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This guest blog was written by Mark Temnycky, graduate of Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. It originally appeared on the website for the Center for European Policy Analysis.

How far is President Vladimir Putin willing to go to keep Belarus within Russia’s orbit? How does the Kremlin define success in Belarus, and what are the tripwire events that could prompt Russia to get involved in Belarus’ internal affairs even more than it already is? Given the security implications alone, these are the kinds of questions that ought to be keeping strategists in the West up at night.

Disquieted by how quickly President Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s legitimacy was damaged by widespread protests across Belarus this summer, the Kremlin has sprung into action. Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin visited Lukashenka at the start of September in what was an apparent show of Russian support for the Belarusian leader. Lukashenka and Putin then met in mid-September, with Russia pledging a $1.5 billion loan to Belarus at the summit.

For its part, the European Union (EU) recently imposed economic sanctions on Belarusian officials, including Lukashenka himself. While a welcome move, in the immediate term it has forced those targeted to rely even more heavily on Russia. Meanwhile, in an effort to help get propaganda messaging up to Kremlin standards, journalists on Belarusian state television have been replaced by Russian reporters from RT.

The situation remains far from settled, and it is easy to imagine how Russia could end up wading in deeper. If the Belarusian protests were to turn violent, for example, Putin has already committed to supplying a peacekeeping force to help quell the disturbance. As events evolve, Putin could lose patience with Lukashenka and seek to have him replaced. With the ability to pivot to the West foreclosed, Lukashenka would have to play along and appoint a Kremlin-approved successor. Such a move, however, is not likely to bring stability and could demand even more involvement from Russia. Over time, this might result in a kind of soft annexation, resulting in the two countries merging into a “union state”—something many analysts suspect is Russia’s ultimate goal anyway.

A full-scale invasion of Belarus, however, remains a low-probability event for the time being. For one, it would be costly for the Kremlin. Neither Crimea nor the Donbas has given the Russians much beyond headaches. Hundreds of millions of rubles have been squandered in the Donbas, and thousands of soldiers and civilians have perished in the conflict. The integration of Crimea has also not gone according to plan, proving to be far costlier to state coffers than most anticipated. Further afield, Russia’s interventions in Syria and Libya have also been expensive disappointments.

Furthermore, Russia’s behavior in Ukraine has led to sanctions being imposed by the U.S. and the EU. These sanctions have already damaged the Russian economy, and with the negative financial impacts caused by the coronavirus pandemic piling up, the Kremlin can ill afford another costly reprisal from the West.

All that said, it would be irresponsible to write off the merely unlikely as completely impossible. After all, few predicted the Russian incursion into Georgia in 2008 or Ukraine in 2014.

Taking such an eventuality seriously is necessary given its security implications. Russian occupation of Belarus could result in Russian troops being stationed near the Belarus-Ukraine border, introducing a potential new theater in the still-simmering Russo-Ukrainian war. And a military incursion into Belarus would put Russian troops literally on NATO’s doorstep, escalating tensions with the Alliance to hair-trigger levels. Taken together, these developments would represent a level of instability not seen in Europe since the middle of the 20th century.

France’s President Emmanuel Macron stated that Europeans do not want a repeat situation of Georgia or Ukraine in Belarus. The unsettling feeling one gets watching events unfold is that there has been very little contingency planning among Western leaders. Merely not wanting something to happen is not a strategy.

By Louis Kriesberg

 The struggle for equal justice for Blacks, under the banner of Black Lives Matter (BLM), has demonstrated widespread public awareness of and opposition to injustices.   Yet, tragic unjust events recur.   Some scattered progress is occurring.  But bringing about widespread changes that are widely desired is mired in many other grave conflicts, in new crises, and by willful distractions.  Nevertheless, there are many alternatives that many different people can take to advance justice for all. Injustices occur at the neighborhood, city, county, state, and national levels, within and between governmental and non-governmental organizations.  Therefore, the injustices can be diminished in all these diverse settings by various interacting people.  I begin with considering city and county settings, which have their own police departments.   One proven strategy is to form ad hoc boards or commissions, which may be convened by mayors, county legislatures, non-governmental public interest organization, or even some grouping of religious, business, or other local leaders.  A few persons from each of the major stakeholders in police-citizen relations are brought together to meet for a limited time period and come up with recommendations for restructuring or modifying police-citizen relations.  It is important that the people chosen have credibility in their respective constituencies.  The meetings might well be facilitated by persons or organizations with experience in mediating or negotiating contentious matters.  The topics for possible recommendations are numerous.  For example, one issue might be splitting off the police from dealing with mentally ill persons, which raises issues about funding, about alternative agencies for serving the mentally ill, and about routing of calls for help.  Another issue may be regulations about police accountability, ongoing coordination among stakeholders, and funding to improve services.

Over the years, many efforts have been made to improve policy-community relations, including instituting policing training.  Many organizations, such as the Urban Institute, provide programs to improve trust and understanding.  It could be useful to engage local BLM and other activist groups in shaping and implementing such training.  Going forward, local BLM chapters and other activist groups need to expand their range of tactics beyond rallies and protest marches.  They could build more and closer ties with civic organizations, including political parties, unions, religious institutions, and media sources.  This could help in conducting negotiations and lobbying of local, school, state, and national officials, which can benefit by joining in unlikely coalitions for specific causes.  In a longer-time perspective some activists may enter the political arena or undertake a career that serves to overcome criminal injustices.   

Many of the strategies mentioned above are also applicable at the state level.  Governors or leaders of other state-wide organizations could convene working groups to make recommendations for reducing injustices relating to race or other identities.  This may result in guidelines regarding police training, accountability, or public engagement.  Given the great range in funds in cities and counties for police-related services, possible ways to make funds more equitable might be reviewed. 

Police and national guard responses to protests warrants more attention.  In too many instances police or national guard interventions escalate the contention and result in episodes of violence.  Much is known about ways to moderate and contain crowds and social protests and the counterproductive consequences of using coercive tactics.  State legislatures are important in regard to the underlying conditions that sustain or that reduce Black-White inequities.  Public policies regarding income and race inequities in education and housing impact police conduct with Blacks. Conduct at the national level is also highly relevant for the injustices we are discussing.   This includes giving assistance to locations where police-community relations are improved by the work of the Community Relations Service (CRS), a component of the Department of Justice. For example, CRS has the program “Strengthening Police and Community Partnerships program,” which was recently piloted in Erie, PA, and Topeka, KS.  Much more attention and perhaps impact however, follow from President Donald Trump’s rhetoric about dominating the streets and imposing “law and order.”  His behavior encourages armed White supremacist groups who appear at some BLM demonstrations.  Acting to counter White supremacist threats is part of overcoming Black injustices.

 A great deal must be done at the national level in regard to crime bills, gun control, and massive incarceration. These matters could be important expansions of the agenda of local BLM chapters and other activists.  They are matters in contention in the November 3rd election.  All voters should consider them when they vote. 

