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NORA KALINKSKIJ: Conference on ISIS with MIGMO, Russia – November 12th, 2015

The Wilberforce Society hosted a conference with the Russian State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) last Thursday to discuss “The Threat of ISIS – a regional analysis”. The discussion focused on possible collaboration between the UK and Russia on the path to defeating ISIS.

Britain and Russia share an interest in the Middle East primarily because of oil and natural gas resources. In 2009, Syria refused the construction of a gas pipeline that would enable Qatar to directly supply Europe with gas from Turkey. This pipeline would have levied European dependence on Russia for natural gas resources. In 2012 Syria entered in collaboration with Iran and Iraq to build an alternative pipeline, which could, if extended in the future, provide Iran with a means of directly supplying Europe with gas. The construction of this pipeline would mean the increase of Iranian influence in the Middle Eastern region, extending into Europe, which is against British interests. The UK, on the contrary, seeks to contain the spread of the influence of Iran, a strategic Russian ally.  Russia in furthermore interested in Syria because of the military strategic position is holds on the Mediterranean coast: Russia has a military base in the port-city of Tartus. Both the UK and Russia are therefore interested in having an influence in the Syrian region.

The UK and Russia are both interested in defeating the Islamic State, which poses a grave terrorist threat not only to both states, but also on a larger, global scale. Russia in particular is sensitive to the escalation of terrorist activity in the Caucasus, as highlighted by MGIMO, whereas the UK is increasingly concerned with preventing terrorist attacks at home, especially after the recent ones in Paris.

Though both Russia and the UK share the aim of defeating ISIS, they support opposite sides of the Syrian civil war, Russia backing the Assad government, the UK supporting the opposition forces. Since, a month and a half ago, Russia has begun an intervention against ISIS and terrorist cells within the opposition groups, after a request for aid from the Syrian government, the UK finds itself in a difficult position. Backing Assad at this point is not foreseeable, as TWS explained to their MGIMO colleagues. The UK would experience too much public pressure against such a move, but, most importantly, this sudden reversal of position would mean a fall in the UK’s global credibility. In accepting Assad’s government the UK would be perceived as making concessions to Russia.

Supporting the opposition forces, even the ones that the UK considers to be “moderate”, would mean a high risk of clashing with Russian forces on the ground, which could have unforeseeable nefarious consequences. Furthermore, it remains difficult to identify the alignment of opposition groups, to differentiate “moderates” from extremists. Therefore, supporting the opposition means risking indirectly supporting terrorist cells.

There is a need of cooperation between the UK and Russia. To this end, TWS proposed supporting the Peshmerga (Kurdish military forces) in Iraq. The Assad government and the Russians do not view the Kurds as enemies. Therefore, it is foreseeable for the UK to collaborate with Russia on intelligence with the Kurds about Kurdish positions and ISIS targets. In that light, the UK would, TWS proposed, be ready to enter into minimal collaboration with the Assad regime, because of the necessities of war, while still not officially recognizing its legitimacy.

Providing military support to the Kurds would not be perceived as an outright challenge to the Assad government backed by the Russians: in supporting the Kurds, the UK would be intervening against ISIS in the region, where it needs a foothold, without directly clashing with Russian forces.

MGIMO questioned why the UK is unwilling to send troops to fight on the ground in Syria. TWS responded that, besides unfavourable public opinion, there is a risk of entanglement in the region as previously occurred with the Iraq of 2003. If British troops engage on the ground in defeating ISIS, their presence is likely, after ISIS’ defeat, to be determinant in preventing the redevelopment of such an organization in the Middle East. In providing military support for the Kurds, the UK will be empowering local groups to deal with terrorist threat. Suggested military aid would take the form of some light weaponry, and mainly technical and intelligence support, which can be relatively efficiently withdrawn.

TWS acknowledged that relationships with Turkey could deteriorate as a result of the proposed policy. TWS stated that defeating ISIS is a priority for the UK, and a priority for Turkey as well. Supplying military aid to the Kurds is an important step towards achieving this goal of defeating the Islamic State. Therefore, support should be given to the Peshmerga now, with the promise of international negotiations between local powers –Turkey, Syria, Iraq, Iran in particular – with Kurdish representatives, in order to reach a compromise on relative Kurdish autonomy. Global powers such as the UK, Russia and the USA would be present at these talks. Through this diplomatic strategy, TWS seeks to appease the Kurds in the present, to minimize the risk of the UK’s military assistance to be used against Turkey.

