May 23, 2022No Comments

Competition or Cooperation: What drives the U.S. Strategy in the Arctic?

Author: Irene Senfter.

Arctic politics: past and present

The Arctic region was a prominent theatre during the Cold War as it is home to Russia’s Northern Fleet, Russia’s second-strike nuclear capabilities, and North America's North Warning System. Gorbachev’s reassessment of the region as a “zone of peace” in 1987 inaugurated three decades of peaceful and cooperative regional governance. Sadly, Russia’s recent violation of the UN charter when invading Ukraine in 2022 does not bode well for a region that until recently has been relatively isolated from world politics

By purchasing Alaska from Russia in 1867, the United States has become an Arctic nation. However, except for the Cold War period, the region has received somewhat limited consideration in US national security strategy. The US has never developed an Arctic identity comparable to Russia or Canada. In 2013, the first US Arctic strategy document was released under President Obama. It is currently being updated under President Biden. 

This article will follow a structural realist approach to explore three main drivers of US strategy in the Arctic: access control of the Arctic Sea, freedom of navigation on Arctic Sea lanes, and regional security dilemma. A fourth driver, climate change, is examined through a liberal institutionalist lens.

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Arctic competition: a realist perspective

According to Mearsheimer’s theory of structural realism, states operate in an anarchic international self-help system and strive for maximum power to assure state survival. Great powers struggle to become regional hegemons and want to prevent other states from becoming hegemons in their regions. From this perspective, the United States’ objective in the Arctic is to prevent Russia from becoming a regional hegemon. The Arctic region is of great strategic importance to the Russian government.  To achieve its goal, the US needs to control access to and exit from the Arctic Sea through a strong naval presence in the Bering Strait and allied military cooperation in the Chukchi Sea and the GIUK (Greenland-Iceland-UK) gap. 

Unlike other states, the US is not primarily interested in the extraction of natural resources and the development of new trade routes enabled by the receding Arctic ice masses. However, freedom of navigation on the Northern Sea Route (NSR) is a critical factor in preventing Russian regional hegemony in the Arctic. Just as the US insists on freely navigating the South China Sea, it strongly opposes Russia’s policies of mandatory registration and escort of vessels where the NSR runs through Russian territory or waters. It also disputes Canada’s sovereignty claim on the Northwest Passage.  Notably, China has declared itself as a “near-Arctic” nation and has presented plans for a Polar Silk Road,evoking the spectre of rising Chinese influence in the region.

Mearsheimer argues that states will use every opportunity to gain a strategic advantage over their adversaries. For realists, power derives from military strength and economic might, and states can never be sure about their adversaries’ intents. This dynamic is currently feeding a security dilemma in the Arctic.  Many observers view the Russian military build-up in the Arctic as potentially offensive to Western security. Russia has been building or upgrading military bases in the Arctic and modernising its nuclear submarine fleet located at the Kola Peninsula. New Russian hypersonic gliders could evade the North Warning System. All Arctic states have boosted their northern presence in reaction to heightened tensions. Russia looks at NATO’s increased presence in the Arctic region with suspicion, especially at Finland’s and Sweden’s recent NATO membership plans.

The US Department of Defense has instructed the US AirforceArmy, and Navy to increase capabilities, presence, cooperation with allies, and resilience in the Arctic. Alaska is already the most militarised of all US states, and in 2022 it will host the highest number of F-35 jets in the world. A deep-water port to be constructed in Nome will allow servicing of the heavy vessels that can blockade the Bering Strait. In this context and against common complaints, a large fleet of icebreakers is not necessarily of strategic importance to the US. 

Arctic cooperation: a liberal institutionalist perspective

According to liberal institutionalism, institutions enable cooperation between states as they encourage states to forego short-term benefits for long-term gains. Mearsheimer disputes that international institutions can change state behaviour in the military realm. However, he acknowledges their effectiveness in the environmental sphere. With its ambitious research projects and numerous working groups, the Arctic Council is a premier example of cooperation on climate change, environmental protection, sustainable development, and human security. Climate change in the Arcticis proceeding twice as fast as on the rest of the planet as the receding ice exposes more seawater. Seawater is darker than ice and absorbs rather than reflects heat. Rising sea levels are causing severe coastline erosion at a high cost to the mainly indigenous population. The permafrost is thawing, freeing up yet more carbon and causing damage to housing and infrastructure. Currently, the Arctic Council has paused all official meetings in reaction to Russia invading Ukraine in February 2022. 

