On Tuesday, Feb. 24, Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite announced plans to reinstate limited military conscription in her country. This move would reverse Lithuania’s 2008 decision to end the draft and rely solely on its professional army. Conscription is estimated to include between 3,000 and 3,500 men every year for the next five years. Although the draft requires approval from Lithuania’s parliament, its proposal by President Grybauskaite is indicative of the fraught security situation in Eastern Europe.
Lithuania—along with Estonia and Latvia—is one of the Baltic States, which have been increasingly concerned over recent Russian interference in neighboring Crimea and southeastern Ukraine. Like Crimea and Ukraine, the Baltic States are former territories of the Soviet Union and worry they might be next in Moscow’s shortlist of targets. As Putin has framed the recent impingements of Ukrainian sovereignty as protecting ethnic Russians, the Baltic States fear Russia might take action vis-à-vis their own Russian minorities. These concerns have been made tangible by last September’s detainment of an Estonian security official by Russia, as well as last December’s military drills in the neighboring Russian province of Kaliningrad.
Lithuania is not alone in responding to this potential threat. For example, since the Crimean crisis in March 2014, Latvia has increased its professional military from 2,000 to 8,000 soldiers. Since all three Baltic States have been members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization since 2004, the alliance has stepped up its regional activity as well, increasing the number of fighter planes patrolling the region and intensifying military drills. NATO has also agreed to set up command centers in the Baltic States and coordinate local militaries in rapid-response teams. Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine had also agreed to form plans for military cooperation against possible Russian action back in Sept. 2014.
At this point the only viable strategy for the Baltic States is to deter Russia by increasing the potential costs of aggression. Even though these states are part of NATO, they cannot rely on the United States for full military support, given the superpower’s current focus on the so-called Islamic State. Also, it is unlikely the U.S. would be willing to commit to protracted military engagement, which here would mean direct war with Russia. Additionally, the three states shouldn’t think they are enough of a security linchpin for the U.S. to credibly threaten global annihilation through nuclear war. The only strategic asset the Baltic States really have, then, is regional cooperation.
In the end, though, that will probably be enough. As opposed to Ukraine, which was internally divided over whether to associate with eastern Russia or the Western European Union, the Baltic States are decidedly in the West’s camp, already members of both the E.U. and NATO. Also, their Russian populations are markedly less demographically significant than Ukraine’s, giving Putin less of an incentive—and less of a justification—to interfere in their region. Furthermore, it isn’t clear if Russian movements last December in Kaliningrad were meant to prepare for an offensive or, instead, to warn against any NATO attempt to intervene in Ukraine.
Even if Putin decided to intervene in the Baltic States, NATO would be prepared for any moves Russia begins to make. The Russian military cannot expect to make the same moves it did in Ukraine, as Putin no longer has the element of surprise. Any Russian forward engagement, then, would be much more costly. International responses would also be much harsher than they would be for Ukraine. Finally, as there are no effective Russian allies in the Baltic States, Putin will be unable to rally domestic support. As such, although it is wise for Lithuania to increase its defensive capabilities, the newly conscripted soldiers should be glad to know that although they have sacrificed their time, they won’t have to sacrifice their lives.
Nigeria has decided to postpone its presidential and congressional elections, which were scheduled for Feb. 14. The elections will now be held on Mar. 28. The decision to postpone was made on the grounds that the Nigerian military could not protect citizens from the riots and violence that are expected to erupt from the inevitable incensed voters regardless of election results. Current president Goodluck Jonathan’s administration has also cited its failure to properly distribute voter registration cards as a reason for postponement.
Nigerian forces are currently occupied with fighting Boko Haram. Notably, the word “Boko” is Hausa, and “Haram” is Arabic; together, the two form a composite phrase that translates to “Western education is forbidden.” Boko Haram itself is an insurgent group that is responsible for numerous acts of terror in Nigeria and the surrounding region, including kidnapping nearly 300 Nigerian schoolgirls in April 2014 and attacking northeastern cities and towns, including the city of Maiduguri.
Jonathan will run against Muhammadu Buhari, a former military ruler of Nigeria who took power in a coup d’état in 1983 and ruled until 1985, when he was ousted. Jonathan is running for the People’s Democratic Party and expects strong voter turnout from the Christian population of Nigeria, while Buhari is running for the All Progressives Congress party and is supported mainly by the Muslim population. This divide reflects the religious tension that has been a source of violence and dispute for as long as Nigeria has been a state—since Britain grouped together different ethnic groups and cultures into one colonial state throughout the 1860s.
