Gassing International Law

By David M. Crane

(Re-published from The Jurist | Nov. 6, 2017) The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) should not ignore or walk away from the alleged use of any prohibited weapon, such as chemicals, as it signals it is permissible to violate the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and erodes international norms related to such weapons. Further, it signals that countries with deep ties to P5 (U.K., U.S., France, Russia, China) are outside the scope of UNSC authority, therefore creating a bigger issue of eroding the international authority of the UNSC and jeopardizing the foundation of international law.

“The UN is not impotent, as it has facilitated international cooperation on the conflict, resulting in ceasefires, the initial formation of JIM, condemnation of acts, and investigation of potential war crimes.”

On Tuesday, October 24, 2017, Russia vetoed the resolution extending the mandate of the investigators probing chemical weapons attacks in Syria. [JURIST report] [Meeting Record] Following the chemical attack in 2015, Russia and America created the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) to investigate the presence/use of chemical weapons in Syria, which found 27 active production facilities. In its most recent report late last month, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said it had verified the destruction of 25 of the 27 chemical weapons production facilities declared by Syria and continued to prepare an inspection to confirm the current condition of the last two. The vote on the resolution was in advance of the JIM investigative report (presented Thursday October 26). The report sought to identify the party responsible for a deadly April 4 attack in the rebel-controlled town of Khan Sheikhoun in southern Idlib that killed and sickened scores of civilians allegedly using sarin gas. Shortly after that attack, the United States launched an airstrike on a Syrian air base and accused the al-Assad regime of carrying out the gas attack.

This action by Russia is primarily concerned with the sovereignty of Syria and stresses the maxim that you cannot enter a sovereign territory without concrete evidence of wrong doing. Further Russia believes they face possible retaliation by Syria and/or rebel groups present in Syria. Finally, Russia is concerned that there has been a blurring of lines between the conflict against Syria and the conflict against ISIS. Additionally Russia is supporting the regime and has economic ties to Syria. They do not want the US to gain any influence in Syria.

The media and various member states are concerned that the UNSC is impotent in assisting in Syria due to the P5 structure. The UNSC and the UN system are shouldering the blame for little progress in Syria. The broader discussion criticizes the entire UN system as being outdated and ineffective.

The UN is not impotent, as it has facilitated international cooperation on the conflict, resulting in ceasefires, the initial formation of JIM, condemnation of acts, and investigation of potential war crimes. Further, the UN is serving its purpose as a neutral forum for these discussions. Syria has not simply become a battlefield upon which America and Russia are fighting, nor are we seeing a return to interstate war. Therefore, the UN is working as a forum for these issues. Further negotiations need to be based on interests and relationships as nationalistic and realist strategies fail within the cooperative international organizational model …

To read the complete article, click here.

What the US Government Can Do to Prevent Low-Tech Terror Attacks

By Corri Zoli

On Oct. 31, 2017, as reported by CNN, eight people were killed and almost a dozen injured when 29-year-old Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov drove a rented pickup truck down a busy bicycle path in New York City’s Lower Manhattan district. Authorities found a note claiming the attack was made in the name of Islamic State (ISIS) near the truck used in the attack.[1] Saipov was shot by police and taken to the hospital. Originally from Uzbekistan, he entered the United States under a visa program designed to encourage immigration from underrepresented nations.

“Likely, the visa lottery program Saipov used to enter the US in 2010 will come under scrutiny.”

Given the case facts, this tragic incident looks like yet another low-tech terrorist attack, similar to vehicular attacks in the last two years in London, France, Sweden, Spain, Germany, and elsewhere. The inspiration for these attacks comes from ISIS and its online recruitment materials that advocate for the surprise killing of civilians using any available modern tools as weapons, such as trucks, knives, or homemade bombs.[2] Europe has suffered hundreds of deaths due to this “low-tech” but powerful strategy.

