September 20, 20211 Comment

Afghanistan Fallout: Time to Rethink Pak-US Relations?

By: Mariam Qureshi

Prime Minister Imran Khan during his speech at the National Assembly of Pakistan in June 2021. 
Source: https://www.dawn.com/news/1632376

United States’ longest war in Afghanistan has finally come to a haphazard end. The Taliban remain undefeated and now control Afghanistan. How does the United States intend to utilise its alliance with Pakistan to preserve peace and security in the country without having boots on the ground?

United States’ (US) longest war came at an astronomical cost with 66,000 to 69,000 Afghan troops and 2,500 US troops killed, and over $2 trillion spent since the war began in 2001. In addition, 2.7 million Afghans were forced to migrate and another 4 million were internally displaced. Despite this, the US-backed Afghan military rapidly collapsed, and the Taliban spared no time in taking over and establishing an interim government. Taliban-controlled Afghanistan has increased the fear of terrorism and the return of Al-Qaeda to the region. The shrinking economy and curtailed women and human rights have further worsened the socio-economic situation in Afghanistan.

The Biden Administration was heavily criticised for the haphazard US evacuation before the September 1st deadline, leaving behind its’ allies and US citizens in Afghanistan. Antony Blinken, President Biden’s Secretary of State, rushed to defend the chaotic US pull-out from Afghanistan in the first official testimony to the members of Congress since the exit. In his opening remarks, he stated there was no chance of extending the US stay in Afghanistan because if 20 years and billions of dollars did not suffice, another year or five would not have made much of a difference. At this point, many have turned to Pakistan, expecting it to play a vital role in preserving peace and stability in the region.

However, the Pakistan-US relationship is at a low. Blinken asserted the need for Washington to reassess its relationship with Pakistan. Whilst acknowledging Pakistan’s contribution to the US endeavour in Afghanistan, Blinken also stated that at times Pakistan acted against US interests. “This is one of the things we're going to be looking at in the days, and weeks ahead — the role that Pakistan has played over the last 20 years. But also, the role we would want to see it play in the coming years and what it will take for it to do that,” he said. Blinken also stated that Pakistan must ‘line up’ with the broader international community in denying the legitimacy of the Afghan Taliban, unless they ensure free travel, the protection of women and children’s rights, and guarantee no safe haven for terrorism again. 

Pakistan assisted the US in its War on Terror in 2001, under the leadership of President General Pervez Musharraf. Pakistan signed the framework of cooperation in terms of Air Lines of Communication (ALOC) and Ground Lines of Communication (GLOC), which granted the US Military access to Pakistani ground and airspace. This allowed for operations to be conducted swiftly in Afghanistan and the agreement remains in place to date. General Musharraf, the then Pakistani President, also allowed US troops access to airbases and granted permission for military aircraft to deploy from Pakistani soil. Then, in 2019, Pakistan took the initiative to facilitate the Afghan-US peace dialogue to reinstall peace in the region. The increased engagement with the US during the early years of the 2001 War in Afghanistan created a domestic security challenge for Pakistan. The increased terrorist attacks on Pakistani soil compromised Pakistan’s international image and the burden of incoming Afghan refugees fleeing their war-torn country crippled Pakistan’s already weak economy and limited resources. The mismanaged Pak-Afghan border, Durand Line, became the gateway for drug smuggling, human trafficking, refugee migration, and cross-border terrorism after 9/11. Although Pakistan is the largest trading partner of landlocked Afghanistan, its economic ties have dwindled over the years due to political and security tensions in the region. Pakistan also suffered a loss of 70,000 lives with a further $150 billion loss to its economyas a result of this war. Therefore, a stable Afghanistan is also in Pakistan’s best interest.

However, the tension between the US and Pakistan is evident and is hampering the creation of a viable strategy for Afghanistan moving forward. Despite being a critical ally to the US in its war in Afghanistan, President Biden has not reached out to Prime Minister (PM) Imran Khan since assuming office in January 2021. Regardless of the repeated assurances from Washington in keeping close contact with Pakistan and working together in devising a strategy for Afghanistan, Pakistan’s National Security Advisor Moeed Yusuf conveyed Pakistan’s displeasure at the delay in the phone call from the White House. 

In an interview in June, Journalist Jonathan Swan asked PM Imran Khan if he would allow CIA presence in Pakistan to conduct cross-border counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan against Al-Qaeda, ISIS and Taliban. PM Khan replied with a stern ‘absolutely not’.  Later, Pakistan Foreign Office officially denied any reports claiming the presence of US bases in Pakistan. In a recent speech at the National Assembly of Pakistan, PM Khan clarified that Pakistan could be ‘partners with the United States in peace but never in conflict’. PM Khan lamented that past decisions to join the US in its war against terrorism which jeopardized the security of Pakistan and came at a heavy price for Pakistani civilians and soldiers. This suggests a policy divergence from the longstanding Pak-US cooperation.  

