[Opinion] : Counterproductive is not good strategy

Daniel Serwer - Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies


By Daniel Serwer,  @DanielSerwer ,

Washington, 10 January 2024, / –  2024 is starting badly. Let’s review the main acts on the stages I watch.

In the Middle East, it’s chaos all around

Israel’s war on Gaza is now approaching the three-month mark. Most of Gaza is now rubble. Its population is hungry, thirsty, cold, sick, and unhoused. The Israelis have killed perhaps 8000 Hamas fighters, along with well over twenty thousand civilians. But Hamas retains the bulk of its force and continues to launch rockets and fight back.

The Israeli right wants to transport a significant number of Palestinians to Egypt or elsewhere in Africa. Such a forced displacement would be a war crime. Nor is it clear how displacement to the Sinai, which borders Israel as much as Gaza does, would improve Israel’s security situation.

The Israelis are assassinating both Hizbollah and Hamas leaders with strikes in Lebanon, which risks expansion of the war. The Houthis in Yemen have already expanded the war to the Red Sea, where they trying to strike merchant and naval vessels. The Americans will respond if that continues.

In Iran, a terrorist bomb killed at least 100 people at a memorial event for Qasim Suleimani, the former Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps leader the US assassinated in 2020. ISIS claimed responsibility, but Iran as usual blames the US and Israel.

The Israeli crackdown on the West Bank continues apace, along with Jewish settler violence against Palestinians there. Palestinians talk about “from the river to the sea.” Israelis are doing it.

The Americans are still shipping weapons to Israel and vetoing most UN Security Council resolutions, but frictions with Israel over humanitarian assistance, the widening war, and the eventual political outcome in Gaza are real.

Net result: chaos all around. This serves Prime Minister Netanyahu well, as it allows him to continue the war and blocks political change at home. But it serves his country poorly, as Israel is stretched and faces increasing tension with Iran and its surrogates.

In Ukraine, a vulnerable moment

According to @k_sonin “Over the whole 2023 year Putin gained 0.01 percent of the Ukrainian territory:

Russian forces still occupy about 18% of Ukraine. But Kyiv has neutralized the Russian Navy and succeeded in protecting Ukraine’s outgoing grain shipments through the Black Sea. Ukrainians appear as unified as ever in wanting to remove Russian troops entirely from sovereign Ukrainian territory, including Crimea.

The biggest threat to Ukraine today comes from Europe and the US. Both are having trouble getting legislative approval for their latest aid packages, of $55 billion and $50 billion respectively. In the US this issue will likely be resolved, one way or the other, soon as budget deadlines loom. The situation in Europe is less clear.

Meanwhile, Vladimir Putin is proving as determined in pursuing counterproductive policies as Prime Minister Netanyahu. He has unified NATO, pushed Finland and now Sweden into the Alliance, and scared countries all around Russia’s periphery into beefing up their defenses.

The Balkans continue to deteriorate

Belgrade’s purposeful effort to establish de facto control of Serb populations in neighboring countries continues.

While President Vucic doesn’t talk “Serbian home,” he is doing it. He is unlikely to support secession of Republika Srpska. But he is openly supporting Milorad Dodik’s effort in Bosnia and Herzegovina to extract the Serb entity from the authority of the Sarajevo government and legal system. With a lot of help from the Serbian Orthodox Church, Belgrade has also succeeded in getting a pro-Serbian, pro-Russian government installed in Montenegro.

In Kosovo, Belgrade has outdone itself. It has

1. Removed Serbs from Pristina’s police, courts, and administration in the northern four municipalities with Serb majorities.

2. Sponsored a boycott of municipal elections

3. Rented mobs to protest the election of non-Serb mayors and to attack NATO-led peacekeepers.

4. Kidnapped police from Kosovo’s territory.

5. Trained and equipped a September 24 terrorist operation intended to create the pretext for military intervention

6. Denied the validity of agreements the US and EU claim are legally binding.

7. Run unfair and fraudulent elections and is violently repressing the resulting protests.

The EU and US reaction has been underwhelming. Washington and Brussels have done nothing to counter Serbia’s defiance. The meager result is Belgrade’s acceptance of Kosovo license plates without covering the offensive “R” for “Republic.” Unless and until there are real consequences, Serbia will continue its drift eastward into the arms of Putin, Xi, Aliyev, Lukashenko, and Orban.

The wrong directions

Israel, Russia, the EU and the US are all pursuing counterproductive strategies. You don’t get where you want to go by heading in the wrong direction.


Daniel Serwer is a Professor of the Practice of Conflict Management as well as director of the Conflict Management and American Foreign Policy Programs at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.         

This opinion was first published at website.                     

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of .   

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