This is a transcript of an indepth interview with Paul S. Szymanski who has a 49 year experience conducting military operations research analyses for the United States Air Force and Space Force, Navy, Army and Marines. These include outer space program analysis, management, and development of space warfare theory, policy, doctrine, strategies, tactics and techniques. He has worked with the Air Staff at the Pentagon (Secretary of the Air Force), the Space and Missiles Systems Center (Now SSC) in Los Angeles, and the Air Force Research Labs (AFRL) in Albuquerque, New Mexico, along with experience in operational field testing of missile systems at China Lake, California. He is the author of several publications. This transcript is second in a three-part series of content extracted from an interview with Mr. Szymanski.
Interviewed and Edited by: Danilo delle Fave.
What are some of the potential threats in Space?
Cyber Attacks: The most popular means of attack against space systems where the entire spectrum of space systems is vulnerable to these attacks. Each country is vulnerable to such hacking. A smaller/poorer country can purchase a surplus satellite (or critical parts thereof) and then conduct hacker contests against these test satellites with significant cash prizes to the teams that cause the best effects against these space system. The same techniques can be employed to train individuals on how to penetrate space ground systems. All of these space systems, including space jammers, are readily available on the commercial market for installation in your country of choice.
Terrestrial Attacks: Any country on Earth has special forces that can penetrate adversary ground systems (satellite control stations, RADARS, Optical Space Tracking Telescopes, etc.). These special forces can insert cyber codes into critical systems, install mines, etc. In addition, spy networks can be employed to “turn” the loyalties of adversary space technicians to influence them to insert threat cyber codes and sabotage critical adversary space systems on the ground.
Space Surveillance Systems: In order to achieve smart space control, a country needs to better understand the orbits, status and capabilities of their adversary space systems. This can readily be achieved through ground-based RADARS and optical imagery/tracking systems. Optical tracking systems can be assembled using amateur astronomy telescopes, and many amateurs employ these around the World in this role. They do not cost that much, are fully automated, and can be placed on the rooftops of country embassies around the World, particularly in countries that have good weather conditions and visibility to space. With such situational knowledge, a poorer country can attack an adversary satellite at the same time a third country is “visiting” the targeted space system with an inspector/rendezvous satellite in order to place the attack blame on another country.
Laser Attacks: Currently, consumers can openly purchase hand-held 7.5-watt laser systems. Attach one of these to the above-mentioned astronomical telescope, and with the proper alignment techniques, a poorer country can blind an adversary imaging satellite, or maybe even spoof its Earth limb sensors. With even much more powerful and better collimated industrial lasers, a second world country may even be able to permanently damage these sensors. In the least, one should be able to initiate satellite self-defense mechanisms (close sensor shutters, roll satellite) that will take the attacked satellite systems offline for hours if not days, rendering it ineffective during some critical time during a terrestrial battle.
This blog article is written following an indepth interview with Paul S. Szymanski who has a 49 year experience conducting military operations research analyses for the United States Air Force and Space Force, Navy, Army and Marines. These include outer space program analysis, management, and development of space warfare theory, policy, doctrine, strategies, tactics and techniques. He has worked with the Air Staff at the Pentagon (Secretary of the Air Force), the Space and Missiles Systems Center (Now SSC) in Los Angeles, and the Air Force Research Labs (AFRL) in Albuquerque, New Mexico, along with experience in operational field testing of missile systems at China Lake, California. He is the author of several publications. This blog article in the first in a three-part series of content extracted from an interview with Mr. Szymanski.
Interviewed and Edited By: Danilo delle Fave.
Space superiority debate borrows from postulates of sea (maritime) and air superiority but vastness, obscurity, and complexity of space making it near impossible for any country to achieve space supremacy.
The vastness of space could be understood by a simple thought-experiment: imagine taking a basketball and hiding it somewhere on Earth, and then challenging someone to find it. To further elaborate, Earth’s oceans contain 329 million cubic miles of water, both on and below the surface, the volume of space between the Earth and the Moon is 4.81097E+16 cubic miles. Therefore, to achieve space supremacy, a country has to “control” 146,230,091 times the volume of the Earth’s oceans; a near impossible task for this century.
Similarly, the notion that since there is no geographic feature in space, satellites cannot hide from Earth or space-based sensor networks is false. Satellites are “lost” all the time; often space objects are classified as ‘analyst objects’, simply because their characteristics and ownership is not known. This is a challenge when identifying targets for space weapons systems. How can a country be sure it has identified the correct asset? How can certainty that a potential satellite is really a threat be achieved?
Lastly, space is complex with multitude of space systems of interest to military targeteers. This adds to the complexity because possible adversarial attacks could be terrestrial-based, space-based, cyber or physical attacks, etc. and must be accounted for.
Beyond the basic characteristics of space that may create obstacles for outer space warfare, are other more complex issues of lawfare and defence. Whilst treaties exist to limit outer space weapons, the vastness and obscurity of space makes implementation of these treaties very difficult. This is because very few countries have space surveillance sensors – which fall short of the ability to adequately identify satellites, their capabilities and make up in an environment where they are rapidly moving and spinning. Furthermore, to verify a space treaty the United Nations would have to possess an extensive world-wide network of sensors, which would be very expensive to build and maintain, and would ultimately be imperfect anyway.
