February, 2016 International Relations

BY RAMZY BAROUD, The Japan Times


Jean-Marie Guéhenno, theguardian
Murderous suicide bombings. A deadly upsurge of ethno-sectarian violence spilling over from Syria. A country whose friendship with the US and EU is increasingly fragile, and is now at daggers drawn with a historic enemy, Russia.

Cultural Mosaic, courtesy of  Dinesh Cyanam

Jason Miklian and Devika Sharma for Norwegian Peacebuilding Resource Centre (NOREF)
India’s foreign policy history has always been complex, but what about its current approach to international relations? By looking at New Delhi’s foreign policy tilts in five specific areas, Jason Miklian and Devika Sharma confirm that its external engagement remains varied and often contradictory.

Ankara (AFP) - Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will visit four west African countries next week, including Nigeria, his office said Saturday in a new sign of Ankara's desire to be a major influence in the region.

Guardian Editorial
The Syrian war has lasted so long and diplomacy has proved so ineffective that the hope that it could end or at least be brought under some kind of control is hard to sustain. Yet the cessation of hostilities agreed by nearly all of the warring parties seemed to be holding this weekend. Most observers give it a chance, not because of some sudden change of heart on anybody’s part – nearly all those concerned still hate each other – but because it is arguably in the interests of the key players to pursue their objectives in the future in a different way.

Patrick Wintour, Diplomatic editor, theguardian

A fragile, temporary and partial cessation of hostilities has come into force in Syria after 97 fighting groups, as well as the Syrian government and Russian air force, signed up to a ceasefire.

Ömer Taşpınar
The real problem for the next American administration will not only be Russian hegemony over Syria but Turkey's propensity to challenge this domination by trying to get NATO involved in a conflict with Moscow.

SEMİH İDİZ, hurriyetdailynews
Having been left largely in the cold, Ankara is now trying to get back into the game in Syria in order to promote its security interests in the north of the country. It continues, however, to tread on thin ice.

Bülent Keneş

Just as deterrence against hostile forces is important for the protection and promotion of national interests in international relations, consistency and credibility are equally important in the international community.
Of course, deterrence does not consist solely of continually declaring red lines regarding national interests. And it can hardly be defined as standing by with folded arms when these red lines are blurred in a short time. Indeed, there is a huge gap between deterrence and bluffing.

By Salman Rafi
America does not want the emergence of China as a giant in the global hierarchy of states. While issues like the ‘militarization’ of South China Sea give it the opportunity to attack China and win praise from ASEAN members involved in islands row, US is also very much concerned over the rise of China as an economic power. 

NURAY MERT, hurriyetdailynews

Turkey is in a de facto war-like situation, even if it is not de jure yet. The warmonger supporters of the government have already started to celebrate “the new war of independence” in the name of “revenge for the suppression of Turks as leaders of Muslims” and the end of the “cursed 20th century” to go “back to future glorious times.”

Amir Faress for Tehran Bureau
Concentration of power in the hands of one person is a terrible thing, but nothing will be achieved by fantastical arguments designed to prove there are mechanisms within Iran’s constitution to remedy the issue.

by Burak Bekdil, The Gatestone Institute
Originally published under the title "Russia's Trap: Luring Sunnis into War."


After Russia's increasingly bold military engagement in war-torn Syria in favor of President Bashar al-Assad and the Shiite bloc, the regional Sunni powers – Turkey and its ally, Saudi Arabia – have felt nervous and incapable of influencing the civil war in favor of the many Islamist groups fighting Assad's forces.

 Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev giving an interview on the sidelines of the 2016 Munich Securit Conference (Photo: EPA)

Ronen Bergman
Op-ed: The general atmosphere at the 2016 Munich Security Conference was one of despair, confusion and belligerence. The Russians bickered with NATO on every topic, with Russian PM declaring the situation has deteriorated 'to the level of a cold war'; meanwhile, no one talked about the Palestinians, and Iranian FM Zarif failed to draw the same crowds he did in the past.
On stage in Munich, in an almost formal manner, the renewal of the Cold War was announced.

Lale Kemal
Turkey has been facing a series of challenges at home and abroad amid a fresh terrorist attack on Feb. 17, this time, on military targets in Ankara, killing 28 people, including military personnel, and injuring 61.
A bomb-laden vehicle caused the deadly powerful explosion during the evening rush hour, hitting military vehicles at an intersection.

