All posts by Wikistrat

New Wikistrat Simulation: Confronting Libya’s Turmoil

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Today, Wikistrat launches a 48-hour speed simulation in which analysts are asked to design policy options for Libya’s neighbors, Arab Gulf states, the European Union and the United States to confront the tumultuous situation in the country.

More than three years after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi, the Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS) is taking advantage of the political chaos in Libya, stepping up attacks and establishing strongholds there. Recently, ISIS fighters were shown beheading 21 Egyptian Christians on a Libyan beach; the group also claimed responsibility for a bombing that killed at least 35 in the city of Qubba.

Libya has grown increasingly unstable over the last year due to violence among competing militias and rivalry between two separate governments: the internationally-recognized, Tobruk-based government led by Prime Minister Abdullah Al-Thinni, and the Islamist-sympathetic government led by Omar Al-Hassi out of Tripoli.

Reports indicate that ISIS militants have established a base in the city of Derna, where Egypt carried out airstrikes following the execution of the Coptic hostages. Two million Egyptians live in Libya, but many have begun returning home as the situation deteriorates.

Some residents say ISIS is levying taxes and setting up courts in Derna. The group has also seized a university in Sirte, and videos circulate on social media show ISIS troops patrolling the streets there.

The number of ISIS fighters currently in Libya is unclear, but reports indicate that members of local Islamist militias are defecting to ISIS ranks.

The foreign minister of Libya’s internationally recognized government, Mohamed Dayri, told U.S. officials in Washington that his government needs immediate military assistance to deal with the situation. But the U.S. is reluctant to provide aid until a government of national unity is formed.

Meanwhile, Qatar has recalled its ambassador from Egypt to protest its intervention in Libya. The Gulf Cooperation Council, however, has given its full support to Egypt, issuing a statement that said it backed Cairo in “fighting terrorism and protecting its citizens at home and abroad.”

The Qatari government supports the Fajr Libya (Libya Dawn) Islamist alliance in Tripoli, while the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have joined Egypt in supporting the recognized government in Tobruk and its main military backer, General Khalifa Haftar.

The current challenge is to combine the efforts of interested countries to prevent ISIS from gaining further control of Libya and ensuring the extremist organization does not spread into other North African states like Tunisia, Morocco and Algeria.

Are you interested in participating in simulations like these? Apply for membership to the analytic community here.

Stay tuned to Wikistrat’s Facebook and Twitter channels for updates and insights from this simulation!

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Ask Wikistrat Staff — Dr. Shay Hershkovitz

Wikistrat’s Facebook and Twitter followers recently engaged in a 24-hour exclusive Q&A session with the Director of Wikistrat’s Analytic Community, Dr. Shay Hershkovitz. Questions and Dr. Hershkovitz’s answers are transcribed below.

Shay Hershkovitz

As Director of the Analytic Community, Dr. Shay Hershkovitz oversees and guides the activity of Wikistrat’s ever-expanding network of experts and he is involved in the development of Wikistrat’s methodology and product offerings.

A former senior intelligence officer, Dr. Hershkovitz has accumulated experience in analysis of complex security and political environments. He also has a specialization in political analysis — particularly that which pertains to the Middle East. He earned a PhD in Political Science and lectured at several colleges and universities, specializing in consumer culture, globalization and political theory.

Before joining Wikistrat, Dr. Hershkovitz operated a boutique consultancy specializing in competitive intelligence analysis and developed unique methodologies for business war-games.

Matt R. Batten-Carew: I’m in the process of completing my second Master’s and during my studies I have met many people who have been interested in becoming involved with Wikistrat. Does Wikistrat currently run any regular recruitment partnerships with universities? If not, is this something that might be possible in the future?

Answer: Wikistrat has and will continue to work with universities from around the world to complement a wide variety of initiatives. Specifically in regard to recruitment, we are looking for potential analysts with significant academic and professional experience. To that end, directly targeting individuals in the upper levels of study or in teaching has been more beneficial for our goals than casting a wide net. That said, we are always looking for new opportunities to improve our work and remain open to developing connections with universities, honor societies and alumni networks to ensure that qualified candidates are aware of what we offer.

Christoph Unrast: How could Wikistrat utilize that its analysts are participating from different time zones?

