Europe

Walking the Precipice: Reforming Ukraine through International Pressure

“Ukraine stands at the forefront of the battle between authoritarianism and liberal democracy. The country’s commitment and capacity to progress towards self-reliance are hampered by an ongoing two-front war—against Russia’s full scale aggression on the one hand, and against its internal legacy of corruption on the other.” —USAID 1/13/2020

Image of Volodymyr Zelensky

By Lidia Powirska

... Read more about Walking the Precipice: Reforming Ukraine through International Pressure

We Can Do It! (Or Can We?) Angela Merkel’s Immigration Politics

Germany faces the political and social challenges of migration.

Image of "Wir schaffen das" written on a cracked German flag

In 2015, German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced she would open borders to refugees, especially to those fleeing the war in Syria. This act immediately created a new reputation for Germany as being Europe’s most welcoming country. But sometimes well-meaning policies collide with realities on the ground. WCFIA Visiting Scholar Gökce Yurdakul and coauthor Hartmut Koenitz examine the political pressures that have challenged—and even warped—Merkel’s progressive goals toward migrants. 

By Gökce Yurdakul and Hartmut Koenitz

The immigration politics of Angela Merkel is a sensitive issue in our household. I told my partner Hartmut that we should write about Angela Merkel’s immigration and gender politics in time for her commencement speech at Harvard, and his reply was a curt “have fun.”

I, Gökce, came to Germany as a Turkish immigrant a decade ago, and for immigrants like me, Merkel has been a symbol of encouragement. Her famous words “Wir schaffen das!” or “We can do it!” (similar to Obama’s “Yes, we can!”) illustrated the legacy of Merkel’s political office in one message: “Welcome to Germany; we will accommodate you.” Her statements felt like a green light for many of us immigrants, and showed more acceptance than migrants to Germany had seen in the last fifty-five years, ever since Germany’s guest worker agreements with Turkey and other southern European and North African countries1 sparked a wave of migration to Germany after World War II.

My partner, Hartmut, on the other hand, takes an entirely different view. Whenever Angela Merkel’s politics is the topic of discussion in our home, he explains how for many Germans of his generation—people who were born in the 1970s in Germany—Merkel mostly represents a standstill, an extension of her mentor Helmut Kohl’s quest to keeping the status quo. In German media and politics, Merkel has been notoriously criticized in the past for her politics of Aussitzen (meaning “sitting out,” or stoically waiting for challenges to pass) as opposed to making fundamental changes, such as in the reform years of the Social Democratic and Green Party coalition (1998–2005) before her term. 

But I don’t see stagnation in Merkel’s migration policy; I believe she has steered Germany in a more progressive direction. How do we explain our vastly different interpretations of Merkel’s politics?... Read more about We Can Do It! (Or Can We?) Angela Merkel’s Immigration Politics

Trump’s Impact on the World: Timothy J. Colton on Russia

Harvard Professor of Government and Russian Studies Timothy Colton discusses the fraught relationship between the US and Russia under the Trump administration.

Image of Tim Colton and Melani Cammett at the orientation panel

This is the third blog post in a series of edited transcripts from a panel on Trump's presidency held during our orientation in August 28, 2018. Our three panelists were Christina L. Davis, Melani Cammett, and Timothy Colton. 

Since the panel took place, the following events have occurred. The investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election has intensified, with more indictments and sentences handed down to President Trump’s associates, bringing the total number of indictments and guilty pleas in the investigation to thirty-three.

In October, the Justice Department filed criminal charges against several Russian operatives, accusing them of conducting “information warfare” during the US midterm elections. In a constitutionally questionable move the day after the midterms, President Trump replaced Attorney General Jeff Sessions with Matthew Whitaker, who is serving as acting attorney general overseeing the investigation until an official replacement is confirmed.

Further, Trump’s abrupt announcement in December that he would be withdrawing American troops from Syria prompted the sudden resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. The troop withdrawal was praised by Vladimir Putin, who analysts say can now work more strategically with Assad to form a dominant power alliance in the region.

This transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

Talk delivered by Timothy Colton:

So let's talk about Trump and Russia. 

This is a tangled tale. I sat down last night to try and update my sense of this. I've written a few op-ed pieces, but I think it's very hard to do scholarly work that comes to the point of publishing really scholarly papers, let alone books, on this subject because it changes almost from week to week. 

Once we have some distance in time, we may be able to make better sense of it than we can just for the moment. It is a tangled tale, and it also has been rendered. You [Melani Cammett] mentioned cable television. So cable television, of course, is on this story, but often in a rather simple-minded way, it seems to me. And it would be nice to improve on the media interpretation, but it's hard to come up with an alternative one that's more grounded in normal scholarly frames.... Read more about Trump’s Impact on the World: Timothy J. Colton on Russia

Hope for a New Transatlantic Relationship

An important transformation is occurring in Europe. Whether we call it a move toward “strategic autonomy,” “sovereignty,” or whatever else, it is forging a new trajectory of self-reliance.

Image of US and EU chess pieces on a board

By Adrien Abecassis

Since taking office, Donald Trump—the president of Europe’s greatest ally—has publicly castigated his counterparts in Europe, denounced Europe as being “set up to take advantage of the US,” and characterized the Europeans not as allies but as “foes.” 

The approach of not taking these statements seriously, or downplaying them, did not last very long. To the Europeans, they are serious. For them, the options were always to wait for the Trump storm to pass in the hope of reverting to a “normal” transatlantic relationship once he was out of office, or react and deal with the consequences. Increasingly, Europeans are moving toward the latter.

Growing calls for a “sovereign Europe”
 

“Europe can no longer entrust its security to the United States alone. It is up to us to assume our responsibilities and to guarantee European security and, thereby, sovereignty,” declared French President Emmanuel Macron in his annual grand speech on foreign policy earlier this month. “And we have only one credible European response: that of our strategic autonomy,” he continued. The French Ministry of Defense echoed him a few days after: “A European defense today is an imperative. We can no longer shelter under the American umbrella.”

A “sovereign Europe” has remained a key theme of Macron’s speeches since his election campaign began. One may say that a French president advocating for greater independence has been nothing new since de Gaulle. But other European leaders have joined Macron. Alluding to the American leadership, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that “the times in which we could totally rely on others are to some extent over. We Europeans must really take our fate into our own hands.” 

That statement caused some stir. Her foreign minister doubled down, suggesting in an opinion piece that after seventy years of depending on the US, Europe should pursue “a new world order” in which Germany, France, and its European partners should seek a “balanced partnership” with Washington. For good measure, he added, “Where the USA crosses the line, we Europeans must form a counterweight—as difficult as that can be,” and advised Europe advance “where America retreats.” Merkel had to downplay the tone by calling this comment a “personal expression.” However, her own spokesman immediately stressed that “the article conveyed much of what constitutes the common stance of the government towards the United States” and that it “presents observations that are preoccupying the government—namely stronger European unity and the question of Europe taking on more responsibility.”

In turn, two weeks ago, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker titled his annual State of the European Union speech, “The Hour of European Sovereignty,” asserting that the “geopolitical situation makes this Europe’s hour: the time for European sovereignty has come. It is time Europe took its destiny into its own hands. It is time Europe developed what I coined Weltpolitikfähigkeit—the capacity to play a role in shaping global affairs. Europe has to become a more sovereign actor in international relations.” Indeed, “strategic autonomy” is itself a goal defined in the last EU Global Strategy for Foreign and Defense Policy.... Read more about Hope for a New Transatlantic Relationship

Insight on Syria: What Are Putin's Motives?

Russia’s direct entry into the Syrian conflict in September 2015 was spurred by a plethora of motivations. Russian scholars Rawi Abdelal and Alexandra Vacroux unpack the various rationales. 

Image of Putin, Assad, and others

By Rawi Abdelal and Alexandra Vacroux

Fourth in a series that asks Weatherhead Center affiliates to examine the dimensions shaping the Syrian conflict.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has confounded American policy makers with his agenda in the Middle East for at least the past decade. Russia’s stance has varied in its accord with Western policies, at times seeming to align—as in Libya and Yemen—and other times shirking, by showing indifference toward Iran’s nuclear program violations. Western diplomats have long puzzled over Putin’s real aims in the region and whether or not he could ever be a reliable ally. 
 
Russian airstrikes in Syria in 2015 marked a turning point in its foreign policy. Taking full advantage of the vacuum created by President Obama’s failure to intervene, Russia stepped in to lead, signaling Moscow’s new commitment to involvement in the region. Just two years prior, Putin had refused to export missiles systems to Syria, raising hopes in the West for a possible partnership that could help to stabilize the region. It was not to be. Russian officials fanned speculation and confusion about its actions in Syria. To the public, they skewed the purpose of intervention, first claiming to target Islamic State, then “terrorists” in general. In fact, Russian bombs fell on anti-Assad rebel groups, some of whom were armed and trained by US intelligence agencies. Thus began a protracted “proxy war” between the United States and Russia that continues today.

Putin is now entering his fourth term as president, buoyed by high levels of public support. Syria is facing its eighth year of conflict, and is now a devastated country, in large part due to the deadly Russian bombing strategy that destroyed densely populated areas and many thousands of Syrian lives. Last December, Putin and Assad together declared victory over Islamic State and announced the eventual reduction of Russian armed forces. Nevertheless, the proxy war rages on, with Russia’s continuing air and ground assaults against US-backed rebels. 

Taking Syrian intervention as a pivot point in Russian foreign policy, the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs asked Faculty Associate Rawi Abdelal and Alexandra Vacroux—director and executive director of Harvard’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, respectively—to demystify Putin’s overarching goals in the region, and to consider what they might mean for future relations with the West.... Read more about Insight on Syria: What Are Putin's Motives?

Insight on Syria: The Unseen Challenges of Refugee Integration in Germany

For Syrian refugees fortunate enough to reach Germany—a model among European countries for its commitment to refugees—the day-to-day realities and the uncertainty of their futures loom large.

Image of Syrian Refugee

Third in a series that asks Weatherhead Center affiliates to examine the dimensions shaping the Syrian conflict.

Weatherhead Center Undergraduate Research Fellow Hanaa Masalmeh spent a semester in Germany studying Syrian refugee integration. Her work focuses on the formal and informal structures of integration, especially on the role of women—both German and Syrian—in the integration process. This article, written by Masalmeh, is based on her research on volunteer groups in Bavaria, Germany. Names have been changed to afford privacy to the interviewees.

Every Wednesday and Friday, Barbra gets into her blue Volkswagen and drives five minutes down the road to a small yellow house near a churchyard. After carefully parking her car and grabbing her brown messenger bag, she knocks on the door. 

Barbra is a Sprachpartner, a volunteer who makes sure that Syrian refugees are learning German. Barbra also explains the basics of German culture, helps Syrians open bank accounts, file insurance claims, and apply for work. 

A young man opens the door and invites Barbra inside. “Mohammad!” Barbra says, greeting him with a hug. “Welcome, Grandmother!” the young man responds jokingly, and Barbra laughs.

Like the majority of volunteers in Bavaria, Barbra is a woman in her fifties. The Syrian men Barbra works with are in their early twenties—young enough to be her children.... Read more about Insight on Syria: The Unseen Challenges of Refugee Integration in Germany