Let’s be honest, quitting the EU would harm our foreign policy

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Aaron Ellis

Speaking at Chatham House the other day, Senator Marco Rubio declared that it ought to be up to Britain to decide its relationship with the European Union regardless of transatlantic considerations. “[Y]our American partners should respect whatever decision you make. Our alliance, our partnership, and our affection for your nation will continue regardless of the road you choose.” The reaction of many ‘Europhobes’ highlighted again why I would probably vote for us to stay in the EU if the referendum was held today – the better-off-out position exists in a foreign policy vacuum.

Typically, whenever Europhobes stray outside the national sovereignty vs. supranational governance debate into the wider world, it is to try to outflank the Europhiles. For example, the claim that the Commonwealth can be an alternative trading bloc is an attempt to undermine the economic case for staying in the EU. Yet the hysterical reaction to critical comments made by U.S. officials, amongst many others, shows just how isolated they are from foreign affairs.

Many seized on the words of Mr. Rubio, contrasting them with those of Obama officials. When Philip Gordon, the Assistant Secretary for European affairs, said that he wanted to see “a strong United Kingdom in a strong European Union”, it was part of a pattern of ‘bullying’ according to Tim Stanley. John Redwood wrote that the United States wanted us to be ‘subservient’ to Brussels, betraying the values that underpin their hard-won republic. Nile Gardiner, who advised the Romney campaign, claimed that this would never have happened had his candidate won the White House last year – even arguing that ‘Britain’s policy on Europe is none of President Obama’s business.’ If increasing tension between close U.S. allies is none of Mr. Obama’s business, then, by implication, he shouldn’t involve himself in the Falklands dispute – a regular bugbear of Mr. Gardiner’s…

Rather than simply a restatement of a position that the United States has held for decades, all this is a further manifestation of the visceral hatred that Mr. Obama supposedly feels for our country.

Yet had Tim and others looked more closely, they would have seen that both Gordon and Rubio more or less said the same thing. Like the former, the senator emphasised that he wanted a strong EU, which he sees as both “a stabilizing force on the continent” and “an effective [American] partner on key international issues”. Like Mr. Rubio, Mr. Gordon emphasised that Britain’s relationship with Brussels was ultimately a matter for us to decide. He is a Democrat, of course, whereas the senator is a Republican, which for some on the right makes a world of difference.  

Europhobes’ hysterical reaction to the foreign policy implications of withdrawal makes me reluctant to buy into the Better Off Out campaign. They have no real alternative for the influence that Britain currently enjoys due to its dominance of the European External Action Service (EAS).

Our diplomats were instrumental in drafting the 2010 declaration that made the Service subservient to the foreign policies of the Member States – effectively, the foreign policies of Britain and France. As of last year, six of the most senior positions in the EAS are held by British diplomats on temporary secondment. Given our large foreign policy apparatus and expertise in a wide range of international issues, Britain is best placed to occupy the one-third of EAS positions that are reserved for the officials of Member States and use them to push the EU in directions we want it to go.

This will be important to Mr. Rubio should he become either President or Vice-President after 2016. EAS currently controls the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP), which tries to bring those on the continent’s periphery into the EU’s orbit – like Ukraine. In his speech, the senator argued that both Brussels and Washington needed to “ensure that those on Europe’s periphery who still desire to join the Western community of democracies retain the option if they meet the entry requirements.” Yet if it was not for Britain, the union might not be as large as it is today, and a Christie-Rubio administration would want us to stay in it in order to continue pushing back Russian influence.

In his speech, Mr. Rubio also emphasised the importance of NATO and yet without Britain to keep the EU committed to the Alliance, then it might, as David Cameron once warned, just “fade away.” With Britain gone, there would be renewed effort on a specifically EU security arrangement, which would duplicate the work of NATO and dissipate the energies of both organisations. In my mind’s eye, I can see a very serious-looking Vice-President Rubio standing next to Deputy Prime Minister Ed Davey, telling the assembled journalists that Britain in the EU was vital to American interests.

Leaving the European Union would negatively affect our foreign policy, but rather than offering any alternatives or explaining why taking this hit to our influence is a necessary price for our freedom, the better-off-outers act like Scottish nationalists and attack anyone who criticises them. They attack not only namby-pamby Europhiles, but also the likes of Sir Geoffrey Howe and Radoslaw Sikorski – neither of whom are Britain-hating, probably Kenyan socialists.

