Chinese Expand European Front
The PRC is a regional power with global reach.
The European Union is a key focal point for the Chinese global agenda.
The PRC leadership clearly seeks to expand its influence with European powers while minimizing interference in its authoritarian agenda at home, or expansion of power within Asia.
A challenging balancing act which can only be achieved if the European states pursue a narrowly considered economic agenda and ignore Chinese domestic politics, Asian expansion and broader Chinese political and military goals in Africa and the Middle East.
In a recent Centre for European Reform brief on the Chinese approach entitled, China’s European Charm Offensive: Silk Road or Silk Rope?,” Ian Bond provides an interesting assessment of the way ahead.
Xi Jinping’s state visit to the UK from October 20th-23rd had every possible element of flattery and friendship. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, said before the visit that the UK was China’s “best partner in the West”. Xi told a joint session of Parliament that China and the UK were becoming “an interdependent community of entwined interests”.
China has not, however, singled out the UK for special favours. Chart 1 shows that (even though the UK’s trade with China has increased significantly in recent years) Britain is still far from being China’s most important economic partner in Europe.
China is cultivating many European countries: since September 1st 2015, Chinese leaders have met senior representatives of more than 20 EU member-states, as well as at least four European commissioners. That outstrips the amount of senior contact between the US and its European partners over the same period.
Part of China’s motivation is clearly economic. The EU is China’s largest trading partner (and China is the EU’s second largest trading partner after the US). After decades of fast growth, trade has stagnated since the eurozone crisis began in 2010 (Chart 2). Although Beijing wants its future economic growth to be founded upon domestic consumption more than investment and exports, Chinese experts privately admit that the restructuring needed for this would cause economic dislocation, threatening political stability; better to find new markets or increase exports to existing ones.
The search for markets also motivates Xi Jinping’s signature ‘One Belt, One Road’ (OBOR) initiative – designed to create the infrastructure for new land and sea routes between China and Europe (the ‘Silk Road Economic Belt’ and the ‘Maritime Silk Road’ respectively). Large infrastructure projects – whether railways in Central Asia or port facilities around the Indian Ocean – would help China deal with over-production of steel and other products without closing plants and creating unemployment.
According to a recent report by the Mercator Institute for China Studies and Rhodium Group, China’s annual investment in EU member-states went from virtually zero in the mid-2000s to €14 billion in 2014, with the stock of investment reaching €46 billion. The report projects that the pace of investment will continue to increase. For the EU, the prospect of China investing some of its $3.5 trillion foreign currency reserves in European infrastructure is extremely attractive. The EU-China Summit in Brussels in June agreed to “support synergies” between the Investment Plan for Europe (also known as the Juncker Plan) and OBOR. The Juncker Plan is intended to generate investments of €315 billion over three years, including in infrastructure; China envisages the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) having $100 billion to put into OBOR-related projects, and has set up a separate $40 billion Silk Road Fund to invest in businesses along the route. The two sides subsequently agreed that the European Commission, the European Investment Bank (EIB) and the Silk Road Fund would identify by December how exactly China could co-operate with the Juncker Plan.
Potentially, economic co-operation between Europe and China on Silk Road projects could indeed be “all-win”, as Chinese leaders describe it. Transit times for goods and agricultural products could be shortened. Central Asian states that have developed little (the hydrocarbon sector aside) since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 could be connected to global markets. And Europe itself could use Chinese money to boost growth.
The question is whether OBOR is a purely economic project, or has geopolitical overtones. The Chinese are certainly at pains to deny that they have ulterior motives in promoting OBOR. But not everyone is convinced.
Beijing has sought to allay Russian fears that the Chinese are making a move into Moscow’s back-yard. When they met in Moscow in May, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping agreed to co-ordinate the Silk Road Economic Belt and the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union (whose members include Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan, with Tajikistan to come shortly) – even if neither the Russians nor the Chinese know how exactly to merge two very different concepts. For China, however, a good relationship with Russia is important primarily because it removes a potential obstacle on the road to Europe.
For at least some Chinese officials, the relationship with Europe is seen through the prism of China’s competition with the US: European participation in the AIIB is a good thing not only because European countries will contribute to the bank’s capital, but because they defied US opposition to join it. The fact that the UK was the first to break ranks, risking its ‘special relationship’ with the US to win a ‘golden era’ with China, may be seen in Beijing as a significant victory. And the OBOR initiative, which China claims will include 65 countries with a total population of 4.4 billion, may have two other benefits for China.
First, it may serve as a partial counterweight to two US-promoted free trade agreements, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP – 12 countries, 800 million people) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP – the EU and the US, 820 million people). TPP and TTIP are designed in part to ensure that Western countries rather than China set future global trade standards. If China embeds itself in the economies of members of TTIP or the TPP, it can encourage those countries to look after China’s interests.
Second, it may reduce the incentives for Europe to stand up to China over its claim to the South China Sea: if goods can be transported from East Asia to Europe in larger quantities and more quickly by land than by sea, the importance of the South China Sea to Europe as a trade route would shrink. And then, why put the relationship with Beijing at risk for little practical advantage?
More broadly, China can play member-states off against each other (the Chinese have told countries from Latvia to Spain that they can host the European terminus of the Silk Road), or against the US, to gain international influence. American officials may now admit privately that the US was wrong to try to persuade its European partners not to join the AIIB; but some Europeans regret that the UK chose to move first and on its own to sign up to the Chinese plan, rather than in co-ordination with the rest of the EU. In so doing, the UK gained bilaterally but weakened Europe’s ability to extract concessions from China on the AIIB’s standards of governance and transparency.
Beijing uses the lure of economic co-operation to discourage European criticism of China’s human rights record. Perhaps the scale of Germany’s economic relationship with China means that Beijing cannot object when the Germans raise their concerns; during her visit to Beijing in October, Merkel held a private meeting with human rights activists and dissidents. But China makes life difficult for other European countries when they take too much interest in human rights (relations with Norway have not recovered from the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the dissident Liu Xiaobo in 2010). Those who prioritise commercial interests, on the other hand, are rewarded: the Chinese state media praised Osborne for not confronting China over human rights, and Cameron was able to claim that up to £40 billion of trade and investment deals had been done as a result of Xi Jinping’s visit.
The EU needs a strategy to benefit from China’s economic strength without losing sight of Europe’s interests and values:
The most important thing is to have a unified European policy towards China, which takes account of the EU’s interest in preserving the global order and principles like freedom of navigation. It is pointless for the European External Action Service and the Commission to deliver tough messages, if individual member-states undermine the EU line in order to gain commercial advantage. Germany shows that it is possible to deliver unpalatable messages to China, as long as the trading relationship is important enough to Beijing; and the collective EU trading relationship is the most important of all.
The Commission and the European External Action Service should ensure that they have a coherent approach to the OBOR initiative, ideally with one senior figure looking at both its technical aspects and geopolitical implications.
Europe needs to remember that China is not its only partner in the region. Countries like Japan, South Korea and Vietnam are also important, politically and economically, and have their own interests; the EU should weigh these against its desire to gain Chinese approval and economic benefits.
The EU should make clear to China that European interests in the South China Sea go beyond free passage for European shipping; the principles of maritime law at stake there have global implications. The EU is right to stay neutral on the substance of claims, but it should back the Philippines in saying that an international tribunal is the right body to adjudicate between claimants.
The EU should offer advice to ASEAN on practical matters like maritime surveillance and fisheries management in the region, as a way of removing some of the sources of possible clashes.
China and its neighbours need a multilateral dialogue on the South China Sea. The EU should build on the precedent of the Asia-Europe foreign ministers’ meeting in Luxembourg on November 5th and 6th, where EU ministers discussed the South China Sea in private with counterparts from all the littoral states, including China.
The EU should revive efforts to co-ordinate policy towards China with the US. Then-US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and then-EU High Representative for foreign policy Catherine Ashton issued a statement on the Asia-Pacific region in 2012, setting out a number of shared objectives and calling for regular high-level dialogue; but there has been little subsequent follow-up. The interests of Washington and Brussels will not always coincide, but often they will, whether it is on protection of intellectual property rights, compliance with WTO standards or freedom of navigation.
The EU should make sure that it focuses on getting China to meet European standards of economic governance and investment protection, rather than relaxing its standards to attract the Chinese to Europe: no Chinese company should be able to flout EU rules in the way that the Russian gas company Gazprom was able to for many years.
