Syria is back in the the headlines (not that it was absent in recent years) and the conflict has returned to the agendas of regional and global stakeholders. With the help of Putin and his regular and private military operations, Assad has regained chunks of the territories ceded in the prior six years.
An attack on the Idlib area seems imminent, which may produce new waves of migrants and possible new gas attacks. At this point in the conflict Russia remains supportive of the regime, Turkey is concerned because of the Kurdish role, and Europe is anxiously wringing its proverbial hands.
This week’s questions are: Do we have to accommodate to a lasting role for the Assad regime, forgetting about his war crimes or not, and accept that he will have a role in Syria’s reconstruction. Or should we deny this, keeping supporting the troubled and fragmented militias, trying to limit Russia’s and/ or Turkey’s influence? We can assume that U.S. and EU interference will be quite limited.
The U.S. is restraining from accepting and carrying out the position of global leader. Thus far, this new administration is continuing a line begun by the previous Obama administration, albeit for quite different ideological reasons. The common denominator, though, is the adverse reaction of a significant part of the American population toward continued leadership, including the acceptance of the necessary costs . The dominant narrative is one of failed attempts at nation building (Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya); of the detrimental effects of transborder trade, especially for domestic manufacturing jobs; and of the adverse effects of taking climate change seriously.
It is not likely that these perceptions will change any time soon. This leaves the world with a question: Where to go from here?
It would be easy to assume that China will take over in one way or another. But this is not likely from an economic point of view, and it has imposing domestic tasks to be addressed. Additionally, from a Western perspective, China would not be a liberal leader .
The EU doesn’t look like it is ready and available for a leadership role. Germany alone is not strong enough. So the world seems poised to move toward a multi- or even nonpolar structure.
What can we expect from this?
– Klaus Segbers
Recent visits by high-level guests (the Vice President, and the ministers for defense and the exterior) from D.C. to Europe were scrutinized as rarely a visit from the most important partner country has been before. Comments during and after the election campaign about NATO being ‘obsolete’, and the EU being ‘bound for a breakup’, in sync with welcoming anti-EU insurgents created an atmosphere of puzzlement.
As for defense matters, EU member state leaders suddenly rushed to assure their willingness to increase defense budgets to (a long ago agreed) 2% of their respective GDP, maybe until 2024. But they also started to get involved in number games – don’t we also have to consider development aid, expenses for refugees, or costs for stabilizing currencies? The guests from overseas were not visibly impressed. As for the EU, which this year faces up to four crucial elections (Netherlands, France, Germany, possibly Italy), ‘mainstream’ leaders (one of the populist battle cries) continued to borrow some topics from the populist activists: unaccepted refugee candidates shall be returned quicker, austerity policies should give way to state-sponsored spending for infrastructure, social niceties, etc.
Yes, the EU is undergoing its most serious crisis after it was created about 60 years ago, but it also remains a success story. The question is: what are Europe’s options for not just surviving, but regaining momentum and initiative?
– Klaus Segbers
Al Qaeda was the meta-threat to the West after September 11, 2001. After the assassination of Osama bin Laden, this challenge has often been considered as being overcome. The ISIS (later IS) threat is different insofar as they control territory – chunks of Syrian and Iraqi land. They are media-savvy, and were successful in establishing the narrative of being particularly cruel. So how can we meet and match this threat?
(Paco Rivière/Flickr/Creative Commons)
How can we understand – beyond the differences – the similarities of cases like Catalonia, Crimea, Chechnya, the Karen state in Myanmar, Kashmir, Kosovo, the Kurds, Scotland, South Sudan, Xinjiang and Tibet in China, and most recently Venetia?
(Photo: E. Arrott/Voice of America)