June 18, 2024No Comments

Jordan’s Balancing Act in the Israel-Hamas War: 

Since the outbreak of the war on October 7, Jordan has been caught between increasing external and internal pressures.

By Alice Elizabeth Strophair - Middle East Team

Escalating conflict and policy decisions 

In the midst of the Israel-Hamas war, the Middle East witnessed an unprecedented escalation in the ongoing conflict between Israel and Iran, when, on the night of April 13, the Islamic Republic launched a combined missile and drone attack on Israel. Some of  the projectiles were even intercepted above the Al-Aqsa mosque by Israel’s iron dome.  The attack saw the conflict take a new turn, with Iran attacking Israel directly, rather than through its proxies, such as Hamas or Hezbollah. The events of April 13 have also further challenged neighbouring Arab countries in balancing their political and economic ties with Israel, while showing their support for the Palestinian cause. One of these countries is Jordan, which has been a key regional actor in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and now, more than ever, is caught between increasing external and internal pressures, both on the diplomatic as well as on the civilian front. The Hashemite Kingdom is walking a tightrope between its peace treaty with Israel, which emphasises its dependency on Israel for natural resources and security versus preventing “a breakdown in the social [contract]” between the population and the regime. King Abdallah II’s decision to join the international coalition MEAD (Middle East Air Defence), to prevent the use of Jordan’s airspace in the Israeli-Iranian conflict is meant, more than anything else, to prevent further escalation in violence, which would jeopardise Jordan’s security.  

The ongoing war in Gaza, “Iron Swords” 

Thirty years after Jordan signed the “Wadi Araba Treaty” (1994), with the expectation that the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinian Authority would be implemented, today’s situation must be a bitter disappointment for Jordan. The Hashemite Kingdom has been in favour of a two-state solution but has gradually seen the possibility of this solution decimate, especially since the establishment of the Israeli far right-wing government in late 2022. Since 1967, the unresolved question of East Jerusalem and its progressive annexation (Jerusalem Basic Law, 1980) by Israel has been a contentious point between both countries. The ongoing “Iron Swords” offensive led by Israel within the Gaza Strip has further deteriorated Israeli-Jordanian relations. On one occasion, two weeks after the beginning of the war during a peace summit that was held in Cairo, King Abdullah II denounced what he termed, “global silence about Israel’s attacks, [...] and urged an even-handed approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”  Even more so, Jordan fears that the displacement of Gaza’s residents to Egypt could set a precedent for a future displacement of Palestinians from the West Bank to Jordan. This fear is based on their concerns over the political agenda of Israel’s cabinet member Itamar Ben Gvir, who promotes the Eretz Yisrael Hashlema (Greater Israel) dream, declaring that “the people of Israel will settle in Gaza”. As a result, since the beginning of the war in Gaza, the West Bank has become a second front with a sharp increase in settler violence and further constraints on the Palestinian economy. These factors could lead to the possibility  of a third intifada and an economic migration from the West Bank to Jordan. These developments pose both a demographic and security threat to Jordan. The Kingdom already has a high population of Palestinians as a result of the 1948 and 1967 wars. A third wave of immigration could turn Jordan into a de facto Palestinian State, which, combined with the increased popularity of Hamas and the Islamic Jihad in the West Bank, creates an actual threat to Jordan’s ability to control its borders and ensure internal security

Post-war scenarios are being considered, with the Arab Peace Initiative dating of 2002 re-emerging on the international stage as a potential solution. The American elections in November will also be decisive, as they will determine whether the future administration will prioritise a negotiated peace or adopt a stance more aligned with the current Israeli government, potentially altering its support for Jordan.

Photo de Hisham Zayadneh sur Unsplash

Jordan’s civil and military cooperation with Israel 

Jordan’s shortage of natural resources, namely water and gas, and the growing economic relationship it has with Israel, means it cannot cut its ties with the Jewish state, despite public demand.  In 2016, a fifteen-year deal was signed for Israel to supply it with gas, becoming the most important supplier for Jordan. In 2021, Jordan, being the second most water-poor country in the world, signed a memorandum of understanding with Israel and the UAE on a water project called the “Green and Blue Prosperity Agreement”. Within this agreement, Israel provides Jordan with desalinated water, the project financing coming from the UAE. However, these economic relations with Israel, like diplomatic ones, are not popular with the Jordanian public and protests demanding cutting ties and breaking deals with Israel. 

Jordan’s decision to join the MEAD alliance which includes the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Israel, can be seen as an ideological convergence to counter a common enemy, the Islamic Republic of Iran, and to ensure stability across the region. Historical rivalries between Sunni and Shiite motivate the Arab states, providing Israel with leverage on the question of Palestine within the Middle East Cold War. King Abdullah II defended the decision to join the alliance, by arguing that it would help protect Jordan’s population and the country’s sovereignty. 


Jordan has demonstrated resilience when faced with previous escalations in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, partly thanks to its diplomatic ties with the United States. The Hashemite kingdom is perceived by the West as a moderate actor that can help bring stability to the region. Nevertheless, King Abdullah II must be aware that his policymaking and commentary on the ongoing crisis in the Gaza Strip – as well as on  Benjamin Netanyahu’s and his right-nationalist coalition – will have consequences on his government's relationship with the Jordanian public. These past eight months of war could influence the upcoming parliamentary elections in Jordan, scheduled for next September. 

June 17, 2024No Comments

The Spread of Weapons Among Civilians in Ukraine: Context, Impact, and Future Outlook

By Alexandra Tsarvulanova, Alessandro Macculi, and Arslan Sheikh - Human Security Team


The ongoing conflict in Ukraine has had a significant impact on the distribution and possession of weapons among civilians. The population now possesses a significantly higher number of firearms, according to data from the Small Arms Survey. Much of this growth can be attributed to the conflict, which has made self-defence tactics necessary and increased societal militarisation. A thorough examination of the historical background as well as the present data is necessary to determine the scope and consequences of this trend. 

Historical Context

According to estimates, Ukraine is considered to be home to a total of 4 to 5 million firearms, of which 2 to 3 million belong to the illicit sphere. The Maidan Square uprising and the subsequent outbreak of civil war in Donbass in 2014 dramatically exacerbated the spread of small arms and light weapons.

Among the sources of weapons of the first armed factions formed in the aftermath of the uprisings, the most relevant ones stem from the storage of weapons traditionally kept in households and military stocks of obsolete weapons. This phenomenon has much to do with the armed conflicts that plagued present-day Ukraine in the last century, as well as the Ukrainian SSR's function as a Soviet military stockpile. Moreover, vast arsenals were secured in the country following the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Eastern Europe after the disbanding of the Warsaw Pact. This resulted in a disproportionate surplus following the downsizing of the Ukrainian Army.

Thus, the most crucial dynamic of arms proliferation after 2014 seems to be the leakage of weapons from state and civilian stockpiles.

Institutional and Legal Framework

It is necessary to note that Ukraine's legal framework for civilian firearm possession is notably underdeveloped and fragmented. Despite a substantial number of firearms in civilian hands, comprehensive national legislation regulating these arms is absent. Instead, firearm ownership is primarily governed by bylaws, specifically Order No. 622 of the Ministry of Internal Affairs from 1998, which outlines conditions for the acquisition, storage, and use of firearms. The Constitution of Ukraine requires that ownership regimes be subject to parliamentary legislation, which this regulatory gap contravenes. 

Efforts to formalise firearm regulations have seen multiple drafts submitted to the Ukrainian Parliament over the years; the way to consensus has been long. Notably, Draft Law No. 5708, proposed in June 2021, aimed to establish a legal framework for civilian firearm ownership, including the creation of a Unified State Register of Civilian Firearms. This draft law sought to address issues such as the classification of firearms, the rights and responsibilities of firearm owners, and statutory limitations on certain types of weapons.  

The Ministry of Internal Affairs plays a pivotal role in firearm regulation and, amid the ongoing conflict, has adapted procedures to facilitate the issuance of arms to civilians participating in defence efforts. This adaptation underscores the urgent need for a comprehensive and updated legal framework to manage the proliferation and use of firearms among civilians effectively. On March 9, 2022, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky signed a law providing for a wartime exemption for civilians to confront occupiers, allowing the use of several types of firearms for self-defence and for the protection of their property.  

 Picture 2. Potential Future Flow of Weapons 
(Source: Global Initiative, https://globalinitiative.net/wp-content/uploads/2023/03/Mark-Galeotti-and-Anna-Arutunyan-Peace-and-proliferation-The-Russo-Ukrainian-war-and-the-illegal-arms-trade-GI-TOC-March-2023.pdf

Impact of the War on the Spread of Weapons Among Civilians

The ongoing conflict in Ukraine has significantly impacted the spread of weapons among civilians, exacerbating an already complex issue. Prior to the war, Ukraine had a notable number of both legal and illegal firearms in civilian hands. Even before the outbreak of the war, Ukraine was at the top of the list of European countries with the highest number of non-registered firearms in civilian use. The war has intensified this situation, as the government has taken steps to arm civilians to bolster defence efforts against Russian aggression. 

One immediate consequence has been the increased availability of firearms to the general population. With the invasion in 2022, the Ukrainian government began distributing weapons to civilians willing to join the defence efforts, leading to a surge in armed civilians. This was a necessary measure to ensure national defence, but it also raised concerns about long-term implications for public safety and order. The distribution of weapons has also resulted in a rise in the black market for arms. The urgency and scale of arming civilians have made it difficult to maintain strict and official control over weapon distribution, leading to leaks into illicit channels. This proliferation poses risks not only for immediate security but also for future crime rates and internal stability. Moreover, the increased weaponisation of the civilian population has heightened the potential for human rights abuses. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has highlighted the risks associated with increased civilian access to firearms, including heightened violence and insecurity. These issues underscore the need for robust mechanisms to monitor and regulate civilian-held arms to prevent misuse and ensure they do not contribute to further instability. 