PM Khan has reiterated his position in several interviews that he believes in a political solution to the Afghanistan problem. In a recent interview with CNN, he emphasized the need for an inclusive government and the assurance of women and human rights in Afghanistan. PM Khan clarified that he wants the international community to find a diplomatic solution to pressure the Taliban government into protecting women and human rights, exercising inclusive governance, and ensuring there's no safe haven for terrorism on Afghan soil, in exchange for international recognition and desperately needed aid. He elaborated that the conclusion of the two-decade-long war has proven that Afghanistan and its’ people cannot be controlled by outside forces and that a puppet government cannot survive in Afghanistan. 

Pakistan, under PM Imran Khan, desires a stable and peaceful Afghanistan and is not interested in negotiating with the US on future military endeavours. Moving forward, this will have implications on the Pak-US relationship, which will, by extension, also reconfigure the security situation in the region. If the Pak-US alliance is in jeopardy and the US looks towards India for a potential alliance, Pakistan might increasingly look to China for support. All key states have a stake in Afghanistan, which seems dangerously close to collapse. Only time will reveal how the alliances are reconfigured in a post-war scenario in the region. 

September 20, 2021No Comments

Cybersecurity and Society

The team "Culture, Society, and Security" interviews Dr. Madeline Carr, Professor of Global Politics and Cyber Security in the Faculty of Engineering Science at the University College of London and Dr. Camino Kavanagh, visiting fellow at King’s College London, and member of UN advisory support team for negotiating processes related to cyber and international security.

Interviewing Team: Julia Hodgins and Sofia Staderini

July 23, 2021No Comments

Jasmine El-Gamal on Middle East Relations, ITSS Verona

Jasmine M. El-Gamal talks about the shifting relations between the Middle East and the EU. El Gamal discusses with our ITSS members the approach of the EU to the Middle East. She also talks about the aftermath of the Syrian War, non-violent Islamism and terrorism. Jasmine el Gamal is a political analyst, writer and speaker, currently working at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue.

Interviewers: Giovanni Rasio, Alessandro Spada and Sonia Martínez

This is ITSS Verona Member Series Video Podcast by the International System Team, UK & EU Team.

ITSS Verona - The International Team for the Study of Security Verona is a not-for-profit, apolitical, international cultural association dedicated to the study of international security, ranging from terrorism to climate change, from artificial intelligence to pandemics, from great power competition to energy security.

July 22, 2021No Comments

From Geopolitics to Geoeconomics: The Importance of Economic Strategy and the Case of China

By: Riccardo Bosticco

World order dynamics and world order itself have changed substantially in the last thirty years. The evolution of it derives from those dynamics that determine the way it works. This article will discuss the specific case of China. 

Nowadays, military conflicts are mostly concentrated in least-developed areas, whilst western and eastern major countries exited the logic of the Cold War - when balance and peace were possible mainly thanks to military deterrence. From those times, conflicts have been substituted by other means of states’ competition. From the ‘90s onwards, commerce has displaced war - as pioneer Edward N. Luttwak states -, with economic and financial capital in place of firepower, civilian innovation instead of military technological progress, and economic incursion rather than military bases building. These are the new tools employed by states to grow their power and spread their influence, and of course, the elements that can explain the relationships among international actors. The logic of war has to be read through the grammar of commerce, but do these new means serve the same interests as artillery pieces used to before? 

Especially among the theorists of interdependence, many believe that the growing importance of industrial and financial entities and economics as the lens through which to understand international relations would imply a shift from “world politics” to “world business”, thus reducing warlike escalations. However, they are still the states that can extract and regulate economic resources; and they are still territorial authorities. In these terms, we can understand geoeconomics: an evolution, and not a revolution, of geopolitics. 

To better conceive this evolution, definitions are of some help. Geoeconomics can be considered applied research, and it can be understood as both an analysis and practice by states and businesses. It is an interdisciplinary subject including geopolitical features, strategic analysis and foresight, and economic intelligence. Saying geoeconomics is an evolution of geopolitics does not mean that the latter disappeared. The relationship between economics and power ever existed throughout history indeed. As an example, starting from the XI century, Venice became a powerful geoeconomics actor. It built its considerable power not flexing muscles, but presenting itself as a strong diplomatic and trading power, mastering advanced naval technologies and using economic espionage. 

More precisely, Soilen defines geoeconomics as “the study of spatial, cultural, and strategic aspects of resources, with the aim of gaining a sustainable competitive advantage”. It is different from geopolitics under two aspects: for the topic, since it focuses on economic means and not military or political; and for the actors, because it does not look only to individuals representing the state, its institutions, or the state as a whole, but to individuals who conduct relevant economic activities, corporations and other national and non-national institutions operating in the economic field. Despite this, they remain very similar to each other. Indeed, they both study how certain instruments can serve national purposes. Strategy is “where we define an optimal plan for our organizational or institutional objectives” SOILEN -1). In a world where war is banned, civilian technology is more strategic than a bomb. 

This means that those actors with hands over new technologies are more inclined to gain additional power and influence. China figured it out during its economic global ascendance and engaged to “master core technologies” in any imaginable area. If from the 80s to the mid-2000s, China’s economic policy was to encourage foreign direct investments in the country through often unfair incentives and advantages to investors; from 2006, China turned to “China Inc” and began promoting “indigenous innovation”, freezing the pursuit of international investments.

Published in 2006, the “MLP”, standing for “The Guidelines for the Implementation of the National Medium- and Long-term Program for Science and Technology Development (2006-2020)” stressed the need to “create an environment for encouraging innovation independently, promote enterprises to become the main body of making technological innovation and strive to build an innovative-type country.” Thus, today’s Chinese economic policy can be considered a long-term oriented pattern focused on the welfare of internal producers. In other words, what China has adopted is a mercantilist set of policies aimed at defeating non-Chinese competitors.

Why is geoeconomics important? Because the means are financial and industrial, and the strategy is mainly territorial. The main example of Chinese current economic policy? The Belt and Road Initiative. For this to be realized, the geographical dimension is vital. In particular, infrastructures in South and Southeast Asia are crucial since they are key to the connectivity envisioned by BRI. These countries are the most likely to allow Chinese naval bases or to serve as strategic pivots for commercial and military needs. This would let China build strong regional power at the first stage, and expand its activities then. Therefore, one might argue that geoeconomics is the evolution of geopolitics and that geoeconomics could serve geopolitical interests. Indeed, the BRI aims to build linkages with other countries and regions through investments, infrastructures, opening corridors, and connecting with them “physically, financially, digitally, and socially”.  


In conclusion, the growing importance of economic connections and tools in this technological era makes it the new paradigm to intend power in the XXI century. Wars have been marginalized, and thereby governments ought to find a new way to propagate their power. Notwithstanding, territorial dynamics still play significant roles, even in times of faster communications and digital transactions. This is the case of China, a growing “territorial ruler” with global ambitions that offers advantageous economic opportunities to bring other countries in its orbit while expanding its own economic, diplomatic, and military projections of power.

July 21, 2021No Comments

How are the U.S. Administrations dealing with Cybersecurity

By: István Hagyó and Bianca Ferrazza 

Introduction

Witnessing government agencies, corporations and the military's recent shift of administration of activities to the internet, one cannot ignore the pressing concern of cybersecurity to world security. It is pertinent to discuss cybersecurity, as the contemporary world is increasingly immersed in the use of new IT technologies; humans seem to be living in cyberspace rather than in the physical one. Cybersecurity’s relevance to national security is obvious: in the era of digitalization, we are observing a lot of new threats coming from the internet and countries must act before having their weak spot detected. 

What is a cyber attack?

According to the Oxford Dictionary, a cyber attack is an act aimed at the damage or the destruction of a computer network or system. More precisely, a cyber attack consists of an attempt to perform any action that might hurt a database’s security. These actions may include disabling computers, stealing data or leakage of any sensible information. 

What happens when a country or company is the victim of this attack?

The cyber domain also refers to the term “cyberspace”. According to the definition of the U.S. Department of Defense, cyberspace is “A global domain within the information environment consisting of the interdependent network of information technology infrastructures, including the internet, telecommunications networks, computer systems and embedded processors and controllers”. 

Cybersecurity’s role in the contemporary world emerges as a consequence of the internet revolution of the past decades. It is considered a practice aimed at the protection of systems (alongside that of programs and networks) from the threats of digital attacks. 

Cybersecurity aims to foil attacks at gaining access, leak or destroy sensitive information and to interfere with the normal administration of companies, government agencies and other subjects. The implementation of cybersecurity has improved in recent years, due to the growing business of high tech companies, but so have hackers. In general, one can consider a successful cybersecurity approach one that presents several layers of protection against hackers. 

The Evolution of US Cyberpower

In analysing the approach of the Biden administration in regards to cybersecurity threats, it would be interesting to look back in time and to understand what the past US administrations have done.

In 2003, the Bush Administration commissioned a document, National Strategy for Security Cyberspace, which pinned down three tactical approaches aiming to prevent cyber attacks on the country’s most important infrastructures, reduce its fragility and, in case the attack actually happens, implement efficient strategies to minimize damage. The National Strategy issued by George W. Bush also posed itself as a target to invigorate companies’ care to their cyberspace, by routinely empowering their security systems. The Bush administration also presented a huge contribution by issuing the National Infrastructure Protection Plan in 2006, which identified 17 infrastructure sectors and advanced the idea that cybersecurity’s importance derives from the fact that it can be declined in any sector and therefore does not represent a separate topic. 

The Obama Administration took a radically different approach, organizing cybersecurity with a top-down strategy by assigning the command of cybersecurity policies to the White House rather than to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). During his mandate, new legislations were passed, alongside the issuance of new policies. Chinese hackers were involved in cyber theft regarding intellectual property and trade strategies, occupying US intelligence in many inquiries. In 2015, Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping signed an agreement aimed at the cessation of commercial hacking, which resulted in a drop in the number of instances of Chinese hacking into the American commercial cyberspace. Additionally, the state department worked with international institutions and with other countries in an attempt to apply international law to the new cyber threats. The Department of Home Security enhanced its “Einstein” cyber threat prevention system; the software now is used by more than 90% of federal agencies. 

The Trump Administration, experts say, seems to have taken the country a step back on cybersecurity management. The former President fired Christopher Krebs who was the director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (C.I.S.A.) since 2018 for not having supported Trump’s claims on the 2020 election fraud, a decision that was contested by most cybersecurity experts. Trump’s legacy on cybersecurity is made up of several different measurements. During his mandate he managed to confront China on cyber issues, to recognize the importance of the cyber domain in regards to the next decades in warfare. It also implemented a “Defending Forward Strategy”. This strategy enforces operations aimed at intercepting attacks before they reach the U.S. and has several implications in regards to some sectors of the economy considered vital to the country’s normal administration. The new strategy also claims to be “preparing for war”. It seems that the cyber operations will be joined with warfighters, to try and combine the two aspects of security. 

Newly-elected President Joe Biden has come up with a new executive order regarding the matter of cybersecurity, making it a priority to improve the Government’s strategy tied to the new threads proposed by the “cyber switch”.  In order to better sum up the new policies regarding the cybersecurity approach, the White House has released a fact sheet focused on the highlighting of some key aims of the executive order, some of these being the improvement of software supply chain security, the establishment of a cybersecurity safety review board and the removal of barriers to threat information sharing between borders.

U.S. Administrations vs Major adversaries

The American approach toward potential Russian cyber threats became a major debate after the accusation of Russian meddling in the 2016 American General Elections. The GRU (Russian military intelligence agency) carried out several attacks on Ukraine including two power grids and the 2017 NotPetya virus causing $10 billion worth of damage. The Baltic states are the most vulnerable and affected, while direct cyber-attacks against US international companies, governments and critical services are also very common. In 2020 alone, almost 300 million ransomware attacks were launched causing a $1 billion loss. Such an occasion was the ransomware attacks on Colonial Pipeline resulting in gas outrage of the East Coast for days.

The different interpretation of the nature of cyber conflict by both states makes the situation more complicated. The Russian government and embassy strictly denied the existence of such operations. However, several attempts were initiated by the Russian part to form a common group to counter cyber-attacks. The American part each time rejected the offer, especially during the Trump Administration, due to mistrust and fear from domestic scepticism in case of an agreement by President Trump. The Biden Administration realized, both the necessity and the lack of progress in the case. A significant result and probably the only one during the recent Biden-Putin summit in Geneva, Switzerland, was to form a bilateral committee on cybersecurity issues and potential cyber-attacks. The American part highlighted 16 entities, infrastructures that are off-limits from attacks.

China is also raising concerns in Washington. The United States’ cyberspace relations with China are different as compared to Russia. China has greater economic potential, therefore, more resources to fund its cyberspace strategy. When considered from a global perspective, it reaches any industry and all the sectors involving any entity. Like in other arenas, China is pursuing to take the frontrunner role in cyberspace as well. The characteristics of Chinese cyber-attacks are heavily intelligence oriented and spying for the ultimate western technology. A great suspicion is toward Chinese advanced telecommunication equipment like the Huawei 5G. In order to avoid the escalation of such allegations, the two states in 2015 signed the U.S. - China Security Agreement. However, it focuses only on economically motivated cyber-attacks. It is widened by the escalated trade war between the two countries resulting in no breakthrough during the Trump administration and the recent Sino-American summit in March 2021. 

Conclusion

Given the increasing importance and danger of cyberspace, only in 2020 alone, almost 30.000 companies, corporations, institutions and banks were targeted and a total of 300 million cyber-attacks were launched causing over $1 billion loss. The concept of cyberspace and its potential threats became a national security topic during the presidency of George W. Bush. The Obama Administration was the first to institutionalize it, while President Trump was the first who publicly accused China of cyberspace warfare. Now, it is President Biden’s turn to take an approach and engage major powers to internationally institutionalize cyberspace to prevent uncontrolled cyber-attacks. There is a need for barriers and deterrence for those who conduct uncontrolled cyber-attacks. Although this was initiated with Russia during the Biden-Putin summit, only time will tell the extent to which it is successfully implemented. 

