“Imagining war in 2030” PS21 event writeup

The future of warfare may be coming faster than we think.

That, at least, felt like the conclusion of Tuesday’s panel on “Imagining War in 2030”, organized by the Project for the Study of the 21st Century and the British Army Intrapreneurs’ Network [BrAIN]. With dozens of military and civilian attendees packed into a relatively airless conference room in Whitehall, a panel of leading experts sketched out what looks to be a period of massive technical, geopolitical and deeply unpredictable change.

Royal United Services Institute Futures and Technology fellow Elizabeth Quintana sketched out some of the technical breakthroughs coming down the line as nations invest in new cyber, electromagnetic and growing technologies as well as hypersonic and other weaponry. Russia, she told the audience, already had a semi-autonomous humanoid robot that could fire a gun and which they intend to send to space.

Former Director Special Forces and Commander Field Army Lieutenant General Sir Graeme Lamb outlined how the pace of change was now proceeding much faster than anyone had anticipated. The year 2030 might be only 13 years away, but breakthroughs in quantum computing, artificial intelligence and other fields were all producing breakthroughs at considerable speed. They would produce potentially massive societal and other changes, and government and military institutions were not currently keeping pace.

Kings College London lecturer and former Foreign and Commonwealth Office official Samir Puri outlined how he had seen some of these changes in action as an OSCE observer in Ukraine. Different nations would demonstrate their geopolitical ambitions in different ways in the years to come, he suggested, pointing out that while a host of states including Britain, Iran, Russia and others have their own imperial memories, they were of very different empires and shaped very different regional and global aspirations.

But not everything would change, he cautioned – it was entirely possible the US and its allies would still be embroiled in the Afghanistan war at the end of the next decade.

Balancing technology, structures, career paths

Unsurprisingly, there were a range of different views on how the military and other institutions should and could adapt to such an unpredictable future. Some questioned to what extent traditional military “pyramid” shaped hierarchies could possibly adapt [although Lieutenant General Lamb argued that while flatter hierarchies have their strengths, outright conflict required much greater resilience than they could offer].

While traditional Western militaries concentrated on traditional war fighting [phase 1 operations and upwards, in UK military terminology], many of the West’s adversaries were becoming much more adept at operating below that threshold, within “phase zero” operations. That trend was only likely to intensify in the years to come, he argued.

Most attendees felt that keeping pace with current changes in cyber and other domains was proving challenging enough, but relatively near-future breakthroughs in artificial intelligence and machine learning was felt set to provide even greater changes. While current drone warfare has actually proved very “human intensive” given the number of intelligence and other individuals involved in targeting and assessment, there will be inevitable moves towards artificial intelligence performing some if not many of those tasks. Where lines are drawn – particularly on the decisions to take human life – will be highly contested, and non-Western potential foes may be much more willing than ourselves to take such steps. [”The Russians tend to trust machines more than they trust people,” said Elizabeth Quintana, pointing to a trend she traced back to Soviet times].

Integration and flexibility would be key to handling these new trends. Lamb said he expected a special forces team of the near future would also be integrated with robotic/artificial intelligence capabilities – although what exactly that would look like was another matter.

Some attendees questioned whether the modern British Military was truly flexible enough to keep track of such new trends – although there was clearly plenty of enthusiasm for doing so.

Building the systems and processes for that would be key. As US military historian Thomas Ricks [himself paraphrasing US General Omar Bradley] once said, while might talks tactics, professionals talk logistics, real insiders focus on career structures to determine what really gets done.

Taking the debate forward

This event was the first of several planned by PS21 to explore the world of 2030 [you can read a range of pieces exploring that world on the PS21 website here]. We will also be holding further events with BrAIN later this year and into 2018.

Check out upcoming PS21 events here.


Wired.com interviews US analyst Peter Singer on the future of warfare

Peter Apps is Reuters global affairs columnist and executive Director of the Project for Study of the 21st Century. He is also a reservist in the British Army and member of the UK Labour Party. You can follow him on Twitter here

PS21 Insight: US-Turkey plan to fight ISIS has serious flaws

The crowded Gran bazaar in Istanbul, Turkey (Photo: Moyan Brenn)
The crowded Gran bazaar in Istanbul, Turkey (Photo: Moyan Brenn)

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  • Plan serves US and Turkish national interests at the expense of Syrians
  • Without a common goal, will be impossible for the two countries to work together effectively
  • Turkey’s focus is on fighting the PKK, not ISIS
  • US criticized for going easy on Asad

Last week, Turkey and the US agreed on a plan to train and strengthen Syrian opposition forces fighting the Islamic State. The plan envisions American, Syrian and Turkish forces working together to drive IS forces away from the Syrian-Turkish border and create an “IS-free” zone in northern Syria.

Below are some early conclusions from members and contributors of the Project for Study of the 21st Century (PS21). If you wish to contact any of them directly, please email ps21central@gmail.com. Please credit PS21 if you quote from this report.


Hayat Alvi: Professor of Middle East studies, US Naval War College, and PS21 global fellow.

Rasha Elass: journalist formerly based in Syria and PS21 global fellow.

Milena Rodban: independent geopolitical risk consultant and PS21 global fellow.