To sum up, while the arming of civilians has been a critical component of Ukraine's defence strategy, it presents significant challenges that need to be addressed through comprehensive legal frameworks and effective control measures to mitigate long-term risks.

Possible Impacts on Crime Rates

Illegal firearms are increasingly involved in crime in both Ukraine and nearby Russian regions. According to the Ukrainian General Prosecutor’s Office, firearm-related offences in Ukraine surged from 720 in 2021 to 7,003 in 2022. In Russia, violent crimes involving firearms rose by 30% in the first ten months of 2022, with the Kursk and Belgorod regions, bordering Ukraine, seeing increases of 675% and 213%, respectively. Moscow saw a 203% rise in the same period.

Most illegal weapon flows in Ukraine are within the country, although some are exported through Odesa. Eastern Ukraine sees weapons diverted from military arsenals or brought back by soldiers. Larger deals involve crates of AK-74s, while smaller, opportunistic smuggling occurs via the personal belongings of injured soldiers.

Future illicit weapons transfers will likely follow established smuggling routes used for other contraband. The demobilisation of forces will create new routes, especially involving mercenaries and volunteers from the Western Balkans. These fighters may return with their weapons and establish transnational trafficking networks. An EU security official noted discussions among Ukrainian fighters about potential post-war illicit business ventures, indicating a complex and expansive future for illegal weapons flows from Ukraine.

Proliferation of Self-Defense Groups

A key feature of the conflict in Ukraine is the proliferation of territorial self-defence groups following the progressive deterioration of the Ukrainian security apparatus. As early as December 2013, Self Defence Forces (SDF) began to form in the context of the Maidan Square protests, supported by political movements opposed to former President Yanukovich. The SDF soon acted as a link between far-right groups and the protesters, contributing to the escalation by distributing weapons among civilians. Meanwhile, a parallel proliferation of self-defence groups took place in Donbass. Indeed, the intertwining of extreme right-wing and self-defence groups that emerged from Euromaidan triggered the creation of territorial defence forces in Donetsk and Luhansk in order to counter the perceived nationalist threat. 

Although the territorial self-defence groups were soon integrated into an institutional framework through the creation of state-sponsored territorial defence battalions and their incorporation into state forces, these groups retained considerable autonomy in the following years. Initially formed in a context of deep political crisis and coexisting with state security apparatuses, the battalions thus managed to gradually establish a monopoly on the use of force over territories.

The legitimisation of self-defence groups relies on their ability to step in where state security forces have faltered. As these groups gained influence and autonomy, they filled the void left by the breakdown of the state security apparatus. This process often involves seizing state arms stockpiles, which leads to the proliferation of weapons among civilians and group members. Therefore, there is a clear link between territorial control and the consolidation of authority, as well as between the latter and the ability to acquire arms.


In conclusion, the need for self-defence and societal militarisation have significantly increased civilian weapon possession during the conflict in Ukraine. This surge, alongside weak legal frameworks and the proliferation of self-defence groups, poses long-term risks for public safety, crime rates, and internal stability. Comprehensive regulation and effective control measures are urgently needed to mitigate these challenges.

June 4, 2024No Comments

US Military Aid to Ukraine: A Pivotal Move Amid Ongoing Conflict and Global Implications

By Maida Pollinari - Russia Team

The war between Russia and Ukraine, now in its third year, continues to be intensely volatile and dynamic. Recent developments, particularly the approval of a significant US military aid package, mark a critical juncture in international support for Ukraine. This article delves into the US decision, its ripple effects across Europe, and the broader implications for all parties involved.

US Military Aid Package to Ukraine

On April 24, 2024, US President Joe Biden approved a substantial $61 billion aid package for Ukraine. This decision concluded prolonged and intense negotiations within the US Congress, characterised by a bipartisan struggle. Notably, Republican Mike Johnson, initially a staunch opponent, reversed his stance after a confidential briefing, citing the existential threat posed by an "axis of evil" comprising Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin, and Iran. Johnson emphasised that supporting Ukraine was crucial to US national security and a testament to American leadership in defending democracy.

Strategic and Political Motivations

Analysts suggest that this aid package is not only a pragmatic political move but also a strategic necessity. The aid aims to stabilise Ukraine's frontlines, mitigating fears of a Russian breakthrough or Ukrainian collapse. This stabilisation is crucial as it sets the stage for potential Ukrainian offensives in the coming months. Furthermore, the timing of this aid is significant given the approaching US presidential elections. Prolonging the conflict could adversely affect former President Donald Trump's approval ratings, possibly benefiting Biden among undecided voters.

European Response

The US decision has resonated strongly across Europe, prompting several nations to announce their own aid packages. On April 23, 2024, during a visit to Warsaw, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak unveiled the UK's largest military aid package to date for Ukraine, worth £500 million. Sunak underscored the importance of defending Ukraine not just for regional security but for the entire European continent, warning that a victorious Putin would not halt at Poland's border.

Similarly, Sweden has committed 13 billion kronor ($1.23 billion) in military aid, marking the largest Scandinavian contribution. The Czech Republic has pledged to deliver at least 1.5 million artillery shells by year's end, part of a covert supply strategy involving unnamed countries, likely including some BRICS nations like India and South Africa.

Broader Implications and Russian Reaction

The widespread European support highlights a unified front against Russian offensive and a collective effort towards Ukraine's post-war reconstruction. However, the approval of the US aid package has not been well-received by Russia. Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov condemned the decision, suggesting it would enrich the US at Ukraine's expense and result in further Ukrainian casualties. Former Russian President Dmitri Medvedev expressed hostility, wishing for internal US turmoil, while President Putin acknowledged the increased costs of Russia's military operations and committed to record war spending of 6% of GDP in 2024.

Economic and Military Considerations

Despite current economic stability, bolstered by domestic fiscal policies and import substitution, Russia's financial sustainability remains uncertain. Continued Western support is vital for Ukraine, especially given the critical timing of arms deliveries and their deployment on the battlefield. This window of delay provides the Russian military with opportunities to target Ukrainian infrastructure, particularly its energy sector. Moscow's propaganda leverages these delays to project Western disunity and ongoing internal US discord, which Russia finds reassuring.

Source: Image by Beverly Lussier from Pixabay

Future Outlook

The conflict's trajectory remains uncertain, with the upcoming US presidential elections poised to influence future dynamics and support for Ukraine. The sustained cohesion and determination of Western allies are essential for Ukraine's long-term resilience against Russian aggression. The new aid package from the US represents a pivotal moment, demonstrating substantial international support for Ukraine with profound implications for the global power balance and the conflict's future.


In summary, the approval of the $61 billion US military aid package signifies a crucial step in international backing for Ukraine. The response from European nations further consolidates a collective stance against Russian offensive, highlighting a significant geopolitical shift. Meanwhile, Russian reactions underscore the persistent challenges and the importance of continued, coordinated support for Ukraine. The coming months and years will be decisive in shaping the conflict's outcome and the broader geopolitical landscape.

June 3, 2024No Comments

The viability of small Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) fulfilling conventional battlefield roles

by Joseph Moses - Military Strategy & Intelligence Team

Drone warfare has been one of the salient capabilities of the First World’s futuristic military arsenal through the conflicts of the 2000s and 2010s. The war that broke out in Ukraine in 2022, and the battlefields in Myanmar, Sudan and Gaza have since been the arena for another emerging technology that in tactical situations, proven to be decisive. These are the small drones ranging from the FPV variants, commercial hobby drones like the DJI drones. 

This essay focuses on smaller systems and aerial systems because these grant a force cheap options and also grant significant stealth, mobility, equipment safety, and Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) collection capabilities and provide economically cheap tactically offensive capabilities than ground-based or water based systems. Another reason to focus on small drones is their assignment to smaller troop formations which grants these systems a very versatile and efficient [semi]autonomous usage. Furthermore, the integration of Artificial Intelligence (AI), also potentially negates the necessity of connecting the drones to nodal points like bigger drones or nearby aircraft which gives them relative immunity from detection and electronic countermeasures. This essay also focuses on electronic countermeasures (jamming) and not on energy weapons and kinetic countermeasures because this uniquely counters the threat posed by drones while rendering them temporarily inert as opposed to kinetic and energy countermeasures which destroy these systems.

Turkish and Iranian drones had been at the forefront of remotely controlled vehicles for precision strikes, kamikaze strikes and monitoring purposes in the initial months of the Ukraine war, providing cheaper options for drone warfare. However, over the course of the war, smaller drones have not only emerged but have caused major disruptions in the battlefield, dispatching enemy tanks, and armored vehicles, coordinating artillery strikes, and targeting small and mobile targets like combatants and individual vehicles. Initially, they were improvised to carry and drop grenades and mortars over enemy combatants and for surveillance. In recent months, these drones have begun to trickle into the battlefield on an industrial scale, with manufactured “pylons” to attach munitions onto these small drones. Modified FPV drones are used as guided kamikaze weapons. These drones also have increased ranges to increase their surveilling and strike capabilities.

These smaller drones can by no means in the short term, replace the bigger fixed-winged drones that are conventional in militaries nor will they have the costly sensor arrays and range of conventional kamikaze drones and other loitering munitions, but they do provide stealth, loitering and precision strike capability and above all, are expendable. In addition, given their precise nature, these drones also contribute to reducing collateral damage to both life and material which is inevitable with protracted infantry engagements, artillery and air strikes. 

In many ways, they fulfil the roles of snipers, forward observers, provide a good vantage point for observing and calculating firing solutions for artillery and conducting battle damage assessments, and one could argue, that the precision strikes by kamikaze drones and loitering drones are a form of Close Air Support (CAS). Another recent development as of the time of writing, is the emergence of AI being implemented in drone strikes in Ukraine to autonomously identify and strike targets. If developed, this would be a form of highly manoeuvrable and precise fire-and-forget missiles and would provide the drone launcher and operator significant situational awareness by relieving the targeting proces. It is yet to be seen at scale if autonomy is reliable across the ‘kill chain’ of target detection, discrimination, acquisition, and engagement.

