BY CUNEYT YILMAZ | DECEMBER 30, 2011
U.S.-Turkish relations are experiencing a period of close cooperation. At the same time, Turkey's ties with its European allies are under pressure. The presence of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Europe is fast becoming a prism through which the Turks view their ties with Europe, especially in Germany, where the PKK has a significant infrastructure. The United States can encourage action against PKK networks in Germany and subsequently take credit for such action with the Turkish public, thus preventing further deterioration in ties between America's European allies and Turkey at a time of improving U.S.-Turkish relations.
Deterioration of Turkish-German Relations
The PKK issue has eroded rapport between the Turks and Germans. On October 31, 2011, two German attorneys filed a case against Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, accusing Turkey of "state terrorism against the Kurdish people" and demanding that Erdogan be arrested on those charges. This action followed Erdogan's earlier assertion that "German foundations have extended financial assistance to the terrorist organization PKK."
Since the early summer, the PKK has killed more than 130 Turks across the country. With anger rising inside Turkey, the country has pointed a finger at Germany. As a result, PKK funding and propaganda networks in Europe are under scrutiny by Turkish public agencies, especially in Germany. On October 2, Erdogan asserted that "German foundations lend money to [Kurdish nationalist] Peace and Democracy Party (BDP)-controlled local governments within Turkey, which relay the money to the PKK."
PKK Organizational and Propaganda Networks in Germany
Although the German media has rejected allegations of lending support to PKK entities, Germany appears unwittingly to be the PKK's economic center. In 2007, the German Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) published a report outlining the ways in which the PKK uses Germany as a base to ensure its financial survival.
According to the BfV, the PKK in Germany is divided into three regions, or serits: North, Central, and South. These serits are subdivided into a total of twenty-seven areas. Moreover, several civic associations related to the PKK have been established in major German cities. These associations belong to the Federation of Kurdish Unions in Germany, aka Yekitiya Komalen Kurd Li Elmanya (YEK-KOM). Additionally, Germany is home to organization Yekitiya Xwendekaren Kurdistan (YXK). These groups are involved especially in organizing concerts and festivals, such as the annual ZILAN Women's Festival established in 2006, and the annual International Kurdish Culture Festival in Gelsenkirchen, which in 2007 boasted attendance of 40,000.
As outlined in BfV reports, the PKK's media presence is tremendously important for the ideological indoctrination of Kurds in Germany as well as for propaganda directed at non-Kurds. Such indoctrination is achieved through various media outlets, including the pro-PKK newspaper Yeni Ozgur Politika (New Free Politics), the PKK's publishing house, Mesopotamia, in Cologne, the Denmark-based network Roj TV, and Firat News Agency, stationed in the Netherlands.
PKK Funding in Germany
According to the European Union's Terrorism Situation and Trend Report (TE-SAT) 2011, funding from Germany plays a highly important role in supporting PKK activities in Turkey. The report states: "The PKK collects money from its members under the rubric of 'donations and membership fees' in lieu of extortion and illegal taxation. In addition to organized extortion campaigns, there are indications that the PKK is actively involved in money laundering, illicit drugs and human trafficking, as well as illegal immigration inside and outside the EU."
These facts are well known by German authorities. German prosecutors and police have tried to inhibit PKK activities, most notably through crackdowns in recent years against the PKK network in Germany. On October 12, 2011, following Erdogan's latest accusations of German support to the PKK, the German police reacted immediately by arresting Ali Ihsan K, PKK's chief of North Germany, on charges that he was running the organization's extortion and illegal taxation operations inside Germany.
According to the official website of YEK-KOM, the PKK's civic arm, a number of German politicians, officials, and even members of the Protestant-Lutheran Church seem to be unknowingly supporting PKK-related activities. In February 2011, for instance, YEK-KOM organized a congress on the property of a Protestant-Lutheran church in Dortmund. Notable politicians attended, such as Guntram Schneider, minister of Labor, Integration, and Social Purposes for the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia along with -- from the same state -- Dr. Stefan Romberg, a Free Democratic Party politician, and Bernhard von Gruneberg, a Social Democratic Party politician. Several labor union representatives attended as well. In addition, Ludger Vollmer, the former German minister of state at the Department of Foreign Affairs, has taken part in the annual International Kurdish Culture Festival organized by YEK-KOM in Gelsenkirchen.
