Archive for the ‘EU’ Category



The vicious attacks by Islamist terrorist in Brussels this week firmly places Brussels, and the rest of western Europe, in the middle of the crescent of chaos that arcs from Tunisia to Sweden.

The arrest of Paris terror suspect Salah Abdeslam last Friday in Brussels took down one person and unwittingly unleashed a network of other terrorists who took over thirty lives in an orgy of terror and shut down an entire country if not all of Europe.

Belgium authorities touted Abdelslam’s arrest last weekend much the same way the Obama administration telegraphs the latest drone or Special Operations strike in Syria/Iraq/Libya with the ubiquitous headline “Number Two ISIS Commander Eliminated.” There have been so many “number two” ISIS commanders reportedly killed there is no mystery why we never hear of a “number three” in ISIS.

In 2008 Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom wrote a study of leaderless organizations, “The Starfish and the Spider” which was little read until recently. In this study Brafman and Beckstrom look at the fruitless strategy of targeting individuals in decentralized organizations such as ISIS. They do this by comparing a spider and a starfish, which look similar from a distance but up close are fundamentally different systems.

Killing a starfish is significantly different from killing a spider. A spider can be stopped by crushing its head because it is a centralized system.  If one tries to cut off a leg of a starfish not only does that leg grow back, but a new starfish emerges from that severed leg because its decentralized  system.

In combatting a decentralized terror network like ISIS, going after a known individual is like cutting off a starfish leg. The immediate threat is neutralized but the system lives on to metastasize into an even larger threat.

Belgium authorities saw what they thought was a spider in arresting one person only to be confronted with a starfish in the form of an ISIS network which struck with such force because authorities simply were not ready.

The Obama administration would be wise to peer through its policy binoculars and evaluate whether ISIS is the spider they assume it is…or is it a starfish?




Is Greece’s exit from the Eurozone to extreme to happen? Is Greece “too big to fail” as a member of the Eurozone?

This past week Greece’s newly appointed neo-Marxist Finance minister, Yanis Varoufakis,  has been making the rounds of European capitals.  This charm offensive launched by Varoufakis and Greece’s new Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras, is seemingly designed to assuage fears in Europe which both of them ignited with their Syriza party’s victory at the polls last week and the marxist rhetoric that followed.

Meanwhile EU leaders are taking this visit cautiously as they attempt to place last week’s post election rhetoric from Athens into context of a ruling reality.  To this point Syriza has been more of a symbol as the political conscience of the Greek uber-left rather than a government in waiting. The fortunes of a disgruntled electorate propelled Syriza and it’s leader, Alexis Tsipras, suddenly into power grasping for a message out of disparate leftist mantras.

The task in front of all players is monumental.  Greek’s debt is now equivalent to 177% of its own gross domestic product. This is by most estimates simply a bar too high to meet. Armed with these facts Yanis Varoufakis has been launched to the heart of Europe following his radical calls for outright debt forgiveness immediately following the elections in Greece last week.

The difference now is the marxist rhetoric has been toned down (although Varoufakis’ leather jacket remains his trademark look) while floating alternative models without abandoning the Euro. First, it seems Athens has no desire to continue to talks with the troika (European Central Bank,  European Commission and the IMF) in favor of bilateral negotiations directly with Eurozone capitals. The fact that the IMF has overestimated Greece’s growth demonstrates that this might be a tenuous step in the right direction but still leaving the devil in the details of restructuring Greece’s debt.

The final word regarding Greece’s debt will be from these European capitals and not a hybrid utopian model from Athens attempting to conjoin debt forgiveness and returning to an inflated job creating public sector.


NATO’s Exposed Southern Flank

Posted: January 29, 2015 in EU, Europe, Greece, Turkey



It seems that Turkey and Greece, once committed members of NATO’s southern flank are now acting more as twins separated at birth regarding indifference to their own respective NATO membership.

The ascension of Greece’s Syriza party to power with the appointment of Alexis Tsipras, 40, as new Prime Minister following Sunday’s election in Greece represents a seismic shift to the political left. It is impossible to predict the exact path this new Greek government will take regarding the myriad of issues facing it, but it will be faced with significant challenges that impact not only Greece but the EU and NATO writ large.

1. Russia. Tsipras already has tipped his hand as to the degree of cooperation Greece intends to lend in the ongoing sanctions against Russia by recently referring to the Poroshenko government in Kiev as “neo-fascists.”  Tsipras stated within a day of Syriza party’s victory he “wanted to be Putin’s new best friend.” Tsipras has made it known he does not only disagree with additional sanctions on Russia, but has serious reservations about upholding current EU sanctions.  All this strongly suggests that a new fissure has erupted within the EU regarding a united stand against Russian aggression in Ukraine.  All this, no doubt, to the delight of Vladimir Putin.

