· NATO’s Southern flank Security threats and the Alliance’s role after the Warsaw Summit
· Papstreise nach Georgien und Aserbaidschan | Details of Pope Francis‘ visit to Georgia and Azerbaijan
· Nick Butler, FT: Who lost Azerbaijan?
· The Atlantic: Clinton vs. Trump
· What Trump and Clinton Said (and Didn’t Say) About the Middle East
· The Balkans: Still the Powder Keg of Europe?
Massenbach*Papstreise nach Georgien und Aserbaidschan | Details of Pope Francis‘ visit to Georgia and Azerbaijan
…..Am Freitag dann geht der Papst selbst wieder hinaus in die weite Welt, sein Reiseziel sind dieses Mal die Kaukasusländer Georgien und Azerbaijan. Es ist die Fortsetzung seiner Armenienreise im Juni. Im Rahmen der Reise trifft Franziskus neben Vertretern aus Politik und Gesellschaft unter anderem den orthodoxen Patriarchen Ilia II. von Georgien, Vertreter der Assyrisch-Chaldäischen Kirche und begegnet auch Muslimen bei einem interreligiösen Treffen. Am Sonntag kehrt Franziskus zurück nach Rom.
Der Vatikanische Pressesaal hat Einzelheiten der bevorstehenden Visite vorgestellt; sie wird Franziskus 16. Auslandsreise sein.
Es soll vor allem um drei Themen gehen: um Frieden, um Ökumene und um den interreligiösen Dialog. Das machte der neue Vatikansprecher Greg Burke vor den beim Vatikan akkreditierten Journalisten deutlich. „Natürlich wird es eine Friedensreise, der Papst hat eine Botschaft der Versöhnung für die ganze Region im Gepäck. Zum ersten Mal wird eine Delegation der orthodoxen Kirche an der Messfeier des Heiligen Vaters teilnehmen. Und auch der orthodoxe Patriarch wird am Flughafen sein, wenn der Papst eintrifft.“
Georgien ist eines der christlichsten Länder: Der Apostel Andreas soll hier missioniert haben, und schon 337 wurde das Christentum Staatsreligion. Die georgisch-orthodoxe Kirche und eine eigene Sprache mit eigener Schrift, die in den Klöstern auch über Jahrhunderte der Fremdherrschaft bewahrt wurde, sind auch heute noch identitätsstiftend. Umso mehr liegt dem Papst an einem guten Auskommen mit der traditionell konservativen orthodoxen Kirche des Landes. Ein Teil des Klerus hat vor der Päpstlichen Nuntiatur in Tiflis gegen den Besuch von Franziskus demonstriert.
Wichtig wird der Besuch des Papstes in der assyrisch-chaldäischen Gemeinde in Tiflis am Freitagabend. 13 Bischöfe aus dem Irak reisen zu diesem Termin eigens an. „Der Papst will eine geistliche Begegnung mit dieser Pfarrei von etwa dreihundert Menschen, darum sind keine Reden vorgesehen. Es wird auf aramäisch gesungen und gebetet werden, und der Papst will ein Gebet für den Frieden in Syrien und im Irak sprechen.“
Am Sonntag fliegt der Gast aus dem Vatikan weiter nach Baku, der Hauptstadt von Aserbaidschan – und spätestens ab diesem Moment kann man kaum noch von einer Pastoralreise sprechen, denn es gibt nur sehr wenige Katholiken im Land des Aseris: eine einzige Pfarrei in Baku, und außerhalb ein paar Niederlassungen der Mutter-Teresa-Schwestern.
In Baku wird der Papst eine Moschee besuchen und den Scheich der Muslime des Kaukasus treffen. Ob er dann auch eine Friedensbotschaft für den Zwist zu Nagorny-Karabach lancieren wird, wollte Greg Burke einem russischen Reporter bei der Pressekonferenz nicht verraten. „Es steht mir nicht zu, vorwegzunehmen, was der Papst sagen wird. Man weiß, dass der Heilige Stuhl sich gemeinhin nicht in solche Konflikte einmischt, aber warten wir’s ab.“
Zehn Ansprachen, davon zwei Predigten und ein Gebet, wird Franziskus im Kaukasus sprechen – auf Italienisch, ausnahmslos. Beim Rückflug von Baku nach Rom plant er, wie bei ihm mittlerweile üblich, wieder eine „Fliegende Pressekonferenz“.
Im Gefolge des Papstes befinden sich u.a. sein argentinischer Landsmann, Kardinal Leonardo Sandri von der Ostkirchenkongregation, und der vatikanische Ökumene-Verantwortliche, der Schweizer Kardinal Kurt Koch.
Details of Pope Francis‘ visit to Georgia and Azerbaijan
The Pope is scheduled to leave the Vatican on Friday morning, headed for the Georgian capital Tbilisi. His first encounter there will be with the president, with government authorities and representatives of civil society gathered at the imposing presidential palace. From there he goes on to meet the country’s Orthodox leader Patriarch Elia, who was also on hand for Pope John Paul II’s visit to the newly independent nation back in 1999.
The final event on Friday will be a visit to the Syro-Chaldean church of St Simon the Tanner, one of three different rites making up the small Catholic community in the former Soviet nation. The pope will join Syro-Chaldean bishops from around the world there to pray for peace in Syria and Iraq.
Pope Francis begins the following day with Mass at a stadium in Tbilisi named after one of Georgia’s most famous footballers. Significantly, a delegation from the Orthodox Patriarchate will also be present at the Mass, a sign of growing friendship despite the many doctrinal difficulties that continue to divide leaders of the two Churches.
