May 17, 2021No Comments

Cybersecurity talks with Andrea Rigoni

Andrea Rigoni talks about the most important trends and challenges in the world of cybersecurity. This is ITSS Verona Member Series on International Systems, section on Artificial Intelligence Cybersecurity and Space. Andrea Rigoni has been working in the Information Security Sector for more than 25 years, he serves as an advisor to NATO and the UN, he also served as advisor to the Italian Prime Minister, and is now Partner at Deloitte Risk Advisory, focusing on cybersecurity. 

Interviewing Team: Tommaso Baiocco, Zrinka Borić, Renata Safina and Arnaud Sobrero.

May 17, 20211 Comment

India’s impact on US Indo-Pacific Grand Strategy

By István Hagyó 

In the recent decades India has become a major power in the Indo-Pacific region which has increased its importance for the United States. China, the second largest economy, aims to establish hegemony in competition with the United States. This provides an opportunity both for the United States and India to find a common path and deepen their partnership to balance China. However, India’s intentions are still unclear and even more sophisticated, due to the changing dynamics of the Indo-Pacific. Will a traditionally neutral India be willing to support the United States in its effort to counter China?  

Obama’s ‘Pivot to Asia’ policy proved that Asia became the top priority of US Foreign Policy during his Administration. However, under Trump, the focus was reduced by merging East Asia with South Asia, calling the whole region as Indo-Pacific. President Trump’s February 2020 visit to India and the subsequent signing of Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement in October 2020 allowing the two states to exchange geospatial intelligence are symbolic events in highlighting India’s rising status in the U.S. Foreign Policy strategy. Additionally, the two states are engaged in the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue along with Japan and Australia. The Dialogue has become a significant regional cooperation platform led by the United States. 

In late March this year, the Biden Administration continued the effort to engage with India by sending the Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to visit India. During his first Asian tripbesides visiting America’s two closest allies Japan and South Korea, he also visited India, a symbolic step towards highlighting India’sincreased importance for the United States. Biden is generally viewed as an India-friendly politician, particularly due to his contribution towards the United States-India Civil Nuclear Deal in 2008. Additionally, the fact that his administration comprises of a higher percentage of Indian Americans than any other administration, in particular the vice-presidential pick Kamala Harris, carries a great symbolic significance. Biden considers the bilateral relations with India as the “defining relationship” of the 21st century. This makes more sense as China is seeking to become a regional hegemon, particularly through its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) mega-project giving Beijing greater influence and military and geopolitical advantage in the region. The BRI mega-project would allow Chinese investments in several participating, vulnerable countries surrounding India, such as Myanmar, Sri Lanka and India’s traditional adversary, Pakistan. China is developing the ports in these countries which will allow it to gain access to the Indian Ocean. This raises concerns in New Delhi of geopolitical encirclement, thereby giving the United States a great opportunity to engage with India. 

However, the purchase of the Russian S-400 air defense system by India raises concern in the United States. New Delhi was a traditional partner of the Soviet Union during the Cold War and afterwards, with Russia. It is unlikely that India will give up these ties on America’s insistence. As India’s External Affairs Minister,Subrahmanyam Jaishankar argues, India has no intention of fully aligning either with Russia or the United States, rather will continue to be neutral as it has been for the last 70 years. Further, he points out: “This is a time for us to engage America, manage China, reassure Russia, bring Japan into play … and expand traditional constituencies of support. … A longstanding trilateral with Russia and China coexists now with one involving the U.S. and Japan”. However, the former Indian Ambassador to the U.S. Arun Singh has a different vision on India’s role, where he says, “In the framework for China, U.S. sees India as a very important partner. I think that would be ... the defining parameter for the relationship going ahead.” Narendra Modi the Indian Prime Minister described the basic pillars of the bilateral relations: “India stands for "freedom of navigation and overflight, unimpeded lawful commerce and adherence to international law." Certainly, India welcomes these efforts and see the potential in it, but will consider all options and act in accordance with its national interest. 