There are many shared interests in reducing injustices suffered by Blacks.  Injustices contribute to manifestations of mistrust, fear, and deadly tragedies.  Police are safer when they work in environments of mutual trust.  Police accountability, which holds individuals who act badly responsible for their acts, enhances the safety, reputation, and respect of police officers in general.

We each should often recall our pledge of allegiance to our country that gives us liberty and justice for all.  

By Louis Kriesberg

We Americans are living in a highly consequential time.  We are beset by many conflicts, which, if waged well can be broadly beneficial, but if waged badly, will have destructive consequences.   The struggle for equal justice for Blacks, under the banner of Black Lives Matter (BLM), erupted nationally immediately after the rapid spread of videos of George Floyd’s murder by police in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on May 25, 2020.  Massive protest demonstrations quickly spread to over 2,000 cities and towns across the country, and also in many other countries. 

Surprisingly, the protesters were diverse in ethnicity, age, and experience.  The demonstrations were essentially nonviolent and peaceful; in some localities, police expressed solidarity with demonstrators, while in other localities confrontations escalated into forceful encounters.  In a few cities, opportunistic gangs looted and burned stores, and in several localities, armed white supremacists tried to disrupt the demonstrations.

 The Black Lives Matter (BLM) social movement had emerged in 2014, after a large-scale uprising in Ferguson, Missouri. The uprising followed the military-style suppression of the nonviolent protests after the killing of Michael Brown, an18-year old Black man.  The BLM organization was founded then, becoming a wide network, led by local community members, some sharing a new vision.  After each subsequent killing of an unarmed Black person by white police officers, protest demonstrations occurred in many localities, focusing on reforming police departments.

 Americans have long engaged in many conflicts relating to gaining equal justice for Blacks, at the local, state and national levels.   They usually have been waged constructively and achieved broad and lasting benefits.  Sometimes, however, conflicts escalated badly with widespread losses or only short-lived gains.  In most cities, the BLM protests against murderous treatment of Blacks by police have been conducted within the traditional norms protecting the constitutional right of free speech and the right of the people to peaceably protest.  Frequently, as a result, legislative and administrative actions have been taken to end improper police conduct. Often, this has followed conversations and negotiations between protesters and government officials.  The locality-based nature of the BLM social movement and its protest actions have begun to bring about significant reforms in local police departments.  Local BLM chapters and other community-based, Black-led organizations studied police reform efforts, how to organize protests, and how to get results.  This included posting a Conflict Resolution Toolkit on the BLM website.

Of course, the federal government can play an important role in influencing how protests against unjust police actions are conducted and have constructive consequences.  The 2014 violence in Fergusson drew  President Barack Obama’s attention and he ordered a review of the actions and practices of the Fergusson Police Department (FPD).  In March 2015, the DOJ announced finding that the FPD had engaged in systemic misconduct against the citizenry of Ferguson, including discriminating against Black citizens.  It then imposed a consent decree requiring non-discriminatory conduct and indeed the FPD’s conduct was and is greatly improved.

President Donald Trump, however, prefers waging conflicts coercively and has encouraged police to act roughly.  When some of the BLM protests escalated to include violence, he made it clear that protesters should be dominated, and police could use military tools and tactics.  This approach appealed to armed white supremacist groups who appeared at some demonstrations.  The goal of this militant strategy is not clear, it expresses emotions, even if it is usually counterproductive.  The official and civilian violence against the civil rights campaigners during their struggle in the South, in the 1950s and 1960s, was clearly destructive and ultimately self-defeating.   

Going forward, the BLM activists and their supporters may well need to expand their range of tactics.  That is true in conducting negotiations and lobbying of local, school, state, and national officials, which can benefit by joining in unlikely coalitions for specific causes.  More generally, the present national situation opens up an opportunity for a very broad coalition, with electoral implications.  Many Americans, Republicans as well as Democrats, are concerned that the authoritarian conduct of President Trump and his appointed officials are undermining American democracy.   It follows, that BLM and other movements for justice should join together for an election result that repudiates Trump and Trumpism.

How Americans who are not part of the BLM movement respond to it is critical. Expressing recognition of the injustices African Americans experience in the criminal justice system is a step toward peace and justice.  Particular groups have special opportunities to enhance both peace and justice.  Some police unions have given too high priority to simply protect any members who acted badly, rather than maximizing the good standing of their members as a whole. Lawyers in the criminal justice system might provide more information about injustices and suggest ways to overcome them.  Constructive public engagement in solving present-day problems is the essence of democracy. 

Mark Temnycky, graduate of Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, originally wrote this article for the Wilson Center on the fragile Hungarian-Ukrainian relationship and how these two countries are making amends.

After a three-year political dispute between Hungary and Ukraine, it appears the two countries have begun to mend their relationship.

Hungarian-Ukrainian relations took a contentious turn in September 2017 when then-Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko signed a controversial language law. The bill stated that secondary education in Ukraine would be taught strictly in Ukrainian, although minority groups could still learn their respective languages in other classes. Poroshenko argued that the Ukrainian language law was “in harmony with European standards” and that it would raise the Ukrainian language’s status within “the education process.” Ukrainian authorities stated that the enforcement of the Ukrainian language would help minority groups integrate into Ukrainian society. Nevertheless, the law sparked outrage from the various ethnic minority communities in Ukraine.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) voiced its concerns after the bill was signed, stating the law “did not create an appropriate balance between” the various languages spoken in Ukraine. PACE then offered seven recommendations on how Ukraine could modify its language law to be more inclusive toward minority groups, such as by providing more time during the transition period and improving the quality of Ukrainian language teaching. The Venice Commission presented these proposed amendments in December 2017.

Government officials from Ukraine’s neighboring states also voiced their concerns. In response to Ukraine’s language bill, Hungary—one of the language law’s most vocal critics—took a series of actions to block Ukraine’s integration efforts with the European Union (EU) and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). This is where the Hungarian-Ukrainian dispute began.

According to Hungarian authorities, the Ukrainian language law was discriminatory as it diminished the status of minority languages in Ukraine. Ukraine’s ethnic Hungarian community comprises nearly 160,000 people, or 0.3% of Ukraine’s total population. This minority group is concentrated in the Transcarpathian region near the Hungarian-Ukrainian border, and many of these residents hold dual Hungarian-Ukrainian citizenship (though the Ukrainian government does not formally recognize dual citizenship).

The election of Volodymyr Zelensky as the new president of Ukraine, however, has seen a turn in the Hungarian-Ukrainian relationship. In April 2019, prior to Zelensky’s appointment, Ukraine passed a new education law which stated that Ukraine’s secondary schools would be permitted to use minority languages. Ukrainian remained the official language in the classroom, but the law meant that minority groups would now be allowed to use their own languages in these education settings.

Zelensky then worked to comply with the recommendations proposed by the Venice Commission on Ukraine’s language law, where he notably met with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to discuss these issues. As of October 2019, Ukraine has amended its education law by implementing six of the Venice Commission’s seven recommendations. Most recently, Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba reassured Hungary and the Venice Commission that Ukraine would implement this seventh recommendation, although this would be at a later date. The Ukrainian government’s willingness to interact with these international bodies has demonstrated to the Hungarians that the Ukrainians were actively working to resolve this issue, and these efforts have begun to mend the Hungarian-Ukrainian relationship.

During a trip to Hungary earlier this year, Kuleba expressed that now was the time to “open a new chapter in [Ukraine’s] bilateral relations” with Hungary. Hungarian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó agreed, stating that he had hoped Ukraine’s language controversies were now resolved. Both governments also expressed their desire to draft a joint declaration on the Hungarian community in western Ukraine. The provisions discussed included integrating the Hungarian minority group into Ukrainian society, upholding the minority group’s language and culture in the Transcarpathia region, and turning this community into a “success story” for Hungarian-Ukrainian relations. Hungary also stated that it would support economic and infrastructure programs in Ukraine. The most important and recent development, however, was Szijjártó’s announcement that Hungary was now looking into lifting its veto on the NATO-Ukraine Commission. “[A]s soon as the issues related to the right to education of the Hungarian ethnic minorities are settled, we will lift the veto and ensure a NATO-Ukraine meeting,” Szijjártó declared.

Following their discussions, Kuleba invited Szijjártó to visit Ukraine, barring any travel restrictions imposed by the coronavirus pandemic. The foreign ministers of both countries further discussed it at the Hungary-Ukraine bilateral agreement on September 23.

Overall, Hungarian-Ukrainian relations have been sour over the past few years, but it appears that both states are now working together to resolve their disputes. The efforts of these two governments have demonstrated that they are willing to cooperate to achieve a greater goal, and Prime Minister Viktor Orbán and Ukrainian President Zelensky have even expressed their desire to meet with one another to normalize Hungarian-Ukrainian relations.

Should Ukraine amend its language and education laws to the satisfaction of the Hungarians, and should Hungary lift its veto on Ukraine’s integration efforts with the EU and NATO, this would be a major success. Ukraine would gain an important ally in these Western alliances, and the EU and NATO would gain a strategic partner in the region. The possibilities and benefits of these mutually beneficial relationships are endless.

This post was written by Mark Temnycky, a graduate of Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. It originally appeared in the Diplomatic Courier.

On July 1, Russian citizens voted on over 200 proposed changes to the Russian constitution. Of the 200 amendments listed, the most noteworthy change was the proposal to nullify the number of presidential terms held by Russia’s current presidential incumbent, thereby allowing the individual to serve for two additional six-year stints.

The results of the national referendum revealed a foregone conclusion. The conjured outcome claimed that 78% of voters had supported the constitutional changes, but the results were nothing more than a farce. The referendum means that current Russian President Vladimir Putin is now eligible to run for office in 2024 and 2030, indicating he could remain in power until 2036.

This referendum will not bode well for Russia’s neighbors and the international community as Russia has pursued an aggressive foreign policy throughout Putin’s presidential tenure. Most recently, the Russian leader’s ideologies and interpretation of past and current events were made public in a six-page opinion piece published by The National Interest. Given Putin’s imperial ambitions, what will 16 more years of Putin mean for Russia’s neighbors and the West?

Georgia and Ukraine

To understand Russia’s future aspirations, one must examine Russia’s past and current behavior under Putin. During his tenure, Russia attempted to impose its will on the former Soviet republics to ensure that they would not leave Russia’s sphere of influence. This was the case with Georgia and Ukraine and their ambitions to join the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance (NATO). To thwart their desires, Russia launched military incursions into northern Georgia and eastern Ukraine in 2008 and 2014 respectively, to destabilize these countries. (Russia also annexed the Crimean Peninsula in the spring of 2014). The damage caused by these conflicts has been devastating, as the combined impact of these crises has resulted in the deaths of thousands and the displacement of millions.

Georgia and Ukraine also face a significant financial burden, as it is estimated the restoration efforts in northern Georgia and eastern Ukraine will cost roughly €3 billion and €10 billion, respectively. Finally, according to the Study on NATO Enlargement, aspiring NATO members must resolve all of their territorial disputes before joining the Alliance. Currently, the Russian Federation controls territory in both countries, thus putting Georgia and Ukraine’s NATO aspirations on hold.

Venezuela, Libya, and Syria

Outside of Eastern Europe and the Caucuses, Russia has exerted its influence in places such as Venezuela, Libya, and Syria. In the case of these countries, Russia has opted to back the regimes of oppressive rulers. Putin has supported Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, Libyan rebel commander Khalifa Haftar, and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during their respective crises. While the conflicts in these states occurred for different reasons, Russia’s involvement in Venezuela, Libya, and Syria has been similar. In these instances, the Russians have served as an economic lifeline for the countries. Throughout the conflicts in Venezuela, Libya, and Syria, Russia conducted business with their respective energy companies, provided them with military assistance, and used its veto at the United Nations Security Council to block resolutions on Venezuela, Libya, and Syria. Prominent Russian government officials, such as Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, have also met with the political figures from these countries. Meanwhile, the West has called for an end to these crises. Western leaders also attempted to enforce sanctions on the oppressive regimes as a way of forcing their hands, but to no avail. Based on the conflicting viewpoints on how to resolve the conflicts, altercations between Russia and the West have continued while the conflicts in Venezuela, Libya, and Syria remain unresolved.  

In an effort to destabilize Western democracies and their institutions, Russia meddled in the political and electoral processes of various states within the EU and the United States. Recent and well-known examples of Russian interference occurred in the United Kingdom’s 2016 EU membership referendum, the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and the 2017 French presidential election. During these events, Russia used similar methods to undermine the fair and free processes of these elections. Common patterns included hacking servers, collecting documents from prominent government officials, using social media platforms to spread disinformation, and creating false political advertisements. Due to the success of Russia’s previous operations, the EU and U.S. are working toward a solution on how they can counter Russia’s future efforts.

Belarus

With these examples in mind, Russia’s previous actions will indicate where it will conduct its future exploits. The first and most obvious location is Belarus. For 26-years, Alexander Lukashenko has served as the president of Belarus. Throughout his tenure, the leader of Belarus has sought to enforce the policies of the former Soviet Union by empowering the state. Under Lukashenko, the government has taken hold of the economy and the media. He has also developed a close relationship with Russia, where Belarus and Russia have worked toward a “Union State”. In terms of the economy, Belarusian exports rely heavily on access to the Russian market. Finally, Belarus and Russia have conducted several military exercises together. Their fragile relationship is now threatened because Belarus has been recently cast into a political crisis. After Lukashenko imprisoned several of his political opponents and falsified the results of the 2020 Belarusian presidential elections, thousands of Belarusians swarmed to the streets to protest the election results. In response, riot police fired upon the protestors to disperse the crowds. Should the protests escalate, Putin could see this as an opportunity to intervene. If this were to occur, Russia would claim that it is acting on behalf of the Russian-speaking people in Belarus, similar to what the Russians stated when they annexed Crimea. Russia’s occupation of Belarus would put a swift end to the protests, and Russia’s expansion into Belarus would alter the geopolitical climate in Eastern Europe, particularly for Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