In the afternoon, the Pope will meet with priests, religious and seminarians at one of the two Catholic parishes in the capital, before greeting several hundred disabled and vulnerable people being cared for by members of the Camilian order. The Pope’s final event in Georgia will be a visit to the patriarchal cathedral in the nearby ancient city of Mtshketa, listed as one of UNESCO’s world heritage sites.
On the final day of the trip, Pope Francis flies from Tbilisi to Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan where he’ll celebrate Mass for the tiny Catholic community at the only parish church run by the Salesian order. In the afternoon he’ll make a courtesy visit to the president and meet the region’s Muslim leader, Sheik Allashukur Pashazade, before taking part in an interfaith encounter with representatives of all the other religious communities in the country.
Nick Butler, FT: Who lost Azerbaijan?
For a few years in the 1990s, Azerbaijan looked like one of the world’s lucky countries. Freed from Soviet dominance, rich in resources, especially oil and gas, and immune to the radical and extremist Muslim fundamentalism that was spreading from Saudi Arabia and other parts of the Middle East, the country seemed to have a lot going for it. Twenty years later the situation has deteriorated badly and looks likely to get worse. Economic success is being destroyed by rampant corruption. Constitutional changes this autumn will entrench the power of President Ilham Aliyev, who rules Azerbaijan as if it were a family estate. What went wrong and what can be done?
Azerbaijan is one of the places where the global oil industry began. The world’s first basic refinery – then called a paraffin factory – was opened in 1823. The first oil field was drilled in 1846. Neft Dashiary, the first offshore field in the world, came onstream in 1951 in the shallow area of the Caspian Sea.
Travelling to the capital Baku for the first time in 1991, I remember thinking that very little seemed to have changed in 100 years and more. By international standards the oil wells that dominated the approach from the airport to the city were primitive. Think of the pictures of Texas in the late 19th century. Pools of oil were everywhere along the route – a hugely dangerous hazard. The air was thick and unhealthy. The state of the Azeri oil industry was the product of Russian neglect. With oil resources to be developed in west Siberia the Russians saw no need to devote assets or skills to any activity in Azerbaijan.
From the mid 1990s, all that changed. International funds came in on a grand scale. The development of the triplex of oil fields in Azerbaijan’s sector of the Caspian Sea – Azeri-Chirag-Gunashli – pushed up production to more than 1m barrels a day by 2010. At the high point, over 800,000 barrels a day of oil were being exported through purpose-built infrastructure, including the 1,100 mile line from Baku to Ceyhan on the Turkish coast. Regional tensions with Iran and even Armenia were managed if not solved. Russia had its own challenges and the government in Baku was careful to avoid provoking Moscow. Azerbaijan created its own state oil company, Socar, and its own sovereign wealth fund. For a brief period the country became a model of what a successful, oil-rich, moderate Muslim state could look like.
But progress has not been sustained. The fall in the oil price hurts in Baku, as in so many oil-producing regions. That drop combined with the fear that taxes will be increased has led to a decrease in new investment. At the same time, the attractive prospects in the deeper waters of the Caspian Sea remain unexplored because of the unresolved dispute about offshore borders between neighbouring states. Oil production has fallen and will do so further. Natural gas finds will help meet local needs but output from the second phase of the largest gas project, Shah Deniz, will come onstream at a time when the international gas market is saturated and further price falls seem inevitable.
All those factors pose serious challenges but Azerbaijan’s real problem is corruption and the increasingly authoritarian nature of Mr Aliyev’s regime. Arbitrary arrest is common and freedom of speech is not extended to those critical of the regime. Every so often in response to international criticism a process of reform is initiated, only to run into the sand. The latest appointee, Natig Amirov, the new presidential adviser on economic reform, has called in McKinsey to produce a long-term economic plan. It will be interesting to read what it says about the problems of corruption. The reality is that neither international advisers or local ministers can get very far if so many of the corruption trails lead back to the presidential palace.
What went wrong – or, as they say in the US, who lost Azerbaijan? American neglect must take a lot of the blame. In the 1990s the US state department strongly promoted the idea of a Caspian corridor – the active promotion of open society and market values through the region from Turkey eastwards. The aims included the protection of the area’s independence from the always looming presence of the Russians to the north, as well as the desire to open new trades to an area of the world with a very substantive resource base that holds some of the most promising and under explored structures outside Opec.
Weariness after two lost wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the absence of substantive support from an inward-looking EU eroded those ambitions. Countries such as Azerbaijan, which had minimal experience of anything other than authoritarian rule, were allowed to slip backwards. The patience required to build institutional structures and new nations ran out.
What can be done? Some believe hard times will force the Azeris into a process of genuine reform. I hope they are right. The more likely outcome is a fight for control of whatever income is available and a creeping vulnerability to the risk of conflict and intervention from Moscow, led by those who have never accepted the redrawing of the boundaries after 1991. The only thing likely to sway Mr Aliyev is hard pressure from the US administration. The level of criticism in Washington of specific abuses of human rights including the imprisonment of journalists and the show trials of other critics has risen in recent weeks. So far the criticism has been ignored.
The most effective intervention now would be a clear and unequivocal statement from Washington or Brussels or both that Central Asia is an area of strategic concern, backed up by a full-scale engagement to crack down on corruption and human rights abuse, case by case. The rule of law must be restored.