The greatest historian of our Party, Lord Blake, once wrote that a characteristic feature of successful Tory governments is ‘a “patriotic” foreign policy…judiciously tempered by liberal internationalism.’ Perhaps trying to emulate our Republican cousins, some Conservatives have spurned international institutions like the EU and the UN; seeing them as threats to be countered, not tools to be used. Rather than emulating the Austrian statesman Metternich – reforming the EU from the inside, as Mr. Sikorski argues – they would rather we left it entirely. That is a reasonable position for them to take, but if Europhobes are going to push for our withdrawal then they need to man up and smarten up on foreign affairs.

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In arguing over Snowden, pundits should not lightly disregard the complexities of national security

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Louis Reynolds

The recent detention of Glenn Greenwald’s partner David Miranda at Heathrow Airport by Security Service officers is, unsurprisingly, a more complex event than most of the media has acknowledged. At both ends of the British political spectrum the series of events from the release of Snowdon’s stolen information to Miranda’s detention can be easily explained. To some, Greenwald stands as David to the state’s Goliath, the champion of journalistic freedom, fighting against a bullying security apparatus keen to use the necessity of secrecy as an excuse to crush personal liberty. To others, Miranda could be regarded as the naive puppet of a sanctimonious, short-sighted and self-interested liberal media outlet, pursuing profit and the advancement of its political agenda.

This binary perception of events fits conveniently into the timeless antagonism between liberty and security, that problem which troubled the Athenian empire of Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War and still troubles post-industrial states today. For Associate Director of the Henry Jackson Society Douglas Murray, Julian Assange, Snowden and Greenwald are ‘saboteurs’ working towards an ‘increasingly clear and specific anti-Western agenda’. In Janet Daley’s opinion, national security concerns cannot compensate for the fact that the destruction of hard drives at the Guardian looks ‘on the face of it, like something out of East Germany in the 1970s’; Daley has even gone as far as to earnestly warn that ‘once you hear the jackboots, it’s too late’.

Despite the strong convictions of these opposing camps, this most recent incident cannot be explained in such a simplistic manner. The voluntary surrender of The Guardian’s hard drives to British intelligence officers and their subsequent destruction might seem like state intimidation; in reality it was the logical escalation of a series of requests by government officials to have the sensitive information destroyed. Miranda was not merely an innocent victim, detained because of his relationship with the man who broke the Snowden story; Miranda, whose plane ticket was paid for by The Guardian, was carrying sensitive documents on Greenwald’s behalf. Greenwald himself is not merely a champion of freedom, but a complicated actor who recently declared that the he was going to ‘publish things of England too’, that he had ‘many documents on England’s spy system’ and that they would be ‘sorry for what they did’ to his partner. Such a statement hardly echoes with the idealism of ‘give me liberty or give me death!’, and suggests motivations beyond public interest.

Yet it remains true that, if the detention of a journalist and the destruction of a newspaper’s hard drives had occurred in the same manner in Russia, the British government may well have expressed outrage and incredulity. Even Washington has felt the need to publically distance itself from events, perhaps self-indulgently given that US interaction with British security policy is far from that of a detached observer. Indeed, while this drama plays out in London and Heathrow, the real scandal remains curiously under-examined in the US, where alleged abuses of power and apparent mismanagement by the National Security Agency increasingly appear to pose a threat to the security of the US and her allies in a manner that threatens to dwarf the Snowden affair itself.

This leads us to contemplate the ‘security’ aspect of the debate. Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger dismissively remarked in a recent editorial that the destroyed computers had to be thoroughly inspected ‘just to make sure there was nothing in the mangled bits of metal which could possibly be of any interest to passing Chinese agents’. Such flippant comments reveal how little such factors enter into the consideration of those at the centre of this media circus. That foreign nations or non-state actors might take advantage of intelligence leaks in order to damage our national security or that of NATO is a pressing danger, particularly given that the extent of the leaked information is uncertain. It is even clearer that these leaks are damaging to British foreign policy.

The motivations of The Guardian are principally pure, a genuine concern for personal liberty mixing with the pursuit of profit and publicity, and driven by a few significant egos. But while purity of intention confers morality on our deeds, it does not grant us special insight. Snowden betrayed the US security apparatus thanks to a schoolboy’s understanding of civil liberties; the result of his efforts to evade American justice was his courting of nations with a significant disregard for the individual freedoms and liberties. That The Guardian might through damaging the British and American states bolster opponents of liberty abroad is a clear danger. The Guardian has acted unilaterally, and judging by Greenwald’s latest outburst, driven by motives as crude as the desire to ‘stick it to the man’.