Outer space wars are likely to be very rapid and could conclude in 24-48 hours before a country can realise who attacked, for what intent and how to best defend. Any actual "fighting" can only occur with assets in the immediate area, because the ability to make large manoeuvres in space takes a lot of fuel and a lot of time. More than likely, an ally's space assets will be in places around the Earth that are far removed from the immediate conflict. Also, Rules of Engagement will be different, due to differing value systems. In Europe, causing human deaths to preserve equipment is not allowed, whereas in the US, it is different. For examples would Europeans allow bombs on a manned Earth station controlling an adversary space weapon?
In conclusion, perhaps space supremacy might be achievable in in a specific orbital regime and a specific, limited time. However, hypervelocity attacks can come from any other orbit in a rapid manner and upset this ‘superiority’. But it is important to consider this: Satellites are worthless if they cannot communicate back to Earth to receive controlling instructions or download their data. If a country can cut off most, if not all, communications to a country’s space systems, then maybe they have achieved space supremacy. This denial of space communications would not only have to be effective within the country’s boundaries, but for other satellite control sites around the world that this country may employ, or for friendly satellite tracking ships on the world’s oceans.
2022 brought about several game-changing developments in the Middle East and beyond. These events - from domestic political instability, through the weakening of American influence in the region, to the protests in Iran - will all leave a mark in 2023, a year that is shaping to be decisive for the Middle East’s future.
Of the many things to monitor in the region during 2023, four issues stand out the most, largely due to their international significance. These are the American involvement in the Middle East; climate change and the region’s efforts - or lack of - to counter it; the domestic upheaval in Iran and its global impact; and the economic situation across the region, with a growing number of countries in economic disarray (Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt and Yemen).
The US in the Middle East
Going into 2023, the United State’s role in the Middle East is undefined. Had it been clear and obvious, American officials wouldn’t have to reiterate that their country will remain pivotal as it once was. The facts on the ground suggest less American physical involvement. There are less American troops in the region; American diplomacy has been weakened; and one is much more exposed to alternative soft power than before. In that sense we are expected to see declining American presence across the region. Diplomatically, the US is losing grip as well. While it largely has Israel on its side in its competition with China and Russia, other allies - most notably Saudi Arabia - are becoming less and less dependent on the US, fueling a multipolar world where the US is now one of many, rather than the one. The US can stay assured that it will continue to have leverage over several individuals and countries in the coming year, but all in all - and much due to the multipolar inertia across the region - this leverage is not infinite, and further distancing from American policies are likely to follow. This dynamic played out in the relations between President Biden and the Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin-Salman, where the latter refused to give-in to American pressure on oil prices, proving that the American leverage on him and his country is limited. In other words, American superiority will not only continue to be challenged from afar, but also from within the region itself.
2023 might very well be the year of the Persian Spring. The revolutionary protests that began in September have the potential to spin the regime out of control and to create a new reality in the country, and the region. What started as a social protest against the state’s brutality and the killing of Masha Amini has developed into a full regime-change movement, with the slogan “death to Khamenei” gaining momentum and legitimacy on social media. It is of course possible that the harsh and lethal crackdown by the state will break the back of the revolution, but these past few months and the ones to follow will certainly change Iran and affect the region as a whole, whichever way the wind blows.
Furthermore, in light of the internal turmoil and the fact that the Iranian nuclear deal is all but alive, it is likely that Iran will push to both enrich as much uranium as possible and to create destabilizing chaos across the region in the coming months. All in all, what happens in Iran during 2023 will determine the near future of the Middle East.
After a rather unsuccessful COP27 failed to produce actionable policy solutions or real commitments from the international community, a decisive year lies ahead for the Middle East, where people will continue suffering from the consequences of the climate crisis. Most prominently, water scarcity will lead to an increasingly dire situation, fueling food insecurity, economic downturn, civil unrest, and violent extremism. That said, several innovative start-ups and promising technologies are on the rise, with the GCC countries upping the funding to accelerate developments in the field. Hope now lies upon the Abu Dhabi COP28, set to take place in November and, ironically, hosted by UAE’s National Oil Company CEO, with civil society organizations and academia urging for serious action.
A cleavage in economic performance is increasingly visible among Middle Eastern countries, with the oil-based GCC monarchies witnessing continuous growth - whereas others are facing economic decline, leading to or exacerbating existing socio-political turbulences. The economic outlook for 2023 indicates that inflation is likely to surpass 30% in numerous countries, with Syria at 63% and Lebanon at a staggering 167% . Further regional actors, such as Iran, Turkey, Egypt, and Yemen, face economic hardship while also having to tackle political challenges, civil unrest, and violent conflicts. Overall, domestic and international factors - such as the war in Ukraine - are likely to deepen a looming recession and the energy crisis. While it is likely that wealthy GCC countries will continue to support struggling regional allies, countries such as Yemen, Libya and Lebanon will continue to be used as arenas for proxy wars, further deepening their economic troubles.
Author: Isabel Dekker and Federico Alistair D'Alessio.
