In past weeks, the world has witnessed powerful images coming out of Syria of young children injured and cities turned to rubble by Russian bombing campaigns in many parts of Syria, specifically in Aleppo. The U.S. and many European countries are now looking to further sanctions against Russia, due to Russia’s aggressive bombing campaigns in Aleppo that reflect their desire to keep Bashir al-Assad in power and crush the rebel groups attempting to oust the leader of Syria. The new threat of further sanctions threatens to escalate tensions between the U.S. and Russia, as a long list of issues from Syria to Ukraine has sent the relationship between the two countries spiraling for years.
The new sanctions would be the latest attempt by the U.S. and some European countries, such as Germany, to hold Russia accountable for their aggressive military campaigns in Syria that often harm civilians and are what U.S. Secretary of State Kerry calls "a horrendous step back in time" (1). However, further sanctions against Russia would not likely have an effect that would seriously alter Russia’s behavior, and such sanctions would likely increase tensions between Russia and the West, specifically the United States. Based on Russia’s past behavior after sanctions were imposed against them, there hasn’t proved to be very much power behind sanctions, or at least enough to drastically change Moscow’s behavior.
The United States and the EU have been imposing sanctions heavily on Russia since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. The West targeted Russian officials within the Russian government and those close to Putin in the form of asset freezes and travel bans. In addition, the EU stopped Russian banks from taking out long-term loans in the EU, prevented the export of oil technology to Russia, and stopped future arms deals between the EU and Russia (2). These were implemented to pressure Putin by going after the elites surrounding Putin with more power, and to damage the Russian economy. However, over two years later Putin is still in power with a good approval rating, Russia still controls Crimea, and Russia relations with the U.S. and EU have worsened. This is not an attempt to excuse Russia’s aggressive behavior, or lend the thought that there should be no response to Russia in Ukraine and their humanitarian issues within Syria; rather, this demonstrates that sanctions are not very effective to a headstrong ruler, such as Vladimir Putin.
The new sanctions would be a direct response to Russia’s bombing campaign in Aleppo and an expression of overall frustration between the U.S. and Russia regarding their dealing with the Syrian civil war. While meeting with British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson last weekend, Secretary Kerry claimed that 80% to 85% of Russia’s bombing in Syria is against moderate opponents of Bashar al-Assad (3). Beyond the frustration of Russia bombing rebels that the U.S. may support, the U.S. and Europe views Russia’s air campaign of Aleppo, where there are likely a quarter million still stranded, as inhumane. The new sanctions would come in the form of further asset freezing of Russian officials that now include military officers and weapons companies that provide weapons used in Syria (4).
However, there are wide spread critiques that the sanctions will be useless in helping ease tensions in Syria for multiple reasons. First, some policy analysts feel that the U.S. has maxed out its effective sanctions. Michael Kofman, a global fellow at the Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute in Washington, explained: “While the president has full sanction authority, there’s nobody left to sanction in Russia besides the janitor in the Kremlin. In terms of expanding any kind of commercial or financial sanctions, we’re basically maxed out” (5). The U.S. will struggle to receive any change in behavior when individuals and some companies are targeted, as Russia has proved time and again that their foreign policy will not be altered by sanctions, even if does hurt their economy in the long-run.
There are also some states and foreign ministers within the EU that view sanctions as the wrong foreign policy tool to attempt to alter Russia’s behavior. The new sanctions are an attempt to get Russia to stop the bombing of Aleppo that is leading to a humanitarian crisis and to slow their increased military role in the region. However, the U.S. and the EU want to accomplish this within the next few weeks. Sanctions often take years for a nation to feel the effect.
France and Italy’s foreign ministers have both cautioned using sanctions as a result of Russia’s Aleppo offensive. Jean-Marc Ayrault, France’s foreign minister, warned that the EU and U.S. should not continue a “cycle of sanctions for sanctions’ sake” (6). Expanding sanctions will likely only be symbolic and not have a lasting effect on Russia’s behavior in Syria or other parts of the world.
Although the effects may be minimal, many leaders are still keeping their options open, mainly in the form of sanctions. German Chancellor Angela Merkel indicated after her meeting with Putin that the talks remained strained and that sanctions must remain on the table (7). There is a lot of diplomacy going on in Europe currently with the Secretary of State Kerry meeting with European and Russian counterparts and the EU having talks on their own. However, the complexity of Putin’s mentality regarding Syria do not suggest a change in the humanitarian situation. If anything, Russia appears to have the upper hand diplomatically based on the way the U.S. and EU have handled the situation. The U.S. early on took military options off the table and has not found an effective foreign policy tool to deter Putin from further intervention in Syria.
rApplying more economic sanctions will likely just be an unfortunate reality that Putin has to deal with, but not enough to really make him rethink his foreign policy in Syria. It is extremely difficult to diplomatically resolve an issue, let alone a conflict as complex as Syria, when one side has taken many tangible hard power options off the table without finding any sort of effective diplomatic tools as a substitute.
(1) Smith-Spark, Laura. "US, UK considering Economic Sanctions against Syria, Russia." CNN. Cable News Network, 16 Oct. 2016. Web. 27 Oct. 2016. <http://www.cnn.com/2016/10/16/middleeast/syria-talks-kerry-london/>.
(2) "How Far Do EU-US Sanctions on Russia Go?" BBC News. N.p., 15 Sept. 2014. Web. 27 Oct. 2016. <http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-28400218>.
(3) Smith-Spark, Laura. "US, UK considering Economic Sanctions against Syria, Russia." CNN. Cable News Network, 16 Oct. 2016. Web. 27 Oct. 2016. <http://www.cnn.com/2016/10/16/middleeast/syria-talks-kerry-london/>.
(4) Wadhams, Nick. "U.S. Stuck With Nobody Left to Sanction in Russia Over Syria." Bloomberg.com. Bloomberg, 25 Oct. 2016. Web. 26 Oct. 2016. <http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-10-26/u-s-stuck-with-nobody-left-to-sanction-in-russia-over-syria>.
(6) Wishart, Ian. "The Case for More Sanctions on Russia Over Syria Bombings: Q&A." Bloomberg.com. Bloomberg, 17 Oct. 2016. Web. 27 Oct. 2016. <http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-10-17/the-case-for-more-sanctions-on-russia-over-syria-bombing-q-a>.
