Regional Security

Ukraine and European Security – What Lies Ahead?


On January 27, the EastWest Institute and The Hanns Seidel Foundation will host a roundtable debate on the political future of Ukraine and European security.

Following the presidential and parliamentary elections in Ukraine in 2019, hopes and expectations towards the new Ukrainian political leadership have been on the rise. Since his election, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has taken some initiatives, including carefully negotiated prisoner exchanges, to ease tensions with Russia and deliver on his top electoral promise to end the conflict in the Eastern part of the country. In December, after more than three years, a further meeting in the Normandy-Format took place in Paris. Many argue that it produced limited outcomes, while nonetheless inducing hopes that Russia and Ukraine might be returning to a path of resolving the conflict politically.

Peace in Ukraine continues to be essential for European security. With the next Normandy-Format meeting envisioned for March, the question is: What lies ahead for Ukraine and European security? How is the current situation perceived by political actors and people in Ukraine? What is the role of the Ukrainian parliament? What can the EU do to facilitate a peaceful solution to the conflict?

Economic Policy in Russia Under the New Government: What to Expect?


On January 29, the EastWest Institute and The Hanns Seidel Foundation will host a roundtable debate on Russian economic policy under the new government.

The year 2020 started with a big surprise in Russia. The federal government unexpectedly resigned from office. At the same time president Vladimir Putin appointed Michail Mishustin—the head of the federal tax administration—as the new prime minister. It is now his task to coordinate the government's work to strengthen the Russian economy that—so far—turned out to be rather robust in spite of the sanctions.
What effect do sanctions and counter-sanctions—still setting the frame and the tone for EU-Russia relations—have and how will the new government cope with their consequences? Are there even harder effects to be expected for the future? How does Moscow see its position in the world economy?

Hassan to Speak at EPC Policy Dialogue on U.S.-Iran Crisis

On January 23, Kawa Hassan, vice president of EWI's Middle East and North Africa program, will speak at the European Policy Centre's (EPC) latest policy dialogue entitled "The U.S.-Iran crisis: impact and implications for the region, Europe and beyond."  

The dialogue will address the potential consequences to the stability of the Middle East following the death of Iranian Major General Qasem Soleimani, as well as the future role of the U.S. and Europe in the region. 

Other featured speakers include: Christian Koch, senior advisor at the Bussola Institute; Joost Hilterman, program director at the International Crisis Group; Adnan Tabatabai, CEO at CARPO - Center for Applied Research in Partnership with the Orient; and moderator Amanda Paul, senior policy analyst at the European Policy Centre.

Click here to read more about the event.

U.S. and Iran: Preventing the Next War

In 1962, you could not have found two more diametrically opposed leaders than John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev. And yet, despite their significant differences in politics, economies and culture, they found a way to prevent war on a global scale. History may very well show that the United States and the Iran have shown similar restraint in the past months.

The 13-day tense stand-off between the United States and Soviet Union ended in October 1962 after both sides gave the other a way out—the opportunity to save face without going to war. When Kennedy ordered a naval blockade around Cuba, Khrushchev agreed to remove Soviet missiles from Cuba if Kennedy would secretively remove U.S. missiles from Turkey. If Kennedy had ordered a major strike on the Soviet missiles in Cuba or Khrushchev had not turned his fleet around when it met the American blockade, we may be living in a very different world today. 

The results of the Cuban Missile Crisis included an understanding by the U.S. and Soviet Union that both nations were willing to risk internal political support for the greater good of preventing a war. Additionally, lines of communications—including the development of a hotline between the two leaders—was developed.

Despite the wild rhetoric surrounding decisions made by Iran and the United States in the past months, both sides have shown a degree of restraint that history will likely show to have prevented major conflict and significant loss of life. The United States did not overreact to the temporary capture of U.S. sailors who strayed into Iranian waters, even when they ought to have been simply escorted out of territorial waters by the Iranians. Nor did the U.S. respond aggressively when its drone was shot down, when international tankers were attacked or when the U.S. Embassy was threatened resulting in the death of a civilian contractor. The United States did act by killing a designated terrorist and leader of the force responsible for the deaths of many Americans over the past decades—including the development of explosively formed penetrators (EFPs), which killed many American service personnel in Iraq. In response, instead of escalating tensions directly, Iran fired missiles into the desert minimally damaging one base rather than targeting American soldiers on two remote bases in Iraq. 

