Last week, Sweden experienced its worse terrorist attack in years as a man drove a large delivery truck through a department store, killing four, including an 11-year old girl, and wounding 15 others.
After investigating the motive behind this attack, it was determined that 39 years old, Uzbek, Rakhmat Akilov was the prime suspect in the case. Rakhmat Akilov was denied asylum in December of 2016 and was given four weeks to leave the country. It was known to police that Rakhmat Akilov was still in Sweden. However, he was doing everything he could to elude the law enforcement officials. Rakhmat Akilov is not the only asylum-seeker currently evading police. Swedish law enforcement estimates that there are approximately 12,000 denied asylum-seekers throughout Sweden who have gone on the run and have remained in the country.
Sweden, like many European countries, has experienced an influx in asylum-seekers and refugees throughout the past few years. In fact, in 2015 Sweden received a record number of asylum-seekers, which numbered around 160,000. In an attempt to reduce this number, Sweden tightened border security and reduced the number of asylum seekers and refugees permitted in the country.
A recent PEW research study shows just how much of an influx in asylum seekers there really is throughout Europe from 1985 to 2015. Sweden is currently the third most popular destination for asylum-seekers, behind Germany and Hungary. Furthermore, the amount of asylum-seeking individuals doubled in size between 2014 and 2015, leaving the Swedish government to scramble for a policy and solution to this massive increase.
On Monday over 20,000 people flooded Stockholm’s central square to show support for the victim’s families and to show unity against atrocities such as this.
On Tuesday, Rakhmat Akilov confessed to the terrorist attack and is awaiting trial.
Indiana University’s School of Global and International Studies hosts America’s Role in the World Conference
On March 29th and 30th Indiana University’s School of Global and International Studies hosted the 2017 Conference on America’s Role in the World. Students, faculty, and the public were invited to attend a number of panels pertaining to various issues in geopolitics facing the new president. The Convenors of the conference were Richard G. Lugar, former republican senator from Indiana, Lee H. Hamilton, former representative from Indiana, and Lee Feinstein, the Dean of SGIS and former ambassador to Poland.
There were seven panels throughout the two-day conference. Some of the topics discussed were the rising tide of anti-democratic means of governance, relations with Russia, conflict in the Middle East, Nuclear proliferation, and Indiana’s role in the world. The panelists fielded questions at the end of each session, giving participants of the conference an opportunity to interact with some of the foremost minds in American foreign policy today. Attendees also had the option on both days to attend an engagement lunch for a Q&A session with various experts.
The opportunity to hear speakers such as Roger Cohen of The New York Times, former ambassador to NATO Ivo Daalder, Indiana governor Eric Holcomb, among others proved an invaluable experience to young students in SGIS who want to go on and make their mark in the world. Some of the speakers at the conference were also Indiana graduates. Marie Harf graduated from Indiana with a degree in Political Science with concentrations in Jewish Studies and Russian and East European Studies. Harf has held a wide variety of positons in Washington. Notably, she was Associate Policy Director on former president Barrack Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign. Harf currently serves as a Fox News contributor. Adam Hitchcock, another Hoosier, is a managing director at Guggenheim Partners in Chicago, Illinois. Prior to that, Hitchcock also worked in the Obama administration, as the chief of staff of the White House Council of Economic Advisers. Both Harf and Hitchcock reflected positively on their days in Bloomington, and encouraged current students to take on leadership roles while at IU.
The event will undoubtedly help raise the profile of Indiana’s School of Global and International Studies, founded in 2012. For many panelists it was their first time in Bloomington, and they made sure to note how lucky we, as students, are to study at such a great university.
For more on the conference:
Central European University located in Budapest, Hungary was the creation of Hungarian philanthropist George Soros. The university was founded in 1991 after the revolution that led to a transition from communism in Central and Eastern Europe. The university’s primary mission is to provide the “pursuit of truth wherever it leads, respect for the diversity of cultures and peoples, and commitment to resolve differences through debate not denial.” CEU is known as being one of the most densely international universities in the world with students and staff from more than 130 countries. Its mix of nationalities, ethnicities, and cultures provides for a truly open environment in which to explore topics that have a global impact.
Recent amendments proposed by the FIDESZ led government to the Hungarian higher education laws, may initiate an end to the internationally recognized university. Current CEU President and Rector Michael Ignatieff stated that the University’s dismantling, “would damage Hungarian academic life […].” Moreover, the closure would negatively impact the government’s relations with its fellow European Union members and the United States. The legislation’s primary target appears to be CEU and institutions that promote liberal values. Much backlash from the academic world has emerged as scholars have taken to social media to express their discontent with the Hungarian government’s actions, and to show their support for the university. Prime Minister Viktor Orban, himself a Soros scholarship recipient, has been quite critical of Hungarian-born philanthropist George Soros. Orban has consistently accused Soros of wanting to have an influence on Hungarian politics and supporting migration into Europe.