(7) Troianovski, Anton. "EU Keeps Stronger Russia Sanctions in Reserve at Syria Talks." WSJ. Wsj.com, 19 Oct. 2016. Web. 26 Oct. 2016. <http://www.wsj.com/articles/eu-keeps-stronger-russia-sanctions-in-reserve-at-syria-talks-1476884794>.
Image: © Krutenyuk | Dreamstime.com - Red square in Moscow
This past week marks the first time the U.S. military actively became involved in the Yemen Civil War. Early in the week, Houthi rebels fired two missiles at the USS Mason, a U.S. Arleigh Burke class destroyer off the coast of Yemen (1). Additionally, another U.S. ship was targeted by missiles; both attacks were unsuccessful and hit neither ship. However, this prompted a response by the United States in the form of cruise missile strikes against radar installations used by Houthi rebels (2).
In the scope of American mainstream media, the Yemen Civil War has received considerably less coverage than the Syrian Civil War, due to Syria’s high number of civilian casualties and the mass migrations caused by the conflict. However, the geopolitical implications of the emerging conflict in Yemen are significant, as the region is an important trade location.
The Yemen conflict began in 2014, mainly between Shia Houthi rebels and the internationally recognized Sunni government of Yemen. The Houthis are a rebel group that adhere to Zaidism under Shia Islam and are around one-third of the Yemeni population (3). Disagreements between the Houthis and the government date back to the 1990s and early 2000s, as the Houthis demanded more representation in the Yemeni government. The conflict erupted into its current state when the Houthis successfully took control of Sanaa, Yemen’s capital, and spread to the coastal city of Aden in 2014 and 2015. Shortly after control expanded to Aden, Yemen’s President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi was forced to flee as a result of the Houthi offensive. In addition, fighting has resulted in major humanitarian issues and instability within the area, as this military and social strife has entangled other states in the region, al-Qaeda of the Arab Peninsula (AQAP) and the U.S.
The Yemen conflict is not covered nearly as much the Syrian conflict; however, there are similarities between the two. Just as the Syrian conflict has foreign powers intervening, Yemen has become a proxy war for states in the region, such as Saudi Arabia and Iran, in addition to the long-standing domestic issues between the Houthis and the Yemeni government. Saudi Arabia has a vested interest in securing their border and ensuring that the Shia Houthis do not take control of Yemen. The Houthis inhabit northwest Yemen, which lies directly on the border with Saudi Arabia. Due to the Houthis quick outbreak in 2014, Saudi Arabia organized a coalition to push back the Houthi advance with air strikes and prevent Yemen from being overrun by the Houthis. The airstrikes began in 2015, as Saudi Arabia built a coalition to include Qatar, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Sudan and Senegal—all of whom have a vested interest in preserving the stability of the region (4).
To further complicate the conflict, Iran arms and supports the Houthi rebels, prompting the view that along with other parts of the Middle East, Iran and Saudi Arabia are fighting wars of support for Shia and Sunni groups, respectively; U.S. naval forces recently boarded a freighter in the Red Sea suspected to be bringing arms from Iran (5). Iran influence conflicts throughout the Middle East, and their reach extends to Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen. The Yemen conflict is another example of conflict within the Middle East that showcases the long-standing friction between Shia and Sunni Muslims.
The United States will likely increase its role in the conflict due to the Houthi missile attacks on U.S. ships, as well as the long-term concern of AQAP operating in a state that has the potential to increase in instability. The U.S. considers AQAP to be one of al-Qaeda’s most dangerous branches, which has prompted the U.S. to operate drone strikes in Yemen (3). The United States attempted to not involve itself in another Middle Eastern conflict, due to negative public reception and extreme complexities within the conflict. However, involvement in the Middle East is important to U.S. decision-makers, as the mix of conflict and terrorist organizations can lead to terrorist organizations holding significant amounts of territory, such as ISIL in Iraq and Syria.
Beyond the threat that AQAP poses to the U.S., there is a vested interest in maintaining maritime security in the Gulf of Aden; the recent missile attacks targeting U.S. ships indicate the threat this conflict poses for Gulf security. International trade would be heavily impacted by threats to ships in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. 3.8 million barrels of oil travel through the Bab el-Mandab Strait every day (6). 12.5-20 percent of global trade passes through the Gulf of Aden (7). Maintaining open passageways through the Red Sea is vital to international trade, and any further escalation will likely lead to further foreign involvement in Yemen.
Conflict is likely to persist, as the Yemen Civil War is shaping up to be another proxy war within the larger fight for geopolitical hegemony in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia has serious concerns with allowing Houthis to come to power near their southern border, while Iran continues to support Houthis fighting against the legitimate Yemeni government. It will take increased escalation, threats of endangering trade, and further humanitarian crises for the international community to become more involved.
(1) "USS Mason American Naval Destroyer Targeted by Missiles from Yemen Houthi Rebel Territory after Saudi Funeral Airstrike."CBSNews. CBS Interactive, 10 Oct. 2016. Web. 16 Oct. 2016. <http://www.cbsnews.com/news/uss-mason-american-naval-destroyer-missiles-yemen-houthi-saudi-airstrike/>.
(2) Rosenberg, Matthew, and Mark Mazzetti. "U.S. Ship Off Yemen Fires Missiles at Houthi Rebel Sites." The New York Times. The New York Times, 12 Oct. 2016. Web. 16 Oct. 2016. <http://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/13/world/middleeast/yemen-rebels-missile-warship.html?WT.nav=top-news&action=click&clickSource=story-heading&em_pos=large&emc=edit_nn_20161013&hp=&module=first-column-region&nl=morning-briefing&nlid=76302747&pgtype=Homepage®ion=top-news&_r=0>
(3) "Yemen Crisis: Who Is Fighting Whom?" BBC News. N.p., 26 Mar. 2016. Web. 16 Oct. 2016. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-29319423
(4) "Key Facts about the War in Yemen." - News from Al Jazeera. N.p., 01 Aug. 2016. Web. 16 Oct. 2016. <http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2016/06/key-facts-war-yemen-160607112342462.html>.
(5) Nissenbaum, Dion. "U.S. Moves to Stem Iran Arms Flow to Yemen." WSJ. Wsj.com, 12 Apr. 2015. Web. 16 Oct. 2016. <http://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-wants-to-block-iran-from-arming-yemens-houthi-rebels-1428868461>.
(6) Bender, Jeremy. "These 8 Narrow Chokepoints Are Critical to the World's Oil Trade." Business Insider. Business Insider, Inc, 01 Apr. 2015. Web. 16 Oct. 2016. <http://www.businessinsider.com/worlds-eight-oil-chokepoints-2015-4>.