The fact that military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan has failed is not a reason for giving up completely. Sending in ground troops is not the only answer; nor is sending in drones. It is time to look beyond military solutions. The better alternative is to pursue the slow, often thankless work of engagement, building local institutions, insisting on the rule of law and helping local groups who want to build a real society. This is not easy but a glance around the map – from Ukraine to Syria to Libya to Venezuela – shows how quickly neglect can allow local problems to fester.
From our Russian news desk: see attachments.
– Cease Fire
U.S. Wars in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen: What Are The Endstates?
August 15, 2016 … Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Yemen—as well as continuing its “longest war” in Afghanistan. All five of these wars now involve ISIS to some degree …
Neither Trump nor Clinton have seriously addressed U.S. policy for any of these five wars, and the Obama Administration has not publically stated its grand strategy for any conflict.
For the first time in its national history, the United States may get through a Presidential campaign amidst multiple wars without seriously debating or discussing where any of its wars are going, or what their longer-term impact will be … This lack of attention to America’s wars is dangerous in the case of all its wars, but it is particularly dangerous in the case of Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Yemen.
The United States is supporting a very different mix of forces in each country in different ways with what seems to be one narrow goal: denying ISIS the ability to control territory or the ability to establish some form of government and sanctuary …
In each case, the United States may be succeeding to the point where it is tipping the balance enough to achieve the narrow strategic goal of “defeating” ISIS to the point where ISIS no longer controls major cities or blocs of territory. Moreover, the United States may largely achieve this goal before a new President comes to office and can put his or her national security team fully in place. This may well be a “victory” in a narrow sense, and no one can deny that ISIS’s ability to control population centers, blocs of territory, and sanctuaries for fundraising, training terrorists and fighters, and for carrying out its indoctrination efforts made it a far more serious threat.
There is no prospect in any such war, however, that the United States will win a near term victory in either the broader strategic sense of fully defeating ISIS, or in the grand strategic sense of ending a war with a stable and desirable outcome.
Once again, the United States does not seem to be learning from its past. The real test of victory is never tactical success or even ending a war on favorable military terms, it is what comes next …
The problems of what comes next in the wars the United States is now fighting also goes far beyond ISIS. The issue is simplest in Libya. Defeating ISIS may or may not ease the tensions between Libya’s two de facto governments in its west and its East. They have cooperated to some degree in fighting ISIS. It may or may not ease the internal tensions within each area that have sharply reduced Libya’s petroleum exports and income. Other tribal and regional fighting may or may not emerge as more serious problems. What is clear is that these divisions and low-level civil war have made Qaddafi’s terrible legacy in terms of poor governance and failed economic development even worse.
Libya will need a decade of rebuilding and reform to produce true stability and raise its per capita income and income distribution to acceptable levels. This requires both stable internal politics and leadership, and serious international aid …
Once again, the civil dimension both in war and post-conflict is critical to any form of lasting successful outcome. Some form of “nation-building” is even more difficult than winning actual conflict, but is no less necessary. No real grand strategy is possible without it, and Libya faces critical challenges …
Foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq: The day after
13 September 2016 …Lowy Institute Analysis … argue that an increasing number of foreign fighters are likely to leave Syria and Iraq in the coming months and years, especially after the collapse of Islamic State’s caliphate, exacerbating the terrorist threat faced by the international community … highlight both the scale and nature of the long-term security threat that the foreign fighter cohort will pose, and ways in which the international community can ameliorate the threat …
Strategic communications – East and South
29 July 2016 Emanating from Russia in the east and the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)/Daesh in the south, the EU has been increasingly hit by destabilising messages amounting – in different forms and to different degrees – to coherent hostile ‘strategic communications’ campaigns, or the processes of infusing communications activities with an agenda or plan to impact the behaviour of a target audience.
Russia and ISIL have engaged in aggressive messaging and deceptive media campaigns, albeit with distinct narratives, targets and audiences. This Report analyses the ‘what’ and the ‘how’: the respective narratives of each actor, their specificities, their similarities and their differences.
The analysis also draws attention to strategic communications efforts undertaken by the EU, which are vectored into defensive (react and respond) and offensive (probe and push) dimensions. This understanding of the present context finally allows for an evaluation of what actions can be taken to enhance the effectiveness of the EU’s own strategic communications …
CONTENTS …STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS FROM THE EAST … NATO’s strategic communications … Strategic communications from the south … EU strategic communications: where from, what next? …
If the rationale for (and the logic of) coordinating strategic communications at the EU level is to be further and efficiently implemented, especially in the Union’s external action and in line with the EU institutions’ declared priorities, a number of issues may have to be addressed.
To start with, any credible strategic communications effort – in both its defensive and offensive dimensions – needs to be built on research and analysis dissecting the problem(s), the audience(s), and the message(s), and has to be planned and implemented accordingly. All this requires adequate resources, in terms of funding as well as staff. However, this is not primarily or necessarily a matter of numbers …
In terms of method and style, the EU’s communications have often been faceless, anonymous, technocratic, unemotional, and reliant upon the expectation (or rather assumption) that facts will speak for themselves.
This has started to change, with a greater emphasis on story-telling and the use of ‘real people’. Perceptions are no less important, and they can be shaped – as the examples of Russia and ISIL confirm. Re-shaping false perceptions and responding to outright lies or hoaxes does not require entering into a messy or dishonest contest with hostile opponents …
All these suggestions are meant to rationalise and optimise the Union’s overall external strategic communications. Yet they do not rule out more targeted approaches to specific situations. In fact, this is already happening in the east and the south, to some extent in the Western Balkans, and Central Asia should probably be included soon too.