The conference between TWS and MGIMO ended on a hopeful note that some collaboration may eventually be achieved between the UK and Russia against ISIS. Since the conference occurred, there have been further talks between British and Russian leaders on military collaboration against IS.

 

 

 

Eurosceptical

AGUSTIN FERRARI BRAUN: ANOTHER CHANCE – THE REFUGEES’ GIFT TO THE EUROPEAN UNION – September 9th, 2015

This article reflects the views of the author, and not necessarily of The Wilberforce Society, which publishes this article in hopes of spurring a productive discussion on the topic.  

Two weeks ago, the newspapers showed Germany’s worst face to the world. The country, still a synonym for Hitler for many, was represented by the violent neo-nazis attacks against refugees’ asylums. Hate, fear and xenophobia seemed to be Germany’s answer to the pleads of thousands of asylum-seekers that saw in that country a promised land far removed from the Middle East. And yet, today the nation’s image has radically changed. The violence is no longer at the center of the public eye (which does not mean that it has vanished) and what we see today is Munich police’s tweet asking citizens to stop bringing goods for the refugees as they had already enough to supply the needs of the people that would arrive that day and the day after.

The image that the rest of Europe is showing to the world is way less flattering. If we were optimistic we would say that it is the image of a bunch of blathering Brussels bureaucrats. If we were pessimistic we would assert that is rather one of police brutality and barbwire on the borders. None of them are exactly positive. The picture of Aylan, a three-year-old kid lying lifeless in a Turkish beach was so unbearable, so intolerable that our governments had to do something about the migratory crisis we are living in. And most of them did, creating a mad cacophony of different possible policies. Yet, we lack one single and unique decision about what to do shared by all the members of the European Union, the one trade block in the world that also has a political dimension.

The EU is not going through its easiest moment, the Grexit fear is no longer with us but Cameron’s referendum on the United Kingdom’s membership has a very tall shadow and it is an almost tangible proof of the union between the Old continent’s countries’ fragility. It is in that context that the largest migratory crisis in European soil since World War II takes place. One could think that this is the perfect occasion for the politicians to show that Europe can agree, that solidarity and moral values count more than political distinctions. Nevertheless, what we actually receive is the factual demonstration the incapacity of European governments to understand that union means strength.

David Cameron has announced that the United Kingdom will receive more than 20.000 refugees over five years but his major political play was revealing a targeted drone strike that killed two British soldiers of Daesh in Syrian soil back in August. This operation will hardly help the asylum-seekers, the Syrian population or even the war on terror but it clearly shows that Albion has its own particular policies regarding the Middle-East. Another, different, plan was presented by the French president François Hollande the very same day willing to give accommodation to 24.000 people but also planning bigger deportations of economic migrants. A weird cocktail that seemed consciously prepared to annoy both the Left and the Right. Yet, one of the most unbelievable cases happened in Spain where the cities ruled by the opposition have a different policy plan on asylum that the government. The migrant crisis is far too vast to expect a solution from one single state and the only ones that benefit from all those crossed declarations are the eurosceptic who can point out this mess with a sardonic smile and state the obvious inutility of the EU.

It is precisely the multiplication of eurosceptics that has to force the EU to make a move: one of its major flaws has always been its incapacity to produce a coherent discourse, shared by all its members, when it comes to significant geopolitical affairs. If this historical drawback is not overcome we, the ordinary citizens, are going to have to agree with Farage, Le Pen or Orbán and admit that Brussels is just a retirement home for politicians ending their careers. The migratory crisis we live in is a perfect occasion for the EU to prove the eurosceptics wrong but that means a consensus and common policies all across the continent involving both internal and foreign affairs.

The common domestic policy has to be based on an agreement between all the European leaders establishing how many refugees each country is going to receive and when they have to be received. Moreover, the agreement has to recognise that the people that are waiting just outside our borders, waiting to get into the Shengen Area will eventually pass and hence they have to be accounted for in the pact. This logically leads to the tear down of the walls created with the will of keeping the asylum-seekers out of Europe. In addition to that, the EU must help the different governments, especially the Greek one that is absolutely overwhelmed by a triple crisis (political, economical and migratory), in order to be sure that the different temporary asylums count with, at least, the minimal facilities needed to have satisfactory living conditions. Finally, European functionaries have to be where the refugees arrive in order to coordinate their correct distribution across the continent.

