Monday, 30 November 2020
The US after Trump: The prospective Biden presidency, Trumpism and partisan crisis
Professor King looked closely at the electoral statistics and their consequences. At home, Joe Biden's priorities would be the economy and management of the pandemic. Control of the Senate, which depended on the outcome of the two elections in Georgia, was crucial. Democratic control would allow Biden to pass his essential tax and financial bills.
Abroad, the election of Joe Biden would give a new impetus to Washington-Brussels relations: at a time of tectonic changes, in which the challenges following the covid-19 pandemic would go beyond the Euro-Atlantic context and require an international response.
US relations with Europe would change, but would not be entirely straight-forward, given the need to try and find a common approach to Russia, and also agree trade deals.
Friday, 27 November 2020
30 years on: The end of the road for ex-Communist elites in South East Europe?
Eli Gateva covered Bulgaria. The next Parliamentary elections were due in March 2021 (though this might be delayed until May for pandemic-related reasons). The democratic transition in Bulgaria had started in November 1989, following an internal coup in the Bulgarian Communist Party which led to the ousting of Todor Zhivkov. In contrast to Central European countries, the dissent movement in Bulgaria was relatively weak. The Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) won 36% of the vote in the first democratic elections. The successors to the Communist Party were the Bulgarian Socialists; and there was a two-party system along the lines of ex-Communists vs non-Communists. In 2001 there was a new party , the National Movement Simeon the Second party (NDSV) ,based around the former King, and later other new parties. The centre-right Citizens for European Development of Bulgaria, GERB, was established in 2006. It had won the 2009 Parliamentary elections, and had been in power since (with a brief interruption in 2013). Currently Borissov was in his third term as PM. Characteristics of the Bulgarian state were: weak state capacity, patronage, informal networks, the nexus of political and economic elites, and corruption . In the summer of 2020 an MP from Democratic Bulgaria, Hristo Ivanov, tried to disembark on an illegally enclosed beach on the sea near Burgas and was prevented from swimming by bodyguards of the elite. This had galvanised protests and popular support for the rule of law. New parties had appeared: eg There Are Such People, Stand.UpBG, and Bulgarian Summer. There was still sharp focus on high level corruption and governmental weaknesses exposed by the pandemic. The outlook was volatile and uncertain.
Monday, 23 November 2020
From the ashes of Moria refugee camp to a new migration system?
Dimitriadi began by exploring the circumstances and structural causes that made the Moria camp such a dangerous and inhumane place and led to its eventual destruction by fire. Moria was very much a product of EU policy and of the way the EU-Turkey Statement was structured and implemented. This, along with the unwillingness of other EU member states to show solidarity in relation to the relocation of refugees, resulted in significant pressure being exerted on Greece. Yet a large portion of the responsibility also rested with consecutive Greek governments which have approached migration as a problem that needs to be stopped through border control. They endorsed the so-called ‘deterrence approach’, i.e. the idea that conditions in reception centers should not be good to prevent further inflows, which helps explain why such inhumane conditions persisted in Moria. The situation was exacerbated with the toughening of migration policy in summer to 2019. This led to the further securitization of migration, while legislative changes were implemented to allow for quicker return decisions in the asylum process. Finally, the pandemic further worsened the already very poor conditions in hotspots.
Tuesday, 17 November 2020
Monday, 16 November 2020
Black Sea gas: Economic and geopolitical implications
- Dimitar Bechev (DPIR, Oxford; Russia Institute, King’s College London), Jonathan Lamb (Wood and Co., London), and Anna Mikulska (Baker Institute, Houston, Kleinman Center, University of Pennsylvania) to discuss recent large natural gas finds in the Black Sea.