Ostensibly, the deal will enable Syrian forces to fight ISIS. But there are doubts as to how effective it will actually be.  

Rodban: The US-Turkey plans to train Syrians first came into play in February, but the plans were repeatedly delayed, until earlier this summer, when the joint program started training fighters in earnest. Recently, it became clear that the program has had an extremely limited success rate, due to high vetting standards. It has yielded only about 60 fighters, some of whom were promptly taken hostage by IS-affiliated groups.

Alvi: The U.S. is in a pathetic state of affairs with regard to the training of the Syrian opposition, reaching only 60 Free Syrian Army (FSA) fighters so far… [who are] all in a unit called Division 30…  And, out of that 60, about 8 of them got captured by the Nusra Front (Al Qaeda in Syria), and… were paraded in front of a camera in a Nusra video.  This is a lot of egg on the U.S. face.  Plus, there are countless reports of U.S. airstrikes in Syria resulting in civilian deaths.  Not a good thing for the US…

In recent days, 20+ U.S.-trained FSA fighters – also in Division 30 — have been kidnapped.  One additional US-trained FSA fighter has been killed in fighting in Syria.  These facts are deterring others from joining the US training program.

Civilian deaths resulting from US airstrikes in Syria and Iraq number 450+.

Some have also said that the plan is more about serving American and Turkish interests than fighting ISIS, arguing that it gives Turkey an excuse to re-ignite its war against the PKK and the US to enmesh itself further in the Syrian civil war.

Elass: It’s shortsighted because it lacks a common goal, let alone a long range one. Sure, Turkey and the US agree that the target for this move is Islamic State. But how will this manifest on the ground when Turkey finds that the Kurds, who are a major U.S. ally, are a threat to Turkish sovereignty?

The US and Turkey also disagree on priorities, with the US focused primarily on fighting Islamic State while Turkey continues to reiterate its stance that president Bashar al Assad must go? With the US and Turkey at such odds, how long can their partnership continue before running into a major glitch?

Alvi: The U.S.-Turkey plan to fight ISIS encompasses each country’s respective national interests, which is to be expected.  That’s what states do, they discern and strategize national interests.

For the U.S., the primary focus is to go after ISIS, mainly because of the terror group’s killings of westerners.  The Syrian opposition has criticized this narrow focus, because it does nothing to go after Asad and the Asad regime, and that’s even after Pres. Obama has said that “Asad has to go.”

For Turkey, the primary focus is to ensure that the Kurdish militants — inside ISIS as well as in the PKK — do not attack Turkey.  That red line was broken when the PKK killed 2 Turkish police officers last week.

The fact that Turkey convened a special meeting with NATO indicates that Turkey wants its safety net:  if things get way too out of hand with the Syrian war spillover into Turkey, then it has the option of invoking Article 5 collective defense of NATO members.  That gives Turkey a sense of some security.

Also, the fact that Northern Iraq’s Kurdistan regional government called on the PKK to stop its attacks against Turkey is also an indication that the PKK is indeed provoking trouble in the region.  Turkey has already carried out airstrikes against PKK camps in Northern Iraq.  This is not something Iraq wants, and it recognizes the dangers of PKK provocation.

Rodban: The primary problem with the US-Turkey plan… is that the countries have very different endgames. The US wants to support the Kurds, whom Turkey sees as enemies (given their history with the PKK, etc.). Turkey continues to bomb more Kurd/PKK camps than IS targets in its ongoing campaign against IS. The countries have had strikingly different attitudes towards IS, with Turkey only now really taking the fight against the group more seriously, following attacks on Turkey’s territory, but appearing more committed to using the campaign to strike the PKK, which undermines US desires to hit more IS targets…

Many remain wary of Turkey’s commitment to beating IS- they don’t believe Turkey will do all that’s necessary to defeat the group. PKK leader Cemil Bayik told the BBC that Turkish President Erdogan is protecting IS because he wants IS to keep fighting the PKK, and stalling or rolling back Kurdish gains (which Turkey sees as a threat). This is not just a PKK view. There is enough evidence to suggest Turkey sees the Kurds as their primary enemy, with IS a distant second. While IS remains active, it keeps the attention of the Kurds firmly focused on fighting the terror group, and not the Turkish government, which had been the PKK’s primary target.

(Note: the “Kurds” should not be seen as a united or cohesive entity- the Syrian/Iraqi/Turkish Kurdish groups are distinct, with different capabilities, goals, etc., and some in the PKK are resistant to turning all of their attention away from fighting the Turkish government. Hence recent shootouts with Turkish police/military targets.)

…Allowing the US to launch drones and warplanes from Turkish bases… will make US strikes more effective since the proximity of Turkish bases, particularly Incirlik, in the SW of Turkey, since it’s only an hour away from IS targets in Syria, which will allow the drones and planes to spend more time hitting targets and less time traveling. While US airstrikes may successfully destroy more IS targets, Turkey is likely to continue focusing on striking PKK targets, making it less likely that this campaign will be as comprehensive and integrated as intended. 

With clashing interests, it certainly seems that it will be difficult for the US and Turkey to work together as outlined by the plan. The so-called “IS-free zone” is also a point of contention.