Climate mitigation efforts, sustainable development, and Arctic scientific knowledge benefit communities living on all American coastlines and areas exposed to extreme weather and wildfires. Therefore, it is in the interest of the United States to find a way for the Arctic Council to continue its work. Despite the intense security competition between the US and China, American political leaders know that dialogue on environmental issues must continue. The work of the Arctic Council could be isolated from geopolitics in a similar way. 


Arctic geopolitics has limited bearing on the global balance of power, but global power play impacts Arctic security significantly. Sea access control, freedom of navigation, security dilemma management, and climate change in the Arctic are of national interest to the US and shape its Arctic strategy. This analysis shows how the US seeks to protect free and open domains in the Arctic. The challenge for the US and all Arctic nations consists in guaranteeing a stable and sustainable Arctic space for the benefit of the people who live in the Arctic and beyond. 

May 23, 2022No Comments

Dr. Ali Fathollah-Nejad on Iran’s Nuclear Policy and the JCPOA

In this interview conducted by the "Iran Desk" at ITSS Verona Dr. Ali Fathollah-Nejad addresses and analyzes Iran's nuclear policy and the revival of the JCPOA. The interview focuses on the possible outcomes of Iran's nuclear policy, the effect of Iran's nuclear policy in the region, and the international response and reaction from the international community.

Dr. Ali Fathollah-Nejad is a German–Iranian political scientist focusing on Iran, the Middle East, and the post-unipolar world order. He is an associate fellow with the American University of Beirut’s Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs (AUB-IFI) and author of the much-acclaimed book Iran in an Emerging New World Order: From Ahmadinejad to Rouhani (2021). Ali holds a Ph.D. in International Relations from SOAS.

Interviewers: Shahin Modarres, Yasmina Dionisi and Filippo Cimento.

May 19, 2022No Comments

The Consequences of Ukrainian War on U.S.-China Relations

Author: Francesco Cirillo.

The war in Ukraine is shaking the European security system and also influencing Washington's strategies in the Indo-Pacific. With the focus on Europe, the US has slowed down its diplomatic and political activity in Asia while keeping a close eye on Beijing's moves. The latest moves such as Beijing's ratified security agreement with the Solomon Islands has alarmed Canberra, a close US ally, as well as the Americans. For Washington, the move is seen as an attempt by Beijing to strengthen its diplomatic and politico-military position in the South Pacific. Another hot dossier concerns the thorny issue of Taiwan. With the Russian invasion Washington is analysing how it can support Taipei in terms of military aid without bothering the People's Republic of China.

In recent months, with the outbreak of war in Ukraine, there have been growing concerns that in the near future Beijing might attempt an armed attack to occupy and annex Taiwan, which Beijing calls one of its 'rebel provinces'. At the moment, however, there seem to be no signs of a possible Chinese attack. The war has been a total game changer, causing concern within Xi Jinping's leadership. According to the Wall Street Journal, Chinese big tech companies are scaling back their business in the Russian Federation market, as they are intimidated by possible sanctions that the US and the West might apply against them. But recently a War Game was broadcast on NBC news, simulating an invasion of Taiwan by the People's Republic of China and a subsequent military confrontation with the US in the Pacific.

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In fact, within the US federal agencies, preparations are being made for a possible war confrontation with Chinese forces. Despite the tension within some Chinese academic circles, it is theorised that a kind of competitive coexistence could be found with Washington, which would aim to exclude a warlike confrontation. In January 2022, Professor Wang Jisi , lecturer at the School of International Studies and President of the Institute of International and Strategic Studies at Peking University, wrote and published an essay entitled 'A Hot Peace: Is a Paradigm in U.S.-China Relations Emerging?'. In this short essay, the academic theorises that despite the mistrust between Washington and Beijing on various dossiers ranging from the Hong Kong issue to the mistrustful view of international relations via Taiwan, it is necessary to maintain and consolidate a channel of communication between the two leaderships in order to cooperate when the interests of both the People's Republic and the United States converge. According to Wang Jisi, this would lead the current status of Sino-US relations not towards a new 'Cold War' but towards a so-called 'Hot Peace', in which Beijing and Washington, despite competition in various fields, mutual mistrust and different visions concerning the status quo of the international chessboard will necessarily have to cooperate in certain dossiers of global importance.  

The war in Ukraine puts Beijing in front of a dangerous strategy: on the one hand it publicly pushes both Moscow and Kiev to find a point of convergence to open a diplomatic mediation table; on the other hand it wants to avoid being included in possible economic sanctions. Moreover, it adds that there could be a remote hypothesis that is at the moment difficult to realise: with a severely weakened post-war Russia, China, in exchange for financial aid, would ask the Kremlin for possible access to military technology in the experimental phase in order to study it and acquire know-how.