MURAT YETKİN, hurriyetdailynews

A bomb blast rocked central Ankara at rush hour on the evening of Feb. 17, killing 28 and wounding 61. Government sources stated that a suicide bomber pulled the trigger on 30 kilos of explosives next to two buses stopped at a red traffic light carrying military and civilian personnel back home from military offices.

Ian Black Middle East editor
A deadline to secure a cessation of hostilities in Syria has passed, further delaying the resumption of UN-brokered peace talks between the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, and the rebels fighting to overthrow him.

Omer Taspinar
In many ways, there is nothing new in what we are facing in Syria as far Turkey's strategic approach is concerned.
Turkey lost the initiative in Syria years ago because of two major mistakes. The first was to underestimate the longevity and entrenchment of the regime in Damascus. In other words, Syria was not like Tunisia, Libya or Egypt.

SEMİH İDİZ, hurriyetdailynews

Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu finally put to rest speculation about a possible invasion of Syria by Turkey. It was his remarks which fueled this debate in the first place.

He said last week that if things were based on a result-oriented strategy, then Turkey could mount a land operation against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) together with Saudi Arabia.

Chris Stephen in Tunis
Five years ago he picked up a gun and joined Libya’s rebels to depose Muammar Gaddafi in a blaze of patriotic vigour. Half a decade later the Tripoli medical student will mark Wednesday’s anniversary of the Arab spring revolution treating militia fighters wounded in battles with Islamic State.

BURAK BEKDİL, hurriyetdailynews

Speaking at an investors forum in The Hague, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said Turkey was a safe haven for investors. If the prime minister was not joking or referring to another country that goes by the same name, his understanding of what is and what is not “safe” must be quite eccentric.

SEMİH İDİZ, hurriyetdailynews

Turkey has raised the stakes in Syria by beginning to shell the Syrian Kurdish Peoples Defense Units (YPG) in an effort to deter the group from capturing more territory along the Turkish border. Although pro-government media is drumming up support for this action, one does not need much imagination to realize that average Turks are worried about where this is all leading to.

Michael Clarke, theguardian
The military campaign against Islamic State is being reduced to a vicious sideshow as the Syrian civil war enters a new make-or-break phase. Russian military involvement has been a game-changer – saving Bashar al-Assad’s forces from near collapse, blatantly attacking western-backed opposition forces, and supplying T-90 tanks to Assad’s army closing in on Aleppo. For the western allies, time is running out. The agenda is being shaped by Russia, Assad and Iran, which have formed a de facto alliance to maintain the old Syria and – despite the supposed ceasefire agreed by the big powers in Munich last Friday – are not dissuaded by the death and destruction involved.

IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot, right, with US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford (Photo: Yariv Katz)

Alex Fishman

Clandestine ties with Jordan, secret coordination meetings in Moscow, encrypted conference calls with the Americans, joint drills with the Greeks, and relations with military attaches from over 30 countries. As the Foreign Ministry collapses and Israel's international standing is undermined, the IDF is coming out ahead on the diplomatic front.

Project Syndicate
WINCHESTER – “Only the dead have seen the end of war.” George Santayana’s dictum seems particularly appropriate nowadays, with the Arab world, from Syria and Iraq to Yemen and Libya, a cauldron of violence; Afghanistan locked in combat with the Taliban; swaths of central Africa cursed by bloody competition – often along ethnic/religious lines – for mineral resources. Even Europe’s tranquility is at risk – witness the separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine, which before the current ceasefire had claimed more than 6,000 lives.

DEBKAfile Special Report 

At the end of hours of debate in Munich, US Secretary of State John Kerry announced early Friday, Feb. 12, that the US, Russia and other powers had agreed to a “cessation of hostilities” in Syria’s civil war to take place next week and immediate humanitarian access to besieged areas.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov added: The cessation would go into effect next Friday, Feb. 19 but, he stressed, “terrorist” groups would continue to be targeted.

Shashank Joshi, theguardian
Putting aside the unfortunate historical ring to “peace” agreements signed in Munich, today’s Syrian truce is deeply flawed and unlikely to hold for long. The “cessation of hostilities” – for it is not a true ceasefire – has been hailed as a landmark piece of diplomacy that brings some respite to a war that long ago spiralled out of control.