Some of the provisions of the amendment to the Hungarian higher education law will make it difficult for CEU to deliver its various programs and issue degrees. According to Ignatieff the amendment may force the university out of Hungary. Around 26 universities in Hungary are targeted by the tabled legislation, with seven of them including CEU, having international founders. Prior to 2004, CEU offered only US-accredited programs, but eventually the Hungarian government and the university’s board in New York reached a compromise. The deal between New York and the Hungarian government allowed CEU to offer Hungarian and US-accredited Masters and PhD degrees. CEU’s record of academic excellence over its 25 years of existence appears threatened. The university receives more European Research Council (ERC) grants than any other university in Hungary or in the region. Forcing CEU and other universities out of Hungary will be detrimental to both Hungarian and European interests, thus hindering academic competitiveness.
CEU students and staff have united to seek support from other universities domestically and abroad. However, the recent protest is occurring at a time of deteriorating relations between the recently elected US President Donald Trump and CEU’s founder Soros. Prime Minister Orban, a staunch Trump supporter, was once an ally of Soros following the immediate fall of communism in Hungary. Orban won a scholarship sponsored by Soros to study at Oxford University, but has striven to close NGOs partially funded by Soros. CEU was meant to provide a glimmer of hope in the aftermath of the communism period. What the future holds for CEU’s continued existence, only time will tell.
A declassified report, released by the United States intelligence community in January disclosed that Russian-backed hackers meddled with the US elections and stated that this tactic to hack and influence elections and politics is not a new tactic. Subsequently, this report has put Europe on high alert as many important countries including the Netherlands, France, and Germany all have upcoming elections.
The strategy to delegitimize governments through disinformation, to increase its sphere of influence is not new to Russia. In fact, this approach has transcended the Cold War to today; additionally, one could make the argument that social media and the internet have allowed the Russians to become much more aggressive on this front. The name of the game is disinformation, and Russia is one of the best at this game.
In the Netherlands, the fear of Russian hacking in their upcoming elections have spread so far that the Dutch, an incredibly tech-savvy country, have decided to scale back the use of computers to count votes and will rely instead on a manual count system. Leading this decision was Interior Minister Ronald Plasterk who stated: “I don’t want a shadow of doubt over the result in a political climate like the one we know today.” Despite these precautions, the argument could be made that this is exactly what Russia wants: disinformation throughout a targeted country which in turn leads to those questioning the political stability and legitimacy of said country.
In France, it was found that Marie La Pen, the leader of a far-right national party, had taken a €11 million loan from a Russian bank to support her campaign. Like President Trump, who, along with many of his staff members has business ties in Russia, she is at the risk of being blackmailed by Russia to promote friendlier policies towards Russia. Another French politician, Emmanuel Macron, is a target of Russia’s “fake news.” His campaign has received thousands of cyber attacks, and inaccurate stories of him and his past have been spread throughout Russian-backed news outlets. The personal attacks became so bad that Macron was forced to make public statements to reassure his supporters that American banks were not funding him and that he was not having an affair. These attacks, while untrue and frankly petty, have proved to be incredibly harmful to many candidates throughout the World.
In Germany, Hans-Georg Maaßen, the head of the Federal Office for Protection of the Constitution, released a two-page report, which stated that the goal of Russia is to create uncertainty in the political system in Germany and to sow seeds of doubt throughout society. Additionally, many intelligence experts agree that of the three countries briefly discussed here, Germany is the prime target, specifically Angela Merkel. Germany’s position in the world, the dominant role they play in the European Union, is a prime target for Russia as delegitimizing Germany could potentially prove to be a devastating blow to the European Union.
Cyber attacks like these are hard to defend, hard to counter, thus making them a top priority for Russian officials in their goal of spreading their sphere of influence throughout regions of the world.
Turkish officials detained journalist Deniz Yücel on February 14th, 2017. The 43-year-old journalist, who holds both German and Turkish citizenship, writes for the German newspaper Die Welt. Turkish authorities charged Yücel with inciting hatred and spreading terrorist propaganda.
Yücel was arrested after reporting on hacking within the cabinet of Turkey, specifically on private emails of Turkey’s Energy Minister, Berat Albayrak. Albayrak is the son-in-law of Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
In the past Yücel has been critical of the current Turkish government’s treatment of the Kurdish minority. The government has accused him of supporting the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party), which is considered a terror group in Turkey.
Yücel’s arrest comes during a time of massive crackdowns on the media by the Turkish government following last summer’s coup attempt. However, Yücel is the first German journalist to be arrested. Outside experts have labeled the move as an intimidation attempt toward foreign media attempting to report on Turkey.