It is uncertain how long India can remain neutral in a dynamically changing regional landscape. Will the United States be willing to accept India’s military ties to Russia as it engages with India to balance China? It is hard to answer which military alliance is more important for India, but it is certain that the United States is making serious efforts to engage India to counter China. The U.S Secretary of Defence stated, “...it's clear that the importance of this partnership (US-India), and its impact [on] the international rules-based order will only grow in the years ahead." While the Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh described the future of the US-India relations: “keen to work together to realize the full potential of the India-US comprehensive global strategic partnership." With four consecutive US Administrations in favor and bipartisan support for the US-India relations, it can be assumed that the bilateral relations will remain stabIe for the time-being. In case that India decides to align fully with the United States, the balance in the Indo-Pacific region will be reshaped and will accordingly prompt shift in policies on both sides, between the US-led group of countries and the China-led one. 

May 13, 20211 Comment

ITSS Verona Interview – Freedom of expression and Worship in Iran

An interview with Dr. Ali Fathollah-Nejad on freedom of expression and worship in Iran and an interview with an Iranian convert from Islam.

Interviewing Team: John Devine, Omri Brinner, Angelo Calianno and Martina Gambacorta.

May 13, 2021No Comments

Russia and Ukraine prepare for War

By Igor Shchebetun

     The situation in Eastern Ukraine is heating up.  Videos published on social networks show military columns moving towards Donbass. Kiev has put its troops on high alert. Washington is considering sending the navy to the Black Sea, while Moscow is pulling heavy weapons and landing troops to the border.

     Ukraine is a buffer state located in the center of Europe that serves as a road to an attack to the East or West. Today, the European Union and NATO, mainly represented by Poland, see Ukraine as a place where Russian influence on the European continent can be stopped. Russia sees Ukraine as an indispensable buffer zone against the West. To be fair, both Moscow and Kiev have internal motives for escalating tensions. President Zelensky's rating is rapidly goes down. In 2021, only slightly more than 20% of Ukrainians are willing to vote for him. Putin faces the same problem, his level of support in February 2021 is only 32%. The bottom line is that both sides have reasons to use the tensions in Donbass to influence the opinion of their voters. But let's still imagine that the conflict is not limited to Donbass, but fully involves Ukraine and Russia, what would it look like?  Despite Kiev's efforts to reform the army in recent years, the balance of power between Ukraine and Russia has changed little. Russia has the ability to defeat its adversary and can implement its strategy in a variety of ways. Let's consider which ones? It can conduct small operations along the entire border with Ukraine, which will disperse Ukrainian forces. On the other hand, a small offensive will not bring additional influence in terms of politics or security. Another option for Russia and the Donbass it supports is to expand controlled territory into the rest of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, making the separatists more self-sufficient. However, increasing the buffer territory is too little. Especially considering that such an action would also evoke an even stronger pro-Western sentiment in Ukrainian society and guarantee Moscow additional sanctions, something it cannot afford. 

     A third option for Russia could be to advance along the Southern coast of Ukraine and the Dnieper River and connect Donbass with Crimea creating such an overland corridor would strengthen Russia's control over Crimea and Donbass and allow it to control 75% of the fresh water supplied to Crimea. In such a situation, the supply lines of the overland corridor will be greatly stretched. And that's not to mention their vulnerability for about 400 km this will not be a problem for Russia unless other regional forces are measured in the conflict otherwise the supply will probably be cut off and the whole campaign proves unsuccessful. However, if no outside force intervenes, then technically Russia could advance further it could seize all of Ukraine and link up with its forces in the region of Transnistria (а separatist region of Moldova) in which case Ukraine would be undermined it would lose access to the Black Sea, reducing the importance of its alliance with Turkey. The apathy of the port city of Odessa would cause significant damage to the Ukrainian economy. From Russia's point of view, having a regional territory along the Black Sea would ensure that most of its interests in the region would be achieved. Geographically, if Russia intended to attack Ukraine, the Dnieper River would be the ideal anchoring point. Capturing all of eastern Ukraine and controlling all crossing points across the Dnieper would allow Russia to focus only on specific points. This would have provided it with a much more reliable line of defense than the buffer zone of Donbass. However, the seizure of such vast territory would instantly provoke fierce resistance that would be difficult to pacify. Such cities as Kharkov, Kiev and Dnepr would become particularly problematic and hotspots. In addition, the seizure of Ukrainian territory would be guaranteed to lead to covert or overt interference by other countries, as well as the maximum application of sanctions by the U.S. as in the case of Iran.

