February 8, 2024No Comments

African narco-jihadism among al-Qaeda and Islamic State affiliates: waging a halal war by haram means

Author: Ilas Touazi - Africa Team

Introduction  

The interlinkages between international phenomena such as the illicit drug economy, transnational organised crime, conflict, and terrorism have become the absolute reality of globalisation and the complex interdependence that reflects its savage side. The spread of Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State, and their regional affiliates as key predatory actors in global governance through paradoxical guerrilla warfare using theological justifications and political fabrications to promote “narco-jihadism,” exploiting Haram  money for a Halal cause, makes Africa the new epicentre of the nexus between organised crime, narcotics, and terrorism's nebulae.

A triptych of terrorism, religion and organized crime: a marriage of carp and rabbit between haram and halal

In Islam, the main source of prohibitions and permissions comes from the Qurʾān. Thus, “Halal” means anything that is permitted or conforms to Islamic law with a set of rules concerning the adherents' principles of life and “Muslim morality.” It includes, among other things, nutritional standards that comply with Sharia law. Conversely, the concept of “haram” refers to matters that are unacceptable or illegal under Islamic law, i.e., all harmful chemical substances (toxins) that are dangerous to human life and health, as well as the consumption of narcotics and drugs are considered prohibited (Haram). While the involvement of al-Qaeda and Daesh in the dirty narcotics business is a heady cocktail under a triangle that combines politics, religion, and jihadist crusades, narcotics and terrorism have no religious hue.

Islamist terrorist groups have justified jihad as halal and part of the acts of “ijtihad” or martyrdom as a necessary religious duty carried out by the “muharribun” against the “kuffar” (infidels), thus constituting a halal and legitimate cause. Although the Qurʾān explicitly forbids the outbreak of war and authorises combat only against real aggressors, jihadist thinking has adapted to political realism, authorising wars of expansion, even using illegitimate means, i.e., Haram. Indeed, with the internationalisation of the jihad, previously focused on the “near enemy,” then towards the “far enemy,” described in the Islamic vision as the “home of war” (dar al-ḥarb), thus making it possible to wage an offensive jihad, using narcotics to spoil Western society with drugs and the ongoing use of mass production and distribution of illicit drugs, intrinsically contrary to Islam, as a pretext to advance religious and ideological objectives and justify the “holy” war against the West.African Jihadist terror-crime nexus spectrum: A cross-trigger-incubator cycle

African Jihadist terror-crime nexus spectrum: A cross-trigger-incubator cycle

“Narco-jihad” is the contradictory and absurd justification of acts of violence in the name of religion, fuelled by the revenues of the illegal drug trade, which consists of spoiling “infidel” Western forces with drugs and consolidating Islamic rule, not by faith but with a well-calculated guerrilla strategy, since the drug economy remains one of the main sources of funding for jihadist-matrix terrorism in Africa. The practice of narco money for jihad dates from the Islamist mujahideen” groups against the Soviet Union. As for post-modern jihad, the use of cryptocurrencies and bitcoin has overtaken traditional methods of transferring funds as part of “crypto-jihad.” Meanwhile, with globalisation, the end of the Cold War, and the “global war on terror,” the “terrorism-crime continuum” became a growing threat, forming an adaptive alliance to changing circumstances. On others, terrorist and organised crime groups used a dual “modus operandi” nexus, including logistics and material support, and protections under geographical “safe havens” deeply intertwined over “hybrid groups.”

Henceforth, African jihadi narcotics rely on religion, local conflicts, anti-western rhetoric, corruption of government officials, and the general feeling of injustice to gather support. However, the “black hole syndrome,” in which the convergence between terrorist nebulas and transnational organised crime groups is mainly occurring within Sahel’s “ungoverned space,” where a weak or failed state has created conditions ripe for jihadist actors connections, including Niger’s narco-networks to gain economic and political power. In so doing, a complex “glocal jihad” is emerging, linking local, national, regional, transnational, and global levels in a dialectical, blurred, and intertwined process that goes beyond local spatial realities, as applied by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in its strategy of geographical expansion in the Sahel with complex interconnections between smuggling networks and illegal arms and drug trafficking. In this respect, jihadist groups operating in West Africa have maintained their actions and even expanded, opportunistically and pragmatically resorting to various sources of funding, with the smuggling of drugs and narcotics, particularly cocaine and cannabis resin, playing a key role in the entrenchment of “narco-jihadist” activities in the Sahel region. Notably, Al-Mourabitoun and the Gourma Katiba focus on kidnapping for ransom and trafficking in drugs, arms, and transnational criminal activities.

Africa’s narco-jihadism landscape and trends: dual dynamics between hybridization and trans-nationalisation

The African threat landscape has consistently changed, and the narcotics routes are varied, with Guinea-Bissau as a key “narco-state” facilitating the flow of illegal narcotics, with drugs transiting through the Sahara, passing Jihadist zones, North Africa, and then on to Southern Europe. As a result, the east coast of Africa is becoming a hub for the international heroin trade networks and forms an integrated regional criminal economy with its long coastline providing landing sites and safe routes for Afghan heroin destined for markets in Europe and North America. Simultaneously, according to the UNODC World Drug Report 2023, Africa remains a key region for cocaine trafficking, mainly in West Africa, while North Africa is a central axis for the inter-regional smuggling of cannabis resin and cannabis. However, half of the pharmaceutical opioids seized worldwide between 2017 and 2021 were in Africa, largely due to the non-medical use of tramadol. This is why, more recently, tramadol has been a main aspect of “narco-jihadism” under an era of “low-cost terror”, including Captagon, which has become the “drug of Jihad” used initially by Islamic state fighters and militants of narco-terror groups in the Middle East region, also known as the “cocaine of the poor,” “ISIS’s drug,” and then spread through African jihadist operatives as war drugs and money laundering business.

Credit: https://greydynamics.com/cocaine-cashew-status-quo-in-africas-first-narco-state/

AfricaIndeed, the 2023 Global Terrorism Index report has heightened the relationship between terrorism and ecological threats under a vicious cycle of progressively greater asymmetrical challenges, mainly clustered in African regions. As such, the 2022 Ecological Threat Report (ETR) identified that most African countries have emerged as “hotspots” affected by climate change, terrorism, conflict, and crime, with the highest risk in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). However, African jihadist groups are moving more towards environmental terrorism, which encompasses not only wildlife crime but also smuggling and all kinds of activities, including the illegal taxation of natural resources, which accounts for 38% of conflict financing, drugs (28%), seizures and looting (26%), and money extorted from kidnappings for ransom (3%).While a study conducted in 2023 by UNODC has demonstrated that illicit financial flows (IFFs), including smuggling of migrants (SOM) and trafficking in persons (TIP), especially women and children, with the involvement of non-state armed groups and terrorist and violent extremist groups (VEGs), have cross-border implications through the west African region with Islamic state local affiliates,. 

The African franchises of al-Qaeda and the Islamic State: Narco-jihadism, a necessity that allows prohibitions 

Some areas of the African continent, have become a new global hotspot for narco-jihadist activities. Local VEGs, claiming inspiration from ideologies espoused by Al-Qaida or Daesh, reflect a “proto-state” version of governance that operates within a wider political economy characterised by “business models” with “Big Man” patron-client organisations or “warlords,” as Mokhtar Belmokhtar's nicknamed “Mister Marlboro,” using cigarette smuggling to finance AQIM and affiliated groups such as Ansar Al-Sharia. However, Jama'at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin  has engaged with illicit economies and tactical use of economic warfare through its involvement in post-modern razzias (or rezzous), which replaced the ancient caravan trade in the Sahel-Saharan belt with a criminal economy based on cannabis resin (hashish), then cocaine. Indeed, the narco-jihadism networks spread across ethnicities and tribes, namely with “black jihad,”exploited by Ansaroul Islam, building alliances with criminal gangs such as Lahmar and Tuareg traffickers and TilemsiArabs. In West Africa, the drug trade has fuelled the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP) and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA) with illicit trade networks, particularly synthetic opioids, and charges “transit taxes” to narcotics trafficking. However, Al-Shabaab militants have financial or operational links with the pirates. These close ties are referred to as the “sea jihad.” In fact, in December 2023, a new alliance was formed with Somali pirates operating off the coast, receiving 30% of all ransom proceeds.

Certainly, Al-Qaeda and Islamic State African affiliates have used the religious tax known in Islam as zakat as a source of legitimacy and religious authority, imposed on herders in the Sahel with the demand for cattle as payment for zakat, on the one hand in exchange for protection and on the other for financing jihadism. Although zakat in Islam is not explicitly given in exchange for services, it has been usurped by JNIM and the Islamic State-Sahel Province (ISSP) in the name of religion, becoming a coercive measure and a source of illegitimacy under the new guise of “cow jihad.”Meanwhile, Boko Haram has normalised gender-based violence as a strategy of terror with the commodification and militarization of women as sex slaves; this is built around some theological justifications that permit submission to men and the exploitation of women, including forms of slavery or human trafficking for sexual purposes. Whereas Islamic law considers human trafficking, including violence against women and children, drug trafficking, and smuggling, to be crimes of ta'zir.

Conclusions

The process of terrorist groups using religion to promote narcotics causes, particularly in the African continent, has become part of the postmodern jihadist landscape. That’s why counter-terrorism must be based first and foremost on an understanding of the patterns and modes of jihadist thought, as well as on a solid grasp of the intellectual matrices and theological foundations that represent an effective, preventive tool for building resilience in the face of violent extremism and mitigating the factors behind this globalized phenomenon. Hence, education and academic work in favour of the new moderate discourse are constants to expose their shortcomings and contradictions in the form of a soft approach that must accompany hard structural and operational counter-terrorism.