Rodban: Discussion of a proposed “safe zone” in northern Syria, bordering southern Turkey, seems to also have different purposes, depending on whether you’re talking to Turkish or American leaders. Turkey thinks the safe zone will allow refugees living in Turkey to start going home. The Americans dispute that this is the main goal. With disagreements over such major issues, it seems the battle plan is far from comprehensive and certainly not cohesive.

Elass: Although no one is calling it a no-fly zone, in effect that is what it is. By default, Syrian warplanes do not intercept the same air space that the US-led coalition has been using to bombard IS. Now that a stretch of land has been designated by Turkey and the US as a safe zone for Syrians fleeing IS, it is highly unlikely that Syrian warplanes would breach this space. Assad sees himself as a partner in the fight on terrorism, and would therefore not want to be seen as interfering with these efforts. Iran, which arguably has greater say these days than Assad does in Syria’s military operations, is also now unlikely to throw a wrench in the US-Turkey plan.

A no-fly zone has long been called for by Syrian opposition and many humanitarian aid providers. Now that there is a de facto no-fly zone, it might make sense to create more of them in other parts of Syria.

While the US and Turkey have competing interests, it will be difficult for them to trust each other in the war against the Islamic State.

Rodban: While Turkey’s attention is split between the PKK and IS, the campaign is likely to have limited success. In Turkey, public opinion supports the campaign against IS, and less support for focusing too much on the PKK, especially following the deadly IS attacks on Turkish soil. Yet there is still opposition to Turkish boots on the ground in Syria. The US will need to either find a way to refocus Turkey on the fight against IS, which is unlikely unless IS strikes deep in the heart of Turkey and throws popular support overwhelmingly behind a campaign against the brutal group, or realize that the US does not really have an equal partner in this fight.  

Alvi: As long as the U.S. stays narrowly focused on attacking ISIS and Nusra Front in Syria, and does nothing substantive about bringing Asad and the Asad regime to justice, public opinion in the region will not view U.S. intentions and actions as serious and sincere with regard to preventing / ending genocide.  Turkey, which is the United States’ partner in the fight against ISIS and other elements in Syria, also shares that opinion of the U.S.  That alone speaks volumes.

PS21 Insight: Iran deal implications go well beyond the nuclear

US Secretary of State John Kerry shakes hands with Iran Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, July 14.
US Secretary of State John Kerry shakes hands with Iran Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, July 14.

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  • While deal theoretically limited to nuclear program, much broader implications
  • Could help Iran back into international mainstream after decades of pariah status
  • Alternatively, need to placate hardliners could leave little real difference
  • Israel, US Gulf allies furious. Some believe the latter may now embrace their own nuclear programs
  • if the deal goes through, Iran could expect significant inward investment and economic growth
  • Islamic State conflict means other potential route to bring Iran into mainstream. More broadly, though, regional Sunni-Shi’ite tensions rising — which could again push Gulf states towards their own nuclear program

On Tuesday, July 13, the so-called P5+1 major powers — the US, Russia, China, France, UK and Germany — sealed a landmark nuclear deal with Iran.

Below are some early conclusions from members and contributors of the Project for Study of the 21st Century (PS21).

If you wish to contact any directly, please e-mail ps21central@gmail.com.

Please credit PS21 if you quote from this report


Nigel Inkster: former deputy chief of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), now head of transnational threats and political risk at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies and PS21 global fellow.

Hayat Alvi: Professor of Middle East Studies, US Naval War College, and PS21 global fellow.

Emad Mostaque: strategist, emerging markets consultancy Eclectic Strategy.

David Hartwell: former British Ministry of Defence official, now editor of Middle East Insider.

As expected, the deal is proving deeply divisive. For its backers, it provides the best hope since the Iranian revolution of bringing Iran back into the international community. For its critics, it is far too soft, still leaving a potential Iranian nuclear bomb on the table in the still quite near future and stripping away many of the levers of influence the outside world had.

The reality, of course, is that it is still too soon to say. Possibly, the return of decent economic growth and perhaps political liberalisation will make Iran much less likely to pursue a bomb. If regional tensions — particularly with the Gulf States — continue to intensify, however, it may end up fueling the very regional arms race it was supposed to stop.

Inkster:  The thing with this deal is that, as Robin Butler observed about the Iraqi (British) WMD intelligence (used to justify the 2003 invasion), it is being asked to carry more weight than it can bear.

Huge geo-strategic significance is being invested in what, at the end of the day, is a pretty technical agreement whose implementation is likely to be subject to constant niggling – and which in any case has a fifteen year sunset clause which in the overall scheme of development of nuclear programmes isn’t all that long.

The Arab world seems likely to begin looking at its own nuclear programmes with Saudi in the lead.

Alvi: This is a major political and diplomatic achievement for Presidents Obama and Rouhani.  Most of the Sunni Arab states and Israel are not happy with the deal, nor are they happy with the United States.  They are highly suspicious of Iran’s intentions, agendas, and potentially deceptive courses of action even within the framework of this deal.

President Obama has commented that this deal is not built on trust, but rather on verification.  The naysayers will only be satisfied – albeit partially – with rigid inspections that do not let up on placing Iran under the microscope throughout the 15 years.  It begs the question, though: do they not see that the absence of a deal would make the situation in the region more precarious?