On the basis of the analysis presented here, it is also advisable to differentiate EU responses to hostile strategic communications campaigns. In this regard, the following points are worth considering: In the case of Russia, the call for more common action (also via NATO) came relatively soon, driven by the realisation of the scale of the challenge and the need to join forces and resources …
Finally, counter-radicalisation cannot be achieved through strategic communications alone (nor military action or law enforcement, for that matter). The grievances that generated violent radicalism in the first place, both inside and outside the EU, will also have to be addressed, or at least some concrete efforts to that end will have to be seen and acknowledged by the wider public.
Policy= res publica
Freudenberg-Pilster* Vatikan Initiativen und Kongresse. Frauen in der Kirche: „Ein bisschen Phantasie“
Es braucht Phantasie
Zu diesen Herausforderungen gehört sicher, welchen Platz genau eine in vielerlei Hinsicht von Männern dominierte Kirche den Frauen zuzugestehen gedenkt. „Ein bisschen Phantasie“ brauche es da, sagt Ladaria Ferrer. „Wir wissen doch, dass sich die Welt ändert und dass auch wir uns ändern müssen. Die Kirche muss eine Art und Weise finden, in allen Bereichen präsenter zu werden, und in dieser Hinsicht kann die Präsenz der Frau entscheidend sein.“
Ladaria Ferrer war in den achtziger und neunziger Jahren acht Jahre lang Vizerektor der Päpstlichen Universität Gregoriana in Rom; er hat an den Jesuitenuniversitäten Comillas (in Spanien) und Sankt Georgen (bei Frankfurt) studiert. „In allen theologischen Fakultäten gibt es heute Frauen – so etwas war vor fünfzig Jahren noch nicht vorstellbar. In anderen Bereichen sind Frauen allerdings immer sehr präsent gewesen, ich denke da an das Gesundheits- und Schulwesen. Jetzt aber gibt es sie auch an diesem Ort der theologischen Reflektion, und das ist keine zweitrangige Sache…“
****************************************************************************************************************** Politics: From Vision to Action
Barandat* NATO’s Southern flank Security threats and the Alliance’s role after the Warsaw Summit
Die NATO muss sich dringend mit einer Reihe von Herausforderungen und Bedrohungen befassen, die nicht nur aus dem Osten, sondern auch aus dem Süden kommen. Was kann die Allianz bezüglich Terrorabwehr, Stabilisierung, maritimer Sicherheit und Grenzkontrolle tun? Alessandro Marrone, Senior Fellow am International Affairs Institute in Rom, ist überzeugt, die NATO sollte eine entscheidende Rolle spielen, um diese Themen anzugehen. Strategischer Dialog und Defence Capacity Building sind laut Marrone dabei die Schlüsselinstrumente.
NATO urgently needs to address a range of security challenges and threats that originate not only from the east but also from the south. The Warsaw Summit has brought relevant decisions in this regard, and more can be done in terms of counter-terrorism, stabilisation, defence capacity building, maritime security, and border control. There should also be developed a more strategic dialogue within NATO as well as with partners regarding the crisis affecting security in the Euro-Mediterranean region.
What Trump and Clinton Said (and Didn’t Say) About the Middle East
With a few exceptions, the candidates focused more on debating the past than offering ideas and prescriptions for today’s Middle East challenges.
Apart from the rants, attacks, and insults, when it came to Middle East issues, last night’s debate was like an old and broken record — rehashing disputes over the Iraq war (2003), the withdrawal of troops from that country (2011), and the Iran nuclear deal (2015). As important as clarity on those issues may be, there was regrettably little discussion of pressing issues the next president is sure to face on Inauguration Day.
Syria. The most glaring foreign policy lacuna in the debate was the almost complete omission of the world’s most pressing strategic cum humanitarian challenge. With Russian and Syrian bombs falling on civilians in Aleppo, the candidates offered no hint that they would ditch what one could call President Obama’s policy of "strategic indifference" and implement a more robust approach — one designed to create strategic balance on the ground in order to compel the Moscow-Tehran-Damascus axis to negotiate a political resolution.
The Islamic State. In terms of the fight against IS, both candidates replayed stock lines from stump speeches. Overall, Hillary Clinton’s paragraph on defeating the group was much more detailed than Donald Trump’s; it included support for Kurdish and Arab allies, a focus on targeting IS leadership, and a sequence of action (liberate Mosul by the end of 2016, then focus on squeezing the group in Raqqa), all done with enhanced U.S. air support but not ground forces. For his part, Trump did not go far beyond a commitment to massive military action against IS, falling back on his critique that the Obama administration permitted the group’s rise by precipitously withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq and mishandling Libya. Neither candidate, however, addressed what most experts believe to be the most serious challenge — what to do the day after liberating IS-held territory so that it does not become the base for the next iteration of radical Sunni jihadists.
Iran. Clinton and Trump spent considerable time jousting over the wisdom of the Iran nuclear accord, including Trump’s remark that Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu remains displeased with the deal. However, the Republican candidate offered no specific alternative to the existing agreement, and the Democratic candidate offered no detailed suggestions to push back against Tehran’s success in taking advantage of the deal to extend Iranian influence throughout the region.