While the improvised nature of the first iterations of loitering bomber drones carrying grenades and mortar shells was considered an asymmetrical and unconventional tactic, the new emerging technologies being integrated into these systems with the potential for these smaller and cheaper systems to replace conventional battlefield roles with the same quality of data collection, precision etc., could transform these systems into significant conventional and force multipliers. 

Replacing conventional battlefield roles:

The Drone Swarm: The recent attack on Israel by Iranian kamikaze drones and the number of attacks on oil refineries in Russia by Ukrainian drones are isolated examples of the drone swarm. While these drones can be intercepted, there are yet to be incidents involving swarms of smaller drones used against frontline troops where interceptions are much more difficult and where these drones will have the effect of cluster munitions or rocket strikes. The chief difference would be that these munitions would be far more accurate, and manoeuvrable and can potentially loiter, change course, make quick decisions, change targets etc.

These drones are difficult to intercept because of how small silent and cheap they are. If expensive air defence systems are used to soak these swarms up, this leaves these expensive air defence systems vulnerable to counterstrikes and with a reduced magazine in their positions. If it is included in doctrine, to ignore smaller drones, this would prove to be catastrophic to frontline troops, isolated patrols, and vehicles. The American Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), as of 2016 has already been experimenting with integrating autonomous systems into swarm drone tactics through their OFFensive Swarm-Enabled Tactics program (OFFSET). The US Department of Defense unveiled its “Replicator” program in 2023 and has planned on fielding thousands of autonomous systems across multiple domains by 2025 to counter Chinese military build-up in the Indo-Pacific. It has been confirmed that one of the systems that is a part of this program is the Switchblade loitering munition in association with the Low Altitude Stalking and Strike Ordnance (LASSO) program. The first iteration of the Replicator program aims to tackle the problem of slowing or defeating an invading force with swarms of lethal surface drones and overhead loitering munitions. This would shift the most dangerous battlefield roles of frontline repellence and area denial from manned vehicles and posts to unmanned and semi-autonomous or autonomous swarms, creating a highly fluid, dynamic and unpredictable ‘minefield’ for an advancing enemy force.

With the battlefield potential of swarm strikes, and with the novel usage of AI in Ukraine to discriminate targets and avoid electronic warfare measures, it is only a matter of time before swarm tactics will be implemented in drone swarms of smaller UASs to react, improve and harass frontline troops and significantly attack an enemy’s tactical defensive posturing while not costing the user significantly economically and commercially. This drone could be FPV (disposable) to loitering bombing drones, to drones with attached machine guns, rockets and other anti-drone counter-measures. While these systems can be assigned at squad levels, these can also be assigned at higher levels and be used in fire missions, and joint operations across wider active theaters. 

Source: Image by Pexels from Pixabay

CAS and sniper/precision-strike roles: The mobility and silent nature of drones affords fighting forces in urban settings and open terrain likewise, map out, reconnoiter, stalk and even kill hiding and isolated combatants. Their manoeuvrability can be used to attack fixed encampments as we see in the conflict in Gaza between Hamas and the Israeli IDF. Similarly, we have seen videos of Israeli forces using small copter drones to enter houses and search for Hamas combatants room by room, after which they can either engage through squads or call in an artillery or air strike against the entrenched enemy. While these strikes can be expensive, we can soon expect to see these strikes being taken up by the same reconnoitring drone. This economically relieves artillery batteries, tanks or aircraft while it also frees up the squad can focus on other operations/activities.  

A similar argument can be made for these systems being used in a CAS role. Given the precision, and payloads these drones can now carry and/or drop onto enemy positions and also strike and harass mobile enemies they can fulfill a very versatile CAS role while being assigned to smaller units like squads and platoons. In a swarm scenario or in a dynamic battlefield that is not shaped by shaping operations, while deconfliction could be a challenge for controlled and autonomous systems operated by smaller troop formations, this is already being performed in Ukraine against individual targets and to harass and survey larger formations. While these small drones may not be able to conduct large scale Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses (SEAD) operations, these smaller systems can be used as decoys, perform smaller precision strikes against less guarded enemy air defences, and psychologically de-motivate an infantry fighting force when used strategically. 

The primary advantage of conventional CAS systems is their precision, damage dealt and psychological effect of their munitions/guns with the disadvantage of being vulnerable to enemy ground fire from small handheld systems to surface-to-air missiles. With small drone systems, the advantage primarily is a relative degree of visual and audible stealth, the expendable nature of these systems and the shock-and-awe they provide to an enemy not expecting a highly mobile and smart targeting system. These systems can also drastically reduce the time required for a CAS aircraft to get to the battlefield as these will be at the hands of the squad or platoon members.

Electronic Warfare and AI:

The primary non-energy and non-kinetic deterrence against these drones have been electronic jamming countermeasures that are used to sever the connection between the drone operator and the drone. This has led to drone confiscations and loss of battlefield information and intelligence on drones that store information offline instead of storing/recording them on the operator’s system as a redundancy measure.

With the emergence of AI being integrated into kamikaze and FPV drones, these drones do not need operator control. An improvement already being made on non-autonomous FPV systems was for the operator to target an immobile or mobile enemy and place the drone on a trajectory towards the target at maximum velocity. This tactic negates the electronic countermeasure’s effects as the severance of the connection cannot stop the momentum of the inbound kamikaze drone. Integrating AI into these smaller and faster systems is a new concept but can be seen being implemented in the Ukrainian and Russian battlefields. These drones provide the tactical advantage of identifying and discriminating targets without requiring an operator but are also beginning to prove to be immune to electronic countermeasures as they have the target and terrain information and parameters pre-loaded into them.

While the disadvantage of AI is the lack of human supervision across the entire ‘kill chain’, the real-world consequences and level of permissible and reliable autonomy are yet to be seen at scale. In the future, this would be a contentious matter, especially in a battlefield with a civilian population, in urban counter-terror and counter-insurgency operations and could cause deconfliction challenges in an active and fluid battlefield. Real-time decision-making relieves the operator while also leaving the door open for the aforementioned challenges when it comes to targeting mobile targets or operating in a highly dynamic battlefield. Active deconfliction of a changing battlefield would require a constant connection between frontline troops, the drone operator and the drone.

While the possibilities are many, it is yet to be seen how the current improvisations, augmentations to/for conventional battlefield roles with the added potential of machine autonomy, would affect the composition of smaller combat units and doctrine.

Where conventional CAS, ISR and precision strike systems and roles are expensive, require scarce expertise and are not expendable, these UAS systems are the exact opposite while also being a force multiplier. It is however yet to be seen whether they would have the same psychological effect and efficacy to either augment or replace major decisive battlefield interdiction roles.

May 28, 2024No Comments

Beyond Influence: The call for strategic defence in light of China’s interference in Canada

Author: Sandra Watson Parcels – China & Asia Team

The Interim Report

Canada is currently facing a critical moment in its history as it grapples with the urgent need to protect its democratic processes and national security from foreign interference. The release of the Public Inquiry into Foreign Interference in Federal Electoral Processes and Democratic Institutions on May 3rd has prompted focus on this issue. Over the past five years, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) has reported on the increasing international activity of the People's Republic of China (PRC), including efforts directed at democratic institutions, government bodies, and communities in various sectors. The interim report clarifies: "Foreign interference is not done by just one country. However, China currently stands out as the most persistent and sophisticated foreign interference threat to Canada."

Chapter four of the interim report examines China's use of foreign interference tactics, highlighting intelligence data suggesting extensive use of these methods to advance its interests. The chapter details a range of interference activities targeting various entities in Canada, including government officials, political organisations, political candidates, and diaspora communities. CSIS identifies China as a significant challenge to Canada's electoral integrity.

The report focuses on the activities of the United Front Work Department (UFWD), a key entity of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) with a substantial budget. The UFWD plays a central role in China's foreign interference efforts,focusing on influencing the Chinese diaspora, shaping public opinion, and persuading politicians to support China's policies. It specifically targets individuals with status or influence, such as community leaders, academics, elected officials, and media members. The report describes the UFWD as employing a long-term strategy that utilises both overt and covert methods to cultivate and strengthen relationships over time.

The scope and scale of China's activities in the Canadian elections of 2019 and 2021 are reported to be more extensive than those of any other state, impacting not only federal but also local officials and indigenous communities. The report indicates the UFWD's activities blur the lines between foreign influence and foreign interference. It details clandestine,deceptive, and threatening activity around the world, often by leveraging influence and exerting control over some diaspora communities. Other PRC state institutions involved in foreign interference activities include the Ministry of State Security and the Ministry of Public Security, both of which reportedly operate covertly internationally and remotely from the PRC.

Canada's Reaction

This backdrop underscores Canada's urgency in strengthening its defences against foreign interference across all fronts. Canada recognises the evolving nature of these threats and the imperative to safeguard its sovereignty and interests. While the inquiry into foreign interference represents a significant step forward in Canada's response, whether the issue has been considered with enough timeliness and decisiveness still needs to be addressed. Conservative foreign affairs critic and MP Michael Chong stated that the report is a “damning set of conclusions and findings” and that it “contradicts much of what the government has told us over that period of time.”  New Democratic Party MP Jenny Kwan said there was a “systemic failure of communications by the government to those who are targeted or impacted by foreign interference.” 

The interim report provides a sobering glimpse into the extent of foreign meddling in Canadian affairs, with particular emphasis on activities surrounding recent federal elections. In response to these revelations, the Canadian government is addressing the issue through new legislation, such as Bill C-70, introduced on May 6th, which aims to update existing laws and improve Canada’s capacity to detect, disrupt, and defend against foreign interference. Additionally, the Canadian government's allocation of funds for establishing a National Counter-Foreign Interference Office underscores the seriousness with which Canada regards this issue.

China's Response

China has strongly rejected the allegations of foreign interference. On May 8th, the state-run Global Times published two articles on the subject. 

The first article criticised Canada's efforts to address foreign interference, describing it as "The so-called China's foreign interference is nothing but a lie to serve political purposes and a drama directed and performed by Canada itself." The preliminary report raises doubts about its validity, reflecting a broader trend in some Western states to attribute electoral outcomes to external influences. The article also accused Canada of interfering in China's domestic affairs. The paper also raised concerns about Canada's actions, suggesting they might hinder positive relations. It stated, "Canada's approach risks harming its relationship with China by aligning itself with US criticisms. We urge Canada to act objectively and avoid being misled by unsubstantiated reports."

The second article focused on Canada's introduction of draft legislation to counter foreign interference. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lin Jian was quoted saying, "China has never and will never have any interest in interfering in Canada's internal affairs," dismissing claims of foreign interference as politically motivated lies. A Chinese academic commented, "The introduction of the new law based on groundless accusations of Chinese interference in Canada's elections is once again the country's attempt to fuel unfriendliness and hostility toward China domestically and internationally." The article also mentioned that Canada's new draft legislation is driven by domestic political motives, with the opposition party pushing for tougher policies towards China to challenge Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau's leadership.

China's Grand Strategy

Despite China’s reaction, China's growing global influence and its strategic aspirations are a subject of extensive international discussion. It manifests through a multifaceted approach to enhance its global influence and secure strategic advantages. Politically, concerns exist regarding its role in other countries' elections, particularly through the United Front Work Department (UFWD). Allegations of such interference have surfaced in Canada, the US and Australia. Militarily, China's activities in the East and South China Seas create tensions with neighbouring states. These activities are challenging established international maritime norms, and contravening international laws and norms. Economically, the Belt and Road Initiative extends its reach across continents, fostering dependencies through infrastructure while facing criticisms of potentially resembling neo-colonialism practices. This economic outreach often seems to often complement its military ambitions, as infrastructure projects can double as strategic military footholds. Domestically, China's human rights record, particularly in Hong Kong, Tibet, and Xinjiang, is under international scrutiny. Issues surrounding limitations on freedoms are a source of international concern. In cyberspace, its strategic operations involve sophisticated espionage and potential disruptions of global infrastructure, raising international alarms over cyber warfare. China's cultural diplomacy and media expansion aim to shape global perceptions and address Western influence. These efforts can be seen as attempts to manage international reactions to its policies. Collectively, these strategies reinforce China's position on the global stage and intricately interlink to influence its relationships with major world powers, crafting a complex web of influence and control.

Source: Image created by the author.

China's Strategy in Canada

China's approach in Canada shares similarities with its broader strategies internationally. Both utilise a multifaceted approach to cultivate influence and achieve strategic goals. In line with its global political ambitions, China's engagement through the UFWD with Chinese diaspora communities raises questions about potential influence on domestic politics and public opinion. This comprehensive strategy presents significant challenges to Canadian sovereignty, security, and economic interests.

In the economic and technological spheres, China's tactics include cyber espionage and strategic investments in critical sectors, raising Canada's national security concerns. Notable incidents like the Microsoft Exchange server attacks have targeted essential Canadian infrastructure, undermining data security and intellectual property. Moreover, strategic investments in sectors such as natural resources and ports might be seen as signs of China's efforts to extend its geopolitical influence within Canada, mirroring its global economic outreach.

The involvement of Chinese companies like Huawei in Canada's 5G network raised concerns about data security vulnerabilities, prompting Canada to implement restrictive measures to protect its telecommunications infrastructure. Concurrently, Chinese investments in Canadian real estate and potential political influence attempts require careful monitoring.

In the areas of soft power and cultural influence, the presence of Confucius Institutes within Canadian universities raises questions about the promotion of a selective view of Chinese culture, potentially impacting academic freedoms and shaping public perception. These institutes, alongside other UFWD activities within diaspora communities, shape Canada’s political landscape to align with China’s interests. Surveillance efforts, such as monitoring the Chinese diaspora through organisations like the Chinese Students and Scholars Associations (CSSAs), complement China's control operations within Canada.

In response, Canada has taken steps to address these concerns, including updates to legislation, enhanced cybersecurity measures, and the establishment of a National Counter-Foreign Interference Office.

Canada…Moving Forward

As Canada navigates this complex landscape, vigilance in defending its democratic institutions and national interests is paramount. Public Safety Canada has affirmed, "The Government of Canada takes the threat posed by foreign interference seriously and has various tools and mechanisms in place to protect individuals and Canada's interests." CSIS’s recent annual report states, "the PRC’s negative perceptions of select Canadian domestic and foreign policy initiatives may also drive more foreign interference….in 2024.” The evolving nature of these challenges demands comprehensive and multifaceted tactics, which include legislative measures, diplomatic engagement, and international cooperation. By addressing these challenges proactively, Canada will not only be upholding the integrity of its democratic processes but also asserting its sovereignty against external pressures. Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Mélanie Joly stated, “As with past crises, multilateralism and diplomacy offer our best hope for maintaining peace and stability.”  While Canada must take decisive actions to counter interference and protect its sovereignty, it should also engage in diplomatic efforts with other states, including China, to address the issue of interference. This balanced approach combines responses to interference with diplomatic engagement where possible. Strengthening alliances with Five Eyes and other global partners, specifically in the Indo-Pacific, is crucial for effectively confronting and mitigating these risks. As these strategies continue to evolve, transparency, accountability, and community engagement are pivotal to ensure that Canadians are protected and that the democratic framework remains resilient against the covert and disruptive tactics of foreign actors. By strengthening its defences and adopting a proactive stance, Canada safeguards its sovereignty and contributes to the broader global effort to preserve democratic values and institutions, consequently enhancing stability in the world order.

Check out another China & Asia Team article on China’s Belt and Road in the Maldives by Carlotta Rinaudo.

May 22, 2024No Comments

The year of Generative AI elections: reviewing risks and mitigations

Author: Piero Soave and Wesley Issey Romain - AI, Cyber Security & Space Team

The year 2024 is sure to be remembered when it comes to elections: first, never before have so many people around the world been called to cast their vote; second, these elections will be the first to take place in a world of widespread Generative Artificial Intelligence (GenAI). The combined impact of these two elements is likely to have a lasting impact on democracy. This article looks at how GenAI can influence the outcome of elections, reviews examples of risks from recent elections, and investigates possible mitigations.

The year of high-stakes elections

In over 70 elections throughout 2024, some 800mn voters will take to the ballots in India, 400mn in Europe, 200mn in the United States of America, and many more across Indonesia, Mexico, and South Africa1. In many cases, these elections will be polarized and will feature candidates from populist backgrounds. Previous electoral rounds have scarcely been an example of moderation, featuring instead accusations of foreign interference, and a deadly assault on the US Congress. Whoever wins the most votes will make decisions on topics as consequential as the US-EU relationships, the future of NATO, trade wars, the geopolitical equilibrium in the Middle East, Hindu-Muslim relationships, and more. With so much at stake, the risk of election interference warrants a closer look.

Enter GenAI

The launch of OpenAI’s ChatGPT at the end of 2022 brought GenAI to the mainstream. GenAI indicates an AI system that has the ability to create content in the form of text, audio or video. Having been popularized by ChatGPT, there are now thousands of applications readily available at minimal to no cost. These systems have been trained on billions of elements of text, sound or video, and are able to respond to a user query and create synthetic content in those formats. 

The existing legal and regulatory frameworks are poorly suited to mitigate the risks deriving from GenAI. Since the launch of ChatGPT, there have already been lawsuits related to intellectual property2, sanctions to corner-cutting lawyers3, egregious reinterpretations of historical facts4, as well as general concern about the bias inherent in these systems5. One specific problem related to GenAI is that of deepfakes, i.e. audio or video files that show people saying or doing things they never in fact said or did. This content is so realistic that it is all but impossible to determine whether what is in front of us is reality, or an artificial creation. The consequences are far-ranging, from the potential increase in financial and other fraud6, to the infringement of privacy and individual rights7. But it is in the domain of politics that deepfakes are particularly troubling. They can be used for a variety of bad purposes, from misleading voters about where, when and how they can vote, to spreading fake content from well recognizable public figures, to generating inflammatory messages that lead to violence8

GenAI and misinformation in elections

Misinformation is not a new phenomenon, and it certainly is older than artificial intelligence. However, technology can exacerbate and multiply its effects. By some accounts, “25% of tweets spread during the 2016 US presidential elections were fake or misleading”9. GenAI has the potential to turbocharge the creation of fake content, as this no longer requires sophisticated tools and expertise - anyone with an internet connection could do it. 

Examples of deepfake interference in the political process abound10, despite the relative young age of the technology. In what is perhaps the most consequential event to date, Gabon’s President Ali Bongo appeared in a 2019 video in good health, despite having recently suffered a stroke. The media started questioning the veracity of the video - which is still being debated - ultimately triggering an attempted coup11. Crucially, Schiff et al suggest that “the mere existence of deepfakes may allow for plausible claims of misinformation and lead to significant social and political harms, even when the authenticity of the content is disputed or disproved”12.

During Argentina’s 2023 presidential elections, both camps made extensive use of AI generated content. Ads featured clearly fake propaganda images of candidates as movie heroes, dystopian villains or zombies. In an actual deepfake video - labeled as AI generated - “Mr Milei explains how a market for human organs would work, something he has said philosophically fits in with his libertarian views”13. Also in 2023, synthetic content featured in mayoral elections14 in Toronto and Chicago, the Republican primaries in the US, Slovakia’s parliamentary elections - all the way to New Zealand15.

