Tag Archives: Europe

The Libyan War Spills Over to Egypt, Algeria, Niger and Europe – Scenarios for the Future of Libya

This article is the second of our series focusing on scenarios depicting the range of spillover that could stem from the Libyan war. In our previous article, we detailed two scenarios of spillover that initiate a renewed war encompassing more than just Libya. We discussed a case of spillover in one direction – where Europe is drawn into this renewed war, as well as spillover in two directions, where Algeria and Niger are also drawn into the war. In this article, we shall conclude the spillover scenarios with a contagion taking place in all directions (west towards Algeria, south towards Niger, east towards Egypt, and north towards Europe).

It is important to note our choices for spillover sub-scenarios. There are many combinations that could occur under spillover conditions, but we have chosen three examples that maybe considered as ideal-types with particular country cases for the sake of brevity: spillover in only one direction (north towards Europe), spillover in two directions (Algeria/Niger), and spillover in all directions (Algeria/Niger/Egypt/Europe). Spillover in all directions, of course, is not limited to just Algeria, Niger, Egypt, and Europe – it can also include Tunisia and Chad. For the sake of brevity, we chose one country in each direction for this scenario. Furthermore, the intensity of and response to spillover plays a key role in these sub-scenarios. The renewed war – now encompassing new actors outside of Libya – is altered significantly as intensity and response levels rise. However, we shall only briefly outline these scenarios, as they are fundamentally new conflicts and would require new scenarios to fully understand their depth.

Migrant/Refugee: For the purposes of the spillover scenarios, we have chosen to use the BBC’s use of the term migrant, which refers to people migrating to other countries that have not yet received asylum (BBC News, March 4, 2016). However, we use the term refugee when referring to Libyans fleeing the discussed conflict.

Note: Considering the future names of potential factions that would result from a new split between the unity government, we shall use the label nationalist for those that supported the nationalist/liberal-dominated Council of Representatives (COR) and any future anti-Islamist factions; Islamist to note those that supported the General National Congress (GNC) and any future pro-political Islamic movements; and Salafist will remain the label of choice for groups that reject democratic institutions and embrace jihadism.

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Sub-scenario 2.2.3 Conflict Spills Over in All Directions (Algeria, Niger, Egypt, and Europe)

Smuggling operations crossing the Libyan-Algerian border expand as conflict continue to rage. Islamist militants also utilize the smuggling routes to infiltrate Libya from Algeria and join Salafist groups there. As Algeria increases the security of its border region with Libya, Islamist militants turn to join extremist groups already operating in Algeria, while spreading to other now easier routes, both north, using the sea and boats and south to Niger. Furthermore, conflict between the Toubou and Tuareg tribes over the lucrative smuggling routes causes their kinsmen from Algeria, Niger, and Chad to cross into Libya, while Salafists move even more freely to and from Libya – thus turning the Southern Libya conflict into a regional conflict between tribal forces. See Mitchell, “Libyan War Spills Over to Europe, Algeria, and Niger – Sc 2.2 (1) – Scenarios for the Future of Libya” for a more detailed spillover scenario in Algeria that has already been discussed.

Niger begins to experience spillover from the Libyan conflict as Toubou and Tuareg cross from Niger into Southern Libya. The severity of tribal conflict in Southern Libya determines whether or not conflict breaks out between the Tuareg and Toubou within Niger’s borders. Facing significant pressure in Libya, as well as the threat of international intervention, jihadists begin relocating their operations to Niger. Considering Niger’s instability and already existing threat of Boko Haram, which leads wilayat Gharb Ifriqiyyiah for the Islamic State (see Lavoix, “At War Against the Islamic State – A Global Theatre of War,” updated June 20, 2016) and operated initially essentially in southern Niger – notably in Diffa and Bosso (see June attacks – UN News Centre, June 6, 2016; Donovan, UNHCR, June 7, 2016), the increase of jihadists arriving from Libya prompts a serious military response and increased operations near the Niger-Libyan border. See Mitchell, “Libyan War Spills Over to Europe, Algeria, and Niger – Sc 2.2 (1) – Scenarios for the Future of Libya” for a more detailed spillover scenario in Niger that has already been discussed. Nonetheless, the Salafist fighters coming from Libya and those controlling the South increasingly connect.

Posted on the Official Page for the Military Spokesman of the Armed Forces Facebook page, 30 May 2016

Meanwhile, considering the presence of Islamic State groups already in the Sinai, the spillover from Libya causes greater instability throughout Egypt. Smugglers utilize routes through the Libyan-Egyptian border to covertly transfer drugs, migrants, militants and weapons – all of which undermine Egypt’s stability. The porous border between the two countries allows Salafist groups to move fighters and weapons between strongholds in Libya and the Sinai. General Haftar increasingly uses Egypt’s assistance to train his forces and to receive weapons. As a result, Islamic State militants target remaining Egyptian migrant workers in Libya. Meanwhile, their Salafist brothers in the Sinai begin to increasingly attack Egyptian targets in retaliation for Egypt’s assistance to Haftar’s forces. Wanting to expand their operations and keep pressure on rivals, al-Qaeda affiliates in Libya escalate their attacks on Haftar’s forces in the east, as well as Egyptian forces along the border. Attacks by Salafist groups forces Egypt to militarily strike back in Libya in a series of operations – effectively opening up a second front in its fight against terrorism (Libya to the west, and the Sinai to the east). The target proves however elusive as it now moves increasingly easily also to the south. To retain Egypt’s support, Haftar’s forces exert additional pressure on Salafist groups as punishment. As the nationalists put intense pressure on these Salafist groups, militants are smuggled into the Sinai region to bulk up their group’s capabilities against Cairo. Wilayat Sinai makes a general call to their global supporters to join their war in Egypt, with tremendous impact on an already dwindling tourism.

If Egypt successfully closes its border and prevents weapons and militants from infiltrating, there is the risk that Salafist groups already in Egypt will launch increased attacks against border security targets in order to disrupt their efforts. However, if Egypt is unsuccessful in closing the border, Salafist groups in Libya and the Sinai will be able to reinforce each other with fighters and weapons – depending on the need in each country. Regardless of success or failure to close the border, spillover from the Libyan conflict permeates Egypt, which increases its instability and draws Egypt into the renewed war.

The migrant flow from Libya into Europe increases as Libyan actors forsake some state functions – such as border security – in order to bolster their frontline forces. Salafist groups utilize the migrant flows to smuggle jihadists into Europe to carry out attacks. These jihadist cells originating in Libya begin targeting European populations as an alternative to fighting mounting pressure in Libya. Two new routes to Europe are now opened, one from Algeria and one from Egypt, taxing European capabilities to deal with the rising threat. Furthermore, the deployment of European advisers and Special Forces in support of Libyan actors against Salafist threats also results in jihadists attacking European targets. If Europe is unsuccessful in stopping the migrant flow, it continues to experience terrorist attacks emanating from Libya. If successful, Europe changes the conflict in Libya. With less opportunity to infiltrate European countries, jihadists begin to increasingly target the government and military officials of the other Libyan actors. This, in turn, forces the Islamists and nationalists to focus more on the Salafist groups. With the migrant flow stopped, the refugees and migrants stuck in Libya cause further instability in the coastal regions, join armed groups as an alternative, or head to neighboring countries – all of which affect spillover and the war in Libya. See Mitchell, “Libyan War Spills Over to Europe, Algeria, and Niger – Sc 2.2 (1) – Scenarios for the Future of Libya” for a more detailed spillover scenario in Europe that has already been discussed.

Indicators to Monitor

Below are the main indicators we identified that impact the likelihood to see scenario 2.2.3 occurring. They should thus be monitored.