(7) By Concentrating Forces EU NAVFOR Can Provide Influence, Deterrence or Insight into Legitimate Activities, and Thereby Co-ordinate Better Future Activities to Deter Piracy and Armed Robbery at Sea, and Thus Re-assure Legitimate Merchant Mariner. "About MSCHOA and OP ATALANTA." About Us. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Oct. 2016. <http://www.mschoa.org/on-shore/about-us>.
Image: © Dmitry Chulov | Dreamstime.com - Yemeni military on duty at the security checkpoint, Hadramaut valley, Yemen.
This presidential election season has been full of surprises. It appears that the norms of presidential elections, and even party lines, have been flipped on their head. It is hard to remember when a Republican presidential candidate was so against free trade, or a Democratic presidential candidate was essentially a status quo candidate. Even foreign policies seem to be flipped, as Donald Trump has previously indicated that he believes we need to hold NATO accountable at any cost, even if that means distancing the U.S. from the alliance, while simultaneously praising Putin as an effective leader. On the other hand, Hillary Clinton claims to be set on taking a hardline stance against Russia, due to her experience with Putin and the Russian government during her time as Secretary of State. A Trump presidency that is hard on NATO and cooperative with Russia would come at a great security risk to our allies in NATO and undermine the norm of the U.S. and Europe being close allies, while it is unclear to see what would be the result of cooperating with Russia and trying to find common ground between Trump and Putin. A Clinton presidency would lead to further distrust between U.S. and Russian leadership based on her past with the Putin regime.
Throughout the election, Trump has praised Russian president Vladimir Putin, garnering significant amounts of criticism as a result. In early September, Trump told a forum that he believes that Putin “has been a leader far more than our President [Obama] has been” (1). Remarks like these are a way of criticizing the Obama administration and Clinton because she served under that administration. In addition, Trump’s praise of Putin shows his preference for a type of leadership that is much more unilateral, and isn’t afraid to go against the international community. This all comes as Clinton indicated that she will be taking Russia head on, specifically in terms of cyber security. After the intelligence community determined with “high confidence” that the Russian government was behind the Democratic National Committee hack in July, concerns then focused on Russia attempting to play a role in the outcome of U.S. domestic politics (2).
Beyond Trump’s praise of Putin, he has been particularly harsh on NATO for multiple reasons. His main reason behind his criticism is that the other European members do not pay their fair share in contributing to the alliance and their security. This criticism is consistent with Trump’s focus being mostly economic, as Trump focused heavily on trade agreements and jobs at the first presidential debate. However, there is some truth to his accusation. Of the 28 NATO members, only 5 countries meet the agreed upon threshold of spending at least 2% of GDP towards defense with the United States coming in first at 3.61% defense spending of GDP (3). Nonetheless, pulling resources out of NATO would have strategic implications for the United States. It is unclear whether Trump is using this rhetoric as a means of scaring the U.S.’s NATO allies into increasing their spending towards defense, or if he is really set on changing the organization.
In response to Trump’s criticism, NATO officials proclaimed that the alliance is still relevant and doing many things that Trump believes NATO should do. For instance, after the first U.S. presidential debate, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg explained that NATO is already addressing many of these issues, such as increasing intelligence sharing and developing an intelligence arm to NATO. Further, the Secretary General noted that NATO fighting in Afghanistan was a great example of how the organization is taking on a greater counterterrorism role (4). A U.S. drawdown within NATO would be unnerving for many European countries, as it would allow Russia to gain influence in Eastern Europe, and would indicate that the alliance was weakening. Baltic states such as Lithuania and Estonia joined NATO to ensure that Russia did not dictate domestic politics or overstep. However, the invasion of Ukraine demonstrated that Putin is not afraid to leverage old Soviet states, especially those outside of NATO.
Still, Trump believes that NATO should stop focusing on Russia and redirect most of its attention towards terrorism. This concept of slowing or halting opposition to Russian influence is new to NATO, and especially the Republican party. During the last presidential election, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney explained during the debate that he viewed Russia as still a great threat to the United States, while President Obama brushed off the statement by saying that it was no longer the Cold War. Michael Morell, former CIA acting director, is highly critical of Trump’s praise of Putin, and wrote to Trump that “you cannot credibly serve as commander in chief if you embrace Russian president Vladimir Putin (5). There are many within Washington and the defense community, such as Michael Morell, that see Russia as a strategic threat to the U.S. based on Russia’s aggressive actions in Europe and other parts of the world.
There would be consequences to Trump decreasing support for NATO, while also allowing Putin more influence around the world. What much of this indicates is that Trump would be stepping away from the U.S. foreign policy of liberal internationalism, in which the U.S. believes in international norms and institutions. Publicly allowing Putin to keep Crimea and increase Russia’s sphere of influence would damage U.S. image, especially amongst its European allies, as it would indicate that the U.S. may no longer adhere to its long-term treaties or international norms. However, it is important to see what would happen to U.S.-Russia relations if a Trump presidency were to decrease tensions with Russia and President Putin. Would Trump and Putin be able to find common ground on issues, such as a policy in Syria or finally ease tensions? There is always the likely possibility based on Putin’s past behavior that he would be manipulative with the United States.
On the other hand, a Clinton presidency would likely ensure at least four more years of poor cooperation with Russia, and the possibility of the relationship to worsen. In 2009, while Clinton was Secretary of State, the United States and Russia attempted to hit the ‘reset’ button in order to indicate a future of increased cooperation, and an agreement to put old Cold War mistrust in the past. However, the reset failed, as Russia and the United States disagreed on multiple policies, and the invasion of the Ukraine infuriated the U.S. This failure was an embarrassment to the Obama administration and Secretary Clinton. In addition, Clinton and the Russian leadership do not like working with one another, based on the Kremlin’s view that Clinton is a liberal interventionist, and her view that the Russian government is untrustworthy (6).
Both candidates clearly have different strategies with dealing with Putin and the Russian government. Clinton will be tough, and U.S.-Russia relations will likely suffer based on the history of Clinton and the Russian leadership. The next four years under Clinton would likely increase geopolitical posturing and disagreements between the U.S. and Russia. On the other hand, Trump’s policies have never been attempted, and it is uncertain what a cooperative U.S. and Russia would look like, or if Putin’s cooperation would be a facade, with his true motivations being manipulative. A better relationship with Russia could help with other conflicts around the world, such as Syria, and could finally stop the Cold War-like actions between the two states. However, this would require the U.S. to overlook Putin’s questionable legitimacy and dictatorship-like tactics, while damaging the U.S.’s position with long-standing allies in Europe.