July 15, 2021No Comments

Soumaila Diawara on the Mali crisis and the migration flows in the Sahel

Interviewing Team: Rebecca Pedemonte, Alessandra Gramolini, Michele Tallarini

Soumaila Diawara was born in Bamako (Mali). After his graduation in Legal Sciences with a specialization in International Private Law,  he started his career in politics, taking part of the "Solidarité Africaine pour la Démocratie et l'Indépendance" (SADI), in which he soon became the leader of the youth movement. In 2012, he was forced to leave Mali as he was accused, along with others, of an attack against the President of the Legislative Assembly. He arrived in Italy in 2014, where he obtained international protection. Today he is still a political refugee. He is, also, the author of two poetry collections: “La nostra civiltà” and “Sogni di un uomo”. 

What are the main reasons that push Malians to leave within the migratory flows?

First of all, farmers and fishers find it very difficult to cultivate and fish due to the severe drought and the lowering of the desert. This is also due to pollution and the impossibility for farmers to graze animals quietly. 

Moreover, due to the war situation in northern Mali, the only alternative that many people have , is to leave. Infact, terrorists invaded about 60% of the territory after the fall of the Gaddafi regime; an area three times the size of Italy has been occupied, over 35% of the Malian population.

This situation has resulted in the closure of schools and hospitals for over eight years. Parents are afraid that their children will end up in the hands of terrorists, so they decide to let them go. When you see a parent saying that he prefers his child to die in the sea rather than end up in the hands of terrorists, that means there is no hope left. Or even 13-14-year-old girls, forced by terrorists to marry them, I don't call it marriage; I call it rape.

Another reason why Malians are forced to migrate concerns the chaotic management of the Malian state, which does not give anyone the freedom of expression; otherwise, they are persecuted. Fortunately, those who manage to escape run away. 

There are also many areas where a person can die of malaria, not having 10 euros for treatment, or cannot afford drinking water or two meals a day. People go away to survive.

What role does the Malian state play within these migratory flows regarding Mali as a country of departure and as a transit state? How and to what extent does the political instability in Mali affect the choice to travel?

This instability has a great responsibility in causing the choice of people to leave. The absence of the Malian State has existed for more than thirty years. The State tends not to consider citizens, the conditions in which they live, and their daily life. So when the State fails, people leave to look for a better future. I believe the absence of the State is also a desired condition when it is convenient for the State to maintain a population in poverty and ignorance. Because, when you are hungry, the first thing you think about is finding something to eat, you don't think about politics. Especially when you live in a country where 60% of the population does not have the opportunity to go to school since the State itself does not guarantee access to public schools and healthcare.

More and more policies are created not to give people the opportunity to approach politics and power. Therefore I have always maintained that it is essential when funds are earmarked for the African continent to verify where this money goes. In particular, if they are intended for the people who need them, to build schools or hospitals, to give alternatives, or create projects that can be sustainable and create jobs. Unfortunately, there are many times when this money does not reach people and strangely ends up in Western banks. I have always supported it because I believe it is not just a Malian problem but an international problem.

Nobody likes to die, and therefore, people, having no means to counter corrupt governments, leave. I have always argued that the problem of Africa is not just due to the “white man,” but I believe it is due to a system that exploits Africa. And it is the same system that the West controls. Therefore we are an exploited mass, which has the same common goal, even if the exploitation takes place in different ways.

What reasons have contributed to developing and consolidating the migration corridors of the Sahel?

The first reason is that the Sahel is very close to Europe and other countries such as Algeria and Libya, which border the Mediterranean; Spain is also a stone's throw from Morocco. This means that the movements go through the Sahel, even if the people who pass through it also come from other areas of Africa, such as central Africa, which is very far from the Sahelian region.

The geopolitical situation of the region, particularly of Mali, Niger, Chad, and Burkina Faso, characterized by ten-year instability at both the political and security levels, has led to the concentration of migration corridors in this area. I also believe that this is partly due to the negligence and unwillingness to resolve this situation. These problems cannot be diminished and traced back to the military solution alone, as has been done up to now.

Abdelmalek Sayad, in his writing “La Double Absence. Des illusions de l'émigré aux souffrances de l'immigré,” stated that those who migrate live the condition of one who is no longer part of the starting context and is not even part of the arrival context. He, therefore, experiences a double absence in which he feels neither the culture of arrival nor that of the context of origin is his own. Do you share this statement? 