  1. The ability of militants to use smuggling routes to infiltrate Egypt. The likelihood of this scenario increases if militants are able to infiltrate Egypt through smuggling routes. With civil war in Libya to the west and Egypt dealing with a Sinai problem to the east, militants are more easily able to utilize established drug, migrant, and weapons trafficking routes to infiltrate Egypt (AhramOnline, October 2, 2015).
  2. The ability of Egypt to effectively patrol its border. With Libya not able to secure its side of the border, the responsibility falls to Egypt to secure the entire border. Already having to deal with jihadists in the Sinai, Egypt will likely not be able to secure the entire Libyan-Egyptian border, which allows smuggling rings to profit by moving drugs, weapons, migrants, and militants to and from Libya. A previous indication of Egypt’s attempt to secure the border occurred when it increased its ground and air presence on the border, as well as reached an agreement with the U.S. in 2015 on a “Border Security Mobile Surveillance Sensor Security System” along the Egyptian-Libyan border (Nkala, DefenseNews, July 26, 2015; Muhlberger, AhramOnline, January 27, 2016).
  3. The stability of Egypt. Egypt’s internal stability determines how much it will be affected by spillover from Libya. The level of economic and political stability, as well as terrorism in the Sinai region, all affect Egypt’s overall stability. Past indications affecting its stability occurred when Egypt’s economy faced currency depreciation and a decrease in tourism and investment (Karuri, Africa News, July 4, 2016); as well jihadist groups continuing an insurgency from the Sinai region (STRATFOR, June 29, 2016).
  4. The level of pressure on Salafist groups to migrate operations towards Egypt. If the Islamists, Misratans, and nationalists put enough pressure on Salafist groups to the point of destroying them completely, the jihadists will likely be more willing to shift their operations to Egypt, which increases the likelihood of this spillover scenario. Geographically, the Salafist hotbed of Derna is very close to the Egyptian border and will most likely be the origin of jihadists fleeing into Egypt if this indication occurs.
  5. The willingness of Egypt to support Haftar and his forces. Egypt’s level of willingness to support Haftar and provide military assistance to his forces will play a role in the Salafists’ level of retaliation. The likelihood of this scenario increases the more Egypt directly supports Haftar. Past indications occurred when Egyptian President El-Sisi called on international support for General Haftar and his National Army (Middle East Monitor, March 18, 2016); when Egypt armed Haftar and the Libyan National Army (Dettmer, Voice of America, May 17, 2016; Toaldo and Fitzgerald, European Council on Foreign Relations, June 15, 2016); and when Egypt offered military training and intelligence assistance in 2014 to the forces under the Tobruk government – which included Haftar and his forces (Mitchell, “War in Libya and Its Futures: State of Play – Nationalist Forces (2),” December 1, 2014).
  6. The Salafists’ level of retaliation towards Egypt. The level of Salafists’ retaliation towards Egypt is rooted in Egypt’s assistance for the hated General Haftar. The more Egypt supports Haftar’s forces, the higher the level of retaliation. In Libya, Salafists will likely target Egyptian migrants or Egyptian security personnel on the border. Salafist groups operating in the Sinai will likely carry out attacks within Egypt as retaliation for events in Libya.
  7. The willingness of al-Qaeda to intensify its presence in Libya and Egypt. If al-Qaeda begins to lose influence as a result of pressure from other Libyan actors, it may try to intensify its presence in Libya. Furthermore, if instability continues to increase in Egypt, and if Islamic State groups in the Sinai are seeing greater success, al-Qaeda may attempt to increase its presence their as well. In either case, the likelihood of this scenario increases.
  8. Indicators 1-8 of sub-scenario 2.2.1 also act here in a similar way.
  9. Indicators 1-10 of sub-scenario 2.2.2 also act here in a similar way.


Featured Photo: Still from “New ISIS Video Shows Recruits Training in Sinai Peninsula, Egypt,” April 4, 2016

“Assessing the Jihadist Threat in Egypt: The Sinai Peninsula,” STRATFOR, June 29, 2016

“Attacks by Boko Haram continue in Niger’s Diffa region, forcing more people to flee – UN,” UN News Centre, June 6, 2016

“Egypt’s army sometimes operates beyond border to ‘chase smuggler’: Libyan FM,” Ahram Online, October 2, 2015

Helene Lavoix, “At War Against the Islamic State – A Global Theatre of War,” The Red Team Analysis Society, November 23, 2015

Jamie Dettmer, “Will Arming Libya’s ‘Unity’ Government Escalate Conflict?” Voice of America, May 17, 2016

Jon Mitchell, “War in Libya and Its Futures: State of Play – Nationalist Forces (2),” The Red Team Analysis Society, December 1, 2014

Ken Karuri, “Egyptian pound facing another devaluation as dollar shortage persists,” Africa News, July 4, 2016

Louise Donovan, “Thousands flee Boko Haram attack on Niger town,” UNHCR, June 7, 2016

Mattia Toaldo and Mary Fitzgerald, “A Quick Guide to Libya’s Main Players,” European Council on Foreign Relations, June 15, 2016

“Migrant crisis: Migration to Europe explained in seven charts,” BBC News, March 4, 2016

Oscar Nkala, “Tunisia, Egypt Boost Libyan Border Security,” DefenseNews, July 26, 2015

“Sisi calls for support for Libya’s Haftar,” Middle East Monitor, March 18, 2016

Wolfgang Muhlberger, “A Thorny Dossier: Egypt’s Libya Policy,” Ahram Online, January 27, 2016

The Red (Team) Analysis Weekly 231 – 3 December 2015

Each week our scan collects weak – and less weak – signals… Each section focuses on signals related to a specific theme: world (international politics and geopolitics); economy; science; analysis, strategy and futures; technology and weapons; energy and environment. However, in a complex world, categories are merely a convenient way to present information, when facts and events interact across boundaries.

Read the 3 December 2015 scan  

The Weekly is the scan of The Red (Team) Analysis Society and it focuses on national and international security issues. It was started as an experiment with Paper.li as a way to collect ideas, notably through Twitter. Its success and its usefulness led to its continuation.

The information collected (crowdsourced) does not mean endorsement but points to new, emerging, escalating or stabilizing problems and issues.

If you wish to consult the scan after the end of the week period, use the “archives” directly on The Weekly.

Featured image: “C-band Radar-dish Antenna”. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

The Red (Team) Analysis Weekly 222 – 1 October 2015

Each week our scan collects weak – and less weak – signals… Each section focuses on signals related to a specific theme: world (international politics and geopolitics – this week, unsurprisingly, the focus is on Russia, the U.S. and the Syrian theatre of war as well as potential consequences regarding the overt Russian involvement, with an amazing number of articles, which are interesting, for some, mainly for what they also reveal about fears and uncertainties, while the analysis of the principal enemy, the Islamic State, and reflections about how to prioritise threats, often tend to be quite forgotten. Interestingly, an alleged participation of China through military advisors, sent besides Russians, to support the Bashar al-Assad regime was completely missed by the crowdsourcing, but we added it for the sake of interest. It is important to note that the source of this piece of information is the Russian RT.); economy; science; analysis, strategy and futures; technology and weapons; energy and environment. However, in a complex world, categories are merely a convenient way to present information, when facts and events interact across boundaries.

Read the 1 October 2015 scan  

The Weekly is the scan of The Red (Team) Analysis Society and it focuses on national and international security issues. It was started as an experiment with Paper.li as a way to collect ideas, notably through Twitter. Its success and its usefulness led to its continuation.

The information collected (crowdsourced) does not mean endorsement but points to new, emerging, escalating or stabilizing problems and issues.

If you wish to consult the scan after the end of the week period, use the “archives” directly on The Weekly.

Featured image: “C-band Radar-dish Antenna”. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

Multiplicating Crises: Strategic Surprises or Strategic Shocks?

Over the last two decades, strategic surprises have accumulated and accelerated rather than receded, and they continue to do so. Various actors, from governments and international organisations to the corporate world through citizens seem to be constantly and increasingly surprised by events they fail to anticipate, and thus for which they are unprepared.