Allies. About seventy-five minutes into the debate, Clinton made an overlooked but important reference to strengthening alliances in the Middle East as part of the strategy to confront common adversaries. And later, she made a welcome, straight-into-the-camera pledge about fulfilling commitments to U.S. allies around the globe. Yet, with specific reference to the Middle East, neither candidate followed up with details on how to pursue what is sure to be a major policy theme differentiating them from President Obama’s perceived focus on reaching out to adversaries more than strengthening partnerships with allies.
Missed Opportunities. Interestingly, neither candidate took the opportunity to score points on certain popular Middle East policy themes. Clinton, for example, could have distanced herself from Obama by mentioning her support for the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), which would lift Saudi Arabia’s diplomatic immunity for charges of complicity in the September 11 attacks. The president has vetoed the legislation, but she has backed it. For his part, Trump did not repeat his promise to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, long a staple of Republican presidential aspirants. More broadly, he did not critique Clinton for her role in an administration that Republicans and other critics view as cool and distant toward Israel, though reaching the bilateral $38 billion Memorandum of Understanding on military assistance earlier this month may have insulated her from that line of attack.
Of course, national security — and within it, the Middle East — was just one of several themes addressed last night. The candidates will have further opportunity to tackle the agenda ahead, rather than rehash differences over the past, when they square off in their next two debates.
Robert Satloff is the executive director of The Washington Institute.
( http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/policy-analysis/view/what-trump-and-clinton-said-and-didnt-say-about-the-middle-east?utm_term=Read%20this%20article%20on%20our%20website.&utm_campaign=What%20Trump%20and%20Clinton%20Said%20%28and%20Didn%27t%20Say%29%20About%20the%20Middle%20East%20%28Satloff%20%7C%20Policy%20Alert%29&utm_content=email&utm_source=Act-On+Software&utm_medium=email&cm_mmc=Act-On%20Software-_-email-_-What%20Trump%20and%20Clinton%20Said%20%28and%20Didn%27t%20Say%29%20About%20the%20Middle%20East%20%28Satloff%20%7C%20Policy%20Alert%29-_-Read%20this%20article%20on%20our%20website. )
Liar, Liar:Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton had a lot to say during Monday’s 90-minute debate, but not all of it was accurate. NPR fact-checked their statements here.
What Trump Missed: Immigration, Obamacare, the Clinton Foundation, and Benghazi—some of Trump’s strongest talking points—were absent from Monday night’s debate. That’s on Trump, Byron York argues, for not “taking matters into his own hands.” (Washington Examiner)
Gallup – Research in September 2016
22 Hours Ago
Americans are no more likely to say Hillary Clinton (33%) and Donald Trump (25%) would be a "great" or "good" president than they were in May.
Sep 23, 2016
About a third of U.S. voters describe Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump as "honest and trustworthy," changed little from May and among the worst-rated of 11 attributes for each candidate.
Sep 22, 2016
Students at historically black colleges are much more likely than college students nationally to favor steps that would limit freedom of the press, such as denying reporters access to covering campus protests.
Sep 22, 2016
In the U.S., 39% say they follow national politics "very closely," up from 31% in 2015. Americans‘ attention to national politics spikes in presidential election years across most partisan and age groups.
Sep 22, 2016
More Americans now than in 2004 say a president should release all medical information that might affect his or her ability to serve. Donald Trump is more likely than Hillary Clinton to be considered "healthy enough."
Sep 21, 2016
Americans‘ trust in the political leaders who represent them, and in the people themselves to make decisions under the nation’s democratic system, has fallen to new lows in Gallup’s trends.
Sep 21, 2016
A majority of Americans continue to believe that political leaders in Washington should compromise in order to get things done, while less than half as many say leaders should stick to their beliefs.
Sep 20, 2016
Gallup’s U.S. Economic Confidence Index was generally stable for the week ending Sept. 18, coming in at -9 compared with -12 the week before. Confidence remains higher than its levels in midspring and early summer of this year.
Sep 20, 2016
Billions of people worldwide are giving back to their communities, according to a Gallup report. This giving most often comes in the form of helping a stranger in need (44%) rather than donating money (27%) or volunteering time (20%).
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Geopolitical Futures: The Balkans: Still the Powder Keg of Europe?
Sept. 22, 2016 As external powers jockey for influence, instability is still rife in the divided region.
The Balkan Peninsula is at the intersection of crises in Eurasia. Russia, Turkey, the European Union and the United States all have stakes in the region’s stability. But their national interests diverge. In times of crisis, the Balkans’ internal problems tend to pull in outside powers.
· If the rest of Eurasia lookssimilar to how it looked before WWII, the Balkans look similar to how they looked prior to WWI.
· The various rivalries in the region are still quite active, and the hatred between the Serbs, Croats, Bosniaks and Kosovars keeps tension high in the region.
· Economically, the Balkan region is by far the least developed and most strained of any region in Europe. High unemployment rates coupled with the region’s dependency on exports contribute to rising social problems.
· Outside powers’ influence is nothing new to the Balkans. Foreign countries have used trade and investment to establish their influence in the region, which, in turn, brings new vulnerabilities to Balkan countries.
· The resolution of the current Balkan crisis depends on the way these countries decide to act – and they all have very little room to maneuver considering the complexity of their problems.
Russia is under severe economic strain and faces a strategic challenge in Ukraine, but a bear is often most dangerous when it is cornered. Turkey is a power on the rise. The EU’s credibility is shot. Western European countries have serious domestic economic problems that make them apathetic to the concerns of the rest of Europe. At the center of this is Germany, which is sitting on an export bubble and trying to hold the EU together through sheer force. Muslim migrants continue to pour in from the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia. Nationalism is rising. And the U.S. is trying to extricate itself from conflicts in Eurasia.