Many Germans are aware that YEK-KOM is the civic arm of the PKK in their country, a fact attested to by YEK-KOM's official website. Additionally, the Ministry of Domestic Affairs of the German state of Lower Saxony affirms that YEK-KOM is a PKK-related organization. Yet such knowledge has done little to hinder support for the PKK among numerous German public figures.
What Can Be Done?
Washington has an interest in weakening the PKK's influence in Germany because it threatens ties between Turkey and Germany, two valuable U.S. allies. What is more, since the Turks view outside actions against the PKK as a sign of friendship, Berlin and Washington can improve their standing in Turkey by taking credit for such actions. This step would especially benefit the United States at a time when the White House is interested in seeing an improvement in popular Turkish support for the United States parallel to the closer relations between Washington and Ankara.
For their part, German security forces and officials are concerned about the PKK's activities in Germany, and Turkish officials have gained valuable insights on the party and its activities in Germany through close and formidable cooperation with their German counterparts. But on the political level, a lack of will on the German side and a lack of trust on the Turkish side have undermined cooperation. Erdogan's accusations targeting German foundations resulted from resentment against German domestic policy and attitudes toward the PKK, even though no explicit evidence proves that German foundations in Turkey directly support PKK activities.
Given this background, the following are recommendations for the three major players:
Berlin: Germany has already taken positive steps to win back Turkey's trust, and these efforts could be built upon. The German newspaper Tageszeitung reported that German chancellor Angela Merkel, in response to Erdogan's call for "support" in Turkey's "war against terrorism," declared that Germany "is on Turkey's side in its fight against terrorism."
Berlin can also take smart financial action to block pro-PKK media. In this regard, recent U.S.-supported action against the Libyan Jamahiriya Broadcasting Corporation (LJBC) can serve as an example. During the Libyan rebellion against the Qadhafi regime, Washington convinced its European allies to black out LJBC broadcasts in Europe. Ankara would be appreciative if PKK-linked broadcasting were similarly shut down.
Ankara: In the Kurdish opening of 2010, Turkey promised to grant cultural rights to the Kurds. Full implementation of this promise would do much to impress German opinion. An important element of such an effort would be inclusion in the new Turkish constitution now under debate of broader individual rights for the country's citizens, such as expanding freedom of expression, including the Kurds. A liberal charter including broadly defined freedoms would also facilitate Turkey's aspiration to become a beacon of democracy in the Middle East, especially as Turkey seeks to lead during the unfolding Arab Spring.
Washington: The United States should encourage Germany and Turkey to take collaborative action against PKK networks in Germany. A key component of such an endeavor would be close cooperation among U.S., Turkish, and German police and intelligence officials.
Cuneyt Yilmaz, a graduate of the University of Bayreuth in Germany, has been an intern for the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the U.S. House of Representatives, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and various U.S. public policy institutions.
Daniel Drezner, a Fletcher School professor and Foreign Policy blogger, isn’t convinced. For one thing, he points out, the U.S. never really lost interest in maintaining a presence in East Asia. The big difference now is “the eagerness with which the countries in the region, ranging from Australia to Myanmar, have reciprocated.”
Second, regardless of what U.S. officials may say or want, the rest of the world will continue to demand their attention:
“A pivot implies that the United States will stop paying attention to Europe or the Middle East and start paying attention to East Asia. While I’m sure that’s what the Obama administration wants to do, it can’t. Europe is imploding, as are multiple countries in the Middle East. The United States can’t afford to ignore these regions, since uncertainty there eventually translates into both global and domestic problems.”
Drezner sums up: “Talking about a United States ‘pivot’ in foreign policy is meaningless.”
