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Tag: Security

It breaks if you don’t try: EU Foreign and Security Policy

  • February 2020
  • Hannah Bettsworth

It breaks if you don’t try: European Foreign and Security Policy

An EU that fails to act to defend its interests and values on the world stage is an EU that fails voters through passivity and inaction.

Source: CSDP EEAS Flickr

 

The recent Munich Security Conference (MSC) had the tagline “Westlessness”, which was met with some confusion by non-native English speakers. The intention was to suggest that the West’s was in retreat – even decline – and that the prospect should be causing policymakers a certain restlessness. Not particularly easy to translate.

 

However, it is an important concept. There was a clear division on show at the conference within the West – between Europe and the USA – not just over security and defence tactics, but over what the threats actually were. Republicans and Democrats in the USA agree on very little at the moment but are united in the belief that Huawei should have no place in 5G infrastructure in Europe. Europe, as ever, has almost as many viewpoints as it does countries.

 

Henry Kissinger, a former US Secretary of State, is said to have asked: “Who do I call if I want to call Europe?” The EU claimed to have resolved this conundrum with the advent of the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, a position currently held by Josep Borrell.

 

Borrell, to his credit, has recognised that he simply does not have the power to be the go-to man for all of Europe. At the MSC, he expressed a desire for the EU to move beyond simple statements and expressions of concern. He wants a Europe that is comfortable with talking in power terms and using its power to get what it wants. For Borrell, unanimity is a stumbling block to action, and the majority must be able to act in its absence.

 

It is the absurdity of unanimity that has led the EU into its current predicament. Until recently, it was in the frankly embarrassing position of having a naval mission with no ships. This was a direct result of Italian intransigence about sea rescues conflicting with the general will to maintain Operation Sophia. What it now has is yet another lowest-common-denominator compromise where there can be a naval mission against arms trafficking, but only as long as nobody has to rescue any migrants from drowning.

 

This lowest-common-denominator tendency seriously weakens the EU’s foreign policy and its reputation. It provides other countries with a very easy way to influence EU foreign policy: China and Russia know that they need only convince one Member State to disagree in order to block or limit EU action on a particular topic. Macron, despite showing questionable judgment on seeking reconciliation with Russia, has correctly identified the need for Europe to start taking its own security seriously.

 

His solution has been a separate group, outside of the EU and NATO, called the European Intervention Initiative. It is essentially a ‘coalition of the willing’ to prepare and respond to crises together. France, which has become the only nuclear power in the EU after Brexit and whose army is among the strongest in Europe, is ready to lead the coalition. As positive a development as this is, it does not address the fundamental problem. It is the EU, not its members, which is not taken seriously as a foreign policy actor. The rest of the world approaches Member States instead if they want to get anything done, with the ‘implication […] that Europeans need to get their act together if they want outsiders to take them seriously.’

 

The true mark of success for EU foreign policy would be the ability to shape events in its neighbourhood. The sheer size of its market gives it the capacity to do so, but the political sensitivities surrounding the Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) mean that this potential is largely wasted. The Eastern Mediterranean is afflicted by a number of crises, but the EU’s foreign policy priority has been migration control. European conflict resolution efforts have been ineffectual and marginal, and there is no real strategy on Libya or Syria that goes beyond keeping refugees out of Europe.

 

The EU’s new naval mission is, again, emblematic of its broader foreign policy failings.  To actually enforce the Berlin Agreement’s arms embargo, it would need far more capacity than European countries would be willing to supply. Stopping the flow of arms would require ground troops on the Egyptian-Libyan border and total control of Libyan airspace with European fighter jets. It could enact sanctions if it were capable of getting all Member States to agree to them.

 

Eastern Mediterranean crises have, arguably, got as bad as they are because of the power vacuum left by American disinterest and European paralysis. Other countries have seized the opportunity to fill the gap with both hands, developing conflicts into proxy wars. The European public [including the UK, as the survey linked was carried out in 2019] supports a common EU defence and security policy and a common foreign policy (74% and 66% respectively.)