The Arab Spring (e.g. Ellen Laipson, Ed., Seismic Shift: Understanding Change In The Middle East, Stimson, 2011), the rise and development of the Islamic State, with shocking series of murders and terrorist attacks (see Portal to the Islamic State War, the Red (Team) Analysis Society) and, currently, the European refugee crisis (e.g. The Guardian,Refugee crisis: EU plans new internment measures – live updates“) are aWien_-_Völkerwanderung_am_5_Sep_2015,_Westbahnhof 300ll related events that were surprises if we judge by the lack of preparedness and the difficulty to design and then implement a proper answer. Similarly (in terms of surprise), the scale and scope of the chaos in Ukraine, the incorporation of Crimea in the Russian Federation, with heightened and novel tensions between notably the U.S.m its allies and NATO on the one hand, Russia and its partners on the others, and their multi-dimensional impacts, for example on farmers and the agricultural sector in Europe to take an instance that is rarely pointed out, constitute another series of surprises (Charles Clark, “Riot police in Brussels are struggling against 4,000 tractors blocking the streets“, Business Insider UK, 7 Sept 2015; e.g. “Portal to strategic analysis for Ukraine“, The Red (Team) Analysis Society).

Besides the possible absence of adequate capabilities across actors to properly consider and foresee crucial issues, at least another phenomenon may also be at work, which would combine with under-dimensioned capacities to further heighten uncertainty, favour inadequate answers to an initial surprise and, as a result, multiply unforeseen crises. This phenomenon would be that we are not only faced with surprises, but, more adequately, with shocks.

Indeed, in many of the examples cited above, a strong emotional element is present. Indeed, we spontaneously refer to the idea of shock. The “West” was shocked by the rapid move of Russia to secure the bloodless incorporation of Crimea within the Russian Federation (Ibid.). It was shocked, in the case of Ukraine, that another “peaceful revolution” did not end up into something peaceful, smooth and happily accepted by all (Ibid.). The world was shocked that a commercial plane flying over a war zone could be shot down (Ibid.). The international “community” at large was shocked by the apparently sudden progress of the then Islamic State of Iraq and Al-Sham (ISIS) during the first part of 2014 (“Timeline of ISIL related events“, Wikipedia). It was shocked by the massacre of the Yazidis (e.g. Raya Jalabi, “Who are the Yazidis and why is Isis hunting them?“, The Guardian, 11 Aug 2014). It was shocked by the horrendous videos of beheading and of the burning alive of the Jordanian pilot (H. Lavoix, “The Islamic State, Puppet Master of Emotions“, 5 February 2015). It was shocked by the variousRepublican_marche_-_Lyon_-_11_January_2015_3 terrorist attacks, starting from the one in Paris in January 2015, without forgetting those in Tunisia and elsewhere, even if some of them were foiled more by miracle than by any preventive action (e.g. “2015 Thalys train attack“, Wikipedia; for a list of terrorist attacks instances for the sole first part of January 2015, H. Lavoix, The Islamic State Psyops – Worlds War, 19 January 2015). It was repeatedly shocked by Middle Eastern and African migrants drowning when trying to reach Europe, starting in October 2013 (e.g. “2013 Lampedusa migrant shipwreck“, Wikipedia), by the picture of a dead little boy (e.g. Jessica Elgot, “Family of Syrian boy washed up on beach were trying to reach Canada“, The Guardian, 3 Sept 2015), by the sheer flow of migrants, potentially refugees, entering various countries of the European Union (e.g. The Guardian,live updates“).

This idea of shock is not unknown in military circles dealing with strategic foresight and warning or more broadly anticipation, and it may help us understanding better what is currently at work, including why we are not faced with one shock but with a series of them. We shall first delve deeper into the idea of shock and contrast it with surprise, meanwhile also bringing in knowledge and understanding from futures studies.* Second, we shall explain that both surprise and shock are located onto a continuum of unexpected changes and explain the dynamics leading to a shock. Finally, we shall underline some consequences for SF&W, risk management, or more broadly anticipation of crises.

Surprise and shock

In 2007 the “Strategic Trends and Shocks” project within the Office of the U.S. Secretary of Defense (OSD) Policy Planning introduced the idea of strategic shock (Freier, Known Unknowns, 2008: 38, fn 5). The new concept was defined as

“An event that punctuates the evolution of a trend, a discontinuity that either rapidly accelerates its pace or significantly changes its trajectory, and, in so doing, undermines the assumption on which current policies are based… Shocks are disruptive by their very nature, and … can change how we think about security and the role of the military.” (Naval Postgraduate School (NPS), Transformation Chair, Forces Transformation Chairs Meeting, 2007)

MOD2014The idea of shock is similarly used in the U.K. Ministry of Defence Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre’s (DCDC) Strategic Trends Programme and its products (2007-2035; 2010-2040; 2014-2045), and is defined as

“Events – or ‘shocks’ – [that] only have a low probability of occurring, but because of their potentially high impact, it is important to consider some in more detail, allowing for possible mitigating action to be taken.” (Global Strategic Trends – Out to 2045, MoD, DCDC, 2014: ix)

Until 2007, Strategic Foresight and Warning (SF&W), i.e. “the organized and systematic process to reduce uncertainty regarding the future that aims at allowing decision-makers to take decisions related to security with sufficient lead-time to see those decisions implemented at best”**, or more broadly anticipatory activities for national and international security, had essentially focused upon surprise.

“Strategic surprise” referred initially to “surprise military attacks”[3] (Grabo, Anticipating Surprise, 2004: 1-2; J. Ransom Clark, 
The Literature of Intelligence: A Bibliography of Materials, with Essays, Reviews, and Comments, “Analysis: Strategic Warning“, Muskingum University). During the first decade of the twenty-first century, with the dawning awareness of the complexity of issues and related multi-disciplinarity impacting national and international security, the idea was enlarged to any “surprises with strategic significance” (Crocker, “Thirteen Reflections on Strategic Surprise”, 2010: 1).

Strategic surprises correspond approximately to futurists’ “wild cards” (low probability/high impact event)** and to Taleb’s (2007: 37, 272-273) “gray swans” (“rare but expected events that are scientifically tractable” – see also, H. Lavoix, “Taleb’s Black Swans: the End of Foresight?“, The Red (Team) Analysis Society, 21 January 2013). This coincides with the way the U.K. MOD uses the idea of shock, as presented above.

There is, however, also more involved in the idea of wild cards and strategic surprise. Indeed, in 2003, Steinmuller (“The future as Wild Card“) underlined that wild cards “change our frame of reference,” and, in 2007, Schwartz and Randall (“Ahead of the Curve”: 93) stressed similarly strategic surprise’s “game-changing dimension.”

As Freier (Ibid. 5-6) highlighted, strategic shock and strategic surprise appear to be almost identical. Do we thus need two different concepts? If yes, how do we recognise one event belonging to the first category from one belonging to the other?

According to Luttwak (The Logic of War and Peace, 2001: 4), “surprise at war” needs to suspend strategy, however briefly and partially. Thus, it does not necessarily imply any in-depth revision of mindset, as is expected from the idea of shock (Freier, Ibid: 8). Hence, surprise and shock are two different phenomena, which will each demand specific kinds of actions. SF&W having as aim to be actionable, then losing the specificity of both strategic surprise  and shock may only lead to less efficiency, when the introduction of a new idea could, on the contrary, be fruitful.

USS_Arizona_burning-Pearl_Harbor scWhen we compare different shocks as given by various authors, e.g. the 1929 financial crisis, Pearl Harbour, the fall of the Soviet Union, or 9/11 (Naval Postgraduate School (NPS), 2007; Arnas, 2009: 5), with “the poor performance of Israeli’s military machine during the 2006 Israeli—Hezbollah War,” (Balasevicius, “Adapting Military Organizations to Meet Future Shock”, 2009: 9-10), it would seem that all are not equivalent.

Could we thus have another phenomenon hidden within the idea of shock?

Even if the 2006 Israeli—Hezbollah War was a game-changing event, thus a strategic shock, because it forced the military of various nations to revise perceptions and concepts on warfare (Balasevicius, 2009: 10), in which way is it different from other cases?

