Learning the Lessons of Intervention in Libya Idealists Aren’t Empirical

March 22, 2016 at 6:03 pm (tWP) (, , , , , , , , )

French naval aircraft striking Qaddafi regime forces in 2011

French naval aircraft striking Qaddafi regime forces in 2011

Those who allow ideology to trump national interests are poorly equipped to learn from experience. Specifically, euro-federalists are constructivists who believe and work towards the utopia of politically uniting the continent that bred the nation-state. Constructivists are philosophically positivist since they believe that solutions can be engineered without regard for the past or for the context. These old world bastards of the American Enlightenment are thus simply unable to draw conclusions from experience.

This is alas a recurring problem in Brussels – and in Washington D.C., I imagine – where problems arising everywhere never seem to elicit a logical consequential response from those in power, or at least not one that questions the legitimacy of the system in place. Eurosceptic populism, failed nation-building efforts abroad, social conservatism in allegedly euro-enthusiastic societies, challenges from regional hegemons, none of it is worthy of reconsidering the very legitimacy of the sacred union. Instead, bland politically orthodox conferences and workshops in Brussels focus on communication: how does one ‘communicate’ to the European citizens that Brussels is actually doing what is right for them? The fact that past policies fail is admitted on occasion only insofar as it serves the purpose of justifying why European governments must double-down on such policies and/or endow Brussels institutions with even more power to make the policies work; a line of argument all too similar to the neocon creed that “history will do us justice”.

Empiricists on the other hand, look to the past for guidance and usually with greater success. That which is not questioned is that which has worked longest: the nation-state. There is room for innovation but not revolution and utopias. Take Vladimir Putin who finds no alternative but to fight XXI century wars around the control of population centres – as terrorism and the age of humanitarianism now force all states to do – but who also understands that wars must be kept limited in scope and always proportional to the means available. He is not one to go on crusades around the world, intervening in ungovernable exotic vacation spots for whichever asinine cause du jour. Putin doesn’t shy away from war but he tries to negotiate first. The Russian President seeks military control to achieve strategic goals, not to defend idealistic causes.

This long introduction thus serves to prepare the reader for what will be an analysis of what goes wrong when a positivist tries to analyse empirically.

Committed euro-federalist Daniel Keohane set upon himself to learn lessons from the intervention in Libya, a topic made pertinent given that “(…) there is mounting speculation that a coalition of Western countries will launch a new military campaign there to tackle the growing threat from the self-styled Islamic State”. As he tells it, since 2011 “(…) a civil war has prevented the formation of a functioning Libyan government”. In truth, that civil war is not quite so …random. It was the idea of some NATO member-states to abuse a UNSC humanitarian resolution in order to launch a full scale military campaign against the Qaddafi regime which ultimately killed him. It was also the responsibility of both NATO and the EU to abstain from supporting any other strong man – such as General Hiftar for instance – after the Qaddafi overthrow to fill in the power vacuum. That would have pre-empted the emergence of some nasty actors like the Islamic State but of course, that would have meant the puritan Liberal democracies getting their hands dirty …

The Libyan civil war – if one posits the existence of such a coherent entity called Libya – also caused according to the author “(…) large flows of migrants and refugees into the EU”. Oh by Jove, such a nuisance … Say, how come that is identified as a problem but not one single brain in all the think-tanks of the grey city ever came up with an obvious response: stopping the flows? How quick they are to assign military vessels to the Mediterranean …to rescue the illegals, to welcome them, not to stop them. Here’s a thought: if the flows are not a positive development, what about not encouraging or facilitating them?

“(…) Europeans have more direct security interests at stake in Libya, which is why France and the UK initiated the 2011 intervention”. This one is particularly rich: British and French have strong interests in Libya, thus a military intervention that turns the territory into an anarchic hell hole is the way to go. How can someone be so blind or disingenuous? How exactly were the interests of the UK and France defended by overthrowing Qaddafi? Because if the dictator was the problem and only a democracy can serve those interests, then I dare say that relations with any Middle East state are pointless. If the instability resulting from the Arab Spring was the problem then an easier and more productive solution would have been to follow the Michelle Alliot-Marie doctrine: launch an intervention all right, but one on the side of the dictators! In all likelihood the real reason for the Franco-British intervention was the prospect of easily getting rid of Qaddafi along with a regime which had been a geopolitical thorn in the Atlanticists side for decades. No love lost for Qaddafi here. Normally the French are utterly pragmatic about their interventions – if Françafrique is anything to go by. What is precisely the corrosive element in the mix here, is the ideological influence of organisations which should have remained intergovernmental but slowly grew into lobbies of their own importance – aimed at self-perpetuation. The EU and NATO are no longer instruments at the service of governments, they have developed rather as a cancer working against the interests of their member-states by promoting normative ideologies irrespective of results. The closer to Brussels a military intervention is carried out, the more compliant it will have to be with the politically correct narrative of the NATO HQ or the European Commission/Parliament. Hence the EU’s Neighbourhood Policy ignited a ‘Ring of Fire’ around the old continent whereas France’s client states in Africa or America’s in the Middle East remain quite stable: idealism breeds disaster, time-tested pragmatism ensures stability.

“(…) NATO now seems unlikely to act, partly because the image of its 2011 intervention is tarnished among some Libyans due to a lack of follow-up, and partly because the alliance is busy deterring Russia in Eastern Europe”. Again, if by lack of follow-up he means that another strong man was not backed to replace Qaddafi, then by all means, this is a valid statement. That, however, is not what he means: he means that more funding, more troops and more state-building would have staved off anarchy – you know, much like it did in Iraq or Afghanistan. In practice what Brussels sees as a solution in Libya, is a more muscled Bosnia-Herzegovina paradigm. “(…) the EU has strongly supported UN diplomatic efforts to form a unity government of rival Libyan factions and has deployed four missions to tackle some of the security challenges emanating from Libya since 2011”, see my point? The solution is to bribe and pacify local contenders ad infinitum. As for the Russian ‘threat’, if the supranational utopia’s legitimacy weren’t tied to universalist maximalist ideological principles, strategic compromises and tactical choices could be made to divert resources from one theatre to another. Yet the EU is no state which therefore prevents it from acting amorally. Therefore the actions of supranational ideological actors will always be maximalist irrespectively of the available means, and they will always move to confront all those who divert from their normative universalism regardless of the level of threat they represent: for universalists, every dissension is a vital existential problem.

Royal Navy's combined operations

Royal Navy’s combined operations

The second lesson is that the EU shouldn’t assist countries without legitimate governments”. True but only if one accepts the unwillingness to support non-liberal-democratic solutions. That said, whereas some EU states such as France have a national interest in protecting certain authoritarian regimes, most EU states in the East and North have nothing to gain by investing the political capital. Once again, divergent national interests prevent interventions overall.

The third lesson is that the EU has a useful military role in European homeland security”. Comes to mind that enforcing borders against mass migration could be useful but probably not what is on his mind: “(…) a search-and-rescue operation in the Mediterranean code-named Operation Triton and coordinated by the EU’s border agency, Frontex (…) has saved thousands of lives since November 2014”…


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The Corrosive Legacy of the ‘Good War’ Standard

April 28, 2015 at 12:22 pm (tWP) (, , , , , , , , , , , )


The Second World War is still held by many intellectuals as the best example of ‘the good war’. Hollywood often pays it tribute by devising heroic epics that depict Allied courage in the face of Nazi barbarism – the same honour is not bestowed to Vietnam War films… Pundits in the West spend their days portraying contemporary conflicts in the light of WWII teachings: analogies with Munich or Pearl Harbor are invoked ad nauseam, Churchillian anecdotes and quotes abound.

For Liberals, WWII represents a true victory of good Vs evil and no other conflict comes close to such a clear moral crusade. In fact, it is probably the worst possible conflict to admire. Yes, Liberals won, and yes, a very destructive force was defeated but it is not a coincidence that it was a ‘moral war’ that caused the greatest conflict the world has ever seen. While technology played an important part in the scope of the war, it was conventional means that caused the most causalities; gas chambers , atomic bombs and planned starvations being responsible for roughly only 15% of total casualties. The key factor was in fact the totalitarian nature of the conflict. If states had not been fighting wars of absolute survival/annihilation, the methods employed would not have been equally absolute. Also relevant are the exceptions: liberal Finland was an enemy of the Allies and an ally of the III Reich, the totalitarian USSR was an ally and did most of the leg work of the ground war – not to mention co-presiding over the Nuremberg Tribunal… – and then of course it was the Allies that burned Dresden, used atomic weapons and equally starved indigenous populations.

Yet, it is crucial to realise that the current narrative is highly pernicious in this regard: a student of International Relations or History will learn that the Bismarckian balance of power system was very flawed and that WWII’s outcome – however horrific – was in fact a blessing in disguise because it set the world on the righteous path of progressive ethics. Then there are those who believe that the result of WWII was not even a matter of chance but that Liberal values would have always triumphed, given their natural superiority.  In truth, as Azar Gat demonstrated very lucidly, WWII was won largely because of “contingent factors”, not because of any practical superiority of Liberal ideals. If the Axis powers had enjoyed the large imperial holdings of the British Empire, the USA or the USSR, they too would have won what it ultimately became a war of attrition.  

The Second Great War should instead be regarded as  the worst possible conflict because it consisted in a complete erosion of the Westphalian system in Europe. Whereas Münster and Osnabrück had established a structure averse to moral/ideological interventionism and reliant on geostrategic alignments to ensure a balance of power – and, in turn, limited war – the outcome of WWII was precisely the destruction of Westphalia by allowing as victors two out of three universalist powers. If in the east of the old continent the Brezhnev doctrine was to rule until 1989, in the west the Washington Consensus would, in its triumphalist moment of the post Cold War, seek to intervene to punish dissenters on a regular basis and even promote gratuitous evangelizing interventions.

The direct result of the victory of one of the ideological empires was a predictable hegemony of the values of said empire in the predominant political narrative; it helped that the United States also functions as the main source of Western soft power and lingua franca. The American revolutionary enlightenment and liberal exceptionalist narrative has in time contaminated states that used to be particularist by their very nature, namely in Europe. The commonality stems from the replacement of utopian internationalist and universalist ideologies of the past such as communism or Christianism, with democratic liberalism. The idealists of the past have either left politics/political philosophy behind or converted to the doctrine of the temporal winners of WWII – and only consequently, spiritual winners.298822-alexfas01 - Cópia

Problems arise when the very structure of polities around the world is incompatible with a specific ideology which is why universal doctrines are usually a bad idea. In Europe, those facing such a reality eventually turned to the European Union and NATO as the natural bridge between their admiration for their new Church/International – carrying the mantle of ‘leadership of the free world’ – and the millenia of antecedents sustaining political power as a measure of local ethnic identity. In the case of such nations as Britain or the Netherlands, it is actually easier because much of their historical experience has been based around liberal values such as Grotius’s Mare Liberum or England’s parliamentary system. In more homogeneous and unitary nations such as Poland or France, more perverse forms of populism come to the fore as a consequence.

The most serious problem of American/Liberal exceptionalism is not however related to the domestic dysfunctions that it causes in nation-states – and not, as in the case of America , idea-states – but rather in the overall conduct it incites in Western states’ foreign policy. Every conflict that pits a Western democracy against a non Western or non liberal-democratic regime is automatically viewed as a Manichean moral contest whose outcome must be an absolute victory of the ‘good’ against ‘evil’. Apart from a complete absence of consideration for the national (not ideological) interest, there is also an inherent and fundamental strategic incompetence of not considering means when advocating for ends. In other words, the moral cause is the casus belli, not whichever specific political grievance motivates it. This implies that a limited political settlement involving territorial or economic concessions is not the desired end but rather an unconditional surrender of the morally inferior opponent.

WWII has been reified by its own ultra-normative admirers because they mythologize it. Had they been in power then, they would have never allied with the USSR and probably would have gone to war with it over its invasion of Finland by the time Berlin arose as a threat. Finally, there is enormous danger in looking at the least ‘normal war’ the world has ever seen and viewing it as an example to follow and emulate.

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Bandwagoning isn’t Strategy – Italy and the Failure of the Bureaucratic Model

March 8, 2011 at 5:16 pm (tWP) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

These days the western media can’t help but give in to their magical feelings of wonder before a contemporary crumbling of a dictatorial bloc. Their darlings in the Middle East – the university educated youths – are a veritable intellectual vanguard for the overthrow of patriarchal royalty and the rise of a benign liberal democracy that will liberate the poor Arab masses…

The American right has caught on to the inherent problem that the West’s allies are falling and Iran is celebrating for a reason. This doesn’t make Fox’s pundits any less hypocritical but at least they are one step ahead of the liberal media which under the leadership of CNN has had nothing but kind words for the fall of loyal allies. In fact the western media in no way falls behind such outlets as Russia Today in the absolutely partial coverage of these events. The demonstrators always represent ‘the people of Egypt’, the regime is always tactical and never concerned for the national interest of the state in question.

The harsh reality is that much of the vulnerability of these regimes stems from liberalising reforms result of Western pressure. The reality is that many of these youths have no political platform whatsoever to replace the falling regimes. The reality is that corporatist domestic elites had a vested interest in ‘facilitating’ the exit of the economically liberal Mubarak clan. The reality is that the intellectual elite which is out in the streets may be secular but it also is leftist and will likely drive Egypt into a neo-Nasserite wave if elected. In fact the January 25th movement is not unlike the May of 68 one. A new order is envisioned based on lofty ideals, but just as the southern European democracies (5th Republic France, post-Franco Spain, 3rd Republic Portugal, 3rd Hellenic Republic) failed to emulate the civic and economic achievements of their social-democratic heroes of northern Europe, so too will Arabs fail to become liberal democratic republics – with the possible exception of Tunisia – even if so self-proclaimed in name.

Every regime distorts history in blaming its predecessor system for the economic faults of the state. In the case of Egypt and the Arab world, this will likely drive the new elites into a social endowment wave which will degrade even further the financial health of the different Arab societies. For all the hype that the corrupt regimes have left the Arab youth in poverty, Egypt was a notable case of fast economic growth in spite of a sluggish and over-centralised state apparatus. In fact Egypt’s credit ratings are still higher and healthier than Greece’s for example. All this will be endangered by any dramatic increase in social benefits. It is true that Egypt’s youth was driven to the streets by economic difficulties but it is also true that these are much more due to exaggerated demographic growth rather than economic mismanagement on the part of the government. Besides, there are protests against the effects of the global crisis all throughout the world and governments needn’t fall for that. No, the rhetoric of the youth of Egypt says nothing of one-child policies or birth-control, its platform is simply ‘more employment’ and this can only translate in more artificial government sponsored jobs. Any benefit in tackling corruption that freedom of speech might bring stands to be quickly squandered by more bureaucracy and true economic negligence stemming from demagogic policies.

If all this is true for many Arab states, Libya is a special case. Libya unlike Egypt, has never truly been an ally of the West. While the recent overture to American and European investment prevented further trouble for the Qadhafi regime – after all the country is located in NATO’s Mediterranean pond – Tripoli has persisted in remaining outside of the American sphere of influence. Its military purchases are made in Moscow, its diplomacy favours African and Arab fora and much of the investment that rivals with that of the West comes from Russia, China and Turkey. While Libya has apparently reversed its pro-terrorism pan-third-world stance, it is still rabidly and irrationally anti-Israel and anti-American.

For all these reasons, it isn’t as strange to find a lack of goodwill towards Libya in Western capitals, as it is towards Mubarak. Libya also demonstrates that the national interests of western states differ irrespective of the nature of their regimes (democracy) or constructivist arrangements (EU, NATO).

Not all capitals of the West would like to see Qadhafi gone. Rome stands out as the state with most to lose from an overthrow of Qadhafi. Half of Libya’s exports to the EU wind up in Italy and the Italian Republic provides for almost 40% of the Jamahiriya’s imports. This is mostly the result of a legitimate and natural pursuit by Italy of close relations with its former colony. The Berlusconi governments in particular have been avid pioneers in Libya’s opening to the West, also using in their favour the special relationship Italy has entertained with Russia for some decades now. Companies such as ENI, Finmeccanica, Ansaldo or UniCredit are to a great extent interdependent with the Libyan economy.

But Rome suffers from an original sin which is common in the West: lack of strategic posture. Scholars such as Patrick Porter have been keen on pointing out – a propos of Britain’s defence review – that “with no obvious major enemy to focus the mind, British strategy has been shaped by Washington’s agenda, and become overly concerned with ‘narrative’”. The same is true for much of Europe since naming likely enemies is politically incorrect and choosing interests over values, a media suicide.

Let us look at the foundations of modern Italy. Italy was born a kingdom for a reason yet the Allied Powers led by the US thought it best to turn it into a federal republic after its fascist experience during WWII. Usually the US despises the royals and with the exception of Japan, it is America’s model that serves as a stepping stone for the re-engineering of other countries (Germany, Italy, Iraq, Afghanistan). Consequently, without strong tradition in democracy, Italy becomes an expectedly fragile and unstable republic. Italian governments rarely fulfil their constitutional term and the country has become a ‘dictatorship of the Directors-General’. While some may see in this the technocratic ideal of governance, one of the problems is the inherent lack of strategic planning. It is all too well that Rome’s bureaucracy understands what Italy’s needs are and how to get them. Berlusconi’s opportunistic behaviour certainly brought a high degree of success. Ultimately though, Italy’s interests in Libya were not protected by any coherent strategy, as the diplomatic debacle of Berlusconi plainly demonstrates it now.

In simple terms: what’s the point of getting there first if you can’t hold your ground?

Strategy shouldn’t be too complicated but it should also be sustainable and coherent. Italy has in effect lost Libya (If the current regime falls, its replacement will seek ties with those who in the past aided the Benghazi rebellion. If the current regime survives it will become a pariah, probably under EU and UN sanctions, and giving preference to those who do not morally condemn it – Russia, China, Turkey) because it did not anchor its economic conquests with the necessary diplomacy to sustain dealings with radical regimes. At first the Italian government kept quiet and then it felt it had no other choice but to jump into the train of European and Western condemnation, thus risking forfeiting its business investments. Apart from incoherent positioning, Italy also found itself isolated. Couldn’t the Italians have reminded the French that they weren’t the only ones protecting a dictatorial regime? Couldn’t Rome have persuaded Germany that actively siding against Qadhafi might cost money in a near future? What about partnering with Turkey and others in demanding that the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) be put in charge of the response to the crisis – and in so doing prevent a consensus on intervention?

It is comprehensible that Paris and London are interested in removing Qadhafi, it is not that Rome doesn’t move a finger to salvage its assets.

This is also due in part to the pacifist indoctrination the country experienced to counter the legacy of Mussolini’s militarism. A great part of Italy’s elite, civil servants and diplomats abhors unilateral action. Italy embarks on every multilateral project without regard to the consequences. It doesn’t hold a permanent seat in the Security Council and indeed the ‘enemy state’ language is still in use, but Italy is one of the hardest proponents of UN backed legitimacy for intervention – hard to understand how it mustered the strength to prevent Germany from gaining a permanent seat in the UNSC. It is a central and founding member of the EU, yet it bows to the will of the Paris-Berlin axis. It adhered to the UfM, a structure under French leadership. It is a member of NATO and went along – even if reluctantly – with the campaign in Kosovo, even though it was for the benefit of Washington and Berlin.

The Italian MFA is a disgrace but so is Berlusconi for not having had the statesmanship to secure Italy’s national interest. Italy as a central country – in the Mediterranean, Europe – simply cannot afford to completely depend on others. It must engineer its own regional diplomatic framework to allow the prosecution of its interests. What good are its armed forces and financial power if only used for the sake of others? Libya is not a crucial territory for other European or Middle Eastern powers; if Italy can’t stand up for itself there, where can it do so?

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Drôle de Paix I – Lisbon’s Occident

November 21, 2010 at 7:36 pm (tWP) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Portugal is the westernmost European state and it was also the country that brought forth the West’s global primacy. In 1415 Portugal became the first European kingdom to conquer territory outside of Europe and that date marks also the beginning of the Age of Discovery. Carthage, Rome and Byzantium, the Crusades and subsequent Mediterranean powers controlled territories in Africa and Asia but always in a regional pursuit for dominance. The Portuguese were first to bet on a global empire in pursuing their national interest and that mission began in the north-African city of Ceuta, marking its Christian dominance until today.

Portugal was not the first country to adopt a global strategy. Mongolia, China, the Caliphate did it first and Alexander tried it as well but managed only to turn the Hellenic community into Persia’s successor state. Portugal was two thousand years later, Europe’s pioneer in putting the teachings of the Renaissance to use on power projection beyond the ‘known world’.

Robert D. Kaplan calls the Indian Ocean the ‘hub of the twenty-first century world’ but the Indian Ocean rim has long been the best barometer of world power, from the Arab and Gujarati traders’ evangelisation to the Ming dynasty’s diplomatic armadas. The Portuguese though, were the first to export Europe’s technologies and values to a non-contiguous civilisation by establishing their ‘Estado da Índia’.

At the signing of the Treaty of Lisbon, the Portuguese PM referred to the Portuguese capital as a ‘safe haven’ from the EU’s troubles and he’d probably like to replicate just such an allegory with NATO. However just as Lisbon led the West into six centuries of global dominance so too today it seems to lead it to its twilight: the EU’s Treaty of Lisbon and NATO’s Lisbon Summit are the symbols of the Western civilisation’s fall from power. During the Pax Americana of the 90s and early 00s, America and Europe fought paid and nurtured the project of global liberal democracy. NATO’s and the European Union’s recent landmarks though are only meant to manage stagnation. The Treaty of Lisbon was an unambitious version of the aborted ‘Constitutional Treaty’ and even that will have to be amended very soon. Had the EU been less adamant on socially engineering a post-modern utopia, it might just have managed to convert some of its influence into hard-power. The euro-sceptic backlash that a normatively overbearing EU caused may just have pushed away further strategic cooperation and it is anyone’s guess how and when Europe will be rid of this crisis or the economic downturn. NATO in turn adopted Russia and became a more diffuse security mechanism. The missile shield is nice but for all intents and purposes NATO is becoming a more glorified OSCE; what else to call a military alliance that embraces the likeliest state to wage war – Russia – on the likeliest state to next join – Georgia – the organisation?

Lets be frank, the main security issues are not being tackled: border disputes in Europe are ‘crystallised conflicts’ – Cyprus, Gibraltar, Ceuta and Melilla, Olivença, South Tyrol, Kosovo, Belgium, etc – NATO or the EU refuse to touch the frozen conflicts – Karabakh, Georgia, Ukraine – and the hot spots are not working out that well – Iraq is falling under Iranian influence, the Afghan campaign is unsustainable. The only successes are unilateral or bilateral: the sanctions on Iran are the product of bilateral cooperation (5+1) and the missile shield is basically a US initiative with Russian acquiescence.

Then there’s the problem of Turkey, which in this summit seemed to be approached more as a NATO-Turkey Council than as an inner core NATO member. Certainly the Turks have valid reasons to object paying for a security structure which also serves the needs of an organisation (under the Berlin + agreement on burden-sharing) Turkey isn’t part of, i.e. the EU.

SAS Drakensberg - the South African Navy's ship on board which the new military cooperation protocols between Argentina and the RSA were signed, during the naval exercise ATLASUR VIII (this is also the ship dispatched to Ivoirian waters by the RSA, following the Ivoirian crisis of 2010-11)


As for the EU, if its apologists said that its successes were primarily in terms of soft power and cooperation, the rise of Germany shattered many europhiles’ delusions. This is not about Angela Merkel’s whims nor about a temporary lack of cooperation between the European capitals, this is about the same problem that drove Europe to the Great Wars: the emergence of a new power polity in the continent. This is structural, not cyclical. Russia and America kept Germany in check throughout the XX century in order to safe-keep their interests in a divided Europe. Now though, Russia is weak, America is waning and turning its attentions to Asia, and the traditional European powers have in the meantime been devoid of their colonial critical mass to be able to successfully counter-balance Berlin: Britain France and the western Europeans saw their grip on overseas possessions jointly subverted by the superpowers, Warsaw and Belgrade have been deprived of their Międzymorze and Yugosphere strategic depths and ditto for Vienna’s and Budapest’s Alpine-Carpathian dominions.

The German Empire never relied on Prussia or the eastern agricultural spaces for its strength, it was the industrial machine of the Rhein valley that drove them into hegemony and apart from the loss of Alsace-Lorraine they were allowed to retain it. Consequently the German population was always set to become primary in Europe. German reunification simply sealed the deal but it also destroyed the strategic balance between Germany and France which was at the origin of the European treaties.

It is ironic that after a century of American interventionism in Europe, the old continent will simply return to its old ways. In a way, just as Asia is reacquiring its role in the world, so is Europe falling back to its previous geopolitical configuration.

Now more than ever the US needs regional allies. The white star navy will have to undergo cutbacks and new deployments will have to be made in order to reinforce the 7th and 5th fleets in the west Pacific and Indian Ocean respectively. This means that those countries in Europe and the Atlantic which can regionally provide America with reliable help will be preferred but it also means that America is no longer available to aid in the maintenance of balances of power. The West will require realignments and in Europe there are already four major power zones emerging: the continental hegemons Germany Italy and Russia – in a new Molotov-Ribbentrop dynamic – the Mediterranean hegemons Spain Italy and Turkey, the continental middle powers France, Britain and Poland and the Mediterranean middle powers France, Egypt, Israel and Greece. Basically, Europe will be picking up where it left off prior to WWII, with an anti German alliance. In the Mediterranean things may be trickier since the states that control the chokepoints seem to have a lot to gain from cooperating with each other leaving transit states such as France or Greece dependent on them. Russia has already chosen to bow to Turkish dominance of the eastern Med and the odds are not good that the Greece-Cyprus-Israel connection will be able to successfully counter Ankara’s ascendancy.

If the continental hegemons choose to partner with the Mediterranean hegemons though, only an outside power will be able to help London and Paris in keeping alive a balance of power. Will America be able to keep projecting some power into Europe? Will the Atlantic concert resort to new partners such as Brazil?

There is a strong anti-interventionist tendency in America which may be happier dismantling the United States’ global intervention infrastructure and simply relying on regional powers for ad hoc arrangements. The rise of the Tea Party, while not strictly a libertarian movement, may in time vindicate the views of the Paul dynasty. Simultaneously, in Brazil the Labour Party’s foreign policy is strongly third-worldist and seems determined to rally behind Brazil the developing ‘South’. These ‘autonomistas’ are less likely to partner with industrialised powers than the Brazilian right’s ‘institucionalistas pragmáticos’ and little cooperation will be seen between the southern hemisphere and Europe while the Lula legacy is in power, even if not all of the south Atlantic Ocean rim seems to agree with Brazil’s preeminence.

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‘Strategic Depth’ ?…

June 11, 2010 at 8:47 am (tWP) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , )

Ankara has now clearly inverted its geopolitical priorities and chosen to realign. It distanced itself from US first in 2003 when it refused to allow America’s second front in Iraqi Freedom. The US Congress recognized the Armenian genocide and made things worse and then the Bush administration chose not to sanction Turkey’s operations against the PKK in Iraq’s Kurdistan – thus sealing the break. The friction with Israel was a mere consequence of Ankara’s new prerogatives and not a consequence of Jerusalem’s intransigence.

Throughout the Ottoman years, Istanbul attempted to revive the Roman and Byzantine polities by controlling the Mediterranean. The Turks never went beyond the ‘Eastern Empire’ though and depended on occasional ententes with European powers in order to keep their naval empire. They allied with France against the Habsburgs, the British against the Russians, etc..

Fierce rivalry with Persia and Russia were constants and the alliance with the Central Powers in World War I was meant to reacquire lost territory in the Balkans and the Caucasus while balancing the power of the west European naval powers.

Kemalist Turkey chose to coalesce with the Allies – the core of what would become NATO – in order to resist the advances of the USSR (with CenTO/Baghdad Pact) and the Arab emergence. The Atlantic Alliance allowed Turkey to preserve control of the Bosporus, it kept Ankara technologically updated and it helped protect the Turkish secular regime. The balancing act in the Middle East brought the pro-American Turkey, Israel and Iran to odds with the revolutionary Arabs – Baath Arabs in Iraq and Syria, pan-Arabist in Egypt and Libya.

A number of factors have changed: the demographics of Turkey have evolved in such a way that the kemalist secular elite was slowly outnumbered by the Islamic masses and the redistribution of power following the 1989 shift, after a couple of decades of American preeminence, has now given place to a multipolar world. Russia is no longer a superpower, the Arab League is powerless and divided, Iraq is destroyed and incapable of projecting force and the Islamic Republic has been weakened by decades of embargo and isolation.

In this context, Turkey has little to fear from its traditional regional rivals. Ankara has even gone to the limit of co-opting a financially weak Greece and staging a reconciliation with Russia dependent Armenia. The European Union’s postponement of and malaise with a possible Turkish accession has only motivated the Anatolian power to pursue an autonomous path, one which has also led to a magnanimous sentiment for Muslims and an empathy towards the Turkic peoples. Palestine and China’s Turkic Xinjiang thus becoming the causes of a new soft power projection approach, Turkey’s Ostpolitik – or should we say Doğupolitik.

While revealing of the new reality, Turkey’s actions are not entirely sensible. How far does populism affect this new stance? How far does prejudice?

On the long term, to keep regional rivals close and potential external allies at a distance makes little sense, not to mention that it would have little to fear from Israel in the Near East given that while a regional power, Israel’s traditional antagonism with the Arab world would never allow it to vie for regional dominance or hegemony. Quite to the contrary, Turkey’s anti-Israel stance might bring the Jewish lobby in the US, closer to the Greek and Armenian ones in a detrimental fashion to Turkey. Not to even mention all the dire consequences that a state with separatism problems might face after endorsing the Kosovo and Palestine – and dishonestly, Turkestan – secessions.

If true that for example in Mauritania, the influence of the Aqaba Concert was replaced with that of the Tehran-Ankara tandem it is also true that any expert knows that such a shift is one coup d’état away from historical oblivion.

It is in this context that the latest round of sanctions against Iran is successfully voted in the UN with the opposition of Turkey and Brazil.

No one doubts Brasilia and Ankara are rising powers but their self-sufficient foreign policy has just rewarded them a diplomatic humiliation. Is a separate dialogue with Iran a better policy than coordination with the EU3 the US and Russia? Is tolerance towards the Shia Crescent – which clashes with the westerners in the Mediterranean and in the Gulf – wise? Is it rational to band together regional powers against world powers? Is this …’strategic depth’?

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Geography Geography Geography

October 8, 2009 at 5:23 pm (tWP) (, , , , , , , )


Recently having had the chance of being present at a lecture by LSE Professor Christopher Coker and other British scholars in Belgrade, one notices how the Blairites and Anglophile Liberal interventionists are now giving place to the more pragmatic.  If not a trend, it ought to be.

Coker has a very refreshing view of the world.

He spoke of how the “West” – the narrow version of the term of course – had fallen victim of «short-termism» in the 90s, with the repercussions of this being felt today. «NATO didn’t do strategy in the 90s» which allowed for a number of critical errors to occur; why were eastern and central European states brought on board? Not because they were assets but because «NATO was a half-way house for EU membership».

Coker went on to speak of the massive misjudgments committed by the Neocons and how Fukuyama had reified the term democracy when in fact the term has different interpretations according to political culture.

Alas, nothing is perfect and this is a British scholar. Coker’s moral universalism came to the surface when he addressed the doctrine of universal wrongs, which he considered as a good common denominator for a global values foundation. A propos, he added that «China is not in the storytelling business. America is». In other words, the American dream and the American way, make the US one of the last ideological states in the world, while China has no moral presumptions. Inquired by yours truly as to whether the “storytelling” factor was a competitive advantage, Coker answered positively. The Professor referred to the differences in terms immigration between the EU and the US, claiming that it was the American dream that made for easier assimilation and that while Europe was wary of migrants, America welcomed them.

To this I must object with the fact that the US has only been a nation-state for little over a century whereas the European nations have built their ethnically cohesive nationhoods over half a millennium ago. An immigrant in America does not yet need to adhere to the national culture in order to be a citizen but in Europe, as experience shows (Kosovo-Metohija, Belgium) a demographic and territorial challenge to an established nation-state can have disastrous consequences, and thus immigrants do have to be assimilated by the national culture. Failure to do so will result in separatism or ethnic tensions at large.

The US will eventually face the same problem when its WASP ethnicity franca comes under threat – hence initiatives to establish an official language (English) for example.

Coker however, closed with an extremely important statement: «[the importance of] Geography hasn’t changed, even with globalisation».kaart2002

Many refuse to acknowledge geography as a determinant factor in the shaping of geopolitics, preferring to believe in roll-back or messianic doctrines. The importance of national culture and the geographic shaping of values is paramount to the analysis of International Relations but sadly, idealists persist in turning their backs on Political Geography.

When will universalists finally come to terms with the fact that values are neither universal nor can they be the middle ground in any political negotiation?

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