Well, yes and no. Of course, the U.S. never lost its economic or strategic interest in the region, and there is a goodly dose of salesmanship in the administration’s talk of a foreign-policy reorientation towards the Asia-Pacific. And, yes, with the Middle East undergoing revolutionary changes, Europe facing the prospect of cascading economic crises, and American soldiers still dying in Afghanistan, any administration will be at the mercy of “events, dear boy, events.”
But Drezner understates the significance of recent U.S. moves in the Asia-Pacific. The administration’s talk of a “pivot” was clearly intended as a signal to China’s neighbours that, in spite of U.S. domestic fiscal problems and drawdown from Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. is not about to go wobbly on its military and diplomatic commitments in East Asia. The speech that President Barack Obama delivered in Australia last week challenged Chinese policies right across the board, from China’s currency-management practices to its regional military aspirations. Indeed, it read like a politely veiled containment policy towards China.
Perhaps that’s putting it too strongly, because the United States is interested in both containing and engaging China. Nevertheless, these speeches – combined with related U.S. actions – have communicated renewed American resolve in the region. In addition to the symbolically important deployment of U.S. Marines to Australia’s northern coast, Singapore may soon provide basing for the U.S. Navy’s new littoral combat ships, Vietnam has invited the American warships to call on its Cam Ranh Bay port for the first time in three decades, and we may soon hear more announcements of U.S. ships and planes being allowed to operate out of local bases across the region. (In case anyone didn’t get the message, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton chose the deck of a guided missile cruiser as the venue to deliver a speech reaffirming the U.S. alliance with the Philippines “and all of our alliances in the region.”)
Meanwhile, the U.S. Navy has recently tested a new unmanned warplane designed to be flown from aircraft carriers, reportedly with three times the range of carrier-based manned aircraft. These drones would not only greatly extend the reach of U.S. air power in the region, but would also allow the carriers to operate outside the maximum range of Chinese anti-ship missiles.
Consider the sum total of these words and deeds. They may not add up to a “pivot” – at least, not if Drezner is correct and the metaphor implies that the U.S. will “stop” paying attention to Europe and the Middle East and “start” paying attention to East Asia. However, I doubt that the Obama administration has been formulating its policy in such stark, zero-sum terms. The message of the administration’s recent speeches and actions, rather, was that the U.S. will be increasing, not decreasing, its involvement in the affairs of the Asia-Pacific. That’s is an important and credible message to communicate at a moment when America is disengaging from Iraq and Afghanistan, when China’s rising military assertiveness has been fuelling regional fears, and when there’s so much at stake in the Asia-Pacific for the future of U.S. military and economic power.
First Published at CIPS.
Wednesday, 09 November 2011 08:12
Just as expected, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner (CFK) obtained a landslide victory in the 23 October presidential elections and secured a second term in office. CFK not only won nearly 54 percent of the vote, she also defeated her nearest contender, socialist governor of Santa Fe Hermes Binner, by about 37 percentage points. Furthermore, the Frente para la Victoria – the kirchnerist wing of peronism – was able to regain the absolute legislative majority in the Lower House that it had lost as a result of both the conflict with farmers in 2008 and the defeat at the mid-term legislatives of 2009. In addition, several kirchnerist candidates were able to obtain victories at both the provincial and local level thanks to CFK’s coattails.
The outcome of last Sunday’s elections was expected after CFK’s strong performance in the 14 August primaries. Until the primaries, the most prominent opposition candidates, former President Eduardo Duhalde of dissident peronism, and Ricardo Alfonsin from the Radical Party had hopes of forcing a run-off. They assumed that CFK would not surpass 45 percent of the vote – the threshold that forecloses a second round according to Argentina’s Constitution – and that the best situated opposition candidate would get at least 20 percent support, which would lead to a polarized and more competitive scenario in the general election. But both assumptions proved wrong, resulting in a climate of triumphalism and euphoria for government supporters and simultaneously driving the opposition into despair and dismay. Of the opposition candidates, only Hermes Binner, the socialist governor of Santa Fe who had entered the presidential race at the last minute, managed to secure 10 percent in the primaries. Binner was the only candidate able to survive the demoralizing climate prevailing at the Alfonsin and Duhalde campaigns. Aware that his center-left coalition, the Frente Amplio Progresista, is a medium term political project, Binner felt comfortable with increasing his support for the 23 October elections and ending up in – a distant – second place.