Today, there exists a set of opportunities by the United States and Iran to move off the battlefield to the negotiating table. This can start quickly with a signed agreement between the United States and Iran known as the Incidents at Sea Agreement. This agreement was developed by the EastWest Institute and Search for Common Ground two years ago in quiet coordination between American and Iranian experts. It's purpose was to ensure that a tactical mistake on, under or above the seas by either Iran or the United States does not result in a strategic-level misstep that could lead to hostilities. Additionally, there exists now an ideal diplomatic opportunity to re-address the very complicated Iranian nuclear non-proliferation issues. The current American leadership deemed the previous administration's Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) to be defective and insufficient in addressing ongoing Iranian advances in nuclear material enrichment, ballistic missile capabilities and in fielding nuclear weapons—herein lies another opportunity for diplomatic engagement. An American and Iranian willingness to re-engage with NATO and European parties on moving beyond the previous JCPOA would certainly be a win/win for all parties.

The time to move to the next step of strategic patience and conflict prevention is now. In the meanwhile, let’s give both nations credit for not allowing this potential tragedy to spin out of control.

Yemen’s Way Forward: Rethinking Current Approaches to Economy and Development


Yemen’s Way Forward will take stock of the current challenges Yemen is facing regarding development and the economy, analyze the effectiveness of the current approaches and discuss the roles as well as the need for more effective collaboration between the relevant actors. The discussions will also touch upon how the current situation is affecting the peace process and vice versa. Furthermore, the event will explore some of the latest research outputs from the Rethinking Yemen’s Economy initiative.

Delayed Results of Afghan Election Overshadow the Fortitude of the Country’s Electorate

On November 14th 2019, the EastWest Institute convened a roundtable discussion entitled “The Results of the Afghanistan Elections: Consequences for the Peace Process and Future EU Policy.” As the title suggests, the discussion was set to address the electoral results of September 28, Afghanistan’s fourth presidential election since 2001. In a change of events, the discussion took place against the backdrop of another delay in the results, as announced just a day before by Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission (IEC).

The results had actually been delayed once before and were set to be announced on the day of EWI’s roundtable until the IEC postponed them once again until further notice. This sense of confusion surrounding the election, its results, and its implications for the peace process became the dominant theme of the discussion as the guest speakers – Ambassador Nazifullah Salarzai of the Embassy and Mission of Afghanistan to the Kingdom of Belgium, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, the EU and NATO and Ambassador Roland Kobia, EU Special Envoy for Afghanistan for the European External Action Service (EEAS) – presented their perspectives.

Following the two insightful presentations and dialogue among participants, it became abundantly clear to everyone in attendance that the final election results being announced are linked to the future viability of the peace process. While continuing delay affirms the fact that the IEC has taken all candidates’ concerns into consideration, any further delay also risks undermining the legitimacy of Afghanistan’s democracy; feeding into the Taliban narrative that the political class in Kabul is ineffective.

Throughout the discussion, participants reiterated the need for the Afghan people to have clarity so their elected representatives can move forward with trying to bring forty years of violence to an end. The case of the 2014 election, whereby then U.S. secretary of State John Kerry managed to strike a power-sharing agreement between sitting President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah to form the current National Unity Government, was not seen as an ideal model to resolve any tensions that could emerge from the September election. It was seen as important for Afghanistan to own its own political destiny and not rely on continued external influence to resolve its internal political debates and governance. Emphasis was thus placed on Afghan politicians to produce a legitimate winner to the election on their own terms.

Given the multiple overlapping issues which have plagued the election – from threats of violence at polling stations, to accusations of fraud and complications with a new biometric system; or from U.S. President Trump’s tweets announcing the cancelation of peace talks with the Taliban at Camp David to further delays of the election result – a poignant theme of the roundtable discussion was the ease by which conversations on Afghanistan can too often focus solely on the negativities surrounding the country.

A key positive indicator is that despite the low voter turnout for the September election, those individuals that did turn out to cast their ballot demonstrated astonishing courage. The fact the election took place illustrates a certain degree of respect for the country’s constitution, and in turn solidifies its importance and centrality to overall governance.

It is often said that donor fatigue has set in across the west when it comes to Afghanistan, with donors and governments alike beginning to lose interest in the country and writing it off as a lost cause. However, if any number of ordinary Afghans, no matter how small, are willing to place themselves in danger to actively participate in a democratic process, then it should be recognized that these votes legitimize the institutional functionality of democracy. As a result, they are immensely significant and should be nurtured as much as possible. To shun these achievements and focus solely on the negatives would be a great disservice to the bravery and fortitude of the Afghan electorate. 

Dr. Wolfgang Klapper, Annie Cowan

Muhammad Bin Salman’s Sovereign Wealth Fund: Economic Reforms and Power Consolidation in Saudi Arabia


The German Institute for International and Security Affairs – Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP) and the EastWest Institute (EWI) are pleased to invite you to an expert exchange on the goals and political motivations behind the establishment of Saudi Arabia’s Sovereign Wealth Fund (SWF).

SWP's Stephan Roll will set the scene for the debate with a brief presentation of his latest research paper “A Sovereign Wealth Fund for the Prince.”