The common definition of a shock describes it as:

“A violent collision, impact, tremor; a sudden, disturbing effect on the emotions, physical reaction; an acute state of prostration following a wound, pain; a disturbance in stability causing fluctuations in an organization.” The Concise Oxford dictionary, 8th edition.

Many of those components are absent from the U.S. OSD definition. Nonetheless, including the scope and depth of the event’s emotional impact in the idea of strategic shock tends to confirm and explain the previous distinction between cases. It also points towards the subjectivity of a categorisation in shocks – or surprises – as actors and populations directly involved are more likely to feel a deeper shock than unrelated actors.*** To include emotion enhances the difference with strategic surprise.

Yet, if strategic surprise and strategic shock are different, then, how could an event, for example Pearl Harbour, be categorised as both (Arnas: 1-2;  Hans Binnendijk, 2008; Grabo, 2004; Wohlstetter, 1962, etc.)?

Surprise and shock on the continuum of unexpected change

Freier (2008: 7-8) and Balasevicius (2009: 9) underline that surprise and shock are two similar phenomena with no “scientific break point” between the two, shock being linked to a higher degree of unpreparedness in terms of policy, strategy and planning.

If we also use the Oxford dictionary definition of shock, then we must consider that the emotional reaction (prostration, panic) heightens the disruption, making it more difficult to find adequate answers. Meanwhile the emotional effect’s spread to other actors potentially changes both the initial impact of the shock and consequent policy and strategic planning. The potential for long-term destabilization is thus amplified with the depth and scope of the shock.

electricity 300
by Steve Jurvetson, Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) – https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Hence, if an event is a strategic shock, it is also a strategic surprise, whilst the reverse is not true. Both strategic surprises and strategic shocks are unexpected changes occurring in a society’s or polity’s environment and to which actors will and must react. Shocks imply a considerably more difficult coordination than surprise, because, notably, of the depth and scope of the created emotion. Thus, strategic surprise then strategic shock are two ideal-types located on the continuum of unexpected change and ordered according to the ease with which humans coordinate their activities with changes in their larger environment – those changes that caused surprise or shock, accordingly – for security and ultimately survival (Lavoix, “Strategic Foresight and Warning”, 2010: 3  building upon Elias, Time, 1992).

Now, all events that are likely to occur and to constitute shocks are the outcome of dynamics. They do not happen out of the blue.

In fact, two possible processes, which are not mutually exclusive, will underlie a shock and its level. The first possible process takes place when an acme (violence and impact), a new stage in the dynamics of escalation, is reached. This new stage will then be perceived as a phenomenon that is both new and sudden, even if actually the event was building up unnoticed, and was thus neither sudden nor fully novel.

The second process results from an accumulation of non-perceived or improperly perceived grinding alterations (not necessarily linked to an escalation), which lead to a change. The latter takes then the characteristics of a shock, e.g. a tipping point (see also Elina Hiltunen, “Was It a Wild Card or Just Our Blindness to Gradual Change?”, 2006: 61-74).  This idea of a tipping point was noted by the U.S. Department of Defence when it stated,

“Shocks can be sudden and violent, and are often unanticipated. They can also occur when a system passes a critical point and undergoes a phase change. This type of shock results from the gradual accumulation of change in a number of variables (e.g. increased violence and frequency of hurricanes as a result of rising ocean temperatures).” (United States Joint Forces Command, 2008: 3).

The idea of “creeping catastrophe”, as described by Steinmüller (2003: 6-7), can be seen as a mix of the two processes.

Thus, a shock and its level result both from the impact that is inherent to the dynamics involved (and that should ideally be observed), including emotional consequences, and from our perceptions, as the abruptness of the perception enhances and transforms the emotional component of the impact, adding to it the component specific to shocks. In turn, a new awareness will be born (Damasio, The Feeling of What Happens: 
Body, Emotion and the Making of Consciousness, 1999).

In terms of policy-making and decision, to consider we are prey to shocks is of tremendous importance. Indeed, first, we may surmise that the successive shocks have likely impaired, or contributed to do so besides other factors, proper decision-making, which ideally necessitates a cold objective analysis. Second, not only the existence of a shock, but also the repetition of shocks imply that the change of mind-set, including how we think about security and the role of the military, that is demanded by the initial strategic shock has not taken place. As a result, shocks succeed to shocks and are more likely to do so until the necessary evolution of mind-set(s) takes place and thus until adequate answers are found. Note that, again here, we find elements that indicate a paradigm shift is likely to be at work (see H. Lavoix, “Towards a new paradigm?“, 2012).

Looking out for future shocks: some consequences for SF&W

The most important consequence for SF&W would take place at the analytical level, with an enlargement of the object of analysis. Indeed, when trying to foresee and warn about surprise, one is mainly concerned with others, in terms of intentions, capabilities, and actions. We analyse what is exterior to oneself through events befalling us.

Bush_signs_Patriot_Act_2001 scIf we want to look out for shocks, then we need to devote as much analytical attention to ourselves, not only the institution where the SF&W office is located, but also our society and polity. Considering the way intelligence and security thinking, and as a result state agencies, is usually organized, i.e. with a clear separation between the domestic and international realms, this would be a major change, involving ethical discussions if individual freedom is to be respected. Appropriate legislation would need to be created and voted.

We would also need to include into our impacts’ evaluation emotions, somehow following Gigerenzer (“Out of the Frying Pan into the Fire: Behavioral Reactions to Terrorist Attacks”, 2006). For example, we need to include new areas such as the media and the world-wide-web as propagating, flag de zakat scenhancing or dulling emotions. (Note: this last paragraph was written in 2010 and only modified to change the reference system. It was thus anticipating, among others, the use of the world-wide-web for the Arab Spring and, even more so the emotional use of media and social networks by the Islamic State pysops – see our Islamic State’s psyops series, as well as the Western work on “anti-radicalisation programmes” to face the Islamic Sate’s foreign fighters threat. Efforts to include all these elements in anticipation analysis must continue).

Looking out for future shocks would too put to the test the intelligence principle to “speak truth to power,” as self-scrutiny would imply analysis of policy, past, present and planned, and of its consequences. Meanwhile we should also consider the unintended consequences of one’s actions, as highlighted by Crocker (Ibid.) Nolan, MacEachin, and Tockman (Discourse, Dissent and Strategic Surprise2007).

Our struggle against biases would need to be enlarged to emotionally-induced biases and those incorporated into our impact assessment.

The analytical enlargement affecting impact, likelihood and timeline, in turn, would have consequences on the prioritisation of issues.

Finally, an approach through shocks could change how horizon scanning is done, as exploration of weak signals according to issues could be supplemented and cross-checked with an identification of emergence of weak signals relevant to the dynamics leading potentially to shocks within our societies (for more on weak signals and monitoring see H. Lavoix, “Horizon scanning and monitoring for anticipation: definition and practice“, 2012)

Adding strategic shock to strategic surprise as focus for SF&W may only enhance our efficiency in ensuring national and international security. It would also contribute to speed the likely needed change of mind-set and thus the progressive adoption of adequate responses to the host of problems besetting the world.

Helene Lavoix, PhD Lond (International Relations), is the Director of The Red (Team) Analysis Society. She is specialised in strategic foresight and warning for national and international security issues.

Featured image: by Steve Jurvetson, on Flickr, Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

Notes & Bibliography


*This article is a revised and updated version of an article previously written for the RSIS, Singapore: H. Lavoix “Looking Out for Future Shocks”, Resilience and National Security in an Uncertain World, Ed. Centre of Excellence for National Security, (Singapore: CENS-RSIS, 2011). It is a shame that although shocks were the theme of a 2010 related international conference of high level practitioners, building upon the then U.S. military and intelligence interest in shocks,  it did not lead to any real, practical and actionable incorporation of the idea of shocks in SF&W across countries and actors.

**This definition we use here and throughout the website was compiled out of Thomas Fingar, ”Myths, Fears, and Expectations,” & “Anticipating Opportunities: Using Intelligence to Shape the Future;” Payne Distinguished Lecture Series 2009; Reducing Uncertainty: Intelligence and National Security; Lecture 1 & 3, FSI Stanford, CISAC Lecture Series, March 11, 2009 & October 21, 2009; Jack Davis, “Strategic Warning: If Surprise is Inevitable, What Role for Analysis?Sherman Kent Center for Intelligence Analysis, Occasional Papers, Vol.2, Number 1 ; Cynthia M. Grabo, Anticipating Surprise: Analysis for Strategic Warning, edited by Jan Goldman, (Lanham MD: University Press of America, May 2004); Kenneth Knight, “Focused on foresight: An interview with the US’s national intelligence officer for warning,” September 2009, McKinsey Quarterly.

***“A wild card is a future development or event with a relatively low probability of occurrence but a likely high impact on the conduct of business,” BIPE Conseil / Copenhagen Institute for Futures Studies / Institute for the Future: Wild Cards: A Multinational Perspective, (Institute for the Future, 1992), p. v ; The idea was then popularised with John L. Petersen, Out of the Blue, Wild Cards and Other Big Surprises, (The Arlington Institute, 1997, 2nd ed. Lanham: Madison Books, 1999).

****See also the notion of “target groups” for the selection of wild cards, John L. Petersen and Karlheinz Steinmüller, “Wild Cards,” The Millennium Project: Futures Research Methodology, Version 3.0, Ed. Jerome C. Glenn and Theodore J., 2009, Ch 10, p.3.


Arnas, Neyla, “Introduction,” in Neyla Arnas Ed., Fighting Chance: Global Trends and Shocks in the National Security Environment, (CTNSP, NDU Press, Potomac Books: Washington D.C., 2009).

Balasevicius, Major T., “Adapting Military Organizations to Meet Future Shock,” Canadian Army Journal, Vol. 12.2 (Summer 2009).

Binnendijk, Hans, presentation at Institute for national Strategic Studies conference, “Strategic Re-Assessment:  From Long Range Planning to Future Strategy and Forces, National Defense University, 4 June 2008.

Clark, J. Ransom, 
The Literature of Intelligence: A Bibliography of Materials, with Essays, Reviews, and Comments, “Analysis: Strategic Warning”.

Crocker, Chester A. “Thirteen Reflections on Strategic Surprise,” Georgetown University, 2007, reprinted in The Impenetrable Fog of War: Reflections on Modern Warfare and Strategic Surprise, Ed. Patrick Cronin, (Praeger Security International, 2008).

Damasio, Antonio, The Feeling of What Happens: 
Body, Emotion and the Making of Consciousness, (Heinemann: London, 1999).

Elias, Norbert, Time: An Essay, (Oxford: Blackwell, 1992).

Freier, Nathan, Known Unknowns: Unconventional “Strategic Shocks” in Defense Strategy Development (Carlisle, PA: Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute and Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College, 2008).

Gigerenzer, Gerd, “Out of the Frying Pan into the Fire: Behavioral Reactions to Terrorist Attacks”, Risk Analysis, Vol. 26, No. 2, 2006.

Grabo, Cynthia M. Anticipating Surprise: Analysis for Strategic Warning, edited by Jan Goldman, (Lanham MD: University Press of America, May 2004)

Hiltunen, Elina, “Was It a Wild Card or Just Our Blindness to Gradual Change?” Journal of Futures Studies, Vol. 11, No. 2, November 2006, pp. 61-74.

Laipson, Ellen, Ed., Seismic Shift: Understanding Change In The Middle East, Stimson, 2011.

Lavoix, Helene, “Strategic Foresight and Warning: an Introduction,” in Helene Lavoix, Ed. Strategic Foresight and Warning: Navigating the Unknown, RSIS, 2011.

Luttwak, Edward N., Strategy: The Logic of War and Peace (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001 2nd edition).

Naval Postgraduate School (NPS), Transformation Chair, Forces Transformation Chairs Meeting: Visions of Transformation 2025 – Shocks and Trends, February 21, 2007.

Nolan, Janne E.  and Douglas MacEachin, with Kristine Tockman, Discourse, Dissent and Strategic Surprise Formulating U.S. Security Policy in an Age of Uncertainty (Washington, D.C., Georgetown University, Institute for the Study of Diplomacy, 2007).

Pham, Michel Tuan, “Emotion and Rationality: A Critical Review and Interpretation of Empirical Evidence,” Review of General Psychology, 2007, Vol. 11, No. 2, 155–178.

Schwartz, Peter, and Doug Randall, “Chapter 9, Ahead of the Curve: Anticipating Strategic Surprise,” in Francis Fukuyama, ed. Blindside: how to anticipate forcing events and wild cards in global politics (Washington DC: Brookings Institution Press, 2007).

Steinmüller, Karlheinz, “The future as Wild Card. A short introduction to a new concept,” Berlin, 2003.

Taleb, Nassim Nicholas, The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. (New York: Random House, 2007).

U.S. Department of Defense, Joint Operating Environment: Trends & Challenges for the Future Joint Force through 2030, (Suffolk, VA: United States Joint Forces Command, 2008).

Wohlstetter, Roberta, Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision, (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1962).

The Red (Team) Analysis Weekly 194 – Information, Climate Change, and the Eighth Circle of Inferno

Each week our scan collects weak – and less weak – signals…

Read the 12 March scan  

Editor’s note: Although the piece below focuses on climate change, and worrying development accumulating over the past weeks, it is applicable to all sciences and more broadly to all analyses. It notably links perfectly well with the developing controversy and possibly wedge taking place between Germany on the one hand (and most probably a host of European countries), and, on the other, anti-Russian hawks notably in NATO and the U.S., regarding information on the civil war in Ukraine, and Russian military involvement there. This piece is also crucial in terms of SF&W monitoring and scanning. Meanwhile, it underlines how crucial it is to stretch thinking and not becoming so focused on specific issues that one may miss similar developments – and sometimes cues – taking place elsewhere… a fundamental principle for red teaming analysis. On a related note, a new section has been created in The Weekly that will gather articles linked more specifically to methodology as well as reflections in general on strategy, strategic foresight and warning and anticipation).

Science & Environment and Energy  – Absolute truth is probably not attainable. Science, however, is the best process we have for moving toward and understanding of the truth. Over the last few weeks, in the Climate Change community, good science has been undermined by falsification of data, scientists who have questionable funding sources, and politicians who are trying to misrepresent the science.

In his classic work The Inferno, Dante Alighieri describes his version of Hell, where people who have committed categories of sin are condemned to punishment in circles corresponding to their sin. The Eighth Circle of Hell is the Malebolge, or evil trenches. It is in the Continue reading The Red (Team) Analysis Weekly 194 – Information, Climate Change, and the Eighth Circle of Inferno

The Red (Team) Analysis Weekly 191 – Minsk and the Probability of War

Each week our scan collects weak – and less weak – signals… We present below some of the most interesting or relevant features for each section.

Read the 12 February scan  

World (all matters related to war, international and national security) – In terms of major issues, increasingly, one week looks very much like the next, as matters get entrenched. However, within each issue, problems emerge, evolve and sometimes coalesce.

Joseph Nye, in his small but excellent book Understanding International Conflicts: An Introduction to Theory and History, wrote in a part aptly named The Funnel of Choices:

“Events close in over time, degrees of freedom are lost and the probability of war increases. But the funnel of choices available to leaders might open up again, and degrees of freedom could be regained…. ” (p. 68)

This is exactly what we witnessed today in Minsk, a few degrees of freedom were regained by the leaders as the agreement was signed (see the scan for a choice of various media’s reporting on the agreement, as well as the text – in Russian, use Chrome for translation or read unofficial English translation by Slavyangrad.org).

Continue reading The Red (Team) Analysis Weekly 191 – Minsk and the Probability of War

The Red (Team) Analysis Weekly 189 – Why an anti-Russian “Western” Foreign Policy?

Each week our scan collects weak – and less weak – signals… We present below some of the most interesting or relevant features for each section.

World (all matters related to war, international and national security) – With the return of war to Eastern Ukraine, we are witnessing an interesting effort by some authors to try to make sense of a US-led foreign policy and analysis of the world that does not appear to make sense to them, besides, of course, the host of usual anti-Russian articles.

The articles in The American Interest  (“Putin’s World: In It To Win It” by Walter Russell Mead) and Salon (“Distortions, lies and omissions: The New York Times won’t tell you the real story behind Ukraine, Russian economic collapse” by Patrick Smith), although each with their own points, have in common an interrogation regarding the current extremely anti-Russian and anti-Putin policy, notably as far as Ukraine is concerned. Their effort at finding a rational answer somehow echoes Mearsheimer’s attempt at making peacefully and rationally sense of the same issue by using International Relations theory in Foreign Affairs (Why the Ukraine Crisis Is the West’s Fault” Sept Oct 2014). Similarly, Robert Jervis, the famous International Relations scholar, father of the study of perceptions in world politics, when surveyed by Foreign Affairs (Who Is at Fault in Ukraine? Nov 2014), strongly disagreed with the fact that Putin was responsible for the crisis in Ukraine.

Continue reading The Red (Team) Analysis Weekly 189 – Why an anti-Russian “Western” Foreign Policy?

The Red (Team) Analysis Weekly 176 – Europe Unexpected Power Waiting to be Used

Each week our scan collects weak – and less weak – signals… We present below the most interesting or relevant features for each section.

World (all matters related to war, international and national security) –  This week, we can point out, besides many other signals and articles, a must read article on “Putin’s Great Gamble” by Pr Nikolas K. Gvosdev, which not only enlightens understanding of current relations but also is crucial to foresee next moves.

The way the war against the Islamic State impacts Turkey and its relationships to other players, including the U.S., is also of utmost importance for the way the war will be waged in the future by the different actors.

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace policy recommendations for a EU Foreign Policy strongly committed to

Continue reading The Red (Team) Analysis Weekly 176 – Europe Unexpected Power Waiting to be Used

The Red (Team) Analysis Weekly 170 – China Sees Possibility for World War 3

Each week our scan collects weak – and less weak – signals…

Read the 18 September scan →

The Weekly is the scan of The Red (Team) Analysis Society and it focuses on national and international security issues. It was started as an experiment with Paper.li as a way to collect ideas, notably through Twitter. Its success and its usefulness led to its continuation.

This week feature article: a strong indication of the generalized high level of tension…

As possibility of third world war exists, China needs to be prepared – People’s Daily Online


– As the Ukrainian crisis deepens, international observers have become more and more concerned about a direct military clash between the US and Russia. Once an armed rivalry erupts, it is likely to e…

Continue reading The Red (Team) Analysis Weekly 170 – China Sees Possibility for World War 3

An Isolated Russia? Think Again!

Since March 2014, the Russian “dispatch of troops to Crimea”, and the contested referendum in Crimea followed by its incorporation into the Russian Federation, “The West”* rhetoric is that Russia is isolated, and that the U.S. and its allies will work to further isolate it (e.g. Zeke J Miller, “Isolated Russia, Ukraine, NATO, Poroshenko, Obama, HollandeObama: U.S. Working To ‘Isolate Russia’“, Time, 3 March 2014).

As the war in Eastern Ukraine seems to be perceived mainly through “Crimean lenses”, this Western policy, added to rounds of sanctions, aim at seeing an increasingly isolated Russian Federation bend to a “Western” vision of what the international order should be. The soon ex-General Secretary of Nato Rasmussen’s statement on Estonian TV according to which “Russia is globally isolated due to its actions in Ukraine” is only one example of similar comments made over the last months (ETV Interview: Rasmussen Says Russia is Isolated, 5 September 2014).

The latest round of sanctions, coming into force on 12 September 2014 for the EU (EU; “EU sanctions against Russia over Ukraine crisis“), taken on 12 September for the U.S., when cease-fire and peace negotiations in Eastern Ukraine, supported by Russia, seem to progress, could result from the same logic and abide to the same rhetoric.

Yet, as shown by Kearns and Raynova looking at the voting pattern in the UN General Assembly for the 27 March 2014 adoption of a resolution ‘calling upon states not to recognise changes in the status of the Crimea region’, Russia’s isolation is far from being obvious (“Is Russia really isolated on Ukraine?“, European Leadership Network, 1 April 2014).

If Russia was not isolated then, could it be that more than five months later, it is truly becoming increasingly isolated, which would indicate the success of Western policies?

To estimate the alleged Russian isolation, we shall use as proxy indicators the sanctions applied upon Russia on the one hand, and, on the other, the international reactions to the Russian embargo on agricultural and food products. We shall focus the analysis on main players and salient points. Supplementary sources used to draw the concluding map (see below) are listed at the bottom of the post.

The Russian Embargo

The Russian agricultural embargo was taken under a “Presidential Executive Order On Applying Certain Special Economic Measures to Ensure the Security of the Russian Federation”, signed on 6 August 2014. isolated Russia, agricultural embargo, apples, EU, FranceThe ban was an answer to the then last batch of Western sanctions over Ukraine and the MH17 tragedy felt as unjust, because Russia had (and, since then, still has) repeatedly denied any direct involvement in the conflict in Eastern Ukraine (Dmitry Medvedev, “Introductory Remarks“, Government Meeting, 7 August 2014), all the more so that no proper investigation could have then proved any Russian responsibility in the MH17 downing.

The preliminary investigation report published by the Dutch Safety Board seven weeks after the MH17 catastrophe, still unable to fully determine causes, only underlines further how early accusations against Russia could have been felt as not only far-fetched (if after seven weeks one cannot determine the culprit, then how could it have been done a few hours after the crash?) but also unjust. The embargo started when Medvedev signed a “Government resolution on enforcing this Executive Order”, i.e. 7 August, should last twelve months and through it “Russia has completely banned the importation of beef, pork, fruits and vegetables, poultry, fish, cheese, milk and dairy products from the European Union, the United States, Australia, Canada and the Kingdom of Norway” (Medvedev, Ibid.).

Sanctions and Reactions to Russian Embargo

East Asia

In Eastern Asia, the U.S. tried to enlist support for sanctions from China, Japan, Singapore and South Korea, however without much success, save for Japan (e.g. Zachary Keck, “Why Asia Won’t Sanction Russia for MH17“, The Diplomat, 31 July 2014).  South Korea stated it had no plan to apply sanctions, while Singapore only follows UN sanctions (Kiev Post, 25 July, Keck Ibid.).

As far as Japan is concerned, and despite Russian expressed disappointment with sanctions (taken in April and July), considering the so-far positive outlook of Japan-Russian relationships (e.g. VOA News, 12 February 2014; Ria Novosti, 5 August 2014), Russian News Agency RIA Novosti seems to imply that “behind the scene” diplomacy involving Former Japanese Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori is taking place: Japan explains its decision regarding sanctions by “having been forced into it”, meanwhile reasserting the importance of relationships with Russia (“Japanese Politician to Convey Prime Minister’s Message to Russian Leadership: Reports“, 8 September 2014). Indeed, as reported in Japan, former Prime Minister Mori met with President Putin, handing him a letter conveying “Abe’s eagerness to prevent bilateral relations from deteriorating further.” (The Japan News, 11 September 2014). Japan, notably, is energy starved and needs to solve territorial issues with Russia over the Kuril islands, which stops both countries to sign any peace treaty ending World War II (e.g. Sudhir Devare, India & Southeast Asia: Towards Security Convergence, ISEAS, Singapore, p.36; Harry Kazianis, “World War II: Not Over For Japan and Russia“, The Diplomat, 30 April 2013).

China relations with Russia continue being excellent and are even reinforced by “the West” sanctions against Russia, as exemplified, among others, by the huge 30 years USD 400 billion gas deal (e.g. Martin, Forbes, 30 May 2014), the Arctic coordination (Valantin, RTAS, 23 june 2014), the launch in July 2014 of the New Development Bank (NDB) by the BRICS as an alternative to the IMF and the World Bank, institutions of the American post-World War II order (e.g. our warning back in March; Pilling, FT, 30 July 2014), the recent military exercises conducted within the framework of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation-SCO (e.g. Ria Novosti, 29 August 2014), the launch of Russia’s use of China UnionPay credit card system (RT, 15 August 2014), or deals regarding supply of fruits and vegetables to Russia from China (e.g. The Moscow Times, 11 August 2014).

Isolated Russia, Putin, MongoliaMeanwhile, in early September, as Russian President Putin visited Mongolia, the Mongolian President stated that he will not take any sanctions against Russia, but, on the contrary, position the country to sell meat to his neighbour, while overall trade should be boosted (Al Jazeera, 3 September 2014).

South Asia

In South Asia, the U.S. intensely courted India, a long-time ally of Russia, with trips by Secretary of State Kerry followed by Secretary of Defense Hagel (among others, Keey Modi scMark Smith, “Russia relations with India and Pakistan“, Russian Series, 4/24, Conflict Studies Research Centre, Defence Academy of the United Kingdom, 2004). To try attracting India into an American zone of influence, even suggesting the signature of an India-Japan-U.S. military alliance, which would fundamentally upset the current strategic outlook, Hagel did not hesitate to offer, for example, co-development of anti-tank guided missile, thus even directly competing with their Israeli ally (Ajay Banerjee, “Hagel calls for US, Japan, India alliance“, The Tribune, 10 August 2014; Rajat Pandit, “US takes aim at Israeli antitank missiles in Indian arms market“, Times of India, 10 August 2014).

Yet, Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj reasserted the continuity of Indian Foreign Policy, thus refusing to join the sanctions’ round against Russia (Defense news, 3 August 2014; Ria Novosti, 31 July 2014). Considering Indian historical relations with Russia, “our country’s greatest friend” as Indian Prime Minister Modi put it when meeting with Russian President Putin on 16 July, as well as Modi’s will to further “strengthening Russia-India ties” (Indian Ministry of External Affairs, India-Russia relations, 2014; Zeenews, 16 July 2014), India is unlikely to “abandon” Russia. However, the probable visit of President Modi to the U.S. in late September (The Times of India) is to be monitored, including because of possible strategic evolutions regarding China and Japan.

Meanwhile, on 26 August, Pakistan Ambassador to Russia suggested that Pakistan could “supply food products to Russia no inferior in quality to Europe‘s (Interfax Interview, 26 August 2014).

Sri Lanka would also plan “larger fish, seafood export to Russia” (Itar-Tass, 13 August 2014).

Central Asia

Most Central Asian countries have mostly good relationships with Russia, exemplified through common memberships to various international organizations, which were not deteriorated by “the West” actions. Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan are members of the Isolated Russia, Dushanbe, SCOSCO, with China and Russia. During the recent Dushanbe summit on 11 and 12 September 2014, they signed the so-called Dushanbe Declaration (official text), where, among other major point such as the possible enlargement of the SCO, consensus over commitment for the UN, Syria, Iran or Afghanistan, they “welcome[d] the signed September 4, 2014 Protocol on the basis of the consultations of the Tripartite Liaison Group on joint steps aimed at the implementation of the Peace Plan of the President and the President of the Russia initiatives” (Google translation).

Kazakhstan is also a member of the Eurasian Union (Russia, Kazakhstan, Belarus), and accepted that its territory could not be used to see the Russian embargo on agricultural products bypassed, even if it did not itself enforce an embargo (“Lavrov interview“, Itar-Tass, 11 September 2014).

Furthermore, Russia is also a crucial partner for many of those landlocked countries, as reminded, for example, by Tajikistan’s Ambassador to Russia who reasserted that ““Russia is Tajikistan’s strategic partner. We favour close economic cooperation with Russia” when he announced on 15 September the intention to “step up economic cooperation with Russia” notably in the framework of the agricultural embargo (Itar-Tass, 15 September 2014).

Uzbekistan as many other countries saw the opportunity with the Russian embargo to increase their own exports (Uznews.net, 8 August 2014).

Turkmenistan, for its part, seeks to maintain neutral and good relationships with all sides, and thus did not join in to sanction Russia.

Latin America

Despite attempts by the European Union to talk Latin America out of taking advantage of the Russian agricultural embargo (Christian Oliver, Financial Times, 11 August 2014), isolated Russia, BRICS, BrasilLatin American countries quasi-unanimously seized this new trade opportunity (Dom Phillips, “How Russian ban on U.S., E.U. food could turn into a windfall for Brazil“, Washington Post, 9 August 2014; “Food Ban Expected To Boost Uruguay Beef Exports To Russia“, Farms UY, 7 August 2014;”Peru ramps up food exports to Russia amid sanctions“, Monitor Global Outlook, 12 August 2014; Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico: Financial Times, 14 August 2014; “Argentina announces food-export deals with Russia“; Fox News Latino, 21 August 2014).

These choices, according to countries, may also be read as political statements, underlining notably the historically built “misunderstanding and distrust [that] have characterized U.S.-Latin American relations (James D. Cochrane, “The Troubled And Misunderstood Relationship:The United States and Latin America“, Latin American Research Review, 28(2): 232).

In early September, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, true to Chavismo, went even further, suggesting that the “West’s ‘Attacks’ on Russia Are Attempt to Stifle BRICS” (The Moscow Times, 2 September 2014).

Middle East and North Africa

Turkey rapidly stated its intention to take advantage of the opportunity offered by the Russian embargo, as emphasized by both the head of the Turkish Exporters Assembly (TIM) and the Economy Minister (Reuters, 8 August 2014; Manolis Kefalogiannis, The Parliament Magazine, 9 September 2014). This move is criticized by the EU, showing that “Ankara is distancing itself from the EU” because “as a candidate country, Turkey should bring its foreign policy into line with that of the EU”, as asked by the 15 August council of foreign ministers (Ibid.). Again, beyond trade pragmatism, we may wonder if here too a political statement is not made, as Turkey has been kept waiting for so long by the EU, on the one hand and is, on the other – and probably relatedly, strongly interested in joining the SCO, to which it received the status of a dialogue partner in 2013 (Stephen Blank, “Turkey and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization: Motives and Consequences“, Central Asia-Caucasus Analyst, 23 April 2014).

Unsurprisingly considering the good relationships between the two countries, Iran also stressed its readiness to export food to Russia (Fars News, 6 September 2014).

The relationship between Egypt and Russia is definitely strengthening, as furthermore both now share the experience of recent alienation by “the West”. When the Egyptian revolution and struggle against the Islamism of the Muslim Brotherhood were quite unanimously denounced as a military coup and condemned by “the West” in 2013 (e.g. The Weekly No108 and No107), Al Sisi, Sochi, Russia, Egypt, Isolated RussiaRussia did not hesitate to reboot ties, notably with the visit of the “Russian defense and foreign ministers in November” 2013. Now, after the state visit of President al-Sisi to Russia in August 2014, not only are military, agricultural and infrastructure contracts signed or about to be, but discussions have started for “the creation of a free trade zone between Egypt and the Russia-led Customs Union, which also includes Belarus and Kazakhstan”  (Al-Arabiya News, 12 August 2014; Ria Novosti, 12 August 2014; Egypt State Information Service, 12 August 2014).

More recently, on 2 September, the Tunisian Foreign Minister expressed Tunisia’s willingness “to supply many goods that Russia does not receive from Europe now”, among other issues discussed (Itar-Tass, 2 September 2014; Tunisie Afrique Press, “La Russie assiste la Tunisie dans sa guerre contre le terrorisme“, Global Net, 3 September 2014). Morocco also wishes to take advantage of the new opportunity and “a Morocco–Russia summit will take place in mid-September to create a strategy for more comprehensive trade between the two countries.” (Jeune Afrique, 5 September 2014).


