March 1, 2024No Comments

Turbulent Waters: Assessing the Red Sea Crisis

Authors: Idriss El Alaoui Talibi and Michele Mignona (Edited by Iris Raith) - Defense & Procurement Team


Since October 2023, tensions in the Red Sea have reached unprecedented levels, largely due to a series of aggressive manoeuvres by Houthi forces stationed in Yemen. These actions have included multiple drone and missile assaults targeting both Israeli territories and various vessels—both commercial and military—operating in the region. The Houthi attacks are interpreted as direct responses to Israel's military campaign in Gaza.

To address the escalating threat, the U.S. began Operation Prosperity Guardian in December, a multinational military initiative aimed at safeguarding the Red Sea against further Houthi incursions. Subsequently, beginning on January 12, the U.S. and UK have jointly executed targeted strikes against Houthi installations within Yemen in the aftermath of the beginning of Operation Poseidon Archer. This consists of a coalition of states willing to conduct offensive operations in the region to deteriorate Houti’s military infrastructure. 

Both President Biden and Prime Minister Sunak emphasized that the military strikes were a direct response to the attacks on ships in the Red Sea, which endangered trade and threatened freedom of navigation. This is especially pertinent given that approximately 15% of global seaborne trade typically passes through the Suez Canal. Consequently, this shift is causing substantial global economic losses

Who are the Houthis? 

The Houthis are an armed political and religious group supporting Yemen's Shia Muslim minority. Aligned with Iran's "axis of resistance", they emerged in the 1990s under Hussein al-Houthi's leadership, now led by his brother Abdul Malik. Since 2000, they have battled the Yemeni government for autonomy in northern Yemen, expanding influence during the 2011 Arab Revolt. By 2016, they had seized significant territories in Yemen’s West

Concerned about potential Houthi-Iran alignment, Saudi Arabia formed a coalition to intervene but has been unable to dislodge Houthi control despite years of airstrikes and battles. Although Iran denies supplying the Houthis weapons, instead claiming political support, there is widespread recognition of a tangible Iran-Houthi relationship. In this context, Houthi attacks may pose a greater threat to global security than Gaza's conflict. Indeed, based on pragmatic security and economic calculations, the Houthis' actions could disrupt the delicate regional equilibrium, carrying significant escalation risks despite their relatively small size.

Regional and International Responses 

In response to the Houthis’ attacks and their impacts on international trade and freedom of navigation, Operation Prosperity Guardian was launched to safeguard the security of the southern part of the Red Sea. This operation includes over 20 countries, including the UK, Canada, France, Italy, the Netherlands, and Spain, with Bahrain being the only Arab country in the coalition.

This initiative announced the beginning of a series of attempts, outside of the umbrella of Operation Prosperity Guardian, to repel the Houthis’ attacks, as more than a dozen separate attacks have been conducted, 11 of which have been conducted by the U.S. only. Indeed, since the beginning of the Houthis’ attacks on various vessels, the U.S. has seen its involvement in the region increase with intensified efforts to put a stop to the Houthis’ attacks. A month ago, the U.S. Department of State officially announced the designation of Ansarallah (Houthis) as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist group. Moreover, both the UK and the EU are expected to launch separate initiatives to counter the Houthis’ attacks in the Red Sea. 

Source: Image by Jack Moreh from StockVault

Economic Implications

As mentioned, these assaults against commercial vessels have caused deep economic losses, as it pushed shipping companies to steer clear of this vital trade route. Thus, shipping vessels are now constrained to change itineraries and take the longer route around the Cape of Good Hope, situated at the southern tip of Africa. This alternative corridor extends the journey by over 3,500 nautical miles (6,500 km) and nearly two weeks of sailing time for each voyage, thereby substantially inflating shipping expenses.

According to statistics, more than 20,000 vessels navigate the Red Sea yearly. As such, this crisis creates a serious challenge to both international maritime security and international trade. Although the Houthis are said only to be targeting vessels linked to Israeli interests, the risk of security incidents in this vital shipping lane is seriously affecting the carriage of commodities between major world economies, including the oil-exporting countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the European Union, the U.S. and China.

Alongside these countries, India also ranks high among the most affected countries by the ongoing Red Sea crisis. Indeed, India is heavily dependent on the Red Sea route through the Suez Canal for its trade with Europe, North America, North Africa and the Middle East, as these regions represent more than 50% of India’s exports ($217bn), according to CRISIL Ratings. This showcases the extent of this crisis’ implications. 