Between the 22nd and 26th of October 2022, 234 migrants (including over 40 minors) were rescued by the Ocean Viking, a rescue boat managed by SOS Méditerranée, a humanitarian organization that rescues people in distress at sea. Before being allowed to dock in Toulon (France) on the 11th of November, the boat was stranded at sea for almost three weeks leading to a rapid decline in the passengers’ health. The vessel landed in France after Italy refused to allow the ship to dock on their shores, intensifying their bitter dispute over migration. Since 2015, the EU has forwarded numerous initiatives to improve the coordination and handling of the arrival of migrants. Nevertheless, EU’s migration policies are often executed in an ad hoc fashion resulting in diplomatic tensions across the European continent.
FRANCE’S POINT OF VIEW
The French government condemned Italy’s refusal to welcome the vessel carrying over 200 migrants: the French Minister of the Interior Gérald Darmanin referred to Italy’s actions as ’incomprehensible’ and ’unacceptable’, in addition to emphasizing on ‘strong consequences’ for the relations between the two countries.
France has also adjourned its collaboration in the relocation mechanism which was proposed last June. This plan concerned a dozen European Union member states, including France, The Netherlands and Germany, which voluntarily decided to welcome 8,000 migrants arriving in countries of first entry to Europe, such as Italy. The Interior Ministry announced that the planned relocation of 3,500 people to France in support of Italy between the summer of 2022 and 2023 is suspended, while also inviting other EU member states to do so. Moreover, France has also strengthened its border controls with Italy.
‘’It’s the Italian government that’s losing out’’ – Mr. Darmanin (Minister of Interior)
Nevertheless, France has had its own political rows over accepting the ship, as far-right opposition leader Marine Le Pen called Macron ‘dramatically’ soft on migration and justified and praised the decisions taken by the Italian government.
By denying the Ocean Viking to dock in Catania, the Italian government has reiterated a message often emphasized by the countries most affected by migration: the responsibility of receiving and integrating migrants must be shared equally by all EU member states. Italian PM Giorgia Meloni strongly criticizes the Dublin III Regulation, according to which each asylum application must be examined only by the first country where the migrants disembark in. This represents a significant disadvantage for Mediterranean countries as they are always considered the nearest place of safety when dealing with boats coming from Africa.
Criticism also concerns the lack of a clear and effective European framework regarding the relocation of migrants. The most recent plan was arranged last summer, but it did not lead to the expected outcome. A voluntary redistribution of 8000 migrants was agreed, but just 117 of them have been resettled so far, of which only 38 to France. As a result of this perceived failure, a joint statement issued in November by Italy, Greece, Cyprus and Malta laments the little support shown by other member states to share the burden of asylum applications, as well as the absence of a common strategy to adequately support frontline countries.
Meloni criticizes what she referred to as an ‘incomprehensible and unjustified’ reaction of the French government, which decided to freeze the abovementioned plan and suggested the rest of the EU to act accordingly. France also chose to strengthen its control over borders with Italy, even though similar measures in the past have brought to light to questionable tactics used by French authorities to pushback migrants.
Moreover, the Italian government underlines that the country has dealt with more than 100 thousand arrivals by sea in 2022, which represents a sharp increase in comparison to previous years. Considering this evidence and given that the Italian government allowed three ships out of four to disembark, the Ministry of Interior deemed reasonable for France to accommodate the last migrant rescue boat.
The Vice President of the European Commission, Margaritis Schinas, criticized Italy for its ambiguous approach: the government requested more European solidarity, but at the same time did not allow the docking of the Ocean Viking ship, which was carrying people in deteriorating sanitary conditions. Schinas claims that migrants must be first allowed to disembark in the closest location before any resettlement operations can be carried out. In fact, a 2002 annex to the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea states that people rescued at sea must be promptly taken to the nearest place of safety.
On the 25th of November, EU officials met at an extraordinary Justice and Home Affairs Council meeting and reiterated the immediate necessity of a common resolution that would increase the support to all countries and organizations most involved in searching and rescuing migrants, in such a way as to avoid further deaths in the Mediterranean. In addition, home affairs ministers stressed the need to focus on human smuggling and the roots of migration in order to prevent departures. The meeting also highlighted the urgency to reinforce the existing migration pact, which allows frontline countries to either relocate a share of the migrants in other states or request funds from those EU members that reject any sort of responsibility.
A French-Italian dispute has the potential to become a full-blown European issue: this bilateral crisis reflects the state of the EU on the management of migration flows, which has not been successfully addressed since the refugee crisis of 2015-16. The union has not been able to unanimously reform its rules of asylum which currently put the burden of applications solely on the arrival country. Moreover, the state deemed competent to examine the application often ends up being also the place in which refugees remain once protection has been obtained. It could be thus discussed that this mechanism undermines the concept of shared responsibility among EU members. Arguably, it also does not take into account the aspirations of displaced people, nor their concrete prospects of finding a job in other European countries.
As a result, aside from a revision of the Dublin accords, there is the necessity to make the resettlement scheme compulsory because of its inefficiency when dealing with governments who have a harder stance against migration and thus refuse to comply with voluntary accords. A comprehensive agreement that would deal with the migrant flux on an ongoing basis is also needed, rather than relying on ad-hoc resolutions: for instance, the EU may benefit from a pact in which each member state is assigned a specific set of responsibilities and a quota of migrants according to its economic and demographic availability.