The risks of this media project are significant, and disregarded far too readily by those involved. The necessity of secrecy in intelligence work combined with the need for oversight means, as I have argued in these pages before, that we should trust in the Intelligence and Security Committee’s judgement or even perhaps seek to further bolster its powers. What is clear is that newspapers and private individuals are not more qualified to decide what is in the interest of the United Kingdom. Those involved in this media saga flippantly undertake actions with grave potential consequences. The media companies and individual ‘leakers’ involved might feel that they have a responsibility to champion civil liberties and inform the public about our security apparatuses. However, they also have a significant responsibility to consider the real repercussions of their actions in terms of the national interest, and to think more carefully before they act.

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Drones are lethal on the battlefield and gentle on the wallet

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Crispin Burke

In March of this year, Wired Magazine revealed that an armed drone from the Royal Air Force - controlled from RAF Waddington in Lincolnshire - fired ordnance at enemy forces in Helmand, Afghanistan, in support of British troops. It was the first drone strike controlled from British territory, and represents the latest success in the Britain’s ever-emerging Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) program.

The successful use of armed drones by British forces is a positive development for the UK for three reasons. First, armed drones are an emerging technology which will play a vital role on the 21st Century battlefield. Second, Britain’s ability to employ armed drones reduces its dependency on the United States to provide the same capability. Third, and most importantly, in an era of dwindling defense spending, drones are an inexpensive - and proven - alternative to manned aircraft and aircraft carriers.   

The United States has long been the global leader in armed Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. UAVs quickly proved their worth in Iraq and Afghanistan, where their sensors, endurance, and laser-guided missiles gave American forces an edge previously unimaginable. America’s drone capabilities have only continued to improve, both in terms of the quantity and quality of the machines themselves, as well as the people who operate them. 

Today, nearly one-third of all US military aircraft are unmanned, with aircraft ranging from the hand-held Raven, to the Global Hawk, whose wingspan rivals that of a C-130 Hercules. The United States even has a handful of drones with stealth capabilities, such as the RQ-170 Sentinel, one of which crashed in Iran. Still, according to recent reports, the accident rates for drones such as the Predator are roughly compatible with those of general aviation aircraft. Perhaps most striking is the US Air Force’s investment in the people who operate these vehicles: in 2011, the US Air Force trained more UAV operators than fighter pilots and bomber pilots combined. 

America’s superiority in unmanned flight—especially with armed, Medium-Altitude, Long Endurance (MALE) platforms—has greatly benefitted NATO. So much so, unfortunately, that NATO has become overly reliant on American drones for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. 

In the aftermath of the bombing campaign in Libya, US officials - including NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe, Admiral James Stavridis and former US Defense Secretary Robert Gates - chided NATO for their inability to collect intelligence, and process it into targeting data - a capability provided almost wholly by US forces. This sense of frustration over Europe’s inability to field sufficient UAVs has been echoed throughout the ranks within the US military. In a memorandum sent to the Secretary of the US Army, one brigade commander in Afghanistan expressed frustration when British forces were given priority of support from American-owned and -operated UAVs. Britain could indeed rectify this imbalance by acquiring armed drones and training sufficient operators.

Additionally, though America’s commitment to Britain is strong - both through NATO and the so-called “special relationship” - it has, regrettably, not been the most reliable partner.  In such instances, British forces may have to call upon the unique capabilities provided by drones, operated by their own forces.

In order to do so, the UK must invest not only in the machines themselves, but also the facilities to operate them, as well as the personnel to maintain them, fly them, and process information into targetable intelligence. Like the US military, Britain must continue to assess its policies regarding training, manning, promotion policies, and even organizational culture for those who work with UAVs.

Most importantly, however, is that armed drones perform many of the same functions as fixed-wing fighter-bombers at a fraction of the cost. For instance, though Britain’s planned F-35 fighter is a stealthy, capable dogfighter, most of the combat British forces have seen in the past decade has taken place in uncontested airspace, rendering these features superfluous—calling into question the F-35’s £124 million price tag. Not to mention, the F-35B has been plagued with design problems, and will not enter service until at least 2019, according to some estimates.