SEMİH İDİZ, hurriyetdailynews
Turkey’s problem with the U.S. over the Democratic Union Party (PYD) of the Syrian Kurds, and its military wing the Peoples Defense Units, involves a dead-end for Ankara. Turkey has declared both groups to be extensions of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and wants its allies to declare them as terrorist groups too.

by Burak Bekdil
"Writing anti-Israel speech on the wall of a synagogue is an act of anti-Semitism," Ivo Molinas, editor-in-chief of Salom.Turkey's ruling Islamists have systematically nurtured and exploited anti-Semitic sentiments.

BURAK BEKDİL, hurriyetdailynews

It’s the same old Turkish malady: Form over function, or (fancy) words over deeds. Consistency remains one of the rarest qualities in governing politics, particularly in foreign policy.

Ian Black, Middle East editor
Syria’s war is facing a critical few days as refugees stream from Aleppo towards the Turkish border and Russian airstrikes help Bashar al-Assad’s forces advance, with diplomatic moves still showing no sign of concrete measures to relieve the suffering of ordinary people.

Erdogan’s Foreign Policy Is in Ruins

 It wasn’t long ago that Turkish foreign policy was the talk of the town. Defined by the catchy phrase of “zero problems with the neighbors,” Turkey aimed to both improve relations with its neighborhood and slowly emerge as the dominant regional power. It was a classic case of enhancing soft power through democratization and economic reforms at home, coupled with shrewd diplomacy aimed at establishing Ankara as a mediator in the region’s conflicts.

 ISIS Kurds

With the predictable failure of the Syria peace conference, the axis between Russia, Iran and Assad seeks to destroy the non-Islamic State Sunni rebellion. UN Special Envoy on Syria Staffan de Mistura this week announced the suspension of just-convened peace talks in Geneva intended to resolve the Syrian civil war.

Natalie Nougayrède, theguardian
If Aleppo falls, Syria’s vicious war will take a whole new turn, one with far-reaching consequences not just for the region but for Europe too. The latest government assault on the besieged northern Syrian city, which has caused tens of thousands more people to flee in recent days, is also a defining moment for relations between the west and Russia, whose airforce is playing a key role. The defeat of anti-Assad rebels who have partially controlled the city since 2012 would leave nothing on the ground in Syria but Assad’s regime and Islamic State. And all hope of a negotiated settlement involving the Syrian opposition will vanish. This has been a longstanding Russian objective – it was at the heart of Moscow’s decision to intervene militarily four months ago.


BURAK BEKDİL, hurriyetdailynews

Until Jan. 29, elementary military technology described a Russian Su-24 aircraft as a supersonic, all-weather bomber developed in the Soviet Union, and a Su-34 as a jet designed for tactical deployment against ground and naval targets on solo and group missions with counter-fire and electronic warfare counter-measures. The main difference between the two aircraft was that the advanced Su-34 was a replacement for the Su-24. Jan. 29 displayed another major difference: Su-24s can be shot down when they violate Turkish airspace while Su-34s cannot.

 Acrimony behind the diplomatic smiles
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report 

While diplomats from 70 countries talked in London about how to raise $9 bn for projects to rehabilitate Syria’s refugees and rebuild their war-ravaged country, its future was further clouded this week by an argument that flared between the main arbiters, Russia and Iran.

By Michael Curtis

Some developments in international affairs occasion no surprise. The announcement on January 28, 2016 by the military wing of the terrorist group Hamas, which controls the Gaza strip, that seven of its members were killed when a tunnel, which they were repairing in order to attack Israeli civilians, had collapsed reminded the world that Islamist terrorism continues. The eagerness of European countries to make business arrangements with Iran illustrates that the supposed concern for human rights and about the threat of a nuclear Iran is of small importance compared with economic opportunities.

Kim R. Holmes
For the last seven years we have witnessed an unprecedented experiment based on a fundamental question: What would the world look like if the United States pulled back from its traditional leadership role? That was after all, the key thrust of President Barack Obama’s new foreign policy. He promised to embark on a radically new way of dealing with the world—one where we would “engage” our enemies rather than confront them.

Guardian Editorial
President Hassan Rouhani’s whirlwind visit to Europe last week was an indication both of how eager Iran is to shed its pariah status and of how eager western countries are to resume trade and financial relations now that international sanctions are being lifted. Dozens of contracts running into billions of dollars were discussed. He met the pope, the Italian prime minister, the French president, and many business leaders.

MURAT YETKİN, hurriyetdailynews

Before starting a series of official meetings in Chile on Jan. 31, Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan told reporters covering his trip that “the people from the southeast” have been sending messages to Ankara that the fight against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) should “go on until the end.” He stressed that the government was resolved to see to this.