The victory of Sebastian Kurz’s conservative Austrian People’s Party (ÖVP) in parliamentary elections on October 15 is the latest manifestation of the rightward shift in European politics and the consequence of adjustments conservative politicians are making to attract a wider base. 

The ÖVP came in at first place with more than 30 percent of the vote, followed by the far-right, anti-Islam Freedom Party (FPÖ) and incumbent Chancellor Christian Kern’s center-left Social Democrats (SPÖ).

As Austria’s next chancellor, thirty-one-year-old Kurz will be the world’s youngest elected leader. Ahead of the election, he rebranded ÖVP the “New People’s Party” with an energetic slogan—“Zeit für Neues” (Time for Something New).

Kurz asserts his positions as pro-European Union (EU)—free movement, with secure borders. As a consequence, he is mainstreaming his politics—an embrace of a populist, closed-door stance on refugees—as European. Far from revolutionary, Kurz’s success is a victory for en vogue conservatism framed as pragmatism and dressed in cosmopolitan garb.

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As the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) is driven from its strongholds in Syria, US-backed forces face the challenge of stabilizing these conflict-ravaged territories.

This task is made more urgent by the fact that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces and Iran-backed militias are swooping in on eastern Syria in an attempt to capitalize on ISIS’ defeat, said Frederic C. Hof, director of the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.

“If they succeed, the basis for ISIS 2.0 will be set,” said Hof, adding: “After all, it was the Iranian (and Russian)-supported brutality of the Assad regime that created the governance vacuum filled by ISIS in the first place.”

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said on October 16 that they had seized control of Raqqa, the de facto capital of ISIS’ “caliphate.” A US-backed civilian council, which has been based in Ayn Issa, north of Raqqa, will now seek to stabilize Raqqa.

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Iraqi government forces on October 16 seized vital oil fields and the city of Kirkuk from Kurdish forces.

The military action, which pits two US allies against each other, followed a September 25 referendum in which the Kurds voted for an independent state. The Iraqi government had declared the vote unconstitutional. Kirkuk, which is not part of Iraqi Kurdistan but was under Kurdish control at the time, took part in the referendum. (Kurdish forces had controlled Kirkuk since 2014 when Iraqi forces fled as Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) militants advanced on the city.)

Explaining the security offensive, Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi said in a statement on October 16 that he acted “in accordance with the constitution to serve the citizens and protect the unity of the country, which was in danger of partition due to the insistence on holding the referendum.”

Harith Hasan Al Qarawee, a nonresident senior fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, discussed the significance of the developments in an e-mail interview with the New Atlanticist’s Ashish Kumar Sen. Here are excerpts from that interview.

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The deadly bombings in Mogadishu, attributed to, yet not claimed by al-Shabaab, highlight the need for a new strategy from both US forces and the Somali government to counter violent extremism as militant groups adapt to increased US military action, according to an Atlantic Council analyst.

“The weekend’s attacks highlight the limits of the military assistance [that the Somali government] has received,” said J. Peter Pham, vice president and director of the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center. “As the enemy has shifted, so too must the emphasis now move to building up police and intelligence capacities.”

However, this is not a call for an increased US role in Somali state-building. “We need to recognize that what we can realistically do is minimize the threat that al-Shabaab and other militants can pose to regional security,” said Pham, adding: “What we cannot do is make Somalia ‘work’—only Somalis can do that.”

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This weekend’s truck bombing in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, was the worst assault on civilians in that country’s long, sad history. But such attacks are a weekly event in Somalia and have been for the past decade. This attack was dramatically worse than most, but surely it won’t be the last. And it highlights a truth that Washington cannot afford to ignore any longer: its “strategy” in Somalia just is not working.

Al Shabaab was once a radical youth militia on the fringes of Somali politics, but it was transformed into a national resistance movement when policymakers in Washington decided to bankroll and provide political cover for Ethiopia’s brutal invasion and occupation of Somalia. Ethiopia’s occupation enraged the Somali people, who turned to the only armed group that was capable of resisting the Ethiopian army and the unpopular, foreign-created government that it was attempted to install in Mogadishu.

Since 2007, al Shabaab and the Somali government have been locked in a symbiotic relationship. Washington’s fear of al Shabaab ensures that the Somali government will continue to receive financial and political support, as well as tens of thousands of African peacekeepers. These peacekeepers fight al Shabaab—but they also protect the government, which does not have the capacity to protect itself.

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As expected, US President Donald J. Trump on October 13 announced that he will not certify Iran’s compliance with the terms of a multilateral nuclear deal, accusing the Islamic Republic of “not living up to the spirit” of the agreement.

While Trump did not take the United States out of the deal, he asserted the right to do so and warned that he would if the US Congress does not make amendments to the agreement.

At the top of the list of amendments Trump would like is for Congress to address the issue of the “sunset clauses” in the deal. These clauses lift certain restrictions placed on Iran ten to fifteen years after the agreement took effect in January of 2016. However, even at that time, Iran would be prohibited from developing a nuclear weapon and be subjected to intrusive inspections.

Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia, and China) and Germany struck the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), in 2015.

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If representatives from the United States, Canada, and Mexico are unable to come to an agreement in the fourth round of negotiations on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the consequences could be dire for millions of US citizens whose livelihoods depend on the success of the trade deal, according to Atlantic Council experts.

The close economic relationship between the three countries has led to unprecedented levels of trade and co-production of goods. “What that really means is ‘jobs,’” says Katherine Pereira, associate director of the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center. For as many as fourteen US states, 25 percent of their trade is with Canada, and for another fourteen who trade with Mexico that number is 13 percent. Essentially, millions of Americans stand to lose their job if NAFTA is ended.

On October 11, the United States, Canada, and Mexico entered the fourth round of NAFTA negotiations in Washington, DC. NAFTA became a controversial topic during the 2016 US presidential election, as then-candidate US President Donald J. Trump made the deal the target of repeated rhetorical attacks, calling it “the worst trade deal maybe ever,” and vowing to renegotiate it. 

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The political instability that has resulted from Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential elections has put the focus on voting machines as a national security vulnerability, Douglas Lute, a former US permanent representative to NATO, said at the Atlantic Council on October 10.

“I don’t think I’ve seen a more severe threat to American national security than the election hacking experience of 2016,” said Lute. There is a “fundamental democratic connection between the individual voter and the democratic outcome” of an election, he said, adding: “If you can undermine that, you don’t need to attack America with planes and ships. You can attack democracy from the inside.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin “added to the political gridlock in Washington today, all at very low cost to him,” said Lute. “In military terms, this is the classic definition of a threat.”

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While the Kremlin’s hopes for a partial relaxation of US sanctions on Russia have all but evaporated due to increasing tension between Moscow and Washington, Russia can still count on friends and partners in Eastern Europe to promote sanctions relief. For example, in a speech to the Council of Europe on October 10, Czech President Miloš Zeman deemed the sanctions ineffective and the Russian annexation of Crimea “irreversible.”

Early in the Trump presidency, the Kremlin thought it had a fair chance for a bargain with the United States leading to reduced sanctions. However, under the current circumstances, Russia’s best bet to achieve its aim is to go down the well-trodden path and focus on Europe. There, attitudes toward Russia have always been mixed, but there are many who continue to believe in engagement with the Kremlin.

The United States’ shift to a hard line against Russia raised alarm among Washington’s European partners. For example, the German government had a sharp reaction to the round of sanctions imposed by the US Congress over Russian meddling in the US presidential elections in 2016.  However, the traditionally dovish Social Democrats would most likely not take part in Angela Merkel’s next cabinet, following their disastrous performance in the September 24 elections, and the pro-Russian voices in the Bundestag will weaken. 

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Catalonia’s illegal independence referendum has thrown Spain into turmoil.

In light of the escalating tensions, Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is now toying with the idea of invoking the never-before-used Article 155 of the Spanish constitution that would suspend Catalonia’s regional autonomy. With a view to taking such action, Rajoy on October 11 asked the region’s leaders whether they had formally declared independence from Spain.

The confusion stems from the words and actions of Catalonia’s leaders. On October 10, Carles Puigdemont, president of the government of Catalonia, signed a declaration of independence. Further, in a speech to the Catalan parliament Puigdemont declared independence from Spain; he then held back to allow talks with the government in Madrid.

How did Spain get to this point?

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