The UK should not start acting as China’s champion in Europe; but it should pay attention when Xi says that the UK “as an important member of the EU” should play “a more positive and constructive role” in the development of EU-China relations; if the US and China are both urging the UK to remain an active EU member, they must have good reasons. As a state with global political, security and economic interests, Britain should work with partners (particularly Germany, still the member-state with the greatest clout in Beijing) to build a more coherent EU policy towards China. An economic Silk Road between China and Europe could be a boon to both; but the EU should avoid being politically bound to China with a silk rope.
Ian Bond is director of foreign policy at the Centre for European Reform.
A President Trump Would Play Hardball With China
Donald Trump remains firmly atop the polls among Republican voters, in no small part because he has tapped into widespread anger over American politicians’ refusal to confront China over its trade policies.
In a position paper on reforming the U.S.-China trade relationship, Trump notes that President Bill Clinton in 2000 promised that China’s inclusion in the World Trade Organization would be a big win for the American economy.
“None of what President Clinton promised came true,” Trump notes.
Since China joined the WTO, 50,000American factories have closed and millions of jobs have disappeared.
“It was not a good deal for America then and it’s a bad deal now,” writes Trump. “It is a typical example of how politicians in Washington have failed our country.”
Trump would take a much more aggressive approach in government negotiations with China.
“We have been too afraid to protect and advance American interests and to challenge China to live up to its obligations,” he writes.
“We need smart negotiators who will serve the interests of American workers, not Wall Street insiders that want to move U.S. manufacturing and investment offshore.”
Free trade is not the same as fair trade, says Trump, reflecting a phrase that Ronald Reagan used in the 1980s when he confronted Japan and Germany over their predatory trade policies. Reagan’s stance on trade helped create a generation of “Reagan Democrats” throughout the American heartland.
“When Donald J. Trump is president ,China will be on notice that America is back in the global leadership business and that their days of currency manipulation and cheating are over,” states the Trump position paper.
Trump taps into the anti-Washington sentiment when he says, “We need a president who will not succumb to the financial blackmail of a Communist dictatorship.”
He blasts Obama and his Treasury Department for “repeatedly refus[ing] to brand China a currency manipulator.
If elected, “on day one of the Trump administration, the U.S. Treasury Department will designate China as a currency manipulator. This will begin a process that imposes appropriate countervailing duties on artificially cheap Chinese products, defends U.S. manufacturers and workers and revitalizes job growth in America.”
He adds that he will “stand up to China’s blackmail and reject corporate America’s manipulation of our politicians.” He would then “force” China to uphold intellectual property laws“ and stop their unfair and unlawful practice of forcing U.S. companies to share proprietary technology with Chinese competitors as a condition of entry to China’s market.”
He would “reclaim millions of American jobs and [revive] American manufacturing by putting an end to China’s illegal export subsidies and lax labor and environmental standards.”
He notes that Chinese export subsidies take the form of free rent, utilities and raw materials, cheap loans from China’s state-run banks, and tax rebates and cash bonuses to stimulate exports. “From textile and steel mills in the Carolinas to the Gulf Coast’s shrimp and fish industries industries to the Midwest manufacturing belt and California’s agribusiness, China’s disregard for WTO rules hurt every corner of America,” Trump writes.
“The U.S. Trade Representative recently filed yet another complaint with the WTO accusing China of cheating on our trade agreements by subsidizing its exports. The Trump administration will not wait for an international body to tell us what we already know.”
To strengthen the U.S. negotiating position with China, Trump would lower the U.S. corporate tax rate as a means to keep American companies from moving abroad. He would “attack our debt and deficit so China cannot use financial blackmail against us.”
He would strengthen the U.S. military and deploy it in the East and South China Seas to “discourage Chinese adventurism that imperils American interests in Asia and shows our strength as we begin renegotiating our trading relationships with China.”
Trump’s “Reforming the U.S.-China Trade Relationship to Make America Great Again” is located at:
This piece was republished with permission of our strategic partner Manufacturing News, from Volume 22, No. 13, November 24, 2015.
The Russian War Room: Extended Range Operations
In the good old Soviet days, Russian propaganda was about telling you what they thought about Western capitalism and the advantages of the Soviet way of life.
One read Pravda and Izvestia to learn koto kvo or who was rising or falling or disappearing from the Soviet political landscape.
And working through Soviet publications to determine new policy trends was both very doable and very time consuming.
Now Putin’s Russia makes it much easier!
Rather than propaganda they are information and photo providers.
They are mastering the news cycle and pulling Putin’s Russia out of the Crimean invasion political ghetto.
A good example of the change is providing a view on their Command Center, directing operations in the Middle East.
And taking time off from his karate matches, President Putin is seen in the center animating or directing operations.
According to a story in the Daily Mail, the Russians have a fortified triple-decker operations base.
Russia’s strongman Vladimir Putin has been overseeing the daily airstrikes in Syria from a colossal three-floor war room in Moscow.
Long rows of identical desks and computer terminals are crammed into the enormous space, filling up three floors with analysts monitoring activities in the conflict zone.
Sitting at a desk on the central level of the first floor, the Russian President can be seen observing every detail. Putin is surrounded by his trusted military advisers, who have been working hard to shore up the Assad regime in Syria.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3330337/Now-s-war-room-Inside-Russia-s-fortified-triple-decker-operations-base-Putin-masterminds-strikes-Syria.html#ixzz3sKLKtDNr
Meanwhile back in Washington:
Strategic Shifts: Russia, France, Israel and Isis
When analysts and intelligence experts were highlighting the warming sun of the Arab Spring, there was much hope: democracy was in the air and the gap between Islam and the West might be closing.
Rather than a warming sun, close observers felt an icy chill from the events of this Fall in Paris, and an evident European strategic shift away from the agenda set by Washington.
Major changes in geostrategic forces began when the U.S. President backed off his Syria Red Line, and then pushed relentlessly his own objectives with Iran while dismissing French, Israeli, and Gulf Arab reservations to the U.S.-Iran accord.
The Russian decision to accept Assad’s invitation to intervene militarily in Syria, and enlarge its military base presence there laid down an historic marker for a significant reconfiguration of power, not only in the Gulf, but also the entire Eastern Mediterranean region.
The most recent attacks on Paris and spreading fears of many more to come throughout the Middle East, Europe, Russia and even the U.S. have directly triggered Russian-French and broader Russian-European considerations of collaboration against existential threats being posed by ISIS terrorism and the closely related crisis of migration reaching into the heart of Europe.
It is most important to note that when President Hollande declared a state of war with ISIS, he deliberately chose to invoke Article 42.7 of the Lisbon Treaty, not Article V of the NATO treaty.
Article 42.7 is the “solidarity clause” that states if a member of the European Union is the victim of “armed aggression on its territory”. other EU member states have an “obligation of aid and assistance by all the means in their power.”
In essence, France chose to work within a European framework, without formally drawing in NATO and the U.S. direction that would entail.
Combat success by the Russian entry into Syria has led to bolstering Assad for the time being.
More significantly, it consolidated an opportunity for Russia to establish a strong, permanent land and sea Russian position adjoining Turkey, Cyprus, Lebanon, Egypt, Libya and the entire area encompassing Sunni-Shia and tribal rivalries and conflicts throughout the Gulf region.
Putin has dramatically altered world perceptions of Russia’s ability to project power, and thus strengthened Russian influence with all the players in that vast strategically significant geographic region.
The Russians began with a relatively high tempo of air sorties from a small force compared with a slow U.S. tempo of sorties and weapons widely seen as a trickle, or as Lt Gen Dave Deptula USAF (ret) has correctly declared, a Desert Drizzle.
Fighting a clear and decisive air campaign against ISIS infrastructure is clearly necessary. Deptula has contrasted the current airpower “drizzle” against ISIS as making little sense. His point that the life-saving morality of unleashing airpower to shut down ISIS’s ability to acquire money for their ongoing unrelenting horror is a core and crucial task, requiring immediate actions.
Even the Iraqis have gotten this point.
As one Iraqi military leader was quoted as saying about the desire to bring the Russians into the Iraqi fight:
The US-led rules, which enforces verification of targets, regularly give IS militants time to save their supplies, equipment and fighters, they said.
