One could be led to believe that it all started in 2013 with the election of Hassan Rouhani to the presidency of Iran. Rouhani, along with his moderate and reformist agenda, bore much optimism among Western countries that Iran might shift direction towards a more pragmatic and less anti-Western foreign policy. But this was not what put Iran to the epicenter of the Middle East and international politics.
Iran’s increasing influence and rising role in the broader region has been prompted by three main developments: a) the Iraq war of 2003; b) the withdrawal of the American troops from Iraq by 2011; c) and the failure of Western policies in the case of Syria’s civil war in conjunction with the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (henceforth, ISIS). Rouhani and the new round of negations about Iran’s nuclear program are only “the cherry on the pie.” Continue reading →
It is commonplace these days to refer to the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Shām (i.e. Greater Syria) – henceforth, ISIS – as the greatest threat to regional, international, and for some countries, even national security. As a product of mergers between smaller Islamist groups (e.g. an al-Qaeda affiliated Iraqi group) in the aftermath of the 2003 US-led Iraq invasion, this rapidly evolving organization has been empowered in the context of the Syrian civil war, and has surprised the world when it swept into northern and central Iraq early June 2014. It has changed its name into Islamic State (IS) and declared the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate – a state run according to Sharia law – in Syrian and Iraqi territories.
One of the biggest questions that needs to be answered is, how do we counter ISIS? Almost three months after ISIS advanced into Iraq, US President Barak Obama stated, “We don’t have a strategy.” This was quite a surprising statement coming from the White House given the high level of threat that ISIS poses; but it is, nonetheless, true. However, it was later decided for Obama to announce his plan against ISIS in an address to the nation on September 10th. Among other things, Obama is expected to introduce ways of enhancing international cooperation against ISIS and try to display a more coherent and decisive stance than the one presented thus far. Continue reading →
The Syrian civil war and now Ukraine. These are only two examples of crises over which the United States and Russia have bumped heads recently. Some might be tempted to call this a “new Cold War,” but it’s really not. Yes, the geopolitical competition and power struggle might be obvious and similar. And even the race for maximizing the spheres of influence. But the ideological context is different and therefore there is no clash of politico-economic systems, not to mention that calling the current international system “bipolar” is simplistic, to say the least. What we have now is a primarily intra-systemic, capitalist, geo-economic competition fueled and exacerbated by identity politics, history and national security considerations.
This reality calls for a reevaluation of the nature of the contemporary international system and the role of nation-states within it. Starting with the former, there is an on-going debate about whether we live in a unipolar, a multipolar, a non-polar, or a uni-multipolar international system. Each of these characterizations expresses how much power and influence the US has in relation to other great powers. In the 1990s, right after the end of the Cold War, the international system was indisputably unipolar, with the US being not only the dominant but also the only superpower with unmatched material and ideological capabilities. Things today might appear to be the same, but they are not. The change lays not so much in the capabilities of the US but in their relation to the capabilities of the rest of the world. Continue reading →
It was June, 2013. I arrived in Ankara, Turkey, right on time to witness the development of the protests that began at Istanbul’s Gezi Park and spread throughout the country’s urban centers, as well as to experience and participate in the social and political discussion that was taking place at that time. The purpose of my visit included the participation in a conference on Turkish foreign policy and some field research. That gave me the opportunity to speak and exchange views with students of International Relations, academics, experts, and diplomats.
A widespread understanding was that Turkish society had been left without a political alternative. In other words, the political opposition – most notably the Republican People’s Party, CHP – was not an adequate opponent to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). And there was no other option. Most of the people I discussed with were open in expressing their discomfort with the AKP’s policies. Others, mostly people affiliated in one way or another to the government, appeared more reluctant to directly criticize the AKP. Yet the consensus was clear: The AKP has made significant improvements with regard to the country’s democratization, economy, and foreign policy. But this did not change the fact that it became gradually authoritarian by having a majoritarian approach to democracy. As often argued, this was also reflected in foreign policy. Continue reading →
Egypt has lifted its three-month state of emergency on Tuesday. The measure would mean an end to night-time curfews that choked economic life in the country. The court decision comes amid continued protests across the country. Meanwhile, the government edges a step closer to passing a law on demonstrations that the opposition says could be a new way to curb protests. Zenonas Tziarras, Teaching Assistant at the University of Warwick and Junior Research Scholar at the think-tank “Strategy International”, Greece, shared his insight in the situation in Egypt in an interview with the VoR.Continue reading →