(1) News, BBC. "Trump Says Putin 'a Leader Far More than Our President'" BBC News. N.p., 08 Sept. 2016. Web. 29 Sept. 2016. <http://www.bbc.com/news/election-us-2016-37303057>.
(2) Sanger, David E., and Eric Schmitt. "Spy Agency Consensus Grows That Russia Hacked D.N.C." The New York Times. The New York Times, 26 July 2016. Web. 29 Sept. 2016. <http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/27/us/politics/spy-agency-consensus-grows-that-russia-hacked-dnc.html>.
(3) Kottasava, Ivana. "These NATO Countries Are Not Spending Their Fair Share on Defense." CNNMoney. Cable News Network, 08 July 2016. Web. 30 Sept. 2016. <http://money.cnn.com/2016/07/08/news/nato-summit-spending-countries/index.html>.
(4) Barnes, Julian E. "NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg Responds to Trump Criticism at Presidential Debate." Wall Street Journal. Wall Street Journal, 27 Sept. 2016. Web. 29 Sept. 2016. <http://www.wsj.com/articles/nato-secretary-general-jens-stoltenberg-responds-to-trump-criticism-at-presidential-debate-1474981179>.
(5) Bradner, Eric. "Former Top CIA Official: Putin Wants Trump to Win." CNN, 11 Sept. 2016. Web. 29 Sept. 2016. http://www.cnn.com/2016/09/11/politics/michael-morell-donald-trump-putin-russia/index.html
(6) Ferris-Rotman, Amie. "For Hillary Clinton and Vladimir Putin, the Mistrust Is Mutual." WSJ. Wsj.com, 28 Sept. 2016. Web. 29 Sept. 2016. <http://www.wsj.com/articles/for-hillary-clinton-and-vladimir-putin-the-mistrust-is-mutual-1475055001>.
Image: © Palinchak | Dreamstime.com - Vladimir Putin on 70th session of the UN General Assembly
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/>.
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The new targets of terrorists are no longer exclusively economic or government institutions. Attacks now extend to nightclubs, concert venues, churches, and gatherings of celebration, all of which are at the core of Western culture. Recruitment and training of these terrorists is no longer subject to training camps in the Middle East. Rather, many terrorists are recruited and radicalized within their own communities, making it hard to track or predict attacks, as their lack of travel and direct affiliation with a terrorist organization or cell is sometimes unclear until after an attack. The large increase in attacks in Europe is a product of mass migration from the Middle East, met with anti-immigrant sentiment, the ability of terrorist organizations to successfully radicalize through social media and the internet, and an inability—due to a lack of manpower and sufficient intelligence, specifically in Europe—to effectively stop attacks before they occur. Europe and the United States continue to put pressure on terrorist organizations, such as ISIL, increase their intelligence capabilities and sharing, specifically in Europe, and devise new counter-violent extremism (CVE) strategies to stop future attacks. Applying pressure on terrorist organizations and increasing intelligence capabilities are incredibly important means to stop the spread of terrorism and ensure that terrorist organizations, such as ISIL, do not have territory to operate freely. In addition, the private sector is beginning to join in CVE campaigns.
In order to hinder future attacks, the U.S. and Europe must keep pressure on ISIL, al-Qaeda, and other terrorist organizations. This comes in the form of active military action, such as continued air strikes, special operations, and advisory roles to those fighting ISIL. Those radicalized to the point of becoming an active militant of ISIL or al-Qaeda are not likely to be de-radicalized unless captured. Making sure that ISIL and other terrorist groups do not have territory is crucial to the war on terror. With territory to operate freely within, terrorist groups are able to gain valuable resources, expertise, training, and time to plan larger scale attacks, while Western intelligence and law enforcement are busy with lower scale attacks. 9/11 is an example of what happens when a terrorist organization, al-Qaeda, holds territory, as the group was able to operate freely in Afghanistan, and able to plan and execute 9/11. Obviously, counterterrorism prior to 9/11 dwarfed in comparison to operations today; however, ISIL and al-Qaeda share the same end goals. The main difference between the two groups is ISIL members do not want to follow the current leader of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri (1). Preventing the spread of groups such as ISIL not only limits them from committing heinous acts on the population that they control, but helps stop attacks in the West by preventing a safe-haven for terrorist planning and training.
With the amount of attacks in Europe, the value of intelligence is greatly increasing. Historically, many European states were against data storage and increased surveillance, as privacy has always been very important to Europeans. The response to the Edward Snowden leaks indicated how much of the European population feared data storage by governments, especially ones other than their own. Foreign companies became worried that American companies were infiltrated by the NSA and would be able to access their information, causing U.S. tech companies to lose business and credibility around the world. In addition, European politicians became outraged at the potential loss in privacy and began investigations into the abilities of the NSA (2). For example, in October 2015, the EU struck down the Safe Harbor Agreement with the U.S., which allowed companies to send European consumer data to the U.S. This nullification of this agreement weakened over 5,000 American companies attempting to utilize European consumer data (3).
Since the increase in terror attacks in Europe, much of the rhetoric and disapproval of surveillance has changed, due to the need for increased security at the price of a loss of privacy. For instance, the U.K.’s House of Commons recently passed the Investigatory Powers Bill, allowing new surveillance activities and requiring companies to help decrypt information in some instances (2). The growing number of attacks in Europe signals that many European states tend to adopt similar policies and integrate intelligence sharing and grow their intelligence organizations. This may come in the form of an EU counterterrorism agency, or an agency in which intelligence can be shared regarding potential extremists, similar to the United States’ National Counterterrorism Center (4).
The recent attacks in France and Germany started reviews within European intelligence in order to expand and make their intelligence communities more efficient. Currently, French intelligence is highly bureaucratic, and the separate agencies are not streamlined well to efficiently cooperate with one another. This was a problem that the United States faced with its intelligence agencies before 9/11. Currently, French intelligence is spread into six agencies that report to different ministries, such as economic, defense, and the interior (4). This creates the problem of suspicious individuals falling through the bureaucratic fault lines between agencies. The problem isn’t just at the state level in Europe. Due to the EU open border policies, potential extremists can easily travel between multiple European states, continuing the issue of intelligence sharing. For example, terrorists linked to the attacks at the Bataclan concert hall in Paris in November were later arrested in Brussels, demonstrating the travel capabilities of EU open border policies (5). This shows the need for more intelligence sharing throughout Europe to ensure that surveillance on terror subjects continues, regardless of whether they travel to another European country.
In order to combat terrorism, new CVE strategies are being devised to stop the potential for new extremists to be radicalized. Although targeting terrorist leaders of ISIL and other terrorist organizations is vital to dismantling these organizations, killing or capturing will not be an end-all solution to combating terrorism. It is essential to kill or capture key leaders; however, there are often mid level members ready to take the place of displaced leaders, due to the hierarchical nature of many well-known terrorist groups. Preventing radicalization is becoming a highly ingrained component of counterterrorism, as the emergence of ISIL has shown that terrorist capabilities in radicalizing new members is growing through social media. New strategies and policies are being implemented in order to stop younger people from being radicalized through the internet and joining the ranks of these organizations; however, there is still a long path ahead to finding effective strategies to preventing radicalization.
The private sector is beginning to develop new strategies to combat propaganda from terrorist organizations and decrease radicalization. Alphabet Inc., Facebook, and Twitter launched an online campaign last fall to target individuals who posted content or messages with terms such as “sharia” or “mujahideen” on social media. Not long ago, a cartoon video depicting Muslims condemning ISIL was loaded onto individuals’ newsfeeds; this is one of three experiments to determine what messages are successful at reaching out towards potential extremists. 456,113 people saw the cartoon experiment on Facebook, and 10,810 shared or liked the content. The total advertising cost was around $4,200 (6). This demonstrates that the private sector has an increasingly important role to play in counterterrorism, specifically in regards to stopping radicalization, as companies such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter can gain data regarding individuals at risk and launch counter-propaganda. The private sector’s role fighting radicalization and the spread of terrorist propaganda is vital moving forward, as counter-propaganda released by Western governments is discredited. In addition, a large amount of messages and propaganda is sent through the internet and social media to those most vulnerable to radicalization, especially those in Europe. Due to the mass migration from the Middle East, economic opportunity is becoming harder for immigrants to gain access, not to mention there are those who left Europe to join ISIL, and may be looking to come back in the future.
NGOs and civil society will also have a role in counter-extremism, but unfortunately part of the problem is getting funds and allocating them appropriately. In 2015, the White House held a counter-violent extremism summit in order to develop plans with other countries to get to the root of terrorism—radicalization. In addition, the State Department and USAID released the first Joint Strategy for International CVE, which outlines and encourages international cooperation with governments, NGOs, and the private sector to develop CVE strategies (7). Much of the difficulty within counter extremism lies in funding, access, and devising effective strategies. For example, The State Department’s Bureau of Counterterrorism and Countering Violent Extremism spent less than 10% of its budget on community CVE projects. However, this is considered high compared to other countries (7). The total allocation is understandable, as countering terrorists who pose an immediate threat will always take precedent. Intelligence and some military action will always be needed to maintain security of immediate threats, but stopping the influx of fighters to join ISIL ultimately comes down to new intelligence and CVE strategies. It is estimated that over 20,000 foreign fighters moved to join ISIL, including a large portion from Western countries (8). Intelligence sharing and targeting those who influence potential fighters and terrorists will be highly important strategies for the United States and Europe to stop the influx of jihadists.
The strategy moving forward to stop future terror attacks is not a quick or consistent one. Adjustments and new strategies will have to be devised along the way. Europe will need to keep pressure on ISIL and other terrorist organizations, reform their intelligence agencies to make them more effective, and rethink radicalization prevention strategies. The United States is ahead of Europe in the strength of their intelligence, and is beginning to devise CVE strategies; the U.S. has extensive counterterrorism and intelligence experience due to 9/11 and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, counterterrorism is no longer limited to killing or capturing terrorists in the mountains of Afghanistan or the deserts of the Middle East. The West as a whole will need to cooperate and get on the same page when it comes to what it is going to take to significantly decrease the prospects of future attacks. Unfortunately, terror attacks are not likely to stop, as, although it is becoming cliché, ‘terrorists only have to be right once’. However, Europe and the United States can become more effective at seeing attacks coming, stopping the accumulation of terror suspects through working with the private sector, and cooperating with NGOs and governments beyond Europe and the United States to gain access to what influences these jihadist fighters and terrorists. Countering terrorist organizations and preventing radicalization will not be an easy task, as finding effective strategies will be a system of trial and error.
(1) Morell, Michael J., and Bill Harlow. "The Long War Ahead." The Great War of Our Time: The CIA's Fight Against Terrorism--From Al Qa'ida to ISIS. N.p.: n.p., n.d. 307. Print.
(2) Flournoy, Michelle, and Adam Klein. "What Europe Got Wrong About the NSA." Foreign Affairs. N.p., 02 Aug. 2016. Web. 04 Aug. 2016. <https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/germany/2016-08-02/what-europe-got-wrong-about-nsa>.
(3) Clark, Kelli. "The EU Safe Harbor Agreement Is Dead, Here's What To Do About It." Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 27 Oct. 2015. Web. 02 Aug. 2016. <http://www.forbes.com/sites/riskmap/2015/10/27/the-eu-safe-harbor-agreement-is-dead-heres-what-to-do-about-it/#7083a7107171>.
(4) Simcox, Robin. "French Intelligence Reform." Foreign Affairs. N.p., 17 July 2016. Web. 04 Aug. 2016. <https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/france/2016-07-17/french-intelligence-reform>.
(5) Cruickshank, Paul, and Steve Almasy. "Paris Terror Suspect Mohamed Abrini Arrested in Belgium." CNN. Cable News Network, 9 Apr. 2016. Web. 04 Aug. 2016. <http://www.cnn.com/2016/04/08/europe/brussels-attack-arrests/>.
(6) Schechner, Sam. "Tech Giants Target Terrorist Propaganda." WSJ. N.p., 31 July 2016. Web. 03 Aug. 2016. <http://www.wsj.com/articles/tech-giants-target-terrorist-propaganda-1470001314>.
(7) Koser, Khalid, and Eric Rosand. "A Better Way to Counter Violent Extremism." Foreign Affairs. N.p., 27 July 2016. Web. 04 Aug. 2016. <https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/2016-07-27/better-way-counter-violent-extremism>.
(8) Olidort, Jacob. "The Game Theory of Terrorism." Foreign Affairs. N.p., 13 June 2016. Web. 04 Aug. 2016. <https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/2015-12-10/game-theory-terrorism>.