However, the hardest task for the EU is the common foreign policy. As almost every single commentator of this crisis has stressed, welcoming the refugees will not end the terrible situation of the Syrian people. The only way that our leaders seem to consider for ending this circumstance is a military intervention. Yet, before we start launching the rockets, they have to define very well the aims of the mission keeping Europe’s interests in mind. Syria’s strategic location is crucial for the distribution of pipelines in the Middle East, hence there are many economic interests; the European governments must not answer too promptly and without a careful analysis on what is the best for both Syrians and europeans. A quick attack can win some credit for the leaders on a short term basis but it could eventually bring more chaos and destruction to the region which would be terrible for us, the people that rely on them.

We are very well aware of the fact that those policies are going to be very expensive but with that money we could buy two things: firstly, a unique and coordinated answer of the EU to this crisis would save many lives and spare a lot of suffering to the refugees that had to flee their homeland. Secondly it would give the EU some political legitimacy that could help it face the new challenges that are right around the corner. As we said at the beginning of the article, Europe’s global image is nowadays full of barbwired xenophobia. The politicians can change that and, while doing so, start rebuilding the European dream; or they can stick to their individualities, keep on using contradictory policies and show the world that, at the end of the day, the EU is nothing but a trade block with a superiority complex.

 

 

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MYRTO VLAZAKI: YEAR 2015 REVEALED THAT NOT ALL IMMIGRANTS WERE BORN EQUAL – September 5th, 2015

This article reflects the views of the author, and not necessarily of The Wilberforce Society, which publishes this article in hopes of spurring a productive discussion on the topic.  

Historically, the traditionally affluent states of Europe have never been particularly receptive to immigrants; especially to impoverished, unskilled, illiterate, religiously heterogeneous migrant groups. Despite its clearly demonstrated reluctance to offer opportunities to groups deemed “undeserving”, Europe has undeniably made some efforts to save face by devising long, complicated, bureaucratic migration policies that would ultimately allow a small fraction, the crème of this group to enter the European land of promise. It has been long since Europe as a continent and the European Union as a politico-economic construct last faced a migration crisis as intense and persistent as that of the years 2014-15 and September 2nd was the day that distinctively set this migration wave apart in the chronicle of European ethics and politics. September 2nd was the day the photograph of drowned three-year-old Aylan Kurdi made the headlines in all major newspapers and other media around the world. September 2nd was also the day that showed – in the most tragic way possible- that not all immigrants were born equal.

Immigration is so commonly used a term that by means of its high frequency of use alone it has established itself as an unquestionably accurate umbrella term to characterise all kinds of population influx. For example, the subtle adjectival discrimination of “political immigration” from “economic immigration” is qualitatively inadequate to convey the very different stereotypical ideas Western societies have for each of the aforementioned. This notable difference in the reception of these two classes of immigrants may have been the reason why ultimately the term “refugee” was born, a term that: a) etymologically proclaims the cause over the mere state of immigration and b) is morally and socially charged unlike the descriptive nature of the term “immigration”. If the genesis of the term “refugee” were indicative of a profound intention to zoom in and carefully examine the wildly different shades of immigration, it would bear good news for the levels of empathy and altruism in our societies. It is not, though. The term “refugee”, albeit a subset of the term “immigrant”, still remains an umbrella term including people leaving their countries due to political instability, war violence and limited religious and sexual freedom. What is, then, left as the only signified attached to the signifier “immigrant”? Economic immigrants: the only type of immigrants who are not included in the umbrella term “refugees”, a choice not randomly made. The corollary of this almost linguistic discussion is clear in that the only criterion that has hitherto appeared compelling enough to be included in the process of refinement of the concept of immigration has been the economic status of the individual.

The corollary of this almost linguistic discussion is clear in that the only criterion that has hitherto appeared compelling enough to be included in the process of refinement of the concept of immigration has been the economic status of the individual.”