General Atomics’ combat-proven MQ-9 Reaper drone, on the other hand, is a proven design, which can carry over 1700 kg of munitions and loiter for up to 14 hours while fully loaded. For less than £35 million, Britain can acquire four Reapers, plus the ground control stations and satellite links to operate them. Furthermore, forward-deployed drones require a much smaller logistical footprint than their manned counterparts. Indeed, fiscal realities make armed drones an attractive military option, considering the cost of manned aircraft and aircraft carriers.

Drones are not a silver-bullet weapon. The Ministry of Defence has noted that UAVs have critical weaknesses. Drones are vulnerable to surface-to-air missiles and are easy targets for enemy fighter aircraft; the data links which control them are susceptible to jamming, hacking, and viruses. Yet, despite these weaknesses, drones have been a game-changing weapon for NATO. A continued investment in armed UAVs and operators will help keep Britain’s Armed Forces relevant on the 21st Century battlefield, allow them to contribute to multinational operations more effectively, and provide many of the same capabilities as manned aircraft at a fraction of the cost.

Major Crispin Burke is a US Army aviator and Iraq War veteran, who has served in the 82nd Airborne Division and the 10th Mountain Division.  His views are his own, and do not reflect those of the US Department of Defense. Follow him on Twitter.

Intervention is a powerful tool, it must be used wisely

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Aaron Ellis

I opposed intervening in Libya, criticised the Mali campaign, and have repeatedly warned against too deep an involvement in Syria. Considering this track record, it would be easy to conclude that I am against interventions anywhere and everywhere – but you would be wrong.

Like diplomacy, intervention is a tool of foreign policy, and it would be absurd to be against either of them on principle. The problem has been that in Libya, Mali, and Syria, intervention has been used to further bad foreign policy. And I am certainly against bad foreign policy on principle.

Intervention can come in many different forms. As Rory Stewart and Gerald Knaus point out, its Latin root roughly translates into ‘to come between’, admitting ‘to nothing more than coming into a new relationship.’ There is much ambiguity about the nature of the relationship and who it is with, how it manifests itself, and how we came into it in the first place. Attempting to offer some clarity, I argued in these pages that we should intervene where it is in our interests to do so and our involvement should be proportionate to those interests. I called this, somewhat pompously, ‘the Ellis Doctrine’.

Yet British involvement in Libya, Mali, and Syria has been disproportionate in my view. Justifying the campaign against Colonel Gaddafi, David Cameron argued that “[j]ust because you can’t do the right thing everywhere doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do the right thing somewhere.” But was it necessary for us to participate in the military intervention in order to “do the right thing”? Could we not have focused on the diplomatic side and left the fighting to others? If the Prime Minister had limited our ownership of the war, he might not have been cheered by the crowds in Benghazi, but he would have decreased Britain’s liability to the Pottery Barn rule: You break it, you buy it.

Almost two years ago, I warned that Libya bears an eerie resemblance to Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban.

In 2001/02, we helped a loose coalition topple a brutal regime that we disliked without knowing too much about them or about what we wanted the postwar environment to look like. As a result of our uncoordinated actions, we created the problems that gradually undermined the illusory peace that followed. The postwar environment was shaped on the ground by the many factions and militias that we had empowered long before Western policymakers met to decide the future of the country. Over a decade and billions of pounds later, we are still trying to catch-up.

The same thing has happened in Libya. We helped a loose coalition of militias overthrow the Gaddafi regime without knowing too much about them or about what we wanted to happen afterwards. Postwar planning was deliberately scant because, like with Afghanistan in 2001/02, we were terrified of the prospect of being drawn into nation-building. The postwar environment was thus shaped by those many militias fighting on the ground and they now dominate the country.

Last month, one militia besieged government buildings, demanding that any old regime officials step down. Parliamentarians were pressured to pass a law banning them from ever holding office again. In September last year, a militia attacked the American consulate in Benghazi, killing Ambassador Chris Stevens. Three months before that, the British ambassador was almost killed in an RPG attack on his convoy.

Two years ago, Mr. Cameron warned that unless Gaddafi was toppled then a “rogue state” would develop on Europe’s doorstep, but Libya now risks becoming a so-called ‘failed state’. In January, a militant Islamist group used the country as a base from which to attack the In Amenas gas complex in Algeria. “The south of Libya is what the north of Mali was like” before France intervened, says one Malian official.

Last month, NATO began looking into whether or not it should train Libya’s nascent security forces in order to rein in the militias and improve the security situation in the country. Of course, this should have been planned during the initial campaign. Thus like in Afghanistan, we are trying to catch-up, and it is in these circumstances that I can see Britain being drawn into another long and costly nation-building mission in a country of only marginal interest to us. And after a decade of fruitless endeavour there, whoever is Prime Minister at the time may boast that he will pursue a more “hard-headed” approach unlike his predecessors – as Mr. Cameron boasted about Afghanistan four months before the Libyan intervention.

In his first Guildhall speech, he told the guests at the prestigious annual dinner that his foreign policy would “focus like a laser on defending and advancing Britain’s national interest.” This “hardheaded” approach was now being applied to Afghanistan. “We are not there to build a perfect democracy,” implying that that was what Tony Blair and Gordon Brown tried to do. Yet it is easy for politicians to be dispassionately realist about a quagmire they’ve inherited from their opponents; it’s much harder for them to work out if they are creating one themselves.

Why should Britain be drawn back into Libya, some may ask. Remember, we went in to get rid of Mad Dog and we got the job done. End of story. This is where we return to the importance of the form and extent of an intervention.

The more involved we are in an intervention, the more implicit responsibility we incur. Colin Powell warned George W. Bush that if he invaded Iraq, then he would “own all their hopes, aspirations, and problems. You’ll own it all.” Apart from the moral obligations this ownership imposes on us, trying to shirk the responsibilities can undermine whatever gains we made initially.

For example, some pundits argue that by arming the Syrian rebels, the West would gain their eternal gratitude after the fall of Bashar al-Assad. Would this gratitude continue, however, if they felt we had abandoned them in the much harder postwar phase? Given how quickly the Libyan rebels accused us of abandoning them even before the intervention started, why would they continue to feel gratitude for our help if we ignored their current problems? The job was only half-done two years ago and we have tried to shirk the responsibilities we incurred ever since.

In a couple of weeks, The Spectator will be hosting a debate about whether or not Britain should intervene in Syria. The question is misleading – we already have intervened in the civil war there. A more relevant debate for us to have is to what extent should we intervene, in what form, and does it actually further our foreign policy? Unfortunately, as my friend and blogeague Adam Elkus has pointed out, ‘tools’ are sexy to talk about, but ‘how they actually advance’ our interests ‘most surely isn’t.’

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The West, Russia & Syria: Foreign policy is rarely a zero-sum game

Aaron Ellis 6.12am

It is perfectly possible for one country to argue with another over a controversial issue at the same time as co-operating with them on several others - as long as they both get their priorities right and are diplomatic in explaining their differences publicly.

Unfortunately, both Britain and the United States have failed to do this with regard to Russia: they have given more attention to Syria, where they disagree with the latter, than to the many more important issues on which they share common interests. The way British and American officials have explained their differences with their Russian counterparts has also been appallingly undiplomatic and, unsurprisingly, counterproductive.

If London and Washington want to withdraw from Afghanistan, negotiate an end to the Iran crisis, reduce nuclear weapons, and expand NATO, they must give less ‘airtime’ to Syria when dealing with Moscow. If they want to stop the violence there, they must be more respectful of Russia’s views, no matter how heartless they believe them to be. Otherwise, the Kremlin will take a zero-sum approach to the issues listed above, making the world a considerably more dangerous place.

Anyone familiar with the history of Anglo-American relations with Russia knows how difficult it can be to get them on your side, no matter how obvious it is that your approach to an issue will benefit them as much as it would benefit yourself. Russian foreign policy is characterised by interplaying contradictions. Its practitioners can be refreshingly honest one minute, deceptive the next; they can play the aggrieved party in a dispute when they are actually the aggressor; and can alternate between undermining the international order and being one of its key pillars

Yet there are best practice principles that can be teased out of our difficult history with the Russians.

One, respect their interests and treat them the way a great power ought to be treated, even if it is obvious they’re not one. Two, be honest about your own interests and don’t try to trick them, though they may be trying to trick you. Three, don’t be a hypocrite, no matter how hypocritical you think they are behaving. Essentially, keep in mind Ronald Reagan’s dictum: trust, but verify.

If this is “best practice”, both the United Kingdom and the United States have badly mishandled the Russians during the Syria crisis. They have not tried to safeguard their interests in the country should Bashar al-Assad fall, nor have they taken seriously their view of the crisis, as Giles Marshall argued they should in these pages last month. Rather than be diplomatic about their differences, some Western officials have publicly attacked Russia, as the US Ambassador to the UN did in February.