In the run-up to general elections in India, the Congress party shared a deepfake video of a Bharat Rashtra Samiti leader calling to vote for Congress. The video was shared on social media and messaging apps as voters went to the ballot, and was viewed over 500,000 times before the opposing campaign could contain the damage. AI is being widely used in India to create holograms of candidates, and translate speeches across multiple local languages - as well as for less ethical and transparent objectives16.

In an attempt to simulate bad actors’ attempt to generate misinformation, researchers tested four popular AI image generators and found that the tools “generated images constituting election disinformation in 41%” of cases. This is despite policies in place for these tools which should prevent the creation of misleading materials about elections. The same researchers looked for evidence of bad use and found that individuals “are already using the tool to generate content containing political figures, illustrating how AI image tools are already being used to produce content that could potentially be used to spread election disinformation”17.

Source: Markus Spiske. - https://www.pexels.com/photo/technology-computer-desktop-programming-113850/

Controls and mitigations

Regulation around AI is moving fast in response to even faster technological advancements. Perhaps the most thorough attempt at creating a regulatory framework is the EU AI Act18, approved in March 2024. In the US, a mix of federal and state initiatives seek to address several concerns related to AI, from bias to GenAI, and data privacy. These include the 2023 Presidential Executive Order and related OMB guidance; the NIST Risk Management Framework; and state legislation, from the early New York City Law 144 to the more recent California guidance and proposed bills. Other countries, from Singapore to Australia and China, have approved similar rules. 

Looking at elections integrity specifically, the EU adopted in March a new regulation “on the transparency and targeting of political advertising, aimed at countering information manipulation and foreign interference in elections”. This focuses mostly on making political advertising clearly recognizable, but most of the provisions won’t enter into force before the autumn of 202519. Also in March, the European Commission leveraged the Digital Services Act - which required very large online platforms to mitigate the risks related to electoral processes - to issue guidelines aimed at protecting the June European Parliament elections. The guidelines include labeling of GenAI content. Although these are just best practices, the Commission can start formal proceedings under the Digital Services Act if it suspects a lack of compliance20. In the US, two separate bipartisan bills have been introduced in the Senate: the AI Transparency in Elections Act21 and the Protect Elections from Deceptive AI Act22.

These frameworks have yet to stand the test of time, and the proliferation of open-source models and APIs makes it an uphill struggle for regulators. Regulation around deepfakes specifically is scarce and complex, as it needs to address two separate issues: the creation of the synthetic material, and its distribution. What regulation does exist, tends to focus on sexual content23, although in some cases political content is also covered24. Existing norms around privacy, defamation or cybercrime can offer some support, but are ultimately inadequate to prevent harm25. Some tech solutions are available, such as watermarks, detection algorithms to verify authenticity, or including provenance tags into content26. Whether these techniques are able to prevent or counter the creation and spread of deepfakes at scale remains an open question - and some of them may have unintended drawbacks27. The experience of social media platforms in tackling the spread of harmful content and misinformation is mixed at best28. Platforms’ efforts to mitigate harm (from content moderation to the provision of trustworthy information), and solutions proposed by other parties (such as the removal of the reshare option) are steps in the right direction - but seem unlikely to move the needle.

It is possible that tech developments in the near future will make it easier to detect and disrupt the flow of disinformation, fake news and deepfakes that threaten to sway elections - such as the recently released OpenAI detector29. But the best tool available right now might be literacy interventions, which can make readers more alert to fake news3031. For example, news media literacy aims to provide the tools to assess information more critically and to identify false information. Hameleers found that this type of intervention is effective at reducing the perceived accuracy of false information, although importantly it does not reduce agreement with it (when the reader’s beliefs align with its message)32


2024 will be a critical year for liberal democracies and election processes worldwide, from the Americas and Europe to Africa and Asia. Election outcomes will play a crucial role in shaping the orientation of the most pressing issues in world affairs.

The advent of AI tools such as Generative AI threatens electoral processes in democratic countries as it increases the risks of disinformation, potentially swaying voting outcomes. GenAI effectively gives anyone the ability to create synthetic content and deploy it in the form of robocalls, phishing emails, realistic deepfake photography or video, and more. Once this content is online, previous experience teaches that it is very difficult to moderate or eliminate, especially on social media platforms.

While continuing to support tech-based initiatives to detect or tag synthetic content, Governments and education institutions should invest in information literacy programs to equip people with the tools to critically evaluate information and make informed electoral decisions. 

  1. Keating, Dave. “2024: the year democracy is voted out?” Gulf Stream Blues (blog). Substack. Dec 29, 2023.<https://davekeating.substack.com/p/2024-the-year-democracy-is-voted?r=wx462&utm_campaign=post&utm_medium=web&triedRedirect=true> ↩︎
  2. Grynbaum, Michael M., and Ryan Mac. “The Times Sues OpenAI and Microsoft Over A.I. Use of Copyrighted Work.” New York Times. Dec 23, 2023. <https://www.nytimes.com/2023/12/27/business/media/new-york-times-open-ai-microsoft-lawsuit.html↩︎
  3. Merken, Sara. “New York lawyers sanctioned for using fake ChatGPT cases in legal brief.” Reuters. June 26, 2023. <https://www.reuters.com/legal/new-york-lawyers-sanctioned-using-fake-chatgpt-cases-legal-brief-2023-06-22> ↩︎
  4. Grant, Nico. “Google Chatbot’s A.I. Image Put People of Color in Nazi-Era Uniforms.” New York Times. Feb 22, 2024. <https://www.nytimes.com/2024/02/22/technology/google-gemini-german-uniforms.html> ↩︎
  5. Nicoletti, Leonardo., and Dina Bass. “Humans are Bias. Generative AI is even Worse.” Bloomberg. June 9, 2023. <https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2023-generative-ai-bias/> ↩︎
  6. Sheng, Ellen. “Generative AI financial scammers are getting very good at duping work email.” CNBC. Feb 14, 2024. <https://www.cnbc.com/2024/02/14/gen-ai-financial-scams-are-getting-very-good-at-duping-work-email.html ↩︎
  7. Weatherbed, Jess. “Trolls have flooded X with graphic Taylor Swift AI fakes.” The Verge. Jan 25, 2024. <https://www.theverge.com/2024/1/25/24050334/x-twitter-taylor-swift-ai-fake-images-trending> ↩︎
  8. Alvarez, Michael R., Frederick Eberhardt., and Mitchell Linegar. “Generative AI and the Future of Elections” California Institute of Technology Center for Science, Society, and Public Policy (CSSP), July 21, 2023. <https://lindeinstitute.caltech.edu/documents/25475/CSSPP_white_paper.pdf> ↩︎
  9. Bovet, Alexandre., and Hernán A. Makse. “Influence of fake news in Twitter during the 2016 US presidential election.” Nature Communications. Vol. 10(1), 7. Jan 2, 2017. <https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30602729/> ↩︎
  10. Bontcheva, Kalina., Symeon Papadopoulous., Filareti Tsalakanidou., Riccardo Gallotti., et al. “Generative AI and Disinformation: Recent Advances, Challenges, and Opportunities”. European Digital Media Observatory (EDMO), February 2024. <https://edmo.eu/edmo-news/new-white-paper-on-generative-ai-and-disinformation-recent-advances-challenges-and-opportunities/> ↩︎
  11. Delcker, Janosche. “Welcome to the age of uncertainty”. Politico. Dec 17, 2019. <https://www.politico.eu/article/deepfake-videos-the-future-uncertainty/> ↩︎
  12. Bueno, Natalia., Daniel Schiff., and Kaylyn Jackson Schiff. “The Liar’s Dividend: The Impact of Deepfakes and Fake News on Politician Support and Trust in Media.” Georgia Institute of Technology GVU Center. <https://gvu.gatech.edu/research/projects/liars-dividend-impact-deepfakes-and-fake-news-politician-support-and-trust-media> ↩︎
  13. Nicas, Jack., Lucia Cholakian Herrera. “Is Argentina the First A.I. Election?” New York Times. Nov 15, 2023. <https://www.nytimes.com/2023/11/15/world/americas/argentina-election-ai-milei-massa.html> ↩︎
  14. Wirtschafter, Valerie. “The Impact of Generative AI in a Global Election Year”. Brookings Institution. Jan 30, 2024. <https://www.brookings.edu/articles/the-impact-of-generative-ai-in-a-global-election-year> ↩︎
  15. Hsu, Tiffany., and Steven Lee Myers. “A.I. Use in Elections Sets Off a Scramble for Guardrails.” New York Times. June 25, 2023. <https://www.nytimes.com/2023/06/25/technology/ai-elections-disinformation-guardrails.html> ↩︎
  16.  Sharma, Yashraj. “Deepfakes democracy: Behind the AI trickery shaping India’s 2024 election.” Aljazeera. Feb 20, 2024. <https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2024/2/20/deepfake-democracy-behind-the-ai-trickery-shaping-indias-2024-elections> ↩︎
  17. “Fake image factory: How image generators threaten election integrity and democracy.” Center for Countering Digital Hate (CCDH). March 6 2024. <https://counterhate.com/wp-content/uploads/2024/03/240304-Election-Disinfo-AI-REPORT.pdf↩︎
  18. Abdurashitov, Oleg., and Caterina Panzetti. “AI Regulatory Landscape in the US and the EU: Regarding the Unknown.” ITSS Verona. Jan 18, 2024. <https://www.itssverona.it/ai-regulatory-landscape-in-the-us-and-the-eu-regulating-the-unknown-ai-cybersecurity-space-group↩︎
  19. “EU introduces new rules on transparency and targeting of political advertising.” Council of the European Union. March 24, 2024. <https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2024/03/11/eu-introduces-new-rules-on-transparency-and-targeting-of-political-advertising/> ↩︎
  20. “Commission publishes guidelines under the DSA” European Commission. March 26, 2024. <https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_24_1707> ↩︎
  21. “Murkowski, Klobuchar Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Require Transparency in Political Ads with AI-Generated Content.” Lisa Murkowski, United States Senator for Alaska. March 6, 2024. <https://www.murkowski.senate.gov/press/release/murkowski-klobuchar-introduce-bipartisan-legislation-to-require-transparency-in-political-ads-with-ai-generated-content↩︎
  22. Klobuchar, Hawley, Coons, Collins Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Ban the Use of Materially Deceptive AI-Generative Content in Elections.” Amy Klobuchar, United States Senator. September 12, 2023.  ↩︎
  23. UK Ministry of Justice., and Laura Farris MP. “Government cracks down on ‘deepfakes’ creation.” Press Release. April 16 2024. <https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-cracks-down-on-deepfakes-creation↩︎
  24. Ahmed, Trisha. “Minnesota advances deepfakes bill to criminalize people sharing altered sexual, political content.” Associated Press (AP). May 11, 2023. <https://apnews.com/article/deepfake-minnesota-pornography-elections-technology-5ef76fc3994b2e437c7595c09a38e848↩︎
  25. Jodka, Sara H. “Manipulating reality: the intersection of deepfakes and the law.” Reuters. Feb 1, 2024. <Manipulating reality: the intersection of deepfakes and the law | Reuters↩︎
  26. Content Authenticity Initiative Website: <https://contentauthenticity.org/↩︎
  27. Wirtschafter, Valerie. “The Impact of Generative AI in a Global Election Year” <https://www.brookings.edu/articles/the-impact-of-generative-ai-in-a-global-election-year> ↩︎
  28. Aïmeur, Esma., Sabrine Amri., and Gilles Brassard. “Fake news, disinformation and misinformation in social media: a review.” Social Network Analysis and Mining. Vol. 13, 30, 2023. <https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13278-023-01028-5#Fn18↩︎
  29. Cade Metz and Tiffany Hsu, “OpenAI Releases ‘Deepfake’ Detector to Disinformation Researchers”, New York Times, May 7, 2024.
    <https://www.nytimes.com/2024/05/07/technology/openai-deepfake-detector.html> ↩︎
  30. Jones-Jang, S Mo, Tara Mortensen, and Jingjing Liu. “Does Media Literacy Help Identification of Fake News? Information Literacy Helps, but Other Literacies Don’t.” American Behavioral Scientist. Vol. 65(2). <https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0002764219869406↩︎
  31. Helmus, Todd C. “Artificial Intelligence, Deepfakes, and Disinformation: A Primer”. RAND Corporation, July 2022. <http://www.jstor.org/stable/resrep42027> ↩︎
  32. Hameleers, Michael. “Separating truth from lies: comparing the effects of news media literacy interventions and fact-checkers in response to political misinformation in the US and Netherlands. Information, Communication, & Society,. Vol 25(1). 2022. <https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/1369118X.2020.1764603↩︎