The Baltics

The Baltic States are the next probable flashpoint in the region, given substantial ethnic Russian and Russian-speaking minorities reside in these states. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Baltic States quickly joined the EU and NATO. Their integration into these Western organizations was an attempt to escape Russia’s sphere of influence, but their efforts did not go unnoticed. Following their ascension into these organizations, Russia conducted a series of cyberattacks against Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania to cripple their critical infrastructures. Russia has also voiced its concerns about how the Russian minority groups are treated in these countries, as these groups make up roughly one-third of the population in both Estonia and Latvia. Finally, Russia has continued to violate the airspace of the Baltic States, and has conducted military exercises near their borders. Should Russia continue this provocation, this would put the NATO Alliance to the test. NATO’s Article 5 reads that “an armed attack against one or more [member states] shall be considered an attack against them all,” but the current political climate may suggest otherwise. According to a poll conducted by British firm YouGov in December 2019, survey participants from various NATO members states conveyed that they would be hesitant to aid their fellow member states during their time of need. Should these survey results hold, Russia could embark on its aggressive foreign policy strategy into the Baltics without consequence.

The Balkans

Finally, the Balkans are a third probable location for Russia’s future expansionary efforts, due to Russia’s historical, ethnic, and religious connection to the region. During the 1800s, Russia supported Serbia’s independence movement against the Ottomans. Russia also came to the aid of Serbia during the First World War, and most recently, Russia supported Serbia during the Yugoslav crisis in the 1990s.

Russia has always sought to exert its influence in the Balkans, as this would give the Russians a foothold in the mainland of Europe. NATO’s expansion into the region, however, has complicated Russia’s efforts. Montenegro and North Macedonia, two states that were part of former Yugoslavia, recently joined NATO in 2017 and 2020. Nonetheless, Russia still tried to halt their ascension into NATO. According to reports, Russia attempted to block Montenegro’s NATO membership by sending agents to the Balkan state to stage a coup. The plan also included an assassination attempt on then-Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Dukanovic, but the plot was foiled. This demonstrated the lengths to which Russia would go to achieve its goals.

Russia has also sought to destabilize North Macedonia, NATO’s most recent member, by launching a series of disinformation campaigns against the state. Finally, Russia’s continual relationship with Serbia and its continued provocation in the Balkans have led to a rise in tensions in the region, and this has particularly put Kosovo on edge.

Should Putin look to spread Russia’s influence into Belarus, the Baltics, and the Balkans, the West will need to develop a strategy for how it will cope with Russian aggression. Russia’s aggressive behavior is unlikely to change during Putin’s additional 16-year rule, thus Western politicians and policymakers must react swiftly.

There are two options as to how the West might respond to Russia’s future ambitions. The first scenario would see the West and its allies stand up to Russian aggression. To date, the U.S. and the EU have continued to impose economic sanctions on Russia. The international community also took measures to punish Russia by removing it from the G8 and expelling Russian diplomats from various embassies and NATO. These decisions have led to a declining Russian economy and they have isolated Russia from the international community. If Russia were to continue its aggressive behavior, the West should take additional measures to punish Russia. For example, more severe sanctions would further weaken the Russian economy. This could see Russia alter its behavior, similar to how the West’s immense spending during the arms race led to the bankruptcy of the Soviet Union. While additional disciplinary actions against Russia may not lead to the collapse of the Russian state, it would force Russia to cooperate with the West, at least in the short term.

An alternative scenario, however, would be much more dangerous. As Russia continues its aggressive behavior throughout the world, some Western states have opted to develop an appeasement strategy with Russia rather than trying to force its hand. For example, Russia was expelled from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in 2014 following its illegal annexation of Crimea and its military incursion into eastern Ukraine. In order to be reinstated into the organization, PACE declared that Russia would have to change its actions in Ukraine. Five years later, Russia has not changed its behavior, yet it was readmitted into the organization. Some Western leaders have also advocated for a similar approach. During the summer of 2019, French President Emmanuel Macron announced that he would pursue a new “Russia reset” policy while U.S. President Donald Trump suggested that Russia should be re-invited to the G7. More recently, some prominent U.S. diplomats, government officials, and policymakers have called for a “Russia reset”. Finally, some EU states have called for an end to Russian sanctions, citing that they have been “ineffective” while others have argued that the sanctions have brought harm to the economies of EU states. History, however, has shown that appeasing an aggressive state never works. Such was the case with the Second World War. If the West were to adopt a “Russia reset” policy proposed by these individuals, this appeasement strategy would demonstrate to the Russians that they can continue their aggressive behavior throughout the world without consequence.

Finally, the world has been forced to deal with the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic. This global issue has resulted in tremendous losses. The gross domestic products of several nations have plummeted, millions of citizens have become unemployed, and over half a million people have perished from the coronavirus worldwide. While struggling to fight against this pandemic, the international community has also had to combat climate change while also having to cope with the global refugee crisis. As the West remains distracted by these issues, and if it were to adopt an appeasement strategy with Russia, this could lead to the abandonment of the West’s commitment to promoting democracy abroad. Meanwhile, authoritarian leaders such as Putin will use the pandemic as an opportunity to expand their power. Should the West ease its role as a police force against autocratic leaders, this will allow Putin to pursue Russia’s territorial ambitions without end. Ultimately, this could lead to a new global conflict, and the consequences would be catastrophic.

Russia’s aggressive foreign policy and its interactions with the international community are unlikely to change during Putin’s extended 16-year tenure as the president of Russia. The West must band together and prepare an effective strategy on how it will counter Russian aggression for the next two decades. If a course of action is not taken Russia will be allowed to spread its influence and meddle in the affairs of its neighbors and the international community without end. Such events would lead to the deconstruction of Western values and the fundamental principles of international relations.

This post is by Prof. Jok Madut Jok, Professor of Anthropology at Syracuse University. It originally appeared in the Nation.

What you need to know:

  • Ethiopia is an African giant in many respects.
  • But some of the policies that are being pursued by its current leadership, promising and applauded as they were initially, might actually prove to be a threat to its national security and stability.
  • Critics say that ethnic federalism was not genuinely designed to dispense power to all the regions but was meant to consolidate power in the hands of the federal government.
  • Ethiopia might just wither the challenges of developmental and democratic reforms, but only if it recognises that politics is almost always local.

The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia has demonstrated its resourcefulness, resilience and dominance in the Horn of Africa. Despite numerous challenges facing it, be it the stories about its Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), the diplomatic row over it with Egypt, which have recently dominated the news headlines, or the security threats in its Oromia, Tigray and Somali regions, Ethiopia remains the envy of neighbors on numerous counts.

But some of the policies that are being pursued by its current leadership, promising and applauded as they were initially, might actually prove to be a threat to its national security and stability. The uncertainty surrounding the future of “ethnic federalism,” the suspicion surrounding the federal government’s commitment to full implementation of a reform programme, and the insistence on holding parliamentary elections in 2021, despite the fears that holding these elections before conducting a census, necessary for redistricting, could inflame ethnic competition. The country’s major political parties are also ethnic based and such competition could undermine the developmental and democratic gains of the past few years.

