Posts Tagged ‘Libya’

A longer paper for ECFR with Jonas looking at China and the Arab Spring. It has managed to pop out before a longer piece on EU-China I am working on, but hopefully that should also land soon. The whole paper can be found here, with a slight typo in my name. The published text to release it is below.

 

China’s Janus-faced response to the Arab revolutions

China’s zigzagging response to the Arab revolutions: How Europe can benefit

China was caught off guard by the Arab revolutions. Its first response in Libya was to go along with international sanctions against Gaddafi for abuses on his people while undertaking its largest evacuation mission of Chinese citizens. It then changed tack and verbally opposed international military action. The protection of citizens abroad didn’t extend internally in China, where a crackdown was carried out in response to minor breezes of the Jasmine Spring.

This zigzagging response to the crisis points to the new pressures that Beijing is under, from growing international interests, pressuring traditional non-interference principles abroad, to a population that is also increasingly connected to events across the globe.

A new policy memo published by the European Council on Foreign Relations, China’s Janus-faced response to the Arab revolution, explores these arguments. The authors, Jonas Parello-Plesner andRaffaello Pantucci, argue that:

  • China has now laid down a ‘responsibility to protect’ its own citizens abroad. China’s international interests (it had an estimated 38,000 nationals in Libya, along with contracts worth $18.8 billion) mean it can no longer remain aloof from developments like the Arab revolutions.
  • Beijing’s behaviour is increasingly influenced by relationships with other nations, for instance South-South cooperation. Its initial support for sanctions in Libya was influenced by the stance of Arab nations and the Arab League.
  • Beijing’s domestic crackdown, including the arrest of artist Ai Weiwei, demonstrate the authorities’ concerns about increasing connections to the outside world and the internal development of a bustling public sphere with more than 400 million internet users and where microblogs are used to dodge censorship and expose official corruption.

Click here for the pdf of the memo

The authors argue that the EU has the opportunity to push for Chinese responsibility on the international stage because China sees a pragmatic need to protect its investments and citizens. They recommend that:

  1. The EU should engage with China on framing stability in a broader bandwidth and look at joint approaches to crisis management and good governance in third countries.
  2. EU should develop a strategy for influencing China through others, as Arab and African reactions to Libya counted more than Western pressure. A discreet China component could be added to EU dialogues with other emerging countries.
  3. The EU needs to remain vocal and consistent on Chinese human rights and internal reforms.

“Chinese zigzagging is a reflection of a broader realisation that its previous posture of absolute non-interference is increasingly at odds with its global economic presence.”

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A new piece for Jamestown about the latest Europol annual terrorism report, focusing on the elements linked to North Africa and specifically Libya. There are a whole raft of issues in here that I really only touch on. The tensions this is causing within Schengen are fascinating to me. I wonder if retrospectively Libya is going to prove to be a major turning point for European foreign policy – the shift to coalitions of the willing outside, while internally a receding of free movement.

Europol Identifies Security Threat to Europe from North Africa’s “Arab Spring”

Publication: Terrorism Monitor Volume: 9 Issue: 19
May 12, 2011 05:19 PM Age: 4 hrs

Libyan migrants wait in line at the port in Benghazi, Libya.

Without food, employment or security, thousands of sub-Saharan Africans are taking to the sea in overcrowded and unseaworthy boats in desperate attempts to escape the violence in Libya. They are joining some 25,000 Tunisians who have already fled to the Italian islands of Lampedusa and Linosa in hopes of gaining a foothold in Europe. Many boats have been lost in the Mediterranean crossing, at the cost of hundreds of lives (AP, May 9; EU Observer, May 3).

Last year, Mu’ammar Qaddafi struck a €50 billion deal with the European Union to regulate its borders as a “transit country” for refugees and economic migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa. Despite this payoff, Qaddafi has not hesitated to use it against Europe, threatening to “turn Europe black” if various demands are not satisfied (Der Spiegel, February 24). The French minister of foreign affairs, Laurent Wauquiez, has warned: “Libya is the funnel of Africa. Flows of illegal immigrants from countries such as Liberia, Somalia and Eritrea pass through Libya… We must defend our frontiers on a European level. What we’re talking about isn’t a few tens of thousands of illegal immigrants who could arrive in Europe; it’s a potential 200,000 to 300,000 this year” (Radio France Internationale, March 2).

