The Middle East is experiencing enormous changes of sectarian and power-related character. The West should not line up militarily behind certain directions because then we will become a part of the conflicts, and it will only result in terrorism in Europe and USA. Ukraine needs a negotiated solution which both the West and East of Ukraine should be able to live with. How does the world look like in 20 years?
Comment from Jørn Boye Nielsen, head of RIKOs board.
Why is it only a small amount of conflicts who are being resolved through negotiation?
There is a strong tendency now a days to line up behind one of the parties in a conflict and only see the conflict from one perspective which resolves in a lack of ability to look impartially at all the parties of the conflict. In conflict resolution it is necessary to have relations with both parties of the conflict, talk to everyone who is involved and try to place yourself in their situation with their wishes, needs and interests.
Another reason is the growing tendency to expand the term “terrorism” including the ones you do not agree with. The Ukrainian government is calling the separatists in the East of the country terrorists; the Israeli government is calling Hamas terrorists – despite the fact that both groups are chosen by the people in their countries. If you use the term terrorist you exclude yourself from negotiating, as you can never negotiate with a terrorist, and then the dialogue is done. “Terrorist” should only by used on movements with a universalistic wish to create fear and chaos as for an example Al Qaeda. Movements, which are developed from frustrations among people and groups due to a lack of solution concerning an old conflict, should not be called terrorist and thereby being kept out of the dialogue. They should instead be included in a non-violent solution to the conflict.
The situation in Northern Iraq and the appearance of IS
If we look at the broad picture first, almost the entire Middle East is in a period of extreme changes. You can almost compare it to the 30-years-war in Europe where Catholics and Protestants fought for the power between 1618-1648 which ended with the Westphalia Peace Agreement.
At this moment in the Middle East there is enormous sectarian contradictions between the Sunni- and Shiamuslims, for an example in Iraq and Syria, and a great difference between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Furthermore, among the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamists on the one side and anti-islamists and secular forces on the other which we are experiencing in the North African countries. Another example is Turkey and Qatar who are in favor of the Islamist, Muslim Brotherhood, and Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the Emirates are against it. However, it has to be underlined that religion and politics are highly entangled with each other, where religion is often used from the outside to legitimize power-struggles which in fact are geopolitical, as we see in Iran and Saudi Arabia.
How should Europa react to these sectarian contradictions and power-struggles in the Middle East?
I get more and more convinced every day that the Western countries and Europe should stay away militarily from these conflicts and not line up behind some of these sectarian parties – if we do so, we will get a part of the conflict – and if we for an example line up behind the excluded Shia-muslim government in Bagdad, as USA does and Denmark with its Hercules-transportairplane, we will be perceived as a part of the whole game and IS will send terrorists against us.
Hence my advice is: No military lining up behind any parties in the Middle East – with exception from the Kurds, as the Kurds have been a mistreated group in the Middle East, like the Palestinians. It will only create a greater risk of terrorism in Europe as a huge amount of the IS-jihadists come from Europe and have passports to the European countries.
Should we in Europe passively sit back and watch while IS brutally kills Muslims in Iraq and Syria?
No, we should not watch passively. We should give a large amount of humanitarian help and provide help to refugees both in the Middle East and in Europe. I also believe that we should help with scholarships and other grants in order to give refugees an education which they can use in their home countries when the violent conflicts have come to an end. And we should also provide help in those areas where there is stability and safety to perform development.
The military part of the conflict, including the internal conflicts between the jihadists and moderate Muslims, should we stay away from so we do not end up as a part of the sectarian conflict. In the large area of Northern Iraq and Syria, occupied by IS, there is estimated to be between 10.000-20.000 IS-people (no one has the precise numbers) among a population of eight millions who are mainly Sunni muslims. That means that the IS-warriors only includes 0,1-0,2% of the Sunni population which also includes moderate militant groups and locale armies who are relatively well-armed and experienced. I believe that the Sunni muslims including the Iraqi army can fight the IS if the will is there.
Is there a will among the Sunni muslims?
No, there is a possibility that the will among the Sunni muslims is not there yet. In the Iraqi government they would like the Western countries to do the dirty military work so they do not have to do it themselves. But I understand that as a trap and I warn everyone not to fall in it. It is either the Iraqi government, or even better, the eight million Sunni muslims in the area that has to deal with the problem. They can do it, if they want to. However, a large amount of Sunni muslims have either decided to support the IS or, even more, stay passive and learn to adjust with it. Simultaneously, a long list of rich people and organizations in, among others, the Emirates and Qatar have decided to support the IS economically. That is a huge problem!
On the other hand, there is already opposition groups among the Sunni muslims, for an example in the Iraqi city Mosul, who IS has captured. However, IS will not succeed in creating a modern society on a longer term, not even if they are using the large amount of money donations given to them by their supporters in the Middle East.
If the Western countries choose to join the government in Bagdad, we will be seen as a part of the conflict and end up fighting, not only IS, but also the Sunni muslims and jihadists from all over the Muslim and Western countries who will join the fight against the “disbelievers from the West”. Have we not learned anything from our experiences in Afghanistan, Iraq or Libya? Yet another military intervention in the Middle East – when thinking about the brutal pictures and videos from earlier violent conflicts – will be a catastrophic foolishness.