Some of the British and Americans’ actions have just been tin-eared: for example, leaking that David Cameron thought about using Special Forces to stop a Russian ship from allegedly taking weapons to Syria.

For months now, the conflict has preoccupied Anglo-American diplomacy, yet there are many other issues that are much more important to us than Syria and which require Russian support – or at least acquiescence. If we continue to bungle things with the Kremlin, it will become less cooperative on Iran and Afghanistan, even taking a zero-sum approach. One official said as much yesterday, warning that “if Russia doesn’t like the outcome” in Syria, it will start selling long-range surface-to-air missiles to Iran.

Given that Russia is part of one of the two routes via which NATO supplies troops in Afghanistan, its support will be vital over the next two years as we withdraw, as the only other route out of the country is through Pakistan…

British and American officials are understandably exasperated with Russia’s Syria policy, for it is cold, self-interested, and hypocritical. Vladimir Putin attacked humanitarian interventionism a few months ago, yet he justified the war with Georgia on the same as grounds as those calling for military action in Syria. Unfortunately, the terrible things happening there simply aren’t important enough to us to risk an open breach with the Kremlin and losing its cooperation on much more vital issues.

Much of what Otto von Bismarck said over a hundred years ago holds true today, not least his belief that the secret of foreign policy is to make a good treaty with Russia…

Follow Aaron on Twitter @AaronHEllis

The UK could learn from Turkey

Alexander Pannett 10.40am

As the chaos of Europe continues unabated and dangerous economic winds lap at Britain’s shores, I recently decided to escape all the incessant doom and gloom and head to Istanbul for a delightful city break. 

Rich with history and a modern dynamic energy that draws comparisons with London, the Queen of Cities is a magnificent testimony to the plurality of dreams that humans can envisage. 

Situated on the Bosphorus, Istanbul is the only city in the world that bestrides two continents.  It is also the only city to have been the capital of two distinct, successive empires, Byzantine and Ottomon, that both dominated their respective faiths of Christianity and Islam. 

Modern trams intersperse ancient buildings as this teeming city of 15 million continues to attract merchants and talents from throughout Asia and Europe, much as it did a thousand years ago when it was known as Constantinople. 

Turkey is similar to the UK in many ways. Situated on the periphery of Europe, it acts as a conduit for trade, energy, migration and ideas into Europe from other major economies.  It is a multi-ethnic country with an imperial past containing Turks, Greeks, Armenians and Kurds. It sees itself as a staunch ally of the US and a leading member of NATO. It is also outside the Eurozone. 

Unlike the UK, the Turkish economy is in rude health. Figures released on 2 April  showed that Turkey’s GDP rose by 8.5% in 2011 after a 9% increase in 2010. According to a survey by Forbes magazine, Istanbul, Turkey’s financial capital, had a total of 28 billionaires as of March 2010 (down from 34 in 2008), ranking 4th in the world behind New York City (60 billionaires), Moscow (50 billionaires), and London (32 billionaires). 

Whilst the global financial crisis has affected Turkey, with its current account deficit averaging 10% of GDP last year and inflation at 10.4% in March, it has responded to the downturn much better than most across the world. It was one of a few countries that actually saw its credit rating upgraded during the crisis. 

The Economist has commented: 

Turkey has weathered the credit crunch better than other emerging economies. Partly thanks to tough regulation, not a single Turkish bank has gone under. That is also because, unlike many Western banks, they have few toxic assets and limited mortgage exposure. So the government has not had to divert public money into rescuing banks. 

For these reasons Turkey can offer some important lessons to the UK in how to take advantage of its geostrategic position between Europe and Asia, just as London lies between the US and Europe geographically, and between Asia and the US temporally.

Turkey has looked to Europe for much of its economic trade, in 2005 59% of exports and 51% of imports were with the European Union. But it has also diversified, looking at economies from wider afield, especially Russia and Japan but also emerging markets in central and eastern Asia. Considering that by 2015, 90% of the world’s trade will be generated outside Europe, this diversification seems eminently sensible. 

Turkey has also not been a poodle to US foreign policy. It refused to allow its territory to be used as a staging post for the Iraq invasion and has pursued a doggedly independent approach to its Kurdish insurgency and relations with the wider Middle East. 

Whilst there are still some worrying problems in Turkey, with reported human rights abuses, an overly political military and susceptibility to erratic international capital flow, to name but a few, the future looks much brighter in Anatolia than it does in other peripheral European nations. 