US Congressmembers emphasize that we’re in a high-threat environment given ISIS attacks across the world and given thousands of foreign terrorist fighters returning to their home countries (as Islamic State collapses). It should be remembered that 60,000 foreign fighters have joined ISIS in Syria and Iraq since 2012. While numbers of recruits from the US are far lower than from France and Britain—not to mention other countries—they are not zero. Since 2014, 136 individuals have been charged for ISIS-related offenses in the US, with 79 so far found guilty.

What can the US government do to prevent such low-tech terror attacks in the homeland? Physical barriers to prevent car and truck attacks would help in places where people congregate, but it is not feasible to line every road or bike path with such concrete barriers. Nor do we have as many domestic policy tools as we might like to have to deal with this issue, such as heavily secured borders or detailed vetting procedures for immigrants and refugees. Instead, we must turn to surveillance, public notification of extremist behavior, forward-leaning law enforcement professionals, and community engagement, all of which must be balanced with civil liberties.

Importantly, lawmakers and law enforcement officials need to stay ahead of global terrorist strategic, tactical, and recruitment trends, especially after the fall of Raqqa and now that ISIS operatives are beginning to return home or move into other regions (such as Mali in western Africa). To politicize these issues—or ignore them or wish them away—is folly. Preventing terror attacks will require thorough policy reviews, investigative reports, and new bipartisan laws and agency procedures, such as those developed in the past to close VISA loopholes. The U.S. is not alone on these challenges—France issued a new anti-terrorism law this week, and British ministers are actively asking what to do with foreign terrorist returnees. 

In addition to the challenge of homegrown terrorism, our immigration systems are not immune to these threats. Both the Obama and Trump administrations have increased vetting of immigrants and refugees to deal with the ways terrorist operatives target migration flows and programs. Former FBI Director James Comey in 2015 Congressional testimony noted that 15% of refugees (300 out of 2,000-plus open FBI cases) are under FBI investigation for “some contact with foreign terrorists.”

Terrorists exploiting immigration and refugee programs is a bigger problem, however, in Europe, where ISIS operatives in the Paris (2015) and Belgium (2016) attacks, among others, used refugee flows and passports to skirt border security measures.

Likely, the visa lottery program[3] Saipov used to enter the US in 2010 will come under scrutiny[4]. While a small program,[5] after the San Bernardino attack in 2015, President Barack Obama’s Department of Homeland Security Director Jeh Johnson and lawmakers—including Central New York’s John Katko, who leads the House bipartisan Task Force on Combating Terrorist and Foreign Fighter Travel—reevaluated the K-1 VISA program for fiancée/spouses, some recommending social media surveillance of individuals.

The vetting process for the K-1 program was determined to be less rigorous than refugee vetting processes and therefore changed. In this case—as in the case of San Bernadino killer Tashfeen Malik, who was determined to have been radicalized before entering the US—an important question is whether Saipov exhibited signs of radicalization before he entered the US and whether he was properly vetted.


[1] Sayfullo Saipov’s first name translates into “Sword of Allah.” Reportedly, he pledged allegiance to ISIS and had ISIS flags in his vehicle.
[2] Here’s a sample from Rumiyah: Though being an essential part of modern life, very few actually comprehend the deadly and destructive capability of the motor vehicle and its capacity of reaping large numbers of casualties if used in a premeditated manner. This was superbly demonstrated…by the brother Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel who, while traveling at the speed of approximately 90 km p/hour, plowed his 19-ton load-bearing truck into crowds celebrating Bastille Day in Nice, harvesting through his attack the slaughter of 86 Crusader citizens and injuring 434 more. The method of such an attack is that a vehicle is plunged at a high speed into a large congregation of kufar, smashing their bodies with the vehicle’s strong outer frame, while advancing forward—crushing their heads, torsos, and limbs under the vehicle’s wheels and chassis—and leaving behind a trail of carnage.” (Rumiyah, 2016, Issue 3, p. 10)
[3] There were 1,051,031 new legal permanent residents (“Green Card” holders) in FY 2015, with about 5% coming from the “diversity” visa lottery program and most (66%) coming from family relations preferences.
[4] News outlets are also reporting that Saipov was in fact investigated by the FBI in 2015 over his ties with suspected terrorists. He was further listed as a “point of contact” for 23 visitors and immigrants, two of whom were found in DHS’s counterterrorism database and overstayed their tourist visas, itself a growing problem in the US (more than 700,000 overstayed their visas in 2016). One individual was flagged as arriving from a threat country while the other was identified as a “suspected terrorist.” Vetting procedures were again changed—this time to link classified (US Department of Defense) and unclassified data on jihadists—when it was discovered that two Iraqi refugees arrested on terror offenses in Bowling Green, Kentucky had previously committed IED attacks against US soldiers in Iraq.
[5] The Diversity Visa Program prioritizes immigrants from countries with historically low rates of immigration to the US. Congressionally mandated as part of the Immigration Act of 1990, the program creates priorities—diversity—beyond traditional US immigration policy of immigrating family members or US employment needs. The program allows for 55,000 immigrants per year (beginning in 1995) with countries excluded that have sent more than 50,000 immigrants to the US in the previous 5 years.