Anastasakis set the stage by noting that the Black Sea has become even more strategically important since Turkey unveiled the biggest-ever natural gas find in the Black Sea, Sakarya field, in August 2020, with potential to deliver more than 400 billion cubic metres of gas. This has caused a stir in other littoral countries and neighbors, and a key question is whether the Black Sea discoveries can be handled in a more collaborative way than the conflictful gas development in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Yardimci added perspective on the importance of the find. While deep-water natural gas was first discovered in the Black Sea by Romania in 2012, the Neptun block has still not been commercialized. Turkey’s find is ten times as big (though much smaller than identified reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean) and it plans to begin gas production as early as 2023. Since fossil fuels still account for more than 80 percent of the region’s energy use—a high dependency unlikely to change rapidly—the gas find can significantly change the energy mix and Turkey’s relations with traditional energy suppliers. Leaving aside Russia’s annexation of Crimea, the maritime border has been much more stable than in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Wednesday, 11 November 2020
Migration Diplomacy: Conceptual and historical perspectives
Anastasakis introduced the project to the participants by referring to its aims: examining the issues related to Turkey’s foreign policy and the country’s relations with the EU in the shadow of the migration crisis, and also preparing an application for a larger research grant. He recalled the first online meeting that was held on 30 June 2020, which focused on the domestic drivers of Turkey’s migration diplomacy. The goal of the current meeting was to discuss and exchange views on the conceptual and historical perspectives on migration diplomacy, and the speakers and participants were prompted with the following questions:
- How do you conceptualize migration diplomacy?
- How is migration diplomacy linked with foreign policy making?
- What are the linkages between migration diplomacy and geopolitical considerations?
- Where do you think there is need for more research in this field? Where do you think there is a gap in the literature on migration diplomacy and its history?
The first speaker, Fiona Adamson, presented answers to these questions by making references to the insights gained from her and Gerasimos Tsourapas’ work on the issue. She stated that the aim of migration diplomacy research is to expand the field of migration studies, and making use of classical IR theories to look at issues of interstate bargaining over migration; in other words, to understand how migration fits in interstate relations and geopolitics. She suggested a definition of migration diplomacy: state use of diplomatic tools, processes, and procedures to manage cross-border population mobility, and/or state instrumentalization of migration to achieve other diplomatic and strategic interests. Noting that migration diplomacy is not synonymous with migration policy, and that we are trying to limit the scope of analysis to interstate relations, she noted that we are taking a realist/rationalist focus on relations between states or state-like actors such as international organizations.
Tuesday, 10 November 2020
Monday, 9 November 2020
Exploring Turkey’s disinformation ecosystem
On 28 October 2020, SEESOX held its second webinar of the Michaelmas
Term. Chaired by Mehmet Karli (St Antony’s College), it brought together
two speakers - Akin Ünver (Oxford Internet Institute; Department of
International Relations, Kadir Has University) and Afşin Yurdakul
(Haberturk News Network) - with Ezgi Başaran (St Antony’s College,
Oxford) as discussant. The webinar drew on the findings of a
recently-completed research project on Turkey’s digital media ecosystem
carried out by EDAM, one of the leading independent think-tanks in
Turkey, and funded by the US based Chrest Foundation.
Karli noted that digital media was now an increasing factor in electoral politics, and its use with the intention to mislead created what he characterised as “disinformation warfare”. While there was plenty of literature on such developments in the USA and western Europe, there was little or nothing on Turkey. At the same time, Turkey ranked among the most active countries in using social media for political communication purposes, and successive crises, such as the failed coup attempt in July 2016, terrorist attacks, elections, and protests had been heavily ‘digitally mediated’. But Turkey was also one of the most vulnerable countries to disinformation, bot usage, and cyber-attacks. How could this be dealt with?
Wednesday, 4 November 2020
Friday, 23 October 2020
The East Med: A new hotspot for Europe?
The speakers were Constantinos Filis (Institute of International Relations, Athens), Fiona Mullen (Sapienta Economics, Nicosia) and Sinan Ülgen (Centre for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies, Istanbul); it was co-chaired by Othon Anastasakis and Mehmet Karlı, both of St Antony’s College, Oxford.
Filis saw growing interest by the international community in the Eastern Mediterranean, with a number of increasingly complex challenges and threats in the region.
European countries were unwilling to accept the increasing flow of migrants and refugees from the Middle East or Africa, complicating the status quo in the East Mediterranean. Many jihadist terrorist groups were active in the region, and their reach was expanding in many countries, including Libya, threatening gain of territorial control in certain areas and thence, through migration, increased presence in Europe.
The coronavirus crisis put at risk current and future investments in countries such as Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, and Jordan, and with significant decreases in energy prices as a result, the economies of countries relying primarily on the energy sector, such as Algeria, would be adversely impacted. Since the crisis would hit weak economies and vulnerable population groups the hardest, it might act as a catalyst for political and social developments at grassroots, possibly leading to uprisings and new political movements, and further exacerbating existing political instability in the region.
Monday, 22 June 2020
Friday, 19 June 2020
Greek diasporas and the pandemic
The first speaker, Professor Alexander Kitroeff (Haverford College) compared the Greek-American community’s responses to past crises, namely World War II and the invasion of Cyprus by Turkey in 1974. He highlighted the fact that conditions in the host country and society shape to a considerable degree the readiness and capacity of the diaspora community to come to the aid of the homeland. That being said, different diaspora organisations, depending on their scope, size and strength, vary in the way they respond to a homeland crisis.
The US’s engagement in WW II, and the rising affluence of the Greek-American community as a result of the economic demand boosted by the war effort, meant that Greek-Americans were politically, societally and economically ready to come to the aid of their compatriots - and they did. The organization they founded for this purpose, the War Relief Association, benefited from both the engagement of leading Greek-Americans such Spyros Skouras, President of 20th Century Fox, as well as by the commitment of the community’s mass organisations, particularly AHEPA. Likewise, the effort of the Greek-American lobby to curtail the provision of military equipment to Turkish armed forces in the mid to late 1970s benefited from the post-Watergate rollback of Presidential power effected by the US Congress. During the fiscal crisis, efforts to assist Greece have been less focused, and organisationally more diffuse, perhaps reflecting the crisis itself, unfolding in comparatively slower motion and with its negative effects, distributed more widely and less visibly and starkly, as opposed to the effects of armed conflict. Turning to the pandemic, the Greek-American community has been favourably impressed by the efficiency of the public policy response of the Greek government. The shambolic nature of the management of the pandemic crisis in the US itself has had contrasting effects.
Monday, 15 June 2020
Friday, 12 June 2020
Geopolitical challenges in the Balkans in the shadow of the pandemic
Anasatasakis introduced the discussion by recalling the SEESOX Hilary Term Seminar Series on Security Challenges in South East Europe in a changing geopolitical context. This had covered three broad topics, but today’s webinar would address only one of them – the role of external actors. He summarised the points raised in the series, which served as both a background to today’s discussion and the status quo ante for the post COVID 19 picture we now face.
The new geopolitical picture in the Balkans challenged many traditional assumptions: that regional security was based on territorially defined borders and old nationalistic feuds; that political elites, diplomacy and military means were the main actors, working in a top down approach; and that external actors behaved in a unified way. Against this background, he asked the panellists to consider three questions:
1. What kind of influences/interferences/support from EU/China/Russia have we seen across the region since the start of the pandemic?
2. What have been the domestic reactions to competing interventions during the pandemic?
3. Do we see a significant impact emerging out of this competing set of influences? Do we expect things to change in the future and how?
Thursday, 19 March 2020
China in South East Europe: economic or political interests?
Dr. Bastian posed the question of whether Chinese involvement in SEE was opportunistic or strategic. Grandiose statements have been made about a “Balkan Silk Road” and turning Piraeus into the largest port in Europe, but Dr. Bastian presented a more complex picture. He explained that Chinese involvement in SEE had three main elements:
- Investment in infrastructure. Typically, first one sizeable investment is undertaken by a Chinese government-owned corporation. This investment leads to a cluster of other investments, where the expansion can be geographical (e.g., ports in various counties) or sectoral (e.g., a port followed other infrastructure, etc., in the same country). Investments tend to be in transportation, energy, and telecommunications.
- Ample financing. The Chinese state-owned policy banks have been willing to advance significant sums, under favorable conditions. However, this financing has often been conditioned on host government guarantees and collateral in the form of real estate.
- Enhanced soft power. In pursuit of soft power, the Chinese authorities have, for example, built up the “17+1” platform for cooperation between Central and Eastern European countries and China; financed the establishment of numerous Confucius Centres at universities across the region; engaged in security cooperation, putatively to protect Chinese tourists; and advised on the creation of “safe/smart” cities (e.g. in Belgrade and Sarajevo).
Monday, 9 March 2020
South East Europe in Russia’s geopolitical objectives
Dr Anastasakis began the seminar by challenging seven clichés regarding Russia-South East Europe relations.
- “The Russian security threat is massive in the region”. This is true to a certain degree. Involvement in the alleged coup attempt in Montenegro in 2016, spreading fake news in North Macedonia during the name dispute discussions and having military partnerships with Serbia are some of the cases. On the other hand, the impact of the Russian involvement is rather short term and questionable. It is indicative that most countries in the region, with the exception of Serbia and Bosnia, are NATO member states despite Russian objections; Montenegro is distancing itself from Russia’s influence; and, the name dispute between Greece and North Macedonia was solved despite Russia’s efforts to disrupt the process.
