“Anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that 'my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.'” — Isaac Asimov
Among the 21st-century threats posed by climate change — rising seas, melting permafrost and superstorms — European leaders are warning of a last-century risk they know all too well: War.
Focusing too narrowly on the environmental consequences of global warming underestimates the military threats, top European and United Nations officials said at a global security conference in Munich this weekend. Their warnings follow the conclusions of defense and intelligence agencies that climate change could trigger resource and border conflicts.
“Climate change is a threat multiplier that leads to social upheaval and possibly even armed conflict,” the UN’s top climate official, Patricia Espinosa Cantellano, said at the conference, which was attended by the U.S. secretaries of defense and homeland security, James Mattis and John Kelly.
Even as European Union countries struggle to assimilate millions of African and Middle Eastern migrants and refugees, security officials are bracing for more of the same in the future. Secretary General Antonio Guterra named climate change and population growth as the two most serious “megatrends” threatening international peace and stability.
This month, Europe has again been rocked by a series of shocking terrorist attacks perpetrated by lone individuals and claimed in the name of the Islamic State (ISIS). On July 14, Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, a Tunisian national residing in France, killed over 80 and wounded hundreds when he ploughed a 19-ton cargo truck through crowds celebrating Bastille Day in the southern French city of Nice. Mere days after the Nice massacre, a 17-year-old Afghan migrant seeking asylum in Germany attacked passengers on a train in Würzburg with an axe and a knife, wounding four before police killed him. Two other attacks claimed in ISIS’ name have been carried out since then: A suicide bombing on July 24 injured 15 in the German city of Ansbach, and on July 26, two attackers claiming allegiance to ISIS stormed a church in a suburb of the French city of Rouen, slit an 84-year-old priest’s throat, and took hostages.
These incidents are part of a broader trend of increasing violence carried out by lone individuals. Analysts, journalists, and scholars have been quick to label each perpetrator of recent attacks as a lone wolf: individuals who lacked substantial connections to ISIS or other jihadist groups and who carried out their operations without the assistance of others. The designation has generally been applied within 24 hours of these attacks, before significant intelligence about an incident’s planning and execution has emerged—and long before authorities have concluded their investigation. Indeed, less than a day after the Nice attack, observersrushed to describe Lahouaiej Bouhlel as a lone wolf who was not in fact linked to ISIS.
Observers have repeatedly erred by definitively categorizing attacks as lone-wolf operations when they would later turn out to be connected to broader cells or networks. At a minimum, individuals labeled lone wolves are often in communication with other militants, sometimes using encrypted services that are difficult to detect and decipher. There is a danger in rushing to label operatives as disconnected from others, as doing so can cause analysts to overlook the networks that facilitate and encourage attacks. It is time to put the myth of the lone wolf to rest.
THOMAS KOEHLER / GETTY IMAGES — Steinmeier at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels, July 2014.
Over the past two decades, Germany’s global role has undergone a remarkable transformation. Following its peaceful reunification in 1990, Germany was on track to become an economic giant that had little in the way of foreign policy. Today, however, the country is a major European power that attracts praise and criticism in equal measure. This holds true both for Germany’s response to the recent surge of refugees—it welcomed more than one million people last year—and for its handling of the euro crisis.
As Germany’s power has grown, so, too, has the need for the country to explain its foreign policy more clearly. Germany’s recent history is the key to understanding how it sees its place in the world. Since 1998, I have served my country as a member of four cabinets and as the leader of the parliamentary opposition. Over that time, Germany did not seek its new role on the international stage. Rather, it emerged as a central player by remaining stable as the world around it changed. As the United States reeled from the effects of the Iraq war and the EU struggled through a series of crises, Germany held its ground. It fought its way back from economic difficulty, and it is now taking on the responsibilities befitting the biggest economy in Europe. Germany is also contributing diplomatically to the peaceful resolution of multiple conflicts around the globe: most obviously with Iran and in Ukraine, but also in Colombia, Iraq, Libya, Mali, Syria, and the Balkans. Such actions are forcing Germany to reinterpret the principles that have guided its foreign policy for over half a century. But Germany is a reflective power: even as it adapts, a belief in the importance of restraint, deliberation, and peaceful negotiation will continue to guide its interactions with the rest of the world.