 

Haley Calls Russian Election Interference “Warfare,” But Is It an Armed Attack?

By Ryan White

(Re-published from Crossroads: Cybersecurity Law & Policy | Oct. 20, 2017) On Oct. 19, 2017, Reuters reported that US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley called last year’s Russian meddling in the Presidential election “warfare.”  The comments came during a panel discussion alongside two former Secretaries of State, Madeleine Albright and Condoleezza Rice.

“Syracuse University College of Law Professor William C. Snyder, the editor of Crossroads, says he prefers to define “armed attack” as something that ‘tears at the fabric of society.'”

Haley explained, “When a country can come interfere in another country’s elections that is warfare. It really is, because you’re making sure that the democracy shifts from what the people want,” she said. “This is their new weapon of choice and we have to get in front of it.”

Haley’s comments touch on one of the most important questions when it comes to cyber space and cyber war.  In 2011, the then legal adviser of the US state department Harold Koh clearly stated that International Law applies in cyber space. That much has broad support.  The challenge comes when you try to apply it.

What qualifies as an “armed attack” in cyber space?  There is no clear answer. While Haley didn’t use those exact words, the term “warfare” seems to be very close in nature to “armed attack.”  If the US were to officially adopt this stance, it would have major implications.  Why?  Because nations that are signatories of the UN Charter have agreed to not use military force in international affairs unless authorized by the Security Council or in self-defense after an armed attack.  Thus, activities like Russian interference in an election would open the door to a response from the United States.

But what type of response? Is it limited to a cyber response? Could it take kinetic action in the traditional military sense?  Again, these are the ambiguities that exist when trying to apply even the most established principles of international law to cyberspace.

Many experts restrict an “armed attack” in cyberspace to actions whose effects include immediate death or serious bodily injury. Syracuse University College of Law Professor William C. Snyder, the editor of Crossroads, says he prefers to define “armed attack” as something that “tears at the fabric of society.” Perhaps the interference in last year’s election didn’t quite rise to this level. But it’s certainly plausible to see scenarios where, had the Russian attempts been more successful, the United States would have been in chaos.  The election results sparked significant divisiveness as it is. 

Imagine if the results were contested and we truly didn’t know the result of an election.

In context, Haley’s comments do not amount to an official position and aren’t changing the cyber landscape quite yet. But this type of thinking from our nation’s leaders could alter the way cyber activities occur between international actors.

Ryan White is a third-year law student at Syracuse University College of Law, and is also pursuing a Master of Public Administration degree from Syracuse’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. 

Qatar & the “Quartet”: International Blackmail

By David M. Crane

(Re-published from The Jurist | Oct. 11, 2017) Within the United Nations paradigm, state-parties settle their disputes peacefully and only resort to the use of force as a last measure. Several weeks ago four state-parties skipped the first step and used force against a fellow member state. That aggressive act consisted of embargoes, cyber-attacks, and trade and flight disruption, culminating in a list of demands by those states to lift those sanctions.

“The use of force by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE, and Egypt (the Quartet) against Qatar would not have happened but for a new and unstable president in the White House.”

