Posts Tagged ‘EU’



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?



70th anniversary of the Allied landings on D-Day

Petro Poroshenko was inaugurated President of Ukraine last Saturday and has immediately engaged the challenges that face him and his country.  Last week Poroshenko found himself at the D-Day commemorations with over twenty Western leaders including Russia’s Vladimir Putin. Although Putin spent most of the three days in France ignoring Poroshenko the two did have a brief conversation that included separatist violence in eastern Ukraine and the recent Russian annexation of Crimea. It was a conversation in which Poroshenko hinted that he will begin the deescalation of the crisis Moscow has stoked since the February revolution.

For the first time since the 2004 “Orange Revolution,” Vladimir Putin will not have his way when negotiating with Kiev over issues that range from collective security to energy prices. In Petro Poroshenko, Moscow confronts a popularly elected leader in Kiev who will engage it and who understands the narrow path he has to negotiate in Ukraine’s future vis-a-vis possible agreements with both the EU and NATO.

EU engagement, leading to membership is a goal the “Maiden”, those protesters who were instrumental in the ousting of former hardline President Viktor Yanukovich, has maintained from the beginning. This, of course, was the genesis of the protests last November which led to the ouster of the former regime. Poroshenko understands that softening his stand on strengthening ties with the EU would spell doom for his political future.  Meanwhile, Moscow fears closer ties between Kiev and Brussels as it relates to trade with Ukraine especially in the now troubled eastern section of the country. Ukraine’s negotiations with the EU will have to take Moscow’s concerns into account while remaining firm to Kiev’s desire for closer relations with Brussels.

NATO aspirations are troubled and possibly not on the table for Kiev at this time. Putin has admitted that Ukraine flirtation with NATO membership was the reason Moscow annexed Crimea last month.  Ukraine membership in NATO is the threshold Moscow is willing to cross and risk relations with the West in order to prevent Kiev from taking any further steps in that direction.

Poroshenko will have to delink NATO and EU membership and pursue EU membership only in order to make any headway in resolving the Moscow fermented instability in Ukraine. The process of examining EU and NATO membership in isolation will give Kiev a greater opportunity to end the crisis in the eastern districts and to implement other democratic institution building measures.

The West will have to come to understand that Ukraine can’t “have it all” at this time, meaning both EU and NATO membership. It’s naive to believe that Kiev can simply ignore the elephant in the neighborhood and that elephant’s capacity and desire to keep Kiev at arm’s length from Western powers.

Additionally, Ukraine needs a responsible and measured response from the West as Poroshenko navigates a very complex path from the kleptocracy which was Yanukovich’s government to a functioning democracy.  Ukraine needs thoughtful and mature engagement from the West, especially Washington, not hashtag diplomacy and unrealistic immediate expectations from Kiev.

Despite these challenges Poroshenko is a challenge for Putin and will remain a force to negotiate with, not only for the situation in Ukraine but Russia as well. Putin’s vision and Russia’s future place in the community of nations now lies as much in Kiev as it does in Moscow.





Turkey’s Constitutional Court, in a 14-2 decision, ruled the government ban on You Tube in March is unconstitutional. This ban came on the heels of taking down Twitter throughout Turkey. These actions were on the orders from Prime Minister Recep Tyyip Erdogan and his apparent ongoing battle with modernity.

Erdogan is anticipated to run for President this August, in the first popular election for that office, and he has been tailoring his policies to a successful conclusion from banning public protests to restricting internet access.

The release of several recordings purportedly to be of Erdogan discussing everything from the arrest of former government Ministers to recent actions against Syria surfaced on You Tube causing his unilateral action of shutting down the site in Turkey.  Likewise, Twitter came into his sites as he stated ” Twitter disgraces our nation and morals.”  This ban announced after several other recordings surfaced on Twitter allegedly of Erdogan as well as Twitter being used to organize anti-governemnet protests.

Yesterday’s high court decision in Ankara once again places the judiciary at odds with the Prime Minister who has vowed to “clean up the judicial branch from foreign elements.”