May 20, 2024No Comments

Eco-Mafias and the Ongoing Struggle for Environmental Security in Latin America

Author: Rabiah Ryklief - Central & South America Team

Latin America's rich biodiversity and vast natural resources have unfortunately attracted a destructive force: Eco-Mafias. These highly organised transnational criminal groups engage in the illegal extraction and exploitation of natural resources for illicit profit. Their activities cause widespread ecological degradation, posing a significant threat to the region's environmental security and, consequently, global climate security.

The Rise of Eco-Mafias

Latin America’s environmental security is deeply intertwined with the exploitation of its natural resources. From the colonial plunder of precious hardwoods like mahogany to the 20th century's surge in deforestation for government-backed infrastructure and cattle ranching, exploitation has driven significant habitat loss and disrupted vital ecological processes. This ongoing struggle has entered a particularly dangerous phase with the rise of Eco-Mafias.

Fueled by the confluence of the war on drugs, insatiable global demand for resources, and environmental crime's lucrative ranking as the third most profitable illegal activity, these transnational organised criminal groups pose a grave threat. While some countries have implemented environmental legislation and protected areas, the allure of the Amazon's vast resources has proven difficult to resist.

The remote nature of the Amazon rainforest, coupled with limited enforcement and vulnerabilities to corruption within government agencies, creates fertile grounds for these illicit networks to flourish. Unlike traditionally trafficked commodities - such as drugs, arms, or humans - timber and minerals can be laundered with relative ease, entering the legal commercial market to provide a cloak of legitimacy. Further obfuscation is achieved by placing funds in jurisdictions far removed from the original crime, hindering prosecution and facilitating tax evasion. This minimises risk while maximising profits, making environmental crimes more attractive.

In this context, the establishment of Eco-Mafias in Latin America signifies an escalation in the struggle against environmental insecurity. Their focus on high-value resources like timber, gold, and minerals presents a significant threat to ecosystems in hotspots like Brazil, Colombia, Peru, and Central America.

The Devastating Impact

Eco-mafia activity in Latin America inflicts a devastating and multifaceted assault on the region's environment. The environmental crimes associated with these activities include legal transgressions, operating within protected areas and indigenous territories, unauthorised dredging, and altering natural river flows. These actions cause direct physical destruction of ecosystems and diminish the availability of vital natural resources.

Illegal logging caters to a booming international market for valuable hardwoods. Estimates suggest that up to 80% of logging activities in Brazil and 60% in Peru are illegal. This rampant exploitation translates to land grabs, deforestation, and the decimation of vital habitats - key drivers of biodiversity loss. While Latin America is home to 40% of the world's biodiversity, populations have declined rapidly by 89% since 1970.

Illegal mining operations leave a trail of toxic waste and polluted waterways in their wake. Illegal gold mining is a major concern, accounting for 86% in Venezuela, 80% in Colombia, and 70% in Ecuador. Small-scale, illegal gold mining is the second-largest source of global mercury pollution, releasing tons of mercury into Amazonian rivers and lakes each year. This contamination reaches levels up to 34 times above safe limits, posing a severe threat to aquatic ecosystems and ultimately reaching human populations through the food chain.

Deforestation and forest degradation driven by Eco-Mafia activities surged by 25% in the first half of 2020, significantly contributing to climate change emissions. The continuing loss of vital carbon sinks like the Amazon rainforest weakens the globe’s ability to mitigate climate change impacts, exacerbating extreme weather events.

Source: Vinícius Mendonça/Ibama - Wikimedia

The Environmental Security Landscape

Latin America faces a complex challenge in securing its environment. Peace, development, and security – the cornerstones of any nation – are under threat from the illicit activities of Eco-Mafias. Transnational organised crime thrives on diversification, and Eco-Mafias have capitalised on this trend, exploiting weaknesses in governance, particularly during local conflicts.

Latin America's political volatility and history of conflict create fertile ground for Eco-Mafia activities. Weak governance and instability provide a haven for these criminal groups to exploit natural resources with impunity. This highlights the critical role that combatting environmental crimes plays in preventing and resolving conflicts. Conflict zones, often riddled with corruption and influenced by powerful political and military figures, offer the most lucrative opportunities for Eco-Mafias.

The environmental crimes committed by Eco-Mafias carry a heavy price tag for peace, sustainable development, and security. When these groups operate in fragile regions marked by violence and instability, it presents a critical development challenge. The destruction of ecosystems and depletion of natural resources directly undermines efforts to alleviate poverty - a key socio-political issue across much of Latin America. The cycle becomes self-perpetuating; continued or renewed conflict fuels environmental crimes, further undermining development prospects.

Illegal mining also attracts a constellation of other criminal activities. Slave labour, forced prostitution, and human trafficking become entangled with environmental crimes creating opportunities for violent clashes with local communities who resist. The overall result is a devastating erosion of peace and human security in rural areas with limited governance.

The illicit revenue generated from the exploitation of natural resources is staggering, accounting for nearly 40% of conflict and terrorism financing globally. Even more alarming is the fact that environmental crimes contribute 64% of illicit and organised crime finances. In essence, Eco-Mafias not only promote environmental insecurity, but also pave the way for the emergence of other security threats, such as non-state armed groups and terrorist organisations that exploit environmental crimes for their own nefarious ends.


Latin America's fight for environmental security hinges on dismantling the complex web of Eco-Mafias. Their presence exacerbates existing vulnerabilities, jeopardising the region's pursuit of durable peace, sustainable development, and long-term security. A multi-pronged approach is essential, tackling not just the environmental damage they inflict, but also the underlying social, political, and economic drivers that fuel their activities.

International cooperation, strengthened environmental law enforcement, and investment in sustainable development initiatives offer a path forward. By breaking this destructive cycle, Latin America can achieve environmental security and safeguard its irreplaceable ecosystems for generations to come.

May 17, 2024No Comments

U.S. Ukraine Aid: A Part of a Larger Strategy

U.S. Ukraine aid needs to be part of a larger strategic vision that aims for Russian defeat in Ukraine. 

Author: Samuel Dempsey - USA Team

Four days after President Biden approved the $61 billion in military aid, on April 28, 2024, Ukraine received the first wave of anti-armor rockets, missiles, and 155-millimeter artillery shells. While Ukraine welcomed the needed U.S. aid, it came months late considering the on-the-ground requirements of the Armed Forces of Ukraine. As a result, much of this aid package is attempting to make up for lost time and reinforce the depleted defence supply chain.

In H.R.815 - Making emergency supplemental appropriations for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2024, and for other purposes, $23 billion of the aid supplement replenishes military stockpiles, enabling future U.S. military transfers to Ukraine; $14 billion is designated for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, which allows the DoD to buy advanced new weapon systems for Ukraine directly from U.S. defence contractors; $11 billion will fund current U.S. military operations in the region, and about $8 billion goes to non-military assistance through a loan to the Ukrainian government to cover basic operating costs. 