The UK should learn from Turkey’s courting of both Europe and emerging markets to boost its growing economy. It should take heart from what can be achieved economically by staying outside of the Eurozone and that it pays to take a more independent approach to foreign policy that is in line with core strategic interests. 

Both countries have a long history behind them and both will need to look away from Europe and towards the wider world to ensure a prosperous future lies ahead.

Follow Alexander on Twitter @alpannett

The West’s half-hearted efforts will not end Syria’s civil war

Dan Trombly 10.23am

The pressure has increased for more forceful intervention in Syria. Despite the presence of international observers, the Assad regime refuses to adhere to a ceasefire demanded by the UN.

Whether it involves arming the rebels or a repeat of the NATO intervention in Bosnia in 1995, the ongoing strife in the country calls for further action, and US Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman John Kerry recently urged consideration of both options. Yet despite the frustration of diplomatic efforts, military options seem bleak.

Those who argue that past success in Bosnia could be replicated in Syria both ignore the history of the Bosnian war and its differences with the current conflict. The UN’s attempts to create “safe zones” resulted in the horrific massacres of Srebrenica and elsewhere. The Bosnian war was ultimately won when the numerically superior combined force of Croatian and Bosnian troops launched ground offensives, not when NATO began air strikes.

Similar attempts to implement “safe zones” in Iraq following the first Gulf War required the threat of ground assault in the south of the country, and the tactic failed frequently in the north, such as at Irbil in 1996. Even after the Desert Fox bombing campaign, forces withdrew once a Baghdad supporting faction secured that area. Notably, Saddam Hussein’s rule was not ended until troops fought their way to the capital in 2003, despite “safe zones” having been declared alongside frequent US air patrols and strikes.

In Syria, as in Bosnia and Iraq, neither protection of civilians nor regime change can be assured without superiority on the ground. Even air strikes would require a bombing campaign larger than in Iraq in 2003.

And enormous obstacles stand in the way of arming the Syrian rebels. In Bosnia, for instance, it was Croatia’s invasion that brought about a Serb defeat, not Bosnian forces. In Syria, without a ground invasion of tens (or hundreds) of thousands of troops - from Turkey, the Arab states, or the West - Syria’s rebels will remain woefully outmatched in conventional capabilities. Indeed, Turkey rarely conducts cross-border raids against PKK terrorists without several thousand soldiers.

The Syrian rebels need artillery batteries, armour and air support, not just man-portable anti-tank or anti-aircraft weaponry.

Even with Western air support, the rebels would likely continue to use the guerilla tactics befitting the outmatched force that they are, avoiding pitched battles and ceding territory to draw out hostile forces. While these might be effective tactics in a long-term insurgency, they are unlikely to result in regime change or effective protection of civilians in the short-term. Even the maintenance of a safe haven for rebel forces would need to be done outside Syrian territory, rather than in “safe zones”.

Simply arming rebel forces is more likely to cause a protracted civil war than a quick victory. The United States and others learned this is Nicaragua, Angola and Afghanistan during the Cold War. But in those cases, there was thought to be some value in attrition, and supporters of proxy groups were relatively indifferent to civilian casualties and the collateral damage of prolonged conflict. In Syria, such outcomes are unjustifiable on humanitarian grounds, nor on strategic aims (seeing Assad depart quickly).

Moreover, an influx of arms leaves lasting consequences. The behaviour of Libyan militias is a case in point.

An authoritarian regime such as Assad’s can hold on until hostile armoured columns roll on Damascus. Therefore the only strategically feasible option for a quick victory in Syria is a full-scale invasion. Yet no Western state is willing to undertake such a mission and a Turkish or Arab effort seems very unlikely.

Ultimately, Syria’s civil war will drag on. In the meantime, Western powers must work with Syria’s neighbours to prevent WMDs and other arms from leaving the country; they must provide aid to refugees that manage to escape Syria; and continue to exercise diplomatic options to the best of their ability.

Unless Western policymakers can convince their own populations and their Middle Eastern allies that an invasion is justifiable, providing military aid or half-hearted intervention can only worsen the consequences of Syria’s conflict - for both that country’s neighbours, and the interests of the West.

Dan Trombly is a student of International Affairs at George Washington University. He blogs at Slouching Towards Columbia.

Talking to the Taliban will not solve our problems in Afghanistan

Aaron Ellis 10.34am

The debate over Afghanistan is like a boom & bust economy: repeatedly rocked by speculative financial bubbles that promise to end the war quickly.

