The Global Leadership Foundation exists to make available, discreetly and in confidence, the experience of former leaders to today’s national leaders.
It does so through its network of Members - former Presidents, Prime Ministers, senior government ministers and other distinguished leaders, drawn together by a desire to give something back to the world.
Working in small teams, in their personal capacity,
Members offer private and confidential advice to
Heads of Government on any issues of concern to them.
GLF is a not-for-profit foundation, registered in Switzerland and is independent of any government or corporate interest.
MADRID – Last week, the people of Iran decided to continue along the path toward openness. Fifty-seven percent of voters chose to elect the reformist President Hassan Rouhani to a second term. The rest of the world should welcome Rouhani’s victory as an opportunity further to improve relations with a country that is central to progress toward a more peaceful Middle East.
By winning more than 50% of the vote, Rouhani avoided a second round of voting, just as he did four years ago when he claimed the presidency for the first time. But, unlike in 2013, when his overwhelming victory was a major surprise, most observers considered Rouhani the clear favorite this time around. After all, every Iranian president since 1981 has served two terms in office.
Rouhani’s triumph was likely, but the vote was no mere formality. His main opponent, the hardline conservative Hojatoleslam Ebrahim Raisi, campaigned hard – and had Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, implicitly in his corner. Rouhani’s victory has proven once again that the candidate closest to the supreme leader is not guaranteed victory.
The stakes of this election were particularly high. Iran is at a pivotal moment in its history – and, as the long lines of citizens eager to cast their votes clearly showed, Iranians know it. Indeed, despite the Iranian regime’s lack of transparency, Khamenei’s health problems are public knowledge. Khamenei himself recently admitted that the probability that his successor should be named in the near future was “not low.”
The matter of who occupies the presidency during that transition is certainly not inconsequential. With Khamenei having served as president before rising to Iran’s highest political and religious leadership position, it is easy to see that the conservative candidate Raisi, had he been elected, could have become Khamenei’s successor. Rouhani’s decisive victory, however, may have diminished Raisi’s chances substantially.
Iran’s prospects look quite different with Rouhani in charge. His rhetoric about openness is not mere political posturing. Perhaps the strongest evidence of this is the nuclear deal that he struck with six countries – China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States – and the European Union in 2015. That agreement placed very strict limits on Iran’s nuclear program, in exchange for relief from crippling economic sanctions imposed by the US, the European Union, and the United Nations Security Council.
To be sure, Iran’s president is subordinate to the Supreme Leader. And, indeed, the nuclear agreement could not have been reached without Khamenei’s approval, which helps explain why no candidate questioned the deal during the campaign. Nonetheless, the president does wield significant authority, including over domestic policy, which was the main focus of the campaign (as is usually the case in Iran).
In particular, Rouhani and Raisi attempted to distinguish themselves by their very different interpretations of the nuclear agreement’s domestic economic impact. Rouhani credited the agreement with jump-starting economic growth, which now stands at around 7% annually. His detractors, however, claimed that this growth mainly reflected higher oil exports, and pointed out that it has not trickled down to all levels of society, leaving many Iranian households still suffering from poverty and unemployment. Khamenei, too, has been very critical of Rouhani’s economic policy, calling for a much more autarkic approach.
But Rouhani’s interpretation of Iran’s challenges is far more convincing. Increased openness has, in fact, greatly benefited Iran. What is holding the country back are the remaining barriers surrounding its economy, including Iran’s isolation from the global financial system, which contributes to a chronic and damaging shortage of credit.
The bad news is that US President Donald Trump, who opposed the nuclear deal during his campaign, and the Republican-dominated US Congress have taken a hardline stance toward Iran, and are discouraging investment in the country. This gives political succor to those who accuse Rouhani of being naive to hope that the international community would welcome a more open Iran.
Among these skeptics are the conservatives Raisi represented, who regard the West with suspicion. Had Raisi won, mutual distrust between the US and Iran could well have boiled over, despite Raisi’s stated support for the nuclear deal.
Rouhani’s victory, however, might help temper the Trump administration’s anti-Iran rhetoric. Just a few weeks ago, in fact, the administration was forced to admit that Rouhani is fulfilling its part of the nuclear deal. Indeed, Iranians’ show of popular support for Rouhani provides the best guarantee that the spirit behind the nuclear deal will remain unchanged.
But Trump won’t make it easy for Rouhani. In order to ensure that Iran continues progressing toward international engagement – thereby protecting a nuclear agreement that Trump is not eager to defend – Rouhani’s government will have to work hard to improve relations with neighboring countries. Moreover, it will need to adopt a more constructive position vis-à-vis the Syrian conflict, making it clear that Iran is not spearheading a Shia liberation movement.
On the day Iranians went to the polls, Trump was making his way to Saudi Arabia – a remarkable choice for his first official foreign trip. Let us hope that his brief visit to the Middle East helps to create favorable conditions for progress toward peace in the region. Iran has sent a powerful signal on that front. It is an opportunity that should not be squandered.