The prominent German-Turkish politician Cem Ödzemir led protesters in front of the Turkish embassy in Berlin. There is a trending movement across Germany dedicated to bringing light to the issue, characterized by the #FreeDeniz hashtag. Many across the political spectrum have criticized Merkel’s lack of response or concrete action, including the Greens, Die Linke, and the AfD.
This event is the latest in a string of events that have put a heavy strain on German-Turkish relations. In 2016, the German comedian Jan Böhmermann made satirical jokes regarding Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The Turkish government responded by demanding the criminal prosecution of Böhmermann.
Germany is home of a large Turkish diaspora, estimated at over 2 million. Turkish politicians have taken to campaigning in Germany due to the high number of people holding dual citizenship and eligible to vote in Turkish elections and referendums. German politicians have been speaking out in increasing numbers against the rallies and campaign events of Turkish officials in Germany, citing the illiberal trends and general hypocrisy of the Erdogan-led government.
There is also the refugee deal in place between Turkey and the European Union, which helped suppress the flow of refugees into Germany.
Turkey has long been in talks to join the EU. However, accession talks have gone cold in recent years as Turkey trends further and further toward illiberalism.
Two recent petitions triggered debate amongst MPs in the UK: one against a state visit with 1.85 million votes and a second in favor which garnered 311,000 votes. Protesters gathered outside of Westminster as MPs discussed the matter. Paul Flynn, a member of the Labour Party, believes that proceeding with a state visit by the newly inaugurated U.S. President is “terribly wrong.” However, Tory member Nigel Evans, stated that the plans will not change for the planned visit.
In spite of disagreements over Trump’s visit, many believe that it is still in Britain’s national interest. Nonetheless, he will not address the Parliament in the wake of recent backlash by MPs. John Bercow, the Speaker of the Commons, has called for Trump to be barred from addressing Parliament. Trump’s visit will more than likely focus on a meeting with the Queen and other members of the Royal family.
Although the Government does not agree with Trump’s migration ban policy, it has highlighted the “special relationship” between the UK and the US. The US is one of the UK’s most important allies, and such a partnership is vital for economic prosperity and security. The Labour Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has expressed his displeasure with the “cruel and shameful” polices of Trump. Although he loves America and its citizens, he has mentioned that the special relationship between the US and UK calls for not only assisting one another through adversity, but also confronting each other when one commits wrongful actions.
Figures of controversy visiting the UK is not an uncommon occurrence. In the past, Queen Elizabeth has hosted Presidents Mobutu of Zaire and Nicolae Ceausescu of Romania. Regardless of this fact, Trump’s upcoming visit has caused much commotion in Britain. Trump’s arrival is unprecedented in the history of past U.S. presidential visits to the UK. Past U.S. presidents have never been invited for a state visit in their first year in office. Moreover, American presidents have traditionally waited several years to receive an invitation, while some have not even received the privilege of a state visit.
President Trump’s recent comments about NATO have left many to speculate on the future of US/NATO relations under Trump’s administration. In an interview with the London Times, President Trump was critical of numerous NATO members who do not meet the expected 2% of their GDP standard on defense spending.
As of April 2016, only 5 of the 28 members are spending this expected 2% of their GDP on defense, including the United States, UK, Poland, Estonia, and Greece. This has led many to question the commitment of the other 23 countries in NATO.
Additionally, the Trump administration appears to be cozying up to Putin and Russia, which brings up further questions about NATO’s future and the role the US will have in NATO. For years NATO has been a point of contention for Putin; especially after the inclusion of the former Warsaw Pact countries into NATO took place in the late 90’s and early 2000’s. The inclusion of the Warsaw Pact countries, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia, threaten Russia in two ways. First, geographically speaking, the proximity of Russia to these countries, specifically Poland who as noted before spends over 2% of their GDP on defense, is seen as a threat in Russia. Additionally, under the Obama administration, Poland was and still is currently being used for a US/NATO strategic missile defense. While the US has been adamant that the proximity of these missiles is to protect Europe from ‘rogue’ states, Moscow views these weapons as an attempt by the West to disrupt the security balance in Europe. Secondly, the inclusion of the former Warsaw Pact members is perceived as a slight against Russian prestige and honor. Putin has publicly declared his disapproval and hatred for Russian foreign policy decisions made during the 1990’s. Many scholars believe that Putin is on a mission to increase his influence over European affairs to regain Russian esteem.
There is widespread speculation about the future of US involvement in NATO under Trump’s administration. To put it simply, we do not know what President Trump will do. He is unpredictable, and this unpredictability is terrifying European leaders. It is the hopes of many, myself included, that a clear and concise strategy for continuous US involvement in NATO will be formulated after President Trump meets with NATO leaders this coming May.