Yes, many people face this situation, which is often also due to the behavior of many individuals within today's society. I have always said that I would have preferred to talk about another culture, different and complementary, but I find myself defending rights more often than not, which I find out of place in this century. From the moment people with a different culture arrive, human curiosity pushes them to go and know this new reality of which they know nothing. But if some people in the country of arrival make those people feel inadequate or not accepted, the only alternative is to cling to their old culture. This causes a mental closure, which does not lead to the opening to the new society of arrival.

I have always believed that it is right to understand that when people with a different culture arrive, one should only open the door and welcome them into society. But when we fail to overcome this wall of fear, a division is created in a useless community. I have always argued that cultures are different but complementary, and learning other things does not change you but instead helps you have more baggage and see the world more broadly. I am always willing to listen to others and learn about other cultures because I know that the world is not limited to Mali or Africa. Still, there is another world outside: although cultural, religious, sexual orientation differences, etc., it is possible to live together peacefully, teaching each other our cultures.

July 15, 20211 Comment

Housing: An Unspoken Challenge of Human Security

By: Ludovica Brambilla, Arslan Sheikh and Esther Brito Ruiz

Share of people living in urban areas

The Urban World 

The world is becoming increasingly urban. For the first time in history, most of the world population resides in cities – and the challenges of human security have evolved accordingly. Human security is generally considered to encompass economic, food, health, environmental, personal, community, and political security. In line with urbanization, issues of lack of access to health or education centers have tended to decrease, but problems associated with social stratification, urban segregation, and unaffordability have become more prominent. Nowhere is this more evident – or pressing – in modern cities than in the primordial problem of access to housing. 

As city centers become denser, competition for space has becomes fiercer and through it the struggle for housing supply and conditions of tenant protection worsens. This drives up prices, making housing unaffordable for many. In turn, this acts as a facilitator of socio-economic segregation and a core driver of urban inequality. In the world’s megacities – those with more than 10 million inhabitants – this has often become especially dire. Currently, 20% of the world population – about 1.6 billion people – lack access to adequate housing. While not often discussed in political science, access to housing stands as a foundational element – and a precondition for – human security

Human Security Implications of Housing 

The local governments of different countries are trying to implement innovative solutions to tackle the housing problem ranging from mandatory social housing quotas in Helsinki to creating backyard homes in Los Angeles. However, when these initiatives are unsuccessful in managing the problem, housing creates multilevel human security crises. These often include the proliferation of slums, the advance of gentrification, and both increased evictions and homelessness. With the COVID-19 pandemic driving forth a new global housing crisis and compromising the economic security of millions, we see the fault lines within our cities and societies widen further. 

Slums 

Slums are mainly the product of unplanned urbanization and can represent the most common form of housing in many expanding cities of the developing world – such as Kibera, New Delhi, Mumbai, or Manila. They are a form of informal housing – often illegal – which can be defined as having the following characteristics: unsafe or inadequate infrastructure; overcrowding; limited or no access to basic services – such as running water or electricity; and no secure tenure, due to having no land-rights on the property. 

Slums emerge and continue to proliferate in less developed countries due to the the inability to meet the demands of a growing population; nearly about one billion people occupy slums. The key challenge of slums is their large size and magnitude. The total number of slum inhabitants has grown, even as the proportion of slum population has declined. The people living in worst slum conditions are found in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southern Asia – regions with a low Human Development Index and persistent poverty challenges. Asian cities host sixty-one percent of the global slum population, with India and China alone having  153 and 171 million slum dwellers respectively. The causes of concern for slum dwellers are manifold. They not only are at risk of being the victims of forceful evictions, but are also prone to various environmental risks such as steep slopes, river and canal beds, marshes and near polluted areas like garbage dumps. Besides that, they often lack the conditions required to live a dignified life. The low-income residents living in slums are also displaced from their neighborhood because of gentrification.

Gentrification 

Gentrification underlines the ocial and economic divisions that exists within the world'cities. It is a powerful force capable of mutating cities and bringing new private and public capital and services into neighborhoods that have suffered from prolonged disinvestments. But gentrification strongly differs from urban renewal, in fact, the rising of property value and the lack of affordable housing cause exclusionary displacement. The pandemic has further exposed and worsened these dynamics which has ultimately led to the displacement of low-income and minority residents. 

As a result, the long-term residents that have created the unique social fabric of the neighborhood are forced to move. Minority groups are most often damaged by this process. For instance, in large American cites, displacement of minorities has followed gentrification and impacted significant percentages of black and hispanic residents that can no longer benefit from the new services that come with new local investments. This results in the erosion of the social networks on which families rely on, fostering isolation. As areas have gentrified, low-income families face severe housing crises which sometimes even push them into homelessness. More often, poorer residents move on the fringes of cities further increasing pockets of poverty, urban decay and ultimately, segregation. 

