July 3, 2022No Comments

Amazonia: A strategic territory for Human Trafficking and illegal mining

Authors: Beatrice Tommasi and Marta Pace.

The Event

On June 5, in the municipality of Atalaia do Norte located in the state of Amazonas, two people disappeared: namely, Bruno Pereira, the indigenous activist member of the non-governmental organization Coordenação da Organização Indígena União dos Povos Indígenas do Vale do Javari (UNIVAJA), and Dom Phillips, an English journalist and contributor to The Guardian. According to UNIVAJA and the Observatory of Human Rights of Isolated Indigenous Peoples and Recent Contact (OPI), the last registration of the two occurred on June 5 in the morning while they were travelling on a small boat between the community of São Rafael and the town of Atalaia do Norte. After ten days of search and the involvement of the army, navy, and police, on June 16, the bodies of Phillips and Pereira were found. 

Image Source: https://pixabay.com/photos/fire-forest-fire-children-fear-4429478/

The double world of the Amazon

These killings do not seem to be an accident and unveil serious security issues in the region. The concerned area is the far west of the Amazonas and condenses serious conflicts, both from a social and an environmental point of view. On one side, the area hosts the largest number of indigenous people in voluntary isolation in the world. On the other side, it is a strategic region for drug trafficking, and it is crossed by an international cocaine transit route which goes from Peru to distribute in Brazil, Europe and Africa. Moreover, the already tense situation in the region is worsened by the presence of illegal loggers and fishermen whose activities are profoundly altering the ecosystem of the Amazon rainforest.  

All these activities in the region, carried out mainly within the Indigenous Land Vale do Javari, witness the inability and omission of the bodies responsible for the inspection and protection of indigenous territories. As a result, this power vacuum is filled by the presence of the main criminal organizations, who diversify their activities and cause an increase in violent actions against and murders of those who oppose their main interests in the region. According to a study conducted by Mato Grosso do Sul prosecutor Ricardo Pael Ardengui on the impact of transnational organized crime on indigenous communities, environmental crimes - typical of the entire Amazon - have become another mean of profit for organized crime, which has consolidated the drug trafficking route through the Amazon. In this regard, it is worthy to mention that in the last few years, Amazonia has seen a sharp increase in crimes involving drug trafficking, deforestation, and broader violence against indigenous peoples. 

The growing action of criminal groups is the result of the fact that the Brazilian state lacks a compact and effective strategy aimed at fighting deforestation and drug trafficking activities. Indeed, institutions have failed in preventing the spread of criminal organizations, which are now active on various fronts: from the environmental one with massive deforestation, to the paramilitary one with kidnapping and political assassinations. Initially, the criminal activities of the various factions of the region were aimed at using the territory to create new routes for the drug trade, and environmental crimes were used to open new transit areas and alternative routes. Nowadays, the illegal exploitation of forest resources, such as gold and wood, takes place to expand the profits of organized crime. 

Criminal organizations

Criminal activities in the area see the participation of various factions and organizations. Initially, the Primeiro Comando da Capital (PCC) - a criminal organization founded in 1993 by inmates in the prison of Taubaté (São Paulo) - clashed with the Família do Norte in Amazonas - another organized crime faction present in the region, resulting in a bloody struggle for the control of the region. In recent years, the PCC has consolidated its control over the area by maintaining close alliances with other criminal organizations, such as the Guardioes do Estado and the Amigo dos Amigos, and expanding internationally through the creation of new partnerships with other Latin American criminal groups. Moreover, the fact that they act at the Triple Frontier - a tri-border area along the junction of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay - has given crime a more entrepreneurial and broader vision, favoring timber smuggling and mining. Within the Amazon, particularly the Atalaia region, there is also the presence of other criminal groups resulting from the break-up of the Família do Norte, the PCC and Bolivian and Peruvian drug trafficking organizations. Consequently, all these conflicts threaten the right and the choice of various groups and ethnicities of having non-contact with the non-indigenous and even indigenous populations of the Javari Valley. 

Conclusion

Furthermore, this threat has been exacerbated by the rise of evangelical churches and the interest of missionaries in evangelizing isolated indigenous people.  It was reinforced by the Bolsonaro government's appointment in 2020 of the pastor, anthropologist and former missionary Ricardo Lopes Dias in the position of coordinator of General Coordination of Isolated and Recently  Contacted Indigenous Peoples at FUNAI (Fundação Nacional do Índio), a Brazilian governmental protection agency for Amerindian interests and culture. It was this appointment that replaced the indigenous activist Bruno Pereira, defender of the right of indigenous people to remain isolated. At the time, a group of 14 indigenous people denounced the dismissal of Bruno, one of FUNAI’s most experienced members concerning isolated peoples. This fact was already a harbinger of the deep problems in protecting these peoples by the Brazilian government headed by President Bolsonaro.  

July 3, 2022No Comments

Food Uncertainty: The overlooked consequences of Putin’s actions

Author: Miguel Jiménez.

In this increasing globalized world interdependencies are strengthened, and countries become very import-dependent to satisfy its citizens’ daily needs. Obviously, some of these needs are more important than others. For instance, the achievement of food security is one of them and it represents one of the biggest challenges of our time. Developing countries suffer from illness the most, and this issue is often overlooked. Climate change and Covid 19 have made this goal even more unreachable by disrupting supply chains and fostering autarky. The current invasion is the cherry on top as it has closed down a major stream of food imports from low-income countries.

Beyond the Two Main Actors

June 24th marks the 4th month of Russian invasion in Ukraine. Roughly 120 days of ongoing humanitarian crisis which have resulted in the death of 4,266 civilians and the displacement of millions to neighboring countries. Negative economic effects have been even more immediate, with the markets of several sectors plummeting. The biggest toll is undoubtedly being suffered by Ukraine and Russia. According to the IMF, by the end of 2022, the former is expected to suffer a severed doble digit drop in GDP and the latter a large contraction.

However, besides the negative effects that the invader and the invaded are suffering, as well as the energy crisis especially striking Europe, the interruption in the supply and markets of crops due to the invasion may result in a major threat to food security in the developing world. Disruptions in the global food supply are not a new phenomenon. Between 2002 and 2008, the nominal price of food doubled as a result of droughts in food-exporting countries, food export bans and high energy prices. Nevertheless, current disruptions are unprecedented if the destructive impact of the invasion is coupled with other hunger-drivers such as COVID 19’s long-lasting effects and the devastating escalation of climate shocks.

To put it into context, Russia and Ukraine are agricultural production powerhouses. Together, they supply 12% of the world’s traded calories, mainly composed of wheat, barley, maize and sunflower oil. Yet, when one analyses the share that this represents in some of the importing countries, the strong dependence of the developing world comes to the surface.  According to the FAO, 26 countries depend on Russia and Ukraine for at least 50 percent of their wheat imports

The Enemies of Trade

These agriculture-market disruptions are caused by two major factors. Firstly, in order to erode the resistance put up by Ukrainians, Russia has been targeting all aspects of Ukraine’s agriculture with the intention of crippling a major source of the country’s income. Secondly, aside from hindering production, harvested crops have few ways of reaching offshore as Russia set a naval blockade in one of the main trading routes, the Black Sea.  Thus, by March, record highs in the food market were reached, more concretely, in the FAO’s Cereal Price Index, Vegetable Oil Price Index and Meat Price Index

Seeking for alternative producers would be the most coherent move by countries in need, as we are currently seeing with the restructuring of the energy trade. There are certainly alternative producers which under “normal circumstances” could step up and take care of the lack of supply. However, to make matters worse, offsetting production shortages and the disrupted supply channels is prevented by two major factors.

