Trump and the rise of populism – A threat to democracy?

The wave of right-wing populism that is currently sweeping over the Western democratic world, has now reached its peak as a true, full-fledged populist finally has gained power in the most powerful nation in the world. This article enlightens the contemporary phenomenon of Western populism, tries to define it and to explain the consequences of their regimes.   

The tricky political term “populism”, for instance defined in “What is populism?” by political science professor Jan Werner-Müller at Princeton, is allegedly a destructive force and as such harmful for the democratic systems of the Western democracies. But it is also a symptom of a failure of the political elites of these countries to address communal problems and popular distress, and their inabilities to handle and oppose the right-wing populist forces. Newsweek star analyst Fareed Zakaria comes to these conclusions in his masterly article “Populism on the march – Why the west is in trouble”, published in the December 2016 issue of the respected magazine Foreign Affairs.

Anti-democratic forces like the Putin regime in Russia, KKK in the US and right-wing extremist parties in Europe are all applauding the Trump victory, and this alone indicates that something is very wrong here.

This article addresses the right-wing populism viewed as a problem and as a threat to the democratic systems of the west, examined from an academic perspective. First, it should be noted that “populism” as a threat to society does not necessarily have to come from the “right”. For instance, Venezuela with its problematic left-wing revolution can also be exemplified as a clear and destructive populist experiment. The revolutionary movement in Venezuela is surely equally damaging for the democratic development as is the right-wing populism. On the other hand, it is the populism on the right that constitutes the main trend in the west today, and is therefore problematized in this article.

In a research paper at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, Ronald Inglehart (Research Professor, Center for Political Studies) and Pippa Norris (lecturer in comparative politics) finds that the traditional left-right divide, i.e. economics as the pivot of politics, is on the decline. With Brexit, Trump and populist candidates in Europe, analysts have noted that economic factors are not the most powerful factors of their support.

As Fareed Zakaria points out in his article, Inglehart and Norris note that the shift began in the 1970s “when young people embraced a postmaterialist politics centered on self-expression and issues related to gender, race, and the environment. They challenged authority and established institutions and norms, and they were largely successful in introducing new ideas and recasting politics and society. But they also produced a counter reaction. The older generation, particularly men, was traumatized by what it saw as an assault on the civilization and values it cherished and had grown up with. These people began to vote for parties and candidates that they believed would, above all, hold at bay these forces of cultural and social change.”

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump waves during a campaign rally in Cedar Rapids, Iowa February 1, 2016. REUTERS

According to Vanessa Williamson (doctoral student in Government at Harvard University) and Theda Skocpol (Professor of Government and Sociology, Harvard University) the core motivations of Tea Party followers were not economic but cultural. They also concluded that the strong hostility towards Obama showed that race also plays a role in this reaction.

Zakaria adds that “Trump’s political genius was to realize that many Republican voters were unmoved by the standard party gospel of free trade, low taxes, deregulation, and entitlement reform but would respond well to a different appeal based on cultural fears and nationalist sentiment.”

Ruchir Sharma, Chief Global Strategist at Morgan Stanley Investment Group, argues in his book “The rise and fall of nations”, that all Western countries have experienced a general drop in growth ever since the 1970s. One crucial factor for this are the effects of demographics, where most Western countries have seen a decline in fertility rates. The fact is that families have become smaller, the labor force has shrunk and the retirees are growing in numbers every year. This, argues Sharma, has had a negative impact on economic growth, giving empty spaces of popular dissatisfaction for populists to fill.

So much for the causes of the rise of populism. But what is populism? Jan-Werner Müller, Professor of Politics at Princeton University, argues in his above mentioned work that populism is the rejection of pluralism, that populists will always claim that only they represent the people and their interests. This means that populist leaders wish to govern following what they themselves define as the will of the people, without asking the people. Therefore, according to Müller, all populism is anti-democratic.

Where democrats view popular protest or disagreement within the frames of the political system as a possibility to make change, populists see it as results of foreign intervention, conspiracies among the elites, self-hatred or treason. Other political parties and free press are discarded as illegitimate.

Müller concludes that if populists gain enough power, they will try to create an authoritarian state that strives to exclude all those not considered part of the “proper people”.

Analysis

As the first populist leader selected in a democratic country in modern time, Donald Trump will serve as an obvious example of the consequences of a right-wing populist regime. In his first one hundred days in office, Trump has been busy slandering the mainstream media and the science community alike, undermining the public confidence in these institutions. In doing this, he is actually attacking the very foundations of democratic society.

Furthermore, Trump has since his inauguration continued to blame immigrants for the country’s problems and thereby dividing the country instead of trying to unite it. Uniting the country must be the least anyone should expect from an elected leader, but apparently not in a populist-run world. A direct consequence is increased discrimination and an increased number of violent hate crimes through the United States ever since Trump’s victory. No-one can deny the connection and it all fits well into Müller’s findings of the “proper people”.

Moreover, Trump has cut the budget for environment policies and left, or intended to leave, global environment agreements, measures in fact promised during his election campaign and motivated by a denial of science’s conclusions of dire environmental concerns in the world today. These measures are a direct consequence of Trump’s denial and slander of the academic community, a very pillar of developed society.

So, is populism a real threat to democracy, and has Trump so far tried to dissolve the democratic system just as Jan-Werner Müller warns in his famous book? For the above-mentioned reasons, the answer is “Yes”. Trump has indeed tried, and is still trying, to tear up the democratic system. Fortunately the democratic institutions in the US have largely managed to check and control several of the Trump regime’s attempts to drive through new laws and policies that are incompatible with democratic principles. Let’s just hope the system will stand the test of time.

In Europe, we now know what to expect from a right-wing populist election victory. So far their attempts have failed, with populists defeated in Austria as well as in The Netherlands. The next European nations to face a populist showdown are France and Germany, the two most powerful countries in the EU. Europe, and the world, are holding their breath.

Filip Ericsson

 

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THE DEFECTIVE POLITICS OF DONALD TRUMP

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US president Donald Trump’s inauguration speech was, not surprisingly, an explosive carnival of populist hard talk, i.e. of vastly worrisome errors and contradictions. Was it the worst inauguration speech in the history of the United States? 

TRUMP EXCLAIMED that power and prosperity would now be transferred from Washington to the people. Being the republican on the far right that he is and the hardline billionaire businessman that he always has been, this would have come as a big surprise if we hadn’t known about his arch-populist orientation since the day he announced his candidacy. Thus, in reality, Trump’s politics will more likely lead to a money-transfer towards the rich on the expense of the poor.

THE VERY FIRST decision from the Trump administration, announced just minutes following the inauguration, promised a new missile defense specifically targeted against North Korea and Iran. This is confusing at best. When it comes to North Korea, the US could level the impoverished state into the ground as soon as Kim Young Un sneezes the wrong way. And China would hardly allow its misbehaving little brother to excurse on such a lethal mission as a military attack on the US – the thought strikes me as somewhat ridiculous.

Regarding Iran, a current threat hardly exists at all and the trump administration’s claim on the contrary appears like nothing but an ugly, populist smoke screen. In truth, the Iran nuclear deal forced through by the Obama administration in 2015, has actually defused a proposed threat from that country by preventing its nuclear program. This turns a missile defense against Iran into an incomprehensible and irrelevant move. In conclusion, Trump has exaggerated the threat from devious but weak enemies.

TRUMP’S “AMERICA FIRST” slogan, including a promise to strangle a supposed money-flow from the US into foreign countries in order to (allegedly) give it back to the American people, would be counterproductive. In reality, America’s financial, military and moral support to the democracies of Western Europe since the end of World War II, have always been maintained for the benefit of America itself. Thus, this extensive support has always, perhaps indirectly, put “America first”.

Pulling military support from European allies would be extremely dangerous. It would change the world order that has prevailed since the end of World War II, a world order that has protected Western freedom, democracy, equality and prosperity – all values worth fighting for and embraced by the United States since its beginning of time. By protecting these values the US has not only helped its allies, but also itself.

PROTECTIONISM. Through his campaign, and clearly stated in his inauguration speech, Trump has embraced a protectionist orientation and thereby bashed international trade deals. This is clearly a dead end – protectionism will most likely have an opposite effect to job creation and economic growth in the long run. History do tell us that protectionist policies have an exceedingly bad track record when it comes to nations’ economies as well as world peace. Trump’s initial decision to tear up the TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership) trade deal shows that he indeed has been serious about his protectionist promises, i.e. damaging economic politics.

CUTTING GOVERNMENT SPENDING. Trump has made it clear that he intends to cut government spending. At the same time he promises to rebuild the military and infrastructure, i.e. spending more government funds. Consequently, Trump intends to cut costs in a society already hampered by grave social and economic inequalities, simultaneously as he will “rebuild” a military that is already many times stronger than the second strongest military power in the world. One can surely argue for hardcore rightwing politics, but these are contradictions that don’t really make sense.

Except for promising arguably destructive politics, Trump’s first weeks in office have proved to divide America even further rather than bringing it together, which it needs more than ever. He has challenged freedom of speech and started a war against the free media, against one of the very pillars of democratic society. Instead he has brought “alternative” truths to the American people.

Furthermore, Trump has annoyed world leaders, allied and foes alike, laying the ground for a more difficult diplomatic state of affairs. This in turn can lead to compromised trade and security cooperation. All of the above mentioned examples of Trump leadership so far, indicate that America – and the world – is in for four to eight years of ice age, where democratic, economic and environmental development risk freezing to a standstill.

Filip Ericsson

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Islamist terrorism in Europe & the Middle East wars – Causes & solutions

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In the last few years, the global Islamist terrorism has grown disquietingly in the wake of the civil wars in Syria and Iraq. President George Bush’s, and ultimately Obama’s, War on Terror that commenced following the terror attacks on US soil on September 11th 2001, has thus proved highly counterproductive. This article deals with the subject of increased Islamist terrorism in Europe, the US and elsewhere. It discusses what has caused it and which solutions there might be.

In 2015 there were two large terror attacks in Paris and in 2016 there have been large-scale attacks in Brussels and Orlando, several in Istanbul, and many more in countries in the Middle East and Asia, among them Beirut and Lahore (both in March 2016). All of these attacks have been connected to Islamic extremism, while several of them have been conducted by members or sympathizers of the powerful, Iraqi-based terror organization ISIS.

In order to understand the increased Islamist terrorism in the West, one needs to delve into the modern history of West Asia and the Middle East and examine the failed states and armed conflicts of these regions. One needs to understand the wars that have raged in Afghanistan from 1979 and onwards, the US war on terror following the terror attacks on September 11th 2001, including the US-led campaign to topple the Afghan Taliban rule, the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 and the ousting of Saddam Hussein. One needs to study the following civil war in Iraq, the Arabic Spring and the following civil war in Syria from 2011 and onwards.

The creation of ISIS

ISIS was created in the wake of the Iraq war that consequently ousted Iraqi president Saddam Hussein in 2003, but has origins as far back as 1999 when  Jordanian extremist and former Mujahedin fighter Abu Musab al-Zarqawi founded radical Islamist organization “The Organization of Monotheism and Jihad” (in Jordan). In the fall of 2004 he swore loyalty to Al-Qaeda and joined its armed struggle against the US provisional rule in Iraq. He was killed in a US airstrike in June 2006.

Saddam’s regime was Sunni Muslim and following his demise, elements within the former Iraqi military and security services went underground and started an armed uprising against the American occupants. Many would join Abu Musab’s terror group that later would become ISIS (with several name changes during the years). Thus, ISIS is a Sunni Salafist-jihadist rebel group that supported Al-Qaeda in the rebellion against the US occupation and that later would start striving to establish a theocratic caliphate in Iraq and the greater Middle East.

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In 2013 ISIS decided to spread its activities into Syria and to fight against the secular Syrian regime in the civil war. Early in 2014 it announced plans to attack Lebanese, Shiite Hezbollah in Lebanon, and proclaimed a worldwide caliphate that same year. Large territories in Iraq and Syria were laid under ISIS control, as thousands of Sunnis from all over the world joined the movement, which by then seemed unstoppable. It took control of modern weapons from the fleeing Iraqi army, made huge profits from occupied oil fields and received large funds from secret sponsors, mainly likely originating from the rich Gulf states.

From 2015 and onwards, as ISIS’s power diminished due to increased military campaigns from the US and its allies, a strengthened Iraqi army and Russia, the recruitment of ISIS soldiers diminished and new tactics needed to be introduced. Those tactics include terror attacks against the societies of the West and elsewhere, where many of the organization’s followers reside, mainly consisting of immigrants from the Middle East and North Africa.
Scholars and security services alike think that the weakening of ISIS’s power has caused the increased number of terror attacks that have taken place foremost in Western Europe, the US, Turkey and Lebanon. So which are the root causes of the rise of Islamist rebellion and terrorism in the civil wars of the Middle East, conflicts that have spilled over to the neighboring countries as well as the heart of the western world?

Islamist terrorism in Europe and elsewhere – Causes

The main causes of the latest rise of Islamist terrorism originate from so-called failed states and armed conflicts in the Middle East. These conflicts are fought between states and armed groups as well as between armed groups, mainly following ethnic and religious lines. Furthermore, these conflicts in turn have several causes such as lack of democratic systems/institutions, lack of civil rights, economic and social inequalities between ethnic groups, and so on.

Beyond these there are historical and colonial causes concerning how the nations were formed and which elites that stepped forward and grabbed power and privileges. The armed conflicts that erupt in the wake of these faulty situations in the end create animosities due to poverty and despair, in which extremist Islamist currents get a hold and are allowed to grow. In the wake of revolution and civil war, power vacuums can occur in which these radical currents can thrive.

Underdevelopment is another indirect cause for militant Islamism, where the lack of socio-economic development and education for a majority of the population enable a culture of patriarchy, traditionalism, conservatism and religion, in which these currents can especially thrive. The concept of underdevelopment is certainly connected to the political oppression and social and economic divides discussed above, which obstruct any societal development. Furthermore, the militant Islamism is based upon highly traditional, conservative and anti-democratic values that go hand in hand with underdevelopment in combination with a lack of democratic development.

isis map jan 2015

As of January 2015

In Iraq, Saddam’s dictatorship gave huge political, economic and social privileges to the Sunni minority. Following Saddams downfall and later the installation of a Shia dominated government created the same kind of animosities, but the other way around. The US provisional government’s decision to dismantle the Iraqi armed forces, leaving thousands of soldiers frustrated and unemployed certainly added dangerous fuel to the fire. Among others, Abu Musab’s Sunni terror group (that would become ISIS) executed a series of suicide bombings against Shiite targets to spark a civil war along sectarian lines in order to disrupt and destroy the US plans, and he succeeded. Furthermore, the failed, misjudged US policy of occupation created animosity amongst Muslims across the whole region and drew rebel fighters into Iraq from all over the Muslim world.

Another example is Syria, where harsh dictatorship has ruled constantly since independence in 1946. The Assad family has ruled with an iron fist since 1970 and has systematically favoured its own ethnic group, the Shiite Alawites. Despite the massive oppression with the instrument of horrific torture chambers, Hafez Al-Assad (the current president’s father) succeeded in keeping the Sunni majority in check, for example by allowing them a free market in which to work and do business.

With Bashar Al-Assad’s takeover following his father’s death in 2000, however, the Alawite elites started to grab more economic gains through downright mafia measures, and this created widespread discontent among the Sunni majority. Inspired by the Arabic spring also the Syrian people rose against its government, and through the dictatorship’s bans to utter discontent with other means, revolution became a fact. The counter reaction was extremely violent.

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The Syrian government was one of the world’s most repressive also before the protests and the limitless response with extreme violations against its own people radicalized the resistance and inevitably led to an unparalleled spiral of violence. Ultimately the chaos attracted armed elements from abroad to fight on either side, Sunni extremists such as ISIS against the Shiite regime and Shiite groups like Hezbollah (and Iranian armed forces)against the Sunni rebels.

Except for the above mentioned outer factors to European terrorism there are also factors within Europe itself, such as unproportunately high unemployment rates within non-European immigrant groups (foremost Muslims), which have led to  alienation and social exclusion, in turn  leading to radicalization of foremost young men originated from the Middle East and North Africa. Many within these under-privileged groups are thus drawn into organizations such as ISIS where they possibly reach a sense of meaning and importance.

Solutions

A final solution to Islamist terrorism in the Western world and beyond would require several extensive, far-reaching and coordinated measures in Europe/Western nations as well as in the Middle East. To halt the ongoing armed conflicts in Syria and Iraq would recuire an enormous international military operation including the Muslim states in the Middle East, the Gulf states, the big powers of Europe, the US and possibly Russia. This should be sanctioned by a resolution in the UN Security Council to give it proper judicial bearing.

In order to reach a lasting peace, huge diplomatic efforts are  needed in addition to military action, from the big powers as well as from the warring parties. Since we know today that all parties are not receptive to negotiated settlements, a combination of diplomacy and forced peace-making through military campaigns is crucial.

A military operation would be hugely extensive and expensive and would probably require 100 000 troops or perhaps even more. Above this, large-scale civilian campaigns operated by the different UN bodies as well as international NGO:s would be needed to get to the fundamental causes of conflict, to keep the peace and to build democratic institutions, or in the short run functioning and non-corrupt institutions. All these measures would require colossal political will (and funds) from the big powers of Europe/the US as well as from the regional powers like Iran and Saudi Arabia.

A peace agreement between the parties must include security guarantees, amnesties and inclusion in a political process, and all must be overseen by the UN with the support from peacekeeping troops with an adequate mandate to interfere. Also, there need to be incentives for economic growth and for people to find work and an income. Without this, a lasting peace will not likely succeed.

Moreover, fundamental reforms of the Western societies are needed in order to prevent radicalization of under-privileged groups, which in turn require broad agreements between different political parties, from left to right, regarding job-creation, social inclusion, hindrance of ethnic conflict, and etcetera.

Adequate political will is thus the key; nationally, regionally and globally, with military, diplomatic and society-building measures from the international community. Does it exist? Definitely not today and not likely in a near future. This is however the only way to stop the kind of international terrorism that has struck the world in recent time, and that with all certainty will strike again.

Filip Ericsson

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Sweden, NATO and the new threat

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ONCE AGAIN SWEDISH JAS Gripen fighter jets have been escorting an American B52 bomber over Swedish territory during NATO’s yearly Baltops exercise. One has to admit that there is some beauty in the picture, and as such it was merely a NATO PR trick, but a trick that was hugely welcomed by the Swedish government. They wish to reveal that they are keeping together in case of war, a war that could only be started by Russia.

This article discusses the security dilemmas of Sweden, a non-aligned but hugely strategically important nation caught in the middle of the increasingly tense security situation around the Baltic sea, foremost involving Russia and NATO. Military experts as well as politicians, for instance Swedish General Major Karlis Neretniek, today mean that Sweden can only avert a limited military attack from Russia if it spends around two percent of GDP on its defense, and if it’s spent right.

The Swedish military will need personnel, particularly to the army, and equipment beyond prestigious projects such as JAS Gripen jets and Swedish-made submarines. A proper missile defense is one example since a Russian attack would probably be preceded by a missile rain targeting Navy, air force and military warehouses. A better IT defense and a nationwide civilian defense are needed as well as a functioning defense organisation that is ready for the chaos that a military attack would cause, with an ability to regroup and recover.

Furthermore, the Swedish territorial waters of the Baltic Sea are of the upmost strategic importance, where especially the island of Gotland is located so that both aggressor and defender would want to secure it during an armed conflict in the Baltic Sea involving the Baltic nations.

That the Swedish territory is of crucial importance is proved by the so-called “host country agreement” between Sweden and NATO that was clubbed through in the Swedish parliament on May 25 2016. It means that Sweden can make its airspace, air force- and naval bases accessible to NATO forces during an armed conflict with a hostile foreign power (i.e. Russia).

The agreement entails that Sweden would be able to give as well as receive help, and also to invite a foreign power’s armed forces to its territory during military exercises. The agreement is important to NATO since Sweden’s territory would be crucial for warfare eastwards, regarding military response including deliveries of military equipment.

Russia’s aggressions – Causes

So why would Russia attack Sweden? Well, one scenario is that Russia would seek to cut off the flow of equipment into the Baltic Sea in case of an armed confrontation between Russia and NATO, in a scenario where Russia wishes to occupy the Baltic nations. And why would they want to do that? Several reasons for such a scenario can be displayed.
The current Russian government has its roots in the former Soviet communist regime including its armed forces during the Cold War. Russia’s aspiration is thus likely partly driven by patriotism and a wish for revenge to re-establish the super power status of the Soviet Union.

Furthermore, the Russian regime is based on some kind of “macho nationalism” to cite Sweden’s former secretary of state, Carl Bildt, when asked about the behavior of the Russian political elite. It is a regime that seems to be driven by emotions connected to conservatism, patriotism and vanity.

Simultaneously, Russia’s choices and how the government is trying to influence the attitudes of it’s population paradoxically seem to be awfully thought-out strategies. Russia’s regime has been called a kleptocracy, meaning that the political elite governs foremost for the sake of its own personal economic gains. And the fact is that Vladimir Putin’s government has silenced all opposition and made its inner circle extremely rich, while societal development is non-existent. And to hide this and to avert the attention from the government’s failures, or unwillingness, to work for the benefit of its people, it has created an outside enemy, and that enemy is NATO.

The Kreml, Moscow

The Kreml, Moscow

But the fact is that NATO has never threatened Russia, but merely invited it into the warmth. During the first decade following the end of the Cold War there was an era of cooperation and mutual understanding, and the EU and NATO met Russia with open arms, as long as it was developing in the right direction of economic and democratic reforms, and as long as it respected neighboring countries’ sovereignty. Following Putin’s admission as president in year 2000, however, that development started to take another direction.

Any other rational causes for why Russia would attack the Baltic countries I cannot find. Russia’s actions are not always obviously rational but are partly caused by the above mentioned factors. No governments or security services around the world really know what Putin is up to, and therefore Europe and NATO believe they must arm themselves.
We have seen aggressive, expansive actions against Georgia in 2008 and against the Ukraine in 2014 (occupation of Krim and etc.), and no-one really knows what the next step will be. Consequently there is a considerable uncertainty regarding national security among EU and NATO countries. So, if or when Russia during some circumstances would occupy the Baltics, is a question with no answer.

One factor that increases the risk of military confrontation is the increasingly tense situation around the Baltic Sea, with rising risk-taking activities from Russia regarding military provocations against NATO countries, Sweden and Finland. This increases the risk of mistakes and misjudgements, which could lead to a destructive domino effect.

Compliance or the balance of terror?

Furthermore it is debated whether NATO’s, and Sweden’s, actions with large-scale military exercises (with Russia as an obvious target), rearmament and military terms of collaborations, can actually increase the risks for armed conflict instead of diminishing it. Here lies a security dilemma. Either you risk to escalate the diplomatic conflict with Russia by showing off your guns, or you risk looking weak and indecisive if you don’t.

And this I believe is an important aspect when discussing Russia, the nation where “macho nationalism” rules (if I’m allowed to borrow Mr. Bildts expression again). Russia would possibly react negatively on compliance tactics and could in such a scenario see it as an approval, and opportunity, to grab further territory outside its borders. On the other hand Russia instead seems to respect military power more than anything else.

This leads us to the term “balance of terror”, an expression that originates from the nuclear deterrence of the Cold War. It means that no-one dares to attack the other since the response from the other part would be far too powerful and costly, or utterly eliminating in the case of the two superpowers of the Cold War. This kind of balance of terror for the purpose of deterring Russia has been the choice of action by NATO, with intensive ongoing campaigns to strengthen the defense of the European NATO countries. NATO’s large-scale and recurrent military exercises are displays of this.

Sweden’s security dilemma – NATO or not

For Sweden the same kind of dilemma is a reality. To defend itself against the ongoing disinformation campaigns and spy activities that the Swedish security services have noted coming from Russia, is clearly obvious. The question of an increasing collaboration with NATO (and outmost a membership), is however another issue.

Should Sweden avoid a NATO membership in order not to provoke Russia, and has the mighty close collaboration with NATO gone too far for the same reason? The thesis reads that Sweden would cause a more intensive Russian grudge and would become a direct target if it becomes a member. It reads that Sweden should stay non-aligned and neutral in a military crisis between Russia and the West in order to avoid a possible attack.

But the question is if this discussion is relevant at all? In reality, Sweden couldn’t stand outside an armed conflict in the Baltic Sea area, partly because of its strategic importance, but also because it would automatically stand on the NATO side, which includes several EU countries. Sweden shares their values and their security issues and it therefore cooperates with them to be able to handle an armed confrontation between NATO and Russia. Also, Sweden has since long already declared support for the Baltic nations in case of a military aggression from a foreign power.

Baltops 2016: US Marines have captured the Swedish island of Utö together with Swedish and British forces.

Baltops 2016: US Marines have captured the Swedish island of Utö together with Swedish and British forces.

The current policy of the Swedish government is to stay outside NATO, however close the relationship has become, and instead seeks bilateral defense agreements with individual countries. It recently struck deals with three countries it already has previous deals with – The United States, Great Britain and Finland.

The terms of collaboration between Sweden and the US comprises of military equipment sharing regarding air-defense and submarine technology, common air-, ground- and naval exercises, sharing of intelligence and “interoperability” preparations in order for the two armed forces to be able to operate together. Especially the planned common military exercises are meant to “send a distinct political signal”.

Also regarding Great Britain the new agreement is mainly about “interoperability”, while there are six different focus areas that sum up the defense cooperation with Finland. These include the navy, air force, army, communication and common operative units. For instance, a common naval operative unit (Swedish Finnish Naval Task Force) as well as aims to achieve capacity for the Swedish and Finnish air forces to operate together, are planned.

I should add that the statement that Sweden will need to spend roughly two percent of GDP on its defense, is under condition that it would pull it off all by itself. But even without the protection of a NATO membership, Sweden would likely not stand alone in the case of war. As stated above, NATO and other neighboring countries regard Sweden as crucial in an armed confrontation with Russia and would hardly sit idly by should Russia choose to attack. Moreover, such an attack would in reality be possible only in a larger conflict scenario involving NATO.

On the other hand, large defense investments will still be needed for Sweden to be able to defend its strategically sensitive areas against an eventual future Russian aggression, or to reach the deterrence effect needed to avoid such an attack in the first place. The Swedish government has approved an additional ten billion Swedish crowns (approximately 1.3 billion USD) until 2020, which is roughly half of what the military demanded in order to be able to achieve its goals, to do the job as the government ordered.

Thereby one could argue that these means must be produced, which could possibly mean that the Swedish government would have to rise taxes and perhaps cut spendings in welfare, infrastructure and refugee costs, or perhaps take government loans. One can argue that the means for the above mentioned military needs are much about the existence of Sweden as a free, independent nation, and that they therefore should be highest on the list of government spending. Today there is no immediate threat of a Russian military aggression against NATO or Sweden, but it is like a fire insurance. When the fire has started it is too late to sign up for one.

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Filip Ericsson

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Remembering FannyAnn Eddy

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According to Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FannyAnn_Eddy), gay and human rights activist FannyAnn Eddy, brutally murdered in Freetown in September of 2004, addressed the United Nations. At a meeting in Freetown in the spring of 2004, she was addressing me. I ignored her. A few months later she was dead. One day, if I go to heaven, I will say I’m sorry. As for now, I have to live with it.

Africa, a continent largely unfamiliar for many in the developed world, is mostly known for brutal civil wars, famine and obscure countries no-one has ever heard of. For people a little more familiar with the continent, economic growth, growing prosperity and an Asian (foremost Chinese) investment boom comes to mind. To me, Africa means all these things, from the horrific armed conflicts to the Chinese involvement, a rapid but unequal economic development, a growing middle class, utter diversity, beautiful sceneries, underrated tourist hubs, and so on.

The murder of FannyAnn Eddy has always reminded me of the difficulties of socio-economic development of the African nations. It reminds me that with economic growth and democratic revolution, development of society and values must follow. In many African countries, society is characterized by a very conservative stance with rather old-fashioned family values. Living in war-torn, West African republic of Sierra Leone some years ago, these issues have had a very personal impact on me.

For a decade torn by a devastating armed conflict, Sierra Leone is still one of the most under-developed countries in the world. The war is over since long and an economic and democratic development is slowly making progress. But a continuing lack of development, and lack of democracy, also means a lack of gender equality and sexual liberty.

In societies like Sierra Leone, everything that absconds from traditional sexuality is regarded abnormal, unacceptable, unheard of. In some African countries, homosexuality is illegal even (In Sierra Leone, male homosexual activity is illegal while the female equivalent is legal). In these countries, there are thus no government plans to hamper hate crimes against this kind of “deviated” behavior. Instead the government itself can be a part of the discrimination and persecution of gay and lesbian people (and other minorities). This kind of socio-economic under-development, Fanny-Ann Eddy became brutally, inconceivably and fatally aware of on September 29 in 2004.

FannyAnn founded the Sierra Leone Lesbian and Gay Association (SLLGA) in 2002, an organization that “offers social and psychological support and defends the rights of lesbians and gays vis-à-vis authorities and government”, according to Berlin-based Hirschfeld Eddy Foundation.

On their homepage they write further:

FannyAnn Eddy lived openly and self-confidently as a lesbian woman in a society that is hostile to homosexuality and in which lesbians and gays live in fear and invisibility. She was a person of extraordinary courage and integrity who quite literally gave her life to defending human rights.

Her courage and commitment soon made her a well-known figure throughout Africa and beyond. As a member of the committee of the All Africa Rights Initiative (AARI) and the totalAfrican Coalition of African Lesbians (CAL), her work extended far beyond the borders of Sierra Leone.

In April 2004, FannyAnn Eddy addressed the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva. In her moving testimony, she lamented that in Sierra Leone, violence against lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people still goes unpunished by the authorities: “We live in constant fear,” she said. She spoke of the fear that “our families will disown us”, “the fear within our communities”, and that there is nowhere else to go. “Silence creates vulnerability. You, members of the Commission on Human Rights, can break the silence. You can acknowledge that we exist, throughout Africa and on every continent, and that human rights violations based on sexual orientation or gender identity are committed every day.” (http://www.hirschfeld-eddy-stiftung.de/en/foundation/about-us/names/fannyann-eddy/)

As an intern at UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) in Sierra Leone in 2004 I encountered FannyAnn a couple of times at the returning UN/NGO meetings in Freetown. She once asked me to lift the gay rights issue at the UNDP as a part of the development work of that organization. This never materialized and that, I feel, is partly my fault. At these meetings I could sense an uncomforting feeling of hostility towards FannyAnn from some of the other participants, an hostility that was directly connected to her sexuality. Today I regret that I didn’t stand up for her and gave her the support that she deserved.

FannyAnn appeared to be a genuinely nice person, she was hugely competent and an important front figure in the strife for human rights in Africa. During her short life, she showed an enormous courage and accomplished more than I ever will.

On September 29, 2004, at least two men (some reports say four) broke in to her office in Freetown. She was gang-raped, her face was mutilated and her neck was broken. One man, a previous employee of Eddy’s organization, was later arrested but reportedly escaped jail while awaiting trial. I do not know if he was ever caught again. Furthermore, there are no reports of the identities or whereabouts of the other perpetrators. The Police has not been able to verify that the murder was a hate crime, a statement that I believe should be regarded with much caution.

I believe that the sheer cruelty, sadism and evil of this crime might tell a different story. It gives us a horrific reminder that the work towards equality and human rights still has a long way to go, not only in Africa but throughout the world.  FannyAnn left behind a partner and a nine-year-old son.

Filip Ericsson

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The Paris terror attacks – Analysis

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Once again a large-scale terror attack hits France and it’s currently determined that the disreputable Iraqi- Syrian, Islamic terror organization Isil was behind the attacks. Despite France’s large efforts to build a strong security apparatus, it has not been able to protect itself against a repetition. The perpetrators have used the weak spots of the open, democratic society and succeeded in infiltrating and planning a massive terror attack. Thus, the security services do not have the capacity to fully protect their citizens. 

SHORT-TERM CONSEQUENCES. Martial law was imposed in France following the attacks, which means that the democratic norms are set aside. These measures are undoubtedly necessary to quickly make the anti-terror campaign more efficient in the short run, but also risk to expose common citizens with a Muslim background to discrimination and persecution.

Intensified warfare in Syria and Iraq concerning France as well as allied powers is likely. Perhaps there will be increased demands on ground troops in Syria combined with a stronger will from the international community to find a diplomatic solution of this armed conflict that has raged for almost five years, a conflict that increasingly has started to spill over into Europe (through refugee crisis and terror attacks). Regarding Isil, a diplomatic solution is not possible, they can only be combatted militarily. However, military intervention alone is far from enough to create a long-standing peace in the Middle east or, consequently, to reduce the long-term terror threat against Europe.

Risk for increased hatred against Muslims and immigrants with Middle Eastern/North African descent is probable following terror attacks of this kind, which might lead to violence against these groups. Increased support for anti-democratic extremist parties in France and other European countries can also follow, a consequence that in a worst case scenario can threaten the peace, security and economy of the entire EU.

CAUSES. The causes for the terror attacks are several, and the primary ones are derived from the failed states and armed conflicts of the Middle East, conflicts that tend to spill over into Europe. These concern conflict between states and armed groups as well as between armed groups, most of which have arisen from ethnic and religious divisions. In turn, these conflicts have several causes: lack of civil rights and socioeconomic divides between ethnic groups and etcetera. Furthermore, there are historical and colonial causes in how these states were formed and which elites gained power at the time of independence. The armed conflicts that erupt in the wake of the mentioned societal errors at last create a power vacuum where extremist Islamic tides get a hold onto society and manage to grow.

Syria, for example, has since independence in 1946 constantly been in the claws of a ruthless dictatorship, more or less stable. The Assad family has ruled the country with a hard hand since 1970 and has systematically favored its own ethnic minority, the Alawites (a Shiite religious group). Despite massive repression with its horrific torture chambers, Hafez Al-Assad (current president’s father) managed to hold the Sunni majority in check, for instance by letting them do business and make money in a fairly open business climate.

With Bashar Al-Assad’s overtaking of power following his father’s death in 2000, however, the Alawite power elite started to seize assets and thereby created a widespread dissatisfaction among the Sunni majority. Encouraged by the Arabic Spring in North Africa, also the Syrian people raised against the dictatorship, a system that made it impossible for the people to utter discontent in other ways than taking it to the streets.

The response was immediate and exceedingly violent. The Syrian regime was one of the world’s most repressive already before the revolution, and the fierce reaction with extreme assaults on its own population radicalized the opposition and led to a spiral of violence of mighty proportions.

Except the above mentioned outer factors, there are factors also within France. These are unproportionally high unemployment rates among immigrants (foremost Muslims), which have led to social exclusion and rejection that in turn have led to radicalization of young men with Middle Eastern and North African descent. Hence, these are induced to organizations like Isil where they, arguably, obtain a feeling of meaning and importance.

SOLUTIONS. A final solution to end Islamist terrorism in the western world requires several far-reaching, extensive and coordinated measures within Europe/western democracies as well as in the Middle East. The ongoing armed conflicts in Syria and Iraq necessitate an enormous military international intervention, including the Muslim states of the Middle East/Arabic peninsula as well as the EU, the US and probably also Russia. In a best case scenario, this should occur through a resolution in the UN Security Council to give it judicial resilience.

In order to reach a lasting peace there need to be great diplomatic efforts from both the large powers and the warring parties (even though all parties are not receptive for negotiations).

A military effort will be hugely extensive and expensive and would probably require more than 100 000 troops. Above this, an enormous civilian effort from the United Nations and international NGO:s is essential to capture the actual sources of conflict, i.e. an effort to keep an accomplished peace and to build democratic (or in the short run functioning and uncorrupt government bodies). All these efforts would require colossal political will from the considerable powers in region as well as from EU/USA/Russia.

Furthermore, extensive reforms of the western societies are needed to stifle radicalization of under-privileged groups, which in turn require broad deals between different political parties (from left to right) regarding job-creating and social inclusion measures, and actions to hamper ethnic conflict.

Political will to a sufficient degree is thus the key, nationally as well as regionally and globally, with military, diplomatic and nation building measures from several significant powers. Is that political will present today? Not likely. But that is the only way to stop the kind of international terrorism that has struck France and that likely will strike a European country soon again.

Filip Ericsson

 

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Michael Moore fails to analyse Africa

I read Michael Moore’s controversial Stupid white men during my vacation in Brazil, of all places, and had some unpleasant flashbacks from the 2000 election debacle when I was a student at the university in Uppsala, Sweden. The stupidity of George Bush had reached all the way to Sweden and for some of the reasons Moore describes in his book, I desperately prayed that this man, or his party, wouldn’t win the election. As if things weren’t bad enough, after September 11th it was clear that our worst fears would come true.

What I wonder is how Bush could get away with all the conservative stupidity and bad governing without getting any substantial criticism? And how in the world could he be re-elected? Are the democrats that incompetent? And what about the media, how could they fail so much by not doing their job?

There is one major issue in Moore’s book I’d like to question. His rather humoristic explanation of the African continent is a bit, well, American. It is comfortable to describe Africa as one big mass of war and famine but that’s what the mainstream media is saying and I actually expect a bit more Michael Moore.

I know that the Africa remarks were made in a somewhat humoristic manner, but let me give you some facts:

Africa is home to more than 50 countries and war is raging in only a few of these. In the early nineties, can you believe that there were as many civil wars in Europe as in Africa (most of which took place in the Balkans and former Soviet)? And some of the most violent conflicts have actually turned to peace since then. For instance, look at Angola, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Since the end of the Cold War, democratization has spread on the continent and people are freer now than they were twenty years ago. There are still several depressing examples but on the whole, things are actually going in  the right direction.

Poverty and illiteracy have decreased and health is getting better in the majority of the African nations. Of course, these positive trends do not include failed states like the Congo (DRC), Somalia or Sudan, but hey, let’s tell our governments to work to help these countries come out of their misery.

If you go to an African country like, say, Kenya, Ghana or Senegal, you’ll find ordinary people with ordinary clothes getting to work in their ordinary cars in their ordinary cities. The chaos of war is actually the unusual, and not the norm.

Anyway, Stupid white men is an important book and Moore’s strong engagement to make a better society is invaluable. If I were black I would surely send him my CV, considering that he only hire black people..!

Filip Ericsson

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