There is a part of Europe that sits directly at the intersection of all of these dynamics: the Balkans. The Balkans are often lost in the shuffle when people consider the current state of European geopolitics. But the Balkan region has always had a way of dragging outside powers into its own instability – and right now the Balkans seem to be a powder keg waiting to blow.
Bosnian-Serb supporters of right wing opposition parties wave flags during a protest on May 14, 2016 in Banja Luka. Thousands of opponents and supporters of Republika Srpska leader Milorad Dodik faced each other at simultaneous gatherings, accusing each other of corruption and treason. ELVIS BARUKCIC/AFP/Getty Images
The Balkan countries suffer disproportionately from the slowdown in Europe’s economy. Identity is still hotly contested in multiple ways: national, ethnic, religious and tribal. There is a substantial Muslim population in the Balkans susceptible to all sorts of transnational cross-currents, and the region’s poor, isolated, unemployed young people make for potentially fertile recruiting ground for radical groups. New states are still being created here, and not with universal understanding or approval. The post-Yugoslavia Balkans are already unstable, but the forces fighting around and through these countries could exacerbate the situation and turn garden variety instability into a crisis that would affect the interests of multiple regional powers.
The 20th century began and ended with European wars. World War I was a global conflict, but its immediate cause was competition in the Balkans. A Serbian group called the Black Hand assassinated the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and through various alliance structures the Continent was soon engulfed in war.
The end of the century was punctuated by smaller conflicts resulting from the disintegration of Yugoslavia. These included the Ten-Day War in Slovenia, the Croatian War of Independence, the Bosnian War and finally the Kosovo War, in which NATO and the United States participated. Europe likes to think it put its demons to rest after World War II, that the EU is the manifestation of peace coming uniformly to the Continent, and that war is gone from Europe once and for all. This is a noble delusion, made no less delusional by its nobility.
The Balkans are often explained away as not really being part of Europe. Europe cares a lot about the stigmas that come with assigning categories. Tell a Slovak they are Eastern European and they’ll tell you absolutely not – they are Central European. Tell a Romanian they are southern European and they will pull you aside and explain all the reasons such a label shouldn’t apply to Romania.
Romania, Bulgaria and Greece from a purely geographic point of view are part of the Balkans. None of these countries wish to be seen that way, and for the most part, when the term “the Balkans” is used, people talk about the western Balkans – the countries that used to make up Yugoslavia. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the verb “Balkanize” has come to mean “to divide (a region or body) into smaller mutually hostile states or groups.”
Despite the stigma, the Balkans are very much a part of Europe. The Balkan Peninsula is sandwiched between four seas: the Black Sea, the Mediterranean, the Adriatic and the Aegean. It comprises Greece, Bulgaria and the western Balkans – Albania and the countries of former Yugoslavia. Historically, the Balkans were strategic to dominant powers, considering their location, which provides access to several waterways while part of the European borderlands. Before the region’s nations attempted to draw their own borders, the Balkans were the meeting place for three major empires: the Ottoman, the Russian and the Austro-Hungarian.
Before the late 19th century, the Ottoman Empire dominated most of Eastern Europe, the Balkans included. As the Ottomans started their retreat in the late 17th and early 18th centuries, both Russia and the Western powers became interested in gaining influence in the region, concerned with potential instability following the Ottoman Empire’s disintegration. The Balkan League, formed with Russian support in 1912, started a war against the Ottomans to drive them away from Eastern Europe. This war was followed by another, in which Bulgaria started to grab territory. Serbia came out on top in both of these wars.
Russia became dependent on Serbia as a buffer against the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Serbian nationalism grew (supported by Russia) while the Austro-Hungarian Empire started to feel threatened by a potentially expansionist Serbia. These forces built the momentum for the start of World War I, which began with the killing of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in June 1914 by Gavrilo Princip, a member of the Black Hand.
After WWI ended in 1918, Yugoslavia was formed, first as the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes and then as the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. It grouped the southern provinces of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the formerly independent Kingdom of Serbia. The western Balkan nations were locked together first into a kingdom and then, following the end of the WWII, into a federation until the end of the Cold War. The accumulation of tension between the various ethnic groups, Yugoslavia’s economic problems during most of the 1980s and rising nationalism throughout the provinces fueled the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s. The wars ultimately triggered NATO intervention against the Serb-led Yugoslav forces. The Balkan wars of the 1990s were the first time after the end of the Cold War that Western forces intervened to secure Europe.
After the wars, new borders were drawn in the Balkans and new states were formed. But a common feature for all the states is multiethnicity. NATO and the EU are both involved in securing the region and supporting conflict management processes while helping to build up civil society. However, the transition is ongoing and the Western powers are not the only ones building up their influence in the area: Russia and Turkey are also key players, each for its own national interest.
The Situation Today: Economics and Politics
The current challenges facing the Balkans need to be understood on two levels to see how the stability of the region and of the Eurasian landmass are connected. The first level is the internal issues of the Balkan countries. The second is outside powers’ stakes in the region.
Before tackling the various rivalries and hatreds that animate the politics of this region, we should note that economically, the Balkan Peninsula is by far the least developed of any region in Europe. These are all small countries with small economies that did what the rest of Europe did during the heady 1990s and 2000s – they grew by exports. In 2015, exports accounted for 48 percent of Serbia’s GDP, 49 percent of Croatia’s GDP, 49 percent of Macedonia’s GDP and 43 percent of Montenegro’s GDP. Exports made up 32 percent of Bosnia’s GDP and 27 percent of Albania’s GDP in 2014, the most recent data available.