The linguistic analysis may appear unconvincing to many, but a quick look at some key migration policies in the E.U. as well as their adjustment flexibility will corroborate our conclusion perhaps more convincingly. The example of Germany is characteristic of the trend in most E.U. member-states. The reformed immigration laws of 2005 in Germany as well as the introduction of the European Blue Card in 2012 made no room or provisions for either legalising illegal immigrants or accepting individuals without university-level education. On the contrary, migrating to Germany would require a university-level degree and at least three years of work experience/training unless one held a student visa that would allow him/her to attend a German university and would give him/her a year after completion of studies to seek employment. Examining the legislation relevant to asylum-seekers and refugees, one finds herself in a completely different, far more lenient legal framework with quicker and more clear-cut administrative procedures (<6 months) and more optimism for the outcome. The gist of this discussion remains similar to that of the previous analysis; E.U. countries do make room for refugees (as defined in the previous section) and well-educated, skilled immigrants but stubbornly refuse to engage with the primordially philosophical and subsequently political question: “Why and on what terms are economic immigrants so different from all other immigrants?”

E.U. countries systematically make room for refugees (as defined in the previous section) and well-educated, skilled immigrants but refuse to engage with the primordially philosophical and subsequently political question: “Why and on what terms are economic immigrants so different from all other types of immigrants?”

If the reader eventually concedes to what is, in my opinion, apparent to the naked eye, i.e. to the blatant political and social marginalisation of economic immigrants as opposed to the (limited but still present) tolerance towards all other immigrants, then what remains to be examined is why this is the way it is. Two plausible explanations that also happen to represent different ideological stances towards the status quo can be set forth, one slightly more optimistic than the other. One could argue that it is not economic immigrants who are inherently inferior in their claims or severity of their need, but 20th century historical circumstances which inescapably highlighted and made a case for humanitarian crises tightly associated with war and violence. The photographic sensationalism prevalent in the post-WWII era and the shocking and widespread experience of a large-scale war may have tipped the balance in favor of establishing a narrowly nuanced use of the term “humanitarian victim” in which only persecution and violence were legitimate causes. In this context, the claims of a famished individual who systematically lives in conditions of absolute poverty and has no work rights were superseded by the storm of emotionally moving statements and images of war, thus bequeathing Europe a very narrow prism from which to perceive and judge human need.

The photographic sensationalism prevalent in the post-WWII era and the shocking and widespread experience of a large-scale war may have tipped the balance in favor of establishing a narrowly nuanced use of the term “humanitarian victim” in which only persecution and violence were legitimate causes.”

The second explanation, which is by no means mutually exclusive with the first, attempts to explain why in times of peace and faced with an overwhelmingly high ratio of economic immigrants-to-refugees in absolute numbers, Europe is still insensitive to the claims of the former. The answer may be that poverty and all the negative externalities associated with it is the pivotal difference that sets economic immigrants apart in the political and collective conscience alike. I dare say that a European may be in principle equally sensitive to the claims and tortuous history of both an economic immigrant and a refugee, albeit treats each of them differently on purely consequentialist grounds, i.e. both the economic immigrant and the refugee have equivalently compelling reasons to want to leave their home country but the former is treated more inhumanely than the latter because of the fear of welcoming an economically less able stereotypically poorly educated and inclined to criminality individual in a prosperous European economy. We set economic immigrants apart because we are afraid of them; for the sake of accuracy, our economic structures are afraid of supporting them because our social, educational and training structures have shown no real intention to give them opportunities for integration.

We set economic immigrants apart because we are afraid of them; for the sake of accuracy, our economic structures are afraid of supporting them because our social, educational and training structures have shown no real intention to give them opportunities for integration.”

What tragically proved that this separation is real was the death of Aylan Kurdi as opposed to the deaths of anonymous foreigners, the interest of the media and the interview of the father as opposed to the silencing of deaths and their grouping into a single number, the mere diffusion of the knowledge that Aylan had a father who mourned for his loss as opposed to bodies that no relative ever tracks down. 2015 was the year we were all told an undeniable truth: that not all immigrants were born equal in the eyes of political leaders and capitalist European societies.

This article reflects the views of the author, and not necessarily of The Wilberforce Society, which publishes this article in hopes of spurring a productive discussion on the topic.  