The supplement comes at a time when Russia is increasingly exerting pressure across the 600-mile front line. Ukrainian brigades are spread thin, with little time for recuperation or new training, and much of the aid, including separate packages from the U.K. and Germany, will take months to arrive to truly bolster Ukraine’s defences on the ground. 

As Jack Waltling, an expert in land warfare at RUSI, discussed in Foreign Affairs, at present Russia has a “ten-to-one advantage over Ukraine in available artillery,” and with the new U.S. aid package, this is projected to shrink to “three to one in some regions.” This is a substantial improvement, but he argues that current Western support has only come in time to “stave off a Ukrainian collapse.” As Eugene Rumer at the Carnegie Endowment observed, the calculations vehemently demonstrate that even with support from the U.S. and allies, “the size of Russia’s population, economy, stocks of military hardware, and defense-industrial base far exceeds those of Ukraine.” 

The new supplement's legislation acknowledges this reality and emphasizes the need to agree on a new multi-year support strategy "to hasten Ukrainian victory against Russia's invasion forces." This U.S. supplement is very likely the only piece of Ukraine aid that will be able to take effect before the next U.S. presidential election, and despite having aspirational goals for greater support, it has focused on buying more time. Given the possible change in U.S. administration and the confidence and firmness with which Russia is continuing this illegal invasion, even recently allegedly conducting an assassination attempt against President Zelenskyy, the question is: how does this supplement fit within a greater Ukraine strategy of the United States? 

U.S. Stated Goals  

The April 24 Ukraine supplement was the Biden administration's fifty-sixth allotment of DoD inventory equipment to Ukraine since August 2021. Post-Russian invasion, the Biden administration has stood behind Ukraine, with the official Department of State position being that the U.S. and allies are “united in support of Ukraine in response to Russia’s premeditated, unprovoked, and unjustified war against Ukraine.” The U.S. has demonstrated this by asserting that Kyiv will determine the war’s outcome. As Alexander Ward at Politico pointed out, this has resulted in a strategic misalignment, where the U.S. perceives its support as a means to either force Russia back or negotiate a settlement with Russia, while the Zelenskyy administration maintains that Ukraine will not relent until it reaches its pre-2014 borders, including Crimea. According to Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, "only Russia's defeat and the restoration of Ukraine's territorial integrity will guarantee stability and peace," and "the Black Sea must become a sea of NATO, peace, and stability."

After the recent U.S. supplement passed, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan stated that Ukraine throughout the rest of the year will have the capacity to “hold the line” and “to ensure Ukraine withstands the Russian assault,” with the chance to enable Ukraine in 2025 “to move forward to recapture the territory that the Russians have taken from them.” Concurrently, Avril D. Haines, the U.S. Director of National Intelligence, told Congress that, in addition to the anticipated Russian offensive this month, Russia has the means to break through the Eastern Ukrainian front lines. According to Director Haines’ statements, the current U.S. strategy may now come up short, and according to Sullivan’s statements, the U.S. strategy has postponed any possible Ukrainian counteroffensive to 2025. Even then, numerous analysts, including Olga Tokariuk at Chatham House, have stressed that any future Ukrainian military offensive or even the ability to maintain a stable frontline is contingent upon a “steady flow of Western military assistance,” including with approval from the White House. 

If the U.S., regardless of administration, wants to back Ukraine’s goal of the Black Sea being "a sea of NATO peace and stability," a clear articulation of its own political goals is required to ensure a sound strategic vision.

A U.S. Strategy for Ukrainian Victory and Russian Defeat   

“Russia can lose. And it should lose, for the sake of the world — and for its own sake,” wrote Timothy Snyder, a Levin Professor of History at Yale. Snyder, in his CNN opinion piece and while lecturing at the University Club of New York, articulated the four principal reasons for which a Russian defeat is necessary in Ukraine: (1) For an imperial power to restrain its imperial ambitions, defeat is necessarySnyder argued that the European project itself is only the result of lost imperial wars around the world after WWII. (2) If Russia wins, it not only affirms its imperial ambitions but also demonstrates to the rest of the world that imperial conquest is an option. (3) Historically, the most effective Western policy towards Russia is an effective U.S. policy towards Ukraine, i.e., supporting their self-determination and strategic objectives that align with Western values and systems has positive indirect impacts on developments in Russia. (4) Russia's history is replete with defeats; the Crimean War in 1856, the Russo-Japanese War in 1905, World War I in 1917, the Soviet Union's defeat by Poland in 1920, by Nazi Germany in 1945, and Afghanistan's decade-long invasion in 1979 are just a few examples. Snyder argues that in each case, Russia lost without existential risk.

In addition, Snyder emphasizes that Russia’s greatest successes in its invasion of Ukraine (still minor in total scale) occurred in the last six months when the U.S. “was delaying Ukraine aid rather than supplying it.” As Jack Waltling also emphasized, a Ukrainian defeat would also signal to Russia that it has and can defeat the West through prolonged exhaustion. 

To develop a cognizant and successful strategy towards Russia, the U.S. must first articulate the requirement of a Russian defeat in Ukraine.

Source: Image by MotionStudios from Pixabay

Strategic Steps to Russian Defeat

As Rob Lee, a senior fellow in the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s Eurasia Program, wrote over X, Ukraine’s three primary hurdles are: ammunition, manpower, and fortifications. Lee, alongside colleagues Michael Kofman and Dara Massicot, propose a strategy “premised on three central elements: hold, build, and strike.” The strategy and commentary do an excellent job of articulating how the Ukrainian Armed Forces can, in the face of Russia’s growing manpower, distribute and train current brigades, absorb Russian offensives, and create challenges for Russia “far behind the front lines.” 

Creating threats and challenges deeper behind the front lines is an immediate way in which the U.S. can support Ukraine’s ability to hold the front and fortify further. As Mark T. Kimmitt, the former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs, wrote, the U.S. and allies must loosen restrictions on military aid that inhibit cross-border attacks and prevent Ukraine from targeting Russia in the Black Sea. Loosening these restrictions will immediately add a new dimension to Russian risk, giving Ukrainians more space and time to develop a successful counter-offensive. Any alleviation of pressure from the front will provide the currently stagnant and exhausted Ukrainian brigades with the necessary resources for recuperation and training.

A key area of support could be a financing strategy that enhances Ukraine's ability to acquire munitions. Recent Ukraine aid legislation allows for the potential use of frozen Russian central bank assets for reconstruction efforts. Building on the Council of Europe proposal that references U.S. initiatives, the international community could explore the establishment of a multilateral legal mechanism to manage these assets. This mechanism could potentially provide compensation for reconstruction costs and free up Ukrainian resources for munitions procurement. Allies and partners hold approximately $300 billion in frozen Russian assets, with the U.S. holding at least $38 billion. Additionally, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has proposed a $100 billion fund for Ukraine's defenses, although this proposal faces internal opposition within the Alliance. Such a fund could facilitate greater coordination of security aid for Ukraine.

After the signing of Ukraine aid and in the lead-up to a challenging election, the Biden administration may be inclined to place Ukraine on the back burner of political communication. Yet, the discussion and growth of a larger Ukraine strategy must be articulated not only on the international stage but also communicated to the general American public. “It’s the president’s responsibility to make the case to the American people why Ukraine and our support matter. While he has done this a few times, the narrative has not been clear enough to most Americans,” said Alina Polyakova to Politico, president and CEO of the Center for European Policy Analysis. At the NATO Washington Summit this July, the U.S. has the opportunity to hone its strategic vision and make these initiatives a primary agenda while presenting its case to the American people as to why the United States should support Ukraine and ensure Russian defeat. Whether it's Trump or Biden in the Oval Office come January 2025, Ukraine will need assistance, and the American people will need to know why. 

May 13, 2024No Comments

Sweden, Finland, NATO and Arctic Exceptionalism — New Security Implications for the European High North ? 

Authors: Eline Stensen Gulliksen & Leif Niendorf  - UK & European Affairs Team

Security in the Arctic

In recent years, the topic of Arctic security has gained significant attention in both scholarly and empirical circles. The Arctic's strategic value is derived from its geography, natural resources, shipping lanes, scientific research potential, and geopolitical influence. However, managing the Arctic is a complex task, as illustrated by conflicting territorial claims made by several countries. As a result, cooperation between multiple states is essential to safeguard and develop the region. The Arctic Council, composed of eight sovereign nations – Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland, Denmark, Russia, the USA, and Canada – has been established to promote such collaboration. A shift has been seen in how Arctic security is perceived, as it has putatively moved from Arctic Exceptionalism to a more geopolitically induced fragile situation. The full-scale invasion of Ukraine by Russia influenced this shift, pushing Sweden and Finish into NATO membership due to increased security concerns. This could potentially strengthen the alliance’s  presence in the High North and alter the power balance in the Arctic creating increasing tension in the Arctic Council and beyond. 

The notion of "Arctic exceptionalism" delineates the distinct characteristics of politics in the Arctic Council and, more broadly, in the region. This concept aligns with the constructivist approach to international relations, which prioritizes mutual ideas, customs, and values. Essentially, the notion maintains that cooperation trumps competition in the Arctic, where a zero-sum game prevails. Nevertheless, the idea of Arctic exceptionalism has elicited scepticism among scholars who believe it isolates the Arctic from global security discussions.

The Arctic Council experienced a notable shift in dynamics in 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea, marking a significant departure from the formerly shared ideals, standards, and identities towards a more practical and geopolitical perspective on global affairs. This shift underscores how the Arctic, once viewed as a unique region, is now impacted by contemporary international security issues and how any disputes beyond the area could affect collaboration within it. Hence, the applicability of the notion of Arctic exceptionalism can be increasingly questioned.

Recent developments in the European High North 

In March 2024 and April 2023 respectively, Finland and Sweden as two Arctic states joined NATO in direct response to Russia’s unprovoked full-scale war in Ukraine. It lucidly displays the interconnectedness of regional and global security dynamics, since the abatement of Arctic exceptionalism can be analyzed holistically, but also twofold, namely in terms of inherently regional security challenges and in the shadows of overall geopolitical competition in which China too, amid a race for raw materials, plays a role.

However, in the Northern European and Arctic regions themselves their accession might considerably change security dynamics and strategic proportions since not only the Baltic Sea is now a “NATO inlet“, but also out of the eight Arctic riparian states seven — all except Russia — are now NATO members, rendering Arctic security on this analytical level increasingly bipolar. This is all the more true for the continental European subsection of the Arctic. 

The Arctic Council, interpretable as an institutionalised vehicle to uphold Arctic exceptionalism, is “absolutely not operating as normal“. After an initial full halt of cooperation, the seven resumed in the meanwhile to some cooperation without Russia. It can be conjectured that Finland’s and Sweden’s NATO membership further lowers the likelihood that it can return to its once-destined functionality (despite its disallowance to deal with military security). For scenario planners, even complete dissolution is on the table

Beyond that, Sweden and Finland discontinue being buffer states between Russia and NATO for the largest part in the European High North whilst their strategic value is not to be underestimated. Although they don’t border the Arctic Ocean, there is now a broad and direct linkage between it and the Baltic Sea. Possibilities of regional reinforcements and deterrence are strengthened hereby. It is not to forget that the Kola Peninsula a key location of Russian strategic assets borders the North-Eastern corner of Europe. As there is talk about a “Militarisation of Russian Polar Politics“, Finland and Sweden could prove immensely helpful for NATO to counter such developments and A2/AD (anti-access/area denial) abilities of Russia in the region through own deterrence by denial

Source: Foto von Joakim Honkasalo auf Unsplash

Both countries bring remarkable capabilities with them into the alliance — Finland primarily on land and Sweden in the air — enhancing NATO’s capabilities to operate in the High North. Since, for the first time in history, all Nordic countries are now formally gathered under one collective defence structure, these can now also be further increased with a lower threshold in compound with their neighbours and long-standing NATO members Denmark and Norway. Already existing cooperation, for example within NORDEFCO, could now be substantially extended with positive effects on NATO’s posture in the High North. 

The Swedish supreme commander moreover called for the establishment of a permanent military presence in the Arctic by his country. In the same vein, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg demanded to boost the alliance’s presence in the Arctic. With Sweden and Finland in, this experiences facilitation, also concerning exercises in hostile and cold environments. Russia’s confrontational behaviour in the meanwhile doesn’t suggest that it will simply swallow intensified NATO activity in the North European Arctic. 

All this is overtly not too compatible with the informal agreement about Arctic exceptionalism that this pristine region shall exclusively be used for unwarlike purposes. This is not to say that Sweden’s and Finland’s accession to NATO solely and already had been the death blow to it, but new layers of security have been added that in tendency complicate the preservation of Arctic exceptionalism. 


To summarize, Arctic exceptionalism is under threat. Both geopolitical and regional security dynamics could prove as challenging the notion of it. Sweden’s and Finland’s accession to NATO realistically impact the latter, especially in the European Arctic where NATO and Russia as adversaries are now drawn significantly closer to one another. The years we are in are possibly decisive for its endurance, which will be largely dependent on how NATO and Russia mutually evaluate their actions and their willingness to not sacrifice this unique part of the world to power games. 

Nevertheless, to separate the European High North and wider Arctic and geopolitical discourses runs the risk of drawing an incomplete picture. Although regional analysis can be meaningfully carried out, it shall never be forgotten that it is an excerpt of broader security dynamics. The Arctic is nothing different in that, posing thus also a conceptual challenge to the idea of Arctic exceptionalism. 

May 7, 2024No Comments

Expanding AANZFTA: Unlocking Trade and Investment Opportunities for a Better Future

Author: Dejvi Dedaj - South East Asia and Oceania team


AANZFTA - the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement - is proof of the dedication of its member countries to achieving more integrated and interconnected economies. Indeed, there still is a dialogue on the expansion of the AANZFTA to include new member countries or additional agreements with other regional blocs and individual nations in AANZFTA’s pursuit of broader economic benefits and regional stability. However, what are the consequences of extending AANZFTA’s coverage, particularly concerning  trade and investment possibilities and the promotion of sustainable development for participating countries?

Paving the Way for Regional Economic Advancement

Bringing new member states under the AANZFTA umbrella can generate new opportunities for growth and development in the region. The region becomes more dynamic as the trade and investment levels are maximised. Such market expansion allows businesses to extend their market and thus increases market demand, entrepreneurial spirit, and innovation. Accordingly, AANZFTA can benefit from each economy's strengths by admitting new members with varying potentials and resources. This would, in turn, create a more robust economic environment.

Additionally, AANZFTA could deepen its ties with other regional blocs and individual countries by entering into more bilateral or multilateral agreements, further strengthening its connection to global value chains. The expansion of AANZFTA could help the community members become more competitive in the world market by opening up their inputs, technologies, and distribution mechanisms. 

Fostering Economic Dynamism

AANZFTA enlargement would be the key to the advancement of trade, investment, and economic growth in the member countries. AANZFTA not only puts an end to tariffs and other non-tariff barriers but also reforms the regulations that are in place, which makes trade across borders more efficient. This results in increased exports and imports, as well as increased capital inflows, boosting in turn the whole region's economy as well as creating more jobs in the region.

Besides, through the widening scope of AANZFTA, member states can decrease their dependence on long-term partners by trading within new markets and diversifying their trade and investment portfolios. This diversification, on the other hand, not only shields the economy from external shocks but also leads to a more competitive and dynamic nature of business. Thus, AANZFTA, by providing broader market access and trade diversification, enables member countries to discover new options and handle global economic turbulence with greater confidence and agility.

Strengthening Regional Integration

The expansion of AANZFTA can also facilitate the regional integration of the participating countries. Through the harmonisation of trade and investment policies, the member states can gradually unify their economic relations, which in turn can strengthen cooperation and collaboration among them. Such an alignment boosts the collective bargaining power of member countries in international negotiations; hence, they can conclude better trade deals and investment agreements to the advantage of their economy.

Moreover, AANZFTA contributes to the creation of regional supply chains and the establishment of value-added production networks. This sets the ground for the most efficient allocation of resources and the transfer of technology and know-how across borders. Hence, industries can combine their strong suits and use complementary resources, culminating in further innovation and productivity growth. Accordingly, the promotion of a collaborative platform for knowledge sharing and joint technology transfer is conducive to the stimulation of economic growth and development in the region, ultimately resulting in the joint prosperity of all member countries.

Empowering SMEs 

Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) play a crucial role in economic growth and job creation across many economic systems. Nevertheless, SMEs, despite their centrality, frequently face severe difficulties that limit their ability to grow. Indeed, financial access barriers, market opportunity limitations and technical expertise shortage are some of the problems faced by SMEs on a regular basis. However, if the member countries rely on the various provisions within the AANZFTA framework to support the growth of SMEs, they will be creating a productive environment for such enterprises to thrive.

In particular, SMEs can be empowered by AANZFTA as it undertakes various administrative procedures, decreasing the level of red tape and simplifying legal requirements. These strategies, in return, save SMEs valuable time and resources which can then be directed to the SMEs’ core business activities, as well as to investments in innovation and expansion. Additionally, AANZFTA can be a vehicle for financial aid, such as credit facilities and venture capital, which are aimed at resolving financial constraints potentially encountered by SMEs. Financial aid constitutes another important source towards further investments in technology, infrastructure and human capital development.

Source: photo by @dead____artist (https://unsplash.com/photos/world-map-with-pins-TrhLCn1abMU)

Navigating Challenges 

Despite the numerous benefits that AANZFTA may bring about for the economic development and integration of the region, it also poses a set of challenges and considerations that require careful handling. Mainly, AANZFTA’s expansion may result in conflicting positions on issues that are sensitive and even vital to the member countries due to their differing interests and priorities. Indeed, every member state has unique economic goals, manufacturing needs or social issues that it will bring to the table. The desire to meet the needs of all these players will inevitably result in a lot of dialogue, compromises and consensus-building among the countries involved.

Furthermore, the process of accession of prospective new countries is not an easy feat. For instance, one of the most time-consuming and challenging tasks of the EU is concluding new agreements with the new member countries or the other regional blocs as negotiations necessarily pass through different legal, regulatory, and institutional frameworks. The task of bridging the gaps between different legal systems, regulatory standards and administrative procedures can be overwhelming and thus involves a high level of precision and efficient cooperation among all stakeholders. What is more, the condition that negotiations must adhere to AANZFTA’s international commitments and obligations whilst providing a platform for new participants to have their say renders the negotiation process even more complicated.

The expansion of AANZFTA may also pose problems for the less competitive sectors. The intensified market liberalisation and the increased competition from foreign firms in some circumstances may challenge local businesses, leading to possible job losses and disruptions in certain industries. Therefore, policymakers should take targeted measures that aim at lessening the potential negative impacts of trade liberalisation, such as providing financial assistance to the affected industries, workforce retraining programs, and social safety nets.

Lastly, the diverse regulatory regimes across member countries may create barriers to trade and investment, impeding the effective and successful compliance and enforcement of regulations. Accordingly, the institution of regulatory coherence through robust information exchange, capacity-building, and dispute-resolution mechanisms should be a key priority for existing AANZFTA members. Strengthening institutional frameworks and enhancing regulatory transparency could also address these challenges and facilitate smoother integration processes.


Overall, the enhancement of AANZFTA entails a great potential to make trade and investment flow easily, create regional integration and encourage inclusive development across the area. Through a wider scope of membership or the negotiation of more agreements with other regional blocs or individual countries, AANZFTA can establish a more vigorous and resilient economy which benefits all involved stakeholders. Accordingly, the challenges and opportunities that accompany the enlargement of AANZFTA should be jointly addressed to serve the region's well-being.