Armenia, dependent upon Russian economy, and about to join the Eurasian Union in October 2014, saw an opportunity in the agricultural embargo to increase its exports in Russia (Sara Kojoyan, “Silver Lining?: Armenia keen on increasing agricultural exports amid Russian sanctions against EU“; “Sanctions: Armenia may feel fallout from West’s punishment of Russia“; Armenianow.com, 3 & 4 September 2014; RFE/RL, 18 July 2014).

Trying to preserve relationships with the West, as it is a signatory of an Association Agreement with the EU, while also wishing to continue improving the prospects for normalization with Russia, Georgia expressed its will to take advantage of the offered possibility to increase agricultural exports and stated it was not joining in imposing sanctions on Russia (Armenian News Tert.am, 15 August 2014; Georgy Kalatozishvili, “Georgia waits out the Ukrainian crisis, trying to please everybody“, 29 August 2014). Importantly, Kalatozishvili (Ibid.) also underlines that the West is perceived as weaker than thought, which contributes to explain Georgia’s decisions and its criticism of the sanctions’ path.

Azerbaijan is holding talks with Russia so as to increase its agricultural exports (Aynur Jafarova, “Azerbaijan’s unique chance to increase export of agricultural products to Russia“, 22 August 2014);


Belarus, a member of the Eurasian Union, hopes, logically, to sell more agricultural products to Russia. However, as Kazakhstan, it declined imposing a food ban similar to Russia’s (Volha Charnysh, “Belarus Hopes To Cash In On Russian Sanctions“, Belarus Digest, 19 August 2014).

Although candidate states to the EU were called upon to develop a foreign policy similar to the EU, Serbia refused to take any sanction against Russia (Lauren Gieseke, “Russian Sanctions Pose Particular Strains on Aspiring EU and NATO Candidate States (7/3)“, The European Institute, July 2014), most probably considering its long-standing relationship with Russia. On the contrary, Montenegro, for example, accepted to follow the European Union decisions (Ibid.).

However, this almost total EU unity also hides varying position according to member states. Besides hardliners against Russia, such as Poland and the UK, some states increasingly developed a more measured approach to sanctions, notably Finland, if not plain “opposition … now coming from Austria, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, among others,” or from Hungary (DW, “Resistance grows in EU to new Russia sanctions“, 5 September 2014; BBC news, “Hungary PM Orban condemns EU sanctions on Russia“, 15 August 2014).

Furthermore, it would also seems that within some European states a domestic opposition develops against sanctions, in a more or less generalized way.  For example, in early August, in Bulgaria,  only 10% of the population supported stricter sanctions, whilst 40% thought “that Bulgaria should not participate in sanctions against any country in general, Russia included” (Novinite.com, 7 August 2014). Opposition to sanctions, in general, originates from the left (DW, Ibid.), from the business and corporate sector, as well as from agricultural producers, which will be seriously hit by the Russian embargo.

For example, in Spain, in Aragon on 18 August (RTVE.es) then in Catalonia on 23 August (RT video; Ria Novosti, 23 August 2014), farmers protested against the EU policy over Russia that led to the embargo and even burnt the EU flag. The cost of the retaliatory embargo to the EU will indeed be felt strongly as, according to the AP/AFP, in 2013 “Russia imported $1.3 billion (971 million euros) worth of foodstuffs from the US, an amount that was dwarfed by the EU’s agricultural exports to Russia in 2013, which totaled $15.8 billion.” (Deutsche Welle, “Russia announces ‘full embargo’ on most food from US, EU“). Hence the EU producers of agricultural products are paying the brunt of the West policy. Beyond direct and immediate cost, including bankruptcy for smaller farmers, the negative impact is highly likely to be long-lasting as the new contracts signed over the world will be difficult if not impossible to recapture.

As another indication of discontent related to sanctions, this time from both the political world and larger corporations, we find the little publicized meeting that was held under the aegis of the French non-profit organization Dialogue Franco-Russe, where the President of the Russian Duma and other Russian parliamentarians met French ones and political figures as well as businessmen, including the CEO of Total (energy, oil), the Director for Europe of GDF-Suez (energy) and Serge Dassault (founder of Dassault Systems, from aerospace and defense to energy etc.) – (meeting report, in French, in English). As another exampleGerman businesses have also at time shared their doubts regarding the sanctions’ policy (e.g. Bethan John “One-third of German firms see sanctions hitting Russian business“, Reuters, 9 September).

Russia is not isolated

The resulting map was obtained with the following conventions: a scale from -4 to -1 for those countries applying sanctions, from the “hard-liners” to mildest sanctions; 0 given to countries having not applied sanctions or having refused to do so; a scale from 1 to 4 for countries taking advantage of the agricultural embargo, according to the strength of their relationship to Russia (the white colour means no data).

isolated Russia, sanctions, embargo, West, U.S. EU, Nato, BRICS

As visually represented on the map, it is obvious from the analysis that Russia is far from being isolated, on the contrary.

As a result, it would seem that the West policies are less successful than the rhetoric implies. We have obviously truly entered into an era of multipolarity, where the wishes of a single superpower are not systematically followed anymore. We would thus be witnessing the end of American hegemony, only still holding, and imperfectly so, in Europe, Australia and New Zealand.

Furthermore, the discrepancy between declarations and reality may also fuel change by promoting misunderstanding, leading to feeling of aggression and injustice, breeding in turn heightened tensions and accelerated actions to protect oneself. The cost of believing wrongly that there is or could be an isolated Russia may be huge, not only in economic terms – as born principally by Europe and European companies and producers – but also in terms of international influence and power and thus ability to achieve one’s vision and aims, including  ensuring the security of one’s citizens at best.

Isolated Russia, NATOAs so many other threats, from the impact of climate change to the spread of Ebola without forgetting the expansionist and warring aims of the Islamic State would demand cooperation rather than avoidable tense and escalating divisions, it may be high time for “the West” to take stock of reality and devise new policies.


*”The West” here is a shorthand that refers to the U.S., Canada, Australia,  New Zealand and the U.K. (the Five Eyes, an intelligence alliance), the EU and member states – the UK is, still, of course also part of the EU – Switzerland and Norway. New Zealand and Switzerland, however, have taken less strident positions against Russia (see sources below). We could – and should – however discuss why Russia is not seen as both a European, thus Western, and Asian country, when so many elements concur to show it is: geographically (until the Ural mountains at least), historically, culturally (considering the incredible Russian contribution to European culture, from music with Tchaikovsky (listen to a Best of – Youtube), Rimski-Korsakov (extract from Scheherazade), Rachmaninov (Best Of) or Prokoviev (Best of) to name only a few composers, to ballet dancing with Diaghilev and Nijinsky (e.g. Twenty Years that Changed the World of Art – visit Harvard exhibition) to painting with Kandinsky or Chagall for example, or literature, with Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky among many others), and geopolitically (from Russia’s role in defeating Napoleon, to the 1907 Triple Entente between Britain, France and Russia (e.g. Conybear and Sandler, “The Triple Entente and the Triple Alliance 1880-1914…“, American Political Science Review, 84(4), 1990) to the Soviet Union costly and crucial fight against the Axis during WWII to take only recent examples.


Additional sources to establish the map

List of countries with which Russia’s Rosselkhoznadzor agricultural watchdog is in talk: China, Turkey, Serbia, Egypt, Mauritius, Ecuador, Chile, Columbia, Mexico, Brazil, Sri Lanka, Paraguay, Guatemala, Morocco, Kenya, Argentina and Lebanon – Itar Tass, “Faroe Islands may boost fish exports to Russia amid war of sanctions“, 8 September 2014.

Lauren Gieseke, “Russian Sanctions Pose Particular Strains on Aspiring EU and NATO Candidate States (7/3)“, The European Institute, July 2014.

BRICS condemn sanctions against Russia“, The BRICS Post, July 16, 2014


Switzerland focuses on “Measures to Prevent the Circumvention of International Sanctions concerning the Situation in Ukraine” – rating on map (-1).

New Zealand