January 29, 2016 | By Ivo H. Daalder

This Week’s Reads

Syrian and Iraqi refugees wait to register their names in Amman, Jordan. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed

There seems to be no end in sight for the world’s growing refugee crisis. As Thomas Friedman reports in a recent New York Times column, the international humanitarian relief system is currently overwhelmed by the numbers—one in every 122 people on the planet is fleeing a conflict. 
 
What can be done? 
 
One solution, Friedman suggests, is to take another look at establishing some sort of transatlantic safe zone inside of Syria and Libya. Such an effort, however, would require American leadership, and may be too expensive in our era of budget cuts and sequesters. (Though, as one of this week’s reads in the The Economist notes, the US is sparing no expense on a trillion dollar plan to supplement its nuclear arsenal).
 
Another solution, championed by Angela Merkel, is to open Europe’s doors to significantly more refugees. But as The New York Times reports, this policy has its costs: the flood of refugees that have since come to Germany have strained the country’s resources, and has weakened Merkel politically. 
 
Similarly, others have focused on EU solutions, such as the Financial Times’ Gideon Rachman, who suggests that EU debt forgiveness should be given to Greece in exchange for Greece becoming the key reception center for refugees. However, the spill-over consequences for other Mediterranean nations are far from clear. 
 
Yet another solution focuses on a root cause of the crisis: ending the Syrian civil war. But as a new piece reports in the Financial Times, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad rejected a recent Russian overture to step down, making a political resolution all the more distant. 
 
The bottom line: there is no silver bullet to this crisis. Every solution has its costs, and complex problems rarely have simple solutions. Whatever route our leaders take, let’s hope they act soon.

Friends and Refugees in Need

Thomas L. Friedman/The New York Times

The growing refugee crisis in Europe has made the EU-US partnership more important than ever, says Friedman. The European Union has received millions of refugees from conflict-ridden regions in North Africa and the Middle East, resulting in an overwhelmed international humanitarian relief system and a fractured Europe. In order to preserve the European alliance, which Friedman argues “amplifies American power,” concrete action in Syria and Libya must be undertaken. Without a strong EU alliance, “America will have to do so many more things around the world with much less help.”

Stance on Migrants Leaves Merkel Isolated at Home and in Europe

Alison Smale/The New York Times

Germany has grown accustomed to counting on guaranteed support for its proposed policies, for example Greek debt-relief. However, as The New York Times reports, concern over the increased number of refugees entering Europe and the sexual assaults on New Year’s Eve in Cologne has left Merkel with fewer allies in the European Union and in her government. The bloc’s previously-touted open border policy has strained relations between EU members and leaves Merkel, who has not set a cap on migrants accepted into Germany, in a weaker position to lead Europe.

Greek Debt Is the Key to the Refugee Crisis

Gideon Rachman/Financial Times

The Greek debt crisis could be a solution to the increasing European migrant dilemma. Rachman suggests that by sealing its northern border, Greece could become the main refugee reception center for the European Union in exchange for debt forgiveness. The benefits of such an asylum system are numerous: a solution to the refugee crisis, modeled on the post-Second World War camps for displaced Europeans; a bolster to the Greek economy; and the stem of political extremism in the EU that has arisen from fears of security.

Europe’s New Normal

Sylvie Kauffmann/The New York Times

After a year marked by terrorist attacks worldwide and unceasing wars in Syria and Iraq, a new normal has emerged for Europeans. Concerns for safety have taken precedent over liberty and cultural expression in France following Charlie Hebdo and the Bataclan. The growing number of asylum-seekers and the lack of a common immigration policy require a more immediate response than the European Union is providing. With more challenges than solutions, proposals that once seemed too radical are now under consideration.

Cyprus: Crossing the Divide

Tony Barber/Financial Times

Cypriot reconciliation may be a reality in this year. Observers of the actions of Greek Cypriot president Nicos Anastasiades and the Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci are cautiously optimistic, citing the 20 times the two have met since Akinci was elected last May and the commitment both have to a deal. While previous peace talks have accomplished little, overall support from both the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities suggest that a deal is more likely than ever. However, a Cyprus deal is not possible without the support of Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Vladimir Putin Asked Bashar al-Assad to Step Down

Sam Jones, Erika Solomon and Kathrin Hille/Financial Times

Despite a denial from a spokesman for Vladimir Putin, reports of a Russian general sent to Damascus to ask Bashar al-Assad to step down have raised questions of the feasibility of a diplomatic solution to the Syrian crisis. Once al-Assad’s strongest protector, Russia’s proposal to transition the Syrian regime and its stalemating military intervention could bring Moscow closer to the US-led coalition fighting ISIS. Al-Assad’s purported refusal to step down and “rooting out” of possible replacements add yet another dimension to the ongoing conflict.

Cruise Control

The Economist

A trillion dollar plan to supplement America’s nuclear arsenal has led to questions of the necessity of such a system and the implications of resuming cold war era doctrines. With parts of the nuclear program set to be retired in the late 2020s and the potential for Russia to build all it is allowed under the New START treaty, nuclear modernization has received bipartisan support. The proposed weaponry could both reaffirm American protective capabilities and bring a return to escalation control.

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