January 29, 2024No Comments

Lebanon: a story of crisis upon crisis

Authors: Sonia Martínez Girón (ITSS Executive Director) and Anna Lorenzini (Middle East Team)

(Photo by Christelle Hayek on Unsplash)

Introduction

Once known for its cultural richness and economic resilience, Lebanon is located in the Eastern Mediterranean Levant region with over five million inhabitants and no Head of State. The complex interplay of economic and political mismanagement, multiple corruption cases, lack of accountability, instability, unrest and poor freedom of expression do not bolster any sociopolitical or economic positive change to thwart the spiralling crises affecting the Lebanese people. Currently, around 80% of Lebanon’s population lives under the poverty threshold. 

Politics

Lebanon has been in a profound economic and political crisis since the banking system collapsed in 2019, damaging the currency, increasing poverty, and paralysing most of the country. Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s resignation in October 2019 triggered a series of unsuccessful attempts to form a new government. The ensuing political vacuum left Lebanon without a coherent leadership to address pressing economic challenges. External factors, including regional conflicts, have further complicated the political situation, hindering the formation of a government capable of steering the country out of crisis.

Lebanon's political landscape, characterised by a delicate sectarian balance, has been a source of strength and weakness. The confessional system, designed to distribute power among various religious communities, has often resulted in political gridlock, impeding effective governance. The parliament extended army commander Joseph Aoun's tenure last December to prevent a leadership vacuum. The army, which was rebuilt during the civil war, is viewed as essential to keep the country stable in the face of emergencies (e.g. an imminent border clash with Israel). Besides, the parliament prolonged the term of Lebanon's Internal Security Chief, a Sunni Muslim. Hence, the absence of a stable government capable of implementing crucial reforms has exacerbated the economic crisis. 

Uncertainty in its governance structure persists, with rising vacancies in key governance positions. While Lebanon's economic and institutional crisis weakens its international standing, numerous players remain involved in the Lebanese geopolitical scenario. The prolonged delay in electing a new president and increasing polarisation are not easing this knot. Despite reaching an agreement on maritime borders, tensions persist. In addition to the traditional tensions with Israel, the presence of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) in the south of the country has become contentious.

Tensions arose from a UN Security Council resolution in August 2022, allowing UNIFIL to act independently of local authorities, consequently altering the relations between UNIFIL and the Lebanese army. The Group of Five (formed by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, France, Qatar, and the United States) was created to facilitate the resolution of Lebanon's political crisis. Unluckily, in July 2023, the shortfall of results from their second meeting worsened the state of affairs. 

Economy

Lebanon’s fifteen-year-long civil war (1975–90) severely damaged this country’s economy. Due to its heavy dependence on banking and financial services since the conclusion of the civil war in 1990, along with the neglect of the agricultural and industrial sectors, Lebanon heavily relied on imports to fulfil the needs of its citizens. The Lebanese Central Bank subsidised wheat and fuel to make these commodities affordable, leading to significant challenges in the face of mounting public debt, a lack of economic reforms, and an increasing current account deficit.

In the early 2010s, Lebanon's economic issues worsened, and in 2019, widespread protests erupted against economic inequality, corruption, and poor public services, reaching a breaking point. A series of intertwined crises, starting with an economic downturn, followed by the impact of COVID-19, and culminating in the Beirut Port explosion, have severely impacted Lebanon. Besides, after the 2020 Port explosions, the lack of accountability has bolstered poverty in the country. Among these, the economic crisis has had the most substantial negative effect, with the Lebanese currency, the lira, experiencing a drastic depreciation of over 90% against the US dollar on the parallel market.

This configuration has resulted in hyperinflation, soaring prices of essential goods, and a sharp decline in the purchasing power of citizens, contributing to widespread business struggles, surging unemployment, and increased poverty rates. Indeed, the Lebanese currency's value has plummeted by over 95%. With the Central Bank depleting foreign reserves, discontinuing subsidies on crucial imports, and simultaneously witnessing a surge in electricity, water, and gas prices, essential utilities have become a luxury for many. A Human Rights Watch survey from November 2021 to January 2022 revealed that the median household income was only US$122, with 70% of households struggling to meet basic expenses. While the crisis affects the entire population, vulnerable groups such as women, children, migrant workers, refugees, and individuals with disabilities bear a disproportionate burden. 

The population sector that appears to be most vulnerable to unemployment includes the migrants from Syria and Palestine, the inhabitants of North Lebanon, the youth and the women.  Unemployment numbers have more than doubled since 2019. The unemployment level reached 29.6% in 2022. The Italian government estimated that 27.5% of people would be unemployed in 2023. 

The younger generation in Lebanon faces a dilemma, resulting in many choosing to either leave the nation or feel closed in. High rates of youth unemployment and the burden of debts incurred for university education in a system controlled by the corporate sector further discourage young people from envisioning a future within Lebanon. The youth is also experiencing significant challenges in pursuing their education degrees, as the country's universities have raised tuition costs to an unprecedented rate, prompting many students to abandon their studies. Youth unemployment rocketed to 47.8% in 2022. Current data on out-migration could look better for the economy. In a recent survey, 77% of Lebanese youth between 18 and 24 years indicated their wish to leave the country to find better opportunities elsewhere. Even those youngsters with jobs who are paid in dollars report feeling insecure

Source: D.Khamissy / UNHCR, 2012 (https://www.flickr.com/photos/eu_echo/7942068204)

Food Insecurity

Around 2 million people face food insecurity in Lebanon. Alas, the situation is expected to get worse in the upcoming months. According to the IPC predictions, it is expected to reach 2.26 million people by April. Specifically, the refugees are the most affected. Vis-à-vis the nearly thirteen-year conflict in Syria, Lebanon has hosted over 1.5 million refugees, maintaining one of the largest refugee populations. This was the first time that the IPC Acute Food Insecurity analysis included Palestine refugees in Lebanon and Palestine refugees from Syria. Currently, many people are dependent on food assistance in Lebanon. While aid keeps flowing into Lebanon, people's needs still escalate due to local and global turbulences.

As we have seen, the food crisis in this country is linked to several other critical topics. It is necessary to talk about the water crisis. Regarding water use in the Middle East, agriculture uses 85 per cent of the total fresh water. The poor water governance and the inefficient irrigation systems augment this country's water shortages. As if this was not enough, water pollution affects the quality of drinking water, agricultural production, and food safety.

Needless to say, water shortages have affected agriculture. Water scarcity resulted in poorer agricultural yields, making it more difficult for farmers to sustain their livelihoods. A recent study discovered that significant rural areas are experiencing decreased production, particularly in coastal locations where citrus fruits and olives are cultivated and at higher elevations where deciduous fruit trees are. Areas depending on irrigation systems in the Beqaa Valley, the country's primary agricultural region, are being harmed by increased groundwater stress and loss of water resources. Farming communities in these areas have already seen severe consequences, such as unreliable household food supply.

The ongoing agricultural crisis is a source of concern. Lebanon's prolonged neglect of the agriculture sector resulted in direct import reliance, which Lebanon still suffers today. Mainly, almost 80% of the food consumed in Lebanon is imported. First, agricultural labour has traditionally been precarious in Lebanon. Second, the high dependence on the agricultural labour of refugees has exacerbated the devaluation of farm workers. Third, more than 20 per cent of heads of households engaged in farming are highly vulnerable. Women farmers, marked by increased poverty, account for 9 per cent of the total farmers.

Over and above that, Lebanon's food resources are squandered due to several drivers. On the one hand, the multiple crises that have affected Lebanon since 2019 have damaged the food security status of its inhabitants. The national and local crises have a direct impact on food security. Referring back to the port incident, grain silos that were stored in the port were turned into rubble during the port blast in 2020, consequently boosting food insecurity in the region.

On the other hand, other global turmoils are impacting food security in Lebanon. To name a paradigmatic example, the Russo-Ukrainian War has added further pressure to the already exhausted Lebanese economy with rising food costs. In fact, 96% of the wheat consumed in Lebanon is imported from Ukraine and Russia. This configuration leads to considerable direct and indirect food price increases. Besides, due to the devaluation of the lira, food prices are currently increasing further. Indeed, food prices have surged by 332% since June 2021. Additionally, the WFP food aid cuts will not help this crisis. Unfortunately, poor water management and corruption add to this list. 

So far, there have been several responses to the food crisis. The first is the provision of aid to vulnerable groups. Since 2012, the World Food Programme has assisted Syrian refugees in Lebanon. Actually, 90% of Syrian refugees in Lebanon now find themselves living in conditions of extreme poverty. Since the crisis began in October 2019, food costs have increased 19 times. The Wheat Supply Emergency Response Project was the second response to this food crisis. Lebanon received a USD150 million loan from the World Bank, effectively sustaining wheat subsidies despite a rise in the exchange rate from USD/LBP 15,000 to 30,000 in October 2023. In May 2023, more availability and access to USD, more job possibilities, and a continuous supply of subsidised wheat helped ease access to food and other vital resources.

Additionally, the World Food Programme's Country Strategic Plan for 2023-2025 is a strategic contingency mechanism against financial system shocks. Since the situation has escalated along the Blue Line in the South of Lebanon, 462 Hectares of agricultural land have been burnt, and 300k animals have been killed, aggravating the food insecurity in this area. Furthermore, OCHA’s Humanitarian Country Team has provided water, meals and food parcels, nutritional supplements, cash assistance and health services.

Conclusion

Lebanon is witnessing an unprecedented crisis, intertwining economic challenges, political instability, and social upheaval. This has led to a severe economic downturn marked by currency depreciation, hyperinflation, and growing unemployment. Vulnerable populations bear a disproportionate burden, while political instability undermines effective governance and exacerbates economic issues. Lebanon's weakened international standing and the recent violence pose additional threats to recovery. Despite initial hopes for 2024, the outlook could be better. Lebanon stands at a critical juncture, requiring collaborative efforts for a sustainable and prosperous future. The increasingly tumultuous political scene that started escalating last Autumn does not contribute to improving the country's economic and food security. Although there was a glimpse of hope last year prompted by the responses to the food crisis, food insecurity persists in Lebanon.