      Not much has changed between Ukraine and Russia, at least militarily and politically. Ukraine still does not have the ability to defeat Russia The US is now satisfied with the current situation, Germany does not want to interfere in the situation, and France remains a de facto ally of Russia. Turkey is increasing its support for Ukraine, but they do not have enough resources to affect the status quo. Meanwhile, Russia continues to insist on constitutional autonomy, not wanting direct annexation, so despite all the hype, the resumption of a large-scale conflict is unlikely. However, given the amount of weapons along the borders, it cannot be completely ruled out. In all likelihood, Donbass will remain in limbo, because in political issues diplomats often welcome something new and only when it is actually no different from the old.

May 10, 20211 Comment

Interview with Noor Dahri

Noor Dahri, the Executive Director of Islamic Theology of Counter Terrorism (ITCT) shares insights from his experience regarding the radicalisation process.

Interviewers: Adelaide Martelli and Francesco Bruno.

May 10, 20212 Comments

Chinese IUU fishing: menaces and challenges for South American Navies

By André Carvalho

Nowadays, illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing is the most significant threat to maritime security worldwide. It is estimated that the IUU fishing is responsible for the annual loss of tens of billions of dollars in revenue for legal anglers. According to data reported in 2020 by the United States Coast Guard (USCG), IUU fishing also affects the global food security preventing the 3.3 billion of people that rely on fish to access their main source of animal protein. Furthermore, it is estimated that 93% of major fish stocks are already “classified, overexploited or fully depleted” due to the IUU fishing mismanagement of maritime resources. Thus, this illegal activity is not only a maritime concern, but also a threat to international security.

China’s IUU fishing has affected the world's oceans and has proved to be a unique and dire threat. The overfishing and water pollution resulting from the illegal activities have caused enormous environmental, economic, and social damages to coastal states affected by these practices. Currently, China has the largest illegal fishing industry in the world. The Distant Waters Fleet (DWF) is the responsible for conducting Chinese IUU fishing operations, and it uses mostly fishing vessels, factory ships and reefer vessels - a logistical scheme to make any legal fishing company jealous. Recent data suggests that the current number of China’s DWF is around 17,000 vessels, making possible for China to diversify its illegal fishing activities near the Korean Peninsula, on the African coast and in the Latin and South American waters

Nonetheless, China’s fishing fleet also has another strategic duty: to function as the People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia. In addition, although the militia has a history of harassing only China’s neighbours and strategic surroundings, one can also understand that they are part of a uniquely devised plan to China exert strategic influence around the globe. 

Although the problem is not necessarily new for the South American region, consequences of climate change have altered the composition of fish populations around the world, making the Chinese fishing activities intensify in South American in recent years. The situation started to gain attention in 2016, when ships from the Argentinian Coast Guard sank the Chinese fishing boat Lu Yan Yuan Yu 010 after detecting its illegal fishing activities in Argentinian waters. In 2017, the Ecuadorian Navy seized a Chinese boat which was detected fishing an endangered shark species near the Galapagos Islands. However, it did not seemed to have deterred Chinese intentions in the region. 

The situation escalated in 2020, when the Ecuadorian Navy discovered a huge Chinese fleet with between 270 and 400 vessels piling the waters inside the Ecuadorian Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The Chinese fleet overwhelmed the Ecuadorian Navy in numbers, making the latter require assistance from the USCG in order to deter illegal activities in the vicinities of Ecuador’s EEZ. The fleet then tried to operate into Chile’s EEZ, leading the Chile’s Chief of Security and Maritime Operations to create a task force to monitor illegal fishing activities along the Pacific Coast of South America.

