Archive for category Europe (un)divided

Hybrid war: neither new nor Russian

Since the annexation of Crimea in March 2014, the spectre of ‘hybrid’ tactics (or threats) is haunting both European and American security debates. This seems to suggest that this is a new, highly effective form of warfare which poses complex challenges to the EU, NATO, and their neighbours.

However, hybrid tactics are neither new, nor exclusively (or primarily) a Russian invention. They are as old as war itself, and Western states have often used elements of it quite effectively, at least on a tactical level.

East, West, and Middle East

Hybrid war encompasses a set of hostile actions whereby, instead of a classical large-scale military invasion, an attacking power seeks to undermine its opponent through a variety of acts including subversive intelligence operations, sabotage, hacking, and the empowering of proxy insurgent groups. It may also spread disinformation (in target and third countries), exert economic pressure and threaten energy supplies.
In order to be successfully executed, a degree of integration between these elements is required, as is their subordination to some sort of strategic command. It is also imperative that the aggressor be in a position to plausibly deny having supported these actions to the local and international communities.

Similar methods have been seen long before the conflict in Ukraine – often in the run-up to, during, and immediately after conventional wars. Bribing someone to open the gates of a castle under siege or the poisoning of wells, for example, were probably the medieval equivalents to today’s hybrid tactics. Read the rest of this entry »


How the eurozone crisis undermines EU power

It is clear that the Euro-crisis has and will have huge implications for EU foreign policy. A lot depends on what happens in the next months – the solution to the Greek or Italian problems, the contours of a multi-speed Europe and how messy a solution or non-solution to the euro-crisis will be. Things can get worse, or they can get better. But it is already possible to take a snapshot of the foreign policy implications of the Eurozone crisis. The picture contains a push to the background of all foreign policy issues, followed by fewer foreign policy resources and a coma for EU soft power, made worse by the fact that the EU understanding of power is so unhedged.   Read the rest of this entry »

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On ‘friendships’ in foreign policy

The notion of ‘friendship’ in foreign policy is an elusive one. It is often stereotypical, yet publics and policy-makers often think in terms of ‘friendly’ and ‘less friendly’ countries. The notion of ‘friendship’ also often hides pretty unfriendly policies. It is almost conventional wisdom that countries like Germany, France, Spain or Austria are ‘friendly’ to Russia, and countries like Poland or Lithuania are not. Looking at the southern neighbourhood, France, Spain and Italy are key advocates and friends of countries like Morocco, Tunisia etc. Yet, such ‘friendships’ consist of lots of underwater currents. Many ‘friendships’ in form are pretty unfriendly in substance, and they vary hugely from one policy sector to another. Read the rest of this entry »

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Revolutions and youth movements

One of the main stories of the 2000-2005 wave of revolutions – successful in Serbia, Georgia, Ukraine, and failed in Belarus, Azerbaijan and Egypt – were the existence of organised youth movements with names which were variations on the idea ‘enough is enough’. Otpor in Serbia, Pora in Ukraine, Kmara in Georgia, Kefaya in Egypt, Zubr in Belarus), and Mjaft in Albania became almost household names. However, I have not heard of anything ressembling Kefaya in the recent Egyptian or Tunisian revolutions. These recent revolutions were conspicuous by the absence of well-organised and well-branded youth movements. The revolutions seem to have done well enough without them.

Certainly, it is not youth movements, but authoritarian regimes and ‘ripe contexts’ that are the causes of revolutions. This sounds self-evident, but both revolutionaries and counter-revolutionaries seem to often miss it (though it is impossible to know whether a revolutionary situation is ‘ripe’ before it actually happens). I still remember the avalanches of venom deployed against youth movements as ‘fifth columns of foreign powers’, not just in Russian, Azeri or Serbian media, but also in plenty of (leftish) European newspapers (the Guardian seemed to excell at that). Many of them implied that youth movements, not authoritarian mismanagement were the causes of revolutions. But it is also indicative how Kefaya failed to lead to anything meaningful in Egypt in 2005, whereas the 2011 protests toppled Mubarak without any Kefaya-like organisation. Read the rest of this entry »

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More for More in the Neighbourhood

The revolutionary upheaval in the Southern neighbourhood and the failures of reforms in most of the Eastern neighbourhood are begging for a revised EU approach to the neighbourhood policy (ENP). In March the EU presented some ideas on ‘a partnership for democracy and shared prosperity’ with the Southern Mediterranean. Some time in May the EU will present also a full review of the ENP. A central concept of the updated ENP is the idea of ‘more for more’ – the EU should give more political and financial support to those neighbourhood countries that implement more reforms and are more democratic.

‘More for more’ stands for a more meritocratic ENP. It should lay the basis for proper differentiation between neighbours, not based on geographic criteria, but based on their performance. The concept is also supposed to change the way the EU is spending its money. Currently the EU pre-allocates most of its assistance to specific neighbourhood states (almost irrespective of their reform performance) in 7-years budgetary cycles. ‘More for more’ is supposed to make it easier to shift its more EU assistance from one neighbourhood state to another depending on their reform performance. Overall, the concept the concept of ‘more for more’ is laudable and fair, but also quite slippery. Read the rest of this entry »

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Democracy-promotion.Now what?