 

An EU that fails to act to defend its interests and values on the world stage is an EU that fails voters through passivity and inaction. The only way forward is for the Commission to continue working to convince Member States to introduce majority voting on the non-military aspects of CFSP. With unanimity still in place, decisions will continue to be held hostage by single Member States, other actors will have a simple way to disrupt European foreign policy, and the EU will remain toothless and unable to act on the global crises that the public want it to address.

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After the Caliphate: Kosovar and British Policy towards Foreign Terrorist Fighters

  • August 2019
  • Hannah Bettsworth

After the Caliphate: Kosovar and British Policy towards Foreign Terrorist Fighters

 

Western Europe should learn from the Western Balkans on reintegration of foreign terrorist fighters

 

Surrendered Islamic State fighters in DarzabSource: Mirwais Bezhan (Voice Of America) [Public domain]

In June, a Brussels event by the Egmont Institute assessed the state of Daesh (ISIS) after the fall of the physical caliphate in Iraq and Syria, having lost its final territory in Baghuz Fawquani on the 23 March 2019. The discussion took place the day after a man was detained on suspicion of plotting a terrorist attack on the US Embassy Brussels. Despite the successes of the Global Coalition, several challenges remain. Daesh, for example, has active splinter groups in a number of areas: not only in the Sinai, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Libya, Turkey, Yemen, South East Asia, Russia and Central Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, but also in Europe. Particularly, it has become displaced to non-traditional areas of activity, such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Another major issue relates to the returning foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs). Terrorism expert Colin P. Clarke used the aforementioned event to explain that the international community has had years to prepare for the return of those who left to join Daesh and has nonetheless put together a patchwork response.

Different states have dealt with the issue in different ways. The Kosovar Centre for Security Studies, in developing a Kosovar approach to FTFs, examined three different cases: Germany, Denmark, and Saudi Arabia. Germany has a deradicalisation program aimed at countering the jihadist narrative, helping FTFs find employment/education and housing, and alternative emotional support from their families as well as a different reference group. This was adapted from Germany’s experience in deradicalising Neo-Nazis, and so is a secular program with an emphasis on family support. Denmark’s ‘Aarhus model’ chooses not to challenge FTF beliefs, but to direct them away from criminal methods. It assists returnees to get home via their families and has a social and psychological support program. Saudi Arabia, finally, is the country with the second highest number of FTFs. It has a systematic re-education program centred around a legal, non-violent interpretation of Islam alongside psychological support.

Kosovo itself has combined several of these strands. In its Strategy on Prevention of Violent Extremism and Radicalisation Leading to Terrorism 2015-2020, its FTF response involves assistance to ‘abandon radical/extremist ideology and renounce from violence’, alongside risk assessment, psychological support, social support for families, employment programs, and awareness-raising of the potential for detained FTFs to spread radical views in prisons. Justice Minister Abelard Tahiri has also signed a deal to work with the Kosovo Islamic Community’s imams on deradicalising prisoners who have been charged with or convicted of terror-related offences.

On paper, the United Kingdom has a similar policy. The UK CONTEST strategy uses an illustrative example of how its deradicalisation policy would be applied to a British woman and baby returning from Syria. The UK authorities would use a Temporary Exclusion Order (TEO) to manage her deportation from Turkey to the UK and impose obligations on her (such as to report regularly to a police station). If there was no evidence of crimes committed abroad, the mother and child would be given specific reintegration support through the Desistance and Disengagement Programme, which can be mandated for individuals subject to TEOs. It involves mentoring, psychological support, and theological and ideological advice. UK counter-terror mentors can play a similar role to the Kosovo imams. The Home Office’s PREVENT training offers an example of referring a young woman at risk of absconding to Syria to discuss and debate UK foreign policy and Muslims’ rights worldwide with a female counsellor.