Hassan Talks Prospects of Iraqi Demonstrations

EWI’s Vice President, Middle East & North Africa Program, Kawa Hassan, appeared on Al Araby TV on November 2 to analyze the prospects of ongoing protests in Iraq and the reaction of the ruling class. The other two speakers participating in the interview were Professor Akeel Abbas, Lecturer, American University of Iraq, Sulaimani and Dr. Haider Saeed, Head of Research Department, Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies & Editor-in-Chief of the Siyasaat Arabiya Journal, Doha.  

Click here to watch the interview on Al Araby TV (Arabic). Hassan’s comments are at the intervals 10:17-13:30, 19:34-23:12, and 31:26-33:30.      

Two Symbolic Spots

The protesters in Baghdad want to get to the Green Zone due to its symbolism- this is the place where the government, political class and foreign embassies are based. The demonstrators associate this zone with the corruption of the ruling elite. Tahrir Square is the place where demonstrators come together, chant their slogans and vent their anger at the government- this square was the scene of previous mass demonstrations and therefore has a huge symbolic value for the protest movement. The demonstrations are not confined to Baghdad, though. There are big demonstrations in southern provinces since the South of Iraq has been marginalized; the corruption of ruling elites in these provinces is unprecedented and ubiquitous.

Twin Tsunamis: Enough is Enough

We can consider these demonstrations as twin tsunamis -political and popular-  that have shaken Iraqi politics to its core. The unprecedented acts of resistance surprised the ruling elite, even the traditional populist leader Sadr, the classical opposition and the protesters themselves. This is due to the rising political consciousness of the Iraqis in general and the youth in particular. Two factors contributed to this increased popular awareness. First, state capture and corruption of the post-2003 political class have reached astronomical levels. The Iraqis are fed up with the failings of the ruling class and refuse to accept it any more. The corruption has reached a level that even the ruling elite itself acknowledges it as fact. Second, social media played a decisive role in popular mobilization. Having said that, we should not fall into the trap of romanticizing and idealizing social media.  

Revolutionary Moment, New Nationalism  

The creative, innovative, revolutionary, determined nature of the protest movement, in particular during the second wave that started on October 25, has empowered ordinary citizens and made them a force to be reckoned with. There is a sense of a new Iraqi nationalism championed by Shiites, but it is cross-sectarian at the same time. For the first time since 2003 we observe the emergence of a social movement that refuses to be monopolized by traditional opposition such the Sadrist movement. However, even though the Sadrist movement is not at the center of the protest movement, its members and supporters actively participate in the demonstrations. The populist cleric Muqtada al-Sadr is trying his best to remain an important part of the protest movement.

Impossible Reform?

The Prime Minister, President and Speaker of Parliament announced a series of reforms. But given the violent response of security forces and lack of willingness to implement real reforms, these measures come as too little, too late. A recent decision by the Iraqi parliament summarizes the two systemic problems of the post-2003 political class, namely Muhasasa Ta’ifia (sectarian apportionment of government posts based on sectarian, ethnic loyalties and not merits) and lack of political will to reform this sectarian system. At the height of the demonstrations, the parliament decided to appoint the heads of the federal service authority and Iraqi media network on the basis of the infamous Muhasasa Ta’ifia against which the Iraqi people are protesting, doing business as usual as if nothing had happened. Iraqi leaders missed a historic opportunity to regain the trust of the Iraqi people and demonstrate to the protestors and international community they are serious about reforming the system. As a result, at the moment Iraq is stuck in a political deadlock.  

Future Prospects

Despite the conflict between Iran and the US, paradoxically it seems at least for now that both countries want to support the Iraqi government due to fear for the unknown and the threat of chaos, albeit for different strategic reasons. What will happen next depends on the actions of the government and political class. If security forces continue to use brute force against demonstrators, and ruling elites refuse to implement real, serious and meaningful reforms, one scenario might be that the protesters will become radicalized, or even militarized to defend themselves.   

EWI and CARPO Launch Joint Project on “Iraq and its Neighbors”

The EastWest Institute’s Middle East and North Africa (MENA) program and CARPO proudly announce the launch of a joint project on “Iraq and Its Neighbors,” which aims to enhance dialogue and regional integration between Iraq and surrounding countries, specifically Turkey, Jordan, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. The project will organize a series of bilateral working groups that aim at fostering exchange on topics and issues of common interest and challenges including trade, border control, climate change, reconstruction, security and counterterrorism.

EastWest Institute Vice President for MENA Kawa Hassan and CARPO CEO Adnan Tabatabai signed a Memorandum of Understanding to kick off the partnership launch in Brussels on Tuesday the June 5, 2019.

“Iraq and Its Neighbors” will run for 18 months and is supported financially by the European Union’s Foreign Policy Instrument.


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