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The recent payslip scandal in Iran reveals the disconnect between the Iranian middle class and the political elites that hold high office within the government and state owned enterprises. Recent headlines in Iran were flooded with news of high-level civil servants being paid huge illegal sums of money. In addition, President Rouhani has emerged as a target of these corruption allegations due to his promises during his election in 2013. Throughout his campaign, the so-called ‘moderate’ Rouhani promised a resolution to Iran’s foreign nuclear issues and a crackdown on corruption. He delivered on the nuclear issues regarding sanctions with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which lifted nuclear related sanctions on Iran in exchange for a drawdown of Iran’s nuclear program (1). However, a new scandal confirms that corruption is still a problem in Iran.
In May, payslips of top government and bank officials were leaked to the media causing uproar within Iran, as the pay slips revealed extraordinarily large and illegal salaries paid to high-level officials in state owned companies (2).
The scandal first started when payslips of high government employees who were paid 50 times higher than the lowest government salary were released to the media anonymously. This infuriated the Iranian middle class because Iranian law dictates that the most a government official can be paid is 10 times the lowest possible salary (3). A government owned insurance company was one the main targets of the leaks, and its head regulator, Mohammad Ebrahim Amin, was forced to resign as a result (4). Allegations also surfaced accusing top executives of receiving further bonuses and staying in lavish 5-star hotels (2).
To give perspective to the corruption and the difference between the Iranian middle class and the political elites, many of Iran’s citizens struggle to make ends meet due to the economic conditions in Iran in the past decade, making this corruption scandal particularly offensive. The economic sanctions imposed by the West crippled Iran’s economy. Most Iranians face rising prices, high inflation rates, and low wages. After the EU sanctions in 2012—which banned purchase of Iranian crude oil—the Iranian economy descended into a recession. With EU and US sanctions, Iran’s oil revenue declined from $95 billion in 2011 to $69 billion in 2012. More importantly, the cost of living for Iranians increased dramatically. The price of beef increased by almost 500% from 2007 to 2013, while the price for a kilo of rice increased from around 5 cents in 2007 to over $2 in 2013 (5). All of this demonstrates how much the middle class of Iran struggled in the last few years as a result of their country’s political decisions to pursue nuclear weapons, and the payslip scandal indicates that the ruling elite class were largely immune to effects of the sanctions.
The scandal caused great strife amongst the middle class in Iran due to the lack of transparency. Iran’s nuclear ambitions were aimed at gaining power within in the Gulf region and a bargaining chip to bring to the table in order to negotiate reducing sanctions. The JCPOA brought about sanction relief and unfroze billions of dollars in Iranian assets around the world. However, the nuclear agreement did not lift sanctions regarding Iran’s funding of terrorist organizations or human rights abuses. In addition, American companies are still banned from doing business with Iranian companies.
Due to economic problems and sanctions, Iran has been plagued with high inflation in the past decade, evidenced by a Congressional Research Service report indicating that the Iranian economy is 15 to 20 percent smaller due to the 2010 sanctions (6). The decisions of the Iranian political elite class have been particularly harmful to the middle class, thus adding a level of corruption in the form of illegal excessive pay is politically harmful all the way up to President Rouhani.
All of the corruption exposed in the payslip scandal indicates that Iran still struggles with a disconnect between the political elites and the middle class. The scandal comes at an important time politically, as the next Presidential election is set for 2017. Some media outlets in Iran are attempting to make a connection between Ali Sedghi—a chairman of state run bank that had a pay slip released—and Hussein Fereydoun, the brother of President Rouhani (7). Whatever the connection between the President and the scandal may be, it is clear that the release of these pay slips was a political move against the Rouhani administration, and opponents are taking aim at Rouhani in the aftermath.
In the coming presidential election, opponents will have plenty to show in the form of corruption allegations; however, Rouhani will be able to boast the nuclear deal and an overall improvement of the Iranian economy. In 2014, the Iranian economy grew 3 percent after 2 years of economic contraction. Plus, Iran is hoping to reduce inflation to single digits by March 2017, which would be the lowest since 1990 (6). However, the most important issue for Rouhani will be showing that the improved economy did not strictly benefit the political elite class and that the decisions to pursue a nuclear program and then agree to the JCPOA will prove to improve Iran in the long-run.
Overall, when political elites in Iran choose to continue their actions that further sanctions, they often do not feel the consequences. Instead, the hardships fall on the middle class. This scandal indicates that President Rouhani may have a difficult re-election year ahead of him, and he will have to crack down on corruption in his administration in order to not lose the middle class vote.
(1) "Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action." U.S. Department of State. U.S. Department of State, n.d. Web. 13 Aug. 2016. <http://www.state.gov/e/eb/tfs/spi/iran/jcpoa/>.
(2) Azimi, Amir. "Iran's Payslip Scandal Spells Trouble for Rouhani." BBC News. N.p., 28 July 2016. Web. 14 Aug. 2016. <http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-36912006>.
(3) Dehghan, Saeed Kamali. "Fury Erupts in Iran over Vast Salaries Paid to Government Officials." The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 17 June 2016. Web. 13 Aug. 2016. <https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jun/17/fury-iran-salaries-government-officials>.
(5) "Iran in Numbers: How Cost of Living Has Soared under Sanctions."BBC News. N.p., 7 June 2013. Web. 14 Aug. 2016. <http://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-22765716>.
(6) Nas, Ladane, and Golnar Motevalli. "Iran Targets 25-Year Inflation Low by 2017 as Sanctions Removed." Bloomberg.com. Bloomberg, 14 June 2015. Web. 14 Aug. 2016.
(7) Sadeghi, Fereshteh. "Will Leaked Payslips Scandal Bring down Rouhani?" Al-Monitor. N.p., 04 July 2016. Web. 14 Aug. 2016. <http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2016/07/iran-payslip-leaks-rouhani-administration-criticism-ndf.html>.
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Since the referendum to leave the EU passed in June, apprehension surrounds the UK on multiple fronts, foreign and domestic. Speculation surrounds foreign relationships, trade agreements, and defense policy. In addition, the new leadership within the UK is still settling into 10 Downing Street, following the resignation of David Cameron. One relationship that is not immune to speculation and uncertainty is the relationship between the United Kingdom and China, especially in regards to defense relations. The future of UK-Chinese defense relations is closely tied to economic cooperation between the two states.. Economics and defense are not mutually exclusive for the Chinese government, and China is interested in maintaining its economic ties to European trade and cooperating with the UK. China is also highly invested in increasing growth,gaining influence in the world, and planning its defense policy, as exemplified by the building of islands in the South China Sea to enforce its resource claims in the region.