Should the Iranian regime be trusted with this deal?  Probably not completely, but that’s exactly why their nuclear program should remain under the microscope.  That’s likely to happen, at least for the next 15-25 years.  That’s not a bad thing.

Mostaque: It’s a good deal with regards to its primary aim of curbing an Iranian nuclear breakout that falls in line with our expectations from March in its details.

Rather bad for oil and related markets, rather good for the Iranian stock market and those interested in investing in quite possibly the most interesting market in the world and one surprisingly easy to access once Banking/SWIFT sanctions are removed.

Geopolitically it adjusts the balance of power in the region, but not alarmingly. Obama will use his remaining months to force it through. I doubt the new President will reverse it unless Donald ascends to power.

Sanctions removal seems gradated and surprisingly broad including some I thought wouldn’t come off given Iran’s continued designation as a state sponsor of terror. Banking/SWIFT sanctions are key and will come off with IAEA verification

Full analysis here.

Hartwell: The Obama administration has taken the view that the Iranian nuclear issue should be dealt with in isolation of the other areas in which Iran is seen as a regional threat, be they Tehran’s support for terrorist groups in Lebanon or the Palestinian territories; its interference in Iraq; or its support for the Assad regime in Syria.

The nuclear agreement announced with Iran on 14 July confirms this view and, whether Obama’s opponents like it or not, it constitutes a significant foreign policy victory, appearing to lock Iran into an intrusive, albeit managed, verification regime and a long-term staged lifting of the most important sanctions related to Iran’s missile and military technological development. So-called ‘snap-back’ arrangements for the rapid re-implementation of sanctions add a further layer of security that should help win over some of the deal’s sceptics among the president’s own Democrat allies.

The next question is how this will follow across into the broader geopolitics of the region. In the battle against Islamic State, Tehran does find itself on the same side as the US and many others in the region.

This fight, however, is seen a considerably lower priority by many Sunni states in the region — probably including Saudi Arabia — than their broader confrontation with the Shi’ite power bloc led by Iran. This is particularly true in Yemen, where Tehran-backed Houthis face a Saudi-led alliance

In recent years, the US has tended to ally with the Sunni. It may now simply find itself caught in the middle.

Inkster: The agreement is highly unlikely to translate into a wider US-Iran rapprochement.   Indeed it is quite likely that Khamenei may have to give the more extreme elements of the regime their heads to show that he has not gone soft, so we may see more egregiously bad Iranian behaviour in the short term.

They (the Saudis) are unlikely to be able to purchase a self-assembly bomb but may invest in the precision-engineering skills needed to make their own – not necessarily with inputs from the Pakistani programme as these are easily monitored.

Regional public opinion will also be important.

Alvi: Also, regarding this deal, the Sunni Arab states do not like the idea of lifting any sanctions against Iran, because they see it as an opportunity for Iran to empower itself.  The reality is that Iran has managed to empower itself already, even while enduring harsh sanctions.  Look at how far and wide Iranian influence has reached throughout the Middle East, especially in Iraq in the post-U.S. invasion era.  Iran has also managed to manufacture and maintain its missile program, existing nuclear program and its still-strong military, its support for Hezbollah in Lebanon and Bashar al-Asad in Syria, and a host of media channels and online activities.  In the U.S., you can watch Iran’s Press TV in English, and you can follow President Rouhani and the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamene’i on Twitter.

Moreover, there is another side to the regional public opinion.  During my time in the Middle East, I often heard opinions criticizing Israel’s deceptive ways of creating and sustaining a nuclear arsenal, while the U.S. turns a blind eye.  The same is often pointed out about those countries that have built nuclear weapons programs outside of the parameters of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which regulates nuclear programs.  Such countries include Pakistan, India, and North Korea.  Many in the Middle East region and even globally feel that Western powers exhibit gross hypocrisy in enforcing the NPT.

It remains to be seen how this will fit into the war against Islamic state.

Hartwell: The problem that policymakers in the West are likely to face, if they are not facing it already, is that bringing Iran officially into the coalition against IS would probably be good policy but bad politics.

Iran is already an unofficial participant in the war against IS through its support for Shia militias leading the Iraqi fightback against the group and by its support to Syrian regime and Hezbollah troops fighting IS in Syria and already therefore sees itself as part of the solution to the IS threat. Embracing Iranian support could allow intelligence sharing and co-operation.

It might even permit more informal and indirect tactical military co-ordination of the type that has surely already occurred in Iraq. Presenting a united Sunni-Shia-Western front to IS would also go a long way to combating the anti-Shia, anti-Western narrative that IS has fomented with the aim of provoking region-wide sectarian conflict.

There are of course no guarantees that Iran could be trusted to not use the legitimacy bestowed on it by such an ‘alliance’ to simply increase its level of interference in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

Formally embracing Iranian assistance brings with it many uncertainties, but surely no more than continuing to exclude Tehran from that rare thing in the Middle East – a fight against a genuinely common enemy.

Inward investment to Iran could now be relatively dramatic. Its stock market is now described as one of the “most interesting” in emerging markets. Its economy will now have access to technology — such as new aircraft — denied for a long time. Its underinvested energy sector will now have the opportunity to thrive.

The arrival of its oil on the market, however, may undercut already faltering global prices.