- “Russia has soft power in the Balkans”. This usually refers to the existence of Slavic and religious links, the learning of the Russian language or the use of media presence. Firstly, Russia’s soft power can be contested at a conceptual level as to what constitutes soft power and secondly, Russian soft power does not relate to the many in the region but to a select few and can be quite divisive.
Tuesday, 3 March 2020
Monday, 2 March 2020
The role of the Balkans in the geopolitics of cyber security
Lucas Kello said that South East Europe was important both to the West and to Russia. This was an unchanging geopolitical fact, and it was inevitable therefore that Russian capabilities and innovative thinking in terms of cyberspace should be deployed in the region. Russia was very active in sowing and exploiting political and social divisions, weakening Western societies from within, and slowing down NATO expansion and/or diminishing its internal cohesion by non-violent means. Flash points, elections and lack of trust between governments and oppositions all provided opportunities.
Subsequently, in answer to a question, he detailed a number of ways of interfering in the election process: compromat, and making use of politically damaging information; compromising the machinery used to collect, register and count votes; attacking the voter registration system; and making it known that a system or systems had been compromised.
Cvete Koneska concentrated on vulnerabilities as well as capabilities and intent. South East Europe was a hot spot of cyber activity, not least because of poor critical infrastructures, weak rule of law, low level of trust in institutions and lack of cyber literacy at the state level (and a more general absence of media literacy). The region was a particular target because of its connections with both the EU and NATO, and often viewed as a weak link. Cyber attacks ranged from the fully malicious to the plain embarrassing. The solution was to address the societal vulnerabilities, and especially the trust and rule of law issues: but that was easier said than done.
Tuesday, 25 February 2020
How to restart the normalisation of Serbia-Kosovo relations?
Ian Bancroft, previously an advisor to the OSCE and coordinator for the north for the EULEX mission in Kosovo, outlined a detailed and complex set of technical issues that prevent people in Kosovo from having a ‘normal life’. He stressed that after 2017, any previous progress – in policing, civil protection and civil registration – was effectively halted. As the political dialogue has been led at top political levels without any meaningful inclusion of the civil society or citizens, for ordinary people, engagement with the ‘other side’ is still difficult. Formal collaborations such as university projects or teachers’ workshops even poses professional threats. Instead of having a centralised and controlled dialogue between the top political echelons, Bancroft argued for a be multi-levelled approach across different sections of society. Bancroft pondered over the chances of the new Kosovo government of Albin Kurti from Vetevendosje to offer a new restart and re-programme the dialogue. He outlined how Kurti ‘hit political reality’ after entering government and how he had to backtrack on some of his previous promises and red lines. ‘Reunifying Mitrovica is hardly feasible’, Bancroft stated. Instead of investing all cards in externally brokered relationships restoration, Bancroft supported local ideas and initiatives such as border-free trade in the so-called Mini-Schengen that would open up some areas of workable cooperation and mutual benefit. Ultimately, Bancroft concluded, these issues are no longer as much about the war (though that is still relevant) but about the lack of prospects and opportunities that force the young Kosovan population outside. ‘I don’t hear people talking about the war. But everyone is talking about leaving. And they all learn German’, he stressed.The SEESOX seminar addressing this question took place on 19 February. Ian Bancroft and Jessie Barton Hronesova spoke, and Elizabeth Roberts chaired.
The background was the 2013 Brussels agreement between Kosovo and Serbia which provided much hope for a workable relationship between the two countries. But, despite much technical progress, political relations between Belgrade and Priština had deteriorated since then.
Wednesday, 19 February 2020
Energy dynamics in the Eastern Mediterranean: Cooperation or conflict?