Looking forward

The current Red Sea crisis has highlighted the unequivocal importance of this location for geopolitics. With both commercial and strategic implications, the Houthi’s actions have pushed the international community to cooperate to counter these attacks and safeguard freedom of navigation. While the U.S. was eager to engage a military coalition with the initiation of Operation Prosperity Guardian, the EU also began to step out of its shadow by introducing Operation Aspides, if so, with a delay due to its still reactive strategy. It remains to be seen if and how this crisis will de-escalate in the future, as this will be influenced by the war in Gaza and the destabilization of the region. Nevertheless, next to military cooperation, it will certainly be vital to engage in diplomatic efforts aiming to de-escalate the enduring Yemeni conflict by including all parties involved and affected. 

February 19, 2024No Comments

Anant Mishra on the current security and political situation in Afghanistan

In this session, Professor Mishra discusses the capacity of the security forces to control the territory, the Islamic State Khorasan Province, and the division within the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

Professor Anant Mishra is a Visiting Fellow at the International Centre for Policing and Security, University of South Wales.

Interviewers: Agostino Bono and Camilla Cormegna - Crime, Extremism and Terrorism Team

December 4, 2023No Comments

Quill Robinson on the Nexus of Climate Change and Security

Quill Robinson talks about the intersection of climate and security. He delves into the topics of energy security, the role of China and the U.S., and shares his thoughts on COP28 (about to take place in the week of the interview's recording).

Quill Robinson is a Senior Program Manager and Associate Fellow in the Energy Security and Climate Change Program at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

Interviewers: Idriss El Alaoui Talibi, Michele Mignogna, Iris Raith, Frederik Steinhauser - Defense & Procurement Team

October 23, 2023No Comments

Mr. Saji Prelis on Youth, Peace and Security

Mr. Saji Prelis talks about Youth, Peace and Security. Mr. Saji Prelis is the Director of children & youth programs at Search for Common Ground (SFCG).

In this session, Mr. Prelis talks about how the agenda first started, why Resolution 2250 is considered historic and the efforts that have led to it. He also discusses what challenges the efficient implementation of the YPS agenda are today and ends sharing tips for youth activists for their advocacy on youth-inclusion and YPS in their work.

Interviewer: Balkis Chaabane, Human Security Team

September 25, 2023No Comments

The Complex Path to Climate-Neutral Militaries

Authors: Michele Mignona, Iris Raith, Frederik Steinhauser - Defense & Procurement Team


As climate change intensifies, militaries around the world are gradually recognizing the need to climate-proof their forces. That is crucial given that climate change has a clear impact on militaries – and vice versa. Transitioning armed forces to be more sustainable and climate-resilient brings important benefits but also poses challenges. This piece explores the advantages of armed forces pursuing climate neutrality. It will also discuss the difficulties like technology constraints that militaries face in greening defences. Next, the approaches of the US, Russian and Chinese militaries will be considered regarding their adaptation efforts to climate change. Finally, the role of organisations like NATO and the EU in driving climate action in militaries will be analyzed. Their target-setting, funding initiatives and interoperability mechanisms influence allied armed forces to mitigate emissions while maintaining operational readiness.

Advantages of going climate-neutral

Transitioning armed forces to be more sustainable and climate-resilient brings significant strategic and operational benefits. One major advantage is increased energy efficiency and cost savings. By reducing reliance on fossil fuels and shifting to renewable energy sources, militaries can significantly cut costs, especially for fuel-intensive operations. For instance, the US military's use of Advanced Medium Mobile Power Systems (AMMPS) in Afghanistan cut fuel consumption by 21%. Moreover, local renewable energy production also reduces the vulnerable supply lines required for transporting diesel and other fuels to forward locations. This increases the self-sufficiency of missions, decreasing dependence on external actors, which may jeopardize a mission’s efficacy.  

Furthermore, investing in technologies and infrastructure resilient to climate impacts allows militaries to maintain readiness as operational environments change. Adaptive planning, training and capabilities preserve the armed forces' effectiveness as extreme weather affects theatres of operation. For example, NATO's Cold Response exercises in Norway help prepare troops to operate in Arctic conditions. Additionally, transitioning away from fossil fuels will reduce the major environmental footprint of militaries as institutional polluters. For instance, the UK aims to cut military emissions by 70% through measures like biofuel use. This contributes to global climate change mitigation efforts. 