Furthermore, the European Union requires alternative solutions for migrants that are not eligible for international protection (e.g. economic migrants), who currently represent the majority of people reaching Europe through the central Mediterranean route – as stated by Ylva Johansson, EU Commissioner for Home Affairs. Focus should also be put on the Balkan situation, as it is the second most used route by migrants in order to reach Europe.
In conclusion, these are some of the challenges that the EU must face as whole, although the reality shows several obstacles when trying to reach collective decisions that would benefit all the parties involved.
The year that has just begun does not seem to be rosy for the African continent. At the beginning of 2022, Africa suffered from the pandemic and its effects on the economy. 2023 opens with many nations facing another crisis: unsustainable debt.
The crisis has been underway for years, long-term loans have more than doubled reaching 636 billion dollars in the decade 2011-2021, a figure that exceeds the gross domestic product of more than 40 African countries taken together. The pandemic has worsened the economic situation and the war in Ukraine has pushed many countries to the brink, cutting off access to finance, depleting foreign exchange reserves and sending national budgets into a tailspin.
Living on the razor’s edge
Debt is the biggest problem they will face even though the ratings agency, Fitch, expects average debt in sub-Saharan Africa to improve and be below 65% in 2023, after reaching 72% in 2020, helped from the economic recovery after the pandemic, rising commodity prices and efforts to reduce budget deficits, but this level compares with an average of 57% in 2019, before the pandemic, and with less than 30% between 2007 and 2013.
According to the analysis of the public debt of sub-Saharan African countries, almost half of the countries (42%) have a debt-to-GDP ratio above 70%, while the average debt-to-income ratio will continue to be above 300%, double the value of 2013. This would prove the deterioration of the economic bases of these countries and their evolution prospects.
The risks these countries will face are related to high inflation, difficult financial conditions, the general indebtedness of the economies caused by the pandemic and now also by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Fitch also forecasts that average inflation in the region will fall from about 8% in 2022 to 5.5% this year and that GDP growth will be around 4%, close to the average of 3.8% in the five years up to 2019, but well below the growth recorded up to 2014. In some countries, however, inflation is well above the regional average. Add to this that there are eight sub-Saharan African countries with government debt payments, in 2023, accounting for a quarter of foreign reserves.
On the political front, many countries will be called to vote during 2023. The results of these elections could increase the discontent of the populations already strongly suffering from the increase in the prices of basic necessities.
Election time can be very volatile in Africa and the 2023-24 cycle will be no different, with a high risk of political protests, mass demonstrations and strikes in a number of countries. Upcoming elections in countries such as Algeria, Madagascar, Nigeria, South Africa and Zimbabwe could prove hotbeds of disruptive civil unrest in 2023. Worsening socioeconomic conditions in some of these countries, driven by subdued wage growth, rising costs of living and food security concerns, could also prove problematic for incumbent or new government administrations.
While African policy makers can’t influence the global headwinds, they can take steps to build resilience. Rising prices of commodities in a continent endowed with everything from diamonds, iron ore, bauxite, cobalt, copper to platinum offer a chance to create stabilization or sovereign wealth funds to insulate against future shocks. The key to building savings is to have proper governance, by some estimates Africa has 20 such funds already, but not all have delivered.
Recent research says that China and the West should work together to find solutions for African debt distress. The report says that although China’s lending to Africa did not cause the current debt in the continent, it must cooperate with the international community and African nations, to support Africa’s investment needs, after a year of recession for most economies on the continent.
The G7, led by the incoming Japanese presidency for 2023, could develop and build support for a new plan to be eventually embedded at the G20 level on debt relief and investments in Africa. The plan could include a broad-based dialogue led by the G7, African nations, and China on:
Africa’s medium- to long-term external financing needs;
a high-level political understanding between the West and China on the mutual benefit of strengthened cooperation to address African debt distress;
and a detailed action agenda, led by the G7 and G20 Finance Tracks, to address obstacles for debt treatments.
A way out of this situation could be strong reforms to find long-term solutions that can meet African economies’ financial needs and avoid a similar scenario in the future.
Authors: Giovanni Tricco, Giorgia Zaghi and Maria Makurat.
The challenges of secure communications today and the launch of IRISS
Secure communications and connectivity are today more important than ever. Ensuring a safe, fast and reliable channel for such strategic activities is not just a matter of digital transformation and competitive advantage, it is a matter of establishing one’s autonomy in a world where space power has become a critical component of international politics. On October 13th, the European Union took a significant step forward in order to achieve such autonomy. That is, the adoption of the report on the secure connectivity programme for 2023-2027, also known as Infrastructure for Resilience Interconnectivy Security by Satellite (IRISS). The aim of the program is to detach from third-country dependencies on infrastructure by securing the Union’s communications and to provide high-speed broadband connectivity to areas that are now considered “dead-zones”. Such goals will be met thanks to the nature of IRISS. That is, a multi-orbit constellation capable of creating synergies with the already existing satellites Galileo and Copernico. The constellation will be situated in Low-Earth Orbit (LEO), the closest feasible latitude to the planet's surface spanning from 300 to 1600 km, ensuring rapid broadband connectivity. That means, data will flow faster from terminals on the ground to satellites in orbit and back.
While the necessity to establish the EU’s position in the space realm is certainly a strategic priority, the recent happenings of the war in Ukraine have highlighted some structural fragilities and vacuums which ultimately called for a concrete push in securing the Union’s communications.
Furthermore, the US and other countries have been supporting Ukraine during the war with not only physical military equipment but also funds and technological development to keep the communications system intact. This support is part of the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative (USAI) and shows how space and cyber are an integral part of the war. Ukraine has also been using AI during this war which was already analyzed by our members in another blog article which can be read here. Therefore, we can grasp why the EU is working on launching its sovereign constellation.
Now let’s get down to the nitty gritty of the matter. IRISS focuses on several goals which range from strategic positioning, creation of synergies and environmental concerns. More specifically, we can expect these objectives from the deployment of the constellation:
Synergies with already existing assets in the EU space programme: creating synergies with the already existing assets - Galileo and Copernico - IRISS will be offering new services such as addressing natural or maritime disasters.
High-speed broadband connectivity everywhere: The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) pointed outthat just 63% of the world’s population was connected in 2021, amounting to 2.9 billion unconnected people. IRISS will be an important player in the fight of the digital divide, bridging the gap between urban and rural areas, eliminating “dead-zones”.
Moreover, as a spillover effect of the new communication system the EU will have the capability to reinforce its stance in cyberspace. The EU's new "status" will enable for the seamless operation of key infrastructure and the continuous cooperation of citizens and public agencies in the event of emergencies and disasters. Furthermore, it would serve as a backup infrastructure for terrestrial networks as well as a stable infrastructure for places that are currently disconnected but may need communication in the event of crises and catastrophes.
Additionally, satellite communication, integrated with the data-imagery service of Copernicus, would improve early-warning systems by monitoring the environment and delivering the latest data to public authorities, allowing them to respond rapidly to environmental hazards such as floods, earthquakes, tsunamis, or radioactive releases.
Therefore, several opportunities will arise for the EU following the constitution of an operational European Constellation. The new space infrastructure would be a significant step forward for the EU on its journey to digital sovereignty, as it would allow the EU to flow in outer space data and information that are considered sensitive and strategic for its autonomy. As a result, such data will be secured from unlawful third-party access, as may occur under extraterritorial law such as the US Cloud Act. In addition, the new constellation could be used as a ‘geopolitical tool’, offering fast broadband internet connection to neighboring countries, such as north africa, where internet access lacks. Indeed, of the 2.9 billion unconnected people the 96% reside in developing countries.
In conclusion, IRISS holds an enormous potential in different areas, however, it is not free of challenges that must be addressed as quickly as possible. Indeed, a fine balance between public private and partnership in the construction of the constellation should be institutionalized, as well as shedding light on who should be responsible for the security and functioning of the constellation. Moreover, the EU will have to develop an attentive Space Traffic Management strategy to ensure a safe, secure and sustainable use of Space. Furthermore, how should AI be regulated in the constellation and, more broadly, in outer space? How much autonomy should a space object be granted? In particular, experts suggest that appropriate frameworks to offer legal certainty should be developed in the near future to offer appropriate guidelines on the use of AI and new technologies in outer space, such as to ensure coordination among satellites to avoid collisions or assessing an appropriate fair balance of Human-Robot Interaction for in-orbit services.
The initial phase of IRISS development is critical for the time being to foster public debate about the relevance that the new constellation will detain and its future benefits and challenges. Indeed, in the upcoming years space will be a significant playground for the European Union as its digital sovereignty and autonomy will be put at test in front of issues related to both infrastructure dependency and strategic advantage.
The geostrategic rivalry between China and the US is affecting the semiconductor and integrated circuit industry.
In recent months, Washington has implemented a clear strategy to contain Chinese geo-economic expansionism, to prevent Beijing from gaining access to semiconductor manufacturing technologies. The technology war between Washington and Beijing has now reached the WTO. A few days ago, Beijing filed a request with the World Trade Organisation, asking it to analyse the restrictive policies imposed by the United States on the export of hi-tech products. This has not stopped companies operating in the sector from moving to protect themselves. First of all, Amazon started to design a new microchip aimed at PCs, with the aim of integrating semiconductor production in-house. In this technology war, other companies are also moving. Nvidia and TSMC have started to design new products for the industry.
For the Chinese government, this economic aid package is part of its strategy to decouple its economic sector from that of the US, reducing its dependence on Washington in technology sectors. While China is one of the largest exporters of rare earths, it has a strong dependence on the US for hi-tech products, which are essential for its military modernisation project. In this context, Beijing aims to break free from its technological dependence on the US within the next three years, with the target of meeting 70% of its domestic needs.
However, this status in the semiconductor industry would risk putting it under great pressure as many companies, anticipating commercial retaliation from the US, might self-impose to stop doing business with China or cut off contact with Chinese companies. Beijing meanwhile has started its plans to support its companies and help them in the China-US competition. Despite the dialogues and communication channels between Beijing and Washington, the two superpowers maintain a certain distance and mutual distrust between them. The Semiconductor War of this millennium has entered its most delicate phase.