Within this context, a country with a dishevelled navy, with innocuous floating firepower and without a complete situational control of its territorial sea, may find itself tobe susceptible to Chinese illegal fishing activities. In addition, it makes South American navies rely mostly on the USCG’s capabilities to patrol waters e.g. the deployment of the USCG Cutter Bertholf to help the Ecuadorian Navy patrol illegal activities near Galapagos, and the recent deployment of USCG Cutter Stone to patrol the Atlantic Coast of South America.  

In this sense, dealing with illegal fishing issues has proved to be a major challenge for South American navies due to limitations in their structure, order of battle and relative power. One of the main problems is that – for reasons that remain unclear - most of the South American navies do not admit the creation of a Coast Guard. Therefore, in some cases these navies are equipped with sophisticated war fighting equipment, but are starkly deficient in coastal patrol. South American countries have small fleets for an ostentatious patrolling of its coast and EEZ and this shows a certain neglect of naval patrol capabilities. A clear example is that the Brazilian navy, the second largest navy in the Americas, in a country with an approximately 8 thousand kilometres long coastline, does not have a continuous production program for ocean and coast patrol ships. 

In the same way, South American navies – and armed forces – show a significant absence of tactical and strategic unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) for sensing their territorial seas, as well as operational terrestrial observation satellites to conduct Intelligence, Reconnaissance and Surveillance (ISR) operations.

South America is a region where efforts to engage in cooperation hardly sees continuity. However, when the establishment points to the lack of capacity and resources to keep monitoring and controlling territories in an effective manner, defence cooperation can be a pivotal asset on the fight against Chinese IUU in the region. However, the problem with cooperation in such a scenario is that it is geographically limited. Thus, South American countries could also rely on interoperability for joint operations to tackle doctrinal and structural problems, as well as lean towards area and sea denial strategies as a way to get rid of the dependence on American military power. 

May 5, 20211 Comment

The Book of Five Rings: The Japanese Art of Becoming Better Individuals

Marco Verrocchio and Javier Olaechea Lázaro.

The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi, alongside Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, is one of main masterpieces in strategic studies. Not only can it be considered as a manual for leaders in the military and private sectors, but it can also serve as a way for self-development and success in daily life. Encompassing five books on spiritual symbols from Buddhist culture, the combination of Mushashi’s martial arts and his literary skills is a tremendous inspiration for us all.  

Historical setting

The end of the Momoyama Period and the beginning of the Edo, when Musashi lived and wrote the Book of Five Rings, was an age of political, religious and social turmoil. An age that started with the Warring State period and culminated with the establishment of the Tokugawa shogunate in the 1603. The main actors of this era were the Daimyō , warlords who fought each other to control the country. Initially, the Daimyō were open to new trade routes, especially with the arrival of the Portuguese in 1543 and the arrival of Christianity through the missionaries. Soon, these improvements brought technical development such as the arquebuses and printing. Thanks to these, the Daimyō were able to increasingly focus on military campaigns meant to control Buddhists and Shintoist religious institutions, as well as merchants. This resulted into urbanisation of civic society, with Samurai, merchants, and bureaucrats settled around local warlords' fortified castles, and farmers gathered in small villages in the countryside. 

Other than creating a strict hierarchy of social classes, the Samurai class benefited from great privileges serving under a Daimyō. Samurai became so relevant that many of them were able to gain political and military power, overthrowing members of upper classes. War amongst the Daimyō continued in the last decade of the XVI century, especially after failed attempts to invade Korea in 1592 and 1597. The Warring Period ended only with the preeminence of Tokugawa Ieyasu. After defeating opposing Daimyō at Sekigahara, he established the Shogunate in 1603. The Edo period began. This is known as an era marked by Japan's isolationist foreign policy, which lasted for 214 years. The missionaries were ousted and Christianity was prohibited. With the unification of Japan, firm social hierarchy was ultimately consolidated.