Ethiopia draws its power from being the second-most populated country on the continent and also from its 162,000-member strong active duty military force, the size and steady growth of its economy, its people’s industriousness and a history of political leadership that has had relative success in instilling in their people a sense of collective Ethiopian identity and national pride. But the ambitious reform agenda that the country’s 10th Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, has introduced since 2018, has concurrently raised expectations that he cannot deliver on and have revealed a degree of reluctance about the reform programme. This has betrayed either a lack of confidence in the reforms that were announced and started or a resistance by the elite power base.

Ethiopia is as ethnically diverse as the rest of black Africa, but although many of its regions have always expressed dissatisfaction with the way the central government has perfunctorily included them in the corridors of power and development services along ethnic or regional lines, there is no mistaking their pride in Ethiopia, often expressed in songs and by glorification of its name, even by regions most critical of its government. It also has the advantage of a uniquely long history of literacy in a local language, Amharic, which symbolises a degree of unity among many of its people and a source of strong connection to its roots, unlike the cultural dislocation that colonialism has fashioned in much of the rest of Africa.

Serious problems

However, Ethiopia is beset by serious problems that threaten its stability, its unity and cohesion. For example, while its massive population has been its most important asset, its most valuable resource, it is also a liability in terms of general discontent with the country’s ability to provide equitable services to all of them, to meet the needs of the many youth and rural poor who are flocking to the cities in ever larger numbers. Climate change, land degradation, landlessness and lack of basic services, are all pushing massive and unsustainable urbanisation, complete with all its attendant complications of congestion, housing problems, poor public health services and unemployment.

The federal government has tried its best to improve urban infrastructure, partly thanks to Chinese investments, and has provided low-income housing, affordable public transit system and expanded tertiary education, including the creation of 11 new universities in the past five years alone. But this is not likely to tackle poverty, the biggest problem facing the country, with over 22 million people living below the national poverty line. Also, it has not kept pace with the influx of young and poor people to the city, and Addis Ababa, the capital, is plagued by the usual problems that confront African metropolis like crime, inadequate water supply, especially into the sprawling high-rise structures in the suburbs. This has made for a restive population, both in federal regions and in Addis Ababa, and will most likely become new threats to the peace that the country has enjoyed in varying degrees since the war with Eritrea (1998-2000).

But the biggest threat to Ethiopia’s stability in the near future is its system of governance itself. Its “ethnic federal” system has produced mixed results and sentiments, just as the country’s leadership that is managing this system does not seem entirely convinced that it is the most effective way to administer such a vast and diverse country. There is the dilemma of pursuing ethnic federalism more vigorously at the risk of keeping the Ethiopians divided and defined by ethnicity and not by what is common between most or all of them, or phasing it out over time at the risk of the regions protesting their return to stringent controls that Addis Ababa imposes on regional governments. There are no straight answers to this dilemma, but it remains the one thing that could lead Ethiopia down the path of regional rebellions, if the country does not weigh these options with care.

Critics say that ethnic federalism was not genuinely designed to dispense power to all the regions but was primarily a mechanism for consolidation of power in the hands of the federal government by creating in the regions a loyal clientele out of state governments, but remaining unable to resolve the fundamental governance issues such as equitable resource sharing between the states. Ethnic federalism was the brainchild of the late Meles Zenawi, the 8th Prime Minister, who managed and implemented it with a combination of an iron fist and ideological developmental persuasion of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). The system has never been challenged in a way similar to what we have seen since Mr Ahmed came to power in April 2018.

Unprecedented energy

Mr Ahmed came with unprecedented energy to change things, perhaps owing that to his Pentecostal faith, with an ambitious reform agenda, which saw him free up civic spaces almost unknown in Ethiopia’s recent past, releasing jailed journalists, turning the old imperial palace into a culture park and museum, and offering an olive branch to Eritrea’s Isaias Afwerki to end the war between the two sisterly countries. And above all, he was applauded for forming a cabinet with a gender balance, giving half of all ministerial portfolios to women. For the first time in Ethiopia’s history, women took the top security posts, including the ministry of defense and ministry of peace, which oversees the federal police, the intelligence services and the information security agency and has taken the lead in tackling much of the ethnic unrest that keeps cropping up in different regions of the country since the reforms started. How long these actions can last or how fast they will materialise as part of a stabilising agenda is as good as predicting their capacity to cause an implosion in the country, be it along ethnic-based political parties, religious confrontation or rural rebellions.

Ethiopia, however, is not just a regional power to reckon with. Although it has found itself in a struggle for dominance in the Horn and East African regional affairs, particularly against Kenya, it has also exhibited leadership within the regional trade bloc, the Inter-Governmental Agency on Development (IGAD), especially on matters of peace-making and peace-keeping in South Sudan and in the African Union’s efforts to combat Islamic militant group, al-Shabab, in Somalia. In reading both the domestic and regional dynamics, Ethiopia might just wither the challenges of developmental and democratic reforms, but only if it recognises that politics is almost always local, and so long as ethnic groups remain the strongest fall back position for citizens when the state fails to protect them, the country cannot afford an empty talk of ethnic federalism.

By Louis Kriesberg

The nonviolent civil rights struggle in the 1950s and 1960s achieved great advances, particularly in the South.  It was disciplined, it set specific goals, and its leaders met with national political leaders.   It was countered with great violence by local segregationists and even local officials. That violence was self-defeating.  People across the country joined in supporting the civil rights movement. President Lyndon Johnson, in his speech to Congress proposing the Voting Rights Act of 1965, said, “We shall overcome.”  Indeed, Jim Crow segregation laws were generally ended and whites and Blacks in the South benefitted economically.  

The current nonviolent civil rights movement is different and faces a different presidency in Washington than was the case 65 years ago.  Now. there are numerous nongovernmental organizations striving to reduce the punishing inequality suffered by many Blacks in every sphere of their lives.  Treatment in the criminal justice system is presently drawing much attention, which has focused on the Black Lives Matter (BLM) social movement.  It emerged nationally in 2014, after a large-scale uprising in Ferguson, Missouri, following blatant violent suppression of the nonviolent protests after the killing of Michael Brown, an18-year old Black man.  The BLM movement grew, becoming a wide network of local chapters, led by local members, sharing a new vision.  In deference to their use of Black in their self-identification, I adopt it here, rather than another common term, African American.)  Local leaders were often young Black women activists, expressing their outrage at police misconduct.   As more instances of police killings of Blacks occurred and received attention, demands for reforming police conduct and the whole justice system greatly increased. 

Several factors converged to produce the sudden massive and diverse, protest marches around the country, which persisted for weeks and had significant consequences. First, videos of the murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, in Minneapolis, Minnesota, were rapidly spread by social and mass media.  They showed a white police officer pressing his knee on the neck of a prone Black man. saying, “I can’t breathe.” The police officer looks casually at the cameras, with one hand in his pocket, as three other policemen stand by and onlookers cry out, “you’re killing him.” This persisted for over 8 minutes, as the struggling man on the street became inert. 