Among other campaign promises, Buhari says he will be able to effectively deal with Boko Haram, a claim that is supported by his reputation for taking action and being effective as ruler. This reputation was built during Buhari’s time as military ruler, when he launched an anti-corruption campaign, which resulted in the arrests of hundreds of officials and businessmen, and also established laws to improve the efficiency of Nigeria’s government and economy. However, these laws have been criticized for violating human rights and the freedom of Nigerians.
The president’s decision to postpone the election appears to be yet another abuse of presidential power in the hopes of swaying the election in his favor. After four years of failure to address Boko Haram and the group’s numerous acts of terror, this six-week delay is not long enoughto produce results and is a clear misuse of power, undermining Nigeria’s fragile democratic processes for a short-term political gain. Jonathan’s administration has been ineffective in fixing some of the country’s issues and has even created others, including widespread economic and governmental corruption. This ineffectiveness has shaped the international community’s opinion of the Nigerian government as unstable, and the decision to postpone the election can only exacerbate this view.
However, even if the election takes place as scheduled, and even if Buhari wins, there is little guarantee that those in power will able to implement change in the Nigerian government and gain legitimacy, especially given the current state of corruption within the administration and Buhari’s history as a dictator. The government of Nigeria is denying its citizens a voice by postponing the elections, which further raises citizens’ doubt of the legitimacy of the elections and distrust toward the democratic process in Nigeria.
With the constant threat of Boko Haram, the international community is pressuring Nigeria to take measures to increase the effectiveness and legitimacy of its government. Though this election is unlikely to cause a dramatic change in Nigeria’s ability to govern itself, the current crisis with Boko Haram requires Nigeria to at least maintain its routine functions and processes and increase internal stability if it hopes to eliminate the threat of Boko Haram.
The Islamic State released a video on Tuesday, Feb. 3 showing a caged man being burned alive. Jordanian officials have confirmed that the man was Moaz al Kasasbeh, a pilot in the Jordanian Royal Air Force whose plane was shot down on Dec. 24. He has been held captive since then by the Islamic State.
Until now, Jordanian negotiators have aggressively pursued a prisoner exchange with the Islamic State involving Sajida al-Rishawi, an imprisoned Iraqi woman who was convicted on charges of involvement in the 2005 hotel bombings which rocked the Jordanian capital, Amman. Al Rishawi has familial connections with Abu Musab al Zarqawi, commander of Al Qaeda at the time. Despite the Islamic State’s breakaway from Al Qaeda, the group continues to honor her and value her suicide-bombing attempt, referring to her as their sister during negotiations.
The video of al Kasasbeh, which blames his killing on Jordan’s King Abdullah II and his cooperation in the U.S.-led coalition consisting of the United Kingdom, Jordan, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and various European countries, incited demonstrations in Amman demanding revenge for the slain pilot. Jordanians are referring to al Kasasbeh as a shaheed, or “martyr.”
The theatricality of al Kasasbeh’s death is a card from the hand of the Islamic State’s now infamous PR strategy, composed of cutting-edge use of social media and video-recorded executions designed to shock the world. IS’s ideology discourages cooperation with and involvement in the international community, as they see it in its current form as a product of Western imperialism and corruption. As a newcomer to the political arena of the region, the Islamic State is posturing itself as a force that will not cooperate rationally with its neighbors. Their execution of al Kasasbeh after negotiating for his release raises serious doubts about their intentions to release him should the negotiations have been fruitful and demonstrates their contempt for neighboring nations. Seeking to portray to the residents of its territory and to outsiders its supposed strength and desire for longevity, the Islamic State has coupled these PR moves with its own minted coins and passports (the utility of which is dubious, as neither will likely be accepted outside of their territories in Syria and Iraq).
As Gertrude said in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the IS “doth protest too much, methinks.” The State’s insistence on these tactics is a thin veil to the instability and inherent weakness of the group in their current form. Lack of international recognition has the potential to hamstring the nascent economy of the Islamic State, and popular support for their regime is under stress due to the strictness of their legal and punitive system.
The success of this strategy will be determined in hindsight. However, if IS intended to goad Jordan into deeper involvement, then they have succeeded. The Jordanian people cry out for revenge, but what would be the cost? Could the Islamic state simply be trying to deplete the Jordanian treasury? They would not be the first Jihadist organization to use prolonged asymmetric warfare to drain the resources of their enemy, similar to Al Qaeda’s strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan.