Category Archives: Europe

Stratfor looks at the Caucasus: A Crucible for Conflict

Summary: Stratfor looks at the Caucasus, where some of Europe’s fault lines cross. These border regions are often unstable, and have birthed many of Europe’s wars. The Caucasus nations are heating up, with no signs of resolution in sight.


The Caucasus: A Crucible for Eurasian Powers

Stratfor, 31 December 2015


Where the boundaries of Europe and Asia meet, a relatively new arena has emerged in the competition between Russia and the West: the Caucasus. The region, which comprises Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia, rests outside mainland Europe and is surrounded by regional powers. A wave of separatist movements since the fall of the Soviet Union has played an influential role in how the Caucasus countries view Russia, which has consistently lent its support to disputed territories.

In the coming decades, the Caucasus will continue to be an important battleground for Russia and the West as other regional powers like Turkey and Iran are drawn into the competition for influence. And as Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan align more closely with their chosen sides, all signs point to a Western-backed alliance gaining ground.


Where the boundaries of Europe and Asia meet, a relatively new arena has emerged in the competition between Russia and the West: the Caucasus. The region, which comprises Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia, rests outside mainland Europe and is surrounded by regional powers. A wave of separatist movements since the fall of the Soviet Union has played an influential role in how the Caucasus countries view Russia, which has consistently lent its support to disputed territories.

In the coming decades, the Caucasus will continue to be an important battleground for Russia and the West as other regional powers like Turkey and Iran are drawn into the competition for influence. And as Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan align more closely with their chosen sides, all signs point to a Western-backed alliance gaining ground.

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Stratfor: Italy’s Shaky Financial Future

Summary: The debt supercycle is a global phenomenon, with Italy one of the most afflicted nations. High levels of debt plus slow growth makes a toxic combination. Here Stratfor examines the numbers and their implications.

“If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.”
— Herbert Stein’s Law (US economist, 1916-1999).


Italy’s Shaky Financial Future

Stratfor, 18 December 2015


As with many aspects of modern banking, the word “bankrupt” has its roots in Renaissance Italy. The original banks were Florentine merchants who would sit in the open street behind benches (bancas in Italian) upon which their money would be stacked. If trading went against them and their capital was reduced to nothing, their bench would be said to be broken, or banca rotta. It is fitting then that, 500 years later, the European country with the most worrying debt problem is Italy.


This may be surprising to some, since Italy does not top the tables as worst offender by any of the usual metrics. It does not have the highest levels of debt to gross domestic product in Europe: That dubious honor belongs to Greece, whose debt to GDP ratio rests more than 40 points higher than Italy’s 132%. Nor are Italian banks afflicted with the highest quantities of nonperforming loans as a percentage of GDP. Cyprus wins that contest easily; at a staggering 137%, it relegates Ireland (23%) to a distant second place and far exceeds Italy at 17%.

But though Italy is not the worst offender, its size still makes it the most potentially problematic. Italy has the third largest economy in the eurozone after Germany and France, and it is 1.5 times bigger than fourth-ranked Spain. So even without having the highest ratios, in actual numbers Italy has the biggest debt mountain: 2.3 trillion euros (roughly $2.4 trillion) of government debt compared with Greece’s 392 billion euros. Thus the three recent Greek bailouts, though giant in relation to the Greek economy, were just a sliver of the European economy as a whole, and in their wake the eurozone carried on more or less unaffected. The same would not be true of Italy. A bailout would be a massive undertaking that would greatly stretch the union’s finances.

Of course, this is not an altogether new phenomenon. Italy’s debt to GDP ratio has been over 100% since the early 1990s, and GDP growth since then has been fairly stagnant. But the fact that Italy’s debt has been large for a long time does not mean it is not dangerous. It was the threat of Italy defaulting that drove much of the market panic during the sovereign debt crisis in 2011 and 2012, when weakness in Europe’s banks had prompted bailouts from their national governments, calling into question the solvency of the governments themselves.

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Stratfor: France’s National Front Defeated, For Now

Summary: Support for the far-Right National Front grows in France, part of a tide sweeping through the developed nations. Here Stratfor looks at the results of the recent election, where the two major parties cooperated to suppress the NF, despite its 40% vote in the first round. While successful in the short-term, it is a tactic likely to increase alienation from the Fifth Republic. Will they use the time bought by their win to address its problems? Let’s watch. We might get ideas to help deal with our resurgent Right-wing.


France’s National Front Defeated, For Now

Stratfor, 14 December 2015

The right-wing National Front party will not control any regions in France. Despite its strong showing in the first round of elections, in which it earned more than 40% of the vote in the densely populated regions of Nord-Pas-de-Calais-Picardy in the north and Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur in the south, the nationalist party failed to win any districts in the second round of voting Dec. 13. However, the party led by Marine Le Pen will continue to be a key political player in the months ahead of the 2017 French presidential election.

In many ways, the results of the Dec. 13 elections are not surprising. France’s electoral system is explicitly designed to prevent extremist parties from accessing power, and it was this that prevented the National Front from winning regions in the runoff vote. In this case, France’s ruling Socialist party decided not to participate in the runoff vote in those regions where it did not have a serious chance of winning, hoping that voters would choose the center-right The Republicans party over the National Front. This is exactly what happened, and the National Front saw only a small increase in popular support between the first and the second round.

As Stratfor wrote after the first round, many voters who supported moderate forces in the first round will probably support other parties to keep the National Front from winning again.

In other words, most people who wanted to vote for the National Front did so in the first round, but only a small number of additional voters supported the party in the second round. In addition, there was a higher voter turnout in the second round, which suggests that many voters who did not participate in the first round made the conscious decision to vote in the second to prevent the National Front from winning.

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Stratfor: will France hand power to a far right government (again)?

Summary: With the polls looking good for the National Front, Stratfor examines the rise of the far Right in France — part of the right-flowing tide sweeping through the developed nations. Memories have faded in Europe; hopes rise that this far right movement differs from the last. The implications are massive for economic policy, for France’s immigration policy, its treatment of its ethnic minorities, and perhaps most important — for its role in the European Union. Did anyone guess that having survived the centrifugal forces of the 2008-09 and 2010-2015 economic crises, Europe would immediately face another and perhaps more difficult one?


In France, Discontent Favors the National Front

Stratfor, 5 December 2015


France is preparing to hold regional elections, and the country’s ruling party is bracing itself for the fallout. At a time of high unemployment levels and sluggish economic growth, French voters will likely look to punish the Socialist Party by backing its center-right and far-right rivals instead. The National Front, which opposes immigration and wants France to leave the eurozone, is already expected to win in at least two of the country’s biggest regions. The Dec. 6 elections will be the last vote held before France’s presidential election in 2017, and every indicator suggests they will mark yet another victory for the Euroskeptic forces gaining strength across Europe.


On Dec. 6, French voters will head to the polls to select the councils of France’s 13 metropolitan regions, as well as some of its overseas territories. In regions where no party manages to garner 50% of the vote, a second electoral round will be held Dec. 13.

The elections will be an important test of popularity for France’s main parties, and they will set the stage for the country’s upcoming presidential vote. The Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris gave a slight boost to French President Francois Hollande’s approval ratings, but his Socialist Party will probably put on a weak performance in the polls nonetheless. Because the Socialists currently control most of France’s regions, they have the most to lose. By comparison, their two main rivals, the center-right Republican Party and the right-wing National Front, will likely see significant gains.

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Stratfor explains: Has a Turkish military spearhead penetrated northern Iraq?

Summary: Here Stratfor examines rumors that Turkey’s army has entered the fighting in Iraq. If true, it’s a serious expansion of a conflict that already looks like the early stages of the Thirty Years War that devastated central Europe. This might not be an increase of Turkey’s involvement, but such a step might be coming. Watch this story.  {2nd of 2 posts today.}


The Routine Nature of Turkey’s Presence in Iraq

Stratfor, 4 December 2015

In keeping with the adage that things are seldom what they seem, reports from Dec. 4 that a Turkish military spearhead had penetrated northern Iraq were exaggerated. Local news media claimed that three Turkish regiments entered Iraqi territory on Dec. 3, deploying in the vicinity of the Islamic State-held city of Mosul in Nineveh province. As it turns out, this supposed Turkish intervention was simply a small rotation of forces, switching out troops assigned to a routine training mission across the border. Ankara reportedly has been training Kurdish peshmerga and other Sunni volunteer forces in the Kurdish-controlled regions of Iraq since November 2014.

The dispatch of 130 Turkish troops — described as a battalion but closer to the size of an infantry company — is much less remarkable than the commitment of three regiments. The presence of these soldiers will not alter the course of the operation to retake Mosul, nor affect its timeline, though formal military training may assist the overall fight against the Islamic State. It also is not an anomalous move by Ankara: In addition to ongoing training operations in Kurdish areas, there is a Turkish military presence in the Amedi district of Dohuk province to combat revolutionaries from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, also known by its Kurdish acronym, the PKK.

Initial reports from local news agencies alleged that Turkish troops entered Iraqi territory on Dec. 3, massing at the Nargizliya camp (also known as al-Shekhan camp), a militia base in Shekhan District. The Turkish military uses the location to train Sunni volunteer forces. The Nargizliya camp sits on the internal border between Dohuk and Nineveh provinces and has so far processed around 3,500 combatants that are now actively involved in operations against the Islamic State.

Media reports also suggested that an assault on Mosul was imminent. News agencies cited an anonymous peshmerga official as well as sources from a militia known as the National Crowd for Liberating Nineveh. The sources claimed that the three supposed Turkish regiments would help forces in the region assault and reclaim Mosul. Hours after the statement was released, however, several local leaders denied the report, including Nineveh Gov. Nawfal Humadi, Nineveh Operations Command chief Maj. Gen. Najim al-Jubouri and representatives of the Kurdistan Democratic Party.