 Media attention across the country, and abroad, focused on the death and responses to it.  Many relatives and friends expressed their grief and outrage, the police chief apologized, and numerous officials decried what had happened, as did former presidents and white and Black civic leaders.  Some official actions were speedily taken.  On May 26, the Minneapolis mayor and police chief announced the firing of the four police officers who were responsible for Floyd’s death.  Protest demonstrations quickly spread to over 2,000 cities and towns across the country, and also in many other countries. 

Surprisingly, the protesters were diverse in ethnicity, age, and experience.  The demonstrations were generally nonviolent and peaceful; in some localities, police expressed solidarity with demonstrators, while in other localities confrontations escalated into forceful encounters.  In a few cities, opportunistic gangs looted and burned stores, including Black-owned ones. 

 The prevailing Covid-19 pandemic that had been underway for almost 3 months might have been expected to lessen mass demonstrations.  Yet, on the contrary, school-age youth were not in school and many people joined the already unemployed.  They could march with masks, social distance and outdoors. 

Furthermore, Blacks had been experiencing some improvement in their class, status, and power standing in prior years and expected more improvements.  Yet the pandemic had revealed that their living circumstances made them more vulnerable to becoming sick and dying from Covid-19.  Moreover, their employment circumstances deteriorated even more than did those of whites as the economy declined. President Trump’s tweets and statements defending white nationalists emboldened them to express racist sentiments, raising Blacks’ concerns.  Rising expectations blocked by declining conditions is the well-established formula for revolt.

Another striking feature of the BLM protest marches was the participation of whites as well as people of color.  National public opinion surveys indicate that white public opinion had become less and less prejudicial since 1988 and in 2018 whites generally did not attribute most Blacks’ poor conditions to their own failings.  More specifically, in late June 2020, 52 percent of white voters believed that George Floyd’s death was part of a pattern of excessive police violence against Blacks.  

In many cities, meetings and negotiations began to discuss needed reforms of the policing system and shifting funding.  There has been much agreement that police departments are tasked to deal with problems that they are ill-prepared to handle.  Problems related to mental illness, homelessness, and extreme poverty need to be dealt with by other government and charitable programs.   

Unfortunately, the energy and power of the BLM movement arose at the time that President Trump was seeking re-election during a mishandled response to a pandemic.  He chose to escalate confrontations with protesters, proclaiming he was a law-and-order president.  He threatened to dominate and take over the streets from the protesters. White supremacists saw an opportunity to gain influence and took actions to disrupt demonstrations, resorting at times to violence.  Many Americans were worried at the extreme right-wing rhetoric and actions of Trump and his appointed officials.      

These developments suggest that many in the BLM movement could more widely adopt some new constructive strategies.  More movement members could enter enhanced negotiations and lobbying of local, school, state, and national officials.  The variations at the local level make that likely in any case.  More generally, the present national situation opens up an opportunity for a very broad coalition, with electoral implications.  Many Americans, Republicans as well as Democrats, are concerned that the authoritarian conduct of President Trump and his appointed officials are undermining American democracy.  Certainly, his re-election would not enhance justice for Blacks.  It follows, that BLM and other movements for justice should rise up together and vote to repudiate Trump and Trumpists at the polls.

The way Americans who are not part of the BLM movement respond to it is critical. Expressing recognition of the injustices African Americans experience in the criminal justice system is a step toward peace and justice.  Particular groups have special opportunities to enhance both peace and justice.  Some police unions have given too high priority to simply protect any members who acted badly, rather than maximizing the good standing of their members as a whole. Lawyers in the criminal justice system might provide more information about injustices and suggest ways to overcome them.  Citizens can attend public hearings about legislation to improve the criminal justice system. Public engagement in solving present-day problems is the essence of democracy. 

Iran vs. Biden

This post is by guest blogger Ehsan Ghafourian Torbati, Master of International Relations, Maxwell School of Public Affairs, Syracuse University (Emphasis in Security, Peace and Conflict).

How a superpower is abdicating the throne 

What happened 

Recent remarks by President Trump about reaching a new deal within four weeks with Iran if he wins the election caused a new dilemma. This is obvious that the US president is willing to give the Iranian side more credit if they come to the table before the election because this could play as a foreign policy green card for election competition. Although there were some signals by the Iranian foreign minister that President Trump has more than %50 chances to win the election however, Iran’s political system did not enter any new negotiation. It seems like a gamble because Iran supreme leader may gain even more in negotiation before the election if President Trump wins again, but he prefers to wait for the results. 

Iran supreme leader does not have trust in any US president. He demonstrated this at different milestones. Also, he knows more than anyone that even if Biden wins the election, it does not mean the US policy is going to change soon. Indeed, the US has a lot of other priorities like the Covid-19 crisis, economic recession, and conflict with China that nobody expects sanctions relief soon. On top of that, according to Khamenei’s view, there are plenty of reasons that a democrat president is even more dangerous to regime survival in Iran because they can cause cultural changes. According to these ideas, there is no difference between Trump and Biden. 

What is means 

President Trump’s remarks and behavior is showing how desperate he is to make another deal even flawed with Iran. Former National Security Adviser John Bolton illustrated the situation in his memoir. On the other hand, Trump said in the past that he is not interested in any deal with Iran. Aside from the propaganda, the situation is very clear. Iran now is an isolated country with no power to stop even the 6 Arab monarch states of GCC that are resolute to stop lifting the arms embargo. Islamic Revolution did not harm even one US soldier directly for forty years and choosing the US as a great enemy has just domestic consumption to rule the people of Iran. So, Islamic leaders are rational and are looking just for survival because after the elimination of Soleimani (Iran’s second powerful man), they did nothing literally. However, it is irrational for the US as a superpower to spend energy and go after this moribund regime and sell it as a victory to the US voters while the Middle East might not be the focus of US attention anymore. 

The United States’ power best fits to tangle with great powers but, its foreign policy in reality focused on small adversaries. There is no doubt that there should be a response to Iran’s malign behaviors. Iran now is a terrorist country and a genuine threat to security in the Middle East. Sanctions and pressure should continue to keep the Islamic Revolution week. Indeed, Whether the US contains Iran or not, Iranians are not going to change their behaviors easily just because of foreign pressure. But, these pressures should impose internationally and as a coalition. The United States should work with its allies, Russia and China to deter Islamic leaders’ agenda. Iran is facing an increasingly challenging domestic and international environment. It has a lot of problems that may even disintegrate it over time. Fighting with them is not a solution since it will make them unified because Khamenei will take credit for fake nationalism. An external crisis is a blessing for totalitarian regimes like Iran to stifle internal opponents. Ayatollahs are so paranoid and fanatic that cannot get along with the world easily because they will freeze any real change. If any US president is looking for any viable solution with this regime, he should make it easier for ayatollahs to understand US multilateralism.  

That is why the US needs self-containment and leave resources and attention to deal with great foes because definition of success is different between Iranian officials and the US. Ayatollahs are taking the time and using asymmetrical warfare since remaining frustrated but alive is a victory for them. So, neither escalation nor walking away is a good policy instead, the US needs an active foreign policy that is ready to use all US instruments of power to achieve realistic and critical US interests.  

It is an old saying that whether you ignore a pig or worship that pig from afar, to the pig it’s all the same. So, whether you like it or not; the sanctions are working but you still need a strategy to turn the situation into an international case and force ayatollahs to come to the table.  

Mark Temnycky, a graduate of the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University, is the author of this post. It originally appeared in the Atlantic Council’s UkraineAlert.

On July 1, Vladimir Putin entered a new phase of his reign that will likely keep him in the Kremlin until 2036. This extension came by way of a national vote on constitutional changes that included a proposal to nullify previous presidential terms, thereby allowing the Russian leader to serve two more six-year presidential stints once his current mandate expires in 2024.

This constitutional conjuring trick strips the Putin regime of any lingering democratic legitimacy and leaves ordinary Russians facing sixteen more years without the prospect of change. For Russia’s neighbors, it means another decade and a half living next door to a powerful dictator who makes no secret of his revanchist instincts and imperial ambitions.

The implications are most immediately apparent in Ukraine, which is currently in the seventh year of a conflict managed from Moscow that has come to define the aggressive revisionism at the heart of Putin’s worldview. As long as the current Russian ruler remains in power, few Ukrainians see any chance of progress towards a durable peace.

The most obvious evidence of Putin’s hostile long-term intentions towards Ukraine is the ongoing incorporation of Crimea into the Russian Federation. Ever since the Ukrainian peninsula was militarily occupied and annexed in the spring of 2014, Putin has made the integration of Crimea a top priority. Money has proven no object, with huge amounts of Kremlin cash made available to subsidize the Crimean budget and billions of dollars invested in flagship infrastructure upgrades such as the bridge linking Crimea to the Russian mainland across the Kerch Strait.

Moscow has also succeeded in dramatically altering the demographic and social balance on the peninsula. Over the past six years, tens of thousands of Russians have settled in occupied Crimea, while Ukrainian language schools have been shuttered along with churches belonging to the Orthodox Church of Ukraine and other symbols of Ukrainian identity. In line with recently adopted legislation, schools on the peninsula will now teach schoolchildren “Russian patriotism”.

The most dramatic changes have been felt by the indigenous Crimean Tatar community, which has come under specific attack. According to the United Nations, Russia has launched a campaign of discrimination and persecution that has targeted Crimean Tatars in particular. This has included everything from the closure of Crimean Tatar media and community organizations to frequent raids on homes and politically motivated arrests.

Ever since 2014, Moscow has been adamant that the Crimean issue is settled. As long as Putin remains in control of Russia, it is difficult to conceive of any circumstances that would lead him to alter this stance. Indeed, the Crimean conquest has become so central to the mythology of Putinism that any attempt to revisit the status of the peninsula would risk precipitating a domestic crisis.

This reality was reflected in Russia’s recent constitutional changes, with one of the additional amendments making it virtually impossible to raise the issue of undoing the annexation and returning Crimea. As long as the Kremlin occupation of Crimea continues, there can be no definitive end to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine.

The extension of Putin’s reign also has ominous ramifications for Russian-occupied eastern Ukraine. April 2020 marked the sixth anniversary of the war in eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region between the Ukrainian military and Kremlin-led forces. There is little current prospect of progress towards peace. The 2015 Minsk Agreements remain largely unimplemented amid disagreement over the sequencing of the many stages in the envisioned peace process.

Hopes of a breakthrough rose briefly following the April 2019 election of Volodymyr Zelenskyy as Ukraine’s new president. However, this optimism has now given way to a growing consensus in Kyiv and Western capitals that Putin has no desire to end the war and would instead prefer to keep Ukraine destabilized by retaining the option of military escalation.

Such thinking is supported by Russian actions. While Putin continues to deny any direct Russian role in the conflict, over the past year he has repeatedly questioned Ukraine’s historical right to the Donbas and reiterated his belief that Ukrainians and Russians are “one people” who have been unjustly and artificially separated by outside forces.

These dubious claims appear tailor-made to belittle Ukrainian statehood while serving to justify further Russian interference. The one thing they most certainly do not imply is an inclination towards peaceful coexistence.

Russia’s contributions to the floundering peace process offer further evidence of the Kremlin’s questionable intentions. Since spring 2019, Zelenskyy has made concession after concession in a bid to bring Putin to the negotiating table. The Kremlin strongman has responded by issuing hundreds of thousands of passports to Ukrainians living in the Russian-occupied east of the country.

Russian officials have recently stated that they hope to distribute up to one million passports in eastern Ukraine by the end of 2020. This will transform the occupied zone into a “passport protectorate” and create the pretext for endless future Russian interventions.

With the quest for peace in eastern Ukraine going nowhere, there are mounting concerns over how the conflict may develop. Now that Putin has secured his domestic position and brought an end to speculation over possible successors, he may feel free to embark on a new foreign policy adventure in Ukraine.

One potential target could be the North Crimean Canal, which brought water from the Dnipro River in southern Ukraine to Crimea until Russia’s 2014 invasion. This canal played a vital role in keeping Crimea irrigated. Its loss has resulted in a rapidly deteriorating ecological situation on the occupied peninsula, leading to speculation that Russia might opt for a military solution.

Rumors of a possible offensive have been further fueled by preparations for large-scale Russian military maneuvers that are scheduled to take place in Crimea and the border regions close to eastern Ukraine in September 2020. The timing would certainly be opportune for the Kremlin, with the international community preoccupied with the coronavirus crisis and America distracted by the 2020 presidential race.

This current round of speculation may turn out to be the latest in a long line of false alarms, but the threat of a new Russian escalation will remain for the foreseeable future. Putin’s intervention in Ukraine has already plunged Russia into a new Cold War with the Western world, but he has shown no inclination to moderate his position. On the contrary, Putin appears convinced that his historic mission to revive Russia’s greatness depends on the subjugation of Ukraine, and refuses to change course despite the considerable costs he continues to incur.

With the international community showing little appetite for confrontation and Ukraine too weak to unilaterally expel Russia, Putin has no obvious reason to modify his aggressive stance. Some analysts believe the deteriorating domestic situation in Russia could restrict his ability to pursue an expansionist foreign policy in Ukraine, but the experience of the past six years suggests that Putin’s Ukrainian ambitions will be among the very last things he is prepared to sacrifice to expediency.

If Ukraine wishes to survive the Putin era independent and intact, it must adopt a long-term approach to the current conflict. This means abandoning the wishful thinking of a negotiated peace and developing strategies that will enable the country to maintain its defensive capabilities into the next decade and beyond.

Guest blogger Ehsan Ghafourian Torbati is a degree candidate, Master of International Relations program, Maxwell School of Public Affairs, Syracuse University (Emphasis in Security, Peace and Conflict).

What Happened

Ever since the U.S. withdrew from the Nuclear Deal (JCPOA), back in 8 May 2018, the country is facing a military entanglement in the Middle East. Both the US presidential candidates for 2020 election have declared their intentions to reach an agreement with Iran on its nuclear program. They want to meet Iranian officials on the negotiation table. However, Iran’s economic conditions did not deteriorate so significantly that it would cause Iran to bend its knee. Iranians are adept to muddle through and tolerate the sanctions in short term at least. For example, we heard this sentence a year ago from Iran’s supreme leader that “there will be no war, and no negotiations with the United States.” Also, we can see more conservative people around Iran leadership circle who prefer different model of engagement. According to this model if the U.S. increases pressure against Iran, then Iran will be ready to increase tensions in the region and vice versa. This is a new path adopted by Iran’s leader to share the economic cost with Unites States and further expand the conflict to other areas. Nuclear program, ballistic missiles, harassment in Persian Gulf and recent involvement in Venezuela demonstrates the willing of Khamenei to test US intention and could spring a surprise at any time, make his predicament a priority for the international community.

The big picture

Since its establishment, Israel has experienced multiple threats from all directions 24/7. IDF’s strategic and tactical decisions deterred the centerpiece of Israel’s psyche. This made Israel national security so professional that any nation can learn from it.

What It Means

Fundamentally, no matter what U.S. does, Iran’s supreme leader is obsessed with the belief that his regime is under threat by west values. Technically, Khamenei was emboldened by having adopted a more offensive posture in the region and made a gamble on Trump extremely unwillingness to start a new conflict in the Middle East. The U.S. should remain open to new negotiations with Iran, but at the same time it should have an aggressive strategy to counter Iranian potential threats actively. Indeed, the U.S. has supposed that its pressure will bring Islamic revolution to the table sooner or later.

To assess President Trump’s success we need to consider two factors; 1)Does Iran show less aggression? 2)Does the U.S. have more options now after withdrawing from JCPOA? The first question obviously is negative, but people have different view about the second one. In fact, the U.S. should be ready to accept and address that Iran will not come to a direct negotiation even after the November election. So, the situation now is different from 2013 that Iran has entered JCPOA. Iran’s economic and political system is so fragile that IRGC and hardliners play a critical role to system’s survival especially after recent parliament election. Also, Iran has focused to multiply its strategic relationship with China even more than before. It is an interesting path for Iran’s leader because he found it a useful way to resist U.S. pressure. On top of that, engagement with a paranoid older leader and a theocracy irrational system that defines U.S. as great Satan is not easy. This mission is more trickier in the present context since past endeavors did not bear the desired fruits. As a result, the U.S. needs to keep any option on the table because the greatest failure is lacking imaginations about Iran new threats.

The best way to prepare and think about unthinkable threats related to Iran is the lessons that U.S. can learn from Israel’s “campaign between the wars” against Iran and Iranian-backed groups in Syria. This is the most effective military strategy for the U.S. right now as long as Washington is not sure about future deal and also does not want to stumble into another war in Middle East. The U.S. needs an active deterrence with focus to decapitate Iran’s dangerous evolving capabilities. Instead of temporary mission, it should be continuous push back against Iran in the “gray zone.”

According to this strategy, Iran will not be able to escalate if does not have an operational plan. This includes infrastructure and deadly weapons. So, it is imperative for the U.S. national interests to keep the pressure no matter who wins the November election because IRGC will have less money at least. Basic assumptions and rule of engagement with Iran should emphasize on vital U.S. national interests from a position of strength. This is a doctrine made with principles including deterrence, early warning, defense, and decision. This doctrine needs a clear-cut definition for conflict goals, army’s role and its relation to additional efforts (political, economic, media, social).

Also, U.S. should decrease immediate risk of conflict with Iran in the region and have information superiority through surveillance to expose and denounce Iran’s military movements. This deterrence could inspire Iran to conduct more complicated and expensive operation to keep itself in world’s radar. The U.S. needs a threat Lenz system that warns about Iran’s intentions. Each specific area in Middle East including Iraq or Persian Gulf needs different operation due to different environment. But in all of them U.S. should have a policy to make Iran responsible and force them to act or avoid confrontation with U.S. forces.

Furthermore, the U.S. needs to use disruptive technology and cyber warfare systems to neutralize IRGC weapon operation. The U.S. should use all the instruments in its power in coordinated action to impede the Iran’s capabilities in explosive charges, conventional warheads, short-range missiles, anti-tank weapons, surface-to-air missiles, anti-ship missiles, electronic warfare, subconventional warfare. These are critical to reduce Iran’s freedom of action.

Last but not the least, resorting to preemptive surgical strikes to destroy imminent threats like elimination of Soleimani is a good approach to reduce Iran’s firepower. Drawing clear red lines like missing the life of any soldier or warning ships in Persian Gulf to stay 100 meters away, could formulate any strike. It is also helpful to justify to build up the forces in different bases in the region. The U.S. needs this assumption to use military force decisively but in a systematic way to achieve political goals through diplomacy. This assumption also needs to signal Iranians that rule of games has been broken by them and the U.S. is ready to take any risk.

Any attack should harm the Iran’s capability extremely, makes it difficult for them to regain strength and dictate the conditions for ending the fighting. This is important because Iran is ready to accept cost of a limited military strike while it is still in a position of relative strength. So, strike should happen quickly in a shocking way and remind them always victory of the United States and futility of using force against it. Indeed, the U.S. should crush Iran’s desire to continue the fighting and also protect U.S. forces and facilities to minimize Iran’s achievement. This will show Iranian that propaganda is not working for them since the potential of damage to government sustainability is greater the benefits of escalation.

Finally, it is not wise to go after all Iran threats due to priority issue, but it is important to have a coherent strategy to respond all Iran malign behaviors. The characteristics of the Iran’s use of force have changed and pose new challenges including actions that combine military activities, guerrilla actions, terror, and “soft” warfare. This means confrontation needs realistic-flexible ways to integrate and prioritize the various means in accordance with the rules of international law and public relations. Nobody should forget that all these initiatives have been designed to readiness, limit civilian casualties, prevent the war and delegitimizing the enemy. Building the force will focus on lethality, mobility, and survivability of the force. And using them on the preferred scenario to foil an attack on U.S. interests when there is very clear undeniable provocation by Iran.

Background After 1979 revolution, the religious leadership in Iran is intertwined with the senior leadership of the state. Also, after revolution, Islamic Republic of Iran has challenge with United States and both states have been locked in varying degrees of confrontation. Unites States at this administration has three fundamental demands this time from Iran’s leaders: stop supporting regional proxies, ending its nuclear enrichment program and significant limitations on its ballistic missile program. It has been two years ago U.S. withdrew from the JCPOA, we have been seeing very severe impact on the Iranian economy. Although Iran’s economy shrunk by more than 5 percent in 2018 and more than 7 percent in 2019, it still did not push Iran to come on the negotiation table. Now as we are closing to the U.S. election, Iran has more motivation to ratchet up pressure on President Trump by tit for tat tension.