 On the one hand, the effects of climate change are becoming a major barrier for stable crop production. For instance, the delayed rains in China and extreme temperatures in India, largest and second largest wheat producers in the world respectively, are sapping yields in breadbaskets. On the other hand, rising inflationary pressures, aggravated by the economic sanctions implemented to punish the invasor, have limited fertilizer exports from Russia and Belarus, inhibiting western farmers to boost productivity and capitalize on higher global prices.

From Coup d’ État to Devastating Famines

The mismatch between supply and demand is likely to extend to middle-income countries as well. The deployment of unprecedented fiscal packages during the pandemics to ensure a social safety net exhausted middle-income countries’ savings making them exceptionally poorly placed to cope with increased food insecurity. The combination of these factors created a weak balance which has been tilted by the invasion, resulting in civil unrest and devastating famines that are just starting.

Analysts are drawing parallels with the Arab spring revolts. Precisely one of the triggers for the outbreak of the coup d’état back in 2011 was attributed to high food prices. Currently, this factor has ultimately ousted Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan, incentivized the rise of deadly protests in Peru, and increased the likelihood of civil unrest by the end of the year in countries such as Philippines, Argentina and Tunisia

Nevertheless, these consequences are mild relative to the massive famines that this invasion is causing and can cause in low-income countries.  Food insecurity is a recurring trend in those parts of the world, and poor households tend to spend more of their budget on food. For instance, a sub-Saharan household spends up to 40% of their income in food. Therefore, a slight increase in such inelastic goods translates into a major shock for the household income. According to the FAO, food insecurity will worsen throughout this year in 20 “hunger hotspots and are in need of urgent humanitarian actions. Hunger hotspots stand for places where hunger is most severe. These countries tend to carry the burden of ongoing religious or ethnic-prone domestic conflicts as well. South Sudan, Nigeria and Ethiopia are perhaps the best examples of this perfect storm.

How do We Bring Back the Balance?

With this devastating scenario ahead, what is to be done to reestablish food supply chains and resume production? Attempting to restore damaged crops in highly disputed areas  appears to be an impossible task for the time being, if we consider that the Ukrainian government forecasted the invasion to last until winter. The end of the war would not make the Black sea route viable in months either, as Ukraine has defended its coastline with mines and strategically sunk ships. What’s worse, reinforcing the creation of alternative trade routes does not seem viable as Ukraine’s rail system is wider than the EU’s, meaning loads would have to be switched to different wagons. Furthermore, grain wouldn’t even be reaching the places where it is needed most. These factors lead to the conclusion that the short-term solution for avoiding unprecedented famines ought to be outside of Ukraine. 

Without overlooking Russia’s role in creating this situation, easing up on sanctions and switching the final use of crops may alleviate it. Firstly, the export of fertilizers account for less than 5 percent of Russia’s GDP yet it deeply has an impact on farmers’ decisions on what to grow, and in turn, prevents meeting developing countries’ demand. Thus, lifting sanctions on fertilizers could improve the situation. Secondly, about 10 percent of all grains are used to make biofuel and 18 percent of vegetable oil go to make biodiesel. To put it into perspective, that percentage of vegetable oil contains an amount of calories sufficient to feed more than 320 million people per year. Weakening biofuel mandates just like Finland and Croatia have done, should become the immediate trend. 

One last resort is to rely on one of the most used development tools, aid. The US announced more than $320 million in humanitarian assistance in the horn of Africa. Yet even this falls short, as the amount of aid now is worth much less than a few years ago due to the ongoing inflation. 

Conclusion

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is the last event of a chain of events that have worsened the very fragile state of the developing world. The complexity of the situation makes finding a solution very tough and compromising already existing alliances.  In spite of the fact that lifting sanctions may seem controversial, millions dying from starvation far outweighs avoiding financing Putin’s war. Even more if some of those restrictions, such as fertilizers and food, account for very little of Russia’s GDP and so much for millions of developing countries’ households.

June 18, 2022No Comments

Food Security at Risk in Africa

Author: Alessandra Gramolini.

Before and during the Russian-Ukrainian conflict

Russia and Ukraine are not only the world’s biggest producers of wheat, they have also been the cheapest exporters on the market. This made them very attractive to low-income countries. Over 40% of wheat consumed in Africa usually comes from Ukraine and Russia. The war interrupted global markets and trade flows to Africaincreasing even more food prices in the region. Ukrainian ports in the Black Sea have been widely blocked for exports since the conflict began. Kyiv and its allies blame Moscow for blocking the ports. Even countries that import little from the two countries are indirectly impacted by higher world prices for key commodities.

Before the war in Ukraine, African countries were already struggling with the increase of food prices due to extreme climate and weather events and also after two year of Covid-19 pandemic,. Since the Russia-Ukraine conflict began, global food prices have reached new heights. Five weeks into the Ukraine war, disruptions are more severe and food prices are even surpassing the levels of the 2008 global financial crisis. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) Food Price Index, affirmed that international wheat prices rose for a fourth consecutive month in 2022. The March index is the highest it has been since the measure was created in the 1990s. In 2020 alone, Africa imported $4 billion and $2.9 billion worth of agricultural products from Russia and Ukraine. With this war in Ukraine, about 20 million people in the Sahel and West Africa do not have access to sufficient food. 

In Egypt, wheat is the main food item, and the Egyptian government imports about 50 to 60 percent of its cereal from Russia and Ukraine, despite the government’s efforts to diversify imports following the 2008 global food crisis. Egypt had to borrow three billion dollars from the International Islamic Trade Finance Corporation (Itfc), an Islamic finance instrument based in Saudi Arabia. Countries like Tunisia imported 50% of their grain needs exclusively from Russia and Ukraine. For the moment, Tunisia claims to have stocks, but to avoid food riots, as happened in the Arab Spring, basic products are subsidized and controlled by the government. Algeria, the second largest African wheat consumer after Egypt has also imposed moderate prices.

Additionally, according to the UN, Russia is the highest exporter of nitrogen fertilizer and the second-highest exporter of phosphorus and potassium fertilizer globally.  Several African countries rely on importing these Russian fertilizers, including Cameroon, Ghana, Senegal and Kenya. But following severe economic sanctions against Russia, its ability to sell fertilizer globally has taken down, precipitating a major shortage. In Kenya, farmers are scaling back on farming because of the exorbitant fertilizer prices that would certainly affect their profits. Others plan to avoid fertilizing their farms, especially olive and orange groves farmers. This will lower production and, of course, the quality. The pressure and prices will likely increase further as the war continues, raising food security concerns, with citizens beginning to feel the impact.

Image Source: https://www.wfp.org/news/hunger-west-africa-reaches-record-high-decade-region-faces-unprecedented-crisis-exacerbated

Alarm from aid agencies

Aid agencies have also felt the impact of rising prices. The World Food Program (WFP) used to buy more than half of its grain from Ukraine and Russia. The organization now spends an additional $71 million a month to reach the same number of people it did before the conflict. That money could be used to provide daily food rations to four million people for a month. The activities of the WFP in West and Central Africa have started to suffer too. The aid agency supports national school feeding programmes that run independently. But some governments are now asking the WFP for help, because they can no longer afford some food products. The WFP also distributes cash for people in the region to buy food, but with soaring prices this is not an effective solution. 

A recent FAO-WFP report issued today calls for urgent humanitarian action in 20 ‘hunger hotspots’ where acute hunger is expected to worsen during summer 2022. The effects of the war in Ukraine are expected to be particularly severe where economic instability and high prices combine with drops in food production due to climate events such as recurrent droughts or flooding. 