Developments in the digital communication have changed human interactions and influencers are at the forefront of this advancement, leveraging on social media outlets to spread information and influence behaviours and opinions. Because of their large following, influencers are considered credible and trustworthy digital opinion leaders. However, some influencers can disseminate deceitfully subversive and powerful narratives to promote an alternative to mainstream views, convey a message and generate revenue from their content. Sometimes, this may result in the dissemination of extremist beliefs and conspiracy theories, a worrying issue when it is advertised by influencers with a large following thus able to attract engagement. By analysing the recent scandal of Andrew Tate, this article argues that the promotion of extremist online messages by influencers can pose a serious harm to society, making misogynistic attitudes and toxic masculinity traits mainstream while leveraging on young men’s identity crises. At the same time, the content moderation practice of deplatforming reopens the debate between free speech and hate speech and how far social media companies (SMC) should go to allow free speech while also being accountable for making extremist content go viral.
Andrew Tate and mainstreaming misogyny
Andrew Tate, a self-described misogynist and hypermasculine kickboxer, has gone viral this year over his misogynist comments, reaching 11 billion views on TikTok and 8 million followers on Instagram and Twitter combined. Tate has a long history of misogyny, both online and offline, starting in 2016 when he was kicked out from the Big Brother following a video of him hitting a woman. His content is centred on dispensing self-motivating tips for aspiring alpha males– posing with fast cars, guns, and smoking cigars- while denigrating women. Allegations of abuse, rape, and human trafficking have accompanied statements blaming women for being raped, portraying them as deceitful and lazy if suffering from mental illnesses.
By showing ‘a woman her place’, teaching men their value is from wealth and being womanisers, Tate’s content furthers an agenda underpinned by misogyny, heteropatriarchy and hegemonic masculinity. Misogyny has been defined as a system put in place “within a patriarchal social order to police and enforce women’s subordination to uphold male dominance”. Misogynistic ideology is rooted in male dominance and in a return to a patriarchal social order where women’s subordination is essential to maintain society’s hierarchy and men’s empowerment. Above all, misogyny is part of gender inequalities and structural discriminations against women that have always permeated society and that are now amplified and exploited by the online world. The reasons for showing misogynistic instances online are the same reasons underpinning harassment and anti-women sentiment in the offline world.
Tate’s content is highly concerning because his following is mainly comprised of young men and teenagers and there is the risk of exacerbating misogyny and encouraging gendered hate and violence both online and offline. By framing men as suffering economically and socially, blaming feminism for their condition, Tate employs a narrative and conspiracy theories often used by extremists and he emerges as a hypermasculine hero. Tate is not the only one to voice men’s victimisation online. Many believe that the ‘gynocentric dictatorship’ of feminism, gender equality, and women’s empowerment is responsible for men’s emasculation in the public and private life. The white men’s struggle is often based on society’s changes and their consequences such as unemployment, civil liberation, immigration. As a response, some men display hegemonic masculinity features such as power and dominance to reinforce gender norms established on a hierarchy in which women are belittled and equal rights are scrapped. Some may even turn to violence to make women comply with cisheteropatriarchal standards and to avenge their frustration with the current social order. Therefore, by combining misogyny with conspiracy theories to justify hate and violence over women, Tate’s content could be a gateway to other extreme ideologies. In turn, misogyny can also be the driver of and warning sign for violent extremist acts, as well as the starting point for the hatred of other categories such as racism and homophobia.
Tate’s misogyny, the portrayal of women as deceitful and his comments associating the #MeToo issue to a societal threat put him close to the alt-right worldview of the manosphere, a heterogeneous group of online misogynistic communities worried about oppressed masculinity and misandry. These online spaces started as a place for men to express their grievance about everyday issues such as sexual or domestic abuse, but the new communities have become more toxic and misogynist, using a sexually explicit, racist, and violent language. Manosphere communities play on the masculinity crisis to promote toxic and hegemonic conceptions of masculinity, sharing the belief that all women are a threat and rejecting the inclusive approach of masculinity, or an anti-feminist stance, fighting against feminism progress and anti-rape policies. By giving voice to men’s aggrieved entitlement about their lost social status and by offering young men hypermasculine alternatives, Tate’s message is a call to restore and reassert a lost masculinity over women. Worryingly, younger audiences, disaffected and unsatisfied with their livers, are flocking the manosphere in search for belonging and Tate becomes a hero for his self-help advice.
Free speech vs hate speech
Tate is only an example of how the dissemination of extremist and vitriolic online comments by influencers with a large following can pose a threat to society, but it also raises concerns about regulating hate speech. Tate has been banned from social media, as his content has broken platforms’ rules for appropriate behaviour. Deplatforming is an extreme step that raises ethical and legal concerns, but research has shown that it reduces the spread of offensive ideas and the impact the influencers have on the platform, thus improving the quality on the social media. However, deplatforming does not eliminate all misogynist or anti-Semitic rhetoric from the internet, it only addresses one individual by removing the spotlight from them. Instead, it produces a migration of users to other less regulated platforms which promise not to suppress any type of political rhetoric or views. The Streisand effect of banning profiles – increased publicity over a censored information- must also be considered when examining the role of deplatforming in limiting extremist content.