In 2017, it is hard to imagine that a member state would use force without a legal sanction by the Security Council or an appropriate regional body. The unilateral decision to do harm to a member state of the United Nations by other member states is an action that should be condemned and corrected. Most remarkably is how little has been done by the international community to correct the situation and restore international peace and security within the region. The silence is deafening.

The use of force by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE, and Egypt (the Quartet) against Qatar would not have happened but for a new and unstable president in the White House. Past presidents, regardless of party, would not have allowed this to happen; and one would surmise that this Saudi led attack would not have even been contemplated by this Quartet of member states due to that leverage by the West. This quartet saw a political weakness and an opening and took it almost assured of the reaction by the West.

This action by the Quartet could most likely be the beginning of a series of “events” brought upon by a weakened and confused American foreign policy. The lack of leadership coming out of Washington is starting to weaken that international peace and security upon which the United Nations is grounded. Though international blackmail cannot be allowed to stand, the lack of discourse between the feuding parties will only exacerbate the situation. The recent demand by the UAE for Qatar to withdraw as a host of the 2022 World Cup is an example of the blackmail and the lack of interest in settling a dispute peacefully.

The violations of international law and norms committed by the Quartet against Qatar are almost too numerous to mention. Among the treaties violated are the Universal Declaration of Human rightsthe International Covenant on Civil and Political Rightsthe Arab Charter on Human Rights, as well as the Declaration on Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly Relations and Cooperation among States in accordance with the Charter of the United States, among several others. These violations could arguably amount to an act of aggression. The battlefield and the weapons used are not conventional, but an embargo and the use of cyber space as a weapon to do harm could be construed as an aggressive act.

Hence the dilemma the international community now faces, technology has shifted the concept of conflict to another dimension, cyberspace. Its use to do harm continues to manifest itself and the lack of regulation of this new battlespace causes muddled or ineffectual response …

To read the full article, click here.

 

“Terror Has Gone Low-Tech” Says Corri Zoli, Writing in Foreign Policy

Terror Has Gone Low-Tech

The Catalonia attacks are a case study in the future of violent extremism. Governments need to figure out how to respond.

(Re-published from Foreign Policy | Oct. 2, 2017) After the fifth low-tech terrorist attack this year alone in the U.K. — not to mention a spate of attacks across Europe since 2014, and earlier — it is time for governments to reevaluate their approach. At the core of this self-assessment should be a simple recognition, which itself requires separating facts from appearances when it comes to terrorism.

Terrorist attacks in Europe have occurred at such a pace in the last few months that we are in danger of treating them as the new normal. No sooner had the attack on Barcelona’s La Rambla district disappeared from the headlines than the Parsons Green London tube station was targeted in an improvised explosive device attack claimed by the Islamic State. Worse, without time to pause, analyze the case facts, or think strategically, law enforcement across Europe and elsewhere run the risk of getting stuck in a reactive rather than proactive stance.

“Careful analysis exposes common themes across these attacks, which are useful in a strategic response to the hard-to-predict acts of low-tech terror.”

Yet careful analysis exposes common themes across these attacks, which are useful in a strategic response to the hard-to-predict acts of low-tech terror. Although this analysis will focus on the brotherly ties that many analysts missed in the recent Barcelona terror attacks, readers will readily see elements echoed in Parsons Green, in other recent U.K. attacks (Westminster, London Bridge, and Manchester), and beyond. In many cases, the attackers’ networks were held together by family ties. The suspects in Parsons Green, for instance, were foster brothers, young men with recent immigrant backgrounds, who used low-tech terror tactics in busy, unguarded public places; and they appear to have responded to calls from a parent terror organization (in the case of London, by Inspire, an al Qaeda magazine) to attack trains.

The ties that bind

In the three incidents associated with the recent August Barcelona terror attacks, nine of the 12 attackers were brothers. Only leader Abdelbaki Es Satty and two additional recruits, Mohamed Houli Chemlal and Salh El Karib, did not possess family ties in the group. The operatives were young (with the exception of Es Satty) and shared Moroccan nationality or heritage. This kinship element was often glossed over in discussions of the Catalonia attacks, as well as others in which cell members were often related in other ways (for examples, cousins, via families in marriage, etc.).