 

 


 

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MYRTO VLAZAKI: AN INSIDER PERSPECTIVE ON THE LATEST FROM GREECE – July 14th, 2015

As a result of the January 2015 elections, a coalition government was formed by the left-wing SY.RIZ.A. and the right-wing AN.EL., the agendas of which converged on the systematic negotiation of the lending conditions with Greece’s creditors. Contrary to what appeared to be the policy of most elected parties since 2009, both SY.RIZ.A. and AN.EL. extended their popularity by being adamant in that they would strike the best deal possible instead of accepting the creditors’ proposals outright. It can be undoubtedly said that after 5 years of deep recession, increasing unemployment, reduction of spending power and psychological erosion, the hurt national pride and the desperate search for hope and social justice were amongst the main determinants of SY.RIZ.A. and AN.EL. popularity.

A REFERENDUM WITH CLOSED BANKS…

To the average person that struggles to abstain from fanaticism it remains unclear whether this government was greeted with suspicion by its European partners and whether it managed to fulfill its mandate or not. The fact remains that the negotiations with Greece’s creditors yielded no result for more than 5 months although there was a number of times that the two sides were allegedly close to a deal. By the end of June and while it appeared that all parties involved were irritated and exhausted by the nature and repetitions of the negotiations, the Greek government decided to call for a referendum asking its people whether to accept or reject what was advertised as the creditors’ “final” proposal. Meanwhile, as a result of massive withdrawals of cash and the decision of the European Central Bank to not inject more money into the Greek banking system, the government decided to impose capital controls with an upper limit of 60 euros/day/account and close the banks.

THE “PARADOX” OF CLOSED BANKS IN A EUROZONE COUNTRY…

The imposition of capital controls and the closure of banks are both unambiguous and strong indicators that the Greek identity is changing. Before the implementation of these desperate measures and despite the high unemployment and media sensationalism, the youth were still convinced that Greece is a developed country at the heart of a European family with whom they share more than just common continental territory. The youth would occasionally complain about their “inability to find a job” and the “need to migrate abroad” but, broadly speaking, they would be optimistic in that this “hard decade” will soon be replaced by the “normal years” they had spent their childhood in. Nobody had ever informed us that our childhood years were the exception and not the rule in the economic history of Greece; nobody had ever warned us that the living standards we had become accustomed to were the result of monetary and fiscal policies that would perhaps be out-of-the-table in the years to come. But, on top of this, nobody had ever presented the European Union and the Eurozone as political, commercial and monetary unions of countries with well-defined, heterogeneous and inflexible policies and interests. On the contrary and rather ironically, half of the course on political science in the Greek educational system is dedicated to the idealized description of the founding principles of the United Europe.

FEELING BETRAYED…

The majority of the Greek people were raised and educated to be pro-Europeans. They believed that the reason for borrowing money from the European institutions and not from the free market far superseded the “lower interest rates”. They believed that Europe cared first and foremost about the developmental horizon of a country’s economy and the viability of its debt and, furthermore, they believed that Europe would prioritise decency over market rules. These were the reasons why many of the approximately 62% of the Greeks voted against the creditors’ suggestion in the referendum held last week. The voted “no” despite the clear warnings that such a result may endanger Greece’s position in the EU and the Eurozone and they did so despite the very rational fear of hyper-inflation and credit isolation in the case of a Grexit. They did so because they felt betrayed by this Europe they were raised to so much love.

WHAT IS NEXT…

Over the next few days, the government continued negotiating with Greece’s creditors in the aim of forging a new deal. The “no” vote was safely interpreted to be a “no” to that particular suggestion and not a “no” to Europe. Although many analysts wondered why this was the case, having been through the Greek educational system I can say with certainty that most Greeks take pride in the contribution of their very distant territorial ancestors to the founding principles of Europe: solidarity, democracy, dialogue, peace. And they would never abandon a Europe following these principles. The news of a deal arrived today, followed by the twitter hashtag “#this is a coup” and the average Greek person just realized that the suggestion he voted “no” to can become truly worse by a Europe that is clearly different from his textbook knowledge. The problem is that while it remains open to debate whether Europe is indeed the Europe presented in Greek textbooks, the Greek youth is dividing between those who say “no” to Europe and those who say “no” to THIS Europe.