More importantly, this practice could also make people like Tate a martyr, with his followers accusing cancel culture and violation of free speech and reigniting the debate between free speech, hate speech and SMC. The controversy first emerged in January 2021, when Trump’s account was suspended from social media. Many Republicans accused SMC of censorship and expressed suspicion about the arbitrary power of social media against free speech while others supported the decisions to hold hate speech accountable. Free speech is a double-edged sword, as it encourages people to freely express their opinions, but it can also be exploited to spread hate and misinformation, thus requiring drawing a line between freedom of expression and hate speech. While SMC state they are not actively censoring political views, they have discretionary powers in the US when it comes to free speech because of Section 230 of the Communication Decency Act 1996, which prevents them from being liable about their users’ content. Section 230, however, causes dispute among conservative policymakers for censoring political opinions while Democrats call for platform accountability when it comes to misinformation and child abuse. Moreover, banning and censorship by social media platforms perpetuates cancel culture, a threat to pluralism and discursive democracy which, according to critics, violates the First Amendment’s freedom of speech. Opposers believe Big Techs should not have the discretion of deciding how to regulate free speech but SMC are private companies and thus not regulated by the First Amendment. At the same time, difficulties in addressing hate speech concern its lack of an internationally accepted definition, as hate is a vague term and even SMC’s CEO such as Zuckerberg struggle to define it. To curb hate speech, SMC have adopted several moderation practices, but they may result in inconsistencies and double standards, as Kanye West is banned for anti-Semitism, but the Iranian government’s Twitter account is still running.
At the same time, social media platforms share the blame in promoting extremist content because of their algorithms and they need to take accountability. This is how Tate’s content went viral, as TikTok reacted too late to limit his content - although it was clearly breaking the platform’s rule- allowing him to become mainstream. Other far-right and alt-right influencers are taking advantage of this loophole to promote their content and grow audience, as the recommender system prioritises extreme content because it is always associated with higher engagement, creating radicalisation pathways. TheYouTube algorithm is believed to recommend extreme content to those who already consume materials belonging to fringe ideologies, but it is also a gateway for teenagers who cannot distinguish between mainstream and fringe content, as they use the platform daily. YouTube and other platforms monetise on everyone’s content regardless of their nature and beliefs, allowing for extremist content to thrive, generate revenue, and possibly contribute to the radicalisation of young people.
Andrew Tate is an example of how social media platforms are leveraged to promote hateful content. Online misogyny is a reflection of the gender inequalities of society, and the hatred towards women has managed to become amplificated thanks to online misogynistic communities. The risk of mainstreaming anti-feminist stances is worrying, especially when figures like Tate can represent a hypermasculine hero to young and disillusioned youth. There is a fine line between hate speech and free speech and SMC are caught in a difficult situation: they want to create a safe space for users but also uphold free speech. Hate speech needs to be better defined legally to respect freedom of expression to allow a correct policing that does not results in censorship. At the same time, SMC appear to be reluctant to deplatform sources of hate because they are a lucrative business. Still, they must create a review system that allows a proper regulation of free speech although now, legally, they are not forced to do anything.
ITSS Verona and King's College London hosted a joint event on the protests in Iran to discuss how the ongoing protests are different from the previous ones and how come "Woman, Life, Freedom" represents a collective will of the Iranian people and how was it formed? Is it a modern revolution based on the values that are identified within this context? What is the role of Iranian women in this revolution? And finally what is the outcome, are amongst questions that we will discuss with our guests during this event.
Dr Sadegh Zibakalam Mofrad is an Iranian academic, author, and pundit described as reformist and neo-liberal. Zibakalam is a professor at the University of Tehran and frequently appears on international news outlets including BBC News and Al Jazeera.
Dr Ali Fathollah-Nejad is a German–Iranian political scientist focusing on Iran, the Middle East, and the post-unipolar world order. He is a McCloy Fellow on Global Trends of the American Council on Germany (ACG), exploring how transatlantic foreign policy toward authoritarian states could reconcile interests and values.
Dr Nayereh Tohidi is a Professor Emerita and former Chair of Gender & Women’s Studies and the Founding Director of the Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies (2011-2021) at California State University, Northridge. She is also a Research Associate in the Program of Iranian Studies at UCLA coordinating “Bilingual Lecture Series on Iran” since 2003. She received her MA and Ph.D. from the Universities of Tehran and Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. She is also the recipient of several post-doctoral fellowships and research awards, including an NEH grant, a year of Fulbright lectureship and research at the Academy of Sciences of the Soviet Republic of Azerbaijan; universities of Harvard and Stanford, the Kennan Institute of the Woodrow Wilson Center, and Keddie-Balzan Fellowship at UCLA.