Tuesday, 18 February 2020
Monday, 10 February 2020
The ‘Balkan Route’: Humanitarian and security perspectives on migration
The first speaker, Amanda Russell Beattie (Aston University) based her presentation on fieldwork experiences on the Greek islands of Lesvos, Chios, and Samos in 2017 and 2018. She pointed to a deep sense of frustration in the effort to speak about accountability in relation to European policies. The main questions raised from the outset were how to engage activists as scholars and what theoretical tools to use to challenge the systems surrounding the reception centres. The presentation, based on an upcoming paper, engaged with a feminist theory challenging the perceptions of hierarchies and power, and discussions of order seeking to impose standard behaviours. The reception centres are spaces where certain groups of people are perceived and treated as more vulnerable than others, i.e. mothers with children, in contrast to men who are not part of this group; however there are people, irrespective of their gender, who face physical and mental health challenges.
Wednesday, 5 February 2020
EU referenda in Greece and the UK: Questions of legitimacy
His central message was that EU referenda—meaning, nationally held referenda on a question relating to EU integration, politics, or policy-decision-making—should be assessed for legitimacy at both national and supranational levels, looking at questions of justice and freedom, and taking account of the type of referendum.
His framework for assessing legitimacy differed from other assessments, being based on agonistic democracy. Prior research on EU legitimacy had looked at either input or output legitimacy, and/or presented legitimacy as either a top-down or bottom-up process. In contrast, agonistic democracy saw public contestation as a prerequisite for legitimacy. Citizen participation was the sine qua non of agonistic pluralism: citizens should have an effective say in democratic politics—with governments obliged to reply if they did not abide by citizens’ views. He noted that this version of agonistic democracy is based on Tully’s approach rather than Mouffe’s, making room for multinational democracies and envisaging the democratic game (agon) taking place within an equilibrium of law and freedom.
Tuesday, 4 February 2020
Monday, 3 February 2020
Radicalisation in the Western Balkans: Political, social or religious?
Qehaja explained that there were a significant number of foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs) coming from the Western Balkans and noted that there are different kinds of radicalisation and extremism in the region - driven by the Orthodox Church, by nationalism, etc. The issue of radical Islam in the Western Balkans came about after the conflict through a wave of NGOs using the post-conflict environment to promote non-indigenous to the region ideologies.
While the roots of radicalisation were slightly different in the various countries in the Western Balkans (e.g. depending on whether the country is secular or influenced by the Orthodox Church), in the end they were quite similar. Identity crisis of the individual, corruption, state capture, loss of hope and protagonism were all roots of radicalisation. 40% of the Kosovo FTFs had some sort of criminal background, which made them easy targets for recruiters. Enlargement fatigues also gave ammunition to recruiters and allowed them to argue that the West is not the answer for the future.
Wednesday, 29 January 2020
Tuesday, 28 January 2020
Monday, 27 January 2020
Western approaches to South East Europe: Engagement or neglect?
The Hilary Term 2020 Seminar Series – on Security Challenges in South East Europe in a changing geopolitical context – kicked off on 22 January with a session on Western Policy Approaches to South East Europe: engagement or neglect? Chaired by Othon Anastasakis (St Antony’s College), the speakers were Mirena Pencheva (St Antony’s College) and Jarek Wisniewski (Independent Analyst).
Sunday, 26 January 2020
Life outside the Euro—Monetary and financial issues for the EU periphery and beyond
St Antony’s College, 23 January, 2020
European countries that have not adopted the Euro face a complex set of issues regarding their interactions with those countries that have adopted it, and ultimately have to decide whether and when to join the Euro and the banking union (BU). Similarly, EU member states that have adopted the Euro face complex issues in their relationships with the non-Euro member states. The eight member states outside the Euro are economically and politically important. They have a total population of 105 million people, a significant number and more than any individual member state that has adopted the Euro. They range from among the richest to the poorest EU members.
On 23 January 2020 the European Political Economy Project (EuPEP) of the St. Antony’s European Studies Centre (ESC) hosted a conference that looked instead at monetary and financial issues for those countries that are not at the core, i.e. have not (yet) adopted the Euro—defined as the EU “periphery” in this context. Much research on EU integration looks at the “core” EU member states, defined here as those that have adopted the Euro as their currency, and focuses on them in analysing the speed and priorities for taking forward the European project. This conference sought instead to look at the policy choices and experiences of the countries at present not in the core.
The conference took as a starting point that “one size does not fit all” as regards countries’ monetary and financial management within the EU, and that seeking to fit all member states prematurely within the same shoe may undermine the stability not only of that member state but also the EU as a whole. Early inclusion of Italy and Greece, for example, has likely worsened the economic performance of both countries over the past decade, with adverse knock-on effects on the rest of the EU.