The country's food security status is weak and in danger of worsening over time. Continuous work is needed to combat food insecurity and protect vulnerable groups (e.g. refugees). Violence, political and economic uncertainty, inflation, and discontinuing food aid do not hamper this crisis. These factors indicate that food insecurity will likely worsen in the upcoming months.

January 18, 2024No Comments

AI Regulatory Landscape in the US and the EU: Regulating the Unknown – AI, Cybersecurity, Space Group 

Author: Oleg Abdurashitov and Caterina Panzetti - AI, Cyber Security & Space Team

Among other things 2023 was a year of AI regulation in the EU, US and well beyond. The fundamental challenge that policymakers face in the case of AI is that, in essence, they are often dealing with the unknowns resulting from the complexity of the technology itself and the break-neck speed of its development and adoption. Given the incessant debate on whether AI poses an existential risk to humanity that needs to be addressed at the earlier stages or if such existential risks are merely a smoke screen to the far more urgent and practical implications of widespread AI deployment on privacy, copyright, human rights, labor market, setting the regulatory priorities appears to be challenging. Analyzing what the regulators in the US and Europe chose to focus on and how they framed AI regulatory doctrine may help to better understand not just their priorities but the differences in respective institutional, political and economic environments and approaches to dealing with the emerging technologies. 

United States 

Despite the existential threat narrative peddled by the largest industry players, including at the Senate hearings, thePresidential Order Order on the Safe, Secure, and Trustworthy Development and Use of Artificial Intelligence seems to be more grounded in the current reality when assessing AI's potential risks. While the act attempts to address several critical security issues - from AI-enabled cyber operations to the threat of WMD (Weapon of Mass Destruction) development - it can nonetheless be viewed as an effort to prepare the American economy and society for the age of AI use across the numerous (if not all) sectors. 

The Order’s approach is based on the unique strength of the US economy and governance model that heavily relies on the enormous capacity of the US tech sector, as well as on the diverse environment of the nation’s civil society, where educational institutions, think tanks, and the legal system all play a role in shaping and implementing regulations. Probably, the most critical aspect of the AI regulatory environment is that in the US the recent AI breakthroughs are funded by private capital as opposed to the state budgets like in China[1] or, largely, the EU[2]. This, on the one hand, allows the US to retain the competitive edge in the AI race, with the so-called  MAGMA[3] companies bearing a large share of the R&D costs in developing breakthrough commercial AI products. On the other, this puts the US government in a position where the sectoral regulation shall be balanced against the interests of the commercial players and enable, rather than control, the technology development and adoption.      

The Order implicitly acknowledges this complex interplay between the commercial interests, the interests of the state, and American society’s demands. Section 2 (Policy and Principles) in particular broadly outlines the many aspects of AI development - from safety to impact on the workforce - that need to be balanced against each other. Again, given the enormity of such a task, the Order is short on specific details - and when such details are given they often leave the question of whether it will be able to address the long-term security implications of AI development open. 

For instance, in Section 4 the Order puts the “dual-use foundation models” that may pose “a serious risk to security, national economic security, national public health or safety” under increased regulatory and technical scrutiny. The definition of such a model as the one containing “at least tens of billions of parameters” covers the leading large language models (LLMs) behind ChatGPT and Google Bard, with each having more than 100 billion parameters. The Order’s approach to regulating such powerful models relies largely on industry guidelines (such as the NIST AI Risk Management Framework[4]) developed in collaboration with the private sector players themselves complemented by a series of government-funded testbeds for risk assessment.

It is important to note, that while the commonly agreed approach to AI model training can be described as “greater is better”, there is evidence that the output of models with a far smaller number of parameters (1.5B to 2.7B) can be somewhat comparable to that of larger models[5]. Additionally, while larger models are generally controlled by specific entities, the open-source models (such as Meta’s Llama available in packages of 7B, 13B, and 70B parameters[6]) may be used by a far wider number of actors developing their own powerful models, potentially falling outside the regulatory scrutiny and export control measures. 

More so, the Order explicitly focuses on very large models as subject to regulatory restrictions, like “[a] model that was trained using a quantity of computing power greater than 1026 integer or floating-point operations”. That number, for instance, is significantly higher than the rumoured estimates for the most advanced model in the market today - OpenAI’s GPT-4 - which currently stands around 2.15 x 1025 FLOPs (floating point operations)[7]. If the field will sustain the current pace of innovation, this threshold may well be crossed shortly. However, there is so far little evidence that such models would indeed represent “potential capabilities that could be used in malicious cyber-enabled activity” since malicious cyber operations of today require far less computing power and the “cyber-enabled” definition may simply be too broad to have meaning in regulatory context.  

Of course, the proposed control regime for the large ‘dual-use models’ need not necessarily fully address the issue of AI-powered malicious activity as of today. Instead, the Order directs federal agencies to study the best practices and guidelines of the critical infrastructure sectors to manage “AI-specific cybersecurity risks” and “develop tools to evaluate AI capabilities to generate outputs that may represent nuclear, nonproliferation, biological, chemical, critical infrastructure, and energy-security threats or hazards” as well as assess the risks of AI usage in the critical infrastructure and government systems. From this point of view, the Order implicitly acknowledges the fact that AI models are already largely deployed both in the private and public sectors and calls for measures to discover and reduce the risks of such use. 

Notably, the US DoD’s Data, Analytics, and Artificial Intelligence Adoption Strategy[8], released months earlier in June 2023 prioritizes speed of deployment over careful risk assessment that the Presidential Order entails. To the military, the “[AI deployment] risks will be managed not by flawless forecasting, but by continuous deployment powered by campaigns of learning”. More so, the DoD calls for mitigation of policy barriers through consensus building and closer relations with vendors, as well as the AI community at large. Despite the risks of AI deployment being no less profound in the military sector than in civilian affairs, the US Government as a customer may well choose the speed of decision-making - and many other benefits that AI can potentially bring to warfighting - to a more careful and balanced approach. 

Source: https://www.pexels.com/photo/blue-bright-lights-373543/

EU AI Act

2021 has been marked by a race towards gaining normative authority in the field of Artificial Intelligence-enabled services. The European Union has been leading this chase by engaging in an omni comprehensive risk-oriented approach to AI regulation, providing for a broad regulatory framework to ensure securitization and protection of fundamental rights.

The Commission has indeed proposed a model founded on a decreasing scale of risk-based obligations to which providers will have to adhere to be able to continue conducting their business in the European Union, irrespective of their place of establishment[1]. Regarding the service providers which surpass the threshold of what the legislator has referred to as “high risk”, the AI Act imposes a ban upon them, and thus will not be allowed to distribute their services in the Union, as they are deemed to pose an unacceptable risk to the livelihood and safety of the users of such service. Just a tire under the said forbidden services, the providers which have been labelled as “high risk” will have to comply with the most burdensome obligations. Notably, the proposed regulation will not have any impact on AI systems implemented for military purposes.

The high-risk providers are identified with critical infrastructures which deeply affect the users’ daily lives, and which could potentially implement discriminatory or harmful practices. The non-exhaustive list comprises providers that supply technologies applied for transportation or employment purposes, migration management, administration of justice and law enforcement processes[2]. Providers of such services will be asked to supply, among other requirements, adequate risk assessments, and a high level of robustness and security to make sure that “AI systems are resilient against attempts to alter their use, behaviour, performance or compromise their security properties by malicious third parties exploiting the system’s vulnerabilities”[3], and detailed documentation providing all information necessary on the system and its purpose for authorities to assess its compliance[4]. Although the Parliament has included all biometric identification systems as high risk, Italy, Hungary and France have been pushing to implement a more lenient regime for the employment of biometric identification instruments for surveillance purposes. The result of this debate is to be seen at the moment of ratification of the Act.

Despite the praiseworthy effort of the European legislator in setting up standards which prioritize fundamental rights and security for its citizens, endorsed also by the setup of clear enforcement measures and fines directed to the misbehaving providers; it is pivotal to highlight some challenges that regulating AI will pose on future legislative attempts.

Firstly, the main area of concern regards the tug of war between maintaining a firm hold over high-risk service providers and, on the other hand, ensuring the smooth progress of AI innovation in the EU. We will likely be witnessing a certain degree of lobbying practices from what arguably represent the top-tier AI companies based in the US (mainly, META, OpenAI, Google, Deepmind etc.); hence watering down the original scope of the Act. This concern rapidly escalated to a concrete debate over the regulation of foundation models. “The foundation models, such as GPT-3.5 - the large language model that powers OpenAI’s ChatGPT-, are trained on vast amounts of data and are able to carry out a wide range of tasks in a number of use cases. They are some of the most powerful, valuable and potentially risky AI systems in existence”[5]. While the proposed Act was keen on firmly regulating foundation models, a trialogue was initiated between the German, Italian and French governments to loosen the grip over these providers by proposing a self-regulation system, and strongly criticising Brussels for over-regulating service providers’ conduct and hindering innovation in the Union[6]. The leaders of said countries also expressed deep concern about the possibility that smaller European-based companies will not be able to keep up with the obligations raised by the Act[7]. While the Parliament maintains a firm formal position over the impossibility of excluding the foundation models, it is apparent that this opposition could furthermore potentially trigger the stalemate of the legislative iter.