Answer: Wikistrat already utilizes the fact that its analysts are participating in activities from different time zones. It enables round-the-clock coverage and significantly cuts down production time, something that is especially important in client projects. In addition, different time zones minimize periods of low activity in the community network, thus increasing the interactivity of Wikistrat’s various features.

Ask a Senior Analyst — S. Ayse Kadayifci-Orellana

Wikistrat’s Facebook and Twitter followers recently engaged in a 24-hour exclusive Q&A session with one of Wikistrat’s Senior Analysts, Dr. S. Ayse Kadayifci-Orellana. Questions and Dr. Kadayifci-Orellana’s answers are transcribed below.

Ayse Kadayifci-Orellana

Dr. S. Ayse Kadayifci-Orellana is the Interim Associate Director and Visiting Assistant Professor at Georgetown University’s MA program in Conflict Resolution. Before going to Georgetown University, she served as a consultant for the Religion and Peacebuilding Program at the United States Institute of Peace and as an Assistant Professor in the field of Peace and Conflict Resolution at the School of International Service at American University, Washington DC. She is also a founding member of the Salam Institute for Peace and Justice, where she served as the Associate Director. She is the author of Standing on an Isthmus: Islamic Narratives of War and Peace in the Palestinian Territories and co-authored and edited the volume Anthology on Islam and Peace and Conflict Resolution in Islam: Precept and Practice.

Ariel Reichard: How would you characterize Turkish policy toward the Syrian civil war? While in the beginning Turkey tended to support Assad, it now vehemently opposes his regime. While it views ISIS as the enemy, it refuses to support Kurdish fighters against it and denies them free access to the Syrian front. Do you see a way for Turkey out of its deadlock and indecisiveness? Do you envision any constructive role for Turkey in what is currently happening in Syria?

Answer: Turkish policy toward Syria cannot be comprehended without understanding the challenges the civil war there created for Turkey. After 2000, Turkish-Syrian relations blossomed and then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and President Bashar al-Assad developed a personal friendship. But relationship soured after the 2011 uprising in Syria. Turkey’s attitude gradually moved from being that of a “big brother” advising Assad to implement democratic reforms to one of an ‘archenemy’ cutting diplomatic ties and championing political and armed intervention to remove Assad from power.

Turkey’s initial reaction to Syria was partly the result of overestimating Turkey’s influence over Assad. Erdoğan assumed his relationship with Assad would be sufficient to convince the Syrian leader to implement the recommended reforms. However, Syria perceived Turkey’s attitude as as a form of “Ottoman colonialism.” Turkey, in turn, saw Syria’s refusal to follow its advice as a sign of disrespect — and as undermining Turkey’s regional credibility and legitimacy. Soon after, in line with Western governments, Turkey started to support the Syrian opposition to overthrow Assad and facilitated initiatives, meetings, trainings and military support to the Syrian opposition.

Turkey received more than one million Syrian refugees and asylum-seekers. The influx of so many refugees has caused enormous problems for Turkey and at times created conflict between local populations and refugees, something that has influenced Turkish public opinion of the country’s Syria policy.

Another factor that influenced Turkey’s policy is the nature of the Syrian opposition. Exactly who the rebel groups are, what their objectives are, their positions and their relations with each other is still unclear. Turkey nevertheless supported the opposition was particularly sympathetic toward Islamic groups. ISIS benefited from this confusion. It is now widely accepted that many of the ISIS leaders have been treated in Turkey and many militants went to Syria from Turkey, but it is unclear if they were aware of the extremist agenda of ISIS or the extent of the threat.

There are now many sympathizers of ISIS in Turkey. Recent protests in support of ISIS not only shocked many Turks, but also reminded the government of the vulnerability of the domestic security situation. Many in Turkey, including government officials, fear the repercussions were it to join the anti-ISIS coalition.

Another complication for Turkey was the siege of the Kurdish town of Kobani by ISIS and the looming massacre of many innocent Kurdish citizens there. Kobani posed a unique challenge for Turkey because it was a stronghold of the PKK, the Kurdistan Worker’s Party of Turkey, and the PYD, the Democratic Union Party of Syria. Both are considered terrorist organizations by Turkey and many Western governments. Although Turkey has initiated a peace process to end the conflict with the Kurds domestically, it maintained that the PKK was a terrorist group. Turkish officials have even stated that the PKK is as evil as ISIS and that there should be no distinction between them.