“This is an exceptional war and our enemy has no rules,” one of the officers said.
“How [can] you ask me to stick to the rules while my enemy is brutally killing my people every day, enslaving my sisters and destroy my towns and cities?
“Russians have no red lines, no complicated and restricted rules, so it would be easy for us to deal with them,” he said.
When ISIS took responsibility for the terrorist bomb, which took down a Russian aircraft with Russian civilians aboard,
Putin saw the way opened for a more robust response.
The Paris terrorism which followed triggered a French military response.
It became instantly obvious that both Russia and France then had a common objective to take down the ISIS caliphate cooperatively.
Military coordination became essential, but consideration of longer term regional consequences also came into play.
Putin had already initiated conversations with other interested parties in the neighborhood, including Israel, Jordan, Saudis, Turkey, ostensibly for “deconfliction” arrangements to avoid mutual accidental impediments in the airspace in and surrounding Syria.
Notably, Putin invited Prime Minister Netanyahu to Moscow in September to forge a deconfliction agreement between Israel and the Russians. The Israeli diplomatic mission to Moscow included senior Israeli military officials. Consequently, both political and military issues were on the table from the start.
Putin had also explored coordination with Iranian (IRGC) actions and leadership in the Syrian theater of operations. There should be little doubt that “deconfliction” and Iran action coordination have metamorphosed into much more substantial exchanges of intentions and intelligence.
The U.S. military remained constrained by Washington concerns about potential collateral damage that might be blamed on US forces, and the other parties functioning alongside Russia and France to take down ISIS perceived U.S. action as marginalized. This is an unintended “lead from behind” move from Washington.
Initially, the Russian Air Force introduction of a relatively small number of combat aircraft enabled establishment of an operationally secured new air base in Hemeimeem to function in parallel with the equally important Russian naval base in the Port of Tartus on the Mediterranean Coast.
Both Russia and France are now at work to degrade and destroy the vital water, electricity, and communications infrastructure of ISIS in its Raqqa capital and other bases of operations, and to destroy its revenue sources of oil production, refining, storage, and distribution.
And it is interesting to note, that according to U.S. government sources, the U.S. provided France with targets for the initial retaliatory strikes. This raises a core question: if the U.S. claims to have known those targets whey were they not hit months ago?
In this new joint effort Russia-French effort has found an opportunity to deploy and demonstrate use of its strategic, cruise missile enabled bombers, sea-launched missiles, and even subsea submarine launched missiles, making clear to the world that Russia’s military has returned from its enfeeblement after the collapse of the USSR.
The Russians are backing a sovereign government with that government’s approval.
Because of that the Russians, acting consistently with UN Security Council accords, have reset the war by inserting themselves into a lead position.
Regardless of the number and specifications of the weapons applied, it is the intangible of direct and deadly combat decisiveness that now forms the foundation for Russian expansion of their diplomatic role in the region.
In reality, Russia has displaced the primacy of the U.S. in the calculations of neighboring governments, at least for the time being.
In this new strategic context, all of the key regional players see Russia as a force to contend with. Significantly, even a “hot line” agreement has been made between Russia and Israel, the significance of which has been totally underappreciated by world press and media. It can be assumed that Israel has taken up with Putin its deep concerns with Hezbollah in Lebanon, and the supporting role of Iran. Israel will want to find means of mitigating existential threats in Lebanon.
This poses interesting strategic choices for Putin, which may entail reducing its support for Iran inspired turmoil in areas where Russia now will have, far more direct influence.
Now Russia is a legitimate player and certainly the French have approached them as such.
The French public does not want to be blamed for indiscriminate collateral damage; they would prefer that any collateral damage occur in the areas where ISIS has set up a state, and areas which finance ISIS non-state actions.
Washington had up to now been unwilling to authorize decisive and wide ranging direct attacks on the infrastructure of ISIS. Now Russia and France have been extraordinarily incentivized to go ahead.
As Professor Amatzia Baram, a leading Israeli expert on the Middle East has put it:
“IS” cannot be defeated as long as it controls territory that can produce large revenue and serve as base for operations.
“IS” has the Iraqi-Syrian desert that is providing them with some $1.5m per day worth of oil, in addition to ransom, an endless supply of archeological items and a few million Islamic tax (zakat, kharaj, ‘ushr) payers.
They are probably the richest Islamic terrorist organization in history, richer even than the dreaded Assassins of Alamut Mountain, who terrorized the Islamic world and the Crusaders between the 11th and 13th centuries.
With France, Europe and Russia moving closer together to shape an anti-ISIS strategy, including the Russians proposing military cooperation at sea as the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier comes on station to start its operations, the confluence of interest in invoking the UN might also occur.
Assad is the legitimate ruler of Syria; the UN charter protects sitting governments. And it is being credibly discussed that the Russians are more than willing to broker a deal in which Assad goes if his government stays.
Although Russia wants a consolidated long-term presence in Western Syria, it is highly unlikely Russia wants responsibility of managing tribal, ethnic, and ideological conflicts in Eastern Syria. The Sunni Gulf States want a new framework of security that limits IRGC and Shia militias from continuous disruption of their domains and neighbors.
Time is of the essence to grasp the opportunity of fluidity of the situation, with ISIS ripping apart the borders, while also making a mockery of them.
Bringing in a UN commission of some kind to have a new look at Sykes-Picot and British-French borders drawn at another time of history could enable all parties to give serious consideration to reshaping not only Syria, but the Syria-Iraq volatile mix of inherently incompatible cultures and regimes.
All engaged parties should consider reshaping the SYIRAQ boundaries in a UN sponsored Peace Process.
Professor Baram has argued that a key way to defeat the Islamic state is by backing one tribe at a time.
A sample of the solution is already enfolding in front of our eyes.
With Allied air support, the Kurds of Iraq and Syria have already pushed IS out of large swaths of land.
In early November the Iraqi Kurds launched a renewed offensive to drive “IS” out of Sinjar, in Iraq’s north-west. They must be helped much more, but the Kurds do not have the numbers to liberate either of the two countries.
Most of the Sunni-Arab tribes of Iraq and Syria living in “IS”-occupied areas are sitting on the fence, waiting.
They are hostile to “IS” due to its super-extreme interpretation of the Islamic law, very alien to local traditions, but they are also hostile to the Alawite regime in Damascus, to the Shi’i government in Baghdad, and to the Shi’i-Persian overlords in Tehran.
If their expectations are met by the international Coalition they will fight “IS”.
Setting up a great power UN Commission to broker the redesign of Iraq and Syria based around tribes demonstrating their commitment to the destruction of ISIS, can shape a long term future where all powers can engage to support the shaping of a post-ISIS order is a worthy goal.
Historically, there have been blue helmets on the ground for UN peacekeepers; now pilots could fly with blue helmets to destroy ISIS and save civilization from Islamic extremism.
Russia would be a key player in this process; and a Franco-Russian reconciliation followed by a broader Russian reconciliation with Europe would also anchor such a process.
Otherwise the world will be left with a reticent U.S., preoccupied with domestic American elections, unable to act robustly to influence events.
The time of incrementally modified COIN strategy enthusiastically endorsed by MILIcrats has passed, overtaken by events in Russia, Europe, and the East Mediterranean and Middle East regions.
We need to stop deluding ourselves that we are winning the “hearts of minds” of whatever faction of Muslims we think are our friends for the moment.
We need to work with the Russians, the French and others to reshape the region to root out and destroy ISIS.
As President Francois Hollande put it more clearly than anyone else:
“Our enemy in Syria is Daesh, so it’s not about containing but about destroying this organization to save the populations of Syria and Iraq, but also Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and neighboring countries. It’s also to protect us, to prevent this from happening on our soil…
“Our enemy disposes of the most vile tactics to kill, but the enemy is not out of reach.”
With a newly shaped coalition focused on the destruction of ISIS infrastructure and a willingness to tolerate more robust military actions, the political framework for shaping a new configuration of the regions in SYIRAQ might be in the offing.
Editor’s Note: This article published in The Guardian highlights the sense of urgency, which the French President has about reshaping the approach dealing with Isis:
François Hollande will plead with Barack Obama to show greater urgency in the fight against Islamic State when the presidents meet in Washington next week, warning of a state of emergency in Europe.