Both Kosovo and the UK have a similar political context which complicates the reintegration of returnees. In Kosovo,  53% of respondents to the Kosovo Security Barometer (February 2019) stated that they would not accept returned male FTFs in their communities, and 30% would not accept returned women and minors. Also in February 2019, 76% of respondents to a YouGov (UK) poll supported removing British citizenship from Shamima Begum,a British teenager who joined Daesh in 2015.
Both countries share a similar threat assessment. Kosovo’s Strategy on Prevention of Violent Extremism and Radicalisation Leading to Terrorism 2015-2020 states that “the main risk that Kosovo faces is the return of such fighters with radical beliefs and with an interest to harm Kosovo as a state with a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society and with a secular government.” The UK CONTEST strategy states “Many of the most dangerous individuals remain overseas. They may have received training, indoctrination, and expanded their network of terrorist contacts, and therefore pose significant challenges for the security and intelligence agencies and for law enforcement. These individuals remain a significant threat to the UK and our interests overseas.”

Where the two countries diverge is in how they respond to the challenge in reality. Kosovo Justice Minister Abelard Tahiri stated in April that “We couldn’t return all those who are in the conflict zones… but we will not stop working until each Kosovo citizen is back home[.]” In February, then UK Home Secretary (and recently appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer) Sajid Javid stated “No British citizen should be travelling to Syria. If a British citizen has ignored that advice, they will know that there is no consular support there and that we have no diplomatic relations with Syria. If the individual concerned is a foreign fighter who went to join a terrorist organisation to kill, rape and cause enormous damage, there is no way that this Government will risk the lives of British personnel […] to go and rescue such a person. No way.” This is a microcosm of a wider divergence between the Western Balkans and Western Europe. As the Western European states, with extensive resources, attempt to avoid responsibility for reintegrating their nationals, underresourced Western Balkan states have taken the challenge head on through their criminal justice and social support systems.

States that get their reintegration policies right will have the ability to monitor and rehabilitate their citizens, and a pool of deradicalised individuals who can contribute to preventing radicalisation in the same way former white supremacists have done. States that prioritise electoral calculus over strategy risk losing the war in the long run. The physical caliphate has been defeated, but as Colin P. Clarke stated in Brussels, a kind of ‘Caliphate nostalgia’ exists in the minds of people who never went. Kosovo and other involved  Western Balkan states have effectively positioned themselves to tactically use deradicalised fighters, while Western Europe reinforces the Daesh narrative that there is no ‘grey zone’.

 

To truly defeat the remnants of Daesh, Western Europe could stand to learn from the Western Balkan example.

 

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Easy Victor: the Kremlin and the Rule of Law in the West

  • June 2019
  • Hannah Bettsworth

Easy Victor: the Kremlin and the Rule of Law in the West

 

Source: kremlin.ru

“[Russian] money laundering and mafia activity went on in Angela Merkel’s constituency for years, in the hope that Russian-owned dockyards would bring local employment.”

 

On the 19th of June, the Martens Centre and the Free Russia Foundation held a report launch on the Kremlin’s attack on the rule of law in the West. It is a timely publication, with the recent readmission of Russia to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), as well as the Dutch Public Prosecutor’s decision to begin judicial proceedings against named individuals over MH17.

It is difficult, if not impossible, to read Misrule of Law without feeling compelled to act. The report is structured in two sections: the Kremlin’s attack on the rule of law in the West, and Russian manipulation of Western policy. Reading the first section, it is psychologically easy to forget that this is non-fiction. Humans have a tendency to believe that everything will be fine right up until the point that it is not. Even then we convince ourselves things will return to normal. It is this phenomenon – normalcy bias – that contributes to plane crash survivors sitting in their seats while fire burns around them.

The human mind wants to believe that these detailed discussions of Kremlin interference are tales of intrigue featuring money-laundering and the mafia. They are, however, all too real. The Russian state has systematically manipulated Western institutions and systems in order to protect its interests. A dedicated Spanish prosecutor spent years investigating the Russian mafia. He produced nearly 500 pages of information on suspected criminal activity by Russian officials. He also faced serious personal risk, only for the Kremlin to protect crime lords from extradition and the National Criminal Court to acquit those who were tried for suspected mafia ties. The Court’s reasoning was that there was ‘insufficient proof’ of their investments in Spain being linked to organised crime. Money laundering and mafia activity went on in Angela Merkel’s constituency for years, in the hope that Russian-owned dockyards would bring local employment. In reality, the dockyards fell into avoidable bankruptcy due to money laundering – but not before local and federal German governments had obtained loans worth €240million to support the project.

