Saturday, December 19, 2015

The World after the Paris Attacks

The Paris Attacks have awakened the global community to understand that the War on Terror is no longer America’s war. People should have recognized this when 9-11 attacks broke out, rather than blaming the US-led coalition for the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. In particular, the incident has some impacts on European security and the global coalition against terrorism.

As to European security, responses to the terrorist attacks are divided, after people expressed condolences and solidarity with the victims. France reacted immediately as the United States did after 9-11. Britain also took the attacks seriously and decided to expand anti-ISIS airstrike in Iraq into Syria. Meanwhile, military minor powers are reluctant to get involved in the war against ISIS as old pacifist Japan was, and simply try to shut out Muslim refugees. When French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian asked burden sharing to EU member states on November 17, their commitments tuned out just verbal. Only Britain reacted seriously (“Despite Initial Solidarity, Paris Attacks Will Deepen Europe’s Divisions”; World Politics Review; November 19, 2015). The Cameron administration offered France to use RAF Akrotiri base in Cyprus (“Brits offer Cyprus base to French”; Defense One; November 23, 2015).

It is ironical that the Hollande administration acts like the Bush administration, considering the vehement criticism of the Iraq War by Foreign Minister Dominique de Villpin at that time. Now, France as a sheriff, faces frustration with unwilling and irresponsible bar masters of her fellow European nations. Common European defense is a long way to go as seen in Britain’s Brexit movements, and reemergence of the Anglo-French entente implies that European security is turning more nation-state oriented. The split within Europe reflects national interest and capability of each country. The more militarily powerful the country is, the more serious it is to take terrorist threats. Ultimately, military intervention is necessary to eradicate their territorial strongholds and revenue sources like oil fields, human trafficking, and so forth. Nevertheless, countries with weak armed forces would rather avoid the risks of war like casualties, rising budgets, and pressures from antiwar protesters. They leave the burden to military great powers. The chasm within Europe may grow, if the war in Syria goes harder and longer than expected.

At the global level, there is no firmly united anti-ISIS front line. For fear of a Syrian quagmire, in view of long War on Terror in Iraq and Afghanistan, a global coalition including Russia and Iran was explored as shown in French President François Hollande’s visit to Moscow to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin shortly after the Paris Attacks (“Moscow is ready to coordinate with the West over strikes on Syria, Putin says”; Washington Post; November 26, 2015). However, both Russia and Iran do not share vital strategic objectives with the West. They fight against ISIS, simply to sponsor Assad or another puppet regime, and it is not their interest to wipe out extremist strongholds. They want to weaken Western influence in the region, and harness instability to augment their influence. Kimberly and Frederick Kagan of the Critical Threats Project at the American Enterprise Institute , comment that it is the Assad regime that radicalizes ISIS as Syrians displaced by his troops join terrorist organizations (“What to do and to don’t in response to the Paris attacks”; AEI Critical Threats; November 15, 2015).

While Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov responded positively to President Barack Obama’s invitation for Russia to join the US-led anti-ISIS coalition (“Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s interview with Rossiya Segodnya,”; Foreign Policy News, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia; December 11, 2015), the US Department of Treasury revealed that the Russian-sponsored Assad administration is the greatest customer to buy oil from ISIS while both are fighting each other (“US official details who’s buying the bulk of ISIS oil”; New York Post; December 10, 2015). In addition, Russian Su-34 Fullback fighters use Iranian air force bases for a reliable pathway to conduct air strikes in Syria, and bombers such as Tu-95 Bear, Tu-160 Blackjack, and Tu-22 Backfire are even escorted by Iranian fighters (“The Russo-Iranian Military Coalition in Syria may be Deepening”; AEI Critical Treats; December 14, 2015). Here again, Frederick Kagan warns of the danger of the Russo-Iranian axis. Actually, Iran tested Ghadr -110 ballistic missile for the second time since the nuclear deal was concluded (“Iran violated nuclear deal with second ballistic missile test last month, U.S. officials say”; UPI News; December 8, 2015). Obviously, that is the Iranian Monroe doctrine for Shiite dominance and the elimination of Western influence in the Middle East.