French officials have been careful not to openly criticise the US’s strategy in Syria and Iraq but believe Obama must be made aware of the extent of the refugee crisis it has caused, a European diplomat said on Wednesday.
“The message that we want to send to the Americans is simply that the crisis is destabilising Europe,” said the diplomat, who did not wish to be named. “The problem is that the attacks in Paris and the refugee crisis show that we don’t have time. There is an emergency.”
Noting the debate raging among governments over how to handle the biggest movement of people to Europe since the second world war, he added: “It’s the foreign fighters but it’s also the migrants crisis which is dividing the Europeans, destabilising the continent, so we have to act quickly, telling the US administration the core interests of the Europeans, your best allies, are at stake.”
As Paris reels from the terrorist attacks that killed 129 people last week, Hollande will try to impress on Obama that there is a need to act now and the world cannot afford to wait for a war of attrition that might take two years. Some insiders believe that America has been slow to appreciate the effects of millions of refugees pouring out of Syria, partly because the US is an ocean away and far less vulnerable.
The European diplomat said: “That’s the reason why the French president will be in Washington on Tuesday before flying to Moscow to meet President Putin.”
France wants world leaders to redefine the strategy for taking on Isis and give it a greater sense of urgency.
This piece was first published on Breaking Defense on November 22, 2015.
It has been published as well on Front Line Defence under the title: We Need to Stop Deluding Ourselves.
It has been published as well in India Strategic.
Lt. General (Retired) Deptula recently published an op-ed in USA Today highlighting the need to take up Paris’s call for a quickened pace in the War against Isis.
Is it going to take the equivalent of the Paris bombings — or worse — in the United States beforePresident Obama takes decisive action against the Islamic State?
Secretary Kerry stated last week that President Obama “has directed every member of his national security team to pick up the pace and move forward with ideas for degrading and defeating Daesh more rapidly, more completely and permanently.”
That should not be difficult given that last month the president’s plan resulted in only 4 strikes a day in Syria.
That is pathetic.
For comparison, the number of air strikes during Desert Storm averaged over 1200 a day. The current operation in Syria is more appropriately named “Desert Drizzle.”
We have it within our capacity to destroy the Islamic State leading to the elimination of their sanctuary for terror.
However, to do so will require moving beyond the current anemic, pinprick air strikes, to a robust, comprehensive use of airpower — not simply in support of indigenous allied ground forces, but as the key force in taking down the Islamic State.
It will require focusing on the Islamic State as a government, not an insurgency, and for Central Command and their subordinate task force to stop fighting the last war, and start the serious use of airpower.
For over a year, US and coalition airpower has performed admirably in the mission to roll back the advances of the IS, across Iraq and Syria.
But the asymmetric advantage airpower brings to the fight is in danger of being squandered.
Air forces are being shackled with unwarranted constraints, leaving civilian populations to suffer sectarian butchery by the IS.
Their influence is now moving outside the territory of the Islamic State, and must be stopped.
In Iraq and Syria today, the US operates under a zero civilian casualty standard that far exceed the standards of international law. That policy is backfiring — it is extending the time to secure military objectives; allows more time for the Islamic State to commit atrocities; more radical Islamists to emerge out of Syria; and it yields the Islamic State the equivalent of an air defense capability they do not have to pay for, equip, or man to employ.
Moreover, this excessive caution is sparking a crisis in confidence that has invited further violence emboldening others to take action not aligned with US interests. Russian intervention in Syria is an obvious example, and the attacks in Paris are the most recent manifestation of a timid and feckless coalition strategy.
We can and must minimize unintended casualties. Nobody wants to kill civilians — except for the Islamic State. That brings into question the morality of a policy that restricts the use of airpower to avoid the possibility of collateral damage while allowing the certainty of the Islamic State’s crimes against humanity.
While unintended casualties of war must be avoided to the extent possible, those associated with airstrikes pale in comparison to the savage acts of the Islamic State.
War is not about “equality;” it’s about inflicting damage on your enemy without suffering damage yourself.
War is about creating asymmetries.
In any military engagement, there is inherent risk, and loss of life inevitable occurs.
The best way to mitigate unintentional civilian casualties—or in the case of the Islamic State (IS), intentional civilian casualties—is to render the enemy ineffective as promptly as possible.
The moral and strategic menace of the Islamic State warrants the optimal application US air power until the group is decomposed as an effective entity.
A more robust and comprehensive air campaign over the past year could have reduced the slaughter of thousands of innocents at the hands of the Islamic State. It would have prevented the migration of terrorists out of Syria, some of who may have been involved in the attacks in France.
Rapid and devastating air attacks can still liquidate the capacity of the Islamic State to wage war and prevent the spilling of more blood. Overwhelming and focused attacks to crush the Islamic State — not episodic, antiseptic bombing — will also send a signal that the US has the will, power and resolve to confront other regional threats.
The danger of attempting to conduct ‘immaculate warfare’ by over-constraining the application of airpower is self-defeating, as it perpetuates the misperception that airpower is incapable of accomplishing what it is actually very capable of delivering under the laws of war — the rapid disintegration of the Islamic State.
It is admirable that Operation Inherent Resolve air operations in the past year plus have produced precise attacks with the fewest possible number of civilian casualties.
However, humanity, justice, and civilization demand that the restrictions that are delaying and inhibiting the means to halt the evil of the Islamic State be removed, and that we optimize our asymmetric advantage of airpower.
Airmen are performing magnificently at the individual and unit level doing the most they can while encumbered with onerous rules of engagement.
America’s enemies today are exploiting our humanity to impose their terror. It is time to change strategy to optimize our advantage.
There has been a frequent call for establishing a “no-fly” zone over Syria.
We published a piece which drew upon a Deptula briefing in 2013 which highlighted that a “no-fly” zone requires a strategic purpose to make any sense, and that it requires a substantial commitment of resources plus coming to terms with a number of strategic realities in the region.
We do not need a military gimmick to mask the need for a strategy.
Remembering Veterans the Right Way: A Vietnam Veteran Tells His Tale
The Honorable Allen Clark, a decorated combat veteran who lost both legs in Vietnam, has written two books that capture the Vietnam war perfectly and his challenging journey home.
His book Valor in Vietnam, 1963-1977 Chronicles of Honor, Courage and Sacrifice should be on the shelf of every graduate of military colleges at all levels.
Allen is a proud graduate of West Point, the “Long Gray Line,” and his work gives extremely interesting insights into the personal experiences and courageous actions of those engaged in combat.
However, equally important at the Senior War College level of understanding war, the book makes an important contribution in showing, not telling, what it was really like during some very hard days, the Vietnam War years, for those in uniform.
The reason why the first-person stories resonate so well in Valor in Vietnam is because there is a companion book Wounded Soldier, Healing Warrior which is Allen Clark’s personal journey home from horrendous combat wounds to reaching another achievement:
The highest level of service to America, by having a Senate Confirmed Presidential Appointment made by President Bush to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
By reading both books, readers can better understand how valuable military service can be to those entrusted with the sacred mission of the VA motto-“To care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan” (Abraham Lincoln).
In this time of dereliction of their duty by some very nasty and grossly incompetent Veteran Administration (VA) senior leaders, Allen’s work gives hope that good people can also make a difference for the greater good of all Veterans.
In bringing focus to war and physical courage, his works also bring focus to the moral and ethical courage currently shown to be lacking with many of those entrusted with helping Veterans.
Both books bear witness to the great strength of America because there are many, many more Allen Clarks then the charlatans who have been gaming the VA system for their personal gain.
On this eve of Veterans Day 2015 both works will stand the test of time for every future day in America not just one special set aside day.
Ed Timperlake is the former Principal Director, Mobilization Planning and Requirements/OSD in President Reagan’s Administration, and the first Assistant Secretary, Congressional and Public Affairs, Department of Veterans Affairs.
Russia and Iran: Shaping A New Building Block in the Global Energy Trade
Unfortunately, Inside the Beltway seems preoccupied with mirror its experience on to what the Russians are doing in the Middle East.
Because the US has gotten bogged down in a more than decade long COIN and air engagement against ISIS with more people in the CAOC than bombs on target, the assumption is that the Russians will not only get bogged down, but have no clear objectives.
Whether he succeeds or not in a volatile part of the world is open to question.
What is not is that he does not have clear objectives.