Any Turkish effort to relieve the Kobani siege would have put Turkey on the side of the PKK and the PYD against ISIS. The AKP government needed to avoid that impression at any cost, especially with elections coming up in June 2015. If Erdogan is to expand his new presidential powers, he cannot afford to alienate nationalists who are fiercly anti-PKK. For that reason, he let Kurdish militias from northern Iraq enter Syria from Turkey. Read More →

If Britain Exits the EU

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November 10, 2014
Washington, D.C.

If Britain Exits the EU,

It Needs to Reinvent Its Place in the World

If Britain does exit the European Union, it would need a clear sense of the sort of a country it wants to be or it could easily end up in a much worse position, according to analysis from Wikistrat, the world’s first crowdsourced consultancy.

In an online strategic simulation, more than 80 Wikistrat analysts envisaged as many as 26 pathways for a United Kingdom outside the European Union. Those scenarios in which Britain thrived were predicated on Britain leaving the EU of its own accord, rather than being pushed out; and Britain successfully reinventing its place in the world.

If it fails to meet either of those conditions, the outcome will at best be mixed.

The greatest danger is that other European countries underestimate British Eurosceptic sentiment. If they agree to deeper political integration and a further centralization of powers in Brussels, the British public is more likely to turn against the project altogether.

This, combined with Prime Minister David Cameron overplaying his hand in negotiations — as he has been prone to do — could result in an “accidental” British withdrawal from the European Union, even if neither Cameron nor his European counterparts want it.

Unprepared for an EU-exit, Britain will then likely scramble for membership in the European Economic Area. However, doing so would subject the country to almost all the regulations it sought to escape while denying it any say in EU rulemaking.

The EU could retaliate by restricting British employment and trade opportunities on the Continent, weakening Britain’s economic recovery and exacerbating unemployment within migrant groups, thus creating a vicious cycle of isolation, xenophobia, and poor economic performance.

Unless British leaders come up with a positive vision of their country’s identity outside the EU, the very conditions that would drive voters to say “no” to Europe in a referendum risk becoming worse.

If Britain does chart its own course, it could leave the EU on the back of a surging economy. The countries that use the euro remain mired in low growth, but Britain, with its own currency, is one of the fastest-growing economies in the developed world. Outside the EU, it could continue doing business with Europe while negotiating more favorable trade relations with emerging economies in Asia and Latin America.

One way to achieve this would be by reinvigorating the European Free Trade Association, which Britain helped found in 1960. Rejoining it would enhance British trade relations with the Commonwealth, strengthen bilateral ties with the United States, and maintain continued access to continental markets. Thus, an EU-exit would not mean isolation for Britain, but an involvement in regional integration dynamics, which would appease both Britain’s internal idiosyncrasies and European traders. Read More →

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Ask a Senior Analyst — R. Jordan Prescott

Wikistrat’s Facebook and Twitter followers recently engaged in a 24-hour exclusive Q&A session with one of Wikistrat’s Senior Analysts, R. Jordan Prescott. Questions and Mr. Prescott’s answers are transcribed below.

Robert Jordan Prescott

Robert Jordan Prescott is a private contractor working in defense and national security. He blogs about American politics and security at House of Marathon.

Bilyana Lilly: Would you envision the U.S. reducing its military commitments in Europe given pressures for fiscal discipline on one hand and an increasingly aggressive Russian foreign policy posture on the other?

Answer: In my estimation over the near term (2014-2017), the United States posture in Europe will neither increase nor decrease. Specifically, the U.S. will not add to existing levels of manpower and equipment, but will shift extant posture eastward to reassure allies and deter Russia.

First, the impetus for fiscal discipline now becomes subject to the agenda of the newly-elected Republican Senate majority. Historically, Republicans have more supportive of a muscular foreign policy and higher defense spending; whether these traditions still hold and will translate again into formal policy and legislative provisions is unknown. The Republican Party is currently involved in a debate between its conservative establishment wing, which endorses intervention abroad and expanding military capabilities, and a libertarian insurgent wing, which is more selective in regard to intervention and more prepared to scrutinize Department of Defense organizational performance. The former will have concurrent allies in the form of bureaucratic constituencies and the industrial base; the latter will not, but is able to mobilize voters. Accordingly, a potential compromise would entail a Republican Congress producing a fairly static defense budget (or minor increases), with substantial shifts within the underlying accounts.

Second, the aforementioned debate between the two wings will play out more sharply in the 2016 Republican presidential primarily election. The final presidential ticket may be balanced, but a single individual will still be the clear representative of one wing or the other.

The last Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, named Russia as America’s principal geopolitical threat. In light of interim events, a number of Republican candidates might expand upon that theme.

The Democratic presidential race is less competitive, but the presumed frontrunners are veterans of the incumbent administration and have signaled their readiness to adjust policy. Accordingly, the two major party nominees will likely be proponents of a more confrontational stance and may be prepared to “out-bid” each other. As such, policy after 2017 is very difficult to predict.

To conclude, the military posture in Europe is still undergoing adjustment downward from the end of the Cold War. Russia’s foreign policy, while provocative, will not reverse these plans, but postpone them. Proponents of a “greater commitment” will likely succeed in approving more funding for training, exercises and deployments to Eastern Europe (and maybe accelerated deployment of missile defense systems). Proponents of a “fiscally-responsible” Department of Defense will likely expect continued downsizing and engagement with Russia. Lastly, this baseline will influence the 2016 presidential race and may lead to Democratic and Republican nominees competing on anti-Russia foreign policy positions. Read More →

Heightened Tensions in the East and South China Seas: Wikistrat Report

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Territorial disputes, rising tensions and increased military capabilities in the East and South China Seas: will this lead to a regional arms race and potential conflict, or will cooler heads prevail and quell any local action?

A Wikistrat report, released today, explores four distinct scenarios that discuss various aspects of the fragile situation, including interference from the United States, Chinese assertiveness and regional reactions.

The East and South China Seas territorial disputes, including but not limited to the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, the Spratlys and the Scarborough Shoal, have not only increased in complexity but are an area of concern for the United States. The lands in question hold historical and strategic significance and highly sought-after potential energy reserves. As China has grown in power and asserted its regional influence, it has looked to increase its claim to these territories, causing concern among neighboring states with similar claims. Under these circumstances, the current international order in East Asia, maintained by the United States, comes into question.

The significance of these disputed territories as strategically important and prospective offshore energy sources is fueling efforts to solidify national claims. In the midst of increased disquiet over the issue, regional states are augmenting and modernizing their military capabilities, particularly the navy and aerospace. Notably, China has dramatically increased military capacity while states such as Japan, Australia, and South Korea are also undergoing upgrades. Such increased military investment and political strain could lead to a regional arms race and accidentally spark conflict over a misunderstanding. Read More →

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The European Union in 2030: Wikistrat Report

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The European Union has more than a half-century of impressive successes, but it has lost direction and momentum over the last decade. Wikistrat’s recently-concluded strategic simulation “The EU in 2030″ articulates a defined sequence of policy initiatives that have the clear ability to remedy that situation, if they are adopted and implemented in the order set out.

Earlier this year, Wikistrat ran a three-week long crowdsourced simulation to explore the centrifugal and centripetal forces that will shape the EU’s future between now and 2030 across three domains: economic and financial; political and security; and social, cultural and human.

On the one hand, the EU has achieved certain supranationalism in the economic sphere such as the common currency, fiscal targets and growing acceptance of transfer payments. On the other hand, its political integration schemes, such as the common foreign and security policy, remain largely stuck at the intergovernmental level. In this way there is a tension between the relative vitality and success of European economic integration on the one hand and, on the other hand, the lack of vitality of a values-oriented common European identity.

The EU has thus turned in a mixed performance across the range of broad policy issue-areas including capabilities, integration level, demographics, membership and global presence. Yet the EU has succeeded impressively at enlarging its membership. The original six-member European Economic Community enlarged to become nine, then 15 members; once the Cold War ended, it rapidly became the European Union of the 28 that we know today, with a few candidates still in line. Read More →

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Southeast Asia 2035: A Realized Economic Promise? Wikistrat Report

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Will the countries of Southeast Asia remain stuck in the “middle-income trap”? Or will they realize their economic promise by 2035? In the report released today, Wikistrat shows what it would take for the region to get there in twenty years’ time — and what futures await it if fails.