Mostaque: It is worth noting that Iranian oil is fairly low cost and the current outline of new production sharing agreements looks attractive, so this is oil that is highly likely to come to the market versus higher cost fields elsewhere. Iran has proved oil reserves of 160n barrels, 10% of the global total and the world’s largest proved gas reserves at 34 cubic metres (18% of global total). Not all Iranian crude will be exported however as it already consumes 2mbpd a day and sanctions removal will allow it to diversify downstream, with the bulk of production increase occurring in 2018-2020.

Ultimately, Israel — and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — may be the biggest losers here. Unless they do with the political battle in Washington to block the deal, their attempts to swing US foreign policy has failed.

The risk of a unilateral strike on the nuclear program remains.

Hartwell: Israel’s opposition remains absolute, and it has become increasingly clear in recent months and years that little short of a military force-backed sanctions regime that threatened the removal of the Islamic Republic would suffice for Israel’s security needs, as defined by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. The conclusion of this deal therefore leaves Israel isolated, with few credible diplomatic or military options to pursue. Obama’s threat to use the presidential veto to ensure the agreement passes through Congress merely adds to the lack of avenues open to Israel to block a deal many in the government regard as akin to Chamberlain’s 1938 Munich Agreement with Hitler.

Israel’s problem, as it has been for many years, though, is that many of its closest allies simply do not share its apocalyptic analysis of Iran’s intentions and motives, and Netanyahu’s failure to meet his allies halfway or to try to build a more constructive case against a nuclear deal with Iran amounts to a major foreign policy error of judgement.

PS21 Insight: Eurozone clinches deal, serious strains remain


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  • Eurozone clinches last-minute deal with Greece
  • Shows commitment to currency bloc but process has revealed bitter divisions
  • Risk of Greek exit remains, reform is likely to prove troublesome

Greece clinched a last-minute deal with Eurozone nations on Monday, pledging a raft of reforms and spending cuts in return for ongoing financial support.

Below are comments from several contributors to The Project for Study of the 21st Century (PS21). Please credit PS21 in any quotes. If you wish to contact the speakers, please e-mail ps21Central@Gmail.com.

For further details on PS21, please visit http://www.projects21.com.

Sir Michael Leigh is Senior Advisor to the German Marshall Fund of the United States. He was Director General for Enlargement for the European Commission from 2006-11. From 2003-6 he was Deputy Director for European Commission External Relations. He is a member of the PS21 international advisory group.

Giulia Pastorella is an Italian political economist and Ph.D. candidate at the London School of economics.

Peter Apps is Executive Director of the Project for Study of the 21st Century.

With yet another deal, no one — neither the Greeks nor those in the core Eurozone — is quite yet willing to make the leap of taking Greece out of the euro. Sunday evening’s German-mandated demands that Greece sacrifice huge chunks of its sovereignty in financial decision-making, however, saw the process more polarised than at any point so far. 

Leigh: The continued readiness of both sides to seek a compromise rather than slam the door is encouraging. The result, though, is a muddle-through which Greece and the creditors will find hard to sell to their constituencies. The improvised series of finance ministers and summit meetings demonstrates the lack of a dependable system of Eurozone governance and the prevalence of short-term political thinking over sound economics.

Apps: At first glance, Sunday’s proposals seemed almost designed to make Greece choose to leave the euro of its own volition. For now, however, it hasn’t done so. Indeed, the proposals seem to have generated their own popular backlash in Europe and beyond. And now we have yet another last-minute deal.

For all the talk in Greece of “letting democracy into the system” with their referendum last weekend, the simple fact is that the democratic will of the German electorate and others in Central Europe is opposed to the bailout.

What we now have are fundamental divisions breaking into the open. The devil here is not the details; it is much larger than that.

Pastorella: Economic principles are not the driving criteria behind the nth round of negotiation. It is not about how much money Greece should be lent again, or how much of its debt could be written off. Or at least, not just that. Ideological reasons as well as national interests are the strong winds pushing the European boat towards an unknown and undetermined destination.

Ideological splits are not just between the hawks and the doves of fiscal policies. That would still count as an ‘economic’ divide. It is more between those countries that have been through austerity and show sympathy for Greece. And those who, having gone through the same experience, have taken a tougher stance: if we managed to reform and survive, surely you can – and should- do the same. Amongst the former group are Italy, Ireland, Spain and Portugal, while the latter include most CEE countries as well as the Nordics and other unusual suspects, such as Malta. Same facts, different conclusions. That explains why negotiations are so complex. If it were just a matter on numbers, technocrats could easily take care of it. But the technocrats are tied to the mast of the European vessel, muted like Draghi, who has not really intervened in the recent debate, while European leaders take turns at the helm.

Both sides need to offer more flexibility.

Leigh: Further crushing austerity measures, exacerbated by minute foreign supervision, will not lead Greece back to economic growth. Any sweetener in the form of partial debt rescheduling will do little to make the package digestible to Greeks who have just voted two to one in a referendum to reject less stringent measures.  Even if the Greek parliament endorses the new bail-out programme, rather than face the imminent collapse of the country’s economy, Greece may well go off track rather quickly. Greeks are unlikely to take ownership of the new reform programme if they feel that it has been imposed in extremis.