At the moment, however, China is focused on other dossiers and preparing for the Party Congress, but with an eye on the economic consequences that the conflict could bring globally. 

May 19, 2022No Comments

“He who accepts… survives”: Tales from Syria

The ITSS Verona Middle East team interviews a Syrian gentleman who wishes to remain anonymous for security reasons. He details his experiences of returning to Syrian after 12 years. He recounts his experiences from collecting his allotted rations, to experiencing the energy crisis currently affecting Syria, and more about life under dictatorship and civil war.

Interviewers: Anna Lorenzini and John Devine.

May 17, 2022No Comments

How innovation in terrorism financing explains Hezbollah’s financial success

Author: Camilla Cormegna.


Terrorism financing is vital for a terrorist organisation to operate and carry out terrorist activities, but resources are also spent to provide community services such as welfare, education, public and protection service replacing governments as the main providers. An example of this is demonstrated by Hezbollah, the focus of this analysis, whose social services offered to the Lebanese Shiite population allows it to secure political supports while acquiring a sacred and untouchable status in Lebanon. To sustain its organisational establishment while pursuing ideological and political objectives, Hezbollah is estimated to earn $1 billion annually through various sources. 

Hezbollah depends on an array of revenue resources, although the bulk of its funding comes from Iran’s state-sponsorship, which provides around $800 million annually. This external funding comes with drawbacks, as sponsorship undermines group’s autonomy and pressures and sanctions on Iran negatively affect the state’s financing of Hezbollah. Therefore, Hezbollah is forced to innovate and diversify the sources of income to ensure financial sustainability. The group now leverages drug and human trafficking, diamonds smuggling, money laundering, propaganda televisionlocal exactions, and diverting charitable contributions

The article argues that Hezbollah owes its success to innovation in terrorism financing, making it one the most proficient and technically skilled terrorist groups in the world. Innovation refers to ability of terrorist groups to develop and adopt new financial techniques when pressured by countering terrorist financing strategies. This process can entail different phenomena such as the introduction of new tradeable commodities, new methods of production, new supply sources, and new market opportunities. The article presents Hezbollah’s success by exploring three profitable ventures that demonstrate the group’s ability to exploit lucrative opportunities: their sophisticated money-laundering scheme, the terror-crime nexus and the group’s ties with Venezuela, and the role of the Lebanese diaspora. 

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A sophisticated money laundering scheme

Hezbollah runs an extensive network of illicit trade involving cars and drugs to launder money. In 2015 it was reported that Hezbollah purchased used cars in the United States which were then shipped and sold in West Africa while at the same time, drugs were shipped from Colombia to Europe. Both proceeds were sent to Lebanon through Hezbollah controlled money laundering channels and then deposited into the financial system. It is estimated that between 2007 and 2011, Hezbollah, with the help of the Lebanese Canadian Bank (LCB) and exchange houses, laundered $300 million. The LCB case shows the innovative adaption of Hezbollah, as after the 2011 scandal which detected and closed LBC’s money service businesses (MSBs), the terrorist organisation soon replaced MSBs resuming with the money laundering. This caseillustrates how Hezbollah’s facilitators are leveraging global trade and financial institutions to carry out illegal activities and how complex and sophisticated their system is, but it also demonstrates how facilitators among the Lebanese diaspora community are vital in supporting the organisation.  Moreover, counterterrorism financing (CTF) deficiencies and constraints allow Hezbollah to thrive and exploit the cross-border movement of funds. Financial intelligence units’ effectiveness is achieved through information sharing which is geographically circumscribed, and compliance with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) legislative and regulatory standards is lacking in the Middle East

The terror-crime nexus with FARC and Venezuela’s role

As the money laundering scheme briefly introduced, Hezbollah has developed its own criminal activities such as the drug trade and it has done so by developing a strategic cooperation with FARC. Although their relationship is not political neither revolutionary but done to guarantee funds and financial independence through the diversification of income sources, the coupling of these organisations allows them to share operational knowledge, making them a “hybrid narc-terrorist network”. Hezbollah’s involvement with FARC and the drug trade was revealed in 2008 through the US and Colombian Operation Titan which dismantled a cocaine smuggling and money laundering ring which profited both organisations. 