Once we recognize the impacts of gentrification on social justice and human security, we cannot separate this problem from the urge of adequate policies. The possible solutions lay on rent control policies and progressive land tax combined with the restriction of predatorial investment schemes that can prevent evictions and homelessness.

Evictions & Homelessness  

As mentioned, dynamics like gentrification can drive forced evictions, which only increases in times of crisis. In 2020, the UN's special rapporteur on the right to housing issued an official call to governments requesting they halt all evictions until the end of the pandemic. That year, in the United States alone around 30 to 40 million people were identified to be facing or at risk of eviction. Similar trends and forced evictions manifested globally – with cases in South African, Brazil and Kenya being notable.  The fear of eviction threatens core rights of urban residents and reflects trends of social disparities – affecting LGBT+ youth, mono-parental families, and people of color disproportionately. When eviction occurs, it often implies the loss of access to other basic services.

Derived from evictions and urban inequality is homelessness. This phenomenon is conditioned by issues as varied as racism and discrimination, gendered violence, and mental health, among others.  Currently, around 2% of the global population is homeless – which is set to continue to increase in line with urbanization. Homelessness is an expression of failures in governance and has turned into a global human rights crisis. It is important to note that local governments can worsen the crisis by taking stances of criminalization or imposing harsh conditions that seek to drive the homeless away to other areas. A visible example of these policies is the installation of hostile architecture. By virtue of an absence of housing, homelessness compromises every aspect of human security. 

Conclusion

To address the issue of housing insecurity, political leaders should look beyond the affordability of basic shelters. Instead, possible solutions need to focus on improving services in critical neighborhoods, taking advantage of public land to build new social housing in parts of the city suffering under market pressure. In order to get to a new reality of accessible, inclusive and sustainable cities, a strong collaboration between the public-private and nonprofit sectors is needed. Effective solutions also require the inclusion of representative local social actors and community-based organizations in decision-making processes, which will be fundamental in preserving and enhancing the city’s cultural identity. There exist viable solutions, what remains wanting is the political will for implementation. 

July 12, 2021No Comments

If Russia attacks the Baltics

By: Igor Shchebetun

NATO exercise Defenders of Europe 20 was to be the largest U.S. troop deployment to Europe in more than 25 years. The main purpose of the exercise was to demonstrate the Alliance's ability to come to the aid of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, which joined NATO in 2004. Despite the strongly pronounced pro-Western course of these countries, energy ties, trade flows and geographical realities make the three former Soviet republics the arena of an unspoken struggle for influence between Washington and Moscow.  What will happen to the Baltic states if tensions rise sharply and relations between Russia and NATO reach the phase of armed conflict? For centuries, the three small countries around the Baltic Sea have been the battleground for influence between the great powers. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the countries of the Baltic region strengthened their economic integration with the West, resulting in the economic prosperity of all three states, but the success of the Baltics also exposes the vulnerability of NATO in this region. 

Latvia and Estonia share a border with Russia, and the presence of large Russian-speaking communities in both countries inevitably leads to disagreements and conflicts over linguistic citizenship rights and historical memory. The focus here is on hybrid threats, where technically savvy Estonians seek to repel cyberattacks while Latvia focuses on strategic communications for information warfare. The two Baltic states are more susceptible to direct military pressure from Russia than their neighbour to the south Lithuania has the largest population among the three countries and is located in the most strategically important territory in the Baltic. It is here in the southernmost Baltic state that the tactical confrontation between Russia and NATO will take place. The Baltic states have no chance to withstand the onslaught of the Russian army. The question is whether it will be able to strengthen its allies before the Russian invasion.

Exercise Defender of Europe 20, scheduled for late March 2020, was supposed to be an attempt to answer this question. It was supposed to mobilize more than 20,000 U.S. soldiers and move more than 13,000 pieces of military equipment across the continent to demonstrate the Alliance's ability to defend the southern Baltic region, but was canceled due to movement restrictions due to COVID-19 pandemic. Although the exercises were not carried out as planned, the current military situation in the Baltic is worth exploring. The key to understanding the specifics of the region is its geography. Most importantly the presence of Russia here and the Kaliningrad region is a Russian enclave about the size of Northern Ireland located on the Baltic Sea coast southwest of Lithuania. 

Because of the stationing of the Russian-Baltic Fleet headquarters, the small subject of the Federation is well protected and considered the most militarized region in Europe. In February 2018, Kaliningrad became home to Iskander operational-tactical missile systems with nuclear capabilities and a range that covered all of the Baltic states and beyond. In addition, the province has the resources to limit and deny access and maneuvers at sea through long-range missiles, anti-ship missiles, missile defense systems, air, land and naval forces. 