Proactively climate-proofing defences keeps militaries ahead as innovators and standard-setters in a climate-altered world. It also promotes their strategic position compared to adversaries, slower to adapt. 

Disadvantages & Challenges

Major global military powers have adopted a diverse energy portfolio, encompassing oil, natural gas, coal, nuclear, hydropower, biofuels, wind, and solar energy. This diversification not only bolsters energy security strategies but also serves as a bedrock for system resilience. Shifting towards a greater reliance on electricity entails an increased dependency on minerals crucial for the functioning of electrical systems. These minerals, predominantly sourced from regions like China and countries where Beijing holds substantial economic and infrastructural sway, present a new set of challenges. This dynamic sets the stage for geopolitical competition among nations vying for access to these pivotal resources, where China has a strategic advantage. Transitioning from a diversified energy mix to one focused primarily on electricity will introduce challenges for a country’s military, like potential cyberattacks and threats to the supply chains.

A key challenge for the military in implementing environmental policies is maintaining long-term commitment and funding, especially in light of pressures to increase military capacity and shifting priorities. The insecurities and challenges within geopolitics, coupled with escalating threats from adversaries, compel nations to prioritize military preparedness. This often leads to reluctant transitions towards climate-neutral armies, as they lack prior experience in this domain.

For instance, Russia’s war in Ukraine has prompted questions about whether the West needs to rebuild its military-industrial capacity in preparation for a large-scale war. Following the Russian invasion, European nations announced increases of nearly €200 billion to their defence budgets. The pressure to spend quickly threatens to entrench further Europe’s dependence on fossil fuels for defence at a moment when policymakers are aiming to shift to climate-neutral forces.

Furthermore, policymakers are concerned about countries or adversaries lacking the necessary financial resources or the willingness to pursue complete decarbonization of their militaries. A recent study conducted by a British officer concluded that, given current capabilities and modes of combat, an electrified land force might struggle to achieve the same levels of firepower, protection, and mobility as a force relying on fossil fuels.

Source: Image by Robert Waghorn from Pixabay

The big powers: how China, Russia and the US militaries are adapting

Given the transnational nature of climate change, governments from all over the world have a shared responsibility to address it; however, it is questionable whether the interests of the world's three military superpowers, China, Russia, and the United States, are aligned. They differ in their approaches to addressing climate change and even more so in their views on how it affects the armed forces.

China's leadership avoids tying climate change to military might despite acknowledging its possible security consequences due to its links to the fossil fuel industry of the country, Sino-US rivalry and the consequent “conspiracy attitude” among some Chinese policymakers, and strategic secrecy regarding its military. Overall, there is little information available publicly on China's consideration of climate change, even though it very likely might have a significant impact on its military infrastructure.

Russia acknowledges climate change's security implications but opts for a national approach over international securitization, preferring to wait for the issue to materialize rather than preventing it. Moscow sees economic opportunities with climate change and minimizes the role of the armed forces, except in the Arctic, where defrosting reveals important natural resources.

The US takes the most proactive approach to climate change security, with integrated strategies, risk assessment, Arctic geopolitical competition, and disaster relief efforts, defining this issue as a priority. Clearly, it is common belief that this should not come at the cost of operational effectiveness. However, political divisions affect climate security actions.  

NATO & the EU: Towards Climate Security Leadership

Remarkably, organisations such as NATO and the EU are important actors concerning climate security. NATO is intensifying its focus on environmental security, aiming to obtain a pivotal role in adapting to climate change security. It addresses risks to military operations, disaster relief, energy efficiency, and climate mitigation. Annual assessments, adaptation measures, emissions analysis, and collaboration with partners are also central to NATO's 2023 Climate Change and Security Impact Assessment.

The EU is a pioneer when it comes to green policies. However, the military sector has been largely omitted in light of the EU pacifist policies. Nonetheless, things are rapidly changing. In this context, incorporating the military sector into the European Green Deal policies would reduce emissions, enhance strategic autonomy, modernize operations, spur innovation, and boost the EU's credibility in combating climate change. 


As climate change intensifies, militaries must innovate to cut emissions while maintaining readiness. Though approaches differ, organizations like NATO and the EU are driving climate action through target-setting and funding initiatives. With visionary leadership, armed forces can spearhead transformative change towards climate-resilient, sustainable societies.