Although undertheorized, the subject of kinship in terrorism research reveals the utility of social network theory in underscoring how interpersonal relationships — the ties that bind — structure both groups and commitment levels. In low-tech terror attacks in Belgium, France, the U.K., and elsewhere, these bonds — literal or constructed — help operationalize “brothers in arms” willing to sacrifice themselves for transcendent aims. (Literal bonds involve biological, kinship relations in families, brothers and cousins, while constructed bonds involve the close friendships.)

So what role can identifying kinship ties play in government responses to repeated low-tech terrorist attacks, and can it help to deter such attacks?

Catalonia: the facts and the suspects

Any discussion of preventive and countermeasures must begin with case facts and to contemplate the details of this now familiar style of low-tech, small-cell attack in urban settings. The Aug. 17, 2017, La Rambla van attack was executed by an Islamic State cell and involved three related incidents, all linked back to a central figure, Es Satty. He was incarcerated between 2010 and 2014 for drug smuggling from North Africa, had established ties with al Qaeda jihadis from the 2004 train attack, and successfully appealed his deportation order in 2015 after his release from prison. He was also the subject of recent Belgian intelligence warnings to Catalan authorities.

The Alcanar explosion: The night before the Barcelona attack — Wednesday, Aug. 16 — in the town of Alcanar, several members of the Islamic State cell accidentally blew up their house, killing two members: Es Satty, who rented a room in the house, and 22-year-old Youssef Aallaa, born in Naour, Morocco, and affiliated with the Ripoll mosque, where Es Satty worked as an imam. A third member was injured in the attack — 21-year-old Spanish national from Melilla, Chemlal, reported to be the bomb maker, who is currently under arrest.

Like Aallaa and his two brothers, Mohamad and Said, Chemlal was recruited by Es Satty via the Moroccan immigrant community in Ripoll. Authorities discovered more than 100 gas canisters stored at the location, and supplies of triacetone triperoxide (TATP) indicated that the group was planning a spectacular bombing of the Sagrada Família basilica. Es Satty had communicated to his roommate — internet café owner el Karib who bought tickets for both Es Satty and Moroccan national Driss Oukabir — that he was soon leaving for Morocco, where he had already sent his wife and children …

To read the full article, click here.

 

Equifax Data Breach: Let the Blame Game Begin

By Christopher W. Folk (LAW ’17)

In the data breach, Equifax blames Apache >>> Apache rebuts—In the end consumers still lose

(Re-published from Crossroads: Cybersecurity Law & Policy | Sept. 11, 2017) In the wake of a massive data breach, Equifax appears to be blaming a vulnerability in the Apache Software Foundation’s Apache Struts Web Framework, according to a post on Apache.org.  

The Apache Struts Project Management Committee’s post goes on to say that the assumption that the Equifax breach may have relied on a vulnerability in the struts framework that was discovered on Sept. 4, 2017. The post posits that this indicates that if the attackers relied on this vulnerability this would be a zero-day exploit since the issue was not detected until well after the attacks which took place starting in mid-May of 2017.  Furthermore, the PMC’s post asserts that this particular exploit outlined in CVE-2017-9805 may have existed for nine years; however, it was not a known issue during that timeframe and in fact the PMC asserts that as soon as Apache became aware of the issue a fix was developed and made available.

PMC’s post goes on to outline a few key steps that businesses and individuals using Apache struts (or any other supporting software) should implement:

  1. Inventory the frameworks and libraries you are using in your software development and products and maintain visibility into new releases, patches, vulnerabilities, etc.
  2. For each of those, create and utilize a process to test and roll-out security fixes in shorter time-periods (e.g. days vs. weeks).
  3. Don’t build your products on the assumption that the software you are using is flawless.
  4. Create security layers: don’t create a situation where a breach from the presentation (e.g., webpage layer) can endanger underlying back-end data.
  5. Establish baselines to monitor for unusual traffic or data flows which will help to identify network anomalies and potential intrusions and exfiltrations.

