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And Then The Wheels Fell Off

Filed in Articles by on 10 September 2016 4 Comments
And Then The Wheels Fell Off

We would do well to remember Edmund Burke’s oft-repeated phrase “ Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” On the 28th of June 1914, a Serbian nationalist, Gavrilo Princip, assassinated Franz Ferdinand, the archduke of Austria-Hungary. In the preceding years, the various major powers in Europe had gradually formed alliances. Britain, France and Russia formed the Triple Entente, while Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy comprised the Triple Alliance. A month to the day after the assassination, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia.gallipoli The Ottoman Empire and Germany signed a secret alliance five days later. On the 3rd of August Germany declared war on France and invaded the next day. That prompted Britain to declare war on Germany on the 4th, the same day Germany invaded Belgium. On the 10th of August 1914 Austria-Hungary invaded Russia. Essentially, the First World War came about because of the domino effect of each country coming to the aid of another.

Reichstag Fire

In late February 1933, a month after Adolph Hitler became Chancellor of Germany, a fire burned down the Reichstag or German parliament. A month before the fire, Hitler had made it clear that his government could not work with the left-leaning parties in parliament. While the National Socialist Party (NAZI) was the largest party in the Reichstag, Hitler did not have a working majority despite his coalition with the German Nationalist People’s Party because of the combined power of the Social Democrat Party and the Communist Party. Since the Reichstag was set to have new elections in early March, Hitler’s party risked losing support.

Burning of the Reichstag 1933. Germany / Mono Print

Reichstag Fire, Germany, 27 February 1933

Hitler took advantage of the situation by telling President Hindenburg that the fire was part of a Communist plan to overthrow the state, and persuading him to issue a decree giving him powers to arrest those responsible. The “Reichstagbrandverordnung” or Decree for the Protection of People and State led to a one-party state. By arresting political opponents without charge, dissolving political organisations, closing down publications, and giving the central government the authority to overrule state and local governments, Hitler effectively ended democracy in Germany.

alliance-allies-axisIn October 1936, Nazi Germany formed the Berlin Axis with Italy, and annexed Austria in March 1938. Hitler invaded Poland in September 1939 prompting Britain to declare war on Germany, beginning the Second World War. Other countries joined both the Axis and Allied Alliances expanding the conflict across Europe, northern Africa and Asia.


Turkey’s Failed Coup: the 2016 version of the Reichstag Fire!

Is the same dynamic in play again? On the 15th of July 2016, an attempted coup in Turkey failed when President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called on the public to take to the streets to save the republic. In the next few hours some 300 died and 2100 were injured. Erdogan declared a State of Emergency, which was followed by mass arrests, starting with a purge in the military. This extended to the civil service, and even into the country’s schools. By mid-August, Erdogan had suspended or fired more than eighty thousand civil servants, including three thousand soldiers. Some twenty-one thousand teachers were stripped of their licence to teach. Turkish police detained some thirty-five thousand people, half of whom were formally arrested under the orders of a government tribunal. Erdogan also issued a decree giving him, and a handful of government officials, authority to issue direct orders to the commanders of the army, navy and air force.

turquie-plusieurs-morts-dans-une-explosion-ankaraErdogan blames the attempted coup on Fethullah Gülen, a Muslim cleric who has been living in self-imposed exile in the United States since 1998. Gülen was a close ally of Erdogan until 2013 when Erdogan branded him and his followers terrorists, accusing them of being behind an investigation that uncovered several government ministers involved in corruption. Gülen denies any involvement with the attempted coup. Turkey issued an arrest warrant for Gülen, demanding he be extradited from the United States. Washington has asked for evidence to substantiate the allegations. A group calling itself “Peace at Home Council” claims responsibility for the attempted coup, accusing Erdogan of destroying Turkey’s constitutional order and secular democratic state.

It appears Turkish authorities may have known about the coup attempt in advance. Three days before the failed coup, Turkey issued an arrest warrant charging Vice-Admiral Zeki Ugurlu with being affiliated with the Gülen movement, which it accuses of trying to infiltrate Turkey’s armed forces. Ankara also asked NATO to terminate Admiral Ugurlu’s posting in Norfolk, Virginia and send him back to Turkey. NATO ignored the request. After the attempted coup, Turkey issued a second warrant charging Ugurlu with helping to plot the coup.

According to Al Monitor, a news website in the Middle East, there is a perception in Ankara that NATO was “involved in the coup attempt because of the active roles played by military units that are part of NATO’s Rapid Deployable Corps-Turkey.” This growing distrust of NATO comes amid Turkish and US involvement in Syria against rebels opposed to Bashir al Assad, against the Islamic State, the refugee crisis, and Turkey’s opposition to Kurds who claim part of Turkey as their homeland. In interviews with Russian and Turkish media, Turkey’s Minister of Defence, Mevlut Cavusoglu, expressed alarm at NATO’s unwillingness to cooperate with Ankara, and hinted that he was open to greater military, intelligence and diplomatic cooperation with Russia. He also accused the West of being responsible for the crisis in Ukraine.

Turkey has failed to be accepted into the European Union despite adapting its laws to European standards. One of the major changes to Turkey’s constitution was the abolition of the death penalty, as well as rewriting laws to ensure respect for human rights. With such a wide-reaching purge, and Turkey’s stated intent to rewrite the constitution, Turkey seems to be turning its back on Europe. If, as Peace at Home Council maintains, the attempted coup was an effort to prevent Turkey from drifting away from secularism, and into a more Islamic influence, it appears Erdogan’s actions are aimed at trying to re-establish Ankara as the capital of a new version of the Ottoman Empire. Turkey’s position on the Dardenelle Strait linking the Mediterranean and Black Seas, his disapproval of the European Union, his wariness of NATO and his openness to Russia, puts Erdogan is in an unusual position of power over one of the world’s most strategic waterways.  ankara

While Turkish and Russian forces purportedly battle Islamic State terrorists in Syria, Russian forces are also shoring up the regime of Bashir al-Assad, therefore ensuring Russia’s continued access to the port of Tartus on Syria’s Mediterranean coast. China has offered its support to the Assad regime in the form of increased arms sales. China imports roughly half its oil and gas from the Middle East, mainly from Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. Since these countries back opposing sides in the conflict in Syria, China will most likely choose not to alienate them, remaining the only permanent member of the Security Council not involved in military operations in Syria.

Even though Turkey is opposed to Assad, its disenchantment with Europe and NATO, and China’s presence suggests a new dynamic, which could eventually result in Turkey becoming a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Agreement. While China and Russia align their long-term strategies for a greater say in future political and economic decisions in the Middle East, Britain, Western Europe and the United States are fighting against Islamic State terrorists in Iraq and Syria, supporting rebels against the Assad regime, as well as trying to deal with isolated terrorist attacks from radicalised Muslims, and a growing disenchantment with immigration and globalisation.

Brexit – European Fault Lines Uncovered

Britain’s decision to leave the European Union revealed several fault lines in the United Kingdom and in continental Europe. The majority of those who voted to leave the European Union are from the small towns and cities of England, where factories closed as a result of globalisation and the transfer of jobs overseas. Jobs became even harder to find with the arrival of immigrants from Eastern Europe. brexit The Brexit vote is forcing countries on both side of the European divide to think out strategies for the future. Germany, which has been plagued with isolated terrorist attacks and a growing backlash against immigration, is considering asking its citizens “to prepare themselves in the case of a large-scale terrorist attack or civil unrest”. This would involve stockpiling emergency food, water and supplies for at least ten days.

Europe Looks For New Options

France has been marked by several Islamist terrorist attacks including the brutal shooting of twelve editors at the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, the massacre at the Bataclan theatre where 130 Parisians were killed, to a Bastille-day attack in Nice when a truck was driven through a crowd killing more than 70 people. This has turned French public opinion against its Islamic population. Given the growing popularity of Marine Le Pen, whose platform is against immigration, a vote in her favour in the next regional elections in 2017 could lead to the end of the Schengen Accord for free cross-border movement in Europe. This could weaken other links in the union, hastening dissolution.

In the United States, Donald Trump has steadily gained support for his staunch opposition to immigration and international trade agreements that have had the same result in America’s industrial heartland as in England. The terrorist attack in San Bernardino, California, alleged to be from an Islamist sleeper cell, has served only to strengthen an us versus them attitude.

As Turks, Germans, French, Brits, Americans and others speak out against globalisation and economic blocs, which have made more profits for large corporations than for ordinary citizens, societies once held together by a world order that respected people are breaking apart into clans. While Turkey’s secular government takes advantage of its own ‘Reichstag fire’ to purge anyone it disagrees with, geopolitical blocs are recalculating how to promote their own interests.

Growing numbers of people in Europe and America are turning away from a world order based on international trade and movement of people. Globalisation seems to be passé as countries head into a zero sum game where societies look inwards, pitting the diplomacy and compromise that enables societies and nations to work together against those who are perceived as a danger. The economic-political order the world has known since the end of the Second World War is dissolving, making it easier to demonise immigrants and others rather than to resolve differences.

Economic and defence blocs 2016

Economic and defence blocs 2016

As events unfold seemingly in slow motion, we tend to view them in isolation, failing to see the overall picture. For those who recall history, it took five weeks from the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand to go from peace to the First World War, and the death of millions. The Treaty of Versailles, which ended the conflict, contained the seeds of the Second World War by imposing severe war reparations on Germany. The Reichstag fire advanced the process eventually leading to the outbreak of conflict, and the death of millions more. No country is immune when the tipping point of negative logic is surpassed. Will growing disenchantment and opposition to western economic hegemony over the past 20 years result in a third world war? If history has taught us anything, it’s that war is prevented by extending peace and economic benefits to all, not to a chosen few. It’s a history lesson we would do well not to ignore.