Taking a quite traditional view on events in North Africa, the recently published annual Europol (European Law Enforcement Agency) report on terrorist and counter-terrorist activity in Europe concludes early on that “in the short term, the absence of terrorist organizations amongst the mass Arab protests across the region has left al-Qaeda struggling for a response.” For Europol, however, there is a danger in the longer term that if the expectations of those on the streets are not met, “it could result in more powerful terrorist organizations impacting the European Union.” [1] Paired with the current tensions between Italy and France over boatloads of North African migrants who arrived in Europe via Italy and then headed immediately for their linguistic homeland in France only to be stopped by police at the French border – something infringing the free movement of even those possessing only temporary papers within the Schengen zone in Europe – the threat posed by a potential overspill of the Arab Spring into Europe becomes evident. The report mentions this potential threat early on, highlighting that “the current and future flow of immigrants originating from North Africa could have an influence on the EU’s security situation” by offering an easy way for terrorists to slip onto the continent.

Events in North Africa are not, however, the only focus of the overall report and the main conclusions are, as usual, that separatist and left-wing terrorists are the most active in Europe. In total the report covers 249 attacks, with 160 considered separatist, 45 left-wing, three Islamist and one “single-issue.” Forty of the attacks were for “unspecified reasons” – all of these coming from the UK, which does not specify the ideological driver of British-based terrorist attacks.

The numbers in the annual Europol report are notoriously unreliable given the different ways in which member states classify terrorism and the growing variety of criminal legislation under which terrorists suspects are charged. Nonetheless, the report opens its key judgments with a statement that “the threat of attacks by Islamist terrorists in the EU remains high and diverse,” a blunt declaration that shows the priority European police forces continue to place on Islamist terrorism. [2]

In fact, based on the numbers in the report, it is far more likely that European citizens are going to come into contact with separatist terrorists – 349 suspects are reported to have been arrested in the past year. In the UK in particular, this has become increasingly obvious as Irish dissident groups become ever more deadly – in April, a car bomb in Omagh, Northern Ireland killed Roman Catholic policeman Ronan Kerr, an act believed to have been carried out by the Oglaigh na hEireann (ONH – Volunteers/Soldiers of Ireland), a splinter group of the Real IRA (Telegraph [London], April 3; BBC, April 3). ONH operatives are reported to have been under surveillance recently by the Special Reconnaissance Regiment (SRR) while scouting potential targets believed to be related to the 2010 London Olympics (Belfast Telegraph, April 21).  Dissident Republican factions have returned to violence to protest the recruitment of growing numbers of Roman Catholics to the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the replacement for the formerly Protestant-dominated Royal Ulster Constabulary.

A few days after Kerr’s murder, a 500 lb truck bomb was found in Londonderry, and in the week before the royal wedding, the Real IRA paraded in a show of force through a cemetery in Londonderry.  They concluded by delivering a speech in which they threatened police officers “regardless of their religion, cultural background or motivation,” as well as announcing that “the Queen of England is wanted for war crimes in Ireland and is not wanted on Irish soil” (BBC, April 25).

But even within the resurgent Irish militancy in the UK there are hints of the threat from North Africa. Those with a keen sense of history will recall that Colonel Qaddafi gave Irish dissidents large quantities of Semtex explosives and it was being investigated whether some of this might have been used to kill Constable Kerr. Defecting Libyan Foreign Minister Moussa Koussa is believed to have played a major role in supplying Republican terrorists with Semtex. Conservative MP Robert Halfon said:  “If this is true then we must take every step to indict Mr. Koussa in the international war crimes courts or in the British courts for allegedly supplying the IRA with weapons which appear to have killed a policeman on Saturday” (Telegraph, April 3, 2011).

The EUROPOL report also touches upon the bigger strategic question that has been bothering experts about what the Arab Spring means for al-Qaeda’s global narrative. As the report puts it, developments in Tunisia and Egypt show that “peaceful demonstrations by ordinary people may be more effective than terrorist attacks” in effecting political change. However, the resulting “democratic space” could provide room for groups to “expand their activities,” using the “instability of state security forces” as an opportunity to launch attacks. The report notes the “clear contradiction to what al-Qaeda has insisted is the only means of defeating entrenched regimes is likely to result in a notable setback for terrorist organizations in terms of support and recruitment.” [3] So a short-term gain for terrorist groups may be overshadowed by a long-term loss.