By way of comment, I have written an open letter to Equifax …

Dear Equifax:

Please wake up and realize that finger-pointing, trying to blame Apache or any other software products—in addition to the incredibly poor-timing of the executive stock option sales before this breach was made public—are not going to help you in the court of public opinion, nor in any court of law where jurors may sit.

As a consumer, and a business professional, it would have been reassuring to learn that the breach was only to grab encrypted records, since that is how you should be storing our data, or to learn that you were giving those executives the boot since the mere appearance of impropriety was tantamount to deceit and malfeasance.  However, you chose instead to state that the executives had no idea there had been a breach days after it was discovered (in spite of the fact that the breach had been underway since mid-May) and then to assert that it wasn’t really your fault since the attacker used an exploit to exfiltrate unencrypted records.  

Furthermore, if you had performed input validation or sanitization then the vulnerability in struts could not have been exploited in the first place (see this post from Imperva).

Needless to say, at this early stage in the game, your handling of this breach ever since it has been discovered appears to be a case study in what not to do.  As your shares continue their downward movement and as consumers and businesses alike start to realize the repercussions of this breach, it is unlikely that you have issued a single statement or taken a single step to help yourself, or your consumers and users.

Several days after the breach was disclosed, some Equifax executives were able to sell their stock at around $145 to $146 per share. Today (Sept. 11) Equifax shares closed at $113.12.  Meanwhile 143 million of us are waiting to sign up for “free” credit monitoring so we can see when someone tries to use this data to steal our identities.  However, as the government OPM breach taught us, data is worth so much more than just identify theft.  Once you get enough data points on a person, the sky’s the limit.

In short, “thanks” for encrypting our precious data, which would have cost you a little bit of money and would have slowed down some of your back-end processes but would have made the attackers work a whole lot harder to grab our data (in a readable and usable format).

Sincerely,

John Q. Public

Christopher W. Folk is a 2017 graduate of SU College of Law. 

Erdoğan on the Warpath with Germany Ahead of 2017 Elections

By Kamil Szubart

On Aug. 18, 2017, Turkish President Recep T. Erdoğan appealed to the members of the Turkish diaspora in Germany not to vote for four German major parties—the Christian Democratic Union, Christian Social Union in Bavaria, Social Democratic Party (SPD), and Alliance 90/The Greens—in the Bundestag elections on Sep.24, 2017. In his view, all four parties—along with German Chancellor Angela Merkel—represent hostile attitudes to Turkey and its interests.

“Bilateral relations between the two countries have been simmering for a while now, and recently tensions have come to a boil.”

Erdoğan’s words are another escalation of tensions between Germany and Turkey, one that has been going on for a several months. Since the 2016 failed military coup, Turkey has increased its foreign policy assertiveness, including this latest attempt to redefine its relations with Germany. But although it might cause further difficulties in political and security cooperation between both countries—in counterterrorism and the migration crisis—Erdoğan’s pressure probably will not have a decisive impact on the outcome of the German elections.

To better understand the ongoing tensions between Germany and Turkey, it is necessary to take a look at internal and external factors influencing relations between Berlin and Ankara over the last months., including the strengthening of the Turkish diaspora.

The German-Turkish Bilateral Situation

Bilateral relations between the two countries have been simmering for a while now, and recently tensions have come to a boil. Firstly, on June 2, 2016, the Bundestag passed a resolution recognizing the 2015 Turkish massacre of the Armenians as the crime of genocide. Secondly, in the aftermath of the failed military coup, Turkish law enforcement and its secret service began a reprisal against political opponents. This action, endorsed by Erdoğan, was criticized by Merkel and the other members of her government. Compounding the issue, Turkey arrested 22 German citizens of Turkish descent and charged them with conducting terrorist activity and espionage. Among them were Deniz Yücel, a journalist for die Welt; Peter Steudtner, a human rights’ activist; and Tanner Kilic, head of the Turkish office of Amnesty International. Additionally, at the beginning of 2017 German authorities refused Turkish demands to hand over 414 Turkish diplomats, high-rank-soldiers, and family members serving in Germany who had sought a political asylum in the country. In response, Turkey accused Germany of a lack of progress fighting the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the Syrian branch of the Democratic Union Party (PYD), both of which have a strong foothold in Germany.