Meanwhile in a separate but not unrelated event, the European Court of Justice has compelled Google (parent company of You Tube) to take action on what has come to be termed “the right to be forgotten” by instituting a process to remove outdated and/or damaging information. This landmark ruling is destined to change the way privacy laws are now implemented regarding the storage and display of data though unclear how a massive undertaking such as this will eventually play out.

There is little doubt that Erdogan will attempt to use this latest court ruling in his favor in order to continue his ban on social media and freedom of speech writ large. This comes as no surprise as the rule of law in Turkey has been bent and shaped by the government for personal gain and political expediency during the later years of Erdogan’s rule.

Turkey was once held up as an example of blending both Islam and democracy into a viable state model but it is quickly degenerating into an informational black hole for its citizens who clamor for the basic right to express their thoughts without government interference.




Yesterday’s election for the European parliament was a political earthquake felt throughout EU and non-EU states alike and as this blog wrote last week the far right of Europe’s political spectrum is now poised to make their voices heard and their Euro-skeptisim felt.

France’s NF showing, led by Marine le Pen, was strong enough to out distance the numbers garnered by both ruling Socialist party led by President Francois Hollande and the center right UMP.  The NF took 26 percent of the vote thereby claiming the highest number of seats for France. The biggest shock of the night, however, was the showing of Britain’s United Kingdom Independence party (UKIP) by gathering nearly 30 percent of the popular vote. Similar gains were registered by Austria’s populist party (FPO) as well as the Danish People’s Party.

This leap forward by those who have been called Europe’s Tea parties presents a sea change in the way policy will be both formulated and executed in the name of the European Union.  National agendas will loom over Brussels leading to a less than unified voice which will be more apparent in times of crisis. This inward looking collection of skeptics will be less likely to act as one and more likely be a collective bloc of “no” votes no matter what issue is being debated.

The celebration by these fringe parties (to include one seat going to a Fascist from Germany) could very will turn into parliamentary circus in the not so distant future as national agendas compete with one another as well as those still committed to a European wide vision.

The opening of this EU parliament will be entertaining as these newly elected EMP’s attempt to bite the hand that feeds them as they argue that they dissolve the very institution they were just elected to serve.


Elections will conclude this Sunday for a new European Parliament .  What makes this round of elections different is the recent and meteoric raise of far right Parties such as the National Front (NP) in France, the United Kingdom Independent Party (UKIP) and Austria’s Freedom Party (FPO) to name just three of what have been termed Europe’s Tea Parties.  

These independent minded political parties have little in common with each other except for the fact they are skeptical of a united Europe.  This Sunday will be a barometer of the European electorate, for those that actually bother to vote in what has been predicted a low voter turnout, and the anti-EU agendas of these fringe parties.

The EU Parliament in the not too distant past barely received notice from Brussels itself but recently has gained the attention of not only EU member states but the US as well, perhaps due to the very phenomena of these rising nationalist movements within the framework of a cooperative model such as the EU.

What this means for the US is a much more complex model to deal with, for instance the crisis in Ukraine and the a response to Russian hegemonic behavior. A more independent Europe with multiple national agendas will be challenge simply to track let alone to engage with strategically.

In the end, the demons of the twentieth century we faced and fought are far from vanquished. The post-modern world we thought we were entering is looking haunting similar to the one we left behind when national interest trumps collective security.



occupy-Gezi-brutalityThe current constitutional crisis that has gripped Turkey has its roots in the clash between the long-standing secularism of modern Turkey and its desire to become the newest member of the European Union. The 20th century saw Turkey fiercely cling to the secularism that Atatürk laid down for a modern Turkish state and indeed it served it well for more than 80 years. But as Turkey attempts to propel itself on to a larger stage, a stage populated with mature democracies, those very ideals that kept it from falling into the orbit of radical fundamentalism in the past century will indeed prevent it from joining the European community of nations in this century

It is time for Turkey to move forward, built on what it has accomplished, and allow the EU to be the successor to its current policy of secularization by embracing the much-needed reforms outlined by Brussels, thereby opening Turkish society to the rule of law and democratic institution-building.


Originally published as letter to editor Financial Times May 3, 2007.