Needless to say, Kaliningrad will play a decisive role in any confrontation with Russia. Today, the U.S. military leadership believes that the firepower present in Kaliningrad is enough to block U.S. naval forces from entering the Baltic Sea. This means that military action in the Baltics will take place on land, which completely changes the picture. After the events of 2014, NATO deployed a significantly deterrent force to its Eastern European countries. Expanded Forward Presence. This is a program to deploy troops consisting of combat units from the armies of various NATO members, equipped with relatively light weapons and ready to resist aggression under allied command. According to NATO statements, four multinational battlegroups deployed in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland are led by the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany and the United States. Canada and Germany and the United States, respectively, would increase Russian losses in the event of Russian intervention in the Baltics. The Kremlin argues that this increased presence raises security concerns and will only increase tensions in the future. Such escalation has already begun over the past few years, Russia has strengthened its air and anti-aircraft missile capabilities with equipment such as the Kalibr ship-based missile system with a range of up to 2,000 km, the S-400 Triumf long-range air defense system and the advanced Su-30cm fighter-bombers. 

In 2017, the Kremlin tested this equipment in a large-scale exercise by the West envisioning a worsening of relations with the West and highlighting the conflict on the territory of the Baltic states. During the exercise, Coastal Defense systems in Kaliningrad hit surface targets and Russian strategic targets near the Lithuanian border. Bombers attacked ground targets for the first time since the Cold War. Tensions are clearly high and further escalation does not look favorable to NATO in terms of military prospects. The stretch of land located between northeastern Poland and southern Lithuania between Kaliningrad and Belarus at its narrowest point is only 66 kilometers wide and is called the Suwalki Corridor. This strategically important area is one of NATO's most vulnerable geostrategic points because it serves as the only land corridor between the alliance and the Baltic states. Whoever controls the Suvalki corridor will dominate the entire battlefield, so NATO should do everything possible to maintain land access to the Baltics, while Russia will do everything possible to block this passage. For Lithuania the Suvalki corridor is also crucial because this area provides access to the second largest city in the country, Kaunas, located at the confluence of two major rivers dividing the country into two parts. Historically, both Napoleon and Hitler conducted offensives through the Suvalki Corridor. During the First World War, the Russian troops conducted counterattacks here. This region became the main battlefield of the Polish-Lithuanian War. The hilly terrain in Suwalki makes it difficult to regain control of the area should it be lost, and reinforcing NATO defenses face diplomatic difficulties in view of the transport routes from Russia to Kaliningrad that pass through here. More specifically, Russia has a legal right of passage through the Suvalki corridor to connect with Kaliningrad, and this freedom of access is a red line for Moscow. The Zapad 2017 exercise involving Belarus demonstrated how easily Russia can gain an advantage on the eastern flank of the Suvalki Corridor through which it can ferry its units. Meanwhile, it is assumed that three brigades of about 15,000 soldiers can be mobilized on the western flank in Kaliningrad alone for comparison, the regular Lithuanian army has 18,000 soldiers and it is not as well equipped as the Russian army and the number of forward multinational NATO units is just over 4 and a half thousand soldiers in fact the Russian troops located in the region outnumber the NATO troops by a ratio of about eight to one.

It is believed that to achieve parity with the Russian NATO forces, 18 more brigades will have to be deployed in the Baltics. However, reinforcing the Baltic allies is a politically risky and logistically complex undertaking. Even in the air NATO will not find it easy to gain military superiority. It is worth stressing that NATO has the technical capability to destroy Russian missile systems in the region. However, such a strike would increase tensions to the point of no return, which is a dangerous gamble in a conflict with a nuclear power.

All this means that at the moment Russia can easily suppress NATO forces in the Suvali corridor and isolate the Baltic states. This could be realized quite unexpectedly given Russia's freedom of movement in this region and the close proximity of its forces in Belarus and long-range missiles in Kaliningrad. Even with the rapid deployment of NATO forces, as suggested by the Defender of Europe 22 exercise, there is great doubt that they will be able to defend this territory until reinforcements arrive. Retaking the Suvalki Corridor by military means will require significant efforts from every NATO member state. By and large, NATO's vulnerability in the Baltics is well known to its military leadership. However, the general public in NATO member states is less familiar with it. Increased awareness of military realities could prevent possible miscalculations, because in any situation on the brink of war, NATO democracies would have to enlist the support of the people. Article 5 of NATO declares that an attack on one member of the Alliance is an attack on all members. This is the Cornerstone of the entire organization. If the Kremlin's ultimate goal is the destruction of NATO, one way of doing so is to demonstrate that the Alliance cannot defend its allies and the Baltics is the best place to test this theory.

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