The dogma of fiscal consolidation, the narrative of saints and sinners, the rejection of financial transfers as an inherent part of any functioning currency union and maneuvering for domestic political advantage continue to distort the dialogue between Greece and its creditors. It is to be hoped, however, that the narrowly-averted risk of catastrophe will serve as a wake-up call to Greece and will persuade Eurozone leaders at last to give the currency union the tools it needs to function effectively.

The broader damage to the European project may still be serious and long lasting.

Apps: The euro is at the heart of the broader European project, even if it is currently by far the least successful part of it. At the end of the day, these structures were built at the end of the Second World War is an attempt to stop hostilities erupted in Europe again. The aim was simple — to tie the continent together economically in prosperity to make further war impossible.

The problem is that there have always been different visions of what that means. For the Greeks and others on the European periphery, it has always been about redistributing wealth from the rich central states and redistributing it in poorer countries and regions. Germany and other northern states, meanwhile, have always seen it as much more about encouraging those countries to be more responsible.

What Greece in particular did not join the euro to do was to cede its sovereignty to what they see as unreasonable German demands. The success of the hashtag #thisisacoup this weekend in protest against what many social media users saw as entirely undemocratic demands on the Greek government is a sign of serious reputational damage. With the British referendum on EU membership coming out next year, that could prove important there too.

PS21 Insight: What the SCOTUS Jerusalem passport decision means

US Secretary of State Kerry looks out at the Old City in Jerusalem.
US Secretary of State Kerry looks out at the Old City in Jerusalem.

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  • Zivotofsky v. Kerry case fundamentally about relationship between executive and legislative branches
  • The decision reaffirmed the President and State Department’s autonomy in international affairs
  • But it could also have ramifications for the US-Israeli relationship
  • Will the ruling affect US foreign policy?

Last month the US Supreme Court ruled that Congress cannot force the State Department to issue passports that recognize Jerusalem as a part of Israel, concluding the twelve-year-long case Zivotofsky v. Kerry. The decision sparked a conversation on the status of Jerusalem, a question that remains one of the most sensitive sticking points of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.

Below is a selection of comments from the Project for the Study of the 21st Century.

Dr. Nikolas Gvosdev is a Professor of National Security studies at the US Naval War College and a member of PS21’s International Advisory Group.

Milena Rodban is an independent geopolitical risk consultant and a Global Fellow at PS21.

Dr. Hayat Alvi is a Professor of Middle East Studies at the US Naval War College and a Global Fellow at PS21.

Please credit PS21 if you wish to use any of the material below. If you wish to contact us to speak to any of our advisors or global Fellows, please e-mail PS21Central@Gmail.com.

The decision confirmed the status quo and reaffirmed the President’s sole authority to formally recognize foreign nations.

Gvosdev: The decision itself is part of a long chain of precedents (especially the 1935 Curtiss-Wright decision) where the Supreme Court has reaffirmed that the President, as head of the Executive Branch, acts as the sole organ for the United States in foreign policy. The Congress, using its legislative power and budgetary authority, can set and define the parameters of Presidential action, by giving or withholding permission or funds–but what this decision reiterates is that Congress cannot tell the President how he must use or exercise his powers in any given specific case.

Rodban: This ruling changes little in deciding that the executive branch is the sole part of government to have power over recognizing foreign entities. That had already been the default setting of the US government.

But that doesn’t mean Congress is powerless in the realm of international affairs.

Gvosdev: If Congress…wants to vest in the legislative branch the power to recognize countries and their territories, it is free, in theory, to pass a law that would vest that power in general in the legislature.  Having given that authority to the President, however, Congress cannot demand that its preferences be substituted in place of the chief executive’s in terms of specific actions taken or not taken by the President.

This is critical because in other areas the Congress seems eager to dictate to the President how he ought to carry out policy. Congressional authority, for instance, is absolutely necessary, given the parameters of the U.S. Code, for the President to have if he wishes to send arms to Ukraine. Congress can grant him the authority to do so, but they cannot compel him to act. (It is true, however, that Congress can use its authority to “hold hostage” other parts of the President’s agenda if he does not wish to acquiesce to their preferences on this or other issues).

Alvi: Decision making that directly affects foreign policies – and particularly those policies that are very fluid and politically loaded and highly sensitive, such as the status of Jerusalem – allow the President of the United States room for maneuver and flexibility as changing circumstances dictate.

That does not mean that Congress has no recourse or its own room for maneuvering and responding. Congress holds the power of the purse, that is, funding foreign policy courses of action, as articulated in Article I of the Constitution. In addition, Article I, section 8, states, “Congress shall have the power to regulate commerce with foreign nations; to establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization …”. However, that does not mean that the President has no authority or power to engage in political discourse that has impacts on said issues. Obviously, cases arise that have no precedence due to their uniqueness, as in the case of Jerusalem/Israel. There is nothing wrong with the Executive taking certain stands on issues that have significant political ramifications, and that requires interactions between the Executive and Legislative branches on a case-by-case basis.

Additionally, it’s likely that the ruling will have an adverse effect on an already weakened US-Israeli relationship.