Hezbollah is also tangled up with the Venezuelan government, which guarantees a safe haven to carry out their operations. Hezbollah’s involvement with Venezuela started in the 1980s, when the organisation started to deepen its association with many Lebanese immigrants in Latin America who fled the civil war. In 2005, the then Iranian and Venezuelan presidents Ahmadinejad and Chavez came together in a series of commercial ties, laying the foundations of their relationship. There is evidence that the Venezuelan government launder Hezbollah’s money while providing them with material support for their activities, but it also employs Hezbollah sympathisers as Ministers generating revenue through the distribution of narcotics. It is the case of the current Minister of Industries and National Production El Aissami of Iraqi-Lebanese descent, involved in the drug trafficking and in the issue of diplomatic passports for Hezbollah facilitators. In this environment characterised by corruption and bribery, Hezbollah continues to thrive because Latin American countries do not recognise Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation, thus failing to enforce CFT frameworks while facilitating illicit financial flows. Moreover, Venezuela is noncompliant with 31 out of the 40 FATF recommendations, demonstrating how the regime has no intention in addressing terrorism concerns.

The role of the Lebanese diaspora

Hezbollah’s presence in international diaspora communities provides the organisation with access to criminal ventures and funds. The diaspora is comprised of Lebanese emigrated mainly to Europe, Latin America, North America, and West Africa between 1975 and 1990. Hezbollah acquired financial support from the diaspora through its commitment to the fight against Israel and the West and it translated the support into an array of financial sources as well as financiers and facilitators. A cultural practice embedded within the diaspora is the sending of remittances to Lebanon and to Hezbollah, considering its legitimate status among Shia at home, as a method of support. However, third-party funding is risky for terrorist organisations, as donors may lose interest in the cause or law enforcement activity can lead to a decline in donations. In West Africa, the Lebanese diaspora is heavily involved in the diamond trade, as diamonds are a source of donation and as an informal tax to support the organisation back home. In Venezuela, Hezbollah-tied family clansparticipate in the local drug trade and money laundering, operating with protection from the regime. In Europe, Hezbollah raises money through charities which is legal in European countries because Hezbollah is not listed as a terrorist organisation, only its military wing is banned, allowing the group to raise money and collect donations for Hezbollah-tied associations. A terrorism designation would freeze al funds, financial assets, and economic resources of the group and would be a powerful CTF approach given the group’s vast network.


The case of Hezbollah is emblematic of innovation in terrorist financing because to achieve financial independence and to anticipate CTF approaches the group has evolved and diversified its sources of funding. This, in turn, has allowed the organisation to become one of the most technically capable and proficient terrorist groups in the world. With the advancement of technology, will the group continue to innovate its income sources by developing fund-raising schemes using cryptocurrencies? Maybe. Hezbollah has already received some cryptocurrency funding through the Iranian government, and in 2018 it was reported to have used crypto to fund part of its operations. Cryptocurrencies offer anonymity and may be used to diversify even more its portfolio, but because their supply is not flexible and their price can be controlled, terrorist organisations have so far shown reluctance to use them. Moreover, as long as the traditional financing methods are stable and not hampered by CTF efforts, the possibility of financing through cryptocurrency will not increase. 

May 16, 2022No Comments

Manochehr Dorraj on the development of bilateral relations between Iran and China

In this interview conducted by the "Iran Desk" at ITSS Verona Prof. Manochehr Dorraj addresses and analyzes the gradual development of bilateral relations between Iran and China. The interview focuses on the importance of Iran to China, how both countries try to optimize their gain and influence through this bilateral relation, and how this relation is affected by and may affect regional bilateral relations with China. 

Manochehr Dorraj is a Professor at Texas Christian University where his areas of focus cover International Affairs, Comparative politics, Political Theory and Middle East politics. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin. He is the author, coauthor, editor or coeditor of 7 books and more than 80 refereed articles and book chapters.

Interviewers: Shahin Modarres, Yasmina Dionisi and Filippo Cimento.

May 16, 2022No Comments

Trail of Blood in Colombia’s Tourist Resort: The murder of Paraguayan anti-narco prosecutor Marcelo Pecci

Author: Giovanni Giacalone.

On the morning of May 10th Paraguay’s anti-drug prosecutor Marcelo Pecci was murdered by two hitmen on a jet ski who reached the beach where he was vacationing with his wife and shot him in the head and the back. The murder took place in Barù, a renowned location just 45 minutes away from the city of Cartagena, Colombia. The jet ski was rented by the killers in Playa Blanca, approximately 3 km away from the resort where Pecci and his wife were staying.

“One of the men got out and without saying a word he shot Marcelo twice, one shot hit him in the face and another in the back,” Pecci’s wife, Claudia Aguilera, told the newspaper El Tiempo. The hitmen then fled in the same jet ski. A hotel security guard was also shot at, although he was not injured. Prosecutor Pecci was traveling without bodyguards and his wife said that they had not received any type of threat. Additionally, the Colombian police forces were not aware of his presence in the country.

The couple had traveled from Paraguay to Cartagena on May 5th to spend their honeymoon there. The following day, after a quick visit to the city’s historic center, they reached the Decameron Hotel and Resort in Barù, where they planned to spend the rest of the time before heading back to Paraguay on May 10th, as indicated by the message published on Monday May 9th by Aguilera on social media: “The last sunset in Barú, but we will have millions more together.” At approximately 10:30 am on Tuesday morning, the last day of vacation, Pecci was gunned down in front of his wife and tourists at the hotel’s private beach. A group of Paraguayan tourists who were at the same hotel as Pecci and were leaving on the same day complained that they were held for questioning by the Colombian police for hours, and added that at the hotel and resort there was no visible security, as reported by ABC TV Paraguay. 

Marcelo Pecci was a high-level prosecutor who specialized in contrasting drug trafficking, money laundering and organized crime. He had recently participated in the operation Ultranza Py against drug trafficking in Paraguay and he was also investigating the infiltration of Ndrangheta in the country. According to Gen. Jorge Luis Vargas, head of Colombia's national police, Pecci was the victim of "transnational" criminals working across borders and the murder was very likely highly planned, with a large amount of money spent to carry it out. He also added that narcos or even international terrorists could be behind the murder. 

On the same day of the homicide, the Colombian police released a picture of one of the two alleged killers, a man dressed in black, wearing a Panama hat, with a Caribbean accent. The Colombian authorities announced a reward of up to 500 million Colombian pesos ($12,000) to anyone who can provide information about the assassins. The owner of the jet ski that was rented to the two hitmen said that they paid $50 to use the vehicle for 30 minutes, but they returned it just 15 minutes later.

There are currently two versions regarding the killers, one is that they followed Pecci and his wife all the way from Paraguay to Barù, traveling on the same plane; the second one is that they were contracted in Cartagena to conduct the hit. Rocio Vallejo, a member of the Paraguayan Parliament and the Patria Querida party claimed that organized crime is behind it, she pointed the finger against the “narco-politica” and even accused some Parliament members of being linked to the narcos, adding that “narcotrafficking knows no borders”.

As explained to the ITSS by the Brazil-based investigative journalist Maria Zuppello, who is specialized in organized crime and terrorism in Latin America: “The murder of Pecci is a tragic page not only for Paraguay but for all of Latin America that lost a prosecutor of great value. The various leads that are being followed range from the terrorist matrix of Hezbollah to the former president of Paraguay, Horacio Cartes, who was already targeted by the Dea for money laundering and narco-activity in the United States. It is now clear how Latin America has become a privileged hub for narco-terrorism”. Following the murder, the Paraguayan police searched the prison cell of Lebanese narcotrafficker Kassem Mohammed Hijazi, who was arrested in August of 2021in Ciudad del Este thanks to an investigation led by Pecci with the support of the Dea. In the meantime, Noticias Caracol revealed that four Paraguayan women who had arrived on the same flight and were staying at the same hotel as Pecci, and a person considered very close to the murdered prosecutor, are under the radar of the Colombian authorities.

It is unclear why Pecci, considering his high-level profile, was traveling without bodyguards and had not warned Colombian authorities about his presence there. It is possible that since he hadn’t received any threat, as claimed by his wife Claudia Alvarez, he thought that he would be safe in a place like Barù, renowned for international tourism and with a very low crime rate if compared to other parts of Colombia; however, the killer were after him. The investigations are currently underway with the help of the Dea, the Fbi, Interpol, and it is plausible that there will be news in the upcoming days.

May 9, 2022No Comments

The Need for a Territorial Defence Force in Taiwan

Author: Sandra Watson Parcels.

The Chinese Communist Party is one of the most ruthless regimes in history. There should be no illusion that China, under President Xi, is not only capable, but willing to enact this violence on the people of Taiwan. Mara Karlin, United States Assistant Secretary of Defence for Strategy, Plans and Capabilities stated, "I think the situation we're seeing in Ukraine right now is a very worthwhile case study for them about why Taiwan needs to do all it can to build asymmetric capabilities, to get its population ready, so that it can be as prickly as possible should China choose to violate its sovereignty." Ukraine, under the might of the much larger Russian military, was expected to fall in days, but the Territorial Defence Force has been credited in helping to slow the Russian advance. 

A recent article by Michael Hunzeker and Admiral (Ret.) Lee Hsi-ming, former Chief of the General Staff of the Republic of China’s (Taiwan) Armed Forces, and a recent ITSS Verona Interview with the Admiral discusses the need for Taiwan to develop a standing, all-volunteer, Territorial Defence Force against the threat of a Chinese invasion. The Taiwanese military currently has approximately 170,000 active-duty troops, including 90,000 Army, 40,000 Navy,10,000 marines and 40,000 Air Force but just rough-and-ready militias and civil defense groups to counter a ruthless occupation. Territorial Defense Forces are not capable of defeating a large-scale invasion but can prevent a swift victory by ensuring an occupation would be violent and lengthy.

Hunzeker and Admiral Lee’s concept is to build a Territorial Defence Force around special forces units, trained in asymmetrical warfare. A well trained and equipped Territorial Defence Force would make it very difficult and costly for the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), should they get passed Taiwan’s coastline defences. In a recent interview, Hunzeker elaborated that Taiwan should have a Territorial Defence Force for two reasons. One, as a message of deterrence that the Taiwanese people are ready, willing, and able to defend Taiwan. Two, a Territorial Defence Force would make it very challenging to conquer the civilian population. This would buy time for Taiwan to defend itself and for allies to intervene and help Taiwan. Retired U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Mark Montgomery, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies stated that the United States (U.S.) needs to learn the right lessons from the war in Ukraine, including spending less time ‘worrying about provoking authoritarian bullies’ and more time working todefend threatened democracies before invasions start. The U.S. has also been slow in addressing concerns and requests by U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, that recently warned again that military balance of power in the region continues to become “more unfavorable” for America and its allies. Therefore, although it is likely the U.S. and allies will come to Taiwan’s defence, Taiwan must also show a willingness to fight, just as Ukraine’s Territorial Defence Force inspires the world and garners international support.

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The Territorial Defence Force would not need to be extremely large to be effective. Units of thousands, even hundreds of asymmetric trained volunteers would make a big impact, as witnessed now in Ukraine. 

The Taiwanese government must play the leading role in building and supplying the Territorial Defence Force. Not only must volunteers be trained, but they will also need to be armed and supplied. Ukraine has land borders that make it easier to resupply fuel, ammunition, weapons, water, food, and medical supplies. As an island, Taiwan has the advantage of island defence but will be at a disadvantage when it comes to resupply. Taiwan’s strategic challenges include knowing China will attempt to cut Taiwan off from the outside world. Therefore, it is vital that the Taiwanese government create a Territorial Defence Force and provide stockpiles throughout the country. 

Scenes of ordinary Ukrainians defending their homeland has awakened Taiwan’s own spirit of resistance. The Taiwanese people are inspired, Russia has shown that the threat of invasion is real and Ukraine’s Territorial Defence Force has shown that resistance works. Now is the time for the government of Taiwan to build a strong, fully supplied Territorial Defence Force that will deter and, if need be, defend Taiwan from occupation. The 4thPresident of the United States, James Madison once said, “A well-regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained in arms, is the best most natural defense of a free country.”

May 9, 2022No Comments

Psychological Warfare in a Changing World

By: Danilo delle Fave and Marco Verrocchio.

“Supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting”. This sentence of Sun Tzu well summarizes the meaning of Psychological warfare Psychological Operations (PSYOPS) includes all the psychological techniques to influence the behaviour, emotions and reasons of the target (governments, armies, companies, etc..) to affect its results. Three types of PSYOPs are distinguishable: Tactical, Operational and Strategic. While the Tactical PSYOPS are used during a conflict, the Operational ones are used also prior and after a military operation, to assist the commander’s plans. 

At the same time, Strategic PSYOPS comprehend all activities a government can pursue to influence foreign attitude, perceptions and behaviour. In other words, PSYOPS are essentially conceived as in support of other operations, trying to maximize the profits with the least effort possible. Many communication tools are used in PSYOPS, from leaflets to social networks. Therefore, efficient communications and practical messages are essential for the outcomes of the operations. Although Psychological warfare was used since ancient times, it became more effective when communication allowed a constant persuasion of the enemy or its civilian population. 

Not surprisingly, the first PSYOPS occurred during WWII through radio stations. Axis forces and Allies created specific programs broadcasted regularly on FM and AM frequencies to discourage enemy’s population and send fake news. Some of these operations were effective. For example, Radio London, a BBC program, successfully sent messages to the Italian Resistance in occupied Italy. After WWII, PSYOPS began to be extensively used. In Korea, a special division of the US Command was created to convince soldiers to lay down their weapons and prevent South Koreans from supporting the enemy. PSYOPS operations worked closely with Marines in the First Gulf War, achieving significant results. For instance, the 9th PSYOP Battalion facilitated the surrender of 1.405 Iraqi troopsbesieged on an island, just sending helicopters with aerial loudspeakers. 

