Reports that the U.S. is considering establishing forward bases to counter ISIS’s affiliates in Libya and Afghanistan reflect the increasing regional capability and momentum of the group in the Near Abroad. ISIS will likely gain new support in Afghanistan and possibly globally due to the death of the Taliban’s leader, Mullah Omar. ISIS is also expanding operations in Yemen, Libya and Egypt, which may provoke direct conflict between ISIS and al Qaeda. ISIS will likely intensify regional operations, possibly within Turkey, as it faces pressure within Syria and Iraq from Turkey and other anti-ISIS forces. ISIS will also likely attempt to open other border crossings between ISIS’s interior and Near Abroad positions.
Anchored between the unelected Guardianship Council, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the supreme leader Ali Khamenei, Iran’s foreign policy reflects a complex mix of political, military and ideological interests. The recently-brokered deal between the P5+1 and Tehran is a case in point. While Iran’s elected President Hassan Rouhani and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif successfully negotiated the end of sanctions in exchange for limits on Iran’s nuclear capabilities, neither wield significant decision-making power within the Islamic Republic’s theocratic structure. At best, the presidency is the office of choice for international communications because it retains the trappings of a republic—an executive body with (apparently) executive authority. Consequently, Rouhani cannot pursue foreign policy goals without the consent of the Ayatollah, the Council and Guards.
Where next for Poland? That is the big question following the swearing in of Andrzej Duda for a five-year term as the new president.
The 43-year-old lawyer’s shock victory in May’s presidential election has shaken up Polish politics. It means that for the first time since 2010, Poland’s president is from a different party to the prime minister. Duda represents the right-wing Law and Justice party, while prime minister Ewa Kopacz is from the centrist Civic Platform.
Duda’s victory prompted speculation about whether there would be a significant shift in Polish international relations. Up to a point, is the short answer. Real executive power lies with the prime minister, but the Polish president is not simply a ceremonial figure. According to the constitution, the president has informal oversight and a coordinating role over foreign policy.
When it comes to the fight against Boko Haram, Nigeria’s new president Muhammadu Buhari has been busy. He has finally got the Multinational Joint Task Force up and running, which combines troops from Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria into one regional force: a necessary weapon against what has always been a regional rather than national problem.
He has worked to repair frayed relations with regional leaders like Idriss Déby of Chad and, more recently, Cameroon’s Paul Biya. His visit to Cameroon in July culminated in an agreement to allow troops from both countries to engage in ‘hot pursuit’ across borders, which will make it harder for militants to skip across national boundaries to evade capture.
No business as usual in the Western Balkans
The Western Balkans remain Europe’s unfinished business, not only for the continuing stalemate in Bosnia or tensions in Macedonia and Northern Kosovo, but also because broader geopolitical developments shaping the EU’s neighbourhood are materialising in this region too – and in ways that could be detrimental to European interests.
Tensions and perception of a stalemate in the Balkans are enhanced by “the five year freeze”, while emerging forms of rule are at odds with the EU’s founding tenets and the integration narrative. Indeed, the same competition of models, that we see in other parts of Europe, which pits more or less pluralist democracies against populists or illiberal democracies in the mould of Viktor Orban or even “Putinism”, is played out in the Western Balkans too, with uncertain outcomes for this fragile region. Ironically, in the very part of the world where the EU is in the lead and where its influence, through its transformative power, should be at its most potent, local experts concur that the EU is no longer the leading actor and that its leverage has decreased.