WASHINGTON, DC – After a series of foreign-policy U-turns, there is now talk of a “new” Donald Trump who is far more inclined to use military power than the Trump we saw during the 2016 US presidential campaign. That earlier Trump seemed to regard any use of US military force in Syria as pointless and dangerous, and called for the United States to ensconce itself behind new walls.
Now, suddenly, the Trump administration has launched a missile attack on one of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s air bases, hinted at taking military action against North Korea, and dropped the “mother of all bombs” on an Islamic State redoubt in Eastern Afghanistan. All of this was accompanied by tweets from the president himself, declaring that the US will pursue its own solutions to key issues if other countries do not offer to help.
The international community – including China – seemed to understand why the US would strike the Syrian air base from which a hideous chemical-weapons attack was launched. But the Trump administration is still following an “America first” agenda. Having awoken to global realities, the administration is now adjusting its policies, sometimes so abruptly that one might reasonably worry that diplomacy is taking a backseat to bombs and tweets.
That concern is reinforced by the dramatic cuts to the US State Department budget, and to US funding for the United Nations, that Trump has proposed. At the same time, many key positions in the US diplomatic apparatus remain unfilled. Even America’s friends recognize that this is a dangerous trajectory. Bombs can only destroy. To build lasting peace requires compromise and coalition building – in a word, diplomacy.
There are many conflicts around the world, starting with Syria, that will only become harder to solve without US diplomatic attention. The UN-sponsored talks to end the civil war have gone nowhere partly because no one knows where the US under Trump stands. Faced with this leadership vacuum, other countries are hedging their bets and looking after their own narrow interests.
Another issue that demands diplomacy is North Korea, which is developing nuclear weapons and the intercontinental ballistic weapons needed to deliver them. So far, Trump has tried to pressure China to find a solution, by threatening to take dramatic unilateral action if the Chinese fail to rein in their client. But whether the Trump administration actually has any specific strategy with respect to North Korea, or the means to realize it, remains unclear.
Beyond North Korea, the UN recently warned that the ongoing conflict in Yemen, which rarely makes headlines, is “rapidly pushing the country toward social, economic, and institutional collapse.” The humanitarian situation is already dire for 60% of Yemen’s 30 million inhabitants: an estimated seven million people could be close to famine; and almost 500,000 children are at risk of severe malnutrition.
The war between Yemeni President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi’s Saudi-backed government and former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s rebel Houthi coalition has been raging for years, with no military breakthrough in sight. Former US President Barack Obama’s administration made repeated but futile efforts to broker a ceasefire; but it also reluctantly supported Saudi Arabia’s air campaign by supplying bombs. Trump appears set to provide such support far more eagerly.
One simplistic explanation for the Yemen conflict is that it was engineered by Iran. According to this view, US and Saudi intervention is meant to stymie the Islamic Republic’s geopolitical ambitions. And now that Trump has tacitly accepted the Iran nuclear deal, some of his advisers believe that it is necessary to apply pressure on Iran from elsewhere. As a result, US raids and sorties in Yemen have become more frequent in recent months.
But, in reality, Iran’s support for the Houthis is often exaggerated. And Iran, for its part, probably welcomes a scenario in which the US and Saudi Arabia are bogged down in the Yemen quagmire.
Another possible justification for US engagement in Yemen is that al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula has found a foothold there. But AQAP thrives in an environment of destruction and despair, so there is little that can be done about the group so long as Yemen is being ripped apart by war.
Even as the UN issues stark warnings about an impending catastrophe in Yemen, the Saudi-led coalition is preparing an offensive to capture the coastline around the port of Hodeida – a move that the International Crisis Group has warned would aggravate Yemen’s humanitarian crisis.
Rather than stepping up the fight, the US should be pursuing further diplomacy and humanitarian-aid efforts. Indeed, the latter go hand in hand with the former. And, after all, it was Hadi and the Saudis who rejected the UN’s last attempt to broker a ceasefire.
To resolve the conflict, the rebels and the government need to re-engage immediately with the UN Special Envoy for Yemen, who has furnished a roadmap for talks. In addition, the UN Security Council should do its part to support a political solution, by adopting a long-overdue resolution demanding that both sides agree to an immediate ceasefire, grant access to humanitarian aid, and return to the negotiating table.
Diplomacy will require that all parties compromise. No one – except, perhaps, Iran – has anything to gain from further escalation. If Yemen’s humanitarian catastrophe leads to a total collapse, millions of desperate people might flee the country, enabling AQAP and other extremist organizations to profit from disorder and despair.
America’s re-engagement with the world should be welcomed, but not if the Trump administration continues to view conflicts solely through a military lens. Yes, fighting is sometimes necessary; but diplomacy always is. Nowhere is this more obvious than in places like Yemen. The complete collapse of yet another country is the last thing the world – including Trump – needs.
MADRID – While the European Union tries to weather a nationalist storm that threatens its core institutions, some of its most important strategic allies have injected more uncertainty into the current political climate. A clear example is Turkey, which has been a NATO member state since 1952, and an official candidate to join the EU since 1999.
On paper, Turkey looks like an ideal country to serve as a bridge between Europe and the Middle East. But it has now taken an alarming turn away from Europe, with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan even accusing the German and Dutch governments of acting like Nazis.