Rodban: The Israeli leadership, and indeed the public, are used to the American administrations speaking out of both sides of their mouth on the status of Jerusalem, which is of course a final status issue. (Negotiations being paused as they are, no movement is expected on even the simplest of disagreements between the Israelis and Palestinians, let alone the final status issues that are the very contentious factors in their ongoing conflict.)

By speaking out of both sides, I of course refer to consecutive US administrations vehemently arguing that Jerusalem will remain the capital of Israel, and remain undivided. Obama said this himself in his spirited 2008 address to AIPAC, for example, but the administration’s tune became far less vehement, as it subsequently avoided stressing that Jerusalem was Israel’s capital, and instead repeatedly claiming the status was undecided. The big issue here is that Obama’s two statements were mutually exclusive with the assertion that Jerusalem’s current status is not final, and that all options are open in negotiations. If all options are open, then dividing the city is likely to be at the top of the options list. If the US argues that it will not be divided, then there are in fact very few options, and really only the one: if half of it is already in Israel, and it will never be divided, then all of it will remain part of Israel, right? Seems pretty decided to me…

Given tense relations between the Obama and Netanyahu administrations, which are worsened still by perceptions that the US is no longer as strong an ally of Israel as it once was (evidenced by reports that the US is caving on many aspects of the Iran nuclear negotiations), any issue that can be used to support the assertion that Obama is not a close ally are likely to exacerbate tensions. The biggest effect will likely be among American Jews who may sour on the Dems ahead of next year’s elections. The administration’s continuing vacillation on the issue of Jerusalem will cause journalists, particularly Israeli ones, to question all the nominees, to see what they will commit to, but a single statement will no longer be accepted by an Israeli public that’s heard US administrations try to have it both ways for decades.

Alvi: The caveat in all of this is the special U.S.-Israeli relationship, and specifically how this relationship affects U.S. domestic politics, as well as U.S. foreign policy making relative to the Middle East region.  Perhaps the U.S. State Department should allow passports to say, “born in Jerusalem, Israel/Palestine”, but that comes with its own set of problems, emotive reactions, and a host of more lawsuits, to be sure.

And it could have ramifications beyond the Middle East as well.

Alvi: What happens when a citizen of Crimea wants his/her passport to say, “born in the Russian Federation”?  Or, in the near future, an Iraqi or Syrian Kurd who shares U.S. citizenship wants the passport to say, “born in Kurdistan”?  Or, even more menacing, a U.S. citizen born in Mosul wants to say, “born in the Islamic State”?

PS21 is a non-national, non-ideological, non-partisan organization. All views expressed are the commentators’ own.

PS21 Insight: With Greek vote, euro reaches crunch point


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  • First question is whether ECB will continue to support Greek banks
  • Greek Eurozone exit would completely undermine concept of the single currency
  • All sides need solution — but ideological gap between Greece and creditor nations now deeply entrenched.
  • Huge gulf between democratic will of the people and those in central Eurozone creditor states like Germany
  • Contagion could spread to other troubled Eurozone economies causing new bank runs and spiking borrowing costs
  • “Fundamental deficiencies” all Eurozone project now exposed, must either be rectified or project may unravel

On Sunday, July 5, Greece rejected Eurozone bailout conditions in a referendum. Below are a selection of comments from the Project for Study of the 21st Century (PS21).

Sir Michael Leigh is senior adviser to the German Marshall Fund of the United States. He was Director General for Enlargement for the European commission from 2006-2011. From 2003-2006 he was Deputy Director General for EC External Relations. He is a member of the PS21 International Advisory Group.

Giuila Pastorella is a Ph.D. candidate at the London School of Economics.

David Lea is western Europe analyst at London-based consultancy Control Risks.

Peter Apps is executive director of the Project for Study of the 21st Century. He is currently on sabbatical from Reuters where he was global defence correspondent after previous assignments covering political risk as well as emerging markets.

Please credit PS21 if you wish to use any of the material below. If you wish to contact us to speak to any of our advisors or Global Fellows, please e-mail PS21Central@Gmail.com.

Firstly, the core Eurozone countries and the European Central Bank in particular must decide if they will continue forcing the Greek banking system. 

Leigh: The first priority is for the European Central Bank to decide quickly on maintaining Emergency Liquidity Assistance (ELA) to the Greek Central Bank. This may mean raising the ceiling on such assistance. ELA will keep the Greek banking system afloat while negotiations are held on a new bail-out package.

Provided these negotiations succeed quickly and there is a new agreement in place involving serious reform commitments by Greece and acceptance of further debt reduction by the creditors then there is no reason for the Greek banking system to collapse or for Greece to leave the euro. This would occur only if the ECB pulled the plug on ELA or if rigidity on either side prevented a new agreement from being concluded.

All sides need a deal — but it will be difficult.

Pastorella: The paradox is that, despite opposing views, and despite the outcome of the referendum which creates more problem than it solves, both debtors and creditors realise that a solution needs to be found. That is, independently of who is right – morally or financially. The first statements of the Greek Prime Minister Tsipras after the vote and those of other European leaders show this clearly. While this might be good for the future of the European project, such moral feeling of unjustness and impunity will persist in both debtors and creditors, whatever the solution. And these kinds of deep-running moral ‘memories’ leave scars that not even full financial recovery for Greece, admitting it will ever happen, will be able to erase.

