Tuesday 20 December, 2016 Update: Merkel’s Murky Future

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An apparent terrorist attack in the heart of Berlin days before Christmas. Berlin police have launched a new manhunt for the person responsible for the truck attack on a Berlin market that killed twelve and injured nearly fifty. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack as Berliners face the reality that there is a terrorist roaming armed and free in their city.

While all of this is taking place, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s refugee policy is coming under renewed attack. Hours after the attack, a leading nationalist politician was referring to the victims as “Merkel’s dead.” This morning Bavarian Premier Horst Seehofer, a close ally of Merkel, said the time has come to rethink the chancellor’s immigration policy. In nine months she will be up for re-election and despite a comfortable 57% approval rating, yesterday’s attack showcased her vulnerability.

As a wave of nationalist populism surges across Europe and rearranges the political landscape in a number of nations, Merkel is aware that one false move could unleash that wave in Germany. Her handling of the refugee crisis has polarized German voters and set the nation’s politics into a period of uncertainty. Merkel’s center-right party has been losing ground in state elections to the nationalist Alternative for Germany party. While the chancellor has hardened her refugee policy in the second half of 2016, resulting in climbing approval numbers, the prevailing political winds, and this latest terrorist attack could be a menacing combination for Merkel to hurdle.

The general consensus in Berlin has been that Merkel is poised to win re-election in 2017. A terrorist attack on German soil has the potential to change the scenario and it might possibly be on the doorstep right now. 2017 could very well bring about a Trump Moment for Germany and put a left-leaning coalition in power. That scenario could potentially rock an already reeling European Union back on its heels and unleash many unforeseen circumstances across Europe and the world.

*Author’s Note- With the holiday season now upon us, most of this blog’s posts will be shorter than usual between now and New Years.*

The July 2016 DIRT Project: Embattled Europe

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As we march towards the midway point of 2016 it is quite clear that the past six months have been an arduous time for Europe. The heavy worldwide media coverage of Brexit over the last week revealed to many across the globe that Europe is an embattled continent. Sovereign nations, and supranational organizations alike are facing four major challenges that threaten to alter the face of Europe for decades if left unanswered. Thus far, neither the EU, NATO, sovereign nations, or a combination of the three have been successful in coming up with solutions. The failure to find solutions is beginning to produce adverse consequences, as we saw this past week with Great Britain voting to leave the EU.

In July, Today’s DIRT will analyze the four major challenges facing Europe right now, as well as the European responses to each. As far as IR and defense matters go, Europe is where it is at right now. Consider it an IR and defense smorgasbord. There is something for everyone. All of the issues are interconnected to one degree or another.  The series will be divided into four parts and cover the topics listed below.

The European Union– Anti-EU sentiment was running high even before Brexit. Right now there are fears that it will go viral across the continent and separate more nations from the EU. The European Union is at a crossroads.

Russia– Europe has not responded effectively to Russia’s return to the world stage. Eastern Europe is becoming a powder keg and Putin has not been effectively deterred from veering Russia away from the course it is on at the moment.

Terrorism– The Brussels and Paris attacks revealed that Europe has become something of a free fire zone for ISIS and other radical Islamic groups. Progress in bolstering security has been made, however, it is unclear is Europe is doing enough to keep its citizens safe.

Immigration/Refugees– Brexit came about it large part because of the EU’s erratic response to the surge of refugees that have been coming from the Middle East and Africa. The recent spike in terrorist attacks is also linked definitively to the Immigration issue.

 

Sunday 24 January, 2016 Update: Schengen On The Front Burner

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How quickly is Europe approaching the breaking point? Concern is increasing across the continent about the refugee crisis currently facing many nations and the EU as a whole. If the flow of migrants into Europe is not scaled back soon, the EU could be faced with a scenario where border-free travel, which is guaranteed under the Schengen agreement, could end. The principle that Schengen is built around has been a foundation of the EU since its founding. The influx of refugees seeking to escape the horrors of the wars currently raging in the Middle East is taxing Europe and has many around the continent questioning the durability of border-free internal travel when the external borders of the EU are not secure. And as Schengen goes, so could the entire EU.