June 26, 2023No Comments

Cultural Question and Cyber Quandary: Making Sense Of TikTok Bans Worldwide

Authors: Maria Makurat (Cyber Security and AI Team) and Anurag Mishra (USA Team)

TikTok and the “Ban Hammer”

The debate of apps such as TikTok being a security threat to individuals as well as countries has been going on for a while. Several articles, studies and other blog articles have been, and are still being released on this hot topic. One of the main concerns remains: TikTok is collecting data of users against their consent whilst one is also not using the app. Since TikTok is owned by ByteDance, a Chinese-owned company, many Western countries and especially the US are highly sceptical and states such as Montana have even taken the initiative to ban the app altogether. What does this mean for cyber as well as cultural security issues? Many factors and international events surround this debate such as TikTok already being banned in India, the issues of the Chinese state  being seen as a spy and whether one can see TikTok as a surveillance weapon? Cyber security as well as cultural issues tie into the debate where we see theories of whether we have a “cyber war” in relation to social media platforms as well as cultural matters if TikTok is having a negative impact on countries. This article explores the issues highlighted above and opens up possible questions that still need to be asked.

Montana Mounts a “Blackout Challenge” to TikTok

Senate Bill #149 of the 68th legislature of Montana, which was introduced by state senator Shelley Vance makes the offering of the app on any application store illegal and prescribes a fine of $10,000 per day for each time someone accesses TikTok, “is offered the ability” to access it, or downloads it. Governor Greg Gianforte, a Republican from Montana, had approved the law on anticipating potential legal challenges. Although the law is not set to be enforced until January 1, 2024, there are doubts about the state's ability to implement it effectively. The impact of this new legislation in Montana is expected to be more significant than the existing TikTok bans already implemented on government devices in approximately half of the states and at the federal level in the United States.

From the outside, the one-of-a-kind ban looks like an assault on ByteDance’s data-gathering exercise but also has a deeper purpose of extinguishing the app’s ability to influence the impressionable youth of America.

One of the major reasons why TikTok became the conservative eyesore and a major cause of worry for parents was the “Blackout Challenge.” Also known as the "choking challenge" or the "pass-out challenge," it involved urging individuals to hold their breath until they lose consciousness as a result of insufficient oxygen. While the Blackout Challenge was the biggest troubling online challenge, causing as many as 20 children to lose their lives, a slew of similar troubling trends made TikTok infamous. "Dry-scooping," climbing on tall stacks of milk crates, removing your own IUD, and eating massive amounts of frozen honey and corn syrup, and the list goes on.

The problem with TikTok does not end there. When juxtaposed with the wider scheme of things, TikTok appears to be one of the many arrows in the Chinese quiver. The issue of Chinese Police Stations coming up on the United States’ territory has landed many in the stew and has made the American government restive. Taking a leaf out of India and some European countries’ books, several states in the US decided to ban TikTok on office/government-issued phones and devices. As of April, 34 American states have banned TikTok on government-issued devices. The idea behind banning the mischievous app has largely been to secure any data leaks. India was the first country to ban TikTok and several other Chinese mobile applications nationwide, citing national security concerns. India banned TikTok as early as June 2020. At first, the ban was seen as a mild yet conclusive response to the PLA’s misadventure across the Sino-Indian border, but as more countries put restraints on the Chinese app, the Indian government’s official position on the ban seems to have been vindicated.

Reservations and concerns abound TikTok and have only gone on to grow in the past three years. Not just the adversaries and rivals but even allies like Pakistan and North Korea have blocked TikTok. The question nevertheless remains whether TikTok is just an online pastime or a phisher. 

Source: Unsplash

Weapon of Mass Surveillance: TikTok and its Cyber Security Issues?

The debate surrounding TikTok being a security issue has been around for a while. Several individuals as well as companies had their doubts but as of around April 2023, one has been seeing a surge in states and countries being serious about banning the popular app. The major concern lies within the fact that TikTok is owned by a Chinese company and several discrepancies have arisen concerning the security of the app. It is being repeatedly “expressed that TikTok and its parent company, ByteDance, may put sensitive user data, like location information, into the hands of the Chinese government.” This together with political tensions between Russia, China and the West in relation to the Ukraine war add to the TikTok debate with companies being concerned that data is being stolen. Countries find themselves recently in much more complicated relations.