As the ‘post-Cold War era’ turned into the ‘multipolar world’ era, the notion of Western democracy promotion underwent similarly dramatic changes. The West became too weak to pursue democracy-promotion head-on and was seen as being forced to fall back on old-school realist approaches to democracy. But just when this realist approach to democracy-promotion seemed to almost finally become dominant, the popular wave of protests in EU’s southern neighbourhod changed everything again. Now the question is what will come next.

The Realist Consensus

For the few couple of years the realist consensus on democracy promotion seemed to be on a seemigly unstoppable (repeated) rise. It marked the end of two decades of noisy, often arrogant, but equally often concerned tough talk and action to promote human rights and democracy. The idea was that time has come to focus on achieving certain, rather quantifiable interests, such as ensuring security, fighting terrorism, expanding trade or managing migration, rather than adopting vague goals like promoting human rights and improving governance. Read the rest of this entry »

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Is soft power freeriding?

The EU is proud that it is a ‘soft power’ (when you make others what you want through attraction, rather than coercion). It also thinks this is the most sophisticated and benefic way to exercise power (‘post-modern’ in other words). It might be true, but seen from the outside the logic of soft power might not be that appealing for others. In fact if you sit in Dushanbe, Caracas or Karachi why would you care for someone’s soft power?

Basically the logic of soft power is the following: ‘I am attractive, prosperous, nice, friendly, make good movies, have good schools etc and that is others you should do and want what I want’. This is a bit of a free-ride. Firts of all, soft power is not even designed as a foreign policy tool or an instrument of power. It is simply a useful potential side-effect of (EU and US, mainly) politicians responding to their voters’ needs. And one can be both attractive, and irrelevant in international politics. Read the rest of this entry »

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Of euro-pessimism and failures

It is not difficult to be depressed about the EU these days. A recent re-read of the Laeken declaration that set in motion the whole European Convention, the Constitutional and Lisbon Treaties exercises just made me think (more) how far is EU’s current state (and institutional basis) from the stated ambitions of 2001. Here us a useful reminder of the spirit of the declaration:

“What is Europe’s role in this changed world? Does Europe not, now that is finally unified, have a leading role to play in a new world order, that of a power able both to play a stabilising role worldwide and to point the way ahead for many countries and peoples? Europe as the continent of humane values, the Magna Carta, the Bill of Rights, the French Revolution and the fall of the Berlin Wall… The European Union’s one boundary is democracy and human rights…  Europe needs to shoulder its responsibilities in the governance of globalisation. The role it has to play is that of a power resolutely doing battle against all violence, all terror and all fanaticism… In short, a power wanting to change the course of world affairs.”

The truth is that throughout most of its existence the EU was as frustrating and depressive for its supporters as is it now. And yet, it still is the single most successful international organisation in history. So how do we balance euro-pessimism and optimism, history and future, success and failure, analysis and wishful thinking? Read the rest of this entry »

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Germany’s new Ostpolitik (again)?

(with updates)… I have just returned from Germany from a joint ECFR-Bertelsman event on the “Eastern partnership or Partnership with Russia”. Of course, the answer is with both. No need to spend time on this. But I got a certain sense that the German debate on Russia and the Eastern neighbourhood might be changing. Of course this is only a snapshot and such trends are far from consolidated. And they have yet to trickle down through the German foreign policy machinery, not least in the Brussels committees. But here are some of the interesting nuances I have heard in my convesrsations with a few experts as well as FDP and CDU (the new coalition partners) voices.

On Ukraine

There might be an increasing sense that Ukraine, Moldova, and perhaps Belarus will “of course” join the EU. Though with two caveats:  1) in the long run (defined as 20-30 years), and 2) “this should happen at our own pace, not due to geopolitical considerations”. The language is still more positive than I ever heard in Germany.

Much has been made about the fact that FDP’s election manifesto mentions an EU accession perspective for Ukraine. The Ukrainian foreign minister Poroshenko even says the new German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle (and FDP leader) gave him such a manifesto with the word “Ukraine” underlined and Westerwelle’s signature next to it. I tended not to overdo the importance of this point in the manfesto. But my FDP interlocutor stressed that the Ukraine point in the manifesto was thought through, discussed and “voted twice in an electoral year by the party convention, and this is not a backdoor policy paper, but a key document”. Read the rest of this entry »

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Russia’s Chinese neighbourhood

I recently spoke at the Sino-European forum co-organised by ECFR/Centre Asie and CICIR about the EU-Russia-China triangle. While thinking about the non-existent triangle I ran into the proceedings of another ‘strategic dialogue’ – between Russia and China. And the following exchange of views on Russia’s desire for a sphere of influence in the post-Soviet space caught my eye.  One of the Russian participants (Alexey Arbatov) asked the following question (page 19):
“A certain part of Russian political elite thinks that our central objective should be the re-establishment of the Soviet Union in this or that form, the establishment of uncontested Russian domination in the post-Soviet space. This is not what the leadership thinks, but in political circles, the media, in political parties, and the parliament such a desire is very strong… My question is what is [your country’s] attitude to such a policy line? Would your attitude towards such a foreign policy direction be positive of negative?

The reply: “We understand that Russia has special interests in this space, and that Russia tries to preserve its influence, but only if this takes the form of a civilisational community, because these states are still independent states… Russia should treat these states as independent states from a legal point of view, and from the point of view of international norms.” Read the rest of this entry »

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