Moldova: the forgotten in-between Russia and the EU

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The difficulty of the implementation of the EU’s Eastern Partnership is as we have witnessed that these countries constitute the so-called Russia’s “backyard”and for strategic and historical reasons, Russia is not willing to let go easily. The paradigmatic case was Ukraine in 2014 with the annexation of Crimea, but Russian efforts to hinder  the post-soviet space relationship with the EU started years before.

Beyond the military means and political involvement, Russia has wielded its power in the form of economic sanctions and bans to imports and goods from the EaP countries. But Russia’s loss of power  is patent, recurrently in Ukraine and Georgia, both having left the Commonwealth of Independent States . The  republics’ eagerness to become close partners with the EU have resulted in Russian attempts to interfere in the countries’ political arena and processes; economy and trade relations through the use of a variety of means ranging from military and occupation to economic sanctions and trade bans.

But just like Georgia or Ukraine, the situation of Moldova has been an in-between position that cannot be fully understood without taking into consideration its causes and consequences, to be sure: state capture, structural poverty or a great migration crisis 

Moldova, as other post-soviet countries witnessed as well this state capture from the 1990’s, culminating in the so-called “billion-dollar theft”, the 2012-2014 theft of one-eighth of Moldova’s economy, which led to a few politically motivated arrests, but it has never been recovered. The same years, Moldova saw itself involved in the massive theft that became known as the “Russian Laundromat”, a scheme led by government officials and members of Moldova’s judiciary, who had moved $20.8 billion in funds stolen from the Russian treasury through Moldova’s banking system. The case is another example of how Moldovan regulators have been captured by corrupt interests and consistently fail to indict those responsible for large scale financial crimes.

Russian ambitions in the post-soviet space are nothing new. In Moldova, the situation is worsening as this path of post-soviet state capture is being transferred to Russian hands since the 2016 election of Igor Dodon: the audio-visual sector, the railway and even the international airport are slowly being financed (and thus controlled) by the Russian Federation. Energetic dependency gives further power to Russia in Moldova, as most of their gas comes from Russia, little diversified.

State capture has had its consequences on Moldova, as the Human Development Index of 2019 positions Moldova in the 107th place out of 189, making it the poorest country in the EU neighbourhood. Endemic corruption, the main consequence of normalised state capture for a long time now and the poverty created by this situation has made emigration levels an all-time high.

Despite the fact that Russia is slowly gaining political significance once again in Moldova, the European Union is still a close partner with the country. The Republic of Moldova is today between the East and the West, and each player, in particular Russia, have interests in the country.

Although often overlooked, the geopolitical implications of Moldova cannot be underestimated.

When silence does not make it better: US-Russia Nuclear Relations

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Today’s world faces numerous issues: crisis of liberalism, trade and economic wars between the major geopolitical rivals, populists and autocrats who hold their seats in parliaments and other governmental bodies. However, all those problems would become unimportant in case of another, not worldwide war, but a nuclear one.

According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), there are 9 nuclear-weapon states in the world: five of them are under the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), three of them are not, and one state -Israel-, is an undeclared nuclear state. The biggest amount of nuclear missiles are situated on the territory of the United States and Russia, making them their heritage from the Cold War. 

The nuclear policy of the two countries is as different as their approach to the foreign policy. On the one hand, Russia’s military doctrine, included in the 2010’s edition states that first of all, Russian government considers NATO and its enlargment as the main threat to the country. Secondly, the right to use the regular army on the territory of another state which poses a threat to the sovereignty of the country as well to the rights of russian-speaking citizens, and last but not the least, there is the fact that nuclear weapons may be used against the state which violates the sovereignty and poses a threat to Russia’s existence.

On the other hand, the United States remains the only country in the world which has used nuclear weapons against another state. Luckily, there have not been any other cases in world’s history. The Nuclear Posture Review of 2018 established that nuclear weapons may be used only in case of nuclear attack from another state, great losses among citizens and serious damages to infrastructure and central authorities. In this regard, as its opponents and threats  the US names Russia and North Korea.

Relations between Russia and the US in terms of nuclear policy are not easy. However, keeping in mind that nowadays Russia is a state under sanctions regardless of numerous attempts of Vladimir Putin to depict it as “a democratic state”, it is going to be difficult to continue the dialogue in the sphere of nuclear non-proliferation.

America’s withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty  and the denunciation of the INF Treaty  create a serious and dangerous precedent in the international relations. Moreover, the absence of  information on negotiations on the extension of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty III  (START III) or the signing of a new treaty do not make that situation clearer. If after 2021 there is no extension of the existing treaty or a renewed one, then the parties will find themselves without any binding agreements in terms of strategic nuclear forces and it will create a legal – and dangerous- vacuum in their relations. 

Even if both states claim that it is impossible to use the preemptive strike, even if they are aware of the hazardous consequences of using nuclear forces, there is still a great need in for  dialogue between the US and Russia. After all, the economic problems, violation of human rights or climate issues would become totally irrelevant if nuclear weapons were used by any state.

Why millennials should rule the world

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The answer is simple: the world is changing too fast and they’re the only ones that can keep pace. And they were left with destroyed economy, debts, wars and crashed societies. So yes, it’s only fair now that they take over the world and finally fix it.

Thinking I’m overly optimistic? Not realistic? Then please pay attention to the perfect, experienced leaders nowadays. Who do you like better, Putin or Trump? What about Orban and Erdogan? I believe their political experience is what this world needs. Not.

Let me tell you about some scientifically proven facts about millennials. First of all, they process information in a different way. They construct knowledge and create content instead of just passively receiving it. Digital technologies are a part of their psyche. They cannot be lead in traditional leadership ways. Leadership needs to be adapted to them, if you want to keep them and pull the best out of them. In their own leadership, they are motivated by fighting injustice, helping others and overcoming adversity and standing up for their beliefs.

The vast majority of current leaders stems from the era of industry and economy based on physical production. Today’s economy is knowledge-oriented and technological advancement is happening almost at daily level. Millennials are more adaptable to the new contexts and challenges and “old” leadership models are not fit for their new ways of thinking.

Also, the majority of today’s governments is conservative and prone to social dominance. The young are more liberal, actually even more liberal than they think they are. They are the ones that can tackle globalization because they are the ones who understand it –they live it. They form a major part of migrant force and they are the ones that get to know all the challenges on that path.

Older generations cannot lead the world of millennials anymore. They don’t understand it and they can’t answer their needs. The rising of millennials in governments and leadership positions, such as the new Finnish government or the amazing and powerful Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, should be welcomed, because they will also take care of those from older generations. It’s where vice versa does not apply.

The Democrats’ plan for the Middle East

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This year, the American people will elect their president for the next four years. The US’s vast influence and importance in most corners of the world makes him either an important ally or a dangerous enemy. Nevertheless, there is a region of the world where American military and diplomatic actions have proven counterproductive:the Middle East.

During the 2003 invasion and later occupation of Iraq, the US lacked a consistent strategy to stabilize the country. Later, the Obama administration’s decision to leave Iraq (2009), created a vacuum of power that was filled by militias and extremist groups. Finally the recent crisis over the thousands of ISIS prisoners after the “defeat” of the caliphate shows the lack of a coherent grand strategy for the Middle East.

With the 2020 election coming up it is important to understand the Middle East policy of the main democratic candidates: Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders and Elisabeth Warren. With the loss of American hegemony and the increase in Great Power competition, the oil rich Middle East still matters to US interests. Its large amounts of oil and its volatility makes it important for the US and its allies to avoid the region to fall in the wrong hands. Further destabilization of the region or another war would jeopardize US geopolitical, geo-economic and security interests.

Israel: Biden, Sanders and Warren all support a two-state solution to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Biden is the more “pro-Israel” of the three, assuring a no-strings attached continuity in military and financial aid to Israel. Warren and Sanders both support the continuity of military and financial aid to Israel on the condition that the country takes steps towards peace with Palestine.

Iran: Biden, Sanders and Warren agree that the US should try to rejoin the JCPOA if Iran agrees to comply with the deal. They also propose strong diplomatic measures to try to weaken and deter Iran’s efforts to destabilize the region and its ballistic missile program. On the use of military force against Iran, only Warren discards the use of military force to stop Iran from testing a nuclear weapon, while Biden is the only one that will consider the use of military force to protect oil shipments through the strait of Hormuz, even though this could escalate into a military conflict with Iran.

Saudi Arabia: Biden, Sanders and Warren agree that the current relationship with Saudi Arabia, based on cheap oil imports and weapons sales need to be reevaluated. They all oppose the war in Yemen and publicly condemned the assassination of Khashoggi. The three candidates also recognize the importance of Saudi Arabia in the region and the need to work with the Saudis in order to assure security and stability in the region.

There is little difference between the candidates proposals for the Middle East and as it has been the case for the last twenty years, the candidates policies look more like concrete objectives rather than an overall grand strategy for the region. The main issues being: containment of Iran, prevention of proxy wars, energy security, the Israel-Palestinian conflict and curving Russian and Chinese growing influence in the region.

It is clear that a new administration would have to work multilaterally with the support of international organizations (United Nations), regional and international allies in order to avoid losing influence over the region which would have serious repercussions for American foreign policy, economic and security interests.

Vanishing Human Rights: Mexico’s migration policies

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For decades, Mexico and the United States have discussed migration policies. A long history of mutual convenience triggered the creation of public and private institutions that aimed to regulate migration. The protection of human rights was by far at the top of the agenda on the Mexican side. Anyhow, things have changed. Mexico’s demands to protect illegal migrants in the U.S seem now odd. Political instability and insecurity in most of the Central American countries have exhibited the incapacity of the Mexican government to handle a humanitarian crisis.

United Nations reported that Mexico and the United States hold the biggest amount of international migrant populations with 15 million Mexicans living in the United States.  This migratory corridor is so immense in terms of mobility that not even Asian countries have reported similar numbers even though they have larger populations. Despite international reports and suggestions about the current humanitarian challenges in the Mexican southern border, the Mexican government seems to disclaim the relevance of protecting Human Rights and their binding elements under international law to avoid human trafficking and other abusive practices against migrants.

Since 2018 when president Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador was elected, transitory migration in Mexico has escalated up to 232% compared to previous administrations. There is no doubt that rhetorics and ideological stands played a paramount role during AMLO’s electoral campaign. In theory, left-wing progressive regimes would have a favorable view of human rights and to some extent be committed to respect basic human rights.  Before holding office, AMLO was determined to de-militarized domestic affairs by the creation of a national civil policy. However, and despite the actual creation of a the National Guard, migration policies are still using extreme cohesive methods. Contrary to what many believe, Chiapas and the Southern border have become areas were the military and the national guard have organized massive detention centers.

During 2019, the number of migrants that attempted to get into Mexico reached nearly 450,000. According to the Mexican National Migration Institute, 71,000 were deported and the rest were dispersed in Mexican territory. Nongovernmental organizations and charity groups have reported abusive practices and racism from police forces and other border patrol offices. International media has been able to get in touch with some of the migrants whose families were separated and even kidnapped by local authorities in Mexican territory. The BBC interviewed Fernanda, originally from Honduras. Her tragic story ended up by sending her 7-year-old son alone to the U.S – Mexican border after she suffered hunger, segregation and insecurity in northern Mexico.

Stories like the one Fernanda shared with the BBC are rapidly increasing across the Mexican territory. Yet, since January 2020 larger migrants groups have been systematically targeted by the Mexican authorities. Pepper spray, detention camps, and deportation are now the priority in the agenda of AMLO’s foreign office. While the Mexican Human Rights Commission remains silent. It seems like overall, Human Rights are not a priority and that  inclusive policies towards migration are far from being an option for the current administration.

They are all evil: Trump’s “Vision” of Peace and Prosperity.

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Yesterday, Donald Trump, in the middle of his very own process of impeachment, announced his Middle East Plan, the so-called “deal of the century” negotiated with Israel without the Palestinians, and as Netanyahu is under investigation for fraud and bribery charges. Beyond this move -both on the US and Israel labeled as “distraction”  from the ongoing internal proceedings regarding the political future of the president and prime minister respectively- the deal of the century carries material consequences for the lives of the Palestinians living under Israel occupation and settler colonialism. 

Some commentators have suggested that the Peace to Prosperity Vision 2020 (“Vision”) echoes the situation of 1917 and the Balfour Declaration, leaving again the Palestinians out of the negotiation table on their own homeland and further ignoring their opposition to it. Highly unlikely, Trump might think that he is actually doing a favor to the Palestinians and that with this Vision, both him and Netanyahu are really approaching a solution to the conflict. Received amidst mixed reactions, it is convenient to highlight and analyze some of the most remarkable comments within the document.

Palestinians are likely to be terrorists, especially in Gaza. The document states throughout that all Palestinian leaders and authorities are terrorists. Most of the population might be as well. Among other examples: “Gaza is a very complicated situation. It is under the control of Hamas, a terrorist organization, and, as a result of Hamas’ policies, is approaching a humanitarian crisis. It is time to help the Palestinians achieve a hopeful and prosperous future(…)” (p.2). The same idea is spread out, at least the word terrorism linked to Palestinians and their leaders is mentioned 40 times.

Of course, this thinking does at least two things. Firstly, it delegitimizes Palestinians and pictures them as evil terrorists that are constantly threatening Israel. The “Vision” literally states that “A realistic solution would give the Palestinians all the power to govern themselves but not the powers to threaten Israel“. The consequence is, therefore, “limitation of certain sovereign powers in the Palestinian areas such as maintenance of Israeli security responsibility and Israeli control of the airspace west of the Jordan River”.

Secondly, by picturing Israel as a legitimate state under threat, the politics of settler colonialism, aggression, and other atrocities are easily overlooked. In Gaza, these politics have involved over the years, and with the support of the United States, the bombing of key infrastructure in the strip, including hospitals and schools; years of blockades and electricity cuts, hindering access to humanitarian aid, the cutting of funds by the US to the USAid in the region and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees.

Although the document makes a great effort in trying to depict the US as the Palestinian savior while highlighting all the advantages the Palestinians will benefit from,  one might ask whose peace and whose prosperity is this plan referring to. Certainly not to the party that being the most affected by it, has not been included in the negotiation.

 

Groupthinking into bad political decisions

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Leaders and other responsible figures have made numerous political decisions throughout history that turned out to be bad. There are various factors that could have contributed to making these decisions and their poor consequences, and one of them recognized in the early seventies is groupthink.

The term groupthink was coined by a psychologist Irving Janis, who published a book on the matter in 1972, in which he analysed decisions of the US government that had unfavourable or favourable outcomes, such as Bay of Pigs fiasco or Cuban missile crisis, respectively. Since then, the scholars have described different political decisions preceded by the groupthink conclusions and decisions to act.

Groupthink occurs when a group of people desires more to reach unanimity than to engage in rational and logical decision-making. The main drive for this process is extreme cohesiveness, but there are other factors presented in the graph below. Poor decision-making involves biased discussion, failure to seek expert advice, minimizing conflict, avoiding alternatives, suppressing personal doubts, which all lead to a distorted view of reality, neglect of ethical issues and excessive optimism with the outcome of policy fiascoes.

Adapted from Janis & Mann, 1977

Although the theory of groupthink emerged primarily with the aim to explain political decision-making, latter studies suggested that there are other contexts in which groups engage in this mode of thinking and the theory found its application in management, especially in big corporations, and in some other areas of internal governance, e.g. the launch of the Challenger. However, it continued to be used in analysing different foreign policy decisions, for instance Iraq and the War on Terror or terrorist radicalization.

As every theory, this one was also subject to criticism. Scholars have pointed out different conditions that influence groupthink, that were not provided by Janis, such as political structure, social identification and low self-efficacy, manipulation of the decision-making process. Groupthink is certainly not the only process that leads to making bad political decisions. However, when one is in a position to be involved in a group that is to make important internal or external policy decisions, they should bear in mind that this process can occur and lead to adverse consequences. The role of the group processes should never be underestimated. Even more so in foreign policy decision making.

Australia fires: a sign of a reality that can no longer be ignored

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Since the summer 2019, Australia has been hit by devastating bushfires, burning over 10.3 million hectares, killing over 25 people and almost a billion animals. Only in the state of New South Wales, more than 3,000 homes have been destroyed or seriously damaged. Learning these numbers is important to understand the problem but it won’t tackle it from its roots.

The situation has been portrayed in a very simplified way by the mainstream media, almost hiding the root causes of the fires and shifting attention to pop stars and sports players donating money to support the victims. This therefore, has resulted in the inaction of the Australian government and has clearly proven the general passiveness of the international community towards the issue of climate change.

Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison has faced a lot of criticism due to his apparent failure to anticipate the bushfire crisis and reluctance to accept the connection between the crisis, climate change and the neglect of aboriginal people’s hazard reduction traditions.

Australia was colonized by the British in 1788, with the existing indigenous population being faced with violence, decimation and the adoption of forced Western lifestyle, which included the riddance of traditional burning culture and hazard reduction procedures based on generations of observing nature. Aboriginal fire management involved the burning of bushland areas under controlled conditions to reduce future hazards. It is safe to say then that the aboriginal relationship with land protection was interrupted by colonization practices such as displacement of indigenous populations from their homelands or forced assimilation. And this shift of approach has perdured until today.

But climate change is also partially to blame. Australia is hotter and drier than it once was and wet winters are no longer able to control the dry landscape that is now burning across the country. Longer and hotter summers are a growing reality, and we can no longer continue to overlook this.

For too many years, we have ignored our responsibility to take care of the environment and to take the necessary steps to prevent the consequences we are seeing today. Until the world realizes how much of an emergency we are facing, we will continue to experience catastrophes like the fires in Australia. So it is now our obligation to stop clinging on single and ineffective solutions and instead start looking for more localized and experienced-based approaches, such as listening and cooperating with those who have a genuine respect for nature.

Trump’s new year adventure in Iraq: killing of Iran’s top general and an echo of war

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The US did it again. So much for its renewed foreign policy strategy of less outside activity and pulling back. One might wonder, does making America great again involve eagerness to intervene in the Middle East? It seems so. On the 3rd of January 2020, the President of the United States gave the order to murder Qassem Soleimani. To be sure, the ordered assassination of a top Iranian military leader by the US president on foreign soil is an act of aggression.

At this point, the event should not be so surprising. However, it has sparked great concerns among US allies,  about Iran’s nuclear deal, retaliation or the possibility of an “asymmetric” war in the territories of Iraq and Afghanistan. But particularly relevant is the fact that Iran has just announced that it will abandon the nuclear deal enrichment limits, although it will remain open to negotiations with European partners.

Nonetheless, what might seem surprising in this scenario is the response of world leaders to the attack. After the shock, the general tone has been a call for de-escalation. A moderate response to what is an act of aggression that can result in terrible consequences. The UN has called for maximum restraint, as “the world cannot afford another war in the Gulf”,  and so have said European leaders in general, following the EU’s position, with the exception of Britain, of course, as Boris Johnson has even justified the killing. With the exception of Russia and China with stronger reactions, the event has not been formally condemned beyond Iran’s allies in the region.

The United States has pictured this attack as a heroic act that will save American -and European- lives; an exercise of a “preemptive defense” traditionally used by the US to justify interventions and military actions on sovereign soils around the world. But the US fake savior complex is something that nobody is buying anymore. Despite the mild responses and reactions, it doesn’t look like world leaders and US allies want to support another war (with the exception of Israel), especially since Iraq’s Parliament has just passed a nonbinding resolution to expel foreign troops of the country.

This move has not been well received within the US, as Trump has already threatened Iraq with sanctions if they were to be expelled, and they have already deployed 3,000 troops in the area. In light of this, it seems a bit unlikely that they will leave soon. But the US will neither have a nice time in Iraq nor in the rest of the region.

What is clear is both that the assassination of Soleimani has been premeditated, matured and the risks have been taken into account: gladly not every day the US decides to kill a venerated general of a foreign country. And, of course, that the US only bandwagons with the US.

Allies should take this into account.

Don’t Jinx It! Guterres, Multilateralism, and the Lesson Being Learnt from 2019

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New Year’s speeches of state leaders are dollars to doughnuts. And so are teasing statements within them kicking off controversial debates. This year Turkey’s strongman Erdoğan with his claims on Libya, and Little Rocket Man Kim Jong Un, who decided to cancel the annual address upstaged Xi Jinping. He was expected to make clearer statements on the hot Hong Kong issue but stayed diplomatic in sticking to broader economic claims instead.

Likewise appeared the speech of UN Secretary-General António Guterres. His address did not make it to the headlines. His very humble call for the youth to keep its political action appears to be of utmost importance. Yet, no TV channel in the world would interrupt its program for breaking news because of this insight. Now, why then having a look at it?

The interesting part is in what Guterres left unsaid. A year ago, the leader of THE world organization was speaking of “proving our worth through action”. Obviously, it does not appear convenient at the stage of world politics to publicly admit that the own state or organization, respectively, did not achieve its announced goals. And, sadly enough, this holds for most of the high expectations Guterres fueled back then. Powering ahead with the Sustainable Development Goals? After a fashion, if we turn one blind eye to it. Diplomatically overcoming the deadlocks in Yemen, Syria, Libya, and Afghanistan? Failed, even when turning both blind eyes to it.

Though, naysaying the entire year of the United Nation’s work would be unfair. The speech of 2020 alone tells us a lot about what the organization’s head seemingly learned.

Without giving up on multilateralism and diplomacy, Guterres cleverly shifted the attention from political summits to the world society with the youth being its spearhead. This is very smart in many ways. Firstly, he does not pass the buck to young people, as critics might say. On the contrary, young engaged people all over the globe fight for political action that is way overdue anyway. Secondly, by encouraging them he  got other parts of the society on board, too. Thirdly, in not addressing the state leaders, he did not hold the diplomatic gun to their head; and fourthly, he released the UN itself from renewed expectations it could not meet.

It might become true now what has been said about Guterres when entering office three years ago. He is an honest broker, well-known for deal making. If it was his objective to step back from unattainable goals without putting feasible ideas that might not suit the political zeitgeist in those days out of his mind, one should congratulate him to his puristic New Year’s speech. At a later (hopefully not too late!) stage the UN now can be taken more serious as a broker than it could when repeatedly failing its self-defined tests.

Guterres shifted and invited to share responsibility instead of shuffling it off. He thereby learned from both, his own mistakes and the ones of the neo-authoritarian anti-multilateralists crowding the conference rooms and presidential palaces. Kicking off controversial debates is up to them; it is not the UN Secretary-General’s cup of tea.