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Since the end of the Cold War, Psychological warfare has changed dramaticallyPSYOPS have become instruments of NATO. According to the Allied Joint Doctrine for Psychological Operations (NATO PSYOPS), they are considered as: “Planned psychological activities using methods of communications and other means directed to approved audiences in order to influence perceptions, attitudes and behaviour, affecting the achievement of political and military objectives”. This is a definition that fits better with the current status of the PSYOPS, and it was developed during “the war on terror”,where coordination with US allies was fundamental. Nowadays, the borders among tactical, operational and strategic PSYOPS are blurring due to the global scale and the simultaneous nature of the information. Moreover, in the current high-intensity warfare scenarios, Tactical PSYOPS are more dangerous than Strategic and Operational ones due to more precise guided weapons. A solution to the drawbacks of Tactical PSYOPS is coming from technology. For example, in the war in Ukraine, leaflets have been replaced by SMS text messages and audio ones, using Orlan-10 drones like jammers to spread information directly on the cellphones of Ukrainian soldiers.

In the battle to conquer the “hearts and minds”, both the United States and the Russian Federation had developed a proper doctrine for psyops. In the U.S doctrine psychological operations are a peculiar type of Information Operations, which represent the integrated employment of Information-related capabilities in concert with other lines of operation to influence, disrupt, corrupt, or usurp the decision making of adversaries and potential adversaries while protecting their own. These Information-related capabilities can be carried on as military information support operations, cyberspace operations, electronic warfare, military deception, civil military operation and even public affairs. In this framework the U.S. doctrine states that psyops are driven primarily in the effort of influencing foreign target audiences through the development of massages and devise actions in order to change those groups’ attitude and behaviors.

Psychological operations are therefore carried on as military information support operations that can also degrade the enemy’s combat power, reduce civilian interference, minimize collateral damage, and increase the population’s support for operations. The key aspect of U.S. doctrine is represented by the dissemination of persuasive messages based on true information. False information is considered a double-edge weapon and risks being counter-productive to the long-term credibility and success of psychological operations.

The Russian doctrine instead adopts a different approach: they do not consider a liability the use of false information and have also developed a military doctrine that prescribes the implementation of psyops even in times of peace. Based upon the Soviet tradition of psychological operations, the so-called spetspropaganda, the Russian doctrine has developed the so-called “new generation warfare”. It is centered around the idea that current menances to the Russian Federation come from the “information sphere” and call for the strengthening of Russian capabilities in psychological operations. As in the Soviet time, the two pillars of Information warfare are reflexive control and active measuresReflexive controlis the manipulation of the decision making process of the enemy by altering key factors in the adversary’s perception of the world and causing him to choose the actions most advantageous to Russian objectives. Active measures are all kinds of operations that aim to influence, undermine, disrupt and discredit targeted countries, their institutions and non governmental organizations.

Moreover, the Russian doctrine considers information warfare a crucial element of modern warfare, therefore they have promoted different types of psyops. This explains why Russian information warfare and political warfare clearly overlaps, and despite the prominence of non military actors such as the SVR and the FSB in political warfare, deceit and propaganda, the GRU, the military secret service, is also a major player in the Kremlin strategy to pursue hybrid warfare. One of the most paradigmatic ways in which Russian forces organize psyops is the troll farm, through which they exploit social media algorithms and key demographics that can be vulnerable to their propaganda, in order to obtain a cheap way to carry on these kinds of operations. 

(Graphic from National Security Analysis Department, “Little Green Men”: A Primer on Modern Russian Unconventional Warfare, Ukraine 2013-2014, Assessing Revolutionary and Insurgent Strategies Study , 18).

May 2, 2022No Comments

Sri Lankan Turmoil

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By Austin Parcels & Alberto Trame


Since 2019, Sri Lanka has been experiencing its worst economic crisis. Unprecedented levels of inflation, the near depletion of foreign exchange reserves, the rising prices of basic commodities, daily blackouts lasting ten to thirteen hours, and shortages of medical supplies plague the already poor nation. Sri Lanka’s population of almost 22 million people now waits in nearly endless lines for basic amenities. Schools have been suspended because of the lack of equipment and businesses shut down because of the lack of petrol needed for commuters and the transportation of goods.

Declared the "worst economic crisis for Sri Lanka in 73 years" by the Sri Lankan Government, the country now finds itself embroiled in protests and steadily increasing violence. Protesters place blame on president Gotabaya Rajapaksa's government, whom they accuse of mismanaging the economy. The Rajapaksa are Sri Lanka's most influential family, a political dynasty, prominent in several senior roles in the Sri Lankan State. Protesters demand that Rajapaksa and his family step down, hoping to pave the way for new democratic leaders.