As with financial bubbles, these get-peace-quick schemes show good returns initially but soon collapse under the weight of their own hype. Their investors - politicians, media pundits et al - are left feeling cheated, and so begin looking for the next big idea. The cycle continues.

In 2009, many ‘investors’ bought into population-centric counterinsurgency (P-COIN). That bubble burst when the following year when President Obama fired ISAF commander General Stanley McChrystal, the architect of the P-COIN strategy in Afghanistan. If you’re looking for the proverbial get-peace-quick investment today, the smart money’s on talking to the Taliban.

Like bubbles before it, talking to the Taliban is not a solution to our Afghan problems. It will not achieve our stated objective of stopping al-Qa’ida from returning to the country and using it as a safe haven from which to plan attacks on the West.

David Cameron signed a strategic partnership with President Hamid Karzai in January, which states that both their governments:

"…recognise the threat posed by terrorism and violent extremism, particularly from Al-Qaeda, and will strive unceasingly to ensure that Afghanistan never again becomes a safe haven for any insurgent or terrorist group…"

The West’s strategy is two-fold. First, we will build up the country’s security forces so that they can expel al-Qa’ida if they try to return after our troops leave in 2014. Second, we will persuade the Taliban to break from the terrorist group by luring them into a power-sharing deal. The Prime Minister mentioned this during his press conference with President Karzai.

Regrettably, this strategy is conceptually flawed.

The first part assumes that Osama bin Laden arrived in Afghanistan in the 1990s because it was a defenceless failed state. The second part assumes that if the Taliban agree to keep al-Qa’ida out of the country then they will be able to impose their will on local powerbrokers in a way no Afghan government has been able to do since the Iron Amir in the nineteenth century.

Both assumptions are undermined by the Haqqani network, which is allegedly responsible for the attacks in Kabul on Sunday.

When Osama bin Laden was kicked out of the Sudan in 1996, he did not flee to Afghanistan because it was a failed state; he fled there because of the protection offered by his close relationships with local powerbrokers like Jalaluddin Haqqani. Indeed, the grizzled guerrilla leader was crucial to al-Qa’ida, according to a paper published last July by West Point’s Counterterrorism Center (CTC). Haqqani provided al-Qa’ida with space to develop.

The CTC paper warns that Haqqani’s network retains strong ties to al-Qa’ida, suggesting it is unlikely the former will meaningfully disengage. If we are to contemplate talking to the Taliban, we have to understand the important role the Haqqanis play in the war. They are the most militarily effective force among the insurgency and the only conduit for the Taliban to project power in the direction of Kabul and south-east Afghanistan.

It is likely that the Haqqani network orchestrated the attacks on Sunday, as well as similar attacks in the Afghan capital last September. These ‘spectaculars’, as they are called, are meant to convey the simple message that the Taliban (via the Haqqanis) can strike anywhere irrespective of how secure an area seems.

Ryan Crocker, the US ambassador in Afghanistan, captured the insurgents’ dynamic when he commented tartly: “The Taliban are very good as issuing statements, less good at fighting.”

The historian Thomas Barfield explains, and is worth quoting at length:

"…[t]hose Afghan leaders who would best succeed during the [twentieth] century employed a ‘Wizard of Oz’ strategy. They declared their governments all-powerful, but rarely risked testing that claim by implementing controversial policies.

Conversely, the leaders who were most prone to failure and state collapse were those who assumed that they possessed the power to do as they pleased, and then provoked opposition that their regimes proved incapable of suppressing.”

Afghanistan is perhaps the most complex conflict in history. It contains all the problems of modern warfare and is the sum of decades of internal strife and great power politics.

The downside to this is the difficulty in finding solutions. “In Afghanistan, things are rarely as they seem,” General McChrystal once said. “If you pull the lever, the outcome is not what you have been programmed to think.”

This applies to the many get-peace-quick schemes that have dominated the Afghan debate, whether in counterinsurgency, counterterrorism, or talking to the Taliban. All produce outcomes that their many ‘investors’ do not anticipate, so putting the war effort at risk.

If we truly want to achieve our stated objective in Afghanistan - a relatively stable  country that can block al-Qa’ida’s return - then our solutions need to be as nuanced as the war is complex.

And of course, more and more governments are concluding that this just isn’t worth the effort.

Follow Aaron on Twitter @AaronHEllis