Syrian refugee children chant slogans behind a fence at the Nizip refugee camp in Gaziantep province, southeastern Turkey, following a visit by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and top European Union officials, Saturday, April 23, 2016 — CREDIT: AP PHOTO/LEFTERIS PITARAKIS
Doctors Without Borders will no longer seek funding from the European Union or from its member states over objections to the controversial EU-Turkey migrant deal, the organization announced Friday morning.
“For months MSF has spoken out about a shameful European response focused on deterrence rather than providing people with the assistance and protection they need,” Jerome Oberreit, International Secretary General of Doctors Without Borders, which also goes by the French Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), said in a release posted to the organization’s website. “The EU-Turkey deal goes one step further and has placed the very concept of “refugee” and the protection it offers in danger.”
The decision will take effect immediately, and will affect Doctors Without Borders projects worldwide. The organization said that this decision will not affect their patients, and that they will continue to work in Greece and near the Turkey-Syria border. They will seek other funding and use emergency funds to keep running.
The Black Death was an epidemic of bubonic plague that devastated Europe in the mid-14th century, killing an estimated 60 percent of Europe’s entire population. And it spread scarily quickly just over the course of six years — as this stunning GIF demonstrates:
The plague originated in China in 1334 and then spread west along trading routes through the Middle East. But Europe was particularly vulnerable to a devastating outbreak. According to University of Oslo historian Ole Benedictow, European society at the time had created the conditions for “the golden age of bacteria.” Population density and trade/travel had grown dramatically, but European leaders still had almost knowledge about how to contain outbreaks.
So when traders unwittingly brought the plague with them into southeastern and southern Europe from the Middle East, it spread quickly, killing huge numbers of people throughout Europe.
And it did, indeed, hit pretty much all of Europe. Though the map suggests the areas around Milan, Krakow, and the Spain-France border were unaffected, that’s not actually true. It’s just that compared with the staggering devastation suffered by the rest of Europe, those areas experienced hardly any deaths at all.
But that doesn’t mean they objectively suffered a small number of deaths: According to Rutgers historian Robert Gottfried, the death rate in Milan was “only” 15 percent, and “only” around 25 percent in modern Poland. In other words, the rest of Europe was hit so badly that losing 15 percent of your population wasn’t even enough to put a city on the map.
According to Benedictow, Iceland and Finland are “the only regions that, we know with certainty, avoided the Black Death because they had tiny populations with minimal contact abroad.”
How the Black Death created the modern world
While it was certainly a horrific tragedy on a massive scale, the Black Death also spawned many of the foundations of our modern world.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the death of 60 percent of Europe’s entire population had profound impacts on European society. In fact, according to Benedictow, it fundamentally changed the course of European history, producing a wave of social and cultural changes that pushed Europe toward modernity. This period of great transformation is known today as the Renaissance (a term typically associated with art but with a much wider meaning among historians).
decade ago, counterterrorism analysts around the world fretted about the possibility of European jihadists returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and finding safe harbor among embittered diaspora communities across Europe. But the al Qaeda “bleed out,” as it was called in counterterrorism circles, never really happened. The group didn’t take hold of North African and Middle Eastern communities in Europe. It failed to attract many of what the group called “clean skins”—Western passport holders able to slip through security without drawing attention.
The Islamic State (ISIS) has achieved in short order what al Qaeda could only dream about. Motivated by a call for jihad in Syria and connected via social media, second- and third-generation Muslim Europeans joined in droves to fight in Iraq and Syria. Their bonds grew tight; their propensity and their thirst for violence was insatiable. After helping build their caliphate in Syria and Iraq, these young European fighters have turned their guns on their homelands, with devastating effect. Brussels, Istanbul, and Paris—the violence has been steady and sustained.