The argument for Russia’s reinstatement to PACE is that the Council of Europe can constrain Russian behaviour. This is particularly hard to square with the Yukos case. Russia cooperated with an independent international arbitral tribunal and disavowed the whole process when it did not go their way. There is no reason to believe the Kremlin would treat civil society related judgments any differently. The former shareholders of Yukos (who were awarded billions of dollars in compensation for the company’s expropriation) attempted to attach Russian non-diplomatic assets abroad, which led to Russian threats against France and Belgium. Both countries reformed their national laws to, essentially, give Putin a veto over whether creditors could seize Russian property on their territories.

What makes the report so compelling is that these are not even its most concerning cases. Russian front organisation ‘think tanks’ participate in promoting the Kremlin’s narrative abroad. It is well-known that Russia Today and Sputnik are two of the chief producers of disinformation. Misrule of Law’s contribution is to warn its audience that Russian links to populist governments in Europe have reached incredibly worrying levels. Hungary, in particular, has seen its backsliding on democracy and the rule of law accompanied by extensive rapprochement with Russia. It appears to keep the EU/NATO line, but maintains strong bilateral relations with Russia. They jointly identified which GRU officer the Hungarians could expel to be seen to act after the Skripal attack. Italy and Austria retain stronger checks and balances that have prevented them from going that far down the same path, but the seriousness of compromised security and home affairs agencies in EU and/or NATO member states cannot be overstated.

To select a final, particularly worrying trend in relation to the Skripal case: “Whitehall observed a 4,000 percent uptick in pro-Russian propaganda since the abortive assassination, most of it coming from unmanned algorithms or ‘bots’, although other prominent peddlers of disinformation were all-too-real people who’d previously rushed to [the] Kremlin’s defense on Syrian chemical weapons use or MH17 or the hacking of the Democratic National Committee’s email servers.” [Misrule of Law, p100]. In other words, the extent of Russian manipulation of the Western debate is such that ordinary people are willing to spread the Kremlin’s narrative: even when it involves accusing the United Kingdom of carrying out the attack to stoke anti-Russian sentiment. Indeed, this echoes the Kremlin’s strategy in the Baltic states to attempt to generate a sense of grievance among ethnic Russians.

That is the key takeaway message from the report. The rights, freedoms and institutions the West holds dear are being used against it by the Kremlin. Not only that, but Western states repeatedly allow it to happen. To revisit the plane crash metaphor, the report’s authors are the flight crew shouting at frozen passengers to get up and act to save themselves. The PACE vote is an example of exactly what not to do. It is not impossible to counteract the Kremlin’s actions, but recognition of the issue is only the first step. It requires continual and repeated commitment to enforcing sanctions and the rule of law. Most importantly, it requires recognition that we can only protect and promote European values if we are willing to stand up for them even when it is politically and financially inconvenient.

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EU-Ukraine relations: a window of opportunity

  • June 2019
  • Hannah Bettsworth

EU-Ukraine relations: a window of opportunity

Unlike for the cast of HBO’s Chernobyl, there is hope for EU and Ukrainian policymakers yet.

Ukrainian flag

Source: Pixabay

 

 

 

HBO’s bleak, bureaucratic miniseries Chernobyl has put Ukraine at the top of the cultural agenda. As Ukraine and the EU move into a new stage of their relationship, policymakers on both sides may well empathise with the series’ characters who cooperate to overcome inertia.

 

Indeed, EU-Ukrainian cooperation has been marked by division in recent times. In the economic sphere, European farmers have turned their ire on a Ukrainian chicken breast exporter exploiting a loophole in the EU-Ukraine trade deal. Out of the EU’s desire to preserve a key tool of Ukraine’s European alignment, the resulting agreement largely benefited Ukraine. Members of the European Parliament may provide serious resistance in passing the deal.