One can link this to traditional international affairs theories such as whether we will even have a “cyber war” (discussion by Thomas Rid)  and how social media is being “weaponized” (discussed by P.W. singer, Emerson T. Brooking and Dr Andreas Krieg). “In so doing, social media has evolved from a mere distraction machine into a tool of sociopolitical power, galvanising public awareness and civil-societal activism.” It is being discussed that ever since the 2016 elections in the US with Russian interference, that other social media platforms, where TikTok can possibly also be an instrument, can be used to spread false information and not only be used as a tool by itself to collect data. Countries such as Germanyalso increasingly see the issue of social media platforms being used to spread false information as well as collecting data (BIS: Bundesamt für Sicherheit in der Informationstechnik). The so-called “Digitalbarometer 2020” released by the BIS, stated that in Germany for the year 2020, every fourth individual was affected by some type of cyber-attack and every third was affected financially. Whilst Germany has not released a law that forbids the use of TikTok, it is being discussed by the Federal Minister of the Interior and Community that one needs to stay alert and be aware of the possible consequences.

This issue is also being discussed very intensely by scholars such as Dr Andreas Krieg (recent work “Subversion - The strategic weaponization of narratives”) and Dr Kathleen Hall Jamieson (Cyber-War : How Russian Hackers and Trolls Helped Elect a President). We see both now in the international affairs academic world as well as the communications and cultural disciplines a debate, on how social media platforms are being weaponized (see also this blog article on hate speech on social media). Now perhaps more than ever, interdisciplinary communication between different academic strands is needed to address the issue. So we see it is not only the issue of TikTok being owned by a Chinese company and the possible spread of false information but also the physical issue of collecting data. We have both cultural/ethical and cyber security issues.

To Ban, or Not to Ban?

To mitigate the goodwill loss and the loss of business that TikTok has encountered, it would be wise for the company to make itself more transparent and even sell stakes, as beseeched by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. The company will also need to come clean on the accusations of data theft and spying. The root of all remains the involvement of the Chinese state in its corporate entities and in the long run, such involvement will not go unnoticed by the countries hosting Chinese businesses. When considering all these factors, open questions remain such as if we will see other countries following suit in banning TikTok and how likely is it that more organisations will take action? Do we see a certain cyber war taking place in the realm of social media or is it more an issue of moral and ethical values? Younger generations still use TikTok in their daily life, especially since this is also linked to businesses (such as Infleuncers as well as big companies) which could prove problematic in the future. Perhaps stronger rules are required that regulate the use of TikTok and its data collection if the app is to be further used. It remains to be seen how this develops and whether individuals will be concerned with the use of the app.

January 23, 2023No Comments

The Middle East in 2023: From Revolution to Survival

Author: Omri Brinner and Chantal Elisabeth Hohe.

2022 brought about several game-changing developments in the Middle East and beyond. These events - from domestic political instability, through the weakening of American influence in the region, to the protests in Iran - will all leave a mark in 2023, a year that is shaping to be decisive for the Middle East’s future.

Of the many things to monitor in the region during 2023, four issues stand out the most, largely due to their international significance. These are the American involvement in the Middle East; climate change and the region’s efforts - or lack of - to counter it; the domestic upheaval in Iran and its global impact; and the economic situation across the region, with a growing number of countries in economic disarray (Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt and Yemen).

Image Source: 

The US in the Middle East

Going into 2023, the United State’s role in the Middle East is undefined. Had it been clear and obvious, American officials wouldn’t have to reiterate that their country will remain pivotal as it once was. The facts on the ground suggest less American physical involvement. There are less American troops in the region; American diplomacy has been weakened; and one is much more exposed to alternative soft power than before. In that sense we are expected to see declining American presence across the region. Diplomatically, the US is losing grip as well. While it largely has Israel on its side in its competition with China and Russia, other allies - most notably Saudi Arabia - are becoming less and less dependent on the US, fueling a multipolar world where the US is now one of many, rather than the one. The US can stay assured that it will continue to have leverage over several individuals and countries in the coming year, but all in all - and much due to the multipolar inertia across the region - this leverage is not infinite, and further distancing from American policies are likely to follow. This dynamic played out in the relations between President Biden and the Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin-Salman, where the latter refused to give-in to American pressure on oil prices, proving that the American leverage on him and his country is limited. In other words, American superiority will not only continue to be challenged from afar, but also from within the region itself.


2023 might very well be the year of the Persian Spring. The revolutionary protests that began in September have the potential to spin the regime out of control and to create a new reality in the country, and the region. What started as a social protest against the state’s brutality and the killing of Masha Amini has developed into a full regime-change movement, with the slogan “death to Khamenei” gaining momentum and legitimacy on social media. It is of course possible that the harsh and lethal crackdown by the state will break the back of the revolution, but these past few months and the ones to follow will certainly change Iran and affect the region as a whole, whichever way the wind blows.

Furthermore, in light of the internal turmoil and the fact that the Iranian nuclear deal is all but alive, it is likely that Iran will push to both enrich as much uranium as possible and to create destabilizing chaos across the region in the coming months. All in all, what happens in Iran during 2023 will determine the near future of the Middle East.


After a rather unsuccessful COP27 failed to produce actionable policy solutions or real commitments from the international community, a decisive year lies ahead for the Middle East, where people will continue suffering from the consequences of the climate crisis. Most prominently, water scarcity will lead to an increasingly dire situation, fueling food insecurity, economic downturn, civil unrest, and violent extremism. That said, several innovative start-ups and promising technologies are on the rise, with the GCC countries upping the funding to accelerate developments in the field. Hope now lies upon the Abu Dhabi COP28, set to take place in November and, ironically, hosted by UAE’s National Oil Company CEO, with civil society organizations and academia urging for serious action.


A cleavage in economic performance is increasingly visible among Middle Eastern countries, with the oil-based GCC monarchies witnessing continuous growth - whereas others are facing economic decline, leading to or exacerbating existing socio-political turbulences. The economic outlook for 2023 indicates that inflation is likely to surpass 30% in numerous countries, with Syria at 63% and Lebanon at a staggering 167% . Further regional actors, such as Iran, Turkey, Egypt, and Yemen, face economic hardship while also having to tackle political challenges, civil unrest, and violent conflicts. Overall, domestic and international factors - such as the war in Ukraine - are likely to deepen a looming recession and the energy crisis. While it is likely that wealthy GCC countries will continue to support struggling regional allies, countries such as Yemen, Libya and Lebanon will continue to be used as arenas for proxy wars, further deepening their economic troubles.

November 9, 2022No Comments

Michele Tallarini on Radicalization and Extremism in the Sahel

The ITSS Africa team interviews Michele Tallarini, a researcher at the University of Bergamo, analysing Sahel’s and North Africa’s radicalization and extremism dynamics. Through his direct experience in the field, Michele Tallarini offers an insight into the main reasons that lead local people to radicalization in the area and concrete strategies to help local communities to be more resilient to the issue. 

Interviewer: Rebecca Pedemonte.

September 26, 2022No Comments

Another suspicious move by China: Indivisible Security

Author: Ho Ting (Bosco) Hung.

China has consistently declared its willingness to play an important role in international security, in an attempt to gain greater exposure on the international stage. Nonetheless, its active expansion and coercive policies have threatened the West, thus being perceived as a security challenge to many countries. Still, China shows no hesitance in demonstrating its willingness to involve in international security. At the Boao Forum in April 2022, Xi Jinping put forward the Global Security Initiative to ‘meet the pressing need of the international community to maintain world peace and prevent conflicts and wars’. While most of the GSI’s principles are reiterating China’s foreign policy, a concept worth noting is the idea of indivisible security. The concept’s genuine meaning remains unclear, but considering the sensitive times, it promotes the notion that China could make use of the term to build up a Chinese-oriented order in international security.

Image Source:

What is Indivisible Security?

The concept of indivisible security is not new, but it is highly contested. The term was first used in the 1975 Helsinki Final Act to emphasise the benefit of cooperation. It means that the security of states in the same region is inextricably linked with each other, so no country should pursue its security at the expense of others. Therefore, the term conveys a positive meaning.

Despite the consensus reached by the signatories on the concept, other countries have put forward their own set of indivisible security principles. Remarkably, Russia considers NATO’s pursuit of indivisible security a security threat. The Kremlin has been discontent with NATO’s eastward expansion and reiterated that NATO should not make its security arrangements at the expense of Russia’s security. This is also used as a justification for its attack on Ukraine.

From China’s perspective, it is debatable what indivisible security truly means in its context. China has acknowledged that no country should pursue its security at the expense of other's security. At the same time, China also emphasizes that strengthening or expanding military blocs could not guarantee regional security, while all countries’ security concerns should be considered seriously.

Sensitive Time, Sensitive Concept

The decision to put forth this concept at a sensitive time when Russia is fighting with Ukraine could be, at best, a call for wholehearted cooperation on security issues, but at worst, a cunning move. 

China has always blamed NATO and the United States for provoking the Russia-Ukraine War. Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian claimed ‘The Russia-Ukraine conflict, to a large extent, is the result of Western arrogance and successive mistakes over the last 30-plus years and NATO’s eastward expansion is the root cause of the ongoing conflict.’ He also criticized NATO for engaging in bloc confrontation and making trouble, which largely matches the indivisible security principle ‘strengthening or expanding military blocs could not guarantee regional security’. 

Meanwhile, Beijing has been actively attempting to strengthen its security ties with other countries, especially non-Western countries, to expand its sphere of influence. China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has frequently stressed the importance of mutual respectcooperation, and equality in security issues. In other words, China has expressed its concerns about other countries’ security needs and shown its reluctance to become a hegemon on the international stage.It has therefore been attempting to build its image as a responsible and collaborative leader in security affairs.

Together with China’s past criticisms of the West and its eagerness to expand its security ties with other countries, China’s intention of putting forward the concept at the peak of the Russia-Ukraine military conflict is suspicious. China could make use of the notion of indivisible security to accuse the West of ignoring non-Western countries’ security needs, like Russia’s. It could also depict the West’s unilateral efforts of building or strengthening security alliances as a threat, which could by no means guarantee regional security. This way, China could justify that the West is a troublemaker by leveraging the concept of indivisible security. 

On the other hand, China could make use of the term to contrast its attitude on security issues with the West. It could continually reiterate its respect for other countries’ security concerns and passion for collaborating with the international community hand in hand to pursue peace. This allows China to try and shape itself as a saviour of the world’s security while attempting to depict the West as a devil who only brings turbulence and disruption to peace more legitimately. Therefore, Beijing’s concept of indivisible security is an attempt to establish itself as a leader in international security and aims to defeat the West in the competition for supreme discursive power in the international arena.

We Must Stay Cautious

Admittedly, the development of the concept of indivisible security in a Chinese context is still at an initial stage. Chinahas not shown its intention to use this concept to intervene in the Russia-Ukraine War. However, it is beyond dispute that Beijing has been hostile to the West’s dominance in the security field and become more ambitious in recent years. With the escalating Sino-Western tensions, it remains possible that China could weaponize the notion to challenge the West and its approaches to security affairs. The international community must stay alert to China’s promotion and new interpretation of the concept, to fully understand the intention of the adoption of the notion and be prepared for another battle for the leadership position in international security.

April 13, 20221 Comment

Enlargement of NATO to Eastern Europe: Reasons and Consequences for European Security

By: Alessandro Spada.


Today, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) is an intergovernmental military alliance among the US, Canada and 28 European countries – but it has not always been this  large. Indeed, when Nato was first conceived in 1949 it was made up of just 12 members: Belgium, Canada, Denmark, France, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, the UK and the US. The creation of the Alliance pursued three essential purposes: “deterring Soviet expansionism, forbidding the revival of nationalist militarism in Europe through a strong North American presence on the continent, and encouraging European political integration”. The accession process is regulated by Article 10 of the Treaty and other European Countries can be invited to participate. The aspiring member countries must meet key requirements and implement a multi-step process including political, economic, defence, resource, security and legal aspects. In case they are experiencing any issue, they can request assistance, practical support and the advice by a NATO programme, which is called the Membership Action Plan (MAP)

Image Source: The Expansion of NATO Since 1949

Past enlargements

After the end of the Cold War, we can witness four different waves of NATO expansion to Eastern Europe. The first important wave of expansion to the East was launched by the reunification of Germany in 1990. On 12th September 1990, the Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany, commonly known as Two Plus Four Treaty, was signed by the foreign ministers of  the Federal Republic of Germany, the GDR, France, Russia, the UK and the USA. The Treaty regulated all the foreign policy aspects of German reunification, including the membership to Nato, and imposed the withdrawal of all the foreign troops and the deployment of their nuclear weapons from the former East Germany and also the prohibition to West Germany’s possession of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons. On October 3rd 1990, the  German Democratic Republic and Federal Republic were reunited again.