Apps: While the Greeks have made a decision, it is not entirely clear what that decision means. There’s no doubt that it is not in itself a vote to leave the eurozone. But they can’t carry on without external support — the banking system will collapse, everyone will lose their savings and they wind up crashing out of the currency.

Essentially, Greece has torn up the bailout conditions and wants a better deal. The rest of the Eurozone now has to decide whether to meet them — and what they will do in the meantime while Europe’s leaders make up their minds. 

Lea: The ECB said just last week that it couldn’t extend the ELA if Greece wasn’t in a bailout programme – can it about turn on that so soon? Perhaps more than that, can it be seen to about turn? Probably not immediately – and Greece probably needs more ELA immediately.

Meanwhile, many of the EU leaders have felt throughout the last few months that SYRIZA have been more about the drama than about the crisis, and won’t want to change course in response to a referendum that they thought was a coup de théâtre.

Varoufakis said he was sure there would be a new, better deal done within 48 hours of a No, but it’s difficult to see where he gets that confidence from.

If Greece’s banks are not supported and no further bailouts negotiated, Greece will be unable to pay public sector wages later this month without issuing some kind of IOU or new currency. This might, as some have long feared, spell the beginning of the end for the euro.

Leigh: If Greece were forced out of the euro this would call into question the irreversibility of the currency union. It would then appear to be no more than a system of fixed exchange rates that can be altered whenever a country faces a severe liquidity crisis. The next time a Eurozone country faces such a crisis this would spark fears that it too might be forced out of the euro. At a time when Europe is facing so many challenges, the creditors, led by Germany, are likely to go to considerable lengths to prevent this from happening.

Apps: The Greek crisis has never been just about Greece. It’s always been about giving Greece a tough deal to make sure the other larger fringe Eurozone economies go through with their reforms. And also about maintaining enough confidence that the Italian, Spanish and Portuguese banking sectors don’t unravel as well.

If the wheels come off in Greece, the real question is whether it looks so grim that people start withdrawing their savings from banks in other countries that you could also imagine leaving the euro on a bad day. That could become a self-fulfilling prophecy very quickly.

It’s also worth watching the borrowing costs of banks in those countries. They will probably need additional support from the ECB.

Lea: Nowhere else is in as parlous a fiscal position as Greece – and the gap now is wider than it was. But it’s about confidence – Portugal’s just ridden out a different kind of banking crisis, Spain too, another still in Italy, and there is a question over whether the confidence in those countries’ banks can be maintained.

And what will the bond market think? And if Greece is no longer dragging on the euro, how high does its value go? And what do the export-led economies think of that?

The political gulf between Germany and Greece in particular has never been larger. That makes a political deal harder to reach than ever.

Pastorella: ‘Before there were tanks, now there are banks’. This is how one of the young Greeks interviewed by BBC Today Programme this morning summarised the feelings of the new generations in the Hellenic democracy. The moral certainty with which this supporter of the Oxi (no) vote compares the uprising against the dictatorship of the Colonels in the 1970s with the No-vote in the referendum is indicative of the main problem of the ongoing negotiations between Greece and its European partners.

Greek debtors think they are right and the creditors are wrong, and creditors think they are right. This black and white view of the world translates in, for instance, both parties using similar metaphors. The German officials talk of ‘the terrorist-like’ negotiating techniques of the outgoing Greek Finance Minister Yannis Varoufakis, and dissatisfied Greeks declare themselves fed up with the terrorism of international financial institutions.

The euro has reached crunch point. This in itself may provide new energy towards a deal despite the political differences.

Leigh: If the ECB continues to provide liquidity to the Greek Central Bank and if a new bail-out agreement is reached, the edifice will not crumble over the summer. However, there are fundamental deficiencies in the governance of the euro which threaten its sustainability, in the medium term. Without fiscal transfers–that is, genuine solidarity among Eurozone members–the euro will not last. However, Germany and other creditor countries are not ready for this. Perhaps the Greek crisis will finally start to make them face up to realities instead of continuing to extend and pretend.

Apps: If Greece leaves the single currency, it will be a colossal deal for Greece. If the entire single currency unravels, it might be the most significant event in European history since World War II, perhaps even more significant than the fall of the Berlin Wall and collapse of the Soviet Union.

In holding a referendum, the Greeks have indeed injected a measure of democracy into what had been a very very bureaucratic and elite-led process. And they’ve made it clear just what they think of that.

The other side of that, though, is that the German electorate in particular is also fed up. It’s not clear that that can be squared. And if it can’t be, we’re in for a very interesting summer indeed.

Lea: While I’m not as pessimistic as some on the euro’s future, there are few good ways forward from here. Always remember, though, that Mario Draghi’s ‘whatever it takes’ speech was about preserving the euro per se, not its exact membership. I do think, that a mix of a better appreciation of just how different Greece is and better governance procedures now in place will go a lot of the way to ensuring the eurozone stays at 18 if it drops to 18.

Tsipras has been big on references to the noble democracy of referendums. I wouldn’t rule out one of the more hawkish countries asking its people some kind of question too – after all, the will of the Greek people is sovereign, but only in Greece. Others have democracy too – and you might find they think rather differently.