Understanding Sri Lanka's turmoil and the regional fallout are vital to understanding the current state of South Asian security and diplomacy. There are several reasons for Sri Lanka's current unrest, ranging from president Rajapaksa's tax cuts, Sri Lanka's significant foreign debt, the ongoing agricultural crisis, and the tourism fallout over the 2019 Easter bombings and COVID-19. Finally, Sri Lanka's second-largest market for tea exports, Russia, has been ostracized by the international community in the wake of their invasion of Ukraine. Sri Lanka depends heavily on tea exports, with 17% of its economy relying on it completely.

Sri Lanka and China

The first security concern comes in the form of Chinese regional ambition. While Sri Lanka is not massively indebted to China (only about 10% of the Sri Lankan debt stock is owed to China), the Rajapaksa government has stated it will appeal to China to ease its debt burden. Given China's history of debt-trap diplomacy, and its continued influence on political and economic spheres of affairs throughout the continent, cosying up to China could spell danger for Sri Lanka and the region.

Sri Lanka has already given up a port to the Chinese ambition. Under pressure from China regarding debts, Sri Lanka coughed up the Hambantota Port and 15,000 acres of land surrounding it. China now controls a piece of territory just off the shores of its main regional rival, India. China's ambition in Sri Lanka does not stop there. China's Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has invested $1.4 billion in the Colombo Port City project, the largest ever foreign investment in Sri Lanka's history.

China has utilized the BRI as a form of neo-colonialism, using it to debt-trap poorer countries while exploiting those same countries for their raw resources and control over the infrastructure. With the presence of China in Sri Lanka already, and the current economic crisis, the Chinese are poised to take advantage of the situation by further exploiting the poorer island nation.

Sri Lankan Islamist Extremism

Easter Sunday, three years ago, three churches and three luxury hotels in Colombo were targeted in a series of coordinated Islamist terrorist attacks carried out by the National Tawahujja Jama'ath (NTJ). The attack killed 269 people, injuring at least 500 others. NTJ is believed to have connections to the Islamic State (ISIL). Terrorism in Sri Lanka has existed for some time. Organisations such as the Tamil Tigers and various Marxist-Leninist parties have carried out attacks in the past. Islamist terrorism began to rise in the 2010s, with a steep rise in attacks against the country's small Roman Catholic minority. These attacks eventually culminated in the 2019 Sri Lanka Easter bombings.

Sri Lanka's Islamic population, called Moors, is not large, accounting for roughly 9.7% of the population, and they have historically faced significant persecution by the Buddhist majority. Following the defeat of the Tamil Tigers in 2009, there has been a steep rise in anti-Islamic sentiment in Sri Lanka. Bhavani Fonseka, a human rights lawyer, spoke to the BBC about the issues, saying "in the post-war period, Muslims have become the new enemy." Muslim Sri Lankans, who already face discrimination from the government and who have a sudden rise in extremism within their community, are now staring down the barrel of the ongoing economic crisis.

Studies have shown that there is a connection between poverty, economic minority discrimination, and domestic terrorism. The ongoing economic crisis will exacerbate the divide between the Muslim and Christian minorities and the Buddhist majority. With the crisis worsening, Sri Lanka can expect a dramatic rise in Islamic terrorist attacks from well-trained, ISIL-affiliated organisations like the NTJ.

This rise in terrorism is not just a domestic issue either. Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines have seen their shared maritime border exploited by Islamist terrorists seeking to supplement conflict zones in Southeast Asia with foreign fighters. The Philippines' large Islamist problem has crossed the maritime borders and is beginning to affect its neighbours. Sri Lanka shares a maritime border with Maldives and India, two countries that could face the fallout of rising Islamic terrorism within Sri Lanka. As the economic crisis continues, and Sri Lanka finds itself unable to support its military and police structures, terrorists and criminals will leak through the porous borders.


In an increasingly globalized and interconnected world, the economic downward spiral of a small country can still have a great effect on the world at large. For South Asia, Sri Lanka's crisis can be a catalyst for significant shifts in the area's power structure, a rise in terrorism, and the opportunity for powerful countries to gain a further foothold in the region. This article has highlighted some of the ways Sri Lanka's ongoing crisis could do significant damage to South Asia, but there are undoubtedly other issues, such as international criminal organisations, which were not addressed. If you'd like to learn more about security concerns in South Asia and elsewhere, click here to view more of ITSS Verona's articles.

This article also mentioned the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which is an economic infrastructure development strategy adopted by the Chinese Government in 2013. It has been considered a centrepiece of Xi Jinping's foreign policy, but many opponents of the strategy consider it a way for China to practice debt-trap diplomacy and neo-colonialism. If you'd like to learn more about the BRI and China's foreign policy, check out this ITSS member series article.