This conclusion, however, is based on data prior to the descent of chaos on Libya.  It is unclear to what degree that state might become a new jihadist battlefield that spills back into Europe like Algeria or Bosnia did in the 1990s, or like Iraq and Afghanistan more recently. The overriding nationalist flavor of the fighters in Libya and the continuing presence of the rich target of Qaddafi and his clique is likely to keep fighters busy for the immediate future, but in the longer term it is unclear what the implications of this might be for European security. The report highlights “ongoing concern” about “the number of predominantly young EU nationals travelling to conflict areas that include Afghan/Pakistani border, Somalia and Yemen with the intent to take part in armed combat,” it remains to be seen if Libya will soon need to also be added to this list.

Notes:

1. “TE-SAT 2011 – EU Terrorism Situation and Trend Report,” Europol, April 19, 2011:www.europol.europa.eu/publications/EU_Terrorism_Situation_and_Trend_Report_TE-SAT/TE-SAT2011.pdf.
2. Europol Report, p.6.
3. Europol Report, p.7.

After a bit of a delay a new piece over at Free Rad!cals, this time looking at the comparisons between Bosnia and Libya. An underexplored topic and not one I am being intentionally alarmist about, but more I wonder whether there is much attention being paid to this. Should anyone come across any interesting stories or anecdotes, do please pass on.

Wars Next Door

View all Raff Pantucci Blogs

Filed under: AfricaRadicalisation

Lord Ashdown may have a good point when he accuses the west of suffering from “attention deficit hyperactivity disorder” allowing Bosnia to “slide back towards the status of a failed state” while attention is so focused on Libya, but I wonder if there is not another comparison that can be made between the two: that of jihadi battlefields within easy reach of Europe.

It remains unclear how many jihadists linked to al-Qaeda are fighting alongside the rebels in Libya. NATO Supreme Allied Commander Admiral James Stavridisspoke of “flickers” of Al Qaeda and Hezbollah being present in the country and rebel commanders have been quoted saying how some of the men they initially recruited to go and fight in Iraq have returned to fight Gadaffi’s forces. There have also been reports of former Guantanamo detainees showing up in leadership roles, and one report claimed that the jihadist units that were making it to the front were amongst the most effective fighters. On the more alarmist end of the scale, leader of nearby Chad has claimed that al-Qaeda linked elements have plundered the Colonel’s weapons supplies and run away with surface-to-air missiles.

Amidst this all, there have been stories of British Libyans deciding to return home to fight to overthrow the leader. According to James Brandon and Noman Benotman’s authoritative account, “some” former Libyan Islamic Fighting Group (LIFG) have returned to fight against Gadaffi, with at least one being killed and another captured. In the meantime, “Sam’s” story in the Telegraph seems to highlight that the fighting bug is catching amongst the younger generation. Othershave told of how they are returning to take on roles as doctors of aid workers.

All of which is very understandable. Rather than watch their nation implode on their television screens, these expatriate Libyans are going back home to do something. And they are doing this all with the support of NATO bombing campaign from the air and western intelligence agents on the ground directing fire.

But what happens when the NATO campaign eventually stops and what if Gadaffi does not fall. What if the nation descends, like Bosnia did, into a protracted and grim civil war into which jihadist elements were able to move in and offer a live fire training ground for aspirant warriors from around the world? Last time this happened in Bosnia, an unknown number of young Europeans went to fight. As the story of Sayyad al Falastini shows, the battlefield was a coach ride away for young men in London, and Libya is not really that much farther away (not sure if it is a coach ride, but it is certainly easier than getting to Somalia or Waziristan).

This may all be an exaggerated concern. One friend pointed out that of greater concern was the fact that jails in a number of north African countries had emptied, turning god knows who on the street. While intelligence headquarters had all been pillaged, destroying a wealth of knowledge on Islamists from across the region. But as the situation in Libya continues to drift into something less than a conclusive solution with Colonel Gadaffi continuing to hold on, some consideration should be given for it as a potential risk as a jihadi battlefield next door. Given the fact that until recently the West was quite firmly on the wrong side of history in Libya, and we are still uncertain as to what the plan is to support the rebels while allied bombers are accidentally killing some of them, this is by no means necessarily a revolution which will completely go the West’s way. Looking back at footage or coverage of Islamists rallying troops to go to Bosnia, it is easy to see that even in the wake of action by the West they remained angry and the end result was a group of cells some of which ended up targeting the their home nations. Extremists in the UK are already talking about how this is just another western war in a Muslim land.