The problems that the rest of the world’s exporters are facing hurt the Balkans more because of their small size and limited options for trading partners. Germany is sitting on an export bubble, but bought itself time first by exporting to China, then to the U.K. and the U.S. But now, even Germany’s economy is vulnerable and German imports of goods from the Balkans are decreasing. Italy is also facing economic challenges. All of this puts pressure on the Balkans and has eroded both the EU’s reputation and the incentive for many Balkan countries to listen to what the EU wants, as membership has become either unattainable or undesirable.
Meanwhile, unemployment rates in the western Balkans are by and large some of the highest in all of Europe. Bosnia and Kosovo both put Greece’s 23.5 percent unemployment rate to shame, Macedonia and Serbia are in the same neighborhood, and Croatia is doing the “best” with 13.2 percent unemployment. Youth unemployment is even worse, at well over 50 percent in some countries. Albania has the lowest with 29.2 percent youth unemployment.
The economies of the Balkans aren’t doing well, there aren’t enough jobs, and the youth are being disproportionately hammered. We’ve seen what a similar cocktail of economic issues has given rise to in the Middle East. This kind of economic duress breeds resentment, hopelessness and eventually conflict.
That resentment often spills over into the political arena. Kosovo declared independence in 2008, but Serbia still doesn’t recognize Kosovo’s sovereignty. Bosnian Serbs want independence in the form of an independent Republika Srpska. There has recently been unrest and tension over a referendum on establishing their national day on Jan. 9, celebrating the 1992 date when Republika Srpska declared independence, thus indirectly invalidating the Dayton Agreement of 1995. The agreement established the Bosnia and Herzegovina federation.
Tension remains high between the Croats and the Serbs; a recent article in a Serbian newspaper described relations between the two countries as having entered a period of “cold war,” after Serbia protested Croatian rehabilitation of heroes that Serbia considers war criminals. Macedonia witnessed widespread protests in April that threatened to destabilize the country, which is now heading into a fraught and tense election cycle.
Islam in the Balkans
On top of the economic and political issues, there is the issue of religion, which is more contested in the Balkans than in any other part of Europe. Muslims represent 96 percent of Kosovo, 58 percent of Albania, 50 percent of Bosnia, 30-35 percent of Macedonia and 20 percent of Montenegro, with smaller minorities in Serbia (3.1 percent) and Croatia (1.47 percent). All told there are about 17 million Muslims living in the Balkans. Many are secular, considering the region’s history of communism.
The revival of Muslim religious space in the Balkans continues to take place in two broad ways. First is the top-down state-driven official Islam designed to further national security interests. Second is the rediscovery of religion at the societal level. Thus, Islam exists both at the political level as an identity marker and in the form of personal religiosity around informal social networks.
Government-sponsored “official Islam” remains the dominant form of Islam. This is maintained through religious hierarchies, endowments, educational entities and civil society organizations – all tied to the state. However, other forms of Islam increasingly have arisen because of the quest of the believers after the reopening of religious space aided by growth of communications technology. Political Islam seeks to promote indigenous Islam and sees the latter as subversive foreign impulses.
This has led to a division between local traditional moderate Islam and foreign radical Salafi Islam. The former is seen as highly compatible with European values while the latter as antithetical. However, foreign expressions of Islam are also divided into competing trends: Salafism (either through Saudi-sponsored institutions or driven by informal networks tied to individual preachers and militant ideologues) and Turkish forms of Islam (either sponsored through official state institutions or through the Gülen movement). Both forms have their own further subdivisions pushing competing interpretations.
Against this backdrop, there have been reports of increasing radicalization in some Balkan countries in recent years. Islamic State for example has been explicit about its desire to recruit from Bosnia, even threatening to kill a senior Islamic cleric in the country in February. Various small scale attacks in Bosnia over the last year or two bear out this trend. It is also not just the Islamic State. Other groups, some funded by the Saudis or Qataris, provoke tensions with ethnic Serbs in Bosnia. Hundreds of radicalized Bosniaks have joined the Islamic State fight in Syria; others can pass into the European Union via Croatia.
Bosnia is also not the only problem here. Macedonia claimed in early September that IS recruiters have had a presence in Kosovo for at least the last two years. Various Balkan countries have cracked down on potential recruits and have tried to stop the radicalization, but the success of these efforts is so far unclear. Macedonia and Turkey cooperated in September to arrest suspected Islamic militants who had moved to Turkey in order to plan attacks in Macedonia. This is perhaps not yet a serious problem, but it has all the hallmarks of an area where militancy could flourish: struggling economies, disillusioned youth, inter-religious conflict, easy access to weapons and various other forms of smuggling and trafficking, and terrain that lends itself to covert places to hide and plan.
Together, the three dynamics of poor economic performance, political conflict and the potential for Islamist militancy make a usually unstable part of Europe even more off-balance. By themselves these challenges would present serious concerns. But these developments are not taking place in a vacuum, and competition between foreign powers in the Balkans adds another set of variables that does not bode well for the region’s near-term future.
Pawns of Other Powers
This year has been busy for Balkan leaders, who have intensified visits with the U.S., EU (and EU representative countries Germany or France), Russia and Turkey. Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev will visit Belgrade in October. U.S. Vice President Joe Biden visited in August. German Minister of State for Europe Michael Roth visited on Sept. 12. Russian President Vladimir Putin spent a weekend in Slovenia in late July, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan paid a state visit to Croatia in late April. Everyone seems to be looking to intensify their presence and influence in the Balkans.
The EU and the U.S. have two major interests in the region: to avoid any kind of conflict and to diminish Russian influence. NATO is still involved in peacekeeping operations in Kosovo, having dedicated troops to similar operations in Bosnia as well. The EU and U.S. have been involved in the peacekeeping and state-building process in the Balkans and thus have been involved in the region’s politics since the end of the 1990s. Both have granted funds for institutional buildup. The EU has been the largest donor in the region, and most of the countries in the western Balkans have applied to join. While Montenegro, Macedonia and Serbia are unlikely to become members soon, they benefit from the EU financial assistance programs as they negotiate accession. Between 2014 and 2020, the EU has allocated about $2.75 billion under the pre-accession program. These funds are to help the countries build their socio-economic infrastructure, encompassing various sectors from governance to agriculture, education, regional cooperation and the environment.
Russia has also participated in peacekeeping, with troops in Kosovo and Bosnia, and maintains close relations with its historical allies in the region, which are all part of the Slavic Eastern Orthodox community. Russia wants to keep the region as a buffer zone, opposing Western influence. Russia is against the idea of building integrated infrastructure for the region, for the simple reason that such infrastructure will connect the region to the West and to NATO countries. Russia needs to prevent the development of military infrastructure that would facilitate movement of Western troops in the region and to the Mediterranean and the Black seas. Since the Ukraine crisis, NATO has expanded its multinational response force, creating a chain of outposts called “force integration units,” which could act like command units and respond to security threats along the alliance’s eastern border, including in Romania and Bulgaria. In response, Russia has maintained a special center for emergency situations in Niš in southern Serbia and has been organizing joint counterterrorism military exercises with the Serbian army since 2014.
Russia has also expanded its influence in the Balkans by investing in strategic economic sectors, from energy to transportation, tourism and financial markets. In 2008, Gazprom bought a majority stake in Serbian oil company Naftna Industrija Srbije, and Lukoil owns a majority stake in Beopetrol. Russia’s Sberbank and Moscow Bank entered Serbia and Montenegro, while state-run Russian Railways has been upgrading a 350-kilometer (220-mile) stretch of track in Serbia. The Kremlin has also sealed energy deals with Republika Srpska and awarded it a $300 million loan through a private investment fund. Russia is the most important investor in Republika Srpska, after Sberbank bought Austrian Volksbank operations in the region and Zarubrežnjeft invested $700 million to acquire the oil refinery in Brod.
In Montenegro, Russian investment makes up more than 30 percent of total foreign investment, while no individual Western European country accounts for more than 5 percent. Russian money went to almost all sectors of the economy, including tourism, the metals industry and real estate. Russia maintains good relations with Bulgarian business moguls and has increased investment in Macedonia since 2013. However, considering Russia’s current economic problems, its influence will likely stall, which is why Russia sees its position threatened. Meanwhile, Montenegro recently received an invitation to become a NATO member and Serbia is courting the Europeans and the Americans for more investment.
Turkey’s interest is primarily in maintaining its influence in the Black Sea. At the same time, Turkey maintains close relations with Muslim communities in the former Ottoman Empire for political reasons and through economic activity. In this sense, Turkey has special relations with Bulgaria, which has a large Turkish minority that has some influence in both Turkish and Bulgarian elections, and with Bosnia and Herzegovina, as a few million Turkish citizens claim Bosnian roots, after the large migration of Bosniaks to Turkey in the 17th century. While Turkey doesn’t invest as much as Russia and the West do, most of the funds and initiatives coming from Turkey go to highly symbolic projects, meant to revive cultural links based on the country’s imperial heritage, the Ottoman Empire. But Turkey must maneuver carefully, considering its relationship with Russia. This is why Turkey does not rival the West and Russia in the Balkans, but only seeks to maintain relations with the countries in the region, while keeping a fairly neutral stance toward the other powers interested in the region.
While much of Eurasia looks similar to the way it looked on the eve of the World War II, the Balkans look like they looked on the eve of the World War I. Political borders do not coincide with ethnic boundaries – but this would not be possible, considering the ethnic geography of the region. Several nation-states are still building up their institutional framework, while Kosovo is not recognized by all the countries in the region. Some of the states are members of the EU, some of NATO and some are in accession talks with one or the other. All countries in the western Balkans fear a potential increase in militancy, and they are all facing socio-economic problems.
Balkan politics have historically enabled foreign powers to boost their influence through financial and political support for local governments to avoid instability, which is what foreign powers fear most. With the Russian economy declining, the EU with its own problems, the U.S. looking to avoid any involvement in a potential conflict and Turkey with limited room to maneuver, the Balkan nations need to find solutions to their problems. While they can’t ignore foreign influence, the fragile state of their societies, as well as their location in the European borderlands, make the balancing strategy the best strategy they have. This means that governments in the western Balkans can access financial assistance and political support from multiple external powers. But as the usual creditors encounter economic problems and geopolitical rivalries grow, local regional disputes may intensify. This means the nuanced competition between foreign powers and regional actors could turn into a real conflict. The way these countries will manage their economies and societal demands is key to how things will evolve in the region.
*Herausgegeben von Udo von Massenbach, Bärbel Freudenberg-Pilster, Joerg Barandat*