Ms Elahe Amani learned about conflict resolution and mediation in 1990, through the CSUF Certificate Program of “Managing Multicultural Work Environments”. She completed formal mediation training through Pepperdine School of Law Straus Institute for Dispute Resolution in 1991 and promptly joined the Southern California Mediation Association (SCMA) and published a book review on “Mediation Across Cultures” in the SCMA newsletter. In 1992-93 after the Los Angeles riots, Elahe conducted sessions of community mediation between Korean and African Americans in Town Hall settings through a program organized by the Los Angeles City Attorney's Office. In 2006 Elahe did a presentation at SCMA Salon on “Gender and Mediation” and presented on the panel in the affinity discussion at SCMA’s annual conference at Pepperdine University on “Culture and Mediation.” She is currently Interim Director of the Academic Technology CenterInterim Director of Academic Technology Center at California State University, Fullerton.
Moderators: Dr Michele Groppi and Shahin Modarres.
The outcomes of Conference of the Parties (COP) 27 held in Egypt this year has been a subject of heated debate. Even though marketed as the ‘implementation of COP’ with a focus on Africa and the most vulnerable countries to climate change, several analyses have already been issued on the definitive results of COP27. This article tries to reflect on five important areas where advancement has been made on climate action in world’s most important climate-related event.
Increasing Political Will for Forests
According to the 2022 Forest Declaration Assessment, to be on a track to completely stop deforestation by 2030, a ten percent annual reduction in deforestation is needed. Even though the rates of deforestation globally reduced only moderately in 2021 by 6.3% compared to the 2018-2020 baseline, forests became more degraded in 2021. However, overall losses of forests exceeded gains in the same period, resulting in a net loss of 100 million hectares globally.
In this regard, the creation of Forests and Climate Leaders’ Partnership (FCLP) has been introduced with the realisation that there is no time left to spare for halting and reversing forest loss by 2030, thus, reflecting a strong political will for forests. The leaders of the FCLP member countries are the key stakeholders in the partnership and are its essential ‘priority setters’. The FCLP will hold routine meetings at the start of climate COPs to inspire responsibility. It will also publish an annual Global Progress Report which would include independent assessments of global progress towards the 2030 goal and recapitulating progress made by the FCLP in its missions. The declarations by Brazil, Indonesia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, in Indonesia ahead of the G20 signified their intents to work out jointly to safeguard their massive swathes of tropical forests gaining the nickname ‘’OPEC of rainforests’’. Also, the presence of Brazil’s president elect Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva brought Amazon forests in limelight where Brazil vowed to prioritize halting deforestation and offering to host COP30.
The Arrival of Food in Text
Unprecedently, food was made it onto the main agenda after being acknowledged in the final text and also with at least five event spaces devoted to food and agriculture. Important progress included the launch of Food and Agriculture for Sustainable Transformation (FAST) Initiative – a multi-stakeholder partnership to step up access to finance, develop capability, and promote policy development to guarantee food security in countries most vulnerable to climate change. As associated with food, 14 top global agricultural and processing companies shared their roadmap to 1.5 degrees Celsius – gaining hybrid reactions – with thorough strategies on summarizing how they will get rid of deforestation from their agricultural commodity supply chains by 2025.
Nature-based solutions were incorporated in the CO27 text for the first time with forests, oceans, and agriculture each having their own section. Even though the inclusion of Koronivia Dialogue – the track where food and agriculture is discussed at UNFCCC could be seen as a positive sign at COP27, it still would need time to wait till COP28 for the emphasis needed to genuinely transform the global food system. There are strong analyses that COP27 has been a ‘notable disappointment’ for sustainable food systems – largely representing a defence of food systems status-quo.
Beside these, High Quality Blue Carbon Principles and Guidance were also announced which aims to safeguard nature; empower people; employ the best information, interventions, and carbon accounting practices; operate locally and contextually; and mobilise high integrity capital. The implementation of these guidance and principles are expected to release the full potential of blue carbon, reducing emissions while safeguarding some of the earth’s most exclusive and beneficial ecosystems.
The biggest breakthrough coming out of COP27 was the agreement on creation of Loss and Damage Fund with the subject being put on the agenda and adopted for the first time at COP27. It seeks to set up new funding arrangements, as well as a committed fund, to support developing countries in acting in response to loss and damage. Governments at COP27 agreed to set up a ‘transitional committee’ to make recommendations on how to operationalise both new funding arrangements and the fund at COP28 next year. The evolving Bridgetown agenda remained a central theme within the discussions on bringing structural reforms in the financial system and creating innovative mechanisms that would support nature and climate outcomes at national and ecosystem levels.
Major financial institutions which are signatories to the Financial Sector Commitment on Eliminating Commodity-driven Deforestation have been pushing forward with implementation through the Finance Sector Deforestation Action (FSDA) Initiative. FSDA members have published shared investor expectations that are anticipated to be supplemented as appropriate on a sector-specific basis. Largely, the 10 point plan for financing biodiversity was pushed forward at COP27 with a ministerial meeting among 16 countries to set a conduit for minimising the global biodiversity finance gap.
Despite reflecting some breakthroughs and progressive developments on climate, COP27 does little to avoid future climate change disasters. It is being heralded as progressive and breakthrough in tackling the threats already devastating the planet, but is considered to be having made very little progress on emission cutting measures that could avoid even worse future climate change disasters. Even though being admired for creation of Loss and Damage Fund, many showed reservations on countries’ hesitancy in adopting more ambitious climate plans, which could leave the planet on a dangerous warming path.