There are many good reasons for the fighting in Libya to be brought to some positive resolution quickly, not allowing a war with a potentially jihadist flavor to fester on Europe’s doorstep is clearly amongst them. Unfortunately, at the moment the end strategy seems uncertain leading to a potentially dangerous period of intractable conflict that could turn into a Bosnia-style jihadist battlefield. Lets hope some resolution can be effectively brought and enforced before such a situation arises.

Another podcast for ECFR, again looking at China and recent events in North Africa. This time focused on Libya, but in a slightly less coherent way than my last one. No matter – enjoy!

Another foreign language piece I’m afraid, this time for one of the more liberal Chinese newspapers, the Oriental Morning Post. Sketches out what China should hopefully learn from Libya, though I know friends in China tell me I am being optimistic. The actual text can be found here, and below is what I initially submitted in English. The version published is slightly abbreviated.

What China Should be Learning from Libya

There is a sense of confusion in the Chinese press and decision-making community about what exactly is driving British and French actions in Libya. The cynics say that this is a show of force by weak governments embarrassed by their histories with Colonel Gadaffi, others say it is part of shoring up weakening domestic support for Nicholas Sarkozy and David Cameron, while yet others say it is a traditional war for oil. But all of these miss the key lesson that should be drawn from the crisis: bad governance is something that cannot be simply allowed to fester.

Whatever the reasons for the west now deciding to get involved, they are having to do this because they allowed Colonel Gadaffi to mismanage his country for too long. Ever since he admitted to developing a nuclear program and handing over the material to American and British secret services, Colonel Gadaffi has been readmitted into the international community. Contracts and contacts were developed as Libya opened its doors to foreign investment, including a substantial volume of Chinese businesses and citizens.

But at no point was any consideration given to the fact that Colonel Gadaffi was continuing to run his country as though it was a bank account accessible only to himself and his direct family and tribe. His dreaded secret police enforced a brutal security regime that allowed no discussion of the justness of the Colonel’s regime. Islamists both dangerous and not were incarcerated en masse, while torture was periodically practiced in prisons. And at the same time, while the Colonel and his family did well from the inflows of foreign investment, the Libyan people failed to profit much from this boom.

The result was a tinderbox of angry and disenfranchised population with a detached and kleptocratic regime surrounded by a police state willing to practice any action to maintain power. It was only a matter of time before it descended into the chaos that we are now seeing nightly on our television screens. And as a result it was only a matter of time before China would be obliged to shut down its vast investments in the country and evacuate its more than 30,000 citizens working in the country.

This mass evacuation both shows China’s growing capacity as a global power, but also highlights its growing presence in the world. On the one hand the nation needs to be applauded for its ability to get so many citizens to safety in such rapidity, but at the same time, it should consider that larger lesson that needs to be drawn from this and that is that bad governance is something that needs to be addressed.

This does not mean that China should be expected to copy Britain and France’s actions and support rebels in every country that is governed badly. But it should give some more serious consideration to the fact that the current policy of rigid non-interference is something that is clearly leaving large Chinese investments and growing numbers of Chinese citizens in unstable nations with governments that are susceptible to collapses like Libya. The result is an expensive evacuation, loss of material, and the need for China to once again have to choose sides in the United Nations Security Council. Far better to try to catch such situations before they descend into civil war and to try to stimulate the leadership to improve their domestic situation using the carrot of investment as a motivator.

China is already a major investor in many parts of the world where such similar future situations can be envisioned. The role it plays is a positive one in helping underdeveloped nations, but at the moment it lacks any directive to try to improve the internal situation in the country. By using this power to try to influence nations to improve their domestic situations, China can help both guarantee her investments but also improve the national situation. In this way China can use its growing global economic presence to make the world a more stable place and take its role as a responsible stakeholder in the global community.

Raffaello Pantucci is a Visiting Scholar at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences (SASS).