The Shimmering Illusion

Filed in Perspectives by on 15 November 2015 7 Comments
The Shimmering Illusion

Based on presentation to the Thomas More Institute in Montreal, Canada in November 2015.

Wouldn’t it be nice if political leaders actually served their citizens? However, despite noble words of taking office to serve people, over time consensus, negotiation and agreement tend to give way to such sentiments as ‘You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.’ One compromise leads to another and democracy slowly shifts from serving the people to serving those in power. In extreme cases, violence replaces dialogue. The Fragile States Index for 2015 assigns countries a score based on such social, economic and political criteria as mounting demographic pressures, massive displacement of refugees, uneven economic development, severe economic decline, and wide spread human rights abuses. Countries such as the United States have a score of 35.3, Canada 25.7, Germany 28.1, the United Kingdom 33.5 and France 33.7. The lower the score, the better political leaders serve their citizens. However, if we choose four countries in Africa in various states of development, we see a marked difference in the score. Mali, for example, comes in at 93.1, Malawi 86.9, Togo 86.8 and Côte d’Ivoire 100. Continue Reading »

The Eagle, the Dragon and the Tiger

Filed in Case Studies by on 1 November 2010
The Eagle, the Dragon and the Tiger

The world’s geo-economic and geopolitical landscape is changing, especially in Asia. This has a growing impact that extends not only across Central Asia and the Middle East, but also to South-Central Asia, Africa, South America and the United States. These changes represent an ever-quickening shift of the economic centre of gravity away from the United States and European Union toward Asia. Two ancient Asian powers, like slumbering giants, have awoken from a long sleep. China and India, having chosen economic liberalisation, in 1978 and 1991 respectively, are showing unprecedented economic growth, and are rapidly taking on a greater role in the international economy. Continue Reading »

Seeds of Division

Filed in Perspectives by on 1 September 2015 5 Comments
Seeds of Division

Conflict, dictatorships, instability and religious extremism in the Middle East, in the Horn of Africa, and in Central Africa plus the siren call of a better life has resulted in Europe’s worst immigration crisis since the Second World War. Hundreds of thousands of desperate people continue to crowd onto unseaworthy boats in hopes of crossing the Mediterranean, while thousands of Syrian refugees stream along railway tracks in the Balkans in hopes of finding asylum in Europe.

The number of dead continues to climb as overcrowded vessels flounder and sink, taking hundreds to a watery grave. More than 2500 people have drowned in the Mediterranean in the first nine months of this year. As in each of the ten years prior to 2015, the number of people who lose their lives in 2016 while looking for a better place to live will most likely surpass that. On the last week-end in August 2015, “the Italian coastguard plucked 4,400 people from the Mediterranean coast off Libya in 22 different operations…. Meanwhile the Greek coast guard picked up 877 people in 30 search and rescue operations.” (1)

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Filed in Articles by on 20 March 2015

Woody Island and Mischief Reef sound like names out of a Hardy Boys mystery, complete with mysterious goings-on to capture our imagination. However, instead of being off the shores of Bayport, the home of our amateur sleuths, they are part of the Paracel and Spratly island chains in the South China Sea. China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia and Taiwan all claim the islands because they are not only believed to contain oil and gas deposits, their placement would also confer greater influence over one of the world’s most strategic waterways.

These hundreds of islands are little more than reefs, shoals and sandbars that normally merit little notice. However, since the summer of 2014, China has sent dredgers to an estimated half-dozen islands in the Paracel and Spratly chains to suck up sand from the shallow depths to build the reefs up. According to surveillance photos published by the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, an arm of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, China has started building installations on now reclaimed islands. (1)

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Veiled Priorities

Filed in Articles by on 14 January 2015
Veiled Priorities

Remember the peace dividend – the era of peace, prosperity, and jobs promised by western political leaders after the collapse of the Soviet Union?

One definition of ‘peace dividend’ is ” the money that becomes available in a national government’s budget when the country is at peace, and can afford to reduce its defence spending.”(1)  Peace dividend also refers to “an increase in investor confidence that sparks an increase in stock prices after a war ends, or a major threat to national security is eliminated. The money saved from defence spending is usually used toward housing, education and other projects”.(2)

Losing Patience

However, instead of peace, prosperity and jobs, the world seems to be growing increasingly angry, losing patience over lost opportunities. Whether in the United States, Europe, or elsewhere in the western world, the 99 versus one per cent, and the continued winnowing out of the middle class is evidence more of a plutocracy or rich élite pulling the strings of power than democratically-elected governments dedicated to the health and well-being of their citizens.

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