The role of the Samurai changed too. The latter increasingly transitioned from warriors to courtiers, bureaucrats, and administrators. Keen to preserve their glorious past from the Warring Period, Samurai-led martial arts schools flourished all over the country and many Samurai started to write novels and manuals to preserve and pass down their precious cultural heritage. The famous Bushido written by Yamaga Soko (1622-1685) and the Book of Five Rings of Miyamoto Musashi are examples of this period. 

Author setting

Little is known of his early life. Miyamoto Musashi was born around 1584 in the Harima province, situated in the south-west part of Japan. His father, Hirata Munisai, was a Samurai but Musashi lived his early years with his uncle, a clergyman, studying Confucianism and Buddhism. Three years later, Musashi left his village, fighting several Samurai in order to be accepted under the patronage of a Daimyō. At the age of 25, Musashi established a school of martial arts in Edo, the capital of the Shogunate. 

Musashi explored other arts, such as poetry, acting, calligraphy, and tea ceremony. He established the school of martial arts ``two skies in one” (Niten Ichi-ryu), teaching the use of two swords. In 1643, he exiled himself to a mountain with the aim to write the Book of Five Rings. He died aged 62 years old two years later. 

Insights and Lessons for our Times

From its purely formal conception, the book describes a series of stages designed to guide us along the path of personal growth in any field where we seek to develop. Musashi divides the book into an introduction presenting himself and five chapters, or rings, from which we chose the three most relevant in relation to our time:

Earth Manuscript: the importance of military strategy, or the "Way of strategy", sets out the spirit and moral requirements for understanding this domain. As the great swordsman explains, for any challenge we may be faced with, very few (if any) require the mastering of only one single skill. To master any field, it is argued, it is important to understand and master all the constituent parts of that peculiar field. 

Water Manuscript: methods to achieve victory through certain techniques to master body and arms correctly. Focus is allocated particularly on the importance of “looking in” and “looking out”, as one seeks to maximise strategy. Within this context, we learn about the damaging nature of tunnel vision and blind spot. This is given by narrow approaches that push us to consider a limited number of solutions vis-à-vis challenges instead of valuing alternative course of action.

Fire Manuscript: describes techniques that have to do with different situations such as the environment where the fight is taking place, how to handle the mood of the opponent or what attitudes are to be adopted according to the situation. The most valuable word here is “timing”. The timing to decide when to fight or, conversely, when not to fight. Musashi teaches us to think deeply about our preparedness to fight life-battles. He explains how there is no shame in admitting we are not ready to overcome challenges. There is instead shame in knowing we are not ready and still convince ourselves we can fight and win. Whilst self-confidence remains key, right timing is even more important.

In general, this piece is about the type of honour and impeccable conduct that coexist with bushido[1]. One could argue that its relevance to today's time is minimal. And yet, whilst focus is mostly military, the Book of the Five Rings can actually be applied to other, if not all, ethical and psychological dimensions that feature adversarial competition.

In truth, we claim it promotes effort and search for self-improvement through discipline, which greatly resonates to the kind of lessons we are to internalise in our daily lives.


[1]  It is a term translated as "the way of the warrior", in the Japanese tradition. It is a strict and particular code of ethics to which many samurai (or bushi) gave their lives, demanding loyalty and honour until death.

May 5, 20211 Comment

Sir Lawrence Freedman on UK-EU Relations, Strategy and International Security under Coronavirus

Sir Freedman is Emeritus Professor of War Studies at King’s College London. He has written predominantly on international security and strategy. The Future of War: A History (2017) is one of his masterworks.

In this session, he offers relevant insights on the impact of covid-19 on strategy by assessing relations between the European Union and the UK.

Interviewers: Alessandro Spada, Giovanni Rasio and Sonia Martínez.

May 3, 20212 Comments

China’s Footprint in the Middle East: Strategic Partnership with Iran

By Carlotta Rinaudo et al

Iran and China sign a 25-yearlong "Comprehensive Strategic Partnership" on March 27, 2021.