To a large extent, Argentina’s primaries – which are compulsory and field candidates from all parties against each other – became the de facto first round rather than a candidates’ selection process. Their outcome removed any remnant of electoral uncertainty in Argentina’s presidential race.
There are various reasons for both CFK’s impressive victory and the opposition’s poor performance. In the first place it is evident that the unexpected death of CFK’s husband, former president Nestor Kirchner’s, caused a dramatic shift in public opinion that clearly benefited the her administration. Although the approval ratings of both CFK and Nestor Kirchner were on the rise before the latter’s death, his passing away instantly created a 20 percent bounce in the approval ratings of his widow. While Nestor Kirchner’s death is not a full explanation for CFK’s triumph, he did take with him to the grave the strong anti-kirchnerist sentiments developed in public opinion after the 2008 conflict over grains’ export taxes.
Secondly, the solid economic recovery after the 2009 downturn certainly enhanced the government’s chances. The strong growth in both 2010 and 2011 not only boosted private consumption but also endowed the government with a large pool of fiscal resources. A double digit inflation running at 22-25 percent according to private estimates was not an obstacle for the government since voters placed a higher premium on employment and growth. The fact that annual wage negotiations compensate the loss of purchasing power generated by inflation, together with the update of pensions and social policy allowances, reduced the political costs associated with inflation.
Thirdly, the increasing fragmentation of the opposition since the mid-term legislatives, in which the government lost its majority in the Lower House, also helps explain CFK’s landslide, both in the primaries and the general elections. Until the 14 August primaries many opposition leaders – Buenos Aires city mayor Mauricio Macri being a clear exception – still believed that the strong anti-kirchnerist sentiment prevailing in 2008 and 2009 was dominant in public opinion and that the October elections would be for the strongest opposition candidate to lose. While these assumptions were true when the mid-term elections took place, they were clearly flawed after the change in the political scenario brought about by Nestor Kirchner’s death. This perception, together with the low level of institutionalization of Argentina’s opposition parties, was a main reason for the fragmentation of the opposition camp. The two main opposition alliances, the center-left Acuerdo Cívico y Social (ACyS) and the coalition of PRO and dissident peronism, which had provided clear alternatives in Argentina’s weak party system, and had been instrumental in the defeat of kirchnerism in mid-term legislative election, broke down in 2011. Against the backdrop of a good economic situation and concerned by the risks of a change of administration, it is hardly surprising that voters turned their back on a highly fragmented opposition that could not provide anything but a leap of faith.
The question now is what can be expected from the new CFK administration. CFK will begin her new term in office as the most powerful head of state since the 1983 democratic transition, but she faces considerable challenges. First, since she cannot be elected to another term, managing the peronist struggle for her succession, and not becoming too early a lame duck, undoubtedly will be major challenges. Second, CFK will take office amidst a more difficult international economic environment. A slowdown in Brazil’s or China’s economy could have a significant impact on Argentina. Thirdly, the economic model set in place by Nestor and Cristina Kirchner is entering a stage of rising trade-offs and decreasing returns. In particular, the exhaustion of the current account surplus – which has enabled the accumulation of Central Bank reserves and created substantial autonomy from international capital markets and International Financial Institutions – reduces the degrees of freedom of the future CFK administration. The political capital accumulated in the election should allow CFK to adopt painful yet long pending decisions – lifting the ten year freeze in tariffs, crafting a consistent anti-inflationary approach, and moderating the expansionary bias of fiscal and monetary policy. Yet, the fact that the Kirchnerist model received a strong endorsement at the ballot box, together with the highly positive economic returns from the current economic policies, provide little stimulus for change.
Ignacio Labaqui is a Professor of Political Science at Universidad Catolica, Argentina.
First Published at LSEIdeas.
Wednesday, 09 November 2011 07:47
Monday, 31 October 2011 06:27
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