A second criticality was identified by the exclusion from the scope of the Act of AI instruments applied for military, national security and national defence purposes. Civil society organizations have indeed expressed major concern towards the possibility that technologies which would be theoretically labelled as posing an unacceptable risk could be implemented if they fall under the umbrella of the scope of defending national security, but, additionally, that dual-use technology could be employed without any regulatory restriction[8]

Finally, the Act faces issues regarding its coordination with the US Order. Albeit both legislative instruments are based on a risk-based approach, the Senate has been more hesitant to espouse the European hard line. As Alex Engler - associate in governance studies at The Brookings Institution- wrote for Stanford University: “There’s a growing disparity between the U.S. and the EU approach in regulating AI. The EU has moved forward on laws around data privacy, online platforms, and online e-commerce regulation, and more, while similar legislation is absent in the U.S”[9]. Furthermore, the US Order struggles to draw clear-cut enforcement measures against companies which happen to be in breach of their obligations, therefore it is clear that the priority of the American legislator lies mostly in maintaining international competitiveness[10]. Needless to say, the lack of homogeneous standards hinders physical and legal persons, the latter being obliged to change their operativity depending on the country of distribution of services. 

Despite the said shortcomings, the Act will hopefully be the Kickstarter of a broader strategy able to compensate for the strict approach adopted in the regulation, thus attracting investments and levelling the competition with the US.


[1] https://www.lawfaremedia.org/article/a-comparative-perspective-on-ai-regulation

[2] https://digital-strategy.ec.europa.eu/en/policies/regulatory-framework-ai

[3] https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX:52021PC0206

[4] Ibid.

[5] https://time.com/6338602/eu-ai-regulation-foundation-models/

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] https://www.stopkillerrobots.org/news/what-are-the-ai-act-and-the-council-of-europe-convention/

[9] https://hai.stanford.edu/news/analyzing-european-union-ai-act-what-works-what-needs-improvement

[10] https://www.oii.ox.ac.uk/news-events/the-eu-and-the-us-two-different-approaches-to-ai-governance/


[1] https://cset.georgetown.edu/article/in-out-of-china-financial-support-for-ai-development/

[2] https://digital-strategy.ec.europa.eu/en/policies/european-approach-artificial-intelligence

[3] https://twitter.com/ylecun/status/1662375684612685825?lang=en

[4] https://www.nist.gov/itl/ai-risk-management-framework

[5] https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/when-it-comes-to-ai-models-bigger-isnt-always-better/

[6] https://ai.meta.com/llama/

[7] https://hackernoon.com/the-next-era-of-ai-inside-the-breakthrough-gpt-4-model

[8] https://media.defense.gov/2023/Nov/02/2003333300/-1/-1/1/DOD_DATA_ANALYTICS_AI_ADOPTION_STRATEGY.PDF

January 10, 2024No Comments

Analysing the Maiden Year: An overview of the Foreign Policy of Giorgia Meloni’s Government 

Authors: Aline Blanchard, Christian Gaole, Jaohara Hatabi, Alessandro Macculi and Alberto Trame - Italy Team

Introduction

Italy’s geographical position, central with respect to the two narrow passages of Gibraltar and Suez, places its national ports in an important strategic crossroads which intersects the commercial traffic directed towards the Atlantic area (headed to the North and South American markets and the new energy and commercial frontiers of Central and West Africa), towards the Middle Eastern area (where the world’s largest usable fossil energy reserves in West Africa are located) and towards the European continental area, the industrial heart of the Union, where 40% of intra-community trade takes place by sea.

In this context, of preeminent interest for Italy is the so-called Mediterraneo Allargato (Enlarged Mediterranean), a region that from the Mediterranean Sea expands eastward towards the Black Sea, the Middle East and — via Suez — the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf, the Horn of Africa, the Indian Ocean and, to the west — through Gibraltar — towards the Gulf of Guinea. Such a geopolitical concept was already launched in the 1990s and then developed in relation to the progressive expansion of the geographical areas whose political and socio-economic dynamics are strategically linked to those of the Mediterranean Region. This is indeed a very large basin, rich of opportunities for the country’s commercial scopes, but also of threats that put Italy’s interests at risk.

From this perspective, Italy can aspire — due to its geographical position, culture and history, being in fact the link between Europe, Africa and the Near East — to be a natural referent for North African and Middle Eastern countries. At the same time, the country can be particularly relevant, also acting as an enabling partner of the European Union and NATO in the work of dialogue and cooperation with the coastal states.

Italy’s “New Look” tries to promote its role as a regional power with global influence, operating within the framework of NATO and the European Union. Following closely the policies of Mario Draghi, Meloni is holding a firm Atlanticist posture, while launching a new African strategy (the Mattei Plan) and also aiming to link the Mediterranean basin to the Indo-Pacific along the southern corridor, outside of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative.

Particularly relevant in that direction are the diplomatic missions of Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni to Algeria and Libya and the visits of Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani to Turkey, Tunisia, and Egypt. Italy seems to be regaining the initiative, especially in the Mediterranean, in an attempt to recoup at least part of the influence that was lost in the last 30 years in our strategic sphere in the so-called “Enlarged Mediterranean”.

The greatest commitment is posed to North Africa. Tajani’s missions to Turkey and Egypt tried to find a convergence to favour the stabilisation of Libya, and at the same time the Foreign Minister aimed to address the question of energy, given that Eni is the leading operator in the sector in the country, and that liquefied gas equivalent to 3 billion cubic metres is set to arrive to Italy from Egypt.

The visit to Tunisia, on the other hand, demonstrates the awareness and concern of the leaders of our diplomacy for the profound crisis that a country very close and connected to Italy is going through. In fact, a good part of the illegal migrants heading towards Italy leave from Tunisia, and at the same time, the Transmed gas pipeline passes through Tunisia and, via Algeria, brings the majority of imported methane to Italy.

Giorgia Meloni’s visit to Algiers follows those made by President Sergio Mattarella and former Prime Minister Mario Draghi. With 25 billion cubic metres of gas supplied in 2022, Algeria is by far Italy’s largest supplier, but historically it is also one of its most loyal allies. Italy supported the Algerian War of liberation, which began in 1954 and ended with independence in 1962. Algeria was not a colony, but a metropolitan territory of France, and Italian support for their struggle for independence has never been forgotten neither by the Algerians, who consider Enrico Mattei a national hero, nor by the French, who have always tried to recover influence over Algiers since then, and at the same time to limit Italy’s zone of influence in North Africa.

Meloni’s visit to Tripoli tries to mark an important trend reversal. The welcome reserved for the head of Italy’s government seems to point towards a precise choice by Abdulhamid Dabaiba’s government. The agreement signed by Eni and the Libyan National Oil Company is aimed at concluding a long struggle for the control and exploitation of Libyan energy resources, which saw mainly the French, Russians and Turks involved, in an attempt to drastically reduce Italy’s presence in the country.

Directing our analysis towards the Pacific area, we see that rumours have been circulating for months about Italy’s desire not to renew participation in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Finally, Farnesina delivered a note to Beijing to inform them of the long-awaited decision, i.e., the interruption of the renewal of the Memorandum of Understanding signed with China in 2019 by the Conte executive. A decision that the Chinese government expected and which should not generate harmful consequences, because at the moment China has to deal with many internal economic hitches, and for now it has accepted Rome’s promise to "develop and strengthen bilateral collaboration”.Therefore, Giorgia Meloni has turned the page, updating the new season of Italy’s international alliances inaugurated with her rise to government. Particularly relevant in this direction is the focus on India. Last March at the G20 held in New Delhi, Italy and India elevated their relations to the level of strategic partnership. In addition, Meloni met Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, and signed the Memorandum to join the India-Middle East-Europe economic corridor, a project defined by many as the anti-Chinese Silk Road, aimed at stimulating economic development between Europe and Asia through the Middle East.

A complex European coexistence: between the protection of national interests and the harmonisation with European policies

The victory of Giorgia Meloni’s Fratelli d’Italia (FdI, Brothers of Italy) in the autumn of 2022 and the subsequent formation of her government raised some concerns among international commentators, particularly within the European community, due to their known Euroscepticism. Criticism of the European project in Italy, especially among new centre-right parties, had been present since the 1990s. These parties adopted a "Euro-realist" approach, where Italy's national interests did not necessarily align with deeper European integration. Euroscepticism grew more pronounced during the Eurozone migration crises of the 2010s, particularly among populist parties which promoted a “sovereignist” narrative that portrayed the EU as an adversary. However, this narrative lost ground after Italy received significant funding through the NextGenerationEU program, in response to the Covid pandemic. As a result, the newly elected Italian government faced the important task of managing the rapidly evolving relations with Europe. 

Meloni’s approach to Europe is focused on advocating for Italy’s “national interests”, while also recognizing the importance of a collective European and Western stance. On this path, she underlined the need for an open and pragmatic dialogue within European institutions. However, holding aspirations to play a leading role in the context of European integration, the emphasis shifted to Italy's desire to regain its prominence in Europe and revitalise the system of European integration, with a particular focus on promoting the interests of its own people and creating a Europe of homelands.

After one year of Giorgia Meloni's government, some questions have arisen within Italy-EU relations. Rome is now faced with increasing difficulties in key areas such as migration and the economy. Meloni’s primary focus is on the external aspect of EU migration policies. Under her government, migration flows have increased, but Italy has not been successful in addressing its internal dimension. Instead, the EU seems to have shifted responsibility onto countries of origin and transit in a transactional manner. 

Italy’s economic policy is also facing some important constraints due to its limited fiscal flexibility. As a result, Italy has supported the creation of a European sovereign fund to drive an EU-wide industrial policy. However, there is some scepticism among member states, and Italy’s difficulty in spending the existing NextGenerationEU funds and the ongoing campaign for exemptions from EU deficit targets apparently weakens its negotiation position and bargaining power. Consequently, there is a genuine risk that the new Pact will fall short of Italian expectations and needs.

Source: https://www.governo.it/en/media/president-meloni-presentation-photoansa-2023/24558

Navigating the Complexities of Italian Migration Policies: Assessing Measures, Agreements, and Humanitarian Implications

Italy serves as the primary destination for migrants departing from Northern Africa in an attempt to reach Europe: in fact, the total number of irregular immigrants that have arrived in Italy from January 2023 up to the present date is 153407, as per the data published by the Italian Ministry of the Interior in its most recent bulletin on December 14th.