On Monday, EU interior ministers will be meeting in Amsterdam to discuss the possibility of suspending Schengen rules for a period of two years. Reinstating national border controls could help alleviate the burden that the crisis has placed on certain nations.  Some European states have temporarily suspended Schengen in order to contend with the crisis better. On Saturday, Austria joined Denmark, Sweden, and Norway in restoring national border control measures. These four nations, along with Germany, are pushing to keep border controls in place for an extended period of time. Germany introduced similar measures on its border with Austria in September, but they are scheduled to expire in May.

A sizeable fraction of the continent’s frustration with the crisis is being aimed at Greece. Many EU politicians blame Greece for not effectively controlling the EU’s external border with Turkey. Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner has even threatened to temporarily suspend Greece’s membership in the Schengen zone if the country does not improve its control of the border. Nearly 37,000 refugees have arrived in Europe since 1 January. The overwhelming majority of these have arrived in Europe by way of the Eastern Mediterranean route and crossing from Turkey into Greece.

The EU’s response to the refugee crisis has not been either effective or unified. Monday in Amsterdam, interior ministers will either begin to take action and address the matter of the internal border issues, or, through inaction will pave the way for the possible unraveling of Schengen, as well as other pillars of the European Union.

 

Weekend Update Sept.26-27, 2015: A Quick Look At All Things Syria

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Syria will take center stage at the UN this week when world leaders convene for the UN General Assembly. Recent Russian moves in Syria, the fight against ISIS, and the refugee crisis in Europe brought about by the turmoil in Syria have combined to push all non-Syrian matters off the table. With the weekend drawing to a close, now is a good time to take a brief look at what has been happening in and around Syria over the past few days in preparation for what promises to be a busy week in New York.

Obama And Putin To Meet Monday

In the midst of increasing tensions between the United States and Russia, President Obama and Vladimir Putin will meet on Monday in New York when both leaders are in town to address the UN General Assembly. The two sides appear to be at odds as to what the main topic of discussion is going to be. The White House has stated that the primary subject will be events in eastern Ukraine. Moscow, on the other hand, insists that the discussion will revolve around Syria. Neither side can seem to decide who called the meeting either. The Russians insist the meeting was set up by “mutual agreement” while the White House has said it is being held at “Putin’s request.”

It remains to be seen just what fruit the meeting will bear for Washington, if any. The US will likely attempt to advance talks on Syria at some of the General Assembly meetings next week. Russia will probably look to do something similar. Through the diplomatic activity and meetings though, military steps continue to be taken. Russian combat aircraft are continuing to arrive in Syria. The amount of activity around Latakia suggests that the Russian military contingent will be ready to begin conducting combat operations soon. Whether those operations are against ISIS or anti-government forces remains to be seen.

France Begins Air Strikes In Syria

For the first time in the conflict against ISIS, French jets have gone into action against ISIS targets in Syria. Up to now, France has restricted its military involvement to Iraq. Great Britain has held back from flying missions over Syria too, although last month a drone strike was launched against two UK citizens in Syria.

The French air strikes indicate a change in policy for Paris. Thus far, France has resisted flying missions against ISIS targets in Syria because it could indirectly help Bashar al-Assad and his government forces. Now the priority is shifting from getting rid of al-Assad to combating ISIS and France appears to be accepting this.

The EU and the Refugee Crisis

In spite of emergency summits, inter-state diplomacy among EU members, and countless behind-the scene meetings in European capitals, the EU has still not constructed a collective response to the throngs of refugees streaming in from Syria and Iraq. In all likelihood, a united front will never be put forth by EU members. Too much has happened now.

Internal backlash is beginning to be felt in Germany. Angela Merkel’s popularity has taken a major hit. Her decision to open German borders to a large number of refugees is not being embraced by many Germans. Fears and concerns are increasing on the part of German citizens, and cementing into political opposition.