Since withstanding an attempted coup last July, Erdoğan has taken advantage of a national state of emergency to go on the offensive and shore up his power. A surge in popularity has buttressed his new strategy of governing by decree. So far, more than 100,000 civil servants have been fired or suspended, and many of Erdoğan’s political rivals have been jailed. Numerous civil-society organizations and news outlets have been shut down, and Turkey now holds the dubious honor of having a record-breaking number of journalists behind bars.
Moreover, Erdoğan is pressing for a constitutional reform, to be decided by a referendum in mid-April, that would move Turkey from a parliamentary to a presidential system. If the reform passes, Erdoğan will acquire powers exceeding even those held by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the venerated “father” of modern Turkey.
The Council of Europe has warned that the referendum vote could lack integrity, because it is being held under a state of emergency. In these circumstances, a reform of this magnitude would be another blow to Turkish democracy, with Erdoğan gaining even more latitude to pursue his increasingly wayward foreign policy.
Notwithstanding a March 2016 agreement between Turkey and the EU to manage the flow of refugees entering Europe, diplomatic tension seems to be the new normal for the bliateral relationship. A few weeks ago, German Chancellor Angela Merkel criticized Erdoğan for his attacks on press freedom; and Erdoğan, for his part, dangerously trivialized Nazism in his comments criticizing the cancellation of pro-referendum rallies, due to security concerns, in Germany and the Netherlands.
But Erdoğan cannot hide behind the refugee agreement to issue such unacceptable insults. While it would be counterproductive to respond to anger with more anger, the EU does need to send a clear message that its partnership with Turkey is highly valuable, but not unconditional. The recent joint statement by EU High Representative Federica Mogherini and Commissioner Johannes Hahn – calling on Turkey “to refrain from excessive statements and actions” – is a welcome start.
The growing tensions between Turkey and the EU have coincided with other important changes in Turkey’s foreign policy. After Turkey downed a Russian warplane in November 2015, Erdoğan reconciled with Russian President Vladimir Putin surprisingly quickly. Turkey then started to cooperate with Russia in the war in Syria, and intervened militarily in the conflict in August 2016. The long-term viability of the incipient Russian-Turkish alliance is questionable, but it has undoubtedly yielded results on the ground in Syria.
One of Turkey’s main objectives in Syria is to defeat the Islamic State, which has launched numerous terrorist attacks on Turkish soil. But the Turkish government also hopes to prevent the establishment of an independent Kurdistan that could project its influence into southeast Turkey.
To this end, the Turkish authorities are targeting the Democratic Union Party (PYD), claiming that it is linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which the United States, the EU, and Erdoğan all consider to be a terrorist group. But the US and the EU are concerned about Turkey’s attacks against the PYD, given its central role in pushing back the Islamic State. So far, President Donald Trump’s administration has shown no willingness to withdraw US support from the PYD.
The Kurdish question is a longstanding source of geopolitical uncertainty in the region. In light of this, the US and the EU must keep pressure on Erdoğan to pursue sensible priorities with which everyone agrees – namely, ending the Islamic State’s barbarism. Achieving this goal will require a coalition that is both as inclusive as possible and capable of taking Raqqa, the Islamic State’s stronghold in Syria.
Despite Erdoğan’s growing hostility, the EU should not hesitate to defend its ties with Turkey, or to remind Turkey that the relationship has been mutually beneficial. After all, Turkey’s 1995 customs-union agreement with the EU has contributed substantially to its economic development.
Strains in the Turkey-EU relationship may persist until peace is restored in Syria; but they are not necessarily irreversible. A number of steps would help ease the tension. Turkey’s government should adopt a less erratic foreign policy and allow citizens to express themselves freely in the upcoming referendum and other future votes. The EU, for its part, should hold steady, and maintain its commitment to the idea of a stable, pluralistic Turkey – one that allows its citizens’ dynamism to shine.
Rwanda, Finance Minister 1997-2005
President of the African Development Bank 2005-15
Having led Rwanda’s post-war economic reconstruction, Donald Kaberuka then served two terms as President of the African Development Bank. During a time of great historic change in Africa he led the AfDB on a series of reforms to successfully positioned the bank as a leading institution in Africa.
As President of the AfDB, Mr. Kaberuka pushed the bank to approve a ten year strategy focused encouraging private sector activity to absorb the 15 million young people that join the work force every year in Africa and programs that address the nexus of food, water and energy. To achieve these goals, the AfDB focused its strategy on Infrastructure Development, Regional Integration, Policy to Support and Enable Private Enterprise, Improved Governance and Skills and Technology Acquisition, and increased AfDB total public sector operations from $3.02 billion in 2005 to $5.14 billion in 2013 and private sector support from $257.4 million in 2005 to $1.62 billion in 2013. Mr.Kaberuka also launched a new fund called Africa50, which has a $10 billion capital target to mobilize private finance for African infrastructure projects.
Select Country to view GLF Members
Foreign Minister, Algeria 1991-93
UN Special Adviser to the Secretary-General 2004-05