21 May 2022

What Are Sweden and Finland Thinking?

Stephen M. Walt

One of the virtues of a good theory is that it makes sense of events that might otherwise seem surprising or at least somewhat puzzling. A case in point is the Swedish and Finnish decision to abandon long traditions of neutrality and apply for membership in NATO.

At first glance, the explanation for this decision seems blindingly obvious. Russia started the most destructive war in Europe since World War II and has waged that war with considerable brutality. As the war in Ukraine drags on and threatens to become a destructive stalemate, Sweden and Finland have concluded that their security environment is deteriorating and have opted for the greater protection that they believe NATO membership will provide. If you studied international relations in college, you might see this as a classic example of balance-of-power theory at work.

Still, that explanation leaves a couple of questions unanswered. Abandoning a long and successful policy of neutrality is a big step, and it could involve significant costs and risks down the road. This point is especially pertinent in the case of Sweden, which has cooperated closely with NATO for years and was already getting many of the benefits of membership with few of the burdens. So why change course now?

Coming in from the cold: What Sweden and Finland bring to Nato


Far from improving security in Europe, there are worrying signs that the decision by Sweden and Finland to apply for Nato membership could exacerbate tensions on the continent.

It is widely acknowledged that one of the causes of the Ukraine conflict is the Kremlin’s resentment at what it regards as Nato’s increased threat to Russian security as a result of the alliance’s enlargement since the end of the Cold War. Russian President Vladimir Putin has, in particular, been critical of Nato’s willingness to allow countries that formerly formed the Soviet Union to be granted membership to the security umbrella. The suggestion that Ukraine, a country with close cultural and historic ties to Moscow, might be granted Nato membership was a source of genuine concern for Moscow.

Ukrainian POWs Could Face Real Legal Jeopardy in Russia

Charli Carpenter

On Wednesday, more than 250 Ukrainian soldiers who were hiding out in a steel plant in Mariupol surrendered to Russian forces and were swiftly detained. Speculation about what will happen to them has been intense, given Russia’s poor adherence to the Geneva Conventions since its troops invaded Ukraine in February. According to Reuters, at least one Russian negotiator involved in talks with Ukraine has called for the prisoners to be executed, an act that is expressly prohibited by the Geneva Conventions. Ukrainian officials, as well as the soldiers’ families, have expressed hopes for a prisoner exchange.

Another possibility, though, is that the detained fighters will be neither exchanged nor held without charge as prisoners of war, but instead will be declared “terrorists” by a Russian court and put on trial as such. The Defense Committee of Russia’s State Duma, its lower legislature, is now pushing a draft resolution to prevent the exchange of “Nazi criminals,” a term that has frequently been used by Russian politicians to describe the entire Ukrainian resistance. The country’s prosecutor-general has requested that the Russian Supreme Court rule on whether the Azov Battalion, a far-right unit from Mariupol, should be considered a “terrorist” group. According to the Russian state-owned news agency TASS, if the court does apply that label to the Azov Battalion, it would be outlawed from operating on Russian territory, and its members—including presumably many of the detained fighters from Mariupol—could face jail time or fines

India offered to help fix the global food crisis. Here's why it backtracked

Diksha Madhok

New Delhi (CNN Business)A month ago, as Russia's war in Ukraine pushed the world to the brink of a food crisis, India's prime minister Narendra Modi offered to help countries facing shortages.

"We already have enough food for our people but our farmers seem to have made arrangements to feed the world," Modi said in April. "We are ready to send the relief from tomorrow itself."

The world's second biggest producer of wheat after China was already walking the talk. In the 12 months to March, India cashed in on soaring global prices, exporting a record 7 million metric tons of the grain. That was up more than 250% on the previous year's volumes. It had also set record export targets for the coming year.

Now, those lofty goals have been abandoned and wheat exports banned as life-threatening heat waves in South Asia stunt output and push local prices to record highs.

China quietly increases purchases of low-priced Russian oil

Chen Aizhu and Florence Tan

SINGAPORE, May 20 (Reuters) - China is quietly ramping up purchases of oil from Russia at bargain prices, according to shipping data and oil traders who spoke to Reuters, filling the vacuum left by Western buyers backing away from business with Russia after its invasion of Ukraine in February.

The move by the world's biggest oil importer comes a month after it initially cut back on Russian supplies, for fear of appearing to openly support Moscow and potentially expose its state oil giants to sanctions. read more

China's seaborne Russian oil imports will jump to a near-record 1.1 million barrels per day (bpd) in May, up from 750,000 bpd in the first quarter and 800,000 bpd in 2021, according to an estimate by Vortexa Analytics.

Russians fire S-300 at Israeli jets in Syria; could impact tactics, geopolitics


TEL AVIV: The Israeli Air Force may change its mode of operation when striking Iranian-related targets in Syria following a recent incident where Russia fired a missile from an S-300 air defense system at Israeli jets — a move that a senior Israeli defense source described as a “very strange and worrying” act by Russian forces.

The incident, which occurred on May 13 and was first reported by Israel’s Ch13, happened following a strike into Syria, when Israeli planes were on a return flight home. While it is unclear what jets were used in the operation, Israeli F-15s, F-16s and F-35s have all been used previously for strikes into Syria.

While no Israeli planes were damaged by the attack, it represents the first time the Russians have activated their air defense system against Israeli jets. Previously, Russia and Israel have operated under a tacit agreement that allows Israel to conduct strikes it feels are in its national interest as long as they do not target Russian military units inside Syria. Since 2015, IDF jets have conducted hundreds of airstrikes on Iranian-related targets in Syria without any Russian reaction.

A Fight Over Taiwan Could Go Nuclear Wargaming Reveals How a U.S.-Chinese Conflict Might Escalate

Stacie L. Pettyjohn and Becca Wasser

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has raised the specter of nuclear war, as Russian President Vladimir Putin has placed his nuclear forces at an elevated state of alert and has warned that any effort by outside parties to interfere in the war would result in “consequences you have never seen.” Such saber-rattling has understandably made headlines and drawn notice in Washington. But if China attempted to forcibly invade Taiwan and the United States came to Taipei’s aid, the threat of escalation could outstrip even the current nerve-wracking situation in Europe.

A recent war game, conducted by the Center for a New American Security in conjunction with the NBC program “Meet the Press,” demonstrated just how quickly such a conflict could escalate. The game posited a fictional crisis set in 2027, with the aim of examining how the United States and China might act under a certain set of conditions. The game demonstrated that China’s military modernization and expansion of its nuclear arsenal—not to mention the importance Beijing places on unification with Taiwan—mean that, in the real world, a fight between China and the United States could very well go nuclear.

Trump and Biden Let Afghanistan Collapse

Lynne O’Donnell

The catastrophic collapse of the Afghan republic and the subsequent takeover of the country by a cabal of terrorists, drug runners, and misogynists were direct consequences of decisions made by successive U.S. presidents to deal directly with the Taliban and follow through on one-sided promises to withdraw military forces that were essential to the state’s survival. That is the devastating conclusion of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), the U.S. government’s main Afghanistan oversight body, in a report to two congressional committees.

Former President Donald Trump’s bilateral deal with the Taliban, and President Joe Biden’s decision to stick to it, caused the disintegration of Afghanistan’s security forces. Their collapse pushed senior members of the Afghan government, including President Ashraf Ghani and his national security advisor, Hamdullah Mohib, to flee the country as the Taliban entered Kabul on Aug. 15, 2021, to complete their rout and claim victory.

Sri Lanka’s President Is Girding Himself for the Long Haul

Virginia Jeffries and Laxmanan Sanjeev

Embattled Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s party soundly defeated an urgent no-confidence vote against the government on Tuesday after rallying coalition support, but the leader still faces loud calls from the public to resign. Opposition leaders who moved to hold the vote after their constituents turned against the president could still bring the motion forward again—but the president and his powerful family appear to be girding themselves for the long haul, even as protesters continue to gather in the capital, Colombo.

Sri Lanka has now faced two months of nationwide anti-government protests, the country’s largest popular uprising since its independence. Severe food and fuel shortages have driven people into the streets, protesting what they see as years of mismanagement and corruption. (The ruling Rajapaksa family denies these allegations.) The president’s cabinet resigned in April. Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa—Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s brother, who also served as president from 2005 to 2015—stepped down last week amid violence and fled the capital. However, protesters have said they won’t stand down until the Rajapaksa regime is out for good.

Swedish Defense Minister: ‘In Our Part of Europe, NATO Will Be Much Stronger’

Amy Mackinnon

On Wednesday, Sweden and Finland formally submitted their applications to join NATO at the alliance’s headquarters in Brussels, ending their long-standing policies of military nonalignment as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has prompted a cascade of strategic shifts across Europe.

Both countries have cooperated closely with the alliance in recent years, and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has said he expects the accession process to be “quick and swift,” but it may not all be plain sailing as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to block the membership bids, accusing Finland and Sweden of accommodating Kurdish militants. (Croatia is also now throwing a wrench in the works.)

Foreign Policy sat down with Swedish Defense Minister Peter Hultqvist on Wednesday to discuss Stockholm’s change of heart, the accession process, and how the country was preparing to fend off efforts by Moscow to sow chaos.

Indo-Australian Voters and the 2022 General Election


On May 21, 2022, voters in Australia will elect the country’s forty-seventh parliament. The incumbent Liberal-National Coalition (hereafter, Coalition) government, led by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, is hoping to win a fourth consecutive term. Recent opinion polls, however, indicate that the country’s principal opposition force, the Australian Labor Party (ALP), is on track to oust the Coalition from power after nearly a decade in office.

One increasingly important demographic group appears to be leaning significantly toward the ALP: Australians of Indian origin. This is the headline finding of a new survey conducted by researchers from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in partnership with the research firm YouGov.

North Korea May Be Trapped Between Famine and Plague

Ankit Panda

Back in January 2020, North Korea looked on with concern as a then-novel coronavirus epidemic emerged in China. Preventing the spread of this virus beyond China’s borders was a matter of “national survival,” Rodong Sinmun, the ruling Workers’ Party’s official newspaper, said.

For 28 months afterwards, North Korea implausibly reported zero cases of COVID-19—even as the virus tore through the rest of the world. Like the Chinese Communist Party next door, the Workers’ Party of Korea opted to pursue a zero-COVID strategy premised on sealing off the country’s borders. Unlike China, enforcement consisted of, among other measures, shoot-on-sight orders.