< SWITCH ME >
Janosch Jerman, 23, from the Ruhr area of Germany, will be writing from London where he studies International Relations. He is often complimented for reading 'all the news.' His shrewd analysis will give you a dynamic European perspective on international politics.
European leaders have agreed to go forward with a new round of unilateral sanctions, in which the EU would ban oil imports from Iran. Instead of actually imposing these sanctions however, the EU should threaten to impose them, using them as a "stick" to bring about negotiations over Iran's nuclear programme.
In the French daily Le Figaro, French foreign minister Allain Juppé announced the result of the latest EU deliberations over sanctions against Iran: "On 30 January," he said, "the Europeans will hopefully decide on an oil embargo." The debate about banning oil imports from Iran is not new, in fact it emerged as soon as it was clear that the initial sanctions imposed vis-à-vis Iran were rather toothless. The new sanctions were discussed after the latest IAEA report contained stronger-than-usual language about the programme, accusing Iran of having had a nuclear weapons programme until at least 2003, and carrying out experiments more recently. A European oil embargo is likely to hit Iran's economy hard, as European states are second only to China in importing crude oil from Iran. Greece, Italy and Spain, are arguably the three hardest-hit states in the sovereign debt crisis and are also the biggest importers of Iranian oil. Implementing the ban would hit these states the hardest.
Publicly Iran states that this decision will not have a severe impact on its economy. Yet it comes at a time of heightened tensions, after a US spy drone crashed or was brought down by Iranian forces who later launched repeated and highly visible manoeuvres in the Persian Gulf. Therefore, when the 1st Iranian Vice President Reza Rahimi threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz, the narrowest point in the Persian Gulf, many observers immediately feared a further escalation, with an oil price uptick of more than 2%. However, it is unclear whether Iran would actually be capable of or even willing to close the Strait for a significant amount of time. Whereas technically, it would not be very hard for Iran to do so, holding it would be considerably harder, especially with the United States threatening retaliation. Apart from a potential military escalation with the United States, the move would be suicidal for Iran's economy. Not only 35% of the global seaborne shipments of oil pass through the strait, but the Iranian government gets 60% of its revenue from oil exports, which have to pass the strait as well.
Since the killing of Osama bin Laden, various clever (and not so clever) analysts have pointed to the increased threat of retaliation by al Qaeda fighters against Europe and the United States. Despite appearing like a sound conclusion, however, the threat of terrorism is – and likely remains – marginal.
It is true that only last week three terrorism suspects, allegedly with a mission from a "senior al Qaeda leader", were arrested in Düsseldorf, the capital of North Rhine Westphalia in Germany. Abdeladin K., the 29-year old Moroccan head of the group travelled to an al Qaeda training camp in Pakistan in early 2010 where, according to German investigators, he received training and instructions for launching an attack in Germany. Not only does this show that al Qaeda is still maintaining training camps in the Afghan-Pakistan border region, but this incident highlights their continued operational effectiveness. So All things Counterterrorism’s Leah Farell tweeted:
It seems AQ’s pak based EO [external operations] infrastructure is pretty robust & they are sticking v much to template.
In fact, bin Laden's death may have acted as a trigger event for the Düsseldorf cell to speed up their plans. The raid might therefore have been just in time.
This post is a reply to Matt (Sixth Sense Editor)'s post yesteday 'Libya, Germany, and the tyranny of definition' that can be found here.
Discussing a no-fly zone over Libya is a particularly hard thing to do. It is easy to argue in both directions and neither side is clearly convincing. This dilemma led to disagreement among Western states on whether or not to intervene in Libya. As Matt points out in his thought-provoking blog post, the United Kingdom and France were clearly in favour of the mission, whereas Germany abstained from the vote. I think however that Germany had palpably good reasons to abstain (or at least not to participate in such military mission) and that it was Germany's communication that could be described as their key flaw.
On Civil War
First, Matt's definition of Libya as a civil war: I think it does not make a substantial difference if we are talking about a civil war or not...
There was a very good point in reaction to my last post, on a no-fly zone in Libya, arguing that the West could not claim to be the moral arbiters for the world. Even though this is not entirely what I aimed at, there are plenty of examples to support this comment. Ivory Coast, a former colony of France, is just the latest example.