Furthermore, we have to remember that Putin’s vital interest in weakening NATO, and that was typically seen in the Russo-Turkish clash. In order to help Assad, Russia conducts air strikes in Turkemen areas in Syria, which was extremely provocative for Turkey. There is no wonder that Turkish F-16 shot down Russian Su-24 on November 24 (“Russo-Turkish Tensions Since the Start of the Russian Air Campaign”; AEI Critical Threats; November 24, 2015). Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu commented that the Russian presence in Syria was dangerous because they are “two separate coalitions with different goals”, shortly after the accident (Turkey: “Additional accidents are likely to happen”; Jerusalem Post; November 29, 2015). Even prior to the plane crash, Russia confronted Britain as RAF Tornadoes operating in Iraq loaded aerial combat missiles in preparation for possible crossfire against Russian fighters in Syria (“Cold War 2015: Russia 'FURIOUS' after RAF pilots cleared to shoot down Moscow warplanes”; Daily Express; October 13, 2015).

In addition to such fragile circumstances around Syria, geographic rivalries between Russia and Turkey are also important. While Russia is closely aligned with Iran, Iraq, and Syria, Turkey is in deep ties with Azerbaijan (“Turkish-Russian war of words goes beyond downed plane”; Al Jazeera; December 9, 2015). Historically, Russia saw Turkey as a good buffer against Europe (“The Czar vs. the Sultan”; Foreign Policy; November 25, 2015). There is no wonder why Putin seizes this opportunity to impose further pressure on Turkey, as he did on Georgia and Ukraine. Following the accident, Russia sent anti-air missile cruiser Moscow to eastern Mediterranean sea (“Russia deploys missile cruiser off Syria coast, ordered to destroy any target posing danger”; RT; 24 November, 2015), and deployed S-400 anti-air missiles in Syria (“New Russian surface-to-air missiles in Syria, DoD confirms”; Military Times; December 1, 2015), which are more advanced than S-300 reportedly already deployed there before (“America's Worst Nightmare in Syria: Has Russia Deployed the Lethal S-300?”; National Interest; November 5, 2015).

We should be more concerned with Putin’s pressure on Turkey. With advanced SA-17 air defense system associated with anti-air missiles, Russian radar targets US planes flying above Syria. The American side stops flying manned aircrafts for a while to explore how to manage Russian air defense (“New Russian Air Defenses in Syria Keep U.S. Grounded”; Bloomberg News; December 17, 2015). Things around Turkey have developed like those in Ukraine. But Turkey herself is also to blame. The Erdoğan administration has strained the relationship with the West in their pursuit of Islamism. Deviating from Kemalist tradition, Turkey even tried to buy HQ-9 anti-air missiles from China, which upset the whole Western allies including Japan. Putin is seizing this opportunity. He would never act so provocatively to loyal NATO members like Poland, Baltic nations, and Romania. We should not dismiss Putin’s dangerous expansionism, and Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio argues that Turkey has improved relations with Kurds and press freedom since the Paris attacks, in order to help the US-led coalition to defeat ISIS (“Why We Must Stand Up for Turkey and Against Russian Aggression”; World News.com; December 1, 2015 or here).

The Paris attacks have made the world increasingly unpredictable. The transatlantic rift has shifted into Europe. Fear driven minor powers just shut out immigrants, without making serious commitments to defeat terrorism. Only capable military powers like France and Britain act responsibly. This chasm may lead Europeans to doubt the value of regional unity as typically shown in the Brexit movements. The grand coalition with Russia and Iran is hardly feasible, in view of their geopolitical ambition to edge out Western influence from the Middle East, and even to dissolve NATO. They are eager to find and exploit any weakness on the Western side. We must never forget this.