In response to the surge of the immigration wave, a series of measures has been sanctioned by Meloni’s government, encompassing heightened penalties for human traffickers, more stringent protocols for conferring humanitarian protection, and an increase in both the number of detention facilities and the duration of detention for rejected asylum-seekers, pending deportation. In this regard, between December 2022 and January 2023, the Italian government enacted two measures concerning the vessels of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) engaged in operations in the central Mediterranean aimed at aiding individuals in distress. The first measure involves the implementation of “distant ports”, mandating that NGO vessels disembark rescued individuals at ports located in central and northern Italy. The second measure is encapsulated in legislative decree no. 1/202345, which introduces novel regulations for NGO vessels engaged in Search and Rescue (SAR) operations for migrants. In particular, the decree requires that NGOs immediately carry out disembarkation following each rescue operation.

Lastly, another critical point of Meloni’s actions in terms of migration policies is directed towards memoranda with third countries, such as the Italy-Libya and the Italy-Tunisia Memorandum.

Following the endorsement of the Italy-Libya Memorandum and the adoption of the Malta Declaration by European Union leaders in February 2017, an expansive maritime region – the Libyan SAR zone – was established. Within this zone, the coordination of such operations is delegated to the Libyan Coast Guard. This operational framework has become associated with the interception of refugees and migrants at sea, leading to their compelled return to Libya. Additionally, Italy's advocacy for a memorandum with Tunisia aims to make it more difficult for individuals to reach Europe, to intensify the repatriation of Tunisian citizens without personalised risk assessments, and facilitate the repatriation of individuals of diverse nationalities to third countries, with EU support. 

In conclusion, Italy's evolving approach to migration under Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni reveals a multifaceted response to the complex challenges posed by increasing arrivals and international obligations. The surge in irregular immigrants, despite strict electoral promises, necessitated a series of measures aimed at deterrence and control. However, the effectiveness and alignment of these policies with humanitarian principles and legal norms remain matters of concern. The enactment of legislative decrees, the adjustments to asylum procedures and international memoranda underscore the intricate interplay between national and international factors in shaping migration governance.

Ultimately, Italy's migration policies demand a delicate balance between security concerns, humanitarian imperatives, and international collaboration. As the government navigates this intricate terrain, ongoing evaluation and adjustments are imperative to ensure the protection of human rights, adherence to legal standards, and a comprehensive response to the complexities of contemporary migration dynamics.

Towards new regional ambitions: the Mattei Plan

The Mattei Plan is part of a broader foreign policy program undertaken by the Meloni government to capitalise on the renewed interest in the energy issue triggered by the conflict in Ukraine and the resulting need to break free from severe reliance on Moscow. 

In this context, Italy proposes itself as the main energy hub between North African countries and Central Europe, an ambition made explicit by the newly elected Prime Minister since her inauguration address in October 2022. Since then, Giorgia Meloni has held several bilateral meetings with leaders of different North African countries. In January 2023 she went to Algeria, which she told to be ‘our most stable and long-standing partner in North Africa’, paving the way for an agreement between the Italian oil company ENI and Sonatrach, the Algerian-state oil company, to increase the export of Algerian gas to Italy and the construction of a new undersea electrical cable. A few weeks later, Meloni travelled to Tripoli to advocate an $8 billion gas deal between ENI and Libya's National Oil Corporation. Furthermore, ENI said it planned to increase investments in other African countries including the Republic of Congo, Angola, Mozambique, and Nigeria.

In doing so, Italy is trying to position itself as a key player in the implementation of a holistic approach to European cooperation with African countries. In a nutshell, the Mattei Plan serves to achieve one of the pivotal goals set by the Meloni government, that is, to project Italy into the limelight of the international community and to strengthen Rome's influence in international forums.

However, although the rhetoric of the main government party makes such aspirations seem pioneering and groundbreaking, the ambition to stand as a regional power, and guarantor of European and national interests in the Mediterranean, is nothing new for Italian politics. Nor is it a coincidence that the Italian plan for energy cooperation with North African countries is named after the man who most embodied this ambition in Italian republican history, Enrico Mattei. Certainly, recent decades have seen Italy's yearning for regional influence diminished, due to European integration and Italy's systematic inability to translate its geopolitical potential into political and economic assets. But now, the focus of the Meloni government on the central Mediterranean as Italy's main area of political action, at the expense of European institutions increasingly conceived as subsidiaries to Italian strategic interests, paves the way for new hegemonic claims.

The Italian reorientation in energy matters should not, however, be seen as a true revision of Italian foreign policy. Back in 2022 Mario Draghi, then Prime Minister, had in fact already opened the way for Algeria to become Italy's top energy supplier, thus replacing Moscow. In this sense, Meloni seems to be running along the same track as her predecessor, to whom we also owe Italy's strongly Atlanticist posture in the Russia-Ukraine war, which in turn has allowed Italy to enjoy the political legitimacy needed to act as a bulwark of European energy interests in Central Mediterranean.

Despite the Plan's great symbolic value, it remains still extremely vague in its objectives and, above all, in the definition of the tools to be used in order to achieve them. Moreover, the widespread political instability both in Algeria, suffering from deadlock, and in Libya, afflicted by civil war, casts some shadows over the Plan's future implementation.

Conclusion

Philosophically speaking, Giorgia Meloni can be viewed as a leader of a conservative government, but recently she has tried to make substantial compromises with both political sides within the Parliament. 

This political view (i.e., make compromises while maintaining the status quo) was first postulated by Burke, who, during the French Revolution, strongly criticised the attitude of the revolutionaries. Burke’s view opposed the will of the actors of the French Revolution – who wanted to destroy the State with the aim of building more organised and efficient institutions – and he was convinced that by only maintaining the status quo and by gradually introducing some novelties it was possible to preserve both the State and the institutions.

Whereas many foreign commentators may refer to Meloni as a conservative leader because of her political heritage, by looking at her from a British conservative angle we could try to change the perspective and position her more precisely in the political arena. The goal is to try to detach her conservative politics from the more common Italian vision and to study the phenomenon through different lenses.

In more realpolitik and pragmatist terms, Meloni, thanks to the Mattei Plan, has concretised the political action itself, one of the qualities that philosophers attribute to the homo politicus (in the Aristotelian idea, i.e., as part of the political arena due to his social nature). She made a change of paradigm: instead of changing the superstructure of the society (e.g, the credences and the schemes on which the society is based on), she introduced a change in the structure (i.e., behaviours and actions) so that the context changes, i.e., the antithesis of Feuerbach's thought. 

To conclude, according to Weber’s classification, one more thing to point out about Meloni’s leadership is that she gradually shifted from being perceived as a charismatic leader to being a more ordinary one, and that happened just because of her role. Therefore, the premiership is giving Meloni the occasion to base her leadership more on authority (i.e., the institutional legitimacy), and not only on the charisma that she possesses as a leader. 

January 4, 2024No Comments

The Arctic Race for Resources Amidst Climate Concerns

Authors: Miguel Jiménez Admetlla, Michele Mignogna, Dan Ziebarth - Political Economy, Development, & Energy Security Team

Introduction

Fight against global warming, on the one hand, and the necessity for exploring new sources of resources to feed renewable technologies, on the other hand, makes for an interesting paradox. Ongoing COP28, which is already a paradox as it takes place in the capital of one of the largest oil and gas producers, is regarded as one of the last chances to launch compelling measures to phase out fossil fuels for humanity to have a manageable future. According to NASA, the average global temperature on Earth has increased by at least 1.1º Celsius since 1880, not an optimistic trend if we consider the threshold set by the International Energy Agency at 1.5º Celsius to avoid catastrophic impacts on the global climate. 

A direct solution for this is accelerating the transition towards renewable sources so that emissions are drastically reduced and growth and development are not compromised. However, for this to occur, critical minerals, such as copper, nickel, aluminium, manganese, zinc, lithium, and cobalt, are needed in vast amounts. More specifically, the World Bankestimates that production for some of these metals will need to soar by 500% by 2050. Yet, for this to occur, untapped sources have to be considered. In this context, deep-sea and Arctic ice mining is increasingly becoming plausible.

In this context, the tradeoffs, at least those that are known, for accessing the endowments of the seabed cannot be overlooked. On the one hand, besides being a new source for resource extraction, this activity presents other advantages worth mentioning. For instance, moving the extraction offshore might relieve terrestrial ecosystems from the damage that conventional mining brings. Furthermore, the economic opportunities that may blossom are considerable. On the other hand, even though terrestrial mining might be slowed down, mining offshore carries its risks, such as habitat destruction, biodiversity loss, and disturbances to ecosystems that are poorly understood. Indeed, 38% of the carbon dioxide generated by humanity is stored in the deep ocean, and the breakdown of even a tiny fraction of the marine sediments it stores could exacerbate climate disruptions. These are solely the consequences of what is known, as 75% of the seabed remains unexplored, and only 1% of the deep ocean has been researched. 

In this current landscape, the Arctic has become a focal point of geopolitical competition, primarily due to its rich natural resources. Its vulnerability and crucial role in maintaining the current climate status quo make it an area of significant concern. In the following section, we will delve into the key international norms and behaviours exhibited by states that define this region.

Introduction to the Arctic

To understand the geopolitics of the Arctic and the accompanying “race for resources”, it is essential to consider relevant bodies and treaties governing this region. The Arctic Council is one of the integral bodies governing the Arctic. The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) is an equally crucial international convention for governance in the Arctic region. There are numerous other meaningful international agreements relating to the Arctic, ranging from climate change and environmental protection to the rights of indigenous peoples and issues related to waterways. 