Meanwhile, German newspapers—based on sources in the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz)—have reported on an increase of intelligence activity in Germany by Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MiT). Turkey appears to have collected intelligence on top German politicians, businesses, and Turkish dissidents.

Finally, ahead of the Turkish constitutional referendum scheduled for April 16, 2017, German authorities at both federal and state levels suppressed Turkish politicians who wanted to conduct political rallies among the Turkish diaspora in Germany, a move that angered Erdoğan so much, he compared present-day Germany with the Nazi-era Germany.

Geopolitical Factors Affecting German-Turkish Relations

Pre-dating the above tensions, in late August 2014, Merkel and her government approved material and training support for Kurdish paramilitary units (the Peshmerga) fighting against Islamic State (IS) in northern Iraq and Syria. In response, Ankara refused to permit German transport aircraft carrying supplies to the Kurds to stop at Incirlik Air Force Base. This step forced the Germans to look for an alternative: the British RAF Base in Akrotiri, Cyprus. Later, on Jan. 29, 2015, the German parliament set up a 12-month military training mission by Bundeswehr for the Peshmerga in northern Iraq.

Germany also maintains two military contingents in Turkey within the framework of the multinational coalition fighting IS. The first of them was stationed at Incirlik, alongside US troops. German aircraft conduct reconnaissance flights over Syria and northern Iraq, while troops provide logistical support for NATO aircraft in the region. The second German contingent is a part of the Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) component in Geilenkirchen, Germany, which operates from the Forward Operation Base in southern Turkey. AWACS aircraft conduct reconnaissance flights over Turkey and the Mediterranean Sea. Although 17 NATO countries maintain AWACS, Germany is the most valuable contributor to the system.  

In June 2016, Turkish authorities rejected a request for Bundestag parliamentarians to visit German troops in Incirlik. This decision caused another diplomatic clash. Merkel, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier heavily criticized the Turkish decision, and, eventually, as a result of pressure from Germany and other NATO member countries, Ankara agreed to permit the parliamentarians to visit, on Oct. 5, 2016. However, to avoid further disputes, Germany took steps to relocate its contingent from Turkey to Al-Azraq Air Force Base in Jordan. The relocation started in July 2017, but it will take a few months for the contingent to reach full operational capacity.

Unfortunately, the withdrawal from Incirlik has not ameliorated tensions between the countries. In July 2017 another dispute erupted over access to the Forward Operating Base in Konya. On July 13, 2017, the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs rescinded its permission for a group of German parliament members, led by Bundestag Defense Committee Chairman Wolfgang Hellmich, to visit German troops there. This escalating tension caught the attention of NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who committed to resolving the dispute. Stoltenberg held talks with the foreign ministers of Germany and Turkey, proposing a consensus agreement to allow regular visits of German troops by Bundestag parliamentarians, who would receive the status of NATO visitors (a designation that means Turkey would not be able to halt their entry). On Aug. 8, 2017, the Turks announced that German parliamentarians, as members of a NATO delegation, would be able to visit the base on Sept. 8, 2017.

The Turkish Diaspora in Germany

The Turkish diaspora in Germany is 3 million strong, with 800,000 Turks holding German citizenship and 530,000 possessing dual German and Turkish citizenship. However, the diaspora represents only about 2.2% of all eligible voters in Germany. These numbers nevertheless allow the Turkish authorities to transfer to Germany certain political disputes and internal conflicts, including violent clashes between supporters and opponents of Erdoğan, which have taken place in the streets of German cities. Conversely, the political situation in Turkey is being influenced by the emigrants, whose support of Erdoğan is growing.