2. NATO Participation. The ultra left leaning posture of Syriza (note the number of former communist members in the new cabinet) makes it difficult to imagine a sustained level of cooperation with NATO.  Greece’s relationship with NATO has always been one on a sine wave with its position on the wave dependent on domestic and international dynamics. Tsipras seems determined to take anti-NATO (anti-Americanism) rhetoric to new heights with his rushed announcement of “wanting to be Putin’s friend” seemingly said in defiance of Brussels and Washington.

3. Global Terrorism. By virtue of its geography Greece is the crossroads of the Mediterranean and the Middle East. Its continued cooperation in identifying and tracking terrorists going to and coming from the Middle East remains vital and necessary. Though Syriza leaders have yet to make announcements to the contrary, it remains to be seen if they are as committed to eradicating global terrorism as is the EU and US.

To date, NATO’s attention to its southern flank has been focused solely on Turkey and the increasingly erratic and unpredictable behavior of its President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Now with Athens’ shift left, the entire southern perimeter of NATO has become the weakest link in NATO’s chain of security.


The past 72 hours have seen the US, and the EU hit Russia hard with a third round of sanctions, this time targeting sectors of the economy not just individuals.  The stakes have been raised by Moscow, Washington and Brussels as they enter into a new and dangerous phase of their relationship.  Moscow appears unwilling to back down from its support of rebels in eastern Ukraine while Washington and Brussels have reached their limit for Russian interference in a sovereign state. The sanctions against Moscow now raise this confrontation to a level not seen for decades.

There are those who believe that sanctions will cause Vladimir Putin to reconsider his support of the unrest in Ukraine and adjust his behavior.  These sanctions, necessary as they are, will in all likelihood not alter the Kremlin’s support for these proxy forces in eastern Ukraine and could produce the inverse reaction–belligerently countering these sanctions by increasing rebel support while rallying local support for Putin himself as he “stands up against Western aggression.”

In 1999 NATO carried out a bombing campaign against Yugoslavia in reaction to Slobodan Milosevic’s campaign in Kosovo.  This page has no intention of delving into the politics and ethics of that bombing campaign, however, the actions of the people of Yugoslavia who suffered the consequences of that bombing should be examined as the West looks to punish Vladimir Putin for his policies in eastern Ukraine.

There was a wide spread belief throughout the policy community in Washington during the 1999 NATO bombing that within seven to ten days Milosevic would drastically change his policies and acquiesce to the West’s demands for a separated Kosovo from Yugoslavia.  What happened instead was a prolonged and ultimately a disastrous situation as NATO’s campaign went for over 80 days and began to exhaust its stockpile of “smart weapons” which caused a number of highly publicized incidents such as the bombing of the hospital in Nis as well as wide spread suffering across Serbia.

In short, Washington believed the threat of action and the first effects of the bombing would bring about an immediate and wholesale change in Milosevic’s behavior. In fact, it didn’t. Milosevic personally wasn’t impacted, the population of Serbia was and they did what anyone patriotic citizenry would do–support the government.

Similarly today, if there is a streak of belief that sanctions in Russia, and there is no alternative now but sanctions, will bring about an immediate change of heart in Vladimir Putin there will be only disappointment.  Putin has brought on these sanctions by his reckless actions in seizing Crimea and supporting unrest in eastern Ukraine. These sanctions, however, will be used by him and his United Russia party as a rallying cry to stand up against the West as it “attempts to bring down the Russian state” as has already been decried by the state run media.

At the end of the day both Washington and Brussels should admit that we have entered a new phase in this post Soviet relationship with Moscow and it’s not a healthy one but one that Russia itself has brought about by its own actions.  Also, it’s a phase in which Russia will retreat back to its own borders and rally its citizens around Vladimir Putin rather than rise up against his hegemonic dreams.

In short, we are all in for an uncomfortable ride which will last for the foreseeable future.




As the space around Moscow’s plans for Ukraine begin to collapse with impending further sanctions and the recent ruling regarding the Yukos grab by Vladimir Putin , Moscow’s long range plans begin to emerge from the fog.  It has long been suspected that Putin was aiming for another “frozen conflict” in the space emptied by the former Soviet Union much like the breakaway region of Transnistria from the Republic of Moldova.  In this scenario Russia, and its military, become a permeant fixture in the region–as has been introduced into Ukraine.

When the Soviet Union broke apart it created a cluster a new states in Moscow’s former sphere of influence. One of those new states was Moldova.  It was in this time of the early 1990’s that the region of Transnistria, a Russian speaking area in Romanian speaking Moldova,  broke from Moldova and petitioned Moscow for assistance.  Russia responded with the 14th Russian Army rolling into Transnistria as “peacekeepers” of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

The Russians have been in Transnistria ever since.

This action has left Moldova a split country as it governs 80% of its territory minus the statelet of Transnistria which exists only in the minds of those who reside that region.  Although Moldova continues the slow process of evolving as a state in the community of nations , most recently exhibited by its signing of a trade pact with the EU and its rejection of Moscow’s Eurasian Economic Union, it still suffers the indignity of partial dismemberment by Moscow and certainly a template for future Russian incursions.

The breach of international law by annexing Crimea appears to have been a momentary distraction to the true strategy of severing eastern Ukraine from the rest of the country through the use of proxy forces with the material support of the nearby Russian military. This repeat of the devolution of Moldova was going as planned until the downing of Malaysian Airlines 17 this month which in the words of Western leaders was a “game changer.”

Today Transnistria still sits as a no-man’s-land, politically situated between Brussels and Moscow with little hope of it ever rejoining the rest of its country.  Ukraine, on the other hand,  now has an opportunity not to become a Moldova 2.0. Yet another frozen conflict in a area that is heating up due to Moscow’s attempts to turn back the clock to the days of the Kremlin’s hegemonic policies.



Written for radicalizing Russia at the turn of the 20th century by Vladimir Lenin, these words now are echoing in the halls of government in Washington and Europe as next steps are contemplated in responding to Russia’s continued support of unrest in Ukraine.

These words published in 1902 expounded on Lenin’s ideas in revolutionizing the working class.  In this work Lenin advocated that an active political party, a vanguard, should be created to convert the rank and file working class to Marxism.  More was needed than simply protesting wages and policies. The ideology should be organic to the people.  One suspects that Lenin, relegated to the back shelves of the Kremlin’s bookcases for the past twenty years,  once again can be found on the night stands and coffee tables in Vladimir Putin’s world.

The events of the past weeks would have seem far fetched and unlikely only months ago.  The continued and unabated transfer of Russian arms to proxy forces in eastern Ukraine, the downing of fourteen Ukrainian planes by pro-Russian separatists and the horrific act of bringing down a Malaysian Airlines Boeing 777 have Washington and Europe blaming the rebels with the possibility of Russian complicity.

Now the West stands on the threshold of a choice whether to take significant economic and political action against Vladimir Putin’s unrelenting campaign to destabilize Ukraine–or allowing his egregious behavior to become the new normal.

EU ambassadors will meet today to discuss more crippling sanctions against Russia’s economy.  A similar meeting took place this past Monday with foreign ministers from EU member states which produced minimal results. Although there were more individuals within Putin’s inner circle that would be impacted by sanctions, the EU failed to take on entire financial institutions and sectors of the Russian economy.  Without sweeping sanctions that impact the Russian economy writ large, it seems Putin will be allowed to continue to support unrest on his border.

Washington as well will need to treat the unrest in eastern Ukraine as an international conflict rather than a simple crime scene. The downing of MH17 is a tragic symptom of a larger issue that allowed events to spiral out of control and tragically brought a civilian airliner down and the murder of nearly 300 innocent lives.

What is to be done? Vladimir Putin is under no illusion what the answer is to Lenin’s question about how to bring about unrest in order to foment revolution–he’s doing it. The final question is will the West take the necessary steps to meet his challenge.

Time for the EU to Get Into Line

Posted: July 22, 2014 in EU, Europe, Russia
Tags: ,



EU Foreign Ministers are meeting today to discuss the situation in eastern Ukraine and Russia’s culpability in the downing of MH17.

EU members have been lagging behind Washington in both the expanse and depth of sanctions against Moscow for its support of pro-Russian separatists  in eastern Ukraine. This lack of enthusiasm for deeper sanctions began to shift this past weekend as the evidence began to mount of Moscow’s involvement in the downing of MH17 and the fiasco at the crash site as pro-Russian rebels began “cleaning” it of evidence as well as looting of personal effects of the victims.

Now EU Foreign Ministers must determine how bold they will be in their outrage with Russia’s evasive behavior as well as the virulent propaganda campaign now being fomented in the Russia press.  The latest Russian conspiracy theory is that a phantom Ukrainian fighter jet is responsible for the downing of the Malaysian airliner.  Additionally, France will be feeling the pressure from David Cameron, UK Prime Minister, due to Paris’ decision to go through with the sale to Moscow of two Mistral class helicopter carriers for the sum of $1.66billon.

The question remains, will the EU expand sanctions that would be commensurate with Russia’s behavior? Sadly, it would be a surprise if more stringent sanctions are taken today.  France has a massive stake in the two Mistral carriers bound for, no doubt, their new port in Crimea.  Italy also has deep business roots in Russia and has been unwilling to risk those while Germany is concerned with a reliable energy supplier in Russia and has been less than enthusiastic in expanding sanctions.

All this points to a symbolic expansion of sanctions but nothing that Moscow, at the end of the day, can’t live with and will see as nothing but a Brussels slap on the wrist.  Clearly no EU state is happy with the situation in Ukraine and certainly outraged at the downing of a civilian airliner along with the grotesque handling of the crash scene by rebels in the region. This outrage, however, will more than likely be confined to harsh words and soft action as the EU appears unable to form a straight line in their foreign policy.