Despite regaining some media attention at the moment, the Ivory Coast has been largely ignored since the election last year. The former Prime Minister Alassane Ouattara won the elections in a process that the UN called "free and fair" and is internationally recognised as president of Ivory Coast, but incumbent president Laurent Gbagbo refuses to leave office. Reports now claim that supporters of Gbagbo shot at protesters with live ammunition, killing hundreds, maybe up to 1,000 since the elections took place in December.
Unlike Libya's case, which is being broadcast 24 hours a day, Ivory Coast's position is considerably weaker. If you consider it's geopolitical position in comparison to Libya, it does seem to make a difference whether your main export product is cocoa or oil, (and possibly illegal migrants). It may not be surprising then that despite trade sanctions against two Ivorian ports, the European response has been limited to 'concern' over escalating violence (Germany) or hollow calls to the UN to investigate the violence (France). As in the wider Middle East, Europe has once again missed the opportunity to make a bold statement in promoting democracy and liberal values.
The International Crisis Group warns that the rapidly worsening violence "is a serious threat to peace and stability in West Africa" and that the African community needs to prevent an "all-out war". Rather than supporting African attempts to settle this situation, Europe shrinks from pushing this topic firmly onto the international agenda. The time in which Europe can (re-) claim moral righteousness has once again moved further away.
The demand for a no-fly zone over Libya appears to be particularly prominent in Europe. In demanding it, however, one should be aware of the consequences.
The current situation in Libya is certainly difficult for European observers: people are fighting a dictator – seen by many (and probably rightly so) as a just cause. The European reaction, and West in general, has so far only reacted by getting its citizens out and, in Britain's case, a team of special forces, intelligence personnel and diplomats in, probably for consultations with protestors. The general perception of "we have to do something" remains unsatisfied. In that light, the idea of a no-fly zone over Libya appears to be an attractive solution: stopping Gaddafi's air strikes on his people, as well as preventing fresh mercenaries from coming into the country.
However, as the German weekly Die Zeit correctly argues, talking about no-fly zones also needs to involve talking about war. While imposing a no-fly zone over Libya is generally within NATO's capabilities, one needs to be clear that such action would first include air strikes against all defensive installations. As the head of the US Central Command, James Mattis, argued:
'You would have to remove the air defense capability, in order to establish the no-fly zone. So it — no illusions here, it would be a military operation. It wouldn’t simply be telling people not to fly airplanes.'
Europe needs to ask itself if it really is capable and willing to impose a no-fly zone over Libya. Would Europe send fighter jets to attack targets within Libya and – in the worst case – even accept casualties from airplanes being shot down? At the very least, dangerroom’s David Axe notes that Libya has Africa's largest surface-to-air missile network. Thus, even as Britain and France drafted a resolution imposing no-fly zones Europe should first ask itself: do we really want to take that risk? Or does demanding a no-fly zone imply that the United States is doing the dirty work again? Furthermore, it appears questionable what the imposition of a no-fly zone would actually do to prevent the killings that are going on on the ground.
It is therefore unsurprising that the United States are more reluctant on the topic than European states. Not only are they further away from the scene, which means having to think less about migrants, economic dependency, and oil, but it was clear from the beginning that they would be a key player in imposing such a mechanism. Being involved in Afghanistan and Iraq already brings a heavy burden, getting involved in a third theatre of war therefore appears to be an option for last resort. Therefore, it can probably be seen as a rebuff if the White House chief of staff, William Daley, said:
'Lots of people throw around phrases of 'no-fly zone,' and they talk about it as if it's just a ... videogame or something. Some people who throw that line out have no idea what they're talking about.'
A no-fly zone should still be on the table, but if Europe speaks of it they should also make sure that everyone is aware of the consequences. Being morally right does not seem to be enough in this case. Only if those raising their voices are willing to agree to fight a war and only if this war can be assured to do more good than harm can this be considered a viable option. Currently, it appears, none of this is the case.
After watching the coverage of Libya over the last days, it might be time to have a closer look at Europe's crisis response. As previously outlined in this blog, the response to secure the EU borders was to keep all those who suffer out. This seemed already somewhat strange. Still, I wonder if there's appropriate coordination between European capitals.
Those who contribute to Wikipedia's 2011 Libyan Protests article have done a superb job in bringing together the different reactions by the various states throughout the world, among them the rescue efforts by the European Union. In that respect, it is quite remarkable that at least five EU nations – Austria, Germany, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Greece – have all sent aeroplanes (and a ship in the case of Greece and the UK) to Libya to evacuate its own and other EU citizens.