Why is there such a large amount of focus on IS?
Because the warriors from IS are young and hence much better understand the media and recruitment strategies – especially through the new social media. They know that killing in front of the media creates both fear and attention which resolves in new Western europeans and Americans joining as warriors. They know the value of pictures. Pictures and videos of their victories and executions of Iraqi soldiers and American journalists get stuck on our minds and they can get nations to mobilize. Pictures can mobilize. Unfortunately, it happens at the expense of lacking analysis and reflections.
The Middle East expert Søren Schmidt has written a good analysis on IS and their communication with the rest of the world. You can find the analysis on Politiken.dk.
How does the Ukraine crisis looks like from a conflict resolution perspective?
The core of the Ukraine crisis is an internal conflict in Ukraine between the regions in the West and the East of the country which in 2014 with the Maidan uprise got internationalized. EU and USA have lined up behind Kiev in the West and Russia supports the Russia-oriented who are the majority in the Eastern regions (Luhansk and Donetsk).
The core in the conflict is essential. The West of Ukraine looks toward the West and EU while the Southern and Eastern part of Ukraine look towards East and Russia. A large amount of the population in Luhansk and Donetsk have for an example Russian passports.
A new American study by The Republican Institute this year, supported by the US Agency for International Development, has examined the Ukrainian’s opinions through a list of questions in four regions in Ukraine – the Western, Central, Southern and Eastern part of Ukraine. The result shows a significant difference in opinions towards the EU or Russia.
When asked whether you want a connection to the EU or a Customs Union with Russia and other countries 90 % in the Western part of Ukraine answers EU while 59 % in the Eastern part of Ukraine answers a Customs Union with Russia and only 20 % answers EU. In the Southern regions there is also a majority that want a Russian Customs Union.
The study shows that the Western and Central part of Ukraine is strongly oriented towards the West while the Eastern and Southern part of Ukraine is oriented towards Russia. Hence, there is only a possibility of creating peace in Ukraine if the internal parts find each other in a compromise concerning a government reform. And the external actors have to stop supporting one of the sides. Kiev’s military action against the Eastern Ukraine has to stop and Russia’s support as well in order to find a negotiated solution. We are indeed missing nations or people who can act as mediators between the internal parties. The government in Kiev is not seen as legitimate by large parts of the Eastern and Southern of Ukraine, as well as the Western part see Putin as an aggressor.
I believe that we have misread Russia – sanctions will not force Putin to support the rebel groups in the Eastern part of Ukraine. The Eastern Ukraine is national identity for Russia and you do not just give that away. Sanctions will hurt, no doubt about that, however, when national identity is involved you do not just let go even though you can feel it economically. The only thing that would open up for a solution is negotiations between Kiev and a representative negotiations-union from the rebel groups in the East. President Putin has suggested a plan on how to reach an end on the fightings after having a discussion with the Ukrainian President Poroshenko, however, the Ukrainian Prime Minister, Arseny Yatseniuk, has turned down the proposal as being an attempt of Russian deception.
At last; how will the world looks like in 20 years?
It can only be a guess. I think that there in 20 years will be a group of new states in the world. In the Middle East we will see Syria and Iraq without borders which will create Kurdish states – the former Iraqi Kurdistan with Erbil as the capital and a Syrian Kurdistan which will be a Shia muslim state with Bagdad as a central and a Sunni muslim state in those areas where there is a Sunni muslim majority in Iraq and Syria. The countries will have been freed from IS who could not administrate the area hence people rebelled against them. The old colonial structures after the first world war will disappear with the disruption of Iraq and Syria.
Ukraine will be divided into to states – one West Ukraine with around 80 % of the country and with a membership in EU and NATO, and one East Ukraine in Custom Union with Russia. Crimea will still remain Russian and this link will not be spoken more about.
The BRICS countries will have a much more dominating position, also in foreign politic, however not as an alliance but as a pragmatical coordination especially in the international organizations. The BRICS countries (China, India, Russia, Brazil and South Africa) will expand to include 5 more countries which are: Argentina, Mexico, Turkey, Indonesia and Vietnam.
Europe will fall behind on two areas: foreign political influence and economical grow. The economical grow has after 2014 been between minus 1% and plus 1% which is lower than the rest of the world. However, Europe is still a popular and good place to live in with its welfare systems, green policies and strong civil societies. But Europe can no longer set the agenda internationally if the BRICS countries are not a part of it.
USA is still the world’s strongest military force, however, the world’s second largest economy is China. USA has a strong focus on Asia.
Some African states have through high growth rates developed economically while other African states have sunk deeper into chaos and poverty. Africa is therefore as economically divided between rich and poor states as Asia.
South America has established their own military pact. The countries in the area very much concerned about being political and militarily independent from USA. There is still a strong central-left tradition in both South and Middle America. Furthermore, a strong South-South partnership between South America, the big powers in Asia, South Africa and parts of has developed.