Influence of the diaspora in Germany is also fueled by Turkish intelligence, which provides support to Turkish nationalist organizations such as the Gray Wolves, the Turkish Federation in Germany (ADÜTDF), and the National Action Party (MHP), as well as combating the Turkish (Gülen Movement) and Kurdish opposition movements (PKK and PYD). MiT intelligence also appears to be running a propaganda and disinformation campaign targeting the German authorities and top politicians. For this purpose, it uses Turkish media outlets operating in Germany.

It’s worth mentioning that, although its overall electoral influence is small, the Turkish diaspora often has a high electoral turnout. In the last two Bundestag elections, Turkish voters went to the polls in high numbers: 71.5% (2013) and 70.8% (2009). In recent years, the center-left and left parties—such as SPD and the Greens—have dominated the Turkish vote. In the 2009 Bundestag elections, SPD received 50.2% and the Greens 31%. In the 2013 Bundestag elections, SPD acquired 64%, the Greens 12%, and the Left (die Linke) 11% votes.

Erdoğan’s popularity among members of the Turkish diaspora should not have a decisive impact on the outcome of the 2017 elections because of the negligible importance of Turkish votes in the context of the whole country. But Turkish votes might affect individual parties, such as the SPD, possibly undermining the party’s current position within the Turkish community and contributing to the party’s decline.

Conclusion: Erdoğan at the Poker Table

President Erdoğan wants to consolidate his support in Turkey. To achieve this goal, he is turning to foreign policy and foreign relations strategies with his country’s most important partners. According to Erdoğan, relations between Turkey and Germany remain asymmetric, and Turkey is the side that is being abused by its powerful counterpart. Therefore, Erdoğan thinks he needs to be assertive and to be seen as a powerful political leader who strongly articulates his nation’s interests.

Indeed, Erdoğan feels emboldened by his latest political successes, such as his Justice and Development Party (AKP) winning the 2015 political elections and the outcome of the 2017 constitutional referendum. He also continues the process of growing ties with Russia, which becomes a vital partner for Turkey and which, in his view, could be a substitute of Turkish relations with its partners from NATO and the European Union (EU).

Regarding geopolitics, Erdoğan holds a key card: he can moderate the migration crisis through stopping or allowing uncontrolled migrants from Syria to enter the EU. This migration flow is an essential factor in German politics, for the country has already taken 1.2 million migrants from the Middle East and North Africa regions. Conversely, Berlin could hypothetically put pressure on Turkey by using economic measures, freezing German direct investments in Turkey, for instance, or limiting the tourism industry by continuing issuing security alerts for German tourists planning visits to Turkey. Moreover, Germany, as the political and economic leader of the EU, can suspend the talks on Turkey’s accession to the EU. However, such steps will not be implemented before the 2017 elections, due to fears of protests or social unrest by members of the Turkish diaspora.

Another card Erdoğan holds is the role his country plays in the NATO coalition fight against IS. The United States, especially, relies on Incirlik Air Force Base, flying missions out of the base and storing tactical nuclear weapons there (within the framework of NATO’s Nuclear Sharing Policy).

US President Donald J. Trump might be considered Erdoğan’s “wild card,” allowing the Turkish president to continue his aggressive rhetoric against Germany. Since the beginning of his presidency, Trump has been paying less attention than his predecessor to citizens’ rights, political pluralism, and democratic values, while arguably focusing more on the efficiency of the fight against terrorism, in which Turkey plays a crucial role despite its severe violations of democratic standards. Lack of criticism from Trump has meant that that responsibility for criticizing Turkey has been taken up by Chancellor Merkel, who has in the past few years become Erdoğan’s main political enemy.

INSCT Research and Practice Associate Kamil Szubart is a 2017 visiting fellow at INSCT, via the Kosciuszko Foundation. He works as an analyst for the Institute for Western Affairs in Poznan, Poland, where he is responsible for German foreign and security policy, transatlantic relations, Islamic threats in German-native-speaking countries and topics related to NATO, CSDP, OSCE, and the UN. Currently, he is working on a doctoral dissertation examining US-German relations in the field of international security since 9/11.