May 13, 2024No Comments

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

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

Security in the Arctic

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

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

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

Recent developments in the European High North 

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

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

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

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

Source: Foto von Joakim Honkasalo auf Unsplash

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

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

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


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

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

May 7, 2024No Comments

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

Author: Dejvi Dedaj - South East Asia and Oceania team


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

Paving the Way for Regional Economic Advancement

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

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

Fostering Economic Dynamism

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

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

Strengthening Regional Integration

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

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

Empowering SMEs 

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

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

Source: photo by @dead____artist (

Navigating Challenges 

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

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

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

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


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

April 6, 2024No Comments

Discrimination and the right of a people to self-determination: UN Charter and UniversalDeclarationof Human Rights

Author: Alessandro Peluso - Human Rights Team


The humanitarian crisis unfolding in the Middle East, in the Palestinian Territories, is among the most serious in the history of the Mediterranean.

The coexistence of different peoples with different cultures, customs and religious beliefs has accompanied the history of all civilisations that have settled along the shores of the Mediterranean Sea, yet the conflict between the State of Israel and Palestine seems far from seeing a resolution, due to the diplomatic inability of the Western and Eastern blocs to intervene decisively and put an end to a suffering far from the standards of the contemporary world.

The International Court of Justice, whose jurisdiction is recognised by Israel, is examining the case, raised and brought before the court by South Africa, about the possibility of genocide against the Palestinian people at the hands of the State of Israel. However, since this is an open case that will take a long time to see a ruling clarifying the nature of military and non-military operations in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, the focus in this article will be on the rights of a people, a topic that applies to many other cases of possible persecution of entire populations in other continents,  such as the case of Rohingya and Uyghurs people in Asia.

United Nations Charter and Universal Declaration of Human Rights

It is worth reiterating that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) sets out fundamental rights that should serve as a beacon for action by any individual and State. Articles 1, 2, 3 and 5 lay down principles specific to the human being, understood as an equal and free subject, whose identity must not be a reason for discrimination of any kind; and whose person must not be subjected to inhuman treatment.

For the purposes of this discussion, it seems natural to follow the benchmarks of international law and the commitment made by States. For these reasons, reference should also be made to the UN Charter, which should be read in conjunction with the UDHR in order to get a full understanding of the premises.

Article 1(1) of the UN Charter states that “[The purpose of the United Nations is] to develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples, and to take other appropriate measures to strengthen universal peace”.

State recognition and peoples’ rights

At first reading, it is plausible to think that this is a principle that applies to States only, as legal subjects, and in particular to contracting states, (i.e. those that are members of the United Nations). However, not only it applies to contracting States, which have agreed to follow the dictates of the signed papers in the broader context of international relations, but it also serves as a general principle of conduct of peoples and States towards peoples and social groups. After all, International Law is based upon customary law, which also benefits from the signature of documents such as the UDHR or the UN Charter.

This detail is crucial to observe with the right lens the dynamics of any case to be analysed, such as that of the Palestinian people. The Palestinian Territories are recognised as a state in fact by a limited number of States, be it for political or legal reasons. According to international law, in fact, recognition is not a necessary and determining factor for a State to be considered as such; however, it is a very important factor on a political level, as it lays the foundations for diplomatic relations between states. Such a point has been long discussed in doctrine, having jurists and scholars debating whether recognition is required (Constitutive Theory) or not (Declaratory Theory). Notably, the latter argument is supported by the Montevideo Convention (1933), which Article 3 establishes that: 

The political existence of the state is independent of recognition by the other states. Even before recognition, the state has the right to defend its integrity and independence, to provide for its conservation and prosperity, and consequently to organize itself as it sees fit, to legislate upon its interests, administer its services, and to define the jurisdiction and competence of its courts. The exercise of these rights has no other limitation than the exercise of the rights of other states according to international law”.

Source: author safary248 - Pixabay

A State is then considered as such if it has control over an inhabited territory and is endowed with autonomous governing institutions, so that it can effectively exercise its sovereignty over the territory. It also means that the State is enabled to exploit the natural resources of its territory, and to provide services to the citizenry, as the population obtains the citizenship of the State to which it belongs.


One therefore gets the impression that the persecution to the detriment of minority populations may be primarily of a political nature. There is no valid reason for differences between peoples to lead to a sharp division between ethnic groups, and States, which enjoy a strong position concerning minorities, should be reminded of the principles of fundamental human rights. Diplomatic action must be incisive in this regard, because a clear-cut Western and Eastern stance on such issues can change the fate of peoples who are suffering countless casualties and seeing their rights denied.

April 1, 2024No Comments

Not Just a Vacation Paradise: Unveiling China’s Belt and Road in the Maldives

Author: Carlotta Rinaudo - China & Asia Team

For years, people could only travel between the two islands by ferry. On one side of the shore stood Malé, the capital of the Maldives, a bustling urban hub and a sensory feast in itself, with its markets bursting with colors, exotic fragrances, and the lively chatter of fishermen displaying their daily catch. On the opposite shore lay Hulhumale, an artificial island hosting modern residential facilities and the Maldives’ international airport. Connecting these two islands was vital for daily life, yet the ferry system often proved inadequate to its task – especially during peak hours, when tourists and locals alike had to endure endless queues under the tropical sun.

Things were to change when Abdulla Yameen was elected President in 2013. The half-brother of Maumoon Abdul Gayoom, often referred to as the “dictator” of the Maldives, Yameen had ambitious plans for his island nation. Through a development initiative known as “Greater Male” he aimed to elevate Malé, Hulhumale, and other neighboring islands into a modern hub with upgraded infrastructure, housing, and public services. But this grand vision faced a major obstacle. In 2011 the Maldives had lost its Least Developed Country (LDC) status, which meant that the island could no longer attract funds through international aid. With this avenue closed, Yameen had no other choice but to seek an alternative source of investment. Enter China.

Those were the times President Xi Jinping had started to promote the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), whose goals largely aligned with Yameen’s vision. It did not take long for Yameen to travel to Beijing, praise China as one of the Maldives’ “closest friends” and join the BRI. Nor did it take long for Chinese companies to establish their presence in the atolls: through Chinese loans, they built 11,000 high-rise buildings in Hulhumale, expanded the Velana International Airport, and extended the local electricity grid. Then came the Friendship Bridge. Built by China Harbor Engineering Company (CHEC), it crossed over 2km of turquoise waters to connect Malé and Hulhumale, facilitating the flow of people and resources at a rapid pace. Commuters no longer needed to endure endless queues during peak times.  

Source: Picture taken by the author “(…) the capital of the Maldives, a bustling urban hub and a sensory feast in itself, with its markets bursting with colors, exotic fragrances, and the lively chatter of fishermen displaying their daily catch.”

The conversation around these megaprojects, like any debate surrounding the BRI, quickly became sharply polarized. While some glorified the megaprojects as examples of “win-win cooperation”, many others disagreed. Given Malé’s significant debt to China, they argued that this scenario represented yet another example of debt trap diplomacy, where Beijing strategically pushes recipient countries into debt to then seize control over their assets. Similar claims have emerged in neighboring Sri Lanka, where Chinese-funded projects led to repayment challenges, eventually culminating in the transfer of the Hambantota port to China. However, simplifying the BRI’s presence in the Maldives to a dichotomy of “win-win cooperation” versus “debt trap diplomacy” is problematic. One only has to explore the urban center of Malé to discover a more nuanced reality. Here, the discontent among the local population towards their ruling élite highlights another crucial yet neglected actor in the BRI: the political leadership of the recipient country. That is, Chinese investors do not operate in a vacuum, but within a context where local politicians are active players rather than passive recipients of debt. In the case of the Maldives, the ruling class functions more like a cabal of corrupt politicians feeding a patronage-based system, and taking every megaproject as an opportunity for personal gain. “It is not really about China pushing the country into debt. It is more about our political class using foreign investors to satisfy their own thirst for cash”, says a local resident who spoke under the condition of anonymity. Take the above-mentioned Friendship Bridge. Initially proposed as a six-lane bridge connecting Hulhumale and Malé at a cost of around $100 million, it was later downsized to four lanes under Yameen’s administration. Despite the reduction in size, the cost of the project was doubled to almost $200 million. “The government initially promised a bigger bridge but later built a smaller one. They then inflated the contract value, pocketed the excess funds, and eventually left our Chinese creditors unpaid” explains the local resident.

Source: “One only has to explore the urban center of Malé to discover a more nuanced reality.” Picture taken by the author

Parallels can be drawn with the Hambantota Port. Here, a consultancy group estimated that constructing a bunkering facility would cost around $33 million, yet the Ports Minister demanded a $100 million loan. In both cases, the contracts were significantly inflated, allowing surplus cash to clandestinely find its way into the pockets of the ruling élite – Yameen’s inner circle in the Maldives, and the Rajapaksa family in Sri Lanka. Presently, Maldivian officials struggle to ascertain the exact amount of debt owed to China and are actively seeking to renegotiate interest rates and repayment plans. Meanwhile, President Yameen was arrested on corruption charges. This only highlights the importance of not overemphasizing China’s control over its projects abroad - it is equally vital to scrutinize the role of the host country’s political leaders, as they too significantly influence the nature of the BRI.  

China is not alone in funding a construction boom in this small yet strategically positioned island nation. India, viewing the Maldives as part of its traditional sphere of influence, is also funding various megaprojects to steer the island away from the Chinese orbit – and back to its own: hospitals, cricket stadiums, ports and airports, and even a sea bridge connecting Malé to other islands in the West, surpassing the Friendship Bridge in both length and scale. Caught in between this geopolitical rivalry, the Maldivian political élite has attempted to capitalize on both Chinese and Indian investments to amass even more personal wealth, leading to rampant and unprecedented construction activity. Airports are being built on islands where only 800 people live, making people question if these developments are really necessary. Needless to say, this is a game with few winners and many losers. 
“The problem is that this construction boom simply does not fit the Maldivian reality” explains another local resident. “All this dredging activity is damaging our coral reef, which is our primary defense from rising sea levels. Yet we continue to destroy it with unnecessary construction projects. Meanwhile, our leadership gains illegal money, while greater powers fight their own geopolitical game on our sovereign territory”. Today, ordinary Maldivian citizens are burdened with debt and environmental devastation. Their nation owes at least $1.4 billions to Beijing – yet unofficially this figure might go as high as $3.5 billions, which accounts for 70% of their GDP. In addition, being the lowest-lying country in the world, many parts of the Maldives could sink by the end of this century, posing an existential threat to its inhabitants. 

Source: “(…)many parts of the Maldives could sink by the end of this century, posing an existential threat to its inhabitants.” Picture taken by the author

During the Third Belt and Road Forum in October 2023, President Xi Jinping emphasized the importance of fighting corruption associated with the Belt and Road Initiative. Premier Li Qiang echoed this commitment, stating that Beijing was committed to achieve a “clean Silk Road” devoid of graft. Yet ensuring a corruption-free Silk Road also necessitates more oversight over recipient countries, as they play a crucial yet underestimated role in determining the inclusivity and sustainability of BRI projects. Beyond simplistic notions of “win-win cooperation” versus “debt trap diplomacy”, the reality of the BRI is characterized by top-down decision-making, secretive negotiations, and limited public involvement. This only perpetuates a cycle of patronage, profit-seeking, and personal interests – all at the expense of human needs. Similar to the Sri Lankan experience, for the Maldivian population the true trap might not be that of Chinese investments - but the rule of a dysfunctional political leadership. 

March 27, 2024No Comments

The 30th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide*: the role of transitional justice and humanitarian assistance in the aftermath 

Authors: Agostino Bono, Camilla Cormegna, Ilas Touazi, Shams Jouve, Sophie Herzog Sønju - Crime, Terrorism, Extremism Team in collaboration with the Africa Team*

*Resolution 955 (1994) / adopted by the Security Council at its 3453rd meeting, on 8 November 1994.


April 7, 2024, marks the 30th anniversary of the Rwandan genocide, 100 days during which Tutsi and moderate Hutu were murdered by Hutu supported by government authorities. In the aftermath of the genocide, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) faced significant challenges in terms of reconciliation and rebuilding the country, implementing a judicial system based on transitional justice. Transitional justice addresses widespread human rights violations in post-conflict contexts, acknowledging victims, fostering peace, reconciliation, and democracy. 

In another ITSS article, the Russia Team discusses the role of transitional justice in post-conflict Ukraine. This article explores the post-genocide Rwanda’s search for justice and reconciliation through the judicial process, arguing that a holistic view of transitional justice is needed and both the objectives of peacemaking and justice, restorative and retributive tools, must be balanced to ensure a sense of sustainable peace. Rwanda also represents a turning point in the post-conflict agenda: as UN peacekeepers failed to prevent the genocide,  post-conflict resolution approaches shifted from humanitarian interventions to the responsibility to protect, where the UNSC authorises military intervention in the event of ethnic cleansing and civil war. The transformation of humanitarian intervention approaches is described after presenting a historical overview of the Rwandan genocide. The article then evaluates transitional justice methods, including the ICTR, and local and gacaca courts. Lastly, it compares Rwanda and South Africa's use of traditional methods in the reconciliation process.

The roots of the Rwandan conflict: A historical overview 

The Rwandan society has been always divided along ethnic lines between the Tutsi, the Hutu and the Twa. Since the 1800s, backed by the Belgian colonisers, the Tutsi were the dominant ethnic group. The concentration of power in the hands of the Tutsi exacerbated inter-ethnic tensions and led to the 1959 social revolution, which resulted in the abolition of the Tutsi monarchy and the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Tutsi to neighbouring countries.  The post-colonial governments of Gregoire Kayibanda (1960-1973) and Juvénal Habyarimana (1973-1994) discriminated against the Tutsi and were characterised by corruption as well as power struggles within ethnicities. Their domestic policy intensified in October 1990. During that month, the return from Uganda of the Rwandan Patriotic Force (RPF),  a contingent of special forces, sparked a civil war with the Rwandan Armed Forces (RAF) of President Habyarimana who accused the Tutsi of the increasing Hutu’s social grievances and sufferings. Concomitantly, powerful Hutu from the Akuzu tribe, gave logistic and material support as well as training to the anti-Tutsi front.

The Arusha Peace Treaty in June 1992 put an end to two years of belligerence between the RAF and the RPF and established a power-sharing agreement between the parties in conflict. However, the instability continued throughout the country also because of the Hutu’s propaganda against the Tutsi at the national and local levels. Therefore, despite all the efforts, the civil war lasted until 1994 with a final toll of about 10,000 deaths. A significant example of the bilateral aggression took place on 6 April, 1994. Following negotiations with the RPF in Arusha, Tanzania, the aircraft carrying President Habyarimana and Burundian President Ntaryamira was shot down by unknown attackers. Their killings ignited the Rwandan genocide, which was fuelled by the Hutu political elite who accused the RPF of the murders. In their killing spree, they massacred Tutsi as well as moderate Hutu opponents.

The United Nations Assistance Mission to Rwanda failed to stop the genocide as well as to join efforts with the RPF. This resulted in the unilateral reaction of the RPF which spread throughout the country, finally managing to put an end to the massacre in July 1994. Overall, between 6 April and 19 July 1994, approximately 800,000 ethnic Tutsi, Twa and Hutu were killed for the sake of “cleansing the nation”. 

The Rwandan genocide: between humanitarian intervention approach and post-conflict reconstruction (PCR) 

The emergence of ethnic, religious, tribal, and civil wars, particularly in Rwanda, reshaped the Security Council's priorities from maintaining international peace to stopping the massacres and ensuring the free distribution of humanitarian aid, then providing armed support for the relief effort and authorising multinational military intervention to stop the genocide and crimes against humanity. However, the UN's post-Cold War activities, particularly in Iraq, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and then Rwanda, have been characterised by humanitarian operations that are increasingly militarised and described as “military humanitarianism.” While contemporary international law does not grant humanitarian intervention the same exceptional status as the right to self-defence. In this vein, the acceptance of a right to judicial interference was sown with pitfalls precisely by Rwanda, which refused to adopt the statute of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) in 1994. Yet, it is a question of interference in the service of peace and justice, constituting a leap from the right to interfere to the doctrine of the responsibility to protect (R2P) and prevent genocide, war crimesethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity.

In the post-Cold War globalised world, a “post-conflict reconstruction approach” (PCR) has arisen to prevent systematic human rights violations that offers reparation to victims and strengthens conflict resolution and peacebuilding. In that respect, Rwanda stands as a major case on the emerging post-conflict agenda. Consequently, the change in the nature of humanitarian intervention from traditional approaches to new dimensions was implemented in the Rwandan theatre, which initially focused on the classic peacekeeping operation with the United Nations Assistance Mission for Rwanda UNAMIR, decided by resolution 872 (1993) of 5 October 1993. Faced with the United Nations' inability to manage the Rwandan crisis through its action, described as humanitarian assistance, the French-led “Operation Turquoise”, followed by “Operation Support Hope”, was described as founding a right to interfere. That’s why the “PCR” process in Rwanda to solve genocide issues and trauma has been shaped innovatively to achieve sustainable peace recovery and promote reconciliation due to holistic planned coordination among different policy interventions and stakeholders in the context of security, political governance, socio- economic development, gender, and justice. Meanwhile, PCR was enhanced by mechanisms of coordination in the transition to peace, namely the Rwandan government (GoR), as well as the administration of justice and conflict prevention under a window of sustainable consensus reconstruction among the formal and transitional informal justice systems (IJS). 

Source: - "Flag-map of Rwanda" - This picture is an excerpt of the original /

ICTR, the local courts and their limitations

The exceptionality of the genocide in Rwanda was the public mass participation, and so the retributive justice process became increasingly difficult. The need to implement an international criminal tribunal became essential for convicting those utmost accountable. The ICTR, or the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, was created as of the UN Resolution 955, which stated that its aim was “prosecuting persons responsible for genocide and other serious violations of International Humanitarian Law committed in the territory of Rwanda”. In total, 93 people were indicted by the ICTR. Of them were 62 sentenced, 14 were acquitted, 10 were referred to local courts, and the rest either died, escaped, or had their charges withdrawn. The ICTR was historical as it was the first time “an international tribunal delivered verdicts against people responsible for committing genocide”, with their sentences ranging from 2 years to life imprisonment. Those not indicted by the ICTR were indicted by the national court system. Towards the mid 2010s, around 10000 people were tried in relation to the genocide, potentially facing the death penalty. The difference in punishment, as well as the varying judicial process, came to be a large problem for the reconciliation of the Rwandan state. Although the ICTR was successful in creating some sense of fairness and victor-mentality for the remainder of functional society, the UN resolution and the tribunal itself had clear limitations through their retributive aims. Retributive justice can be defended from a logical perspective as something that can be justified in terms of utility, but not in terms of fairness. From a moral perspective, it can be justified in terms of fairness, but not utility. In Rwanda, the retributive justice process through ICTR convicted those most in charge of the genocide, without determining the morality of the crimes beyond the basis of international law, not addressing the root issue which ultimately caused neighbours to kill their neighbours. There was no need for the convicted in either court to express remorse or wish to reform, and so a retributive justice process did arguably limit the reconciliation process of the state after the genocide. 

Gacaca courts: balancing accountability and reconciliation

To provide alternative solutions for dealing with the perpetrators of the genocide while promoting peace, in 2002 the Rwandan government established the gacaca courts, which combined elements of retributive and restorative justice. In 2012, gacaca came to an end, having tried more than 1.9 million suspects, involving over 170,000 judges. Gacaca were customary local courts traditionally led by elders and public figures to solve local disputes. The new gacaca retained some characteristics of the original model but now judges had the power of sentencing while the existence of a forum of community members allowed victims to voice their suffering. Significant value was also placed on the acknowledgement of guilt, shame and regret by the accused: the offender’s confession about the atrocities committed would reduce sentences in favour of community service. According to Pugh and Rwanda’s leaders, community involvement to address crimes and truth-telling succeeded in achieving accountability more efficiently compared to state-controlled mechanisms while fostering reconciliation. Not only did many perpetrators appear remorseful and apologised to their victims by giving them truth and closure about a tough past, but since gacaca was rooted in tradition, the Rwandan society managed to reclaim a cultural heritage nearly lost during colonisation. In turn, gacaca helped the healing of a country torn apart by an ethnopolitical conflict by reintegrating citizens not as Hutu or Tutsi but as Rwandan nationals. 

However, numerous criticisms have been levelled against the gacaca system. Apart from a lack of due process, one of the key issues revolved around the legitimacy of judges. Many people elected as judges were later recognised as having taken part in the genocide, compromising their integrity and accountability,  ultimately undermining the justice system. Thomson also contends that gacaca courts were a state-driven legal system devised to exert control by collectively assigning guilt to the Hutu population, categorising them as perpetrators, while politicising the victimhood of the Tutsi community. The RPF leadership failed to prosecute Tutsi forces who committed atrocities against Hutus, de facto failing to deliver true justice. Overall, notwithstanding these criticisms, gacaca proved to be an important restorative tool in the reconciliation process, highlighting the importance of a holistic approach to transitional justice that incorporates both retributive and restorative measures.

Assessing cultural tools for reconciliation in Rwanda and South Africa

We observe a particularly efficient use of holistic, home-based approaches to post-conflict reconstruction in Africa from 1995. Rwanda and South Africa have both succeeded in introducing solutions grounded on traditional mechanisms for reconciliation.

The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was established to investigate human rights violations usually perpetrated by state institutions and the military during the apartheid. Similarly to Rwandan solutions, it aimed at strengthening peace by reestablishing trust within the South African society, while avoiding direct violence and rebuilding the country. This last point differs from Rwanda’s clear need for individual justice, each country adopted different forms of transitional justice mechanisms. The TRC emphasised on rebuilding the country politically, while Rwanda’s Gacaca courts favoured the settlement of revenge needs within the society.

Considered the ‘largest experiment in popular justice in modern history’ as well as a ‘unique [model] among judicial structures around the world’, the Gacaca allowed for faster trials and certainly eased ethnic tensions after the genocide by putting the society at the heart of reconciliation. Culturally adapted programmes focused on inclusiveness and dignity, therefore restoring a national identity. Levels of political reconciliation reached 90%, demonstrating the clear success of traditional tools for reconstructing Rwanda. In South Africa, the TRC received similar positive outcomes and particularly contributed to acknowledging abuses suffered by the victims.

However, cultural resources are not magical tools for reconciliation. Indeed, John Lederach evaluates the success of reconciliation through four constitutive elements: peace, truth, justice, and mercy. According to this model, South Africa emphasised truth and mercy at the expense of justice, whereas Rwanda emphasised justice at the expense of mercy.

The main issue raised by the gacaca courts being traditional tools is their disrespect of international legal standards. They failed to provide gender-sensitive justice or efficient reintegration means, and could definitely not accelerate the process of restitution and compensation of properties, nor erase the genocide’s psychological and physical damages. 

In South Africa, the TRC was in charge of the problematic mission of ‘establishing truth’, forsaking individual reconciliation and focusing on political and national needs. The Commission did not address the many inequalities suffered by the black community following the apartheid, including increased levels of poverty, and therefore did not answer the population’s need for the whites to take responsibility and pay reparation.


It is clear that the tragedy of the genocide of the Tutsi in Rwanda in the 1990s marked the post-Cold War period, reflecting the reality of a country strongly characterized by political violence and community and ethnic tensions. But amid of this indelible trauma, the vital role of transitional justice and informal justice systems, with the dual involvement of local justice (Gacaca), and national and international courts (ICTR), emerged as a solution to this endemic crisis. However, this was reinforced by post-conflict reconstruction (PCR) approaches in response to genocide and crimes against humanity, but it also played a pivotal role in the peacebuilding architecture and conflict prevention management. Thus, the main lessons drawn from the Rwandan experience are essentially linked to respect for international humanitarian law and international human rights law, which must be at the centre of local government priorities, and post-modern internationalism above political divisions and double standards at the international level, while today there are various situations, particularly in Ukraine, where populations face risks of crimes under the responsibility to protect (R2P). 

March 25, 2024No Comments

Africa’s Critical Minerals: Shaping the Future of the Energy Transition 

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


The need for critical minerals to achieve the energy transition cannot be stressed enough. According to the International Energy Agency, demand for these minerals will increase by a factor of four to sixfold. Just as with many other trends that begin to unfold, Africa holds the key since it sits on a vast supply of these resources. Yet, the way the continent approaches this matter could determine whether its history is rewritten or if there is a perpetuation of an uneven distribution of resource gains.

Several key indicators highlight Africa's importance in this context. More than half of African countries possess green minerals essential for the energy transition. Notably, the Democratic Republic of Congo boasts half of the world's cobalt reserves, crucial for batteries and electric vehicles. To fully leverage these resources, Africa must integrate its supply chain processes, capitalizing on value addition at every stage, from extraction to transportation.

Balancing a Just Transition for Africa: Challenges and Imperatives 

Mineral supply chains typically involve four stages, which can broadly be divided into extraction, refining, production, and recycling. Currently, the vast majority of African countries export critical minerals in their primary form, trapping the continent in a cycle known as the primary commodity trap.

Accordingly, Africa perceives a tiny percentage of the overall benefits, with forecasts suggesting that this situation is unlikely to improve shortly. Out of the projected $8.8 trillion market value of global batteries and the supply chain of EVs, only $55 billion is expected to flow to Africa. Thus, there is an urgent need for substantial reforms. However, this goal conflicts with the interests of countries aspiring to lead in renewable energy transitions. Indeed, to maintain sustainable growth without compromising inputs, these nations are eyeing the continent’s supply of rare earths

While ensuring that necessary minerals reach global markets is crucial for meeting climate agreements, the pioneers in energy transition such as the EU, the US and China ought to design climate policies which hold high standards. At the same time, even though some sort of protectionism has been put in place in the continent, this may be rather ineffective if ownership along the supply chain remains foreign. If the opposite occurs, it could turn out to be a Berlin Conference of the 21st century.

Co-opetition for Resources in Africa: The EU & China

Thus far, the EU has adopted the Critical Raw Materials Act (CRM Act) which sets ambitious targets for mineral processing, emphasizing reduced reliance on third countries. Precisely, it establishes targets for critical raw materials of meeting 10% of annual needs mined materials, 15% recycled materials, and 40% of materials processed in Europe by 2030 for minerals, while simultaneously not relying on a single third country for more than 65% for any material. Remarkably, two major roadblocks should be noted for the EU to achieve these targets. 

The first involves intensifying global competition for resources in Africa, particularly about China. As the green transition progresses, states are increasingly reliant on critical minerals from Africa, fueling competition for influence over these strategic resources. Aware of the risks associated with overreliance on a single supply chain, African countries have strategically prioritised diversifying their mineral partnerships. This strategic recalibration has added another layer of complexity to the geopolitical landscape, as access to the supply chains of critical minerals becomes yet another arena for the intricate dynamics of great power rivalry to unfold. 

Source: © AI generated picture

International competition for access to critical minerals navigates through alliances and rivalry alike. Geopolitical manoeuvring by influential players such as the US, China, and the EU is intricately tied to securing and managing critical minerals' supply chains. China possesses a dominant position in producing and refining African critical minerals, giving it significant influence over supply chain dynamics and sparking concern among other key stakeholders such as the EU and the US. This influence is evident in regions like the Horn of Africa, where the evolving engagement of China and the EU reveals intersecting interests and potential for both competition and collaboration

While China's growing economic presence in the region, driven by access to critical minerals and infrastructural projects, contrasts with the EU's emphasis on security initiatives and governance reforms, Chinese involvement has nonetheless produced benefits for infrastructural and economic development. Additionally, their security operations, including peacekeeping and anti-piracy efforts, have contributed to increased regional stability. These positive outcomes challenge prevalent negative narratives in the West regarding China's involvement in the region, offering the potential for cooperative influence and increased opportunity for strengthened stability in the region. Although it would require thorough preparation and collaborative endeavours, Chinese and European involvement in the Horn of Africa holds the potential for a mutually beneficial outcome. 

Additionally, a second major consideration regarding the CRM Act is ensuring that local communities in Africa are safeguarded, while also supplying enough critical minerals to achieve targets. A common concern locally is that extractive industries, such as mining, will place several negative consequences on the environmental and social conditions in mining communities in Africa. To ensure a just transition, the mineral supply chain process must provide sufficient protection for mining communities in Africa to not harm or exploit them over the long term. Within this geopolitical context, African countries emerge not solely as suppliers of the critical minerals for the green transition but also as significant influencers in shaping global power dynamics. 

As these countries strive to break free from the primary commodity trap, their choices concerning trade agreements, alliances, policies for resource extraction, and infrastructure expansion resonate throughout the entire supply chain. African countries’ involvement introduces a new dimension to international competition, where countries and blocs vie not only for access to critical minerals but also for influence over their strategic decisions. 

Africa's mineral wealth forms an essential bedrock for industries worldwide, as the supply chain of strategic minerals extends across multiple facets in the development towards sustainable solutions. Therefore, countries depend on a consistent and unbroken supply of these minerals, wherein the evolution and dynamics of this supply chain can send shockwaves throughout the global economy and geopolitical landscape. 


In conclusion, the continent, and the whole world, stands at a crossroads. The approach to African resource management will determine whether it can break free from historical patterns of exploitation. The goal, as stated in the African Green Minerals Development Strategy Approach Paper, is to guide Africa to strategically exploit the continent’s green mineral resources for industrialisation and to assert control over its destiny to create an African presence in emerging green technologies. A shift towards integrated supply chain management, sustainable extraction practices, and prioritisation of local community welfare is imperative to harness the full benefits of Africa's mineral wealth while mitigating adverse consequences.

In this context, international cooperation and strategic partnerships are essential to navigate the complexities of the evolving geopolitical landscape surrounding critical minerals and to ensure that the global shift to clean technologies does not come to the detriment of African communities. 

Long story short, Africa's pivotal role in the global supply chain of critical minerals underscores the continent's potential to shape the trajectory of the energy transition and influence global power dynamics. By making informed choices and fostering cooperation, African countries can not only unlock economic opportunities but also play a significant role in shaping a more equitable and sustainable global future.

However, this potential comes with significant challenges and considerations.

March 18, 2024No Comments

Japan’s OSA: Balancing Security and Stability in the Indo-Pacific

*Authors: Southeast Asia and Oceania Team


Amid escalating tensions in the Indo-Pacific region, exacerbated by assertive Chinese actions, in April 2023, Japan declared a new cooperation framework—Official Security Aid (OSA). Positioned as a strategic departure from its longstanding Official Development Aid (ODA) framework, the OSA marks Japan's commitment to strengthening the armed forces of like-minded nations. This move reflects Japan's response to the evolving security landscape, characterized by Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea (SCS) and other geopolitical challenges.

From ODA to OSA

For decades, Japan stood as a bastion of ODA, considered as the main reliable partner for Southeast Asian nations. Its aid is granted under a request-based system and reflects a commitment to regional stability via non-military means.In the postwar era, Japan utilized development cooperation to establish relations with neighboring countries and subsequently to support the expansion of Japanese businesses in Asia. It played a role in the transition from socialist regimes and, amid China's rise, contributed to the development of legal systems and the consolidation of democracies.

The OSA, however, underscores Japan's proactive stance in gaining a more dominant role in the region, marking its first attempt in the postwar era, in which this country seeks to directly enhance the capabilities of foreign military forces. Under the OSA, Japan aims to provide not only equipment and supplies, but also support for infrastructure development to the military forces of like-minded countries, thereby bolstering their security capabilities.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida's 2022 Shangri-La Dialogue address marked a pivotal moment in this new approach, with an announcement on doubling Japan's defense spending, and on the necessity in a departure from Japan's traditional post-war foreign policy, primarily centered on economic contributions. Japan's move towards OSA fits with its long-standing role as a vital ally for Southeast Asia in maritime security, especially during Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's leadership.

The realization of OSA materialized around the Japan and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ (ASEAN) 50th anniversary, culminating in a Joint Vision Statement and an implementation plan which emphasized maritime security cooperation. Subsequently, Japan extended its security assistance totaling $13 million to Bangladesh, Fiji, Malaysia, and the Philippines, demonstrating a commitment to fostering stability beyond its borders.

Furthermore, Japan’s International Cooperation Agency (JICA) is set to play a pivotal role in providing maritime security support to Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam. JICA's plan encompasses capacity-building initiatives and the provision of patrol boats, radar systems, and drones. This comprehensive support seeks to address the security needs of nations grappling with regional power dynamics. This move signifies Japan’s intent to forge a broader international coalition, marking a strategic shift in its diplomatic and security engagements.

Strategic Gains

Amid the delicate balancing acts between superpowers, the OSA offers Southeast Asian claimant states an appealing prospect. With territorial disputes and threats from China in the SCS, Japan’s commitment to enhancing defense capabilities might seem to aim to deter Chinese assertiveness.

In this context, and following the ASEAN-Japan Commemorative Summit, Japan has elevated relations with Vietnamand Malaysia to a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, and a Security Assistance agreement, including maritime equipment provision, was signed with Malaysia. Additionally, although not a claimant state, Japan plans to build a patrol vessel for the Indonesian Coast Guard. Moreover, coastal surveillance radars will be granted to the Philippines, with discussions on reciprocal troop access and joint military exercises. Japan and the Philippines are also working towards a trilateral alliance involving the US. As Japan has its own territorial dispute with China over its southern islands, the OSA aligns with its ambitions to ensure a Free and Open Indo-Pacific and secure regional supply chain resilience.

Source: AkinoriMatsui "World flags" -

Japan also might envision the OSA as a means to reduce Southeast Asian countries' dependence on China. As the Belt and Road Initiative remains a significant diplomatic tool, the OSA introduces new areas of cooperation. For Bangladesh, for instance, which heavily relies on Chinese weaponry (70%), the OSA offers an opportunity to diversify suppliers and mitigate risks associated with the quality of Chinese-made military equipment.

Balancing security and stability

In his address at the Hiroshima G7 Summit in 2023, PM Kishida emphasized the potential parallels between the current situation in Ukraine and future challenges in East Asia. Observing global instability stemming from the Ukraine war, the rise of China, US-China tensions, and the Israel-Hamas War, Japan’s proactive foreign policy aims to foster deterrence and regional security. This change signifies a departure from its conventional stance of following US priorities by shifting towards a Japan-led multilateral security collaboration. It should be asked whether this securitization led to more, or less stability in the region.

While Japan's emphasis on maritime security and support to like-minded Indo-Pacific countries aligns with countering China's assertiveness, extending OSA to the military capabilities of developing countries introduces complexities.

The potential reactions from ASEAN nations, particularly considering their neutrality and non-alignment strive, could lead to heightened tensions and disrupt the delicate balance in the ongoing superpower competition. Moreover, concerns over an arms race in the region emerge; due to ASEAN countries' diverse capabilities and stances in the superpower competition, providing security assistance to certain members might increase tension in the region and undermine the current multilateral system. 

The pursuit of a competitive armament approach, rather than creating a secure environment, may contribute to heightened tension, prompting a more assertive Chinese stance and a Chinese armament of its allies in the region. Furthermore, given China’s extensive arms sales to the region, and its lenient restrictions on arms exports, it is essential to question whether Japan's OSA will genuinely serve as an effective countermeasure to China.


Japan's adoption of OSA signifies a proactive response to regional challenges posed by assertive Chinese actions. While enhancing defense capabilities for like-minded developing countries brings strategic gains, potential reactions from ASEAN, fears of an arms race, divisions, and China's extensive influence, warrant cautious consideration. As Japan assumes a broader international role, the delicate balance between security and stability in the Indo-Pacific calls for careful navigation and strategic planning to mitigate potential negative repercussions of such security related initiatives.

*Views expressed in the article belong to the author and do not represent any organization or its affiliates.

March 11, 2024No Comments

Beijing and Washington try to talk to each other about AI

Author: Francesco Cirillo - U.S. Team

The sudden emergence of applications related to artificial intelligence, which combine different fields of work, is at the centre of international agendas and governments. The issue of the possible risks of AI has focused the debate on the need to find common ground, especially between China and the United States, the two major global economic powers and key players in AI research and development, both in the public and private Big Tech sectors, both in the US and in China. 

In recent months, following the San Francisco Summit in November 2023, where a very important bilateral meeting between Joe Biden and Xi Jinping took place, China and the US have started to engage in a dialogue to create global governance on AI. For several experts, Sino-American cooperation is crucial to avoid a political-military race in the AI sector, as was also said by Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI. From Beijing's perspective, the issue remains a priority due to the delicate diplomatic relations between Washington and Beijing. Between December 2023 and January 2024, two Chinese academics wrote two papers attempting to define the new China-US relationship from Beijing's perspective. 

Da Wei, a professor at Tsinghua University, highlights four key concepts needed to analyse the new 'normal' in Sino-US relations after the San Francisco summit. The paper points out that relations will remain predominantly negative in the long term, but analyses the condition that neither power wants a direct confrontation on the economic level. From the point of view of Chinese academics, there seems to be the idea that both China and the US must find the need to coexist, especially to consolidate dialogue on issues of artificial intelligence. 

Here too, Chinese academics and experts reiterate the need for high-level dialogue to build global governance on AI

Even the world of independent academic research is moving to protect the impartiality of scientific research on AI.

On 5 March, a team of MIT experts published a letter"A Safe Harbor for AI Evaluation and Red Teaming," calling on tech companies involved in generative AI research to implement independent evaluation systems for AI-related risks. The letter, signed by several experts, refers to the confidentiality and corporate security issues that many Big Techs, most notably OpenAI, have within their R&D teams, preventing an unbiased assessment of the risks associated with the sudden development of AI, accelerated from December 2022.

Source: Tara Winstead - Pexels

Artificial Intelligence issues have entered the international debate because of their potential in various sectors, but also because of the competition/cooperation that both China and the United States will have to face in the coming years on issues related to the integration of AI systems in the economic, political and military spheres. 

International competition and the race to dominate AI could change the current status of global governance, but it would not change the game and the competition between the great powers, since technological innovation has always played a key role in the global hegemony of the superpower that would gain a strategic advantage over all the other great global powers.

March 6, 2024No Comments

The Houthis and Iran: A Complex Nexus Threatening Regional Stability

Authors: Will Kingston-Cox, Ilaria Lorusso, Margherita Ceserani, Shahin Modarres - Iran Team

The Russo-Iranian strategic military cooperation in the Red Sea unfolds against the backdrop of a multifaceted and changing geopolitical scenario. The evolving situation in the area prompts a reevaluation of the Russo-Iranian partnership, drawing parallels with their collaboration in Ukraine. While historical dynamics may inform the alliance, the Red Sea theater introduces a maritime dimension, reflecting an adaptive strategy. The interstate treaty between Tehran and Moscow further solidifies their alliance, positioning Iran strategically alongside Russia and China, as geopolitical alignments shift post-Russia's invasion of Ukraine1

As Iran rejects US’s accusation of its support to the Houthis’ attacks, in turn linked to the conflict unfolding in the Gaza Strip, the complexities in the Red Sea underscore the delicate nature of their partnership and the need for a nuanced analysis considering historical context and evolving geopolitical dynamics. In this context, this article will attempt at providing such a summary of the Russo-Iranian partnership so far, and what prospect for the latter the new scenario in the Red Sea holds2

On 17 January 2024, Maria Zakharova, the Kremlin’s spokeswoman, announced that Russia and Iran will sign a new comprehensive interstate cooperation agreement imminently3. This treaty, a furtherance of the Russo-Iranian strategic partnership already evident in Ukraine and before, will serve to consolidate this strategic partnership and entrench it both politically and legally. The signing, as told by Zakharova, has been expedited by the changing international context, a reference perhaps to the global discord resultant from conflicts in Ukraine and, pertinently, the Red Sea region. Such a contention is affirmed by prior comments from the Kremlin in November 2023, in which it was announced that significant work in deepening and developing “military-technical cooperation” was under way4

It is important to emphasise the importance of such an agreement’s final draft being catalysed by events in the Red Sea, pertinently those relating to the Yemeni Houthis and the Red Sea shipping route. British and American strikes, described as “defensive” by NATO, on Yemeni Houthis on 11th January were condemned by Moscow, with Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov denouncing them as “illegitimate” and that the Western coalition were seeking to manipulate the international legal order. Tehran’s stance, too, was resolute. Nasser Kanaani, the spokesperson for the Iranian foreign ministry, derided the coalition strikes as “arbitrary” and “[in clear breach of Yemeni’s] sovereignty and territorial integrity…against international law.” 

The level to which Iran involves itself, be it politically, diplomatically, or militarily, will undoubtedly concern the actions of policymakers in Moscow. The degree to which the Russo-Iranian politically-military strategic partnership will be seen in the Red Sea will depend on the extent to which the current Houthi conflict embroils Tehran. 

Since the 1979 revolution, the Houthis have been intricately tied to the Islamic Republic of Iran, functioning as one of its proxy groups. This relationship unfolds against the backdrop of international sanctions, shaping Iran's defense strategy. Unable to engage in research development or scientific collaboration in defense due to sanctions, Iran has devised a defense doctrine grounded in two key pillars: proxy groups and a ballistic program.

The first pillar, involving proxy groups, has seen Iran establish and support various entities across Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, Israel, and neighboring countries. The primary objective seems to be destabilizing regional and international security, and strategically deploying conflicts as leverage during negotiations.

The turning point emerged after the October 7th attack, prompting the Islamic Republic to perceive a threat to what it terms the "axis of resistance." In response to diminishing Hamas influence within the Gaza Strip and an effort to alleviate pressure on the group, Iran allegedly directed the Houthis in Yemen to escalate security destabilisation in the Red Sea and Bab el-Mandeb Strait region.

Source: An armed Yemeni sits on a boat in front of the Galaxy Leader cargo ship - EPA/via BBC News - Keystone archivio

Backed and provided by Iran, the Houthis pose a multifaceted threat against maritime security and Israel in the region. The first dimension involves the use of missiles sourced from Iran, followed by the deployment of drones also supplied by the Islamic Republic. Lastly, the Houthis reportedly possess and have been strategically placing sea mines since 2021 in the Red Sea, adding another layer of complexity to the threat.

Considering that a substantial 12% of international trade traverses the Red Sea and Bab el-Mandeb Strait, the ongoing situation becomes increasingly untenable5. The intersection of geopolitical interests, proxy dynamics, and strategic maneuvers underscores the urgent need for international attention and diplomatic resolution to avert potential catastrophe in this crucial maritime passage.

While the Houthis, threaten commercial shipping in the Red Sea, oil has so far continued flowing. According to one Houthis political leader, Mohammed al-Bukhaiti, maritime routes around Yemen are safe for Chinese and Russian vessels, as long as they are not associated with Israel. Moscow, while publicly indicating support for Washington's efforts to maintain order in the Red Sea, has only a small amount of its trade passing through the Suez Canal. Moreover, Russian officials suggest that the Red Sea crisis could potentially redirect shipping to the Northern Sea Route or the North-South Transport Corridor via Iran to the Indian Ocean. 

All in all, the renewed Russo-Iranian strategic partnership, in the Middle East space on this occasion, represents an adaptive response to the changing geopolitical landscape. The intricacies of the Red Sea, added to the Iranian grip on the Houthis, brings another dimension to the relationship between the two states. In this article, we have demonstrated how the partnership's strategic implications and the evolving nature of conflicts in the region underscore the need for a multilevel approach while addressing today’s complexities and potential risks in the Red Sea.

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March 4, 2024No Comments

The current war in Sudan as an aftermath of inaction for the Human Crisis in Darfur                                                                           

Author: Esther Brito - Human Security Team

Darfur is once again experiencing a terrible crisis that, according to many international experts and organisations, has all the characteristics to be considered as genocide - or perhaps, it has always been. 

The country of Sudan has faced multiple severe episodes of war and what can be classified as genocide in its recent history; including the First Sudanese Civil War (1955 to 1972), the Second Sudanese Civil War (1983 to 2005), the 1990’s genocide in the Nuba Mountains, and the 2000’s escalation risk of genocide in Darfur – which has, arguably, seen a continuation at a lower intensity over the last two decades. More recently, in April 2023, violence erupted in the capital, Khartoum, and soon expanded throughout the country as the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) clashed with the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) paramilitary group.

The current escalation of violence can be directly traced to the impacts of the Second Sudanese Civil War and the subsequent non-resolution of the Darfur genocide. During the second civil war, while the central government in Khartoum was engaged in armed conflict with the Sudan People’s Liberation Army – a clash which would give way to the creation of the world’s newest state – a combined breakdown of fundamental aspects of human security and the cumulative displeasure with structural inequality would precipitate the war in Darfur. Mainly, the onset of violence in Darfur was triggered by: 1) disputes regarding land and resource use that became identified with ethnicity, further exacerbated by climate change; 2) perceptions of unequal political power and preferential access, and 3) the uncertainties driven by the nation’s ongoing civil war. 

The Genocide in Darfur 

As noted, the social cleavages affecting the conflict in Darfur are related to a complex opposition based on decaying access to vital resources and unequal power representation in the state. Indeed, tensions rose in tandem with national policies seen as supporting Arab dominance in the region, at the cost of agency and representation for black Africans. With the presence of Chadian rebels in Darfur throughout the 1970s and 1980s facilitating access to weapons for both local Arab and African groups, and the embracing of these rebels of Arab supremacist ideology, perceptions of mutual risk increased progressively. This social suspicion was both often the result of and reinforced by local resource competition and tensions derived from scarcity. In fact, Darfur has been referred to as the “first climate change conflict”.

These points of contention exploded in 2003, when two Darfuri rebel groups – the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) – accused the central government of the marginalization and dispossession of non-Arab groups in Darfur; launching an attack against a government post in the region. Contending with the threat of a massive territorial secession in the South and fearing similar claims in the West, the Sudanese government funded and armed Arab local militia groups, known as the Janjaweed, as proxy forces to push back against the rebels and deter any further social support through the targeting of African groups in mass atrocities – including mass killings, torture, sexual violence, and mass displacement – as part of a scorched earth campaign. Estimates suggest that between 140,000 and 400,000 people were killed as a result. This instance would lead the International Criminal Court to sign an arrest warrant for President Omar al-Bashir in 2009 for crimes including genocide – a controversial response at the time as the first indictment of a sitting president. 

Past the genocide’s peak, the dynamics and actors built up during the initial war in Darfur have served to drive significant political developments in Sudan – such as the 2019 coup that deposed al-Bashir, the 2021 coup that ended civilian governance, and notably the renewed violence in 2023. This situates both the 2003 and 2023 conflicts as inherently interrelated, demanding aligned analysis and responses.

Source: Wikimedia Commons -

The role of non-resolution and what might follow

While the intensity of the violence in Darfur lessened under international pressure in 2005 and with the entry of UNMIS until 2011, the genocide did not truly end – with continued forms of both direct and structural targeting, and the maintenance of a situation of ethnically defined mass displacement for two decades. This semi-permanent mass displacement not only endures today, but has continued to worsen as a result of the recent escalation. 

It is the lack of comprehensive accountability for the genocide, as well as the non-transformation of power structures and drivers of conflict, that has led directly into the current war. In fact, the RSF formally emerged in 2013 from the consolidation and reorganization of Janjaweed militias, for the purpose of more effectively continuing repression operations and mass violence in Darfur. The 2023 eruption of violence in the capital was triggered due to disagreements between the SAF and the RSF, which had priorly been aligned in their operations in Darfur, and further orchestrated both the 2019 and 2021 coups. As such, the actors, power relationships, and immunity that defined the genocide in Darfur have become the core triggers of the current war, which has not only affected the capital and its surrounding areas, but heightened the intensity of genocide in Darfur as well.

At the moment, a number of potential scenarios can lead to the further escalation of the Sudanese conflict. Among them, perhaps the most prominent are the following: 1) the entry of international backers into the conflict, either directly or indirectly; 2) the establishment of only partial negotiations with a focus on Khartoum – thus excluding Darfur –; and 3) the further regression of international aid and attention, favoring further atrocities or another iteration of unresolved stalemates – which leave those displaced in a state of extreme vulnerability, enabling further cycles of communal violence. Given that Sudan shares borders with South Sudan, Egypt, Libya, Chad, the Central African Republic, Ethiopia and Eritrea, the potential for spillover risks exacerbating or even precipitating a number of regional conflicts cannot be overstated.

However, there are also windows of opportunity for conflict mitigation. The death of RSF leader Mohamad Hamdan “Hemedti” Dagalo could lead to an organizational breakdown within the group, making it more likely to put down its weapons in favor of amnesty and a renewed integration process into the SAF. Another possible avenue can come from the involvement of regional institutions, such as the African Union (AU). While AU engagement has not traditionally been well received by the government of Sudan, there is a potential for entry in helping to manage the growing refugee crisis that can then be expanded into a role in negotiation and DDR across the country. This is of course dependent on a significant level of international aid and institutional commitment from the AU, as well as a change in positioning from the SAF, which would need to be motivated by the inability of the government to navigate the mass displacement that has followed the violence both nationally and in Darfur. Given that this latest episode has led 3.8 million people to flee, with around 7.1 million people now being internally displaced, this may be a necessary concession from the SAF – particularly as humanitarian needs continue to rise exponentially, with 24.7 million people currently in urgent need of humanitarian assistance and protection. However, this will not be an easy endeavor, as there has been a cessation of relief operations in parts of the country – including areas in West Darfur – as a result of targeted attacks on humanitarian aid workers and property.  

The cost of avoidance

The current conflict in Sudan is a result in great part of the lack of attention and resolution afforded to the war and genocide in Darfur. The RSF is a direct consequence of the Janjaweed’s impunity, and as the situation deteriorates, we are at risk of once again seeing the international community settle for only a cosmetic resolution of the hostilities in Khartoum and a continuation of the attritional genocide in Darfur.  The genocide convention explicitly notes that in the absence of prevention and prosecution of genocidal violence, further war will follow. What we see in Sudan is the physical manifestation of that warning; where international response waned as atrocities became more low-intensity and institutionalized in nature, failing to address the continued targeting of Darfuri civilians and the parallel strengthening of the RSF into what it is now. Currently, as atrocities increase in intensity again – to a scale comparable to the beginnings of the last-high intensity campaign in Darfur – it is important that patterns of conflict resolution follow a different trajectory. 

The views and opinions expressed are exclusively those of the author or authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the association.