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Stratfor: In France, New Attacks Come From Old Problems

Summary: Here Stratfor looks at a seldom-mentioned aspect of the Paris attacks. Their roots lie deep in France’s history, allowing large-scale immigration from its colonies to provide cheap labor for its corporations. Just as American has done. But as Frances’s Jews discovered, France has little ability to assimilate foreigners. Its slow economic growth makes this even more difficult. Paris was a result.


In France, New Attacks Come From Old Problems

By Mark Fleming-Williams, Stratfor, 22 November 2015

On the evening of Friday, Nov. 13, eight people armed with assault rifles and suicide vests attacked several targets in Paris, killing 129 civilians. At least five of the attackers were French nationals and two were Belgians; all eight appear to have been radical Islamists, and the Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attacks. French President Francois Hollande declared the killings to be an act of war and immediately scaled up France’s military operations, primarily by increasing its airstrikes in Islamic State territory. Taking advantage of a temporary state of emergency, French police have conducted more than 100 raids each night since the attack as they track down suspects.

While the attacks are obviously shocking, they probably will not have the same transformative effect as other major incidents such as 9/11 or the Madrid bombings, which led the states that were targeted to change their strategies. (9/11 prompted the United States to invade Afghanistan and ultimately Iraq, while the Madrid bombings persuaded Spain to withdraw its troops from Iraq.) By comparison, the French attacks, which are more akin to the July 2005 bombings in the United Kingdom, will likely accelerate the strategies France already had for achieving its domestic and foreign interests.

Domestic Concerns

From France’s perspective, the most immediate concern the Paris attacks raise is that French citizens were killed. Any government that fails to protect its citizenry risks being replaced, meaning that officials must work quickly to neutralize the attackers before doing the same for any accomplices who were directly involved. Then the government must try to prevent similar attacks from taking place in the future. The first two of these actions are already well underway, and progress toward the third is evident. Hollande has asked to extend emergency powers for three months, to deploy an extra 5,000 police officers over the course of two years, and to amend the constitution to broaden surveillance powers. By all appearances, France seems to be on the verge of becoming a closely watched state in the coming years — much like the United Kingdom, which has one surveillance camera in place for every 11 Britons.

The Nov. 13 attacks also play into domestic politics, and the government will want to be seen avenging its citizens and punishing the offending party for its actions. This appears to be a large part of the motivation behind Paris’ increased bombings of Islamic State targets overseas. Hollande is the leader of the center-left Socialist Party, which traditionally takes a softer line on social, security and privacy issues and is therefore vulnerable to recriminations from the public that it has not done enough to protect French citizens. Adding to this problem, France has experienced other terrorist attacks this year, most notably in January when gunmen attacked the offices of the Charlie Hebdo newspaper, and people expected the government to have learned from these experiences in addressing security threats.

Regional elections in December will give voters across the country a chance to show their displeasure with the government’s response, making the situation even more urgent for Hollande. The anti-immigration National Front has enjoyed a surge in support in recent years, with party leader Marine Le Pen polling strongly ahead of the 2017 presidential election. For the more moderate voter, there is also the center-right Republicans party headed by former President Nicolas Sarkozy. The former president has long divided public opinion with his tough stance on immigrants and security, which dates back at least to his time as France’s interior minister in the early to mid-2000s.

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Martin van Creveld asks: Has a new Thirty Years’ War begun in Europe?

Summary: Today Martin van Creveld gives us a chilling warning, one that appears more accurate after the attacks on Paris. Our invasions after 9/11 destabilized the Middle East, and the resulting  fires slowly grow hotter and spread. If events follow the course of the Thirty Years’ War, much worse awaits us in the future.

"The Disasters of War" by Francisco Goya.

“The Disasters of War” by Francisco Goya.

A Thirty Years’ War?

By Martin van Creveld
From his website, 22 October 2015
Posted with his generous permission

For those of you who have forgotten, here is a short reminder. The Thirty Years’ War started in May 1618 when the Protestant Estates of Bohemia revolted against the Catholic Emperor Ferdinand II. They threw his envoys out of the windows of the palace at Prague. Fortunately for them, the moat into which they fell was filled with rubbish and nobody was killed.

Had the revolt remained local, it would have been suppressed fairly quickly. As, in fact, it was in 1620 when the Habsburgs and their allies won the Battle of the White Mountain. Instead it expanded and expanded. First the Hungarians and then the Ottomans were drawn in (though they did not stay in for long). Then came the Spaniards, then the Danes, then the Swedes, and finally the French. Some did less, others more. Many petty European states, cities, and more or less independent robber barons also set up militias and joined what developed into a wild free for all.

For three decades armies and militias chased each other all over central Europe. Robbing, burning, raping, killing. By the time the Treaty of Westphalia ended the hostilities in 1648 the population of Germany had been reduced by an estimated one third.

The similarities with the current war in Syria are obvious and chilling. This war, too, started with a revolt against an oppressive ruler and his regime. One who, however nasty he might be, at any rate had kept things more or less under control.

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