Late March this year the foreign ministers of China and Iran signed the “Comprehensive Strategic Partnership” in Tehran. According to a leaked draft, this 25-yearlong agreement would allow China to invest in many Iranian sectors, from banking, telecommunications, healthcare, railways, to information technology. In return, Beijing would secure a discounted supply of Iranian oil and easy access to Iranian islands and ports. In particular, the port of Jask, which sits outside the Strait of Hormuz, would provide a strategic gain for the so-called ‘String of Pearls’, a network of Chinese naval bases that stretches from Mainland China to the Horn of Africa. Additionally, the agreement would also allow enhanced military and intelligence cooperation between the two countries.

Following the announcement of the agreement, alarm bells rang on many Western media outlets. In a hardly surprising move, analysts were quick to label the two countries as the “New Axis of Evil”. It also raised qualms among the Iranian population, which fears that the deal would be a “sellout of Iran’s resources”, with some Iranians calling the agreement as “the new treaty of Turkmenchay”. This is an expression that describes an unjust settlement, and that recalls the treaty that forced Qajar Iran to cede large parts of its territory to the Russian empire in the 19th century. 

This reaction, however, might be considered an exaggerate speculation. In fact, a more cautious viewsuggests that the deal could be more symbolic than we think. It may also resuscitate Iran from its diplomatic isolation – and give Tehran more bargaining power in renegotiating the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), commonly known as the Iran nuclear deal.

An analysis of the historical relations between the two countries can explain why prudence will be preferred over risk. China and Iran are two ancient cultures whose cooperation is rooted in time. In the 80s, Beijing and Tehran collaborated to shield themselves from the external pressure imposed by the US and the USSR, condemning external violation of sovereignty and interference from big powers. Over the past decades, the two have developed a Great Power – Middle Power Partnership, where Tehran has often been dependent on Beijing. However, it needs to be noted that China does not want to be involved in Iran’s disputes, and it is also well aware through experience that doing business with Tehran is no easy task. In 1987, Iran attacked a US tanker with a Chinese-made Silkworm anti-ship missile. To Beijing, using Chinese weapons against an American target was an irresponsible provocation. Furthermore, Iranian sanctions have also been a burden for China to bear. In January 2017, Iran tested a medium-range ballistic missile for the fifth time since the nuclear deal. In response, the United States imposed unilateral sanctions on 25 individuals and companies, among which there were two Chinese firms and three Chinese citizens. A risk-averse China would not want these past events to be repeated, which is why Beijing is carefully moving forward in its relationship with Iran. Thus, analysts should not reach quick conclusions and apply the “New Axis of Evil” label, because today’s Sino-Iranian relations are aiming for prudence and caution.

China is using these Comprehensive Strategic Partnerships as a regular instrument of foreign policy, which means that Iran is not its only partner in the region. Beijing has signed similar agreements, for example with Saudi Arabia and the UAE, both rivals of Iran and allies of the US. This is why it is also careful that its relations with Iran do not not jeopardize the balance of power in the Middle East – and, more importantly, the influence it has gained in the region. 

Like in the 80s, Iran and China continue to collaborate today to ultimately balance American regional dominance. The US under the Trump Administration decided to withdraw from the JCPOA and introduce the policy of “maximum pressure on Iran”. However, this only forced Tehran to look towards East. Trump’s decision created a vacuum – a vacuum that China was eager to fill, to emerge as the new major player in the Middle East today.

May 3, 20211 Comment

Interviewing Sara Falaknaz, Member Federal National Council, UAE

The ITSS team "Culture, Society and Security" interviews Sara Falaknaz, Member of Federal National Council in the United Arab Emirates, democratically elected in November 2019. Sara discusses her transition from small business, to the military and then into government, some of the challenges along the way, and the leadership capacity she has been able to develop throughout her learning journey. 

Interviewers: Leigh Dawson and Julia Hodgins.