Recent elections both in Ukraine and in the EU have given both sides an impetus to reboot their efforts. Although concerns have been raised about newly elected President Zelensky’s populism, it is not the same kind of populism we see in the European Union. Zelensky, for one, is not a pro-Kremlin figure. Putin’s understanding of that fact underlined his offer of Russian passports to Ukrainian citizens in the Donbas region. A pro-EU and pro-NATO Russophone politician undermines Russia’s narrative that Ukrainian Russophones are loyal to Russia.

 

Zelensky’s political party is ahead in the polls by a substantial margin, before the Parliamentary election in Ukraine scheduled for 21 July. He can expect to have a strong parliamentary majority for reform ahead of the new European Commission coming into office. On the EU’s part, the feared populist revolution failed to materialise. Russia would have enjoyed the emergence of a populist bloc in the European Parliament, large enough to hamstring the EU’s action. In its absence, Ukraine and the EU are free to continue deepening their relationship.

 

This will not be an easy journey. The EU last assessed the implementation of the Association Agreement in November 2018. It noted that progress was being made, particularly in public services – pensions, healthcare and education. Energy is a key area of focus for both sides. Indeed, the Ukrainian Parliament recently ratified amendments to the Association Agreement, laying the groundwork for Ukraine’s integration into the European energy market. The spectre of Nord Stream 2 hangs over these discussions. It has been referred to as ‘Ukraine’s worst nightmare’, and sends conflicting messages about European commitment to energy security and Ukrainian economic development.

 

In addition, reform itself is a difficult path to tread. Challenges persist in anti-corruption measures, economic stabilisation, and the continued conflict and destabilisation efforts by Russia.

 

The Ukrainian public (excluding the Crimea, Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts), according to February 2019 polling from the Razumkov Centre, has a negative attitude to the ongoing series of reforms: land, healthcare, pensions, education, judicial reforms, as well as the mass privatisation of state-owned enterprises. The poll also highlighted brain drain from Ukraine as a threat, calling for discussions on partial reimbursement for education spending on emigrants.

 

However, unlike for Chernobyl‘s cast, there is hope for EU and Ukrainian policymakers yet. Global Skills Partnerships are gaining traction in European policy circles to share the benefits of migration between destination and origin countries. For example: two Ukrainians would train at home. One would choose to stay and the other to migrate to the EU. An EU organisation in need of their skills would pay for the migrating student’s training in full, and also pay for half of the remaining student’s. The migrant worker would then commit to work for that organisation for a period of time and pay off the training costs with a fraction of their salary. Both countries gain highly-skilled employees, while their governments do not bear any of the cost – helping to tackle the ‘brain drain’ problem.

Although Ukrainians may have a negative perception of Association Agreement reforms, they remain positive about the European path as a whole. Data from the International Republican Institute, Sociological Group Rating and GfK demonstrate this. When Ukrainians[1] were asked to choose between joining the EU or a Customs Union with Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, support for the EU fluctuated between 30 and 40% from November 2011 to February 2014. In March 2014, support for joining the EU shot up to 52% and has had majority backing ever since. Support for the Customs Union has become a minority opinion. The presidential elections have not changed this – support for joining the EU was 57% in May 2019. NATO accession has also gained some popularity after Russian military action on Ukrainian territory began. In May 2019, 49% of Ukrainians stated they would support joining NATO in a referendum.

Support for joining the EU finds majority backing among supporters of all Ukrainian political parties with the potential to win parliamentary seats, bar the pro-Russia Opposition Platform. The picture is similar for NATO. It wins majority support across most party supporters, a plurality among Zelensky’s party supporters, and strong opposition from the Opposition Platform. Although it will not be a straightforward journey, it is one that voters in Ukraine across the political spectrum remain committed to.

 

Overall, the convergence of Ukrainian and EU electoral cycles provides a window of opportunity for both sides to recommit to their cooperation. On the Ukrainian side, the government must use this impetus to continue with structural reform and anti-corruption measures while working with the EU to alleviate citizen concerns. The EU should remain a strong backer of Ukraine’s European pathway and resist the temptation of rapprochement with Russia.

[1] Figures from after April 2014 exclude Crimea. Figures from after September 2014 exclude occupied Donbas.

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