The Arctic Council is an intergovernmental forum integral to policy-making and diplomacy in the Arctic region. The Arctic Council was formed in 1996, and its member states include Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the United States. There are also six permanent participants from Indigenous Populations, which include the Aleut International Association (AIA), the Arctic Athabaskan Council (AAC), the Gwich’in Council International (GCI), the Inuit Circumpolar Council (ICC), the Russian Association of Indigenous Peoples of the North (RAIPON), and the Saami Council. Additionally, there are thirty-eight international observers, comprising representatives from various states, intergovernmental and interparliamentary organizations, and non-governmental organizations. Their primary role involves engaging with and proposing projects in collaboration with the member states and/or permanent participants within the Arctic Council.

UNCLOS is a central international convention for the Arctic region and was adopted in 1982. It lays down a comprehensive regime of law and order in the world’s oceans and seas, establishing rules governing all uses of the oceans and their resources. All the Arctic states are parties to the Convention, except for the United States. Much of the discussion about the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) has centered on the United State’s refusal to ratify it, which, according to proponents of ratification, has left US interests unsecured in a rapidly warming and increasingly accessible Arctic.

Source: https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/10/13/arctic-competition-resources-governance-critical-minerals-shipping-climate-change-power-map/

The Loss of the Unknown

In recent years, it has become clear that countries seek the Arctic as an increasingly important area for accessing resources and a source of rising geopolitical tensions. In particular, mining and mineral extraction are becoming central issues of concern. Alongside this, attempts from rising powers such as China and India in the Arctic have raised new issues of competition and transnational relations in the region. 

Despite international calls for a global moratorium, Norway is looking to become the first country to start commercial deep-sea mining. This is particularly significant, as Norway is a member of the Arctic Council and a powerful political and economic actor in the Arctic region. Thirty-one countries have pledged to stop all deep-sea mining in the polar areas at the One Planet Polar Summit. In June 2023, the Norwegian parliament approved a deep-sea mining project to explore 280,000 square kilometres of seabed around the Svalbard archipelago, an area spanning into the Arctic region. This ambitious project aims to secure a strategic advantage in accessing new minerals and metals. However, it poses potential risks of adverse environmental impacts.

Geopolitically, the growing presence of Chinese exploration and enterprise in the Arctic has led to rising competition. In its 14th Five Year Plan, China plans to “participate in practical cooperation in the Arctic and build the “Polar Silk Road” (PSR). China established the PSR program in 2017 as part of the larger Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Simultaneously, India became a permanent observer of the Arctic Council in 2013 and has focused on developing an Arctic policy strategyto grow its regional influence. 

The Future of Arctic Resources

In exploring the future trajectory of geopolitics and resource competition in the Arctic, it’s crucial to anticipate two key factors. Firstly, the role of critical materials will significantly reshape economic and political rivalries. With the renewable energy transition becoming increasingly reliant on these minerals, heightened mining and exploration activities in the Arctic are inevitable. These minerals, pivotal in energy-related technologies like batteries, semiconductors, and solar panels, are abundant in the Arctic, making it a focal point for extraction. However, this resource race is not merely about economic gain—it’s influencing international political decisions and raising pressing environmental concerns, especially in the face of climate change’s impact on the region’s ecology. 

Secondly, the looming prospect of a multipolar geopolitical struggle implies that nations like China and potentially India seek more significant influence in the Arctic. This growing interest has repercussions for Arctic Council members’ actions and relationships with other global actors. The competition for control over vital waterways, notably the Northwest Passage, could escalate tensions among nations vying for supremacy in this strategically significant region.

These geopolitical dynamics, coupled with the relentless pursuit of critical minerals and economic opportunities in the Arctic, are poised to define the overarching “race for resources” on an international scale.

January 2, 2024No Comments

The fragile unity of Europe after the Russian invasion of Ukraine

Authors: Federico Alistair D'Alessio and Alessandro Spada - UK & European Affairs Team.

EU’s response

The European Union has firmly condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, calling for an immediate ceasefire, military withdrawal and the respect of Ukrainian independence and territorial integrity.

European institutions have repeatedly denounced Russia’s war crimes in Ukraine, especially the indiscriminate attacks towards civilian infrastructures, hence accusing Russia of violating international law. Member states have thus strengthened both individual and economic sanctions against Russia while providing Ukraine with military equipment, humanitarian aid and financial support. For fear of an expansion of the conflict, several European governments have also significantly increased their own military spending.

While the Kremlin’s actions were unanimously condemned, the EU approach was not warmly welcomed by everyone in the European community, including the unconditional military support for Ukraine.

Division within the EU

Three apparent factions have emerged. Northern and post-communist member states fiercely supported Ukraine in the war, fearing a Russian victory that would threaten their national security. Western European countries such as France, Germany and Spain insist on vigorous diplomatic efforts and have adopted a more cautious approach. Lastly, the third bloc is composed of those members who have refused to send weapons and have expressed a rather ambiguous stance on the war, such as Hungary and, to a lesser extent, Bulgaria.

Among the first group, the Baltic states and Poland have been the most loyal partners of Ukraine for obvious historical and geopolitical reasons.

Baltic states

The firm reaction of Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia did not come as a surprise, given their past experiences with invasions and annexations by the Kremlin. Their warnings on the threat posed by Russia in Central and Eastern Europe were mostly ignored or downplayed by their partners and accused of Russophobia by the Kremlin.

The Baltic States substantially increased their military spending and gradually abandoned their dependence on Russian energy after the 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea. Since the 2022 invasion, they have actively supported Kiev with military and humanitarian aid as they feel the fate of their nations is tightly linked to Ukraine.

They believe the only way to achieve peace is to help Ukraine win the war and force Russia back to its borders, as stated by Estonian PM Kaja Kallas. In addition, the Baltics have regularly called for stronger EU and NATO action, fearing that their allies would lose the momentum to stop Russia once and for all. As of December 2023, all three Baltic states rank in the top five GDP contributors of government support to Ukraine.

Poland 

Likewise, Poland declared not only full military, financial and humanitarian support for Ukraine, but also the intention of defeating Russia on all fronts as a way to achieve peace. Growing anti-Russian sentiment is evident among Poles, with a peak of 94% viewing Putin as a serious threat post-Ukraine invasion. This sharp rise has consequently brought to more positive attitudes (around 90%) towards the US, NATO and the EU.

In addition to welcoming over 3 million Ukrainian refugees, the Polish government has also mediated between Ukraine and the US, advocating for adequate protection and high-end military equipment. Moreover, their push for Ukraine's EU and NATO integration has significantly reduced EU criticism regarding the rule of law in Poland.

Nevertheless, recent grain embargo disputes have strained relations with Ukraine, leading to a Polish weapons supply halt and a potentially damaging impact on both nations.

United Kingdom

Despite the UK leaving the EU, it is crucial to also analyse the reaction of the British government given its historical role as a security guarantor in Europe. On November 16, 2023, Foreign Secretary David Cameron reaffirmed support for Ukraine against Putin's aggression. The UK, a leading supporter, provides significant military, humanitarian, and financial aid, ranking as the third-largest donor behind the US and Germany. It was the first to supply cruise missilesand depleted uranium munitions to Kyiv and additionally implemented a series of sanctions against Moscow. The British Government advocates for a shorter Ukraine's path to NATO membership by removing the need for a Membership Action Plan, as a result of the summit held in Vilnius last July. Furthermore, secret talks between UK officials and key Russian representatives have reportedly taken place, discussing security matters such as grain shortages and nuclear safety.

Source: Dusan_Cvetanovic / Pixabay 

France

While President Macron has supported Ukraine since the outbreak of the conflict, he has kept a more diplomatic stance in comparison to other European leaders. A few weeks before Russia's invasion, he attempted to dissuade Putin and emphasised avoiding humiliation for diplomatic solutions. During an April visit to China, Macron urged Xi Jinping for a mediation in favour of a return to the “negotiating table”. Despite fewer arms transfers (data from Sept. 26, 2022, to Nov. 30, 2023) to Ukraine compared to some NATO allies, France ultimately backs Ukraine's NATO accession to increase pressure on Russia and pave the way for post-war negotiations.

Germany

The full-scale invasion of Ukraine forced Germany to reassess its role in the world, shifting from "chequebook diplomacy" to increased military involvement. As the second-largest arms supplier (commitments Jan. 24, 2022, to Oct. 31, 2023) of Ukraine after the US, Germany has invested €100 billion in a military fund for modern weapons and committed to meeting NATO's 2% GDP defence spending target. Chancellor Olaf Scholz also encouraged China to use its influence to promote diplomatic solutions. Germany opposes immediate NATO membership for Ukraine, fearing direct conflict with Russia and citing unresolved border conflicts as a hindrance. Additionally, Germany is pushing for a reform plan where the conditions listed must be met in order to initiate a discussion on the membership.

Hungary

As previously mentioned, Hungary has condemned Russian aggression while adopting a questionable approach to dealing with the Kremlin.

Firstly, PM Viktor Orbán decided to abstain from sending military support to Kiev and even agreed on a new gas deal with Moscow a few months after the invasion started. In addition, state-controlled media outlets have continued to spread pro-Russian propaganda, including criticism against the sanctions imposed on Russia. Orban has also recently requested the EU to reassess their strategy in the war while threatening to halt all support to Ukraine.

This peculiar reaction to the Russian invasion reflects the local population as well. According to a recent poll, only 33% of Hungarians consider Russia a major military threat. Another vital figure to mention is the Hungarian perception of the US and Russia: only 17% believe the United States are an important partner, comparable to the 11% that think Russia is. This data openly displays how divergent Budapest’s attitude is from the rest of the EU.

Conclusion

The EU’s unified reaction was initially seen as an opportunity to create a new and common geopolitical strategy. Despite claims of unity, the EU is increasingly divided between those prioritising peace diplomatically and those insisting on justice achieved solely through a Russian military defeat.

