This article was originally published by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) on 5 January 2017.
The failure of Iraq, breakdown of Syria, and changes in Turkey have created opportunities for Kurds in all three countries. They are not quite the regional kingmakers that some Kurds have boasted they might become, but Kurdish political and military power is now a growing factor in Middle East geopolitics. This has produced not only unique challenges, but also new possibilities for U.S. policy in the region. As President-Elect Donald J. Trump shapes his administration and officials look at the Middle East beyond the battles against the so-called Islamic State in Mosul and Raqqa, they will have to come to terms with the Kurds, some of whom are intent on using their new clout and political developments around them to push for a sovereign Kurdistan.
It is unlikely that Syria’s Democratic Union Party (PYD) or its fighting force, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), or Turkey’s Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) will realize their objectives of statehood, but Iraq’s Kurds may be in a far more advantageous position to press for independence. Significant obstacles remain for Iraqi Kurds, but the combination of regional instability, the coming liberation of Mosul, and the state of Iraqi politics may help advance the historic goals of Kurdish leaders.
This article was originally published by the Elcano Royal Institute on 20 September 2016.
Russian revisionism represents a direct threat to many eastern and central European countries. In turn, the ripple effects of instability in Syria, Iraq or Libya continue to be felt throughout Europe, not only through successive waves of refugees and migrants, but also through terrorism and mounting insecurity.
Following the publication of the EU’s Global Strategy on Foreign and Security Policy (EUGS) in June 2016, and NATO’s July summit in Warsaw, most discussions on European strategy appear to be revolving around the following questions: (A) how to bring security to Europe’s immediate neighbourhood and (B) how to balance attention and resources between Eastern Europe, North Africa/Sahel, and the Levant. When it comes to strategy, prioritization is essential. And it does make sense for Europeans to put their own neighbourhood first, given the proliferation of crises and instability along the continent’s eastern and southern peripheries. However, a world that is increasingly characterized by the rise of Asia and the multiplication of centres of economic activity is one that calls for a truly global approach to foreign and security policy.
Courtesy Alexandra (Sasha) Lerman/flickr
This article was originally published by the Centre for Eastern Studies (OSW) on 9 September 2016.
On 2 September (although unofficial reports cited 29 August as the date), the President of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov died in Tashkent. Formally, the President’s duties are currently being carried out by the leader of the Senate, Nigmatilla Yuldashew (although he has not been sworn in as head of state), and elections to the post of president are to be held over the next three months. Due to the undemocratic nature of the system in Uzbekistan, the successor to Karimov will be decided by an informal fight for the leadership, and not the result of the election. Currently, the most likely successor seems to be the ruling Prime Minister, Shavgat Mirziyayev, who among other indications headed the funeral committee, received the foreign delegations who attended Karimov’s funeral on 3 September, as well as the President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, during his surprise visit to Samarkand on 6 September.
Peligroso Putin, Madrid 2008, Courtesy David/flickr
This article was originally published by the European Union Institute for Security Studies (EUISS) in June 2016.
Russia’s recession and its geopolitical standoff with the West are taking their toll on the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). During a summit of the EAEU’s leaders in Astana on 31 May, several participants voiced concerns over the union’s poor economic performance. And Moscow’s reaction to the recent flare-up of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict cast doubts for Armenia on the security benefits of EAEU membership.
Against this backdrop, 18 months after the launch of the EAEU, its member states are demonstrating increasing resistance to Moscow’s vision of Eurasian integration. As a result, its success will largely depend on Russia’s leverage – positive and negative – over its smaller partners.
Looming stick, dwindling carrot
The launch of the EAEU was overshadowed by two developments. First, Russian pressure on Armenia, Moldova and Ukraine in the context of the finalisation of Association Agreements with the EU and accession to the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA), culminating with the annexation of Crimea and a Moscow-backed insurgency in the Donbas; and, second, the global slump of commodity prices and the enforcement of Western economic sanctions over the Ukraine crisis, leading to a slowdown of the Russian economy (the ultimate guarantor of the union’s economic success). In this context, EAEU accession was perceived by its signatories as a bitter pill that could not be refused.
Courtesy by thierry ehrmann/flickr
This article was originally published by the Institute for the Study of War (ISW) on 30 June 2016.
ISIS is refocusing its strategy in Turkey towards destabilizing the Turkish state and isolating it from the West. ISIS has two main lines of effort in Turkey. The first is to incite an ethnic war between the Kurds and the Turkish state in order to weaken its opponents in northern Syria and regain freedom of action in southern Turkey. The second is to undermine the Turkish state and punish it for being part of the anti-ISIS coalition through attacks against western targets in Turkey. ISIS has more actively pursued this second line of effort by targeting Westerners in Istanbul beginning in early 2016 while continuing its campaign along the Syrian border. The triple suicide bombing at the Istanbul Ataturk Airport on June 28, 2016 supports ISIS’s stated strategic objectives of seizing Constantinople and undermining the Turkish state by harming the vital tourism industry, targeting infrastructure that connects Turkey to the West, and raising requirements for domestic security services. ISIS has not claimed any spectacular attacks against the state in Turkey in order to avoid a major domestic crackdown that would threaten its freedom of action as well as its cross-border mobility into Syria. Moreover, ISIS already accomplishes its objectives in Turkey through spectacular attacks without risking a claim.
ISIS’s evolved strategy in Turkey mirrors a corresponding shift in the policies pursued by Turkey towards the group. Turkey joined the international anti-ISIS coalition in September 2014 but initially avoided overt confrontation with ISIS. Turkey instead tolerated ISIS as a vector to apply indirect pressure on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and hasten the overthrow of his regime by opposition groups supported by Turkey. ISIS also provided Turkey with a means to contain the Syrian Kurdish YPG, which Turkey views as an existential threat due its affiliation with secessionist agenda of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Turkey’s reluctance to restrict cross-border flow of foreign fighters and supplies provided ISIS with an incentive to avoid conducting terrorist attacks inside the country and jeopardizing its freedom of movement through Turkey to Syria. Turkey altered its calculus after the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalition deepened its cooperation with the Syrian Kurds throughout early 2015, enabling the YPG to secure major gains along the Syrian-Turkish Border. The prospect of further motion towards a contiguous autonomous zone in Northern Syria controlled by the Syrian Kurds prompted Turkey to deepen its own engagement with the coalition. The coalition also acted to encourage this decision through the use of alternating incentives and disincentives meant to influence decision-making in Ankara. The U.S. in particular modulated its provision of aircraft, missile defense systems, rocket artillery, and other high-end capabilities in order to generate a policy convergence on Syria.