“We are deeply concerned about the combined impacts of overlapping crises jeopardizing people’s ability to produce and access foods, pushing millions more into extreme levels of acute food insecurity,” said FAO Director-General QU Dongyu. “We are in a race against time to help farmers in the most affected countries, including by rapidly increasing potential food production and boosting their resilience in the face of challenges.” 

Qu Dongyu called on Mediterranean countries to work together to avoid the risks to food security aggravated by the Russia-Ukraine conflict. “We must keep our world food trade system open and ensure that agri-food exports are not limited or taxed”, he said a few days ago during a summit on the food crisis in the Mediterranean area. He then illustrated the main steps on which this cooperation should focus on: greater investments in the countries most affected by the current increase in food prices; reduction of food losses and waste; better and more efficient use of natural resources; and finally, great attention to technological and social innovations that can significantly reduce the losses of the agricultural market. 

What are the consequences?

Some analysts argue the Kremlin is hoping that a possible food crisis will put political pressure on the West by provoking new refugee flows towards Europe from food-insecure countries in the Middle East and Africa.

“The situation is forcing hundreds of thousands of people to move to different communities and to live with host families who are already living in difficult conditions themselves. There is not enough food, let alone food that is nutritious enough for children. We must help them urgently because their health, their future and even their lives are at risk,” said Philippe Adapoe, Save the Children's director for West and Central Africa. The war is starting to push families to the brink of survival and increasing also the risk of violence against women. Hibo Aden, women's rights officer at ActionAid Somaliland, said the situation has become so desperate for some families that girls are forced to marry in exchange for food and water. 

The presence of unstable conditions and civil wars further aggravate the scenario. Many people in African countries will have problems accessing better hygiene, health, or school conditions, given that the family's spending power will be dedicated to the purchase of food at higher prices. Furthermore, phenomena of internal conflict are beginning to be seen, with countries such as Nigeria, South Africa or Ethiopia, which have chosen to restrict some food exports, blocking supply chains and trade, thus creating other problems.

In conclusion, the forecasts for the future are somewhat catastrophic. In these conditions, hunger will increase at high rates and will be more and more deadly. If the international community does not act in support of rural communities affected by hunger, the degree of devastation will be dangerous.

June 18, 2022No Comments

AI goes to War: Observations from the Battlefields in Ukraine

Author: Andrea Rebora, Federica Montanaro and Oleg Abdurashitov.

Although the concept of artificial intelligence is quite complex and nuanced, many people imagine its use in warfare as a brutal slaughter conducted by evil robots. The reality is much different, and the current conflict between Russia and Ukraine offers a glimpse of what AI is being used for on today’s battlefields.

Researchers and military experts have spent years trying to visualize and understand military operations conducted with the support of artificial intelligence systems. One of the most prominent examples is the use of lethal autonomous weapons (LAWs), systems designed to locate, identify, and engage targets based on programmed information without requiring constant human control. Russia is using its KUB-BLA during the invasion in Ukraine, a loitering munition (commonly known as kamikaze drone) designed to identify and attack ground targets using AI technology.[1]However, the Russian aerial campaign leveraging these drones appears weak overall, and its fleet surprisingly small.[2] On the Ukrainian side, the Bayraktar TB2 drone fleet arguably appears to be its most potent force,[3] alongside the “kamikaze drone fleet,” with an estimated 20-30% of the registered Ukrainian kills to be the result of the successful employment of these systems.[4]

Another application envisioned on the battlefield is the use of AI to automate the mobility of vehicles, such as tanks and vessels, and make them more effective at identifying routes and prioritizing target selection and engagement.

AI is being increasingly included in the military decision-making process, from the straightforward calculation of aircraft or missile trajectories to the identification of targets during sensitive operations via automated target recognition. In 2021, Secretary of the Air Force Frank Kendall confirmed that AI had already been used during at least one “live operational kill chain,” demonstrating its effectiveness on the battlefield.[5]

Finally, the idea of artificial intelligence being applied to cyber operations is a thought that keeps many professionals up at night. Cyberattacks have already become one the most pervasive issues of this decade and, if enhanced by AI, they could be used to cause significant damage and potentially destabilize entire countries.[6]

The war in Ukraine, however, seems to be a far cry from swarms of unmanned drones and autonomous vehicles clashing with robotic systems of the adversary, as envisioned by several researchers of future warfare[7]. While AI algorithms reveal themselves on the battlefield, they do so in far more mundane aspects. 

The most illustrative example is the use of Ukraine’s specialist application for artillery (GIS Arta), which combines the conventional geo-mapping tools with the ability to sift information on the enemy’s location from a variety of sources and data types, including military and civilian drones and smartphones, GPS trackers and radars.[8] The intuitive and data-agnostic system has since become a force multiplier for the outgunned Ukrainian artillery, increasing the precision of their strikes.

The algorithmic geo-mapping itself, however, is not new and both high-resolution maps and image and processing algorithms are widely available and used among a range of civilian apps - from online maps to food delivery. The GIS Arta allows the blending of imagery intelligence (IMINT) and signals intelligence (SIGINT) feeds into an actionable solution for cheap and proves the ingenuity of Ukrainian developers and army in adopting civilian AI and machine learning technology for military use, but also highlights that the use of technology is shaped by the conditions and demands of the battlefield, not vice versa.

Russia, in turn, claims it is working on updating its reconnaissance and reconnaissance-strike drones with “electronic [optical and infrared] images of military equipment adopted in NATO countries” obtained through the application of neural network training algorithms.[9] With images and videos of NATO-supplied equipment requested by Ukraine widely available on the internet in almost ready-made datasets, the use of neural networks may be justified. Given that both Russia and Ukraine rely on human operators of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), whose ability to identify snippets of objects is dramatically outmatched by the image recognition technology, such an AI-augmented approach may lead to better prioritization and increased accuracy of the Russian strikes targeting. 

Another example is the use of AI-enabled face recognition algorithms largely thanks to the ubiquity of visual content, ranging from smartphone videos and security camera feeds to social media pages.[10] The use of face recognition ranges from inspecting people and vehicles at checkpoints to identifying the potential perpetrators of war crimes. While lacking the immediacy often required on a battlefield, face recognition may become an essential deterring component of warfare preventing the most horrendous crimes on the battlefield. 

The use and credibility of such technology are not without controversy since AI algorithms are prone to bias and software flaws. In particular, the first person officially accused by Ukraine of war crimes in Bucha, who was caught on camera in a courier service office in a Belarus town used by Russian soldiers to send looted goods back to Russia, is a Belarusian citizen who vehemently denies even serving in the military.[11]

What emerges from this evolving environment is that the employment of AI on the Ukrainian battlefield is very human-centered and not very different from what has been seen in other conflicts. Despite the technological progress and innovations, there is still no clear evidence of the use of fully autonomous weapons in Ukraine. The presence of human beings “in the loop” still prevents us from finding a paradigmatic change in the employment of AI in this conflict. Artificial intelligence is leveraged as an instrument, which shapes and facilitates decision making and enables the implementation of decisions already taken, but is still not allowed to, or capable of, making autonomous decisions.

Despite the relatively limited use of advanced AI systems, the conflict in Ukraine provides a significant amount of operational and technical information. On the operational side, AI systems are being examined, tested, and deployed in various degrees and scope of application, allowing researchers and officials to understand the advantages and challenges in leveraging such systems in active conflict. On the technical side, the data collected such as images, audio, and geographical coordinates, can be used to train and improve current and future systems capable of, for example, recognizing camouflaged enemy vehicles, identifying optimal attack and counterattack routes, and predicting enemy movements.