This crisis has also exposed the union’s reliance on the US and NATO in terms of defence and intelligence. This is mainly due to the fact that the EU was conceived as a political and economic institution, rather than a military power. However, given that European cohesion has also emerged thanks to continuous information provided by Washington, this poses the risk of condemning Europe to political and military irrelevance. Historical security leaders, such as the UK and France, face several challenges - with Germany expected to play a pivotal role.

Moreover, debates on EU military independence versus complementarity with NATO face growing divisions among member states, evident in recent controversies and wavering support for Ukraine - such as the case of neighbouring Slovakia. The question remains whether the EU can establish an independent defence system amid increasing uncertainties.

December 22, 2023No Comments

Forging Futures: The Role of Transitional Justice and Victim Participation in Trials for Post-Conflict Ukraine

Author: Eleanora Takitzi - Russia Team

What Is Transitional Justice?

Justice for the victims of international crimes encompasses a crucial facet of post-conflict societies. Albeit its significance, justice for victims remains a highly elusive, subjective concept that amalgamates elements of both retributive and transitional justice. To explain, retributive justice represents the traditional punishment of the wrongdoer, whereas transitional justice focuses on the needs of the victims, thus prioritising reparations and the establishment of a truthful record of events. Particularly, reparations are a symbolic way of compensation for the suffering of the victims, taking either monetary or non-monetary forms by means of collective or moral reparations. On the other hand, truth establishment can be pursued through different avenues, ranging from truth commissions and forensic investigations to witness testimonies and formal apologies.

Arguably, retributive justice, in the form of legal accountability, comprises a pivotal aspect, with many victims expecting to see the wrongdoers punished for their crimes. However, in recent times, transitional justice frameworks, with a growing emphasis on the participation of victims in trials, have gained significant traction, largely spurred by the Ukraine-Russia conflict.  

Victim Participation in Trials: Why Is It Controversial?

Victim participation in trials is a relatively novel development in the field of international criminal law, originating in the French criminal procedure that permits victims to participate in trials as parties against the accused and claim reparations. Victim participation in trials, however, is frequently opposed due to the principle of equality of arms under international law, whereby the parties involved in a trial, namely the prosecution and defence, should be able to present their case under circumstances that do not place them in an unfavourable position against their opponent. If victims are allowed to participate as a third, separate party in direct opposition to the accused alongside the prosecutor, then the accused’s rights of the accused will undoubtedly be affected. 

Victim Participation in Trials: Why Is It Important for Post-Conflict Ukraine?

Despite the present contestations over the participation of victims in trials under international law, many experts have used their voices to explain the value of victim participation in equipping victims with a reparative effect. 

In particular, the establishment of truth is the cornerstone of the rule of law, with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights remarking that victims are entitled to “the full and complete truth as to the events that transpired”. Although the truth is objective, it is never one-sided; accordingly, adopting a pluralist approach whereby the victims are granted the possibility to hear the perpetrators exposing their own truth and narrating the events from their perspective establishes a fuller record of events. In turn, a (more) complete version of the truth can bring victims closer to healing and recuperation.

What is more, victim participation bestows on victims a platform where they can have their voice and suffering heard. Not only would such visibility empower victims, but also it would foster national reconciliation by affirming a sense of humanity in the highly technical and legalistic environment of trials.

Source: : https://unsplash.com/photos/woman-holding-sword-statue-during-daytime-DZpc4UY8ZtY

Lastly, reparations are powerful mechanisms to compensate for the harm and loss suffered by victims. As the former UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, explain, reparations are “arguably the most victim-centred justice mechanism available and the most significant means of making a difference in the lives of victims” (para 26). Indeed, reparations can contribute to the rebuilding of post-conflict societies, thus bolstering confidence in the state apparatus and leading to more durable peace.

Some Concluding Remarks

According to former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, states must “act both against perpetrators and on behalf of victims” (para 26). Judging from the manifest resoluteness of the international community to condemn Russia’s activities and hold culpable individuals accountable, the concept of transitional justice harbours the potential for practical deployment to the advantage of post-conflict Ukraine, despite legal reservations. The prospect of allowing victims to participate in the trials of individuals who have committed, authorised, or overseen atrocities on Ukrainian soil during the conflict would serve as a beacon of justice and empowerment for the victims. Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, the active involvement of victims in trials would send a powerful message against impunity, reiterating the commitment of the international arena to uphold legal accountability and achieve justice for the most aggrieved by the conflict, the victims. As the Victims Commissioner elucidates, “the time has come to re-conceptualise the status of victims so that they are seen as active participants from the point the crime is committed throughout the criminal justice process and beyond”.

December 13, 2023No Comments

Human rights protection towards the increasing need of critical raw materials: the EU’s challenge

Author: Simona Sagone - Human Rights Team

Introduction

Critical raw materials are crucial for achieving the goals of the green transition, but their supply chain poses challenges. In fact, materials such as gallium, lithium, boron, titanium, and cobalt are and will be necessary for constructing green technologies, including solar panels, batteries, electric vehicles, and wind turbines, respectively. At the same time, this high priority creates problems for their supply, leading to a dramatic increase in demand, precarious supply, and the risk of potential future shortages. The establishment of value chains, including the extraction, refining, and processing of these materials, is also a sensitive issue concerning human rights in the territories where these activities take place, making it necessary to balance different needs in these contexts[1].

In this sense, 2023 was a pivotal year for the EU: since the conflict in Ukraine started, it has become evident the EU's dependency on imports of raw materials for the climate transition and the importance of this supply in an increasingly complex and globalized environment. The European Union responded by proposing the Critical Raw Materials Act (CRMA), relying on bilateral Strategic Partnerships to ensure diversified and advantageous reciprocal supply terms, preventing new dependencies in the future. On this matter, the EU has already initiated political dialogues with several countries to create mutually beneficial agreements[2].

The EU’s supply: the Critical Raw Materials Act

According to the Critical Raw Materials Act, strategic partnerships should adapt to the features of the supplier country, especially if it has unstable governance, lacks protection of citizens' human rights, and has precarious sustainable development policies. The discrepancy in values is also a key issue in the supply of critical raw materials: although strategic partnerships with countries sharing similar values to the EU are the best way to secure access to them, they cover only a small part of the supply since many of the world's richest sources are in emerging markets and developing economies. Recent data indicate that supply is largely dependent on countries with a low level of governance, taking into account factors such as political stability, rule of law, and control of corruption. One example is the Democratic Republic of Congo, whose governance indicators rank among the lowest in the world and with whom the EU aims to conclude an agreement by the end of 2023. The country supplies 63% of the EU's cobalt, essential for the production of batteries for electric vehicles[3].

Many countries potentially supplying the EU raise concerns about the effects on local communities and the possible exploitation of natural resources, as they are not in line with European ideals. Theoretically, the same draft regulation stipulates that strategic EU projects to increase supply should be evaluated considering all aspects of sustainability, including respect for human and labor rights, and specifically, the rights of women and children. However, the mining, refining, and processing of minerals have a long track record of human rights abuses, taking various forms such as discrimination of vulnerable groups, lack of stakeholder inclusion and respect for indigenous peoples, human rights abuse, and impact on cultural and aesthetic resources. In addition to the mentioned issues, the mining sector in developing countries is characterized by a high degree of informality and small-scale/artisanal extraction.

Source: https://it.freepik.com/foto-gratuito/campi-di-parchi-eolici_20082585.htm#query=pale%20eoliche&position=7&from_view=search&track=ais&uuid=c5349af6-71bb-4c75-b4e3-81904f544971

Which risks for human rights?

To prevent human rights violations, the European Union must document potential risks to the human rights of indigenous populations and local communities, recognizing their right to free, informed, and consented mining operations. The growing awareness of human rights and environmental risks in mining approval processes has led to the proliferation of voluntary audit and certification initiatives. These initiatives aim to assess and certify businesses' respect for human rights and the environment by confirming adherence to voluntary standards. While some projects concentrate on auditing the sourcing practices of businesses that purchase raw materials, others perform on-the-ground audits of mines and other facilities in mineral supply chains. Several initiatives do both. The Critical Raw Materials Act relies on audits and certifications to determine whether new mining, refining, and other projects are sufficiently sustainable to warrant government support. However, research has shown that third-party audits have inherent limitations: voluntary initiatives frequently lack the detailed criteria and rigorous methodology required to accurately assess an organization's compliance with human rights or environmental standards[4]. This means that standards are often developed by mining companies and industrial groups and do not require adequate participation from labor unions, communities, or non-governmental organizations. Furthermore, as voluntary initiatives, many businesses do not reduce any kind of sustainability ratio[5].

In terms of the partnerships with resource-rich countries, these should be based on domestic business processes, supporting national production and transformation industries to add value at the local level. In this regard, it could be helpful to involve environmental organizations and human rights organisations as tools to track the effectiveness of strategic partnerships and assess their impact not only for the European Union but also for third-party countries.

Conclusion

In light of the different strategies that the EU intends to pursue in concluding and developing bilateral strategic partnerships, it is still unclear which policies can effectively ensure that extractive activities are in harmony with the sustainable development needs of partner countries. These needs are particularly felt in the creation of supply chains that entail significant environmental and human rights risks, especially in developing countries. Finally, it should be considered that the protection of human rights should be a key factor for a just climate transition.


[1] European Commission, Critical Raw Materials: ensuring secure and sustainable supply chains for EU's green and digital future, Brussels, 2023.

[2] European Commission, Proposal for a Regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council establishing a framework for ensuring a secure and sustainable supply of critical raw materials and amending Regulations (EU) 168/2013, (EU) 2018/858, 2018/1724 and (EU) 2019/1020, Brussels, 2023.

[3] https://it.euronews.com/my-europe/2023/09/28/lue-deve-chiudere-accordi-commerciali-per-le-materie-prime-dice-thierry-breton.

[4] https://asvis.it/notizie/2-17726/lestrazione-di-materie-prime-critiche-puo-diventare-sostenibile

[5] https://altreconomia.it/che-cosa-non-va-nella-strategia-europea-sulle-materie-prime-critiche/

December 11, 2023No Comments

Enhancing Economic Unity in Southeast Asia Through a Regional Payments System

Author: Dejvi Dedaj - South East Asia and Oceania Team

Introduction

Economic unity is a collaborative state whereby different entities, particularly states, work together as if they were a single economic unit, thus contributing to the overall economic stability and development of the states involved. Economic unity is typically pursued at the regional and international levels and can take different forms, ranging from economic, monetary, or customs unions, with notable examples being the European Union or the CARICOM Single Market & Economy. Economic unity can be achieved through different policies and mechanisms, such as the establishment of a shared market, the enactment of common trade or fiscal policies, or the adoption of regional payment systems. In particular, regional payment systems comprise international mechanisms aimed at facilitating payments between the citizens of the various participating countries. Traditionally, cross-border payments are slow and expensive to carry out; however, regional payment systems facilitate cross-border transactions and reduce collateral costs, such as currency exchange costs. 

The concept of economic unity is not unknown to the area of Southeast Asia; on the contrary, in 1967, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (‘ASEAN’) was established to promote economic unity between the participating countries. According to the ASEAN Charter, regional economic integration is pursued by advancing a market economy, adhering to trade rules as determined by different multilateral treaties or ASEAN itself, and eliminating all other existing barriers to economic integration. Recently, ASEAN made another step towards attaining economic integration by implementing a regional cross-border payments system that allows ASEAN citizens to pay in their local currency using a QR code. 

Why Should the Regional Payments System Adopted by ASEAN Be Celebrated?

The newly implemented regional payments system by ASEAN will be conducive to the growth of trade and commerce within Southeast Asia as it fosters seamless financial cross-border transactions, streamlines payment processes, and encourages economic cooperation among participating states. ASEAN's endeavour should also be expected to reduce transaction costs, cultivating a more advantageous environment for individuals and businesses alike operating within the Southeast Asian region. Additionally, such an initiative will empower entities to explore new opportunities, thus expanding their market reach and engaging in more diversified trade activities.

In addition, the adoption of QR code payments does not entail the imposition of fees on cardholders that wish to make a payment and offer better conversion rates, in contrast to traditional card-based payments. 

The adoption of the ASEAN regional payments system will also reduce ASEAN’s reliance on external currencies for cross-border transactions, particularly the US dollar. The so-called phenomenon of de-dollarisation, whereby states attempt to move away from the US dollar, is premised on concerns that the dominance of the US currency allows the US to exert significant pressure and influence on other countries, “holding them hostage”.

Source: https://unsplash.com/photos/round-gold-colored-coin-lot-9xJiXHkg-fo

Lastly, the benefits of the regional payments system for small and medium-sized enterprises should not be underestimated. Although access to the foreign exchange market has traditionally been challenging for such entities due to the high transaction costs relative to their small size, the regional payments system would enable small and medium-sized enterprises to see transaction and currency exchange costs reduced, thus facilitating their access to overseas exchange markets. 

What Are the Arguments Against the ASEAN Regional Payments System?

Importantly, several arguments against ASEAN’s initiative have been voiced to challenge its implementation. First, it is feared that economic integration within ASEAN will put pressure on certain currencies, most prominently the Singapore dollar, thus rendering it the de facto reserve currency of ASEAN. This could in turn weaken the purchasing power of other ASEAN currencies, resulting in “higher imported inflation if central banks [do not] intervene”.

Second, the new regional payments system may present novel security and fraud issues, requiring banks to implement strong measures to effectively respond to such risks. Soft security policies are known to catch the attention of hackers who can use such policies to their advantage to benefit financially, thus causing the banks, and by extension the consumers, at the receiving end to incur hefty, and sometimes irretrievable, losses. 

Third, as a novel model, the regional payments system will necessarily involve the education of the public to ensure the success of the policy. However, educating the public can be a time-consuming process, requiring the devotion of significant resources to the cause and potentially delaying the successful rollout or implementation of the system. 

December 4, 2023No Comments

The connection between the Latin Kings “Chicago” in Milan and organized crime in Ecuador

Author: Giovanni Giacalone - Latin America Team

In mid-November 2023, the Italian State Police arrested two Ecuadorean citizens in Milan, both accused of armed aggression, about a fight that broke out on July 9th between two different Latin American groups outside a disco club in Sesto San Giovanni, a commune in the northern part of Milan’s metropolitan area.

The victim, a 20-year-old Peruvian citizen, was attacked with a machete, receiving blows to the shoulders and the chest; one of these strikes nearly hit his heart. The individual was hospitalized in critical condition at Niguarda Hospital only to be discharged days later with a prognosis of 90 days. Two other individuals who were accompanying him were also beaten with punches and kicks.

The two arrested attackers, both 23 years of age and Ecuadorian citizens, were identified as belonging to the "Chicago" Latin Kings gang.

The Sesto San Giovanni area has long been the scene of activity for this gang; it is no coincidence that last April an operation by the State Police, coordinated by the Milan Prosecutor's Office, led to the arrest of nine members of the Latin Kings Chicago, all aged between 20 and 36 (four Ecuadorian citizens, three Peruvians, one Salvadoran and one Argentinian), who have been accused of criminal conspiracy, attempted murder, personal injury, affray, damage, aggravated theft and dangerous throwing of objects.

The operation developed following investigations regarding an attack that occurred on 5 March 2022, in front of a well-known Sesto S.G. food stand in via Chiese, against the former leader of the rival gang MS13, known as “Kamikaze”; on that occasion, the Latin Kings had punched the victim, hit him with empty beer bottles and with a machete, severely wounding his hand.

The same members of the Latin Kings were also responsible for two fights that occurred on 30 April 2022 in a park in the Brenta hood and via Avezzana, both in Milan (including the theft of an electric scooter during the brawl) and on 30 June 2022 in Assago. Two of the fights were against MS13 members.

Furthermore, on the morning of November 6, 2022, some members of the same group attacked a group of Latin Americans not linked to any gang who were standing outside the "Caffe Glamour" nightclub in via Stamira d'Ancona. One of them was also repeatedly hit with a stone in the chest, back of the head and forehead while he was on the ground, and was consequently hospitalized with head trauma and several fractures.

At the beginning of October 2023, the nine detained Latin Kings Chicago members received their prison sentences: Milan’s Latin Kings leader, 35-year-old Kleber Miguel Cortez Cortez, alias “Cao”, was sentenced to two years of prison; 27-year-old Peruvian Jhonny Farfan Chavez, alias “Don”, leader of the “clique” of Cologno Monzese, was sentenced to 3 years.

The highest sentence, 3 years and 4 months, was inflicted on the 25-year-old Ecuadorian citizen Isaac Giovanny Velez Garcia, alias "Chukino", the main perpetrator of the attack outside the "Caffe Glamour". Five other Latin Kings members were placed in the house, while a sixth one was acquitted.

However, the most interesting aspect of the case concerns a phone interception dated May 15, 2022, between the leader of the Latin Kings Chicago of Milan, "Cao", and one of his compatriots where reference is made to the murder of the former Latin Kings Chicago leader in Ecuador, Manuel Zuniga “Majestic”, killed in an ambush in Quito on May 14, 2022. During the conversation, Cao stated that a member of their gang carried out the murder, boasting that the ambush took place at 7 AM and he received the photos of the murder scene, on his cell phone, ten minutes after it took place.

Source: By Albert Mestre, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=9500206

Cao then referred to a blood feud within the Latin Kings in Ecuador, explaining to his interlocutor that the gang was divided, that a few months earlier the other faction had killed one of their "Incas" (chief) and therefore they retaliated: "an Inca for an Inca." Cao went further and also explained that, according to rumours coming from Ecuador, it was another leader of the same Latin Kings "Chicago", referred to as "El Diablo", alias of Carlos Manuel Macias Saverio, who killed Majestic. Cao then stated that "Majestic was in charge of the Latin Kings, but the one who called the shots was El Diablo". Cao also speculated that Diablo could become the next target as the blood feud moves ahead.

“El Diablo” Carlos Manuel Macias Saverio is a heavy name in Ecuadorean organized crime, indicated by a member of his gang (alias “Junior”), in an interview with the British newspaper Daily Mail, as the point man in Ecuador for an organization of Albanian narcos led by drug lord Dritan Rexhepi. According to the Daily Mail investigation, the cocaine is loaded onto ships in the port of Guayaquil and then shipped to the European ports of Rotterdam and Antwerp.

Rexhepi was a long-time fugitive and was wanted by the Belgian, Albanian and Italian authorities as he had escaped in 2011 from Voghera prison where he was serving a sentence for attempted murder. In November 2023, Rexhepi was detected and arrested in Turkey. 

Among other things, it should be highlighted that although Rexhepi had been arrested in Ecuador in 2015, he continued to manage trafficking from the Latacunga penitentiary, putting himself at the head of the Albanian "Kompania Bello" cartel.

In November 2021, Ecuadorean judicial authorities granted Rexhepi probation despite the serious crimes for which he was being detained, and the drug lord quickly disappeared.

In the summer of 2023, Ecuadorean media sources speculated that Rexhepi was hiding in a luxurious neighbourhood not far from the port of Guayaquil, but then in November, he was arrested in Turkey.

In the meantime, the whereabouts of Carlos Manuel Macias Saverio “Diablo” are still unknown. According to Ecuadorean sources, the individual controls the drug business in the Duràn area, east of Guayaquil. He is wanted for murder, and in 2014 he was also sentenced to 2 years and 4 months for drug trafficking and illegal possession of weapons.