On the other hand, the future of the UK defense policy, along with UK strength and structure, is surrounded with uncertainty and will likely undergo some changes. The UK imports large amounts of military technology from the United States and other countries. With Brexit forcing the UK into trade unpredictability, many trade agreements will have to be redone, and the defense industry will need to ensure that all agreements can be made and implemented smoothly. However, more doubt lies in the future of the UK’s defense policy, due to the change in Prime Minister. Former Prime Minister, David Cameron, was a staunch supporter of the defense sector and raised the budget last year to increase military spending. Theresa May is a supporter of the UK renewal of the Royal Navy’s nuclear submarines, and she is keeping Michael Fallon on as defense secretary, in order to maintain stability in the military (1). Although Prime Minister May is attempting to ensure some military consistency, her defense and foreign policy is still unclear, as her appointment to Prime Minister was rather quick. This means that the UK’s defense relations are much more likely to change, especially with the UK leaving the EU.
Brexit was mainly passed for domestic reasons, as many felt that the middle class of the UK was being drained by a unified Europe. In addition, the British people also felt that there was a loss in British identity, as the once most powerful state in the world had become bogged down by union with 27 other European countries, forcing the UK to support fiscally failed states, such as Spain and Greece. Although the referendum mainly passed for domestic prosperity, Britain may now look to other parts of the world in its shift of foreign and defense policy. Instead of directing defense resources towards the EU, Britain now has the opportunity to become involved in other regions in the world.
China’s defense policy is highly related to their economic policy, as protecting their economics interests and their growth in the world stage is their primary goal. For this reason, UK-China defense relations are strained by the UK’s referendum to exit the EU. China and the UK’s relationship seemed to be at its best after President Xi Jingping’s visit in 2015. During the visit, economic cooperation was the cornerstone, as the People’s Bank of China announced it would be issuing debt bonds in Yuan in London, the first time China has issued debt anywhere outside its borders (2). This was a big announcement for UK-Chinese cooperation, which would likely extend to defense cooperation, as economic ties often include closer defense relations, because of common goals and interests. This is a historic shift; the UK and China historically have not always been on great terms, largely due to British imperialism. In the 1800s, Britain and China were involved in two opium wars, in which Britain was victorious and gained control over trade routes and territories in China (3). In addition, Britain claimed Hong Kong as a colony until 1997. Due to this history, and now the UK’s exit from the EU, defense and economic cooperation will slow.
UK-Chinese defense relations are not conventional like those of close allies. China sees the UK as a great economic opportunity for investment, and a gateway to access European markets. But since the UK is exiting the EU, China will likely not prioritize aligning itself with UK as it has in the past. China would much rather gain economic access to all of Europe rather than just the United Kingdom. Defense relations will likely follow the trends of China and the UK’s economic relationship. Another reason why the UK is not likely to align defensively in the future is historical and current alliances. The United States is uneasy about Chinese intervention in the UK, which is well within the US’s historical sphere of influence, especially after the United Kingdom joined the Chinese-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (4). Prior to Brexit, the UK had to deal with the tug of war between allies, European influence, and opportunities to increase economic and defense cooperation with China. In addition, there are many instances where the Chinese government will use leverage of defense related issues with economic issues, as it has in the UN Security Council. The Security Council is a great example of alliances playing a large role in defense relations between the two countries. During UN Security Council disputes, the UK aligns with the United States because of historical, defensive, economic, and cultural reasons, while China often votes against the US or with Russia. This indicates that UK-China defense relations will continue to be hindered by existing alliances, at least within the UN.
Ultimately, much of the uncertainty regarding defense relations between China and the UK lies in the new leadership of the United Kingdom. David Cameron’s resignation did not signal stability to Beijing, and was a large step back from the progress made in 2015. It is unclear in the early stages of the new UK government whether Theresa May will increase economic and defense relations with China, at the cost of improved relations with other allies. China will also likely look towards doing business with Brussels, in order to gain more access to the rest of Europe, rather than focus on the UK. The coming months will decrease uncertainty regarding the UK’s foreign and defensive policy around the world, as the new government settles in. However, China may look elsewhere, due to the uncertainty Brexit brings.
(1) Chuter, Andrew. "UK Shuffle Spells Uncertainty for Industry." Defense News 18 July 2016: 1+. Print.
(2) Le Corre, Philippe. "China's Offensive in London." Foreign Affairs. N.p., 05 Apr. 2016. Web. 24 July 2016. <https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/china/2016-04-05/chinas-offensive-london>.
(3) Pletcher, Kenneth. "Opium Wars." Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica, n.d. Web. 24 July 2016. <https://www.britannica.com/topic/Opium-Wars>.
(4) Mody, Seema. "China Is Horning in on USA's 'special Relationship' with UK." CNBC. N.p., 29 June 2016. Web. 24 July 2016. <http://www.cnbc.com/2016/06/29/china-invests-in-uk-as-special-relationship-with-usa-falters.html>.
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Cryptocurrencies are on the rise, though their future may be unpredictable. Hackers and computer scientists have created a new unit of exchange; this currency is completely digitized, and it is not monitored by any governing institution or organization. Although lack of accountability sounds like it would make cryptocurrencies too unpredictable, volatile, and risky for any investor or consumer, their use is on the rise. Currencies such as Bitcoin are becoming more popular and accepted in the private sector. However, the future of cryptocurrencies is unclear, due to the problems that unregulated currencies often pose, mainly in how governments respond to them. The anonymity of cryptocurrencies may create a market for predominantly illegal transactions, especially if governments outlaw them in the future; however, growth in the private sector shows that cryptocurrencies may adapt in the future for widespread use, even if there are adjustments to be made.
Of all the cryptocurrencies, Bitcoin has the greatest demand and most media attention. A person or group, under the alias of Satoshi Nakamoto, started the currency in 2008; to give some context regarding the massive growth of Bitcoin, the currency was originally valued at seven cents. It grew steadily; however, towards the end of 2013, Bitcoin jumped from $125 to about $980 per coin in nearly two months (1). Bitcoin is becoming increasingly popular, but it is a good representation of how volatile and unpredictable these currencies are, as their value can be highly arbitrary.