As to the second wave, the new member countries were Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary. First, on 15th February 1991 they formed the Visegrad Group. Then, on 1st January 1993, Czechoslovakia split into two independent countries: Czech Republic and Slovakia. In 1997, Poland, Czech Republic and Hungary took part in the Alliance’s Madrid Summit and on 12th March 1999, the three former Warsaw Pact members joined NATO. The main reasons were: “to ensure thecountry’s external security”, to impede “the possibility of a great war in unstable Central Europe” and for Poland also “to advance its military capabilities”.

In May 2000, a group of NATO candidate countries created the Vilnius Group (Albania, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia). The Vilnius Group resorted to the Membership Action Plan which was introduced by NATO for the first time at the 1999 Washington Summit. In addition, Croatia joined the Vilnius Group in May 2001. The Summit of the NATO Aspirant countries “Riga 2002: The Bridge to Prague” started the path towards the alliance’s membership which took place in Riga, Latvia, on July 5-6, 2002, where the leaders of NATO member and aspirant countries gathered for the last time before the NATO 2002 Prague Summit in November. On 29th March 2004, the largest wave of enlargement in alliance history materialized, except for Albania and Croatia. For Baltic states and Bulgaria, NATO membership symbolized their wish to be part of the European family. NATO was perceived not just merely as a military alliance with security guarantees under Article 5, but as a symbol of higher development, where Baltic states could find their proper place. Moreover, it was the attempt to escape Russian influence, in favor of the protection provided by the American strategic nuclear umbrella and a collective defence.

The same path of the Vilnius Group was followed by the Adriatic Charter of European  countries. The Adriatic Charter was created in Tirana on 2nd May by Albania, Croatia and Macedonia and USA for the purpose to obtain their North Atlantic Alliance admission. Albania and Macedonia were previous participants of MAP since its creation in 1999, while Croatia joined in 2002. Moreover, Macedonia also took part in Nato's Partnership for Peace (PfP) in 1995. On 1st April 2009, the North Atlantic Alliance officially annexed Albania and Croatia after their participation in the 2008 Bucharest Summit. Macedonia accession was postponed because of a dispute on the formal name with Greece. Macedonia became NATO's 30th country on 27th March 2020. Montenegro emulated the same path of the latter, but joined three years before on 5th June 2017, after the Accession Protocol signature in May 2016. For Montenegro itself, the major incentives to join NATO were the future eventuality of EU membership, the highest prestige of the Atlantic Alliance and to achieve “Nato’s security guarantee”.

Future enlargements

Bosnia Herzegovina is the only potential candidate which joined the Membership Action Plan on 5th December 2018.  In spite of Georgia and Ukraine expressing the will to start their path to the North Atlantic Alliance, their situation is still uncertain. The primary reason remains the need to meet all necessary requirements through important reforms focused on key areas; and, the current Russia-Ukraine war.

Consequences for the European Security

On one hand, many consequences, which were the main reasons for NATO expansion to the East, materialized in reality. For example, the inclusion of Eastern Europe nations in the military agreement have promoted democratic reform and stability there, provided stronger collective defense and an improved ability to address new security concerns, improved relations among the Eastern and Central European states, fostered a more stable climate for economic reform, trade, and foreign investment, and finally, improved NATO's ability to operate as a cooperative security organization with broad European security concern,” as stated in the clear purposes contained in a prepared statement of the Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright on 23rd April 1997.

On the other hand, in spite of NATO's open door policy with Russia, the latter constitutes  the largest threat for European security once again in the energy, political and military field. Indeed, the current conflict in Ukraine shows the evident ambition to create a new Russian empire by the Russian President, Vladimir Putin. Many warnings about Russia’s reaction were expressed in the declarations of Biden’s CIA director, William J. Burns, when he worked as counselor for political affairs at the US embassy in Moscow in 1995. On 26th June 1997, a group of 50 prominent foreign policy experts that included former senators, retired military officers, diplomats and academicians, sent an open letter to President Clinton outlining their opposition to NATO expansion”In the end, the father of the Cold War containment doctrine, George F. Kennan described the NATO expansion as a “tragic mistake”.


The current Russian invasion in Ukraine puts in clear evidence the necessity for the EU countries to accelerate the formation process of the European Army. They will have to achieve energy independence by using Russian gas, diversifying their own supplier countries and to invest massively in the green economy. Moreover, the EU must strengthen its common foreign policy, implementing an effective diplomatic action and speaking with one voice to cope with the great tