Europe’s responsibility to bring back ISIS fighters home

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Following ISIS’ loss of the last sliver of territory in March, US President Donald Trump asked the UK, Germany, France and other European allies to take back the over 800 ISIS members that are captured in Syria and to put them on trial in their home countries. However, European countries have shown to be reluctant to repatriate nationals that have been accused of being affiliated with ISIS or have been involved in the fighting. They claim that bringing them back would pose serious security concerns and they fear that they may have difficulties obtaining enough evidence to prosecute them. They have chosen to revoke their nationality instead, passing on the responsibility to those countries where the fighters are held.

The recent withdrawal of US troops from Syria and the invasion of Turkey have created further tensions in the region, leaving liberated areas unable to contain ISIS fighters in camps, meaning the potential for further activity and radicalization, as many are being freed or have escaped. The Syrian Democratic Forces, in charge of caring for the situation in these camps in northern Syria, have called for an urgent long-term solution as they are struggling to maintain cohesive control over their assigned territories, but European countries are also unable to find a comprehensive way out of the situation. ISIS has lost its territory and leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, but has readjusted to the circumstances and continues to carry out numerous attacks and to grow in numbers. Therefore keeping ISIS fighters and relatives in the region without being prosecuted will not help the situation and could lead to further recruitment in both the Middle East or Europe.

The issue here is not only the continuing of terrorist activity in the region but also the conditions that these European nationals are living in. Conditions in these camps are inhumane and desperate. Widespread trauma among children subject to abuse, inadequate sanitation, and medical facilities as well as a general environment of lawlessness are present and becoming the norm in the camps, which again is strengthening the risk of further radicalization.

The instability in Syria following the Turkish incursion and the long-term detention of these men, women, and children are problematic for many security and humanitarian reasons. European governments should then address the challenge by accelerating the repatriation of their nationals, but instead, they have chosen to respond with exclusion policies and laws, displacing their responsibility onto others.

Some European officials have been trying to send suspects to be trialed in Iraqi courts or international tribunals but, despite some advantages to this prospect, it has been criticized over the risk of unfair or unreliable trials. Therefore, although it will expect some political courage to do so, European governments will have sooner or later to bring ISIS members home.

It is the fastest way to bring ISIS fighters into accountability for crimes through fairly conducted trials, it will get detainees and their relatives out of an unsustainable security situation and therefore limit the risk of the spreading of ISIS activities in the currently unstable northern Syria.

Israeli politics at the expense of Palestinians

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The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of the longest-running and most controversial conflicts taking place in the world today. Two opposing movements of self-determination fighting for more than seventy years over territory claims, political control and resources, with no clear direction towards peace.

However, what is clear is that whenever attacks are launched from Gaza into Israeli territory, public coverage and attention double up, unlike all the other stories such as Palestinians getting shot almost every week or the daily reality of occupation for example, that get much less or no coverage at all. This may immediately imply the general perception that it is the Palestinians who insist in debilitating relations with Israel. But is this always the case?

Once again, provocations, violence and revenge have invaded the Gaza Strip and Israel. But this time, it is worth noting that the recent hostilities were sparked by an Israeli air strike last November 12th ordered by Israel´s interim Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The attack aimed at and killed the 42-year-old leader of the Islamic Jihad´s armed wing Al-Quds Brigades, Bahaa Abu Al-Ata to which the Islamic network responded with retaliatory rocket fires. And so hostilities began again, creating a new security issue for Israelis.

So why would Netanyahu order such attack, knowing the full consequences?

The events have come at an interesting time in Israeli domestic politics: two months after Netanyahu came second in the general elections. The Israeli army does not usually take credit for initiating confrontation with Gaza and according to its narrative only retaliates when provoked – whether that is true or not is a story for another day.

So why take credit now? Netanyahu is desperate to hold on to power and in order to do so he is trying to convince his people that Israel is in a state of security emergency and that Benny Gantz´Arab-backed minority potential government would be ‘a historic danger to Israel´s security’ and that it ‘will gravely hurt the security of Israel’. But Gantz, former chief of the Israeli Defence Forces, is no peace-hugger either. He contributed to the mass killings of Arab populations as a soldier of the occupying army and if that wasn´t enough, he brags about how many Palestinians he has killed and uses those numbers to convince his voters.

The most devastating fact about this political competition is that it is all at the expense of millions of Palestinians. With the absence of a political solution and hope for peace and security in Palestine, Israeli political leaders will continue to impose violent solutions that only serve their personal political gains. There has to be a shift in focus because regardless of who wins in Israeli politics, Palestinians will continue to be powerless against a situation that the international community has turned a blind eye on. Instead of looking at those politicians in the occupying power, Palestinians, the Arab and international communities will need to create a popular movement based on healthy thought that truly desires peace and change.

BOLIVIA FOR-EVO-R

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Bolivia has captured the attention due to the 4th re-election of Evo Morales as President. First elected in 2006, he became the first indigenous president of the country. He sought to eradicate poverty and better conditions for the multiple indigenous communities of the State. During his rule, extreme poverty rates fell from 38 per cent in 2006 to 15 per cent in 2018.

Bolivia also experienced an unprecedented growth in GDP, surpassing that of neighbouring countries. Morales was even said to break with neoliberal economic policy and become the first president to break with the United States neo-colonialism. However, he made a mistake many Latin American rulers have made: he sought to remain in power longer than the constitution allowed.

Morales enjoyed overwhelming support in his previous re-elections but began losing popularity in 2016 when a referendum was held. The referendum sought to get the popular support on reforming the constitution so the President could run for a fourth term in 2019. The results did not favour Morales’ ambition as 51.3 per cent of Bolivians rejected modifying their constitution.

In October 20th 2019, Evo Morales won in elections that the Organization of American States marked as containing ‘serious irregularities’. The event threw Bolivia into massive protests and civil unrest. On November 10th, Morales resigned and fled to Mexico in seek of asylum. Nonetheless, the resignation was not enough to put an end to the chaos in Bolivia.

The Bolivian former president has said that he was ousted from the country via a coup organised by the opposition. Amid the confrontation created by Morales’ declaration and the power vacuum created in his absence, Bolivia is now heading down a dangerous path of division. Jeanine Añez, a senator, has assumed interim presidency but has been declared illegitimate by some. Adding to the unrest, Morales has announced that he intends to return to help his fellow Bolivians, creating further animosity.

Evo Morales’ actions have not only undermined his country’s democratic institutions, but he continues to divide Bolivian society by maintaining the declaration of a coup. This tactic has been commonplace in Latin American politics when long-standing leaders have been accused of breaking the law in attempting to remain in office. Paraphrasing a Batman film, it could be said that in Latin America you “either retire a hero or remain in office long enough to become the villain”.

Kashmir: A Never-Ending Division

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Following the 1947 separation of India and Pakistan and their independence from the British Empire, the conflict to control the territory of Kashmir began. This conflict has been one of the longest ones in history and unlike others, the situation is anywhere near settled.

Territorial disputes over the Kashmir region sparked two of the three major Indo-Pakistani wars in 1947 and in 1965. In exchange for helping with the rebels, Kashmir signed an agreement to become part of India. Despite joining the country, autonomy was formalized through Article 370, added into the Indian Constitution shortly after. The said article gave the territory of Kashmir a certain amount of freedom: they were able to have their own constitution, their own flag, and autonomy to make laws, whereas foreign affairs, communication, and defense remained under Indian control.

After several violent attacks on each other’s soil, in 1972, under the terms of the Simla Agreement and following UN advice, India and Pakistan renamed the borderline as the “Line of Control” and signed a ceasefire agreement in 2003. Despite this arrangement, they regularly exchanged fire across the border.

With the newly elected Prime Minister Modi, there were high hopes that his government would make significant progress in the negotiations with Pakistan. It was true that some effort was put into fixing their relations, however, momentum was definitely lost in September 2016, when armed Pakistani militants attacked an Indian base near the Line of Control, the deadliest attack in decades. According to the CFR between 2017 and 2018, there were more than three thousand reported violations along the Line.

At the moment, tensions between both territories and other international forces are exploding after the attack in February 2019. Official reports state that the Pakistani Islamic group Jaish e-Mohammad drove a car carrying between 300-350kg of explosives and crashing into a convoy transporting about 2,500 Indian troops to the Kashmir Valley.

Using the attacks, Prime Minister Modi decided to revoke seven decades of Kashmir autonomy by rescinding article 370 in an attempt to regain support and win the upcoming elections. “The risks of violence have risen significantly. The bottom line is India may believe that this move will bring more clarity to the Kashmir issue by formally integrating the region into the union of India, but there are all kinds of risks and uncertainties ahead” said Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Program.

Attempts of peace talks have come to no result and Pakistan and Indian remain tense, both aware that their counterpart is a nuclear superpower. On their part, India has approached the US to gain strength as China is gaining power across Asia. Pakistan, on the other hand, is one of the biggest beneficiaries of China’s Belt and Road infrastructure initiative attracting millionaire investments to Pakistani Kashmir.

While the conflict gets worse and international forces seek their own interests in the territory, people living in the Kashmir region have endured decades of human rights violations and abuses at the hands of security forces on both sides.

 

 

A Dire Love Triangle (II): Europe’s Cold peace?

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A climate of “Cold Peace” has been around Europe since the fall of the Berlin Wall. The two major European centers of power, the European Union and Russia have developed two opposing approaches to international politics: the normative and the Realpolitik. It is that confronting vision which has been a determinant factor in handling the situation in Ukraine, particularly in Crimea.

While Russia has exhibited a more assertive foreign policy through its hard power -labeled as a neo-revisionist power in search of great power status-, the role of the EU has taken another turn. It has been pictured as a civilian power whose unification ‘is not directed against anyone, nor is it inspired by a desire for power’. However, this is an ideal depiction, especially regarding its relationship with Russia. Bearing in mind the context and positions, two interrelated factors can be  identified when trying to understand the EU’s response in Ukraine, starting with Crimea.

1.No possible war on European soil

Firstly, the lack of preparedness for conflict within the European territory. Crimea’s annexation was something the EU was not ready for, although some could argue that Georgia in 2008 was a warning sign. The situation in Ukraine and Georgia have similarities regarding their location as post-soviet space, but in Georgia, unlike Ukraine, the conflict ended by a ceasefire promoted by France, and Russian troops mostly pulled back.

2. EU’s dualism of identities

As mentioned elsewhere, the fact that the EU has a dualism of identities reflected in a European vs. State disjunctive has consequences in Ukraine. In this regard, most of the Central Eastern European Countries (CEEC) have pursued a confrontational approach towards Russia, to the point of being labeled as   “new cold warriors”. Furthermore, their push for NATO intervention in the area vis-à-vis other EU countries wanting to pacify the situation has made the EU’s response to Ukraine mostly passive, as reflected in the only cohesive action taken by the EU: sanctions.

Finally, the EU is aware that to avoid conflict in Europe, the situation can’t be solved through military means. It can’t force Russia to give back Crimea. But the EU doesn’t want to participate in negotiation efforts either, such as the Minsk Agreements. The dilemma remains: should we take steps for a European warmer peace or keep dragging the same Cold War dynamics?

Macron’s game of thrones

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Last Thursday, a man who has been starting to play games of power in the EU, with slow withdrawal of Angela Merkel, did not support the opening of accession talks for North Macedonia (and Albania). The European Union has internal issues, he explained, and first has to focus on solving them. ‘Historic mistake’, that was the reaction of the Head of the European Commission. The EU needs ‘a reformed enlargement process, a real credibility and a strategic vision of who we are and our role’, said Macron. The other 27 leaders did not see this as an issue that would prevent this Balkan country from more hard work, but at least with a European vision. Does Macron know better? Or is he trying to square up to Merkel?

Did the French president really make a historic error in his attempt to present himself as the new top dog? His unspoken veto unquestionably has multi-level implications. The hopes and dreams of North Macedonia were thrown into the trash. The country has had one of the most painful periods in its recent history in an attempt to make way for the European path. This Thursday might have been their only window to come closer to the West. Big geopolitical dogs are certainly ready to attack their piece of meat once again. They have, for a short period of time, lost their huge influence over this country, but now they can strike the wounded animal again. Russia? China? First come, first served? One thing is for sure: the playground is open again.

It is, of course, crazy to imagine that North Macedonia is the only one to suffer this defeat. The message that was sent to other (potential and) candidate members in the Balkans is: no matter how hard you try, we can (and will?) bring you down. Why then would they turn to the EU? Also, the question of resolving Serbia-Kosovo case might get another perspective, with Greece-North Macedonia issue resolution being treated like it has. Big actors are in play, but it would be dangerous not to take into consideration the feelings of disappointment and betrayal. In the games of power, they can bite back. The bite-marks are usually in the shape of Russia…

… who signed an agreement with Serbia to start building a nuclear center there. But that’s another story.

A Dire Love Triangle (I): the EU, Russia & Ukraine

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I. The path to Ukraine: EU’s overstretching phenomena 

The post-soviet space saw from 1991 the struggle for two different projects in Europe: Wider Europe, led by the EU’s enlargement project, and Greater Europe, led by the Russian Federation, a defeated power knocking on need’s door. As the enlargement project emerged as the only possibility pushed largely in the former Soviet space and ignoring Russia, the country entered the decade of humiliations: ‘stretching from Lisbon to Vladivostok’ didn’t become an option.

Within that logic and with the EU’s blessing, the relationship between the former Soviet space and Russia quickly deteriorated. Within Wider Europe, the EU developed the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) as a previous step to membership and launched its most geopolitical branch: the Eastern Partnership (EaP). In 2004, the ‘big-bang enlargement’  gave full membership to  8 Eastern European countries.  However, this expansion effort has had consequences within the consolidation and democratization of EU institutions, particularly regarding Poland and Hungary. EU’s winner complex and enlargement at all costs in Russia’s ‘near abroad’ has made tangible the widening vs. the deepening dilemma in the European Union.

Regarding the ENP, many Eastern countries such as Ukraine have institutionalized the European destiny for decades, fueled by EU’s policy and promises through the EaP and hatred against Russia. Following this path and according to the  Strategy of Ukraine’s Integration to the European Union, Ukraine would have gained EU membership by 2007. However, it didn’t; and today one might wonder if there are any indicators of any EU plan to further integrate Ukraine.

The year 2014 heightened tensions within Europe to a point of no return. Following the events of the Maidan, Crimea’s annexation by Russia and the war in East and Southeast Ukraine, the EU finally realized that it had been overstretching, and thus pushed for a reform of the ENP, acknowledging that ‘the EU cannot alone solve the many challenges of the region (…) there are limits to its leverage’. It has further emphasized, intra-EU, the need to consolidate the democratic principles and common rule of law of those already members.

However, this state of affairs posits great challenges for the EU and the European continent. Is membership still an option for EaP countries? What kind of relationship does the EU want to have with Russia? What do we do with the situation in Crimea? What are the EU failures in relation to the situation in Ukraine?

 

 

Geopolitics beyond the mainstream: how are violence and war normalized?

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War videogame

Coined by Rudolph Kjellén, geopolitics was associated with Nazism throughout most of the 20th century and was only rediscovered within IR scholarship from the 70s.  Renewed, geopolitics reemerged along with the rise of the Realist view of world politics, accepting the connection between geography and power as natural, the geographical writing of the world into bounded spaces as neutral, the state as the only actor, or the inevitability the Rise and Fall of Great Powers. In short, what is commonly understood as geopolitics appears as the field of formal, high politics that has nothing to do with ordinary people.

Against this approach, ‘critical geopolitics’ has gained ground in the past decades with authors such as Ó Tuathail and a focus on reexamining core concepts and definitions of the geo- and the -politics, in order to question classic, Realist assumptions. In this regard, critical scholars developed a typology of the geopolitical aiming at overcoming the formalist understanding of geopolitical thought: the practical, related to the state; the formal, related to groups of states, and the popular, related to artifacts of pop-culture such as video-games, movies or cartoons.

Efforts in popular geopolitics have researched the impact of geopolitical thinking on our most consumed cultural products, enquiring about how geopolitical reasoning has permeated them. Movies such as the James Bond saga have been said to produce liberal ideology in Cold War years but also, recent scholarship has focused on video games. Popular games like Call of Duty or Assasin’s Creed involve playing to -and enjoying- the logics of war and violence, helping in normalizing a geopolitical imaginary of conflict contexts, military interventions or the use of weapons. Within the popular effort, feminist geopolitics has gone further and underlined how this thinking doesn’t stop at pop-culture but is rather incorporated into the everyday of the lives of people across the world in items such as fashion or even food. 

Critical scholarship is clear: the impact of geopolitics in pop-culture is not neutral, as it helps in shaping our interpretations of the international, and of global politics. Thus, popular geopolitics becomes a key to overcome the formalist frame;  to a better understanding from where our cultural artifacts emerge, and, most importantly, to understand how violence or war are perpetually normalized into our lives.

Dialogue of Civilizations: a path towards peace?

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Alliance of Civilizations

The United Nations declaration of 2001 as the ‘Year of Dialogue among Civilizations’ saw its efforts diminished as the 9/11 opened the path for global discourses and policies pivoting around the Clash of Civilizations, as discussed in a previous post. Since then, civilizational scholars, intellectuals and activists of all backgrounds have emphasized the political discourse of  a new endeavor, the ‘Dialogue of Civilizations’, posited as a paradigm shift in IR. This Dialogue aims at enhancing an inter-civilizational climate of mutual understanding that might lead to global peace.

The end of the Cold War brought new debates on the next political dimension to define the world to come. Fukuyama’s End of History  (1989) proclaimed that history had reached its peak, as ideological evolution from Western liberalism was deemed impossible. Contra Fukuyama, Huntington’s  Clash of Civilizations claimed that the next conflictual lines would be in civilizations and not in ideologies or states. Huntington warned about the risk of pursuing a Western/liberal order, not to acknowledge and overcome a Western-dominated world order, but to call for Western cultural conservatism as he defined the West as ‘unique’. His views have been therefore considered as essentialist and cultural reductionist he advocates for a civilization-based world while avoiding domestic multiculturalism.

Against the Clash, the Dialogue of Civilizations takes as its premise the paradigm of the ‘multiple modernities’ (Eisenstadt, 2000), in which civilizations despite being different from each other can reach common understandings, cultural exchange, and cooperate, both in domestic and global politics. The Dialogue emerges from an interpretation of our contemporary world as potentially conflictual but nonetheless capable of collaborating in approaching global solutions. It is in this regard that the Declaration of the UN emphasizes civilizational cooperation and initiatives such as the Alliance of Civilizations have taken place within the international community.

As the International Day of Peace this past 21st of September has seen a world heading to more conflictual, uncertain situations and contexts; the rise of far-right politics or a global climate crisis among others, it is perhaps important to recover the politics of the Dialogue of Civilizations and pursue it. In a world marked by a culture of war, weaving a culture of peace is a multidimensional holistic endeavor that must be pursued encompassing efforts within all forms of societies, religions, or cultures.

What is Peace anyway?

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Today is World Peace Day.

Except there is no peace for 69 countries in the world. Four ongoing wars have casualties toll above 10,000 people. Not all of them are soldiers. Some of the wars are intrastate, some are interstate. Many more cold wars are being lead. Armed conflicts or not, they all have one thing in common.

They are the opposite of peace.

Photo by Nowshad Arefin on Unsplash

But what is peace anyway? And how is it achieved? Some authors consider peace to be an outcome of the process of reconciliation. Some consider it to be a process that leads to reconciliation. It is one of the imperatives of international relations. But defining it is so difficult. There have been research that have shown that peace is defined in different terms in different regions of the world. Some of the factors are common across all or most of the regions (e.g. absence of armed conflict), but many are context specific and dependent (e.g. absence of terrorism). That means that we have to abandon talking about peace in abstract terms and create models for building and keeping peace for each specific conflict, society, context.

When Johan Galtung established the first peace research journal in 1964, he went along and defined two types of peace: negative peace, that involves the absence of violence, and positive peace, which is the integration of human society (Galtung, 1964: 2), these being two separate dimensions. For example, in the case of Bosnia & Herzegovina, negative peace is achieved, however positive peace is still lacking. On the other hand, this year Sweden celebrates 215 years without a war. Yet, it scores 18 on Global Peace Index, while, for example, New Zealand proudly takes 2nd place, but their definition of peace has certainly changed in the light of the latest terrorist attack.

We must define how peace feels, smells, looks like, how we would recognize it, what we want from it, in each specific case and context, in order to be able to achieve it. Generic definitions and imposition of abstract concepts cannot lead us to achieving peace. We may call it peacebuilding, conflict resolution, social reconstruction, normalization of relations, conflict transformation, what is important is to know exactly what is meant by it and to be striving for accomplishing it.

Because conflicts don’t work.