The conflict in Ukraine provides an overview of the AI military capabilities of the two countries and the level of risk they are willing to accept with their top-of-the-line AI systems. After all, the cost-benefit analysis associated with using autonomous weapons in low-intensity conflict is much different from using the same weapons in open conflict, where the risk of losing just one AI-powered system is very high and particularly expensive. The military invasion of Ukraine is unfortunately not over yet, but militaries around the world will study its execution and aftermath for years to understand how to leverage AI systems for offensive and, most importantly, defensive applications.

June 18, 2022No Comments

Will METO be the new NATO?

Author: Shahin Modarres.

As the light at the end of the tunnel of revitalizing the JCPOA grows weaker the tension between Iran and the international community rises fiercely. Tension can be analyzed on two levels, regional level, and international level. On a regional level whilst Iran's regional competitors express their concerns regarding Iran's nuclear program, Israel has been applying a drastically different approach, a completely physical approach that dances on the edge of initiating a direct regional conflict. For the past month a notable number of high-ranking officers and scientists within the IRGC and Ministry of defense have been targeted and assassinated in the streets of Iran, almost all targets played an important role in the country's nuclear and missile program. Even though the Israeli officials never officially accepted the responsibility but Israel remains to be the main guess behind the calls. At the same time reports have been registered regarding threats against Israeli citizens in Turkey and Thailand. Earlier Israel's minister of foreign affairs asked all citizens to evacuate Istanbul immediately because of a series of imminent threats against their lives. 

On another proxy level, the shelling of Iranian infrastructures in Syria by the Israeli Air Force has been intensified. Drones trying to reach Israeli territories through Iraq's airspace have been shot and there have been reports of drone attacks on safe sites of Israel's intelligence operations according to Iranian authorities. Constant cyber war has been going on as well, every now and then, Iranian or Israeli hackers have been claiming victory by accessing infrastructures or personal data from the rival. A full encounter between the countries is now more threatening than ever. That is the main reason why both actors are reinforcing their teams in anticipation. 

Image Source: https://www.bakerinstitute.org/center-for-the-middle-east/

One of Iran's main bargaining leverages has been its regional influence. A military influent formed of mostly Shiite militant groups in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen running alongside vast support of Sunni groups such as Hamas for years gave Iran an upper hand to proceed with its regional proxy wars but what has changed? Iran's influence in the region has been limited mainly because of two reasons, a technological shift in the defense paradigm and a realistically Machiavellian perception of diplomacy. The aerial defense system known as the "Iron Dome" by Israel has definitely been a game-changer redefining traditional defensive methods through advanced approaches to countering missile attacks. On the diplomatic level, the "Abraham Accords" were none other than a realist perception of "my enemy's enemy can be my friend!" The growing angle of difference between Iran and Arab countries of the Persian Gulf and Saudi Arabia itself lead the tension between Israel and Arab countries to decrease gradually. Now a new form of an alliance is being formed between them. An alliance that some interpret as a Middle Eastern form of NATO; is METO. 

A few days ago Israel's minister of defense called for a new alliance between Israel and its Arab partners against Iran led by the United States. It appears that the defensive circle against Iran is getting tighter but at the same time Iran has decided to deactivate the surveillance set by the IAEA within its nuclear facilities. President Biden's trip to the Middle East will happen soon during which he will visit Israel and Saudi Arabia. Against all odds, the Biden administration appears to be considering its foreign policy legacy none other than peacebuilding between Israel and Saudi Arabia. Hence, his trips will play a crucial role that may affect and form Middle East's near future on different levels.

A Middle Eastern Treaty Organization(METO) on a dynamic scale may only live with the blessing of the United States. But on a regional level, actors are consciously trying to build an independent alliance as well. Almost each and every member of the new alliance at some point during the past two decades has been unhappy regarding US policies in the region hence traces of a collective will to have independent strong regional alliances are quite clear amongst actors. There is already talk regarding Israel sharing parts of its "Iron Dome" technology with Arab partners. Whilst wealthy Arab partners can generously invest in the Israeli technological and scientific R&D, all allies may benefit from the results.  

On the other end, Iran has shown a Russo-Oriental turn towards developing military and security cooperation with China and Russia. Also, there has been a fast development of the county's Aerospatiale program, particularly in regards to ballistic missiles program, drones, and satellites. Even though the Iranian economy is facing its most fragile state expenses regarding the doctrines of "Defense and Influence" have indeed increased. 

To anticipate the outcome of this equation we all need to think in a Machiavellian context, to simply interpret the equation based on each country's national interest. Will the US join the coalition to form METO? Will Russia and China support their supposed ally if Iran's nuclear program once again ends up in the United Nations Security Council? And eventually, the final unfortunate question is, will we face another devastating war in the Middle East?  

June 8, 2022No Comments

Analysis of the nexus between Human Trafficking and Terrorism.

Author: Arianna Caggiano.

This is a critical commentary of the research paper launched by the OSCE Organization: Trafficking in Human Beings and Terrorism. Where and How They Intersect: Analysis and Recommendations for More Effective Policy Response.

Human Trafficking as a tactic of terrorist groups

Over the years, human trafficking has increasingly become a modus operandi used by terrorist groups to finance and carry out their activities. To this extent, as human trafficking constitutes a crime that is usually perpetrated by organized criminal groups, some scholars have stressed that the “crime-terror nexus” implies that both criminal and terrorist organizations might cooperate with each other in the furtherance of their respective goals. Despite the increasing use of organised crime-related tactics deployed by terrorists, in analysing the current legal framework in international law when it comes to trafficking in human beings and terrorism there is still no existing treaty or convention dealing with the nexus between the two phenomena. On the basis of the OSCE paper launched in 2021 on the nexus between human trafficking and terrorism, this article will try to critically evaluate from a juridical and legal point of view the analysis and findings developed by the OSCE on this matter.

Comparing Legal and Policy Frameworks of Anti-Trafficking and anti-terrorism Mechanisms

When it comes to the definition of the human trafficking’s legal framework, it is worth emphasizing that it was not until 2000 that a first definition of trafficking in human beings was given in the Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children, better known as the Palermo Protocol. The adoption of the Protocol can be considered as a watershed moment for the legal framework of human trafficking: as of today, it counts 173 signatory States and it can be defined, thus, as almost a universal ratification. A further key role in combating human trafficking is played by regional trafficking treaties, which complement the obligations upon signatory States, especially with reference to victims’ protection. Indeed, as stressed by the OSCE research, a major principle guiding anti-trafficking legislations and policies is the principle of non-punishment of victims of trafficking, according to which Member States are obliged to «assess the individual situation of persons released from the captivity of armed and terrorist groups so as to enable prompt identification of victims of trafficking».

On the other hand, the international legal framework related to terrorism and counterterrorism is considerably more challenging and complex in comparison to the anti-trafficking international legal system. Indeed, despite the existence of a set of treaties, protocols, conventions, Security Council Resolutions, as well as “soft law” and non-binding mechanisms, there is no comprehensive instrument providing a universal and accepted definition of terrorism, as it is the case for human trafficking with the Palermo Protocol

In analysing the nexus between these two phenomena, it is of utmost importance to emphasize the constituent elements of trafficking used as a tactic by terrorist groups. Pursuant art. 3 of the Palermo Protocol, «Trafficking in persons shall mean the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force […] to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. […]». This very intense definition provided by the Protocol, shows three main constituent elements of human trafficking: action, means and purpose.

Therefore, as the OSCE outlines, in evaluating the link between trafficking in human beings and terrorism from a legal perspective, a useful approach would be one that analyses these three constituent elements when exploited by terrorist groups as a tactic to recruit individuals. In this regard, the analysis of the current legal framework on the nexus between the two crimes shows that a harmonisation in the criminalization of terrorism and human trafficking as two offences connected has not been reached yet. Indeed, despite the existence of several instruments that recognize the growing links between terrorism and transnational organized crime, the lack of a definition of terrorism still hinders the internationally community to adopt an internationally agreed-upon approach to terrorism matters, while it is not the case for human trafficking. 

The legal response that has been adopted so far to address cases where the two phenomena intersects has largely focused on criminalizing all individuals related to terrorist activities and groups. The lack of a definition of terrorism has led States to adopt different measures aimed at only criminalizing terrorists and not identifying and protecting victims. Therefore, as highlighted in the research, this approach has showed to have significant consequences for victims, who have risked being held fully accountable for all the crimes they have committed, even though they are victims of human traffickers. Based on these findings, the OSCE research concludes that a human trafficking lens when dealing with terrorist criminal offences should be applied to contribute to victim identification, assistance, rehabilitation and reintegration, and prevention of re-victimization. Therefore, it would be of utmost importance to apply the principle of non-punishment - that already exists in the human trafficking framework – in the anti-terrorism existing legal and policy mechanism. 

Conclusion

This critical commentary has analysed from a legal perspective the comprehensive research carried out by the OSCE organization on the nexus between human trafficking and terrorism. It has highlighted how the application of anti-trafficking mechanisms, including the principle of non-punishment, in the context of terrorism could help leading in a better way prosecution of criminal offences related to terrorism. The OSCE research might constitute the basis for an international and agreed-upon definition that considers both a security-oriented approach to prevent and prosecute terrorist offences and a human rights-based one, ensuring that victims of terrorism – and trafficked persons exploited by terrorists – are not held accountable and can access to their rights. 

All in all, the OSCE research offers significant food for thought and, using concrete cases, helps filling the knowledge gap of policy makers, academics, practitioners, and legislators on the nexus between human trafficking and terrorism. 

June 8, 2022No Comments

Political Stability: Pakistan’s Distant Dream?

Author: Mariam Qureshi

The recent political developments in Pakistan uncover several underlying issues within the government and public spheres. The widespread misuse and abuse of power for political gains and the subsequent corruption within government institutions have led to issues of abuse, misuse, and poor accountability. The issues have had severe impacts on the justice system and the economy. The growing rift between major political parties is occurring at the expense of the already struggling democratic setup.

Though Imran Khan assumed office in 2018 with people's mandate, he faced fierce opposition from opposing political parties. On April 9th, 2022, an eleven-party alliance, the Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM)brought forth a successful no-confidence motion and Khan was voted out of office. This was the first no-confidence vote to be successfully passed in the political history of Pakistan. The vote of no-confidence was preceded by a constitutional crisis and succeeded by a political one. 

Political leaders of the leading political parties in alliance against Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf. Image Source: https://www.thecorrespondent.pk/editorials/pdm-the-last-stand/

What was the Constitutional Crisis?

Originally scheduled for a vote on April 3rd, 2022, the no-confidence motion was abruptly dismissed by the National Assembly’s Deputy Speaker Qasim Suri. While citing Article 5 of the Constitution of Pakistan, which requires all citizens to be loyal to the state and obedient to the constitution, Suri argued the motion is nullified as the opposition acted against the interests of the state by bringing forth a vote of no-confidence at the insistence of foreign powers. This reference was to a diplomatic cable received by Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States which Khan's government claimed contained instructions for PDM to remove Khan through a vote of no-confidence. Following this, President Arif Alvi dissolved the National Assembly. 

As per the country’s constitution, a no-confidence motion cannot be rejected, nor an assembly dissolved until the motion has been put to vote. Therefore, many legal experts argued that Suri’s decision to dismiss the motion and Alvi’s dissolution of the assembly was unconstitutional. However, many also dissented to say that the Speaker does hold the power to dismiss any motion not in line with Article 5. Though the problem appeared to be the lack of evidence to support the reasoning of foreign involvement. The discord raised a constitutional crisis leaving the opposition little ground but to move to the Supreme Court against the Deputy Speaker’s ruling.

On April 7th,  2022, the Supreme Court of Pakistan issued a short judgement in which it set aside the April 3rd developments, deeming both unconstitutional. While this move was hailed by many, who saw this as an impartial decision that strengthened the Constitution, qualms were also raised over Supreme Court’s interference in parliamentary proceedings, citing its order to the Parliament to reconvene on April 9th to put the motion to vote, as part of the original judgement. When the National Assembly session delayed voting on April 9ththe Supreme Court and Islamabad High Court were opened late at night to ensure implementation of their decision to hold voting on the no-confidence motion. The move was peculiar and beyond regular proceedings, which raised allegations the Supreme Court acted out of its purview and misused its powers. In the country’s 75-year history, the Supreme Court has intervened and averted many constitutional crises but has also been held responsible for leaving enough ambiguities in its interpretation of the Constitution to serve the political agenda of the executive branch at the expense of strengthening the democracy.

Who is in government now?

The April 9th, 2022 National Assembly session extended past midnight, successfully voted Imran Khan out of office, and voted in Shahbaz Sharif as the 23rd Prime Minister of Pakistan. Shahbaz Sharif is the leader of the political party, Pakistan Muslim League – Nawaz (PML N) and the younger brother of ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who is currently residing in London as an absconder. Shahbaz Sharif took the oath on April 11th, 2022, the same day he would otherwise have been indicted in a long-standing money laundering case of about Rs 14 billion laundered from 2008 to 2018, for which he is currently on bail.

Though hailed for his administrative contributions to Lahore when he served as the Chief Minister of Punjab (CM) from 2008 to 2018, there were allegations of corruption, money laundering and misuse of power, including the Ashiyana Housing Scheme scam and the Hudabiya Paper Mills Case. His much-hailed Metro Bus Project – a public transport initiative – later revealed corruption and irregularities of Rs 5 billion, though a full inquiry is yet to be conducted. He has also been accused of misusing authority in the Ramazan Sugar Mills Case where he ordered the construction of a drain to benefit sugar mills owned by his sons, causing a Rs 213 million loss to the national exchequer. Perhaps the most harrowing legacy of Sharif’s tenure as CM remains the 2014 Model Town incident. Under orders from the then CM Shahbaz Sharif and Law Minister Rana Sanaullah, the Punjab Police charged at the crowd of peaceful and unarmed civilian protestors with batons and tear gas shelling before opening fire, which killed 14 men and women and injured over 100. The judicial commission which acquitted officials involved and rejected complaints against political figures was criticized to have been politically manipulated. 

Imran Khan addressing one of the political rallies after being voted out of office. Image Source: www.twitter.com/ImranKhanPTI

Imran Khan’s Power Show

PTI’s immediate step following the success of the no-confidence motion was to offer mass resignations. Though submitted, recently the new Speaker of the National Assembly has called a total of 131 lawmakers to verify their resignations before they could be accepted to remove the possibility of coercion. The move was heavily criticized as it meant that PTI essentially relinquished the opportunity to form an effective and powerful opposition in the National Assembly, ultimately harming the political proceedings and democracy in general.

Khan insists on his claim of foreign involvement in his removal stating the western powers did not appreciate his foreign policy shift towards the Muslim states, Russia, and China. He argues that the current government is foreign-backed and does not have the mandate of the people and therefore, not fit to govern. He proposes the only way forward is with early elections

Khan played to his strength of public support to gain legitimacy for his early election calls, by holding jalsas (political rallies) in cities across Pakistan, where scores of people responded to his call. His massive public support has been indisputable, even by his fiercest opponents. These massive rallies eventually culminated in a ‘march’ to Islamabad on May 26th, 2022, where scores of people poured into the country’s capital from all over Pakistan to register support for Imran Khan and his demands. Multiple illegal raids and attempts of arrests were carried out at the homes of PTI lawmakers the night before the march. On May 26th, 2022 Punjab, Sindh and Islamabad Police blocked all routes leading to the capital and used tear gas (some allegedly expired), batons on civilian protestors and arrested several of them from different cities. This was a blatant disregard of not only the constitutional right of civilians to stage peaceful protests but also in violation of the Supreme Court’s ruling to allow PTI to stage their protest in Islamabad. Fearing a fate like the Model Town Incident, given Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah’s threats to the PTI, Chairman Imran Khan called off the plan to stage a sit-in while remaining firm on his demand for early elections. 

What’s Next for Khan and Pakistan?

From 2018 until the no-confidence vote in 2022, Imran Khan, as Prime Minister, launched many public-oriented initiatives including the Sehat Card Scheme: the first-ever health insurance scheme in Pakistan. He also launched the National Poverty Graduation Initiative to uplift the poorest with skills and ease their social mobility in society, the Kamyab Jawan Programme oriented to aid youth in attaining education and employment, the Ehsaas Programme a poverty alleviation and social safety programme and, the Billion Trees Tsunami as an effort against global warming and climate change. His handling of the Covid-19 Pandemic was also praised. Though Khan attempted to increase the tax net, bring in foreign remittances and lower circular debt, the absence of a concrete economic policy, later also admitted by their finance minister, was a glaring mistake on the part of PTI’s first term in government. In recent months, along with the political turmoil, the rise in fuel and electricity prices, drying up of foreign exchange reserves and depreciation of the rupee against the USD has exacerbated the economic situation in Pakistan. For any political party eyeing power, the biggest challenge now is to bring forth and deliver on effective policies for the management of the economic crisis to secure the public mandate for the next elections.

Despite Pakistan’s current political climate, it has come a long way from dictatorial rule and abrogation of the constitution to now relying on the Supreme Court for interpretation of the constitution. Similarly, Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf provides hope that grassroots political parties can emerge as a force in an otherwise dynastical democratic setup currently operational in Pakistan. For the political system in Pakistan to develop and strengthen, it is pertinent political parties adhere to the legal and constitutional course available, instead of sabotaging the system for personal gains. Unless the accountability bureaus and other institutes can function impartially without political interference, Pakistan may continue to struggle with similar economic and political woes in the future. 

June 8, 2022No Comments

Italy’s cybersecurity response to Russian attacks (Italiano)

Author: Sarah Toubman

In the past few years, the Italian government has rapidly increased both the pace and number of steps taken to protect its national cybersecurity interests. Italy began creating legislation and organizations for the defense of its cybersecurity infrastructure in 1993, but many observers have criticized developments in Italian cybersecurity as inadequate and slow-moving compared to its peers in Europe and beyond. However, in June 2021, the Italian government declared its intention to create a new national agency for cybersecurity, and just weeks ago, released a national cybersecurity policy for 2022-2026.

The Italian government’s increased attention to cybersecurity has come just in time, as several prominent cyberattacks against Italy by Russian hackers occurred this May. Considering Italy and the European Union’s support for Ukraine in its war against Russia, it is not surprising that Russian-backed agents have unleashed attacks on Italy in the cybersphere, a space the Kremlin has long operated in. For example, during the 2008 Ruso-Georgian war, Russian-backed hackers reportedly carried out cyberattacks against Georgian internet infrastructure.

More recently, this cyber aggression has been turned towards both state and private cyberinfrastructure in Italy. On May 10th, Russian hacker groups “Killnet” and “Legion” attempted to break into and modify the voting results for the Eurovision Song Contest, which Italy hosted and Ukraine ultimately won. However, thanks to the Italian Computer Security Incident Response Team, which was created in 2018, the attempt was foiled. 

Similarly, just one day later on May 11th, “‘Killnet’ claimed an attack on the websites of several Italian institutions, including the Senate, Italy's upper house of parliament, and the National Health Institute.” On May 19th, the Russian hacking organization launched additional cyberattacks on Italian institutions, including the High Council of the Judiciary, and the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Public Education, and Culture.

While Russian-backed cyber organizations are clearly enthusiastically targeting Italy, the robust responses of Italian cyber-defense organizations are now successful on a level which would have been unlikely prior to the development of its new cybersecurity agency and the rollout of its 2022-2026 cybersecurity policy. Although historically Italy has often been behind the curve in its cybersecurity policies, Mario Draghi’s push to launch the National Cybersecurity Agency was in fact extremely forward-looking and timely. Furthermore, since the agency’s announcement, Italian cybersecurity forces have developed the skills required to successfully counter Russian-backed agents, proving its creation was not merely a publicity-boosting measure for the Draghi government.

One recent headline has declared that “Italy [is] embroiled in cyber war with pro-Russian hackers.” Definitions of what constitutes cyberwarfare still vary, and the Russian government formally denies involvement with the groups of hackers conducting these attacks. However, such a headline again serves to remind those concerned with international security that Russia has historically and continues to use the cyber sphere to wage war, and therefore a robust international security policy necessarily includes cyber-defense. Therefore, in the context of the Russian invasion of Ukraine--the largest war seen in Europe since 1945--defensive cybersecurity capabilities are evermore important for Italy and any nation openly opposing Russian actions. 

Italy’s 2013 National Strategic Framework for Cyberspace Security and 2017 Cybersecurity Action Plan had both highlighted the need for improved public-private cooperation to ensure national cybersecurity moving forward. In fact, the 2017 plan had urged that “private entities operating in strategic sectors must be considered as key assets and included into a holistic approach to national cybersecurity that provides for the implementation of minimum security requirements for country-critical systems.” Again, such a point was forward-looking, highlighting the fact that in May 2022, Russian-backed agents did not only launch cyberattacks on Italian government organizations, but also the Eurovision Song Contest, a multinational initiative being operated out of Italy. 

Notably, under the country’s new cybersecurity policy, the Italian Computer Security Incident Response Team was successfully able to both prevent an attack against Eurovision and resolve cyber incidents related to government websites. However, moving forwards, this area merits even further attention. The Italian state could be severely impacted by cyberattacks against a whole range of websites, companies, and infrastructure, including public, private, and multinational organizations. Therefore, ensuring Italian cybersecurity going forward would require not just improved public-private cooperation, but also coordination between Italy and all interconnected sectors of the EU. 

Image Source: https://imgcdn.agendadigitale.eu/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/28110643/cyber-war.jpg.webp

Italian translation 

Negli ultimi anni, il governo italiano ha accelerato rapidamente il passo e ha compiuto progressi nella protezione dei suoi interessi nazionali nell’ambito della sicurezza cibernetica. L’Italia iniziò a legiferare e fondare organizzazioni per la difesa delle infrastrutture legate alla sicurezza cibernetica nel 1993. Da allora, molti osservatori hanno criticato gli sviluppi, ritenendoli inadeguati e lenti rispetto agli altri paesi in Europa e nel mondo. Giugno 2021 segna una tappa importante per il governo italiano, che dichiara di voler creare una nuova agenzia nazionale per la sicurezza cibernetica, e poche settimane fa, è stata pubblicata la policy per la sicurezza cibernetica nazionale 2022-2026.

L’aumento di attenzione per questo campo arriva perfettamente in tempo, quasi in concomitanza con diversi attacchi cibernetici compiuti da hacker russi contro l’Italia lo scorso Maggio. Tenendo presente il supporto dichiarato da Italia e Unione Europea per la guerra portata avanti dall’Ucraina contro la Russia, non è una sorpresa che agenti sostenuti dalla Russia stessa abbiano effettuato attacchi contro l’Italia nella sfera cyber, uno spazio in cui il Cremlino opera da tempo. Per esempio, durante la guerra tra Russia e Georgia nel 2008, la Russia ha dato supporto ad hacker per colpire le infrastrutture internet dell’avversario.

Più di recente, le aggressioni cyber sono state indirizzate contro la sfera cyber pubblica e privata dell’Italia. Il 10 Maggio, il gruppo hacker russo “Killnet” e “Legion” ha cercato di entrare e modificare i risultati dei voti dell’Eurovision Song Contest,tenutosi in Italia e vinto dall’Ucraina. Nonostante ciò, grazie al Computer Security Incident Response Team dell’Agenzia per la Cybersicurezza Nazionale, creato nel 2018, il tentativo è stato sventato.

Allo stesso modo, ad un solo giorno di distanza, “Killnet” ha rivendicato un attacco a diversi siti istituzionali italiani, incluso quello del Senato e dell’Istituto di Salute Nazionale. Il 19 Maggio, l’organizzazione russa ha lanciato ulteriori attacchi ad istituzioni italiane, inclusi il Consiglio Superiore della Magistratura, i Ministeri degli Affari Esteri, della Pubblica Istruzione e della Cultura. 

Mentre le cyber organizzazioni russe sono chiaramente entusiaste di avere l’Italia come bersaglio, le risposte robuste date dalle organizzazioni di cyber-difesa italiane hanno avuto un successo che non sarebbe stato possibile raggiungere precedentemente allo sviluppo della nuova Agenzia per la Cybersicurezza Nazionale e alla nuova policy 2022-2026. Sebbene storicamente l’Italia si è sempre trovata in ritardo rispetto ai progressi e alle policy promosse dagli altri paesi, il Presidente Mario Draghi ha insistito per fondare l’Agenzia per la Cybersicurezza Nazionale e questo ha permesso di essere estremamente lungimiranti nel garantire una risposta agli attacchi. Inoltre, dalla creazione dell’Agenzia, l’Italia ha sviluppato delle abilità notevoli e necessarie nella lotta contro gli agenti russi. 

Di recente, è stato dichiarato che “l’Italia è coinvolta in una cyber guerra con gli hacker russi.” Le definizioni di questa cyber-guerra sono ancora varie, e il governo russo ha formalmente negato il coinvolgimento dei gruppi hacker e gli attacchi condotti. Nonostante questo, la situazione al momento conferma che la sfera cyber è sempre utilizzata dalla Russia come arma contro i nemici di guerra, e perciò c’è bisogno di politiche per la sicurezza internazionale più robuste e che includano necessariamente la cyber difesa. Nella guerra tra Russia e Ucraina, la più grande guerra mai vista dopo il 1945, le capacità difensive nel campo della cybersicurezza sono ancora più significative per l’Italia e per qualunque altra nazione che voglia apertamente condannare le azioni Russe. 

La National Strategic Framework for Cyberspace Security del 2013 e il Cybersecurity Action Plan del 2017 hanno entrambi sottolineato il bisogno di migliorare la cooperazione tra pubblico e privato per assicurare una rapida evoluzione nell’ambito della cyber sicurezza nazionale. Infatti, il piano del 2017 ha evidenziato che “le entità private che operano per la cyber sicurezza nazionale lavorano per l’implementazione dei minimi standard di sicurezza richiesti per le infrastrutture critiche del paese.” Ancora una volta, questo punto di vista è lungimirante e sottolinea il fatto che a Maggio 2022, gli agenti russi non hanno solo colpito il governo italiano ma anche l’Eurovision Song Contest, un’iniziativa multinazionale che era organizzata dall’Italia. 

Il Computer Security Incident Response Team dell’Italia ha avuto successo nel prevenire l’attacco contro l’Eurovision e nel risolvere incidenti legati a siti internet del governo.

Infine, questo argomento meriterebbe ancora più attenzione. Lo stato italiano potrebbe essere severamente colpito da cyber attacchi contro siti internet, compagnie e infrastrutture, includendo il settore pubblico, privato e organizzazioni multinazionali. Per questo, garantire la cyber sicurezza del paese e svilupparla ulteriormente richiederebbe non solo un miglioramento della cooperazione tra pubblico e privato, ma anche la coordinazione tra Italia e tutti i settori interconnessi dell’Unione Europea. 

May 30, 2022No Comments

The Geopolitics of the Energy Transition’s Momentum

Authors: Riccardo Bosticco and Michele Mignogna.

Introduction

The main result that Putin has achieved until now with the aggression of Ukraine is a solid stance from the European Member States to halt gas imports from Russia. This and other green commitments have pushed the EU and the whole world to give renewed impetus to renewable energy. Moreover, the relation between climate and industry policies is increasingly evident. In a broader context of power competition trade, investment policies in the energy and climate sectors play an ambivalent role: energy dependencies have been conceptualized as mutually benefitting; yet, the current war unveils their risky nature. After a brief description of the renewables’ geopolitical dimensions, this article outlines what is at stake for the EU’s primary areas of energy cooperation. 

The Impact of Renewable Energy on Geopolitics

Renewable energies have the potential to transform interstate energy relations. Renewables have fundamentally distinct geographic and technological properties than coal, oil, and natural gas. Sources are plentiful but intermittent; their production is increasingly decentralized and utilizes rare earth resources in clean tech equipment and, lastly, their distribution is predominantly electric and entails tight management standards and long-distance losses. This contrasts sharply with fossil fuel resources’ geographically fixed and finite character, their reliance on massive centralized production and processing facilities, and their ease of storage and transit as solids, liquids, or gases worldwide.

The energy transition provides a chance to rethink and revise long-standing trading relationships. It also allows countries to engage in previously closed energy value chains. Significantly, the future of the energy world will likely redefine the concept of energy security. However, in this society, the impulse to produce things domestically will collide with the logic of size and global supply networks. The energy transition will rewire the planet, but how much of it will transcend international borders is still unclear. A crucial element will be the commerce of minerals, distinct from that of oil, gas, and coal in terms of location. Nonetheless, such business will follow a familiar pattern: resources will be harvested in one region of the world, transported to refineries and processing centers, and then transformed into final goods. Diversification, bottlenecks, extraction disputes, and rent-seeking dynamics will all be present, although with different details.

Such developments will require a significant shift in energy strategies, indicating that areas pursuing industrial policies rather than decarbonization may reap climatic advantages. The previous energy map established a link between natural resources and markets. Yet, the new energy map will be much more complex.

The Geopolitics of the Energy Transition and the EU

Bringing together the words ’geopolitics’ and ‘renewables’ leads to the study of renewables and related security risks, the effects of the energy transition on traditional energy relations, possibilities of mutually beneficial ties, and windows of opportunity for countries to move up in the global power hierarchy. The energy transition is indeed a process where the industrial advantage is likely to bring with itself political benefits and leadership status. In the context of the current war in Ukraine, this is becoming clearer every day. Yet, the energy transition is expected to become part of power competition as the most impellent challenge – posed by the war as well as climate change and the security risks with it – of our times and will likely create amities and enmities.

Take the example of Russia. In the past decade, Russia has perceived the EU’s energy transition problematically. The EU-Russia energy relationship was primarily based on gas, oil, and coal. Nonetheless, the association is characterized by different conceptions of energy and energy security, although both actors recognize the potential of energy interdependence. While the EU and European countries are more enthusiastic concerning the transition, Russia’s discourses are more conservative yet try to defend the role of natural gas in the energy transition.

While it is difficult to predict an essential role played by Russia nowadays, given the progressive isolation it is forced to, the energy wire will see China having high stakes in renewable developments and geopolitics. Concerning relations with the EU, some have argued that the energy transition is likely to be the determinant of the future of EU-China relations. Energy in EU-China relations does not play the same role as relations with Russia. While the renewable sector has encouraged interdependence between the two powers in the past, more recently, nationally oriented policies have hindered the precedent path.

Still, the energy transition will significantly shape relations between the EU and the Arab states. While Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates are challenged by balancing relating with the US and China, managing regional crises, the pandemic, and containing Iran as the primary regional rival, the last point precisely is preventing some of the Arab states in the Gulf region to act assertively against Russia. Nonetheless, looking ahead to the 2020s, how those countries manage the energy transition will have consequences on internal and external political and economic environments. Especially Gulf countries envision a sustainable future, thus setting the stage for redrawing energy investments. In this context, the EU will play a crucial role, opening to the Gulf’s market interests and advancing regional security interests.

Conclusion

Overall, the current war is not only highlighting the strategic value of energy resources and energy ties but also how the transition to new energy systems is likely to rewire the world. In a context where the main political divide on the global stage is between liberal and illiberal forces and strong energy dependences revealed security threats, future systems of alliances will have to account for this. For the EU, the energy transition will have to deal with Russia, act as cohesively as possible, and strengthen its strategic thinking concerning big partners such as China and the Gulf States. The transitions’ stakes entail a strategic opportunity to avoid past errors.

May 26, 2022No Comments

Will the new Transatlantic Data Framework withstand a ‘Schrems III’ in European Courts?

Authors: Beatrice Gori, Giovanni Tricco and Giorgia Zaghi.

On March 25, amid a week of summits in Brussels overshadowed by the Ukrainian war, Joe Biden and Ursula Von Der Leyen in a joint meeting unexpectedly announced a new transatlantic data privacy agreement in principle, clearly showing  the political status nearby the issue. Since the fall of the previous privacy shield in 2020 the data flows between the two transatlantic actors have been surrounded by uncertainty, making it difficult for companies, particularly SMEs, to conduct business. Transatlantic data and information flows between the United States and the European Union are estimated to be valued at over $7.1 trillion dollars with over 5300 companies participating, including technology behemoths such as Google, Meta and Microsoft. Therefore, a new agreement is well expected by both sides of the Atlantic since the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) decision in Schrems II which called for the unproportionate capability of US surveillance capabilities and the lack of an effective redress body for European data owners.

The new Transatlantic data pact is expected to heal such gridlocks and foster the data economy in the near future. However, a text has not been published, raising serious doubts among privacy experts. Max Schrems, the Austrian privacy activist who has torn down the two previous agreements, welcomed the new pact as “a lipstick on a pig” calling for future challenges in front of the European judicial system. The line between whether such a new agreement will fulfill the CJEU criteria or pave the way for a Schrems III is exceedingly thin. Nonetheless, the question is surrounded by different controversies, indeed The CJEU highly criticized US practices without taking into account the national capabilities of its Member States. Several reports, including one from theEuropean Fundamental Right Agency (FRA) and from the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, outlined how surveillance programs conducted by European intelligence services allegedly vary from collecting traffic metadata from diverse sources to monitoring web forums and intercepting cable-bound transmissions.

Indeed, in Europe surveillance activities fall under the scope of national security, which is a matter of national competence according to the Treaty of the European union (TEU), therefore European courts cannot legislate or address changes to its Member States. The EU courts’ approach has provoked anger and disbelief among US national security experts: “mix of judicial imperialism and Eurocentric hypocrisy”, as pointed out by Steven Baker a partner in the law firm Steptoe & Johnson LLP and former general counsel of the National Security Agency (NSA). Therefore, while the CJEU’s Schrems II decision emphasized how the current laws inadequately protect the right of non-nationals to judicial redress in the United States, additional surveillance and intelligence reform should be addressed even in the EU to create a political momentum for legislative intervention in the American congress. Until that moment as underlined by Peter Swire it is “unrealistic for the EU to demand changes to U.S. national security legislation when European countries themselves are not averse to similar practices.”

Image Source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-57489588

Swire's forecast appears to have come true, in the fact sheet released by the US government no legislative amendments are mentioned; instead, it calls for the establishment of a new redress mechanism and other safeguards to satisfy the CJEU’s request via a Presidential Executive Order (EO). Such a process would raise doubts regarding the capacity of the new mechanism to be independent and able to investigate wrongdoings by the American Intelligence Communities (IC). Theoretically, this would represent the same issues of the Ombudsman of the old-fashioned Privacy Shield. However, an intriguing solution t has been envisaged by experts. They call for the creation of an independent redress authority via a regulation of the Department of Justice (DOJ) which will be independent by the executive, in conjunction with EOs from the President that would confer to the newly redress authority concrete capability to effectively investigating redress requests and for issuing decisions that are binding on the entire American IC. A non-statutory solution according to them that would – theoretically – satisfy the request of the European courts in Schrems II.

The European Data Protection Board (EDPB) made the point clear in its statement saying that it will direct “special attention to how this political agreement is translated into concrete legal proposals.” Therefore, until a text is missing just speculation can be made. Indeed, at the moment the political agreement made on 25 March 2022 is just the latest step on the ‘intense negotiations’ on a Privacy Shield replacement, as stated by the European Commissioner of Justice Didier Reynders, who announced that the works for a final text is undergoing in order to have the final agreement for late 2022. He pointed out that: "It is difficult to give a precise timeline at this stage, but we expect that this process could be finalized by the end of this year. On the European side there is trust in the work and commitment of American officials. Indeed, the U.S. Department of Commerce Deputy Assistant Secretary for Services Christopher Hoff said to IAPP that the United States made unparalleled commitments to significantly increase privacy and civil liberties safeguards through the establishment of the new multi-layered redress mechanism, assuring that it will be independent and binding in its safeguards on how the court is set up, as well as the protections for the judges' selection and removal. In addition, he pointed out that he strongly believes that the agreement will be durable and that all the features surrounding the new agreement will be much clearer at the appropriate time.

The stakes are high, indeed, in case the agreement will not survive the scrutiny of the CJEU legal uncertainty will persist and future economic losses for the digital economy of the EU and the US will increase. Accordingly, to forecasts of DIGITALEUROPE by 2030 if a stable agreement that enables lawful and consistent data transfer is not assured the European Union economy could lose €1.3 trillion in cumulative economic growth by 2030, €116 billion in annual exports and 1.3 million job losses, primarily high-skilled professions. On the other hand, if a stable mechanism of data transfer will be assured the EU economy would gain €720 billion in cumulative extra growth by 2030, equivalent to an increase of 0.6% in GDP on a yearly basis, €60 billion in annual exports, of which half coming from the manufacturing sector, boosting the position of European SMEs and 700 thousand new jobs will be created. Therefore, it is critical that the text of the new agreement will include proper safeguards as requested by the CJEU in Schrems II in order to ensure a long-standing Transatlantic Data Flow Agreement, on which the European data economy may foster, as well as, the protection of the rights of europeans being guaranteed in the years ahead.