In addition, to expanding his naval presence and establishing an air base to operate in conjunction with the naval base, and thereby expanding his Mediterranean military infrastructure, Putin always things like a commodities broker.
And the Iran opening which has yielded no demonstrated advantage to the United States, clearly has for Russia.
And one of this advantages involves expanding routes to transit Russian energy to the global markets.
According to a piece by Tyler Durden, Iran could well be opening a passage to Asia for Russian crude oil.
Russia is looking to expand its influence through oil trade. And a little-reported deal this week may give it access to an entirely new part of the planet when it comes to crude exports.
That’s the Persian Gulf. Where reports suggest Russia is close to negotiating a “secret passage” for its oil shipments.
The move is coming through a deal with Iran, which that government says could open the door for crude oil swaps between the two countries — facilitating exports of “Russian” oil out into Asia and beyond.
Iran’s Deputy Petroleum Minister Amir Hossein Zamaninia told local press Monday that Russian energy company representatives will be arriving in Iran this week to discuss such a swap deal.
Here’s how it would work.
Russia lacks access to ocean shipping routes beyond the Pacific and Arctic. Iran has better access, through its ports on the Persian Gulf.
But Russia does have ports on the Caspian Sea. And as the map below shows, that provides a short shipping route into Iran.
Russia and Iran can exchange crude oil shipments along the Caspian Sea
The swap scheme would see Russian crude oil sent to Iran, in exchange for equal shipments of Iranian crude flowing to Russia.
And from there, it will be interesting to see what happens.
Officials said that Russian oil would likely be used within Iran’s northern provinces. But the swaps agreement opens up another possibility — Russian crude could be sent further south, and even exported through Persian Gulf ports.
That would give Russia unprecedented access to markets around the Indian Ocean — including go-to crude buyers in Asia, greatly changing the dynamics of oil markets in this part of the world.
Special thanks to Dr. Harald Malmgren for bringing this issue to the attention of the editorial team.
Generating Military Innovation to Deal with the Challenges
In his article entitled “Re-Norming the Asymmetric Advantage in Air Dominance: ‘Going to War With the Air Force You Have,’” former Secretary of the Air Force, the Honorable Michael W. Wynne, concluded his paper with
“This march towards the future must begin in our imagination as we cannot assume that historical success will be replicated in the future without innovative thinking and serious planning.”
After pointing out the reality of not getting the desired funding to effectively develop a new air force, he addressed the issue of how best could the existing assets be best utilized.
In his well-reasoned position, Secretary Wynne suggested that fifth aircraft work hand-in-glove with fourth generation fighters in future battles.
He highlighted the role of fifth generation aircraft as scouts and battle managers with legacy aircraft providing density and weapons support.
Assuming this is the desired approach, how best can it be accomplished?
Innovative thinking is key here.
In interviewing many innovative thinkers (Ross Perot, Dr. Stephen Covey, George Foreman, Jack Hanna, among numerous others) for my books “The Creative Genius” and “Creating a Genius Company,” I found a number of consistent keys to success in creative people and creative businesses that can be applied here.
The traits of successful people included imagination, feelings for others, contrarians in thinking, loaners, passion, ability to look for patterns and find relationships, visualization, focus, determination, commitment, daring to be different, striving for constant improvement, and the ability to look at a situation from a number of different angles.
When delving into the backgrounds of these highly innovative people, it was learned that each of them had a widely varied history of jobs before launching their very creative business.
These backgrounds were across the board, but each job held had taught the person skills that, when combined with skills learned in other vocations, enabled the ultimate creation and operation of the new, successful, innovative company.
One person, for instance, was a truck driver, policeman, judo athlete, mailman, horse trainer, jewelry designer, and award winning artist. While some might consider him a failure in that he had so many different jobs, he ultimately became an Olympic competitor, three time U.S. champion, and a United States Congressman who was a very valuable asset to the military in obtaining needed funding. This was possible as he could easily see the big picture of what the Air Force was trying to accomplish and understood how the proposed subparts would effectively go together to make the military more powerful when adequately funded.
This concept is not new.
It was first experimented with in 1944.
In 1948 the Rock Pool Experiment was started with 20 artists who were brought together.
The consulting firm Arthur D. Little, Inc. was involved with this, but took it to another level with a new group composed of a physicist, electromechanical engineer, anthropologist, graphic artist and a sculptor.
The synergy developed between these people of totally different backgrounds was surprising. Problem solving became easier as each vocation brought into the picture a fresh way of thinking about a problem.
This was recently shown to be true again with Simon Fraser University.
They combined experts in the fields of biology, chemistry and physics to study the toes of the lizard Gecko.
The resulting combined study led to the invention of a tailless timing belt climbing platform that can go up vertically smooth walls.
Biochemists at the University of Washington had worked unsuccessfully for many years to solve the structure of a retrovirus enzyme.
Finally, they put the problem onto the computer game “Foldit,” which allows multiple players to work together in solving problems. Using Foldit, non-scientific computer game players were able to create models good enough for the scientists to refine them and determine the enzyme’s structure.
This combination of science and non-science enabled the non-scientific computer people to do in days what scientists alone could not do in years.
The combining of seemingly unrelated skill sets learned from totally unrelated backgrounds resulted in a highly innovative environment.
In large companies and the military, it is historically not likely that a person will start out in one AFSC and cross-train into a number of apparently unrelated other AFSCs.
And that is not likely to change in the near future.
But following the examples of these highly innovative and creative people studied, it would enhance the future military in a truly needed skill set – innovative problem solving.
Commander’s call-type meetings are an attempt to bring all sub-organizations in a unit together to understand and effectively carry out the mission of that military unit, but more, much more, needs to be involved.
With limited funding, the different services are having to join together in mutual acquisitions and utilization of assets. Not only is this likely to continue, but we will see more integration between the services in budgeting, acquisition, planning, and operations.
Secretary Wynne anticipated this when he said “Tomorrow’s pilots must become strategists in the cockpit, directing the fight from their position as air battle managers.” He anticipated this direction would not only include air assets, but ground forces as well. To be truly coordinated, this must be the case.
There are a number of challenges to shaping an innovative approach forward.
The US Army has dominated strategic thinking during the land wars. This has meant that joint thinking has really been about support to US Army operations, but what Wynne is talking about, as a former West Pointer, is joint effects from a joint force.
Another factor which can drastically inhibit this innovative environment is the “generational technological gap” existing between newly entered younger military personnel as compared with their superior “lifers.” Generally, far more technologically advanced younger people can quickly find their “new and better” ideas of how to do the job are not well received by older, senior supervisors.
The current Deputy Commandant of Innovation highlighted the importance of getting on with the F-35 precisely because of what he called the emergence of the I-Pad generation pilots.
The insertion of the aged A-10 into the Washington debate precisely highlights thinking of a non-I Pad generation set of strategic thinking and interests.
For the future of the American military, all services must work together to attain and maintain the ultimate goal of global military effectiveness.
This is especially true when we look at China and other explosive threats in various quadrants of the world.
To accomplish this, several things are required: an open mind that your way might not be the only good way, an in depth understanding of the other services, subordination of some of each service’s goals that conflict with a multilateral joint service operation, joint planning, joint budgeting, joint training, as well as joint operations.
To accomplish this innovative environment, changes must take place in orientation, duty assignments, training, and implementation.
For that to happen, adjustments in mind-sets need to occur.
Any change in this area will require time to effect, in addition to a willingness to accept the change.
Dr. Les Nunn is Professor Emeritus, College of Business, University of Southern India.
This article was first published on Second LIne of Defense on June 8, 2015.
The Russians Are Coming: How the Syrian Intervention Alters the Conflict
Russian intervention in Syria has introduced a way of war both politically and militarily that is having significant tactical and strategic effects on the entire Middle East and Europe.
Russia has used a small but decisive air and naval force to side with Assad to protect his regime and specifically Damascus. So far the introduction of a relatively small number of combat aircraft in comparison to U.S. and Allied airpower has operationally secured a new air base –Hemeimeem — and equally important bolstered their ability to expand the Syrian naval port of Tartus in the Eastern Mediterranean.
In doing so, they have used airpower decisively in a way the U.S. has not, and have expanded their ability to influence outcomes in the region.
A significantly under appreciated Russian diplomatic and political initiative is a new agreement with Israel. Putin invited the Obama-shunned Israeli leader Prime Minister Netanyahu to Moscow in September to forge a deconfliction agreement between Israel and the Russians. The Israeli diplomatic mission to Moscow included senior Israeli military officials. Consequently, both political and military issues were on the table from the start and the agreement has provided the basis for Israel expanding its capability to defend its interests in Lebanon.
Since then Jordan, America’s closest ally behind Israel has also signed such an agreement. And during this Russian Israel strategic and military process President Obama pulled Secretary Kerry and Ambassador Power out of the UN Speech being given by Prime Minister Netanyahu. It appears that the legacy of President Kennedy is long gone “Let us never negotiate out of fear. But let us never fear to negotiate.”
In other words, decisive Russian military actions is more in line with 21st century insertion forces then the ever evolving Counter-Insurgency (COIN) nation building military mantra. Since the Powell characterization of the “if you break it you fix it doctrine,” the U.S. military has been on the path of operations on the ground to reshape political and economic systems, regardless of the inability of an outside power to do so.
In contrast, regardless of the size it is the intangible of combat decisiveness that forms the basis for the Russians expanding their diplomatic role in the region. Russia is being recognized by the key players in the region as a force to contend with.
This historic shift in power relationships is occurring while the U.S. is continuing its slow motion approach to fighting ISIS. The Russians have reset the war by inserting themselves into a key position.
In contrast, U.S. counter-insurgency efforts and nation building in Iraq ended with the U.S. unable to negotiate a status of forces agreement or any real working relationship with Iraq.
And then ISIS arrives. If COIN was so successful in winning the “hearts and minds,” why do we see a very different Russian approach meeting their relatively limited objectives?
As one Iraqi military leader was quoted as saying about the desire to bring the Russians into the Iraqi fight:
The US-led rules, which enforces verification of targets, regularly give IS militants time to save their supplies, equipment and fighters, they said.
“This is an exceptional war and our enemy has no rules,” one of the officers said.
“How [can] you ask me to stick to the rules while my enemy is brutally killing my people every day, enslaving my sisters and destroy my towns and cities?
“Russians have no red lines, no complicated and restricted rules, so it would be easy for us to deal with them,” he said.
Unfortunately, inside the Beltway is still under the influence of slow-motion war COIN advocates. Putin clearly has looked at the limited air campaign in Libya, the no-reaction to the Benghazi strikes, and our slow motion air campaign against ISIS and has concluded that a much shorter, decisive and brutal air campaign will get the kind of political diplomatic results he wants.
Put in other terms, while the Obama Administration and the neo-cons remain wedded to the COIN and slow motion air campaign approaches of the past, the Russians are breaking out a new approach to achieve diplomatic power to reassert Russia’s role in the region.
To understand how the region is changing under the impact of the Russian intervention in Syria we discussed the evolving situation with the leading Israeli expert on Iraq and Syria, Dr. Amatzia Baram, a professor of Middle East History and Director of the Center for Iraq Studies at the University of Haifa.
In effect, the interview with Baram highlighted that the Russians were using their military intervention to achieve a key objective, namely to expand their naval and air presence in the Mediterranean.
Previously, Assad didn’t give them permission to expand Tartus and use it as the Russian fifth fleet port. Until now, the Russian fifth fleet, which is also known as the Russian Mediterranean Fleet was home, ported in Sevastopol, hardly a key Mediterranean port. Now they will be able to operate their surface fleet and submarine fleet from the Eastern Mediterranean..
And having inserted their force rapidly and with effect, with little concern for collateral damage, the Russians have made a forceful entry, but are not providing an open checkbook for Assad.
The Russians are supporting Assad in keeping the corridor between Damascus and the beach and the shore of the Aluwite Mountains. The Iranians are now controlling most of Assad’s controlled area.
Assad is very worried about it because he feels that even if he stays as a president, the Iranians are taking more and more of Syria. He has enlisted the aid of the Russians to protect his interests. This a secondary Russian objective but an important one to Assad.
And the insertion of force by the Russians has opened up their diplomatic range of maneuver including reaching an agreement with Israel.
Putin met with the Israeli PM in Moscow and senior Israeli and Russian military officers met for a few hours to talk about coordination. There is now a “red” phone line between the head of the Russians Operations Center and the Israeli Air Force.
Maybe it is blue-and-white on one side and red on the other but it’s a direct link.
And this agreement allows Israel and Russia to deal with other issues, such as Lebanon.
I think Israel can reach an agreement with Russia in terms of: You don’t support Hezbollah, you don’t stop us when we want to attack a convoy. We attack a convoy; we shall let you know perhaps 10 minutes before the operation when it will be too late for information to leak. The message will be: Just keep your air planes away.
Baram highlighted the European interest in the Russian actions helping to stabilize Syria and to stop the flow of migrants from the region. But he felt that the best chance for Europe was to cut a deal with Turkey for the Turks to deal with the refugees in exchange for money.
And as for Iranians, they are not really an ally for Russia, but Russia sees both economic and diplomatic opportunities from Iranian engagement in the region. They can leverage what Iran is doing, rather than directing or being responsible in anyway for Iranian objectives.
Russia has the opportunity to expand its influence in Iraq, but is perhaps wary to do so, given the interests of the Iraqi government as well to limit a Russian role. But Russians actions have caught the interest of key players in Iraq who see decisiveness in Russian actions missing in Washington.
And coming to terms with Russia will have to be part of an agreement involving Syria.
The Russians would wish to be a broker for any agreement in which Assad is taken off of the table and the key players behind Assad become part of any future agreement. The paradox here is: because the Russians are more massively invested now in western Syria, they also are more interested in reaching some agreement…..
I see a lot of fatigue on the Iranian and Hezbollah fronts, and that, to my mind, is an opportunity. If I were in Obama’s place, I would start talking to the Russians seriously about some political solution that will recognize Russian interests….
If the US and the Russians together tell the Iranians, “That’s how it’s going to be,” I doubt that the Iranians are going to risk everything in order to explode this agreement. In my view, this is the way to go.
The Russian intervention in Syria creates a strategic threshold.
The Russians are backing a sovereign government, with that government’s approval.
This means that U.S. actions prior to the Russian engagement, whereby aiding “rebels” and inserting special forces was part of the effort takes on a new meaning.
U.S. actions now face the threat of Syrian government or Russian attacks protected by international law, custom and practice.
In other words, the Russians are in a military partnership with Syria their joint forces have every legal right to direct combat action against all enemies including the U.S. military.
And now President Obama has decided to up the ante and invade Syria.
The U.S. will send a small number of U.S. special operations forces into Syria as part of a shift in its strategy against ISIS, White House officials announced Friday.
President Barack Obama has authorized a contingent of fewer than 50 commandos to deploy into northern Syria and work with moderate opposition forces who are fighting the militants.
While the White House has consistently said it would not put U.S. boots on the ground, White House spokesman Josh Earnest insisted that they will be there in a “train, advise and assist mission” — and not in a combat role.
“It will not be their responsibility to lead the charge up the hill,” he said.
But he acknowledged they will be in a perilous situation: “There is no denying the amount of risk they are taking on here.”
Thanks to the White House spokesmen who clarified that “they,” otherwise known as the troops are taking a risk here.
Indeed, what about the safety and security of our troops which seems to be not part of the “strategic calculus?”
So the Administration does an air operation without ground forces, and now does a ground operation without air power?
President Obama has taken the decision to send forces to Syria.
Not only is it risky but the U.S. is invading a sovereign nation without any legal right to do so.
The U.S. Commander in Chief is putting our ground forces at significant risk of attack by Syrian forces, being bombed by Russian airpower, or for that matter the Iranians who are operating in the area as well.
The President’s actions is putting U.S, forces directly in military conflict with, Syria, Russia and Iran, just after the “breakthrough” nuclear agreement with Iran which was supposed to herald a “new day” in the relationship.
And a final question: what about the impact of the President’s decision on the allies?
Were they consulted as well?
In short, a strategic threshold has been crossed, but not just by the Russians.
For earlier articles, see the following:
Russia, Syria, and How the Conflict Has Changed: An Interview with Amatzia Baram
The Russian intervention in Syria is a strategic turning point in the Middle East.
The intervention alters the conflict and affects the alliances playing out in a fluid and dynamic situation.
To get beyond the Inside the Beltway discussions, and get a sense of how a key regional player is looking at the evolving situation, we had a chance to talk with Amatzia Baram, a leading Israeli expert on the region, in a recent telephone interview.
Question: We would like to start our conversation by getting your sense of how the Russian military intervention in Syria is changing the game in the Middle East.
The Russians are doing a re-set but perhaps not along the lines that Hillary Clinton had in mind when she suggested it.
Let us start with this question: Can Putin take ownership of Assad and make a difference in terms of stability in the region?
Amatzia Baram: Surprisingly, yes.
The Russians are doing two things in Syria.
The first is to firm up their military position in the Eastern Mediterranean, whereby their fifth fleet can expand its operations in Tartus and to have an air base at Lattakia to provide protection to the naval base.
Previously, Assad didn’t give them permission to expand Tartus and use it as the Russian fifth fleet port.
Until now, the Russian fifth fleet, which is also known as the Russian Mediterranean Fleet was home, ported in Sevastopol, hardly a key Mediterranean port.
Now they will be able to operate their surface fleet and submarine fleet from the Eastern Mediterranean.
Second, Assad is hoping that the Russians help neutralize Iran in Syria. The Russians are supporting Assad in keeping the corridor between Damascus and the beach and the shore of the Aluwite Mountains.
The Iranians are now controlling most of Assad’s controlled area.
Assad is very worried about it because he feels that even if he stays as a president, the Iranians are taking more and more of Syria.
He has enlisted the aid of the Russians to protect his interests.
This a secondary Russian objective but an important one to Assad.
Question: Will the Russians expand their influence in Iraq as well due to their expanded Syrian presence?
Amatzia Baram: We shall see what they do, but they clearly are gaining traction in Iraq with their actions.
For example, the NATO radars in Northern Iraq are feeding information into the joint intelligence center in Iraq.
The Iraqi government is sharing information with the Iranians and now with the Russians.
And Prime Minister Abadi is under pressure from the Shite, pro-Iranian militias and from Tehran to ask the Russians to send air-to-ground support jets to attack ISIS within Iraq as well.
But Abadi is not interested yet in doing so for two reasons.
First, the new Chairman of the Joint Chiefs was in Baghdad recently and indicated that the U.S. clearly does not want this to happen.
Second, he knows that the Russians are not worried about collateral damage, which would occur if they come in and if the Russians were to attack Mosul with those methods or against Ramadi or Fullujah, he would lose the support of the Sunnis forever.
He still hopes that they will help him to liberate the areas taken by ISIS.
A number of Sunni tribes are indeed working with him.
Question: How do Russian actions affect his relationship with key players in the region, such as Israel and Iran?
Amatzia Baram: You have to start from the fact that Putin does not fear Obama or any strategy, which the President will put together.
A measure of this was that he informed Washington of his air strikes coming in Syria through a junior functionary in Iraq.
In contrast, Putin met with the Israeli PM in Moscow and senior Israeli and Russian military officers met for a few hours to talk about coordination.
There is now a “red” phone line between the head of the Russians Operations Center and the Israeli Air Force.
Maybe it is blue-and-white on one side and red on the other but it’s a direct link.
Putin knows that Israel takes his actions very seriously.
And he remembers what happened when we had a direct exchange in 1970 where the IAF downed all five Russian fighters over the Sinai. He has a long memory with regard to this kind of impact.
He is respectful of Israel and we of him.
It is obvious; we do not want to go to war with Russia.
There is a key danger however.
Our pilots know every tree and every trench between Israel and Turkey. The Russian pilots do not and there is a clear danger that they will show up in key conflict areas unintended with perhaps negative consequences.
That is why deconfliction hot lines are important as well.
In Syria, the U.S. and the allies have vast areas to adjust; in between Israel, Lebanon, and Damascus, and the Alawite mountain and shore line, we are talking only a few kilometers.
Question: Can a negotiated settlement over Syria take place now?
Amatzia Baram: I can see the parameters of a solution, but it will be very difficult to put in place. There are so many moving parts, that conflict is very likely among those moving parts.
There is a clear European interest in seeing the conflict dampened down and they need to work on resolving those challenges before any realistic chance for ending the civil war in Syria is possible.
They cannot absorb millions of Middle Eastern refugees in Europe in very few years. It will kill Europe.
My approach would be first to stop the influx by working with Turkey. Then to return many of them, to Turkey and Kurdistan-Iraq, where they are safe but extremely unhappy.
At the same time, it is importanat to build a no-fly zone inside Syria and guard it. It will be necessary as well to build modern industrial projects, including high-tech that will provide the refugees with income (in addition to the present UN support) and know-how.
All this will be temporarily.
Then, depending on the end of fighting, you can start sending people back into Syria and Iraq with the newly acquired skills and operating industrial establishments.
On the whole, this is the only way Europe can help the refugees and migrants without destroying itself.
My view would be to ask the Turks to reverse the whole process.
Is it possible?
It’s not easy, but with the right amount of money it’s possible.
Question: What is the impact of Russian actions on Iran and the responsibility of the Russians to hold the Iranians accountable in the nuclear agreement?
Amatzia Baram: The Russians will not hold the Iranian feet to the fire.
The Russians are very practical and I would say cynical.
To them, Iran is a huge economic opportunity.
They are not really worried about Iran becoming a nuclear power and they see it this is an American problem.
The Russians will keep their economic ties with Iran as long as they can, and they will not support the Americans if the Americans decide to do something about Iranian infringements.
Question: What about the impact of the Russian-Israeli agreement and its possible spillover effect on Lebanon?
Amatzia Baram: The Russians are not supporting Hezbollah. If Assad is giving Hezbollah all sorts of advanced weapons that we don’t want them to have, to the Russians this is an Israeli problem.
The Russians are not doing it, Assad is doing it.
The Russians will not prevent Assad from paying Hezbollah for their support with sophisticated weapons.
But they will not interfere with us dealing with this challenge.
The only danger is an accidental confrontation in the air.
They are now supporting the Iranian ground offensive against the revolutionaries from the air, but they do it in northwestern Syria and not in Lebanon.
The Russians are not really allies of Iran. This is very important to understand.
The Iranians are useful to them in many ways: militarily and economically in Syria.
I think Israel can reach an agreement with Russia in terms of: You don’t support Hezbollah, you don’t stop us when we want to attack a convoy. We attack a convoy; we shall let you know perhaps 10 minutes before the operation when it will be too late for information to leak.
The message will be: Just keep your air planes away.
Question: The thrust of your assessment makes Northern Syria the key flash point to shape a way ahead, certainly from a Russian point of view.
They are more than willing to promote a cease-fire, given that they have already achieved their key objective, one, which would be ratified by an cease fire agreement.
How do you see the way ahead for Northern Syria?
Amatzia Baram: This very limited area, the corridor between Damascus and the Alawite Mountain and the northwestern Syria, are now the two crucial areas.
The Russians would wish to be a broker for any agreement in which Assad is taken off of the table and the key players behind Assad become part of any future agreement.
The paradox here is: because the Russians are more massively invested now in western Syria, they also are more interested in reaching some agreement.
The Iranians will be part of any agreement as well. They have sent soldiers to Syria in order to expand a little the area around Latakia in the northwest with Russian air support, but even the Iranians are not feeling very happy about having to pump Iranian soldiers and resources into the front in Syrian front.
They would like Iranian soldiers to be in Iran. They much prefer to fight the Sunni revolutionaries until the last Arab.
The war in Syria is not very popular in Iran.
Hezbollah looks invincible, and indestructible. This is absolutely a mistake. No one knows how many fighters they have lost so far. For a good reason, they are not telling you how many people they lost, and they lost at least 1500, possibly more. They have been keeping some 5,000 fighters in Syria, fighting non-stop.
Hezbollah is exhausted as well.
The Sunni revolutionaries, however, are not exhausted. The Russians are not either, but the Russians are uneasy about the whole situation. They must have Tartus and Latakiya as bases, but they don’t want to go on in the war.
They’d like to end the war right now if they can.
I see a lot of fatigue on the Iranian and Hezbollah fronts, and that, to my mind, is an opportunity.
If I were in Obama’s place, I would start talking to the Russians seriously about some political solution that will recognize Russian interests.
If they can get that from the U.S., I think they’ll be more ready to compromise on Assad.
Then the problem will be, of course, the Iranians.
But if the US and the Russians together tell the Iranians, “That’s how it’s going to be,” I doubt that the Iranians are going to risk everything in order to explode this agreement.
In my view, this is the way to go.
Editor’s Note: Prof. Dr. Amatzia Baram is a professor of Middle East History and Director of the Center for Iraq Studies at the University of Haifa.
Professor Baram was born in Kibbutz Kfar Menachem in southern Israel and raised and educated there.
He served as an officer and commanded tank units in the Armoured Corps during his regular military service from 1956 to 1960 and while in the reserves.
He was ‘on loan’ to the Iraqi desk at Military Intelligence as an analyst when the Iraq-Iran War began in 1980.
After release from regular military service he worked on the kibbutz farm, before graduating in biology and teaching sciences at the kibbutz high school.
He he decided on a career change following the Six Day War in 1967 and started his education as an historian of the modern Middle East and Islam in 1971
His latest book Saddam Husayn and Islam, 1968-2003: Ba’thi Iraq from Secularism to Faith was published in the Fall of 2014.
The Impact of a Chinese Hard Economic Landing: Assessing Its Strategic Consequences
Editor’s Note: In the Spring of 2012, Harald Malmgren wrote a report which largely anticipated what is now happening in China and assessed what he thought might be the consquences.
We are reissuing the report which can found below which provided his assessment at that time.
The Chinese are very likely headed for a hard economic landing. This economic dynamic is coming in the context of a significant political transition within China itself.
The two will intersect with each other to shape the evolution of China, Asia and the world beyond.
During 2012 and 2013 a massive, generational change will take place across most of China’s leadership. At the same time, Chinese economic growth is slowing markedly, ending decades of double-digit economic growth.
Under Communist leadership, China’s economy was long powered by exports to the rest of the world, but China’s international competitiveness has recently been eroded by rising costs of labor, materials and energy.
Foreign demand for China’s exports has dramatically weakened as a result of continuing global financial crises set in motion in 2007 and 2008. China’s domestic demand is not yet strong enough to pick up the slack from faltering exports.
At home, China’s financial bubbles in real estate and commodities are bursting, its banking system is crumbling under the weight of massive misallocated and nonperforming debt, and its peoples are suffering from inflation in food, fuel and daily essentials.
Around the world, investors are now considering whether China’s economy will have a hard landing, or just a period of slower economic growth.
The answer depends in part on whether or not the world economy experiences stronger recovery from the financial shocks of the last few years.
But the answer also depends upon how quickly the new leadership can agree on, and implement, new economic policies to address severe stresses on the economy.
This in turn depends upon whether the political transition is smooth, or whether China will experience a lengthy period of turbulent power struggles among the many new leaders who will take over from their predecessors.
Based on dealings with the Chinese investor class, it is very clear that there is every prospect of a hard economic landing. In the last few years in China there has emerged an array of autonomous private investors that I refer to as China’s “investor class.” This includes high net worth families and managers of giant investment funds as well as individual entrepreneurial families.
Their individual and collective wealth has growing influence on how China’s economy functions, and therefore on how the political superstructure functions.
The “investor class” has not been given much attention by foreign press, media, academic economists, or market analysts.
One reason may be that the investor class has only in recent years become a significant segment of the Chinese economy, with many of today’s asset managers and senior traders relatively young, and the elder high net worth individuals reluctant to operate transparently.
Direct discussions with many of the Chinese “investor class” families reveal a widespread worry that a troubled transition of leadership will distract attention of the government and impede orderly implementation of new economic and financial policies.
The Intersection with and Impact on the Chinese Political Transition
Very broad, generational turnover of leadership is taking place at the same time as the Chinese economic engine is faltering.
There are widespread fears among China’s investor class that political power struggles may interfere with timely economic policy decisions in response to domestic and global slowdown.
Power struggles may distract the most senior levels of government, especially during a period of transition when a “learning curve” will prevail as new leaders experience interaction with each other and with each other’s power base.
Such fears have already been given validity by the events following the fall of Chongqing’s Communist Party leader and Politburo member Bo Xilai, and questions about his wife’s involvement in businesses and conflicts with foreigners, and allegations of involvement in murder of a foreign business partner.
Allegations of corruption at such a high level of governance have highlighted public concerns about disparities in treatment of powerful families in contrast with treatment of ordinary citizens before the law.
Making matters even more complex, one of the principal political supporters of Bo Xilai has been Zhou Yongkang, one of the 9 members of the Politburo Standing Committee, whose personal responsibility is to oversee the security and law enforcement apparatus of the entire nation. If his authority were to come into question, the credibility of the nation’s laws and law enforcement would also come into question.
Moreover, this role as overseer of security and law enforcement implicitly encompasses extensive awareness of the extent of corruption and aggregation of wealth – including wealth that may have been positioned outside China. If the overseer of such information is perceived as favoring or shielding privileged members of the power structure at either national or local levels, this could open a chain reaction of yet additional power struggles not only among leaders but also among the wider populace.
The extraordinary downfall of Bo Xilai and the implicit power struggle behind pose acute embarrassment for both the outgoing and the incoming Chinese leadership, because it raises questions about the moral authority and “legitimacy” of the central government and of the Central Committee of the Communist Party.
Eventually, as the debate continues about Bo’s bold “red revival” and the alternative of incremental relaxation of central control, it is likely that questions will arise about the relative effectiveness of such alternatives.
Greater public controversy can also be expected about the extent to which corruption is implicit in the harsh selection of winners and losers in the ‘red revival” scenario.
China’s “collective leadership” will change along with generational change in the next few years.
Will internal strains be manageable if the economy’s performance proves disappointing to the people of China?
Within China, will there be a reversion to previous hard line Cultural Revolution dictates or will China’s decision system continue its recent path towards collective leadership in support of an increasingly diversified, entrepreneurial, innovative society?
Externally, if the Communist Party leadership finds itself paralyzed by faltering economic growth and domestic controversies over unfairness and injustice, will it need to divert attention of the wider public to conflicts with other nations, particularly with neighboring nations such as India, Vietnam, and Japan?
Will the PLA lay claim to a greater share of national wealth to enable itself to project power beyond China’s neighborhood, ostensibly to protect China’s supply lines with Africa and the Middle East, and even beyond?
Will China’s leadership be able to exercise multilateral leadership on a global scale, supported by its vast accumulation of foreign currency reserves, or will those reserves have to be drawn down to help levitate a failing domestic economy?
Ultimately, the rest of the world not only awaits the outcome of this major transition in China’s leadership, but its impact on the global economy.
Can China’s new leadership think global, or will it be forced by daunting domestic challenges to remain focused on domestic survival for the next several years?
Dr. Harald Malmgren is a recognized expert on world trade and investment flows.
At Yale University Malmgren was Scholar of the House and research assistant to Nobel Laureate Thomas Schelling, graduating BA summa cum laude in 1957. At Oxford University, he studied under Nobel Laureate Sir John Hicks, and wrote several widely referenced scholarly articles while earning a D.Phil. in economics in 1961. After Oxford, he was appointed to the Galen Stone Chair in Mathematical Economics at Cornell University.
He began government service under President Kennedy as an adviser to the Secretary of Defense. Under President Johnson he became the first Assistant US Trade Representative. He left government service in 1969, to head research at the Overseas Development Council, and to serve as adviser to the U.S. Senate Finance Committee. At that time, he authored International Economic Peacekeeping, a guide for negotiations on trade liberalization during the 1970s and 1980s. In 1971-72 he also served as principal adviser to the OECD Secretary General and as a senior adviser to President Nixon on foreign economic policies. President Nixon subsequently appointed him the Principal Deputy US Trade Representative, with the rank of Ambassador. In this role he served Presidents Nixon and Ford as the US chief trade negotiator.
In 1975 Malmgren left government service, and was appointed Woodrow Wilson Fellow at the Smithsonian Institution. Since 1977 he has been adviser and strategist for international corporations, banks, investment banks, and sovereign wealth funds. He has also advised finance ministers and prime ministers of a number of governments around the world. Over the years, he has continued writing on economics, markets, and public policy. He also serves as Chairman of the Cordell Hull Institute in Washington, a private, not-for-profit “think tank” which he co-founded with Lawrence Eagleburger, former Secretary of State.\
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