloon effect is the increase of trafficking in another region or by different means of transportation. Think of a balloon; when one part of it squeezed, air is pushed to another area within. The same principle can be applied to drug trafficking due to the vast amount of resources drug cartels possess. When a government shuts down routes from South America through Central America and Mexico, the effect is an increase usage of routes in areas such as the Caribbean, or even through Africa to Europe. In 2014, the amount of cocaine transported through the Caribbean rose to an estimated 90-100 tons. This amounts to 16 percent of the total cocaine smuggled into the U.S., which is a steep increase from 5 percent in the mid-2000s (1).
Much of the focus in recent years has been in Mexico and Central America, where drug cartels waged war, often including the local populace. In addition, the capture, escape, and recapture of El Chapo has brought more news and attention to how drug cartels move drugs to the United States. In the 1970s, the Caribbean was a popular smuggling route for the ‘cocaine cowboys’. However, the routes were mostly shut off in the 1980s by U.S. naval and air power, which was overwhelming to smugglers on boats, as there isn’t anywhere to hide in the ocean if you’re targeted by a U.S. Coast Guard vessel or aircraft (2). The crackdowns of the 1970s and 1980s in the Caribbean created routes in Central America and Mexico. In 2009, the U.S. State Department estimated that as much as 90% of the cocaine found in America was sent through Mexico (3). This is what led to the huge rise in violence within border cities and a war amongst the cartels. Since 2009, the United States and Mexico have been coming down hard on cartels, leading to the creation of new routes elsewhere.
Drug traffickers and cartels are constantly looking to find new routes into the United States, and the crackdowns in Mexico mean that the Caribbean routes will be used more frequently. In May, four women from the D.C. area were charged with drug smuggling, after they were found with 6.6 kilograms of cocaine returning from a Royal Caribbean cruise. After being caught, they said that a man offered them a free cruise; they just had to meet another man in Jamaica and bring back a gift (4). This isn’t uncommon in regards to using civilians to transport cocaine through duress, or in this case, to transport for reward; however, this type of bust indicates the traffickers’ ingenuity and desperation to move cocaine through the Caribbean, where a decade ago, it was much more profitable and less risky to go through routes in Mexico.
Beyond the Caribbean, West Africa is seeing an increase in drug trafficking routes. Situations of failed states, rebel groups, gangs, and terrorist organizations leave many parts of Western and Central Africa unchecked by authorities who have the capabilities and are willing to stop drug routes. Two major drug busts in 2014 indicate the increasing role of Africa as a trafficking route to Europe and the United States. These drug busts were also caught by unlikely defense forces, at least in countering drug trafficking in Africa. In 2014, an Australian warship seized more than a ton of heroin off the coast of Kenya with an estimated worth of $260 million (5). Later that year, Kenyan forces found 1,800 pounds of heroin on a ship from Pakistan. The amount of drugs passing through Africa indicates two major problems. First, the failed or failing states of Africa provide a safe haven for large drug trafficking rings that distribute to streets in the United States or Europe. Shifting rebel groups and gangs make it difficult to track routes and shipments throughout the region. In addition, the new routes also indicate the balloon effect, as Africa serves as a hub for drugs, such as heroin from the Middle East, and cocaine from South America.
Corruption of government and military officials in states in the drug trafficking routes also plays a role in the safe passage of the drugs. For example, the United States recently indicted the newly appointed Minister of Interior Justice Luis Reverol for protecting drug traffickers out of Venezuela in exchange for bribes (6). Although this indictment is mostly symbolic, this demonstrates the issue of high-level corruption in areas of drug trafficking. Corruption is not limited to South America either. The trafficking routes in Africa usually include bribes of military officials, as the International Crisis Group reported that Guinea-Bissau soldiers were seen unloading drugs off of planes at abandoned air strips (5). Bribery and corruption are not, by any means, new concepts to drug traffickers or cartels; however, they show how the balloon effect can influence traffickers to move anywhere in the world where state or military officials are willing to break the law for kickbacks.
The United States is increasing surveillance of the Caribbean, as they are aware of the increase in shipments from Venezuela to Hispaniola. One of the U.S.’s best counter-narcotics tools is the P-3 surveillance plane. Over the summer of 2015, these crews helped track down 114,000 pounds of cocaine. These professionals know what they are looking for in the area, as they notice when a sail boat isn’t sitting right in the water, or other suspicious activities in the sea or air (7). The U.S. will need to increase cooperation with Caribbean states in order to counteract the increase in cocaine shipments through the region. Most importantly, when deciding and implementing U.S. counter-narcotic policy, the U.S. must take into account the balloon effect, and preemptively lock down new routes before they have a chance to open.
(1) Bargent, James, and Armando Cordoba. "Caribbean Cocaine Trafficking Continues Rise: US Officials." Insight Crime, 17 Apr. 2014. Web. 16 Aug. 2016. <http://www.insightcrime.org/news-briefs/caribbean-cocaine-trafficking-up-200-as-trafficking-routes-migrate>.
(2) Kleiman, Mark. "Surgical Strikes in the Drug Wars." Foreign Affairs. N.p., 17 Nov. 2015. Web. 24 Aug. 2016. <https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/north-america/2011-09-01/surgical-strikes-drug-wars>.
(3) Debusmann, Bernd. "Drug Wars and the Balloon Effect." N.p., 26 Mar. 2009. Web. 23 Aug. 2016. <http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/2009/03/26/drug-wars-and-the-balloon-effect/>.
(4) Bonanno, Chris. "Four Women Charged with Using Cruise Ship to Smuggle Cocaine." USA Today. N.p., 24 June 2016. Web. 23 Aug. 2016. <http://www.usatoday.com/story/travel/news/2016/06/24/cocaine-cruise-royal-caribbean/86341770/>.
(5) Woods, Tom, and Michael Bacca. "Cartel Continent." Foreign Affairs. N.p., 08 Jan. 2016. Web. 18 Aug. 2016. <https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/west-africa/2016-01-05/cartel-continent>.
(6) Tjade, Sean, and David Gagne. "Indicted Minister: Venezuela Is Free of Drug Trafficking." Indicted Minister: Venezuela Is Free of Drug Trafficking. N.p., 24 Aug. 2016. Web. 26 Aug. 2016. <http://www.insightcrime.org/news-briefs/indicted-minister-venezuela-is-free-of-drug-trafficking>.
(7) "Drug Smuggling in Caribbean Surges Again, so Border Agents Take Flight to Fight It." Fox News Latino. N.p., 10 Sept. 2015. Web. 25 Aug. 2016. <http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/news/2015/09/10/drug-smuggling-in-caribbean-surges-again-so-border-agents-take-flight-to-fight/>.
Image: Preview: © Leif Zapf-gilje | Dreamstime.com - Cheran: member of the volunteer security force che
Chadd Dunn is a senior at the University of Southern California double majoring in business administration and international relations. He focuses mainly on international economics,