Southeast Asia’s growth outperformed other regions during the Global Financial Crisis of 2008-2009 and recent projections point to continued strong growth. As production costs are increasing in China, multinational firms look to Southeast Asia for its lower cost of production, its growing middle class and its rising education levels.

Yet some dark clouds can be seen gathering on the horizon. As income levels rise, so do wages, thereby undercutting Southeast Asia’s low-cost advantage. Squeezed in between other low-wage economies and advanced high-income ones, the region could stagnate unless it pushes its way to high-income status with innovation, advanced technology and high-skilled labor. In other words, the question is will Southeast Asia overcome what the World Bank calls the “middle-income trap” that sees many other developing countries failing to rise to the next level?

There are challenges beyond the economic. These range from major trade agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, promoted by the United States, China’s Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, vast potential of oil and gas resources within or outside disputed waters in the South China Sea, the American “pivot” to Asia, China and Japan’s rising nationalism, global geopolitical rivalry, water scarcity and climate change. Read More →

Ebola: A Global Health Challenge: Wikistrat Report

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As the Ebola virus reaches Europe and North America, Wikistrat looks at the challenge posed by the epidemic to health policy globally. A report proposing four future pathways for the disease, and how the global public health system manages it, is released today.

Since a major outbreak of the Ebola virus disease was first reported in Guinea in March 2014, an epidemic has spread across West Africa. Already, this is the worst Ebola outbreak in recorded history. The disease is no longer contained to the region: a Saudi Arabian man traveling home from Sierra Leone is believed to have died of Ebola in early August and several Americans are treated for the disease in the United States. There is no known cure, although one American doctor diagnosed with the virus was found Ebola-free after taking experimental drugs in August.

While there is widespread concern about the spread of the disease, there are arguments against Ebola becoming a pandemic. The virus is not airborne and cannot survive outside the body for long. Symptoms become apparent quickly and patients typically die before infecting more than one or two others.

These realities have done little to quell the panic. Saudi Arabia has stopped issuing visas to Muslim pilgrims from West Africa. British Airways has suspended all flights to and from both Liberia and Sierra Leone. Western governments have advised their citizens to avoid the region. However, civil unrest, the absence of adequate medical services and low trust in both authority and foreign aid workers might pose the biggest risk. Read More →

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Ask a Senior Analyst — Carl Wege

Wikistrat’s Facebook and Twitter followers recently engaged in a 24-hour exclusive Q&A session with one of Wikistrat’s Senior Analysts, Carl Wege. Questions and Prof. Wege’s answers are transcribed below.

Carl Wege

Carl Wege is a Professor of Political Science at the College of Coastal Georgia. He has traveled in Asia, Latin America, Africa and Israel and published a variety of articles discussing terrorism and security relationships involving Hezbollah, Syria and Iran.

Etah Ewane: Historically, relations between Iran and Arab countries have been hostile and Syria has always been used as a tool through which Teheran has supplied weapons to various Islamist groups. To what extent would the collapse of the Assad regime in Syria affect Iran’s geostrategic influence in the region?

Answer: The collapse of the Assad regime would be devastating to everything Iran has accrued in regional influence since the 1979 revolution. The Syrian state has been shattered and Bashar Assad is now little more than the local face of an Iranian occupation that has shed rivers of Sunni blood in his attempt to maintain power. Therefore any successor Sunni government would be hostile to Iran.

Since the Islamic State has now spit Iraq in two, Iran’s Resistance Axis (Jabhat al-Muqawama) has been shattered from the Levant to the Persian Gulf. The collapse of the Assad government has effectively left a Russian-supported and Iranian-dependent canton of internally-displaced minorities including most Alawite, Christians and some clans of neutralist Druze encompassing the space in western Syria. Essentially Iran, primarily through the Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guard, is managing a constellation of militias ranging from Alawite Jaysh al-Sha’bi and Ba’ath Battalions to Lebanon’s Hezbollah, and Iraqi Kata’ib Hezbollah and Asa’ib al-Haq militias.

In the end, though, it is likely that the militias defending this western Syrian rump state will essentially control a series of cantons united primarily by allegiance to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard through the figure head of Bashar Assad. “Saving Syria” therefore is second only to the acquisition of nuclear weapons in Tehran’s hierarchy of needs. Read More →