The way in which bitcoins are produced is not what one would normally assume, considering how most modern currency is manufactured. The coins are mined by supercomputers; mining is the discovery of new bitcoins, as the founding group has maintained that there will be a finite number of bitcoins released. Coins are discovered by groups of computers writing code to solve highly complex algorithms. The Bitcoin network is designed to have the algorithms become more complex as time goes on. Whoever completes an algorithm first gains the block of bitcoins. Today, approximately 12 bitcoins are discovered and released approximately every 10 minutes. The maximum amount of bitcoins that will be produced is 21 million; currently, there are 15.7 million in circulation (2). Because of this process, competing for bitcoins has become a huge industry.
When Bitcoin was originally released, computer desktops could mine bitcoins; however, because of the increasing value of bitcoins since their release, the technology quickly evolved. Now, application-specific integrated circuits (ATIC) do most of the mining, due to how competitive mining has become (3). The key to mining bitcoins, besides getting enough powerful computers to quickly solve the algorithms, is keeping energy costs down. Today, mining requires so much energy that using CPUs or old technology would make the energy costs so great that they would outweigh the revenues gained from obtaining bitcoins. To provide context for how powerful computers must be now, companies created huge ASICs in areas where it is cold, in order to keep the computers cool, and where energy is cheap, such as in Iceland. For example, one facility in Iceland dedicated to mining bitcoins generated $4 million in just a few months, and that was in 2013 (4). To give further context to how powerful the Bitcoin network is, in 2013, the entire network was reported to be 256 times more powerful than the top 500 supercomputers in the world combined (5). That is an astonishing amount of computing power; what’s more impressive is just how fast the power of the network grew. The phenomenon of Bitcoin’s rise to prominence shows that when there is demand, the private sector will produce results, even when there is huge uncertainty, as there often is for cryptocurrencies.
Although there has been tremendous development in the cryptocurrency industry, there are major issues to consider. The first big issue with these currencies is that they can be used for illegal activity, due to their anonymity. Because cryptocurrencies are untraceable, it is easy for criminals to use them as a means of exchange, especially when it comes to the dark web. For instance, until the federal government closed it, bitcoins were used on the infamous “Silk Road”, in which drugs were sold and openly traded through the dark web. Cryptocurrencies can also be used to as a means of exchange for arms trade, which is especially worrying when it comes to terrorism. Instead of requiring large amounts of cash or an elaborate financial management system, cryptocurrencies provide an easy way for criminals or terrorists to carry out illegal activity. Governments in the future may look to regulate or eliminate cryptocurrencies, if they prove supplemental to criminal and terrorist activity.
Beyond cryptocurrencies and criminal activity, there are large financial and consumer risks. First, these unregulated currencies are not backed or insured by any institutions. This means that if a hacker gains access to a holder’s bitcoin stash, their entire fortune could be stolen, with virtually no opportunity of getting it back. This also implies that cryptocurrency holders must know what they are doing, and must find the right computer software to protect their wealth. It is unlikely that the average consumer will engage in maintaining cryptocurrencies in the near future, due to the dangers of maintaining them.
In addition to the threat of hackers and lack of insurance policies, cryptocurrencies are volatile—specifically Bitcoin. Because there is no government regulation or physical backing to the currency, bitcoin value is based completely on perceived value. This means that if Bitcoin receives bad media coverage, or government regulations indicating a shaky future for Bitcoin, then the perceived value can drop drastically. In the past, Bitcoin has grown and fallen dramatically within just a few days. During these time periods, Bitcoin’s 30 day volatility index has reached upwards of 14-15%. Cryptocurrencies will likely steer risk-averse investors away from the currency.
Government regulation of cryptocurrencies could be a risk to their future, but it could also be a great asset, depending on the ruling of the governing body. Regulation is risky for cryptocurrencies, as restrictions could be so aggressive that they inhibit the freedom of the currency, reducing its value. In addition, there is always the risk that governments may look to outlaw the currencies outright, if they can prove they are being used predominantly for illegal activity, or if the currency is perceived as a threat to the government’s financial system. At the same time, many proponents of cryptocurrencies see regulation as a positive step for their future. This is due the fact that if cryptocurrencies are properly regulated, they could be fully integrated into the marketplace and investors’ portfolios.
Although there are a lot of obstacles in the future, it is hard to argue with the increase in demand for cryptocurrencies and their continued growth. For the Bitcoin network to grow into what it is today shows that when there is demand, there is often growth. Even though Bitcoin is the largest and most popular cryptocurrency, it is not the only one. There are other, such as Litecoin and Ripple, to name a few. Litecoin is similar to Bitcoin; however, the coins can be mined from regular computers, the volume is 84 million coins, and the currency is worth less than Bitcoin (6).
Based on the demand, it is unlikely that bitcoins will be outlawed. However, there may be some adjustments to the industry, in order to gain more consumer trust. The likelihood of continued growth of the industry is high, as major companies such as Expedia and Amazon have started accepting Bitcoin. The private industry is a powerful tool to keep cryptocurrency alive and growing; just don’t expect cryptocurrency to overtake government-backed currency any time soon.
(1) "Bitcoin Price Index - Real-time Bitcoin Price Charts." CoinDesk RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 July 2016. <http://www.coindesk.com/price/>.
(2) "Bitcoin Block Reward Halving Countdown." Bitcoin Block Reward Halving Countdown. N.p., n.d. Web. 13 July 2016. <http://www.bitcoinblockhalf.com/>.
(3) "Bitcoin Mining Definition." Investopedia. N.p., 21 Apr. 2014. Web. 13 July 2016. <http://www.investopedia.com/terms/b/bitcoin-mining.asp>.
(4) Popper, Nathaniel. "Into the Bitcoin Mines." New York Times. New York Times, 21 Dec. 2013. Web. 13 July 2016. <http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2013/12/21/into-the-bitcoin-mines/?_r=0>.
(5) Cohen, Reuven. "Global Bitcoin Computing Power Now 256 Times Faster Than Top 500 Supercomputers, Combined!" Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 28 Nov. 2013. Web. 13 July 2016. <http://www.forbes.com/sites/reuvencohen/2013/11/28/global-bitcoin-computing-power-now-256-times-faster-than-top-500-supercomputers-combined/#e6e3f7b28b76>.
(6) "The Future Of Cryptocurrency." Investopedia. N.p., 10 Sept. 2013. Web. 13 July 2016. <http://www.investopedia.com/articles/forex/091013/future-cryptocurrency.asp>.
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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,