Given the fact that the Maltese airport is just one hour's flight away from Tipoli, its makes you wonder why there is not one central "shuttle" that is constantly getting citizens out of Libya to Malta and from there throughout the EU. Without having any more than the publicly available knowledge, to me this would seem to be a truly European approach that ensures that EU citizens are extracted from Libya on a regular basis. It would also be cost-efficient and show a united European response.
While Al Jazeera has an amazing coverage of the events happening in Libya at the moment (see the live blog or the live stream), the reaction from some parts of Europe is quite horrific. Just hours after reports emerged from Libya that civilians were attacked by helicopters and other aircraft, the German politician Hans-Peter Uhl from the conservative CSU demanded strong EU coastal guard forces to keep European borders closed to Libyan refugees. I wonder if politics can ever be more inhumane...
I got a bit angry when I read the news that Hashim Thaçi, Prime Minister of Kosovo, might be "a big fish in organised crime". My problem is not that there is a smear campaign against him, but rather that the facts have been public for ten years, whilst the media is regularly surprised.
The recent uproar is based on a leak of a "secret" document marked as "USA KFOR", that - according to the Guardian - accuses Thaçi of being involved in organised crime, particularly in the smuggling of drugs and human organs. Just to be clear: this man got his position (and keeps it) on the basis of massive European and international backing. Shocking? Yes. Surprise? No.
A classified study (pdf, in German) by the German Institut für Europäische Politik, in 2007 quotes a German intelligence assessment which states "especially in Kosovo there are the closest connections between leading political decision-makers and dominant criminal clans from the province, which hold almost all the relevant key positions in society (...) Therefore, the BND notes 'Through the key players (like, for instance, Haliti, Thaçi, Haradinaj) there exist the closest interrelations between politics, the economy and internationally operating [organised crime]-structures in Kosovo'" (my translation, but you get the point).
A different BND assessment, leaked in the slightly darker parts of the web, is more blunt. The dossier (dated 2005) that covers activities of organised crime in the Balkans states that Kosovo is divided into three spheres of interest when it comes to organised crime - one of them controlled by Thaçi. He is brought into connection with riots that took place in March 2004, during which entire truckloads of heroine and cocaine were reportedly brought through the country. Via various connections listed in detail, Thaçi is brought into connection with money laundering, fuel- and drug smuggling, accused of being one of the main "customers" of a hitman. He created the Kosovar intelligence service that is accused of "reconnaissance, intimidation and the physical elimination (through hitmen), particularly of OC [organised crime] enemies".
These allegations are invigorated by public reports, such as the one published (pdf) by Dick Marty for the Council of Europe in late 2010, finding that "[Thaçi's] "Drenica Group" built a formidable power base in the organised criminal enterprises that were flourishing in Kosovo and Albania at the time". However, this was not limited to the German intelligence assessment, but four national intelligence services as well as joint intelligence operations by NATO. Accordingly, "[Thaçi] was commonly identified, and cited in secret intelligence reports, as the most dangerous of the KLA's "criminal bosses".
So, Guardian et al., it's not exactly news, is it?
Turkey’s possible membership in the EU has caused widespread discussions across Europe. Whilst there are good reasons for the EU to say "hayir" (no) to Turkish membership at the moment, saying no on the basis of cultural differences, as seems to be happening now, does not only go against fundamental European principles but will create an unprecedented distance between Turkey and the EU.
Despite the fact that Turkey’s economy is seeing double digit growth, has a higher per capita income than Romania and Bulgaria, and ranks better in risk assessments than Italy and 10 other European states, Turkey’s democracy has still got a long way to go before it could be regarded as consolidated. On the one hand, of course, Turkey still has to deliver on many internal issues. The controversial article 301 that prohibits insulting the Turkish state has caused severe concern for press freedom. As journalists privately admit, they impose self-restraint because of fear over lengthy court cases and possible imprisonment for 5+ years.
Additionally, human rights and rights for minorities still pose challenges. The shaky state of Turkish democracy is further underlined by the troubled opposition that could indulgently be described as divided and lacking a clear plan, as well as the almost-ban of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) by the constitutional court over violating the secular principle of the Turkish state. If just one more judge had voted to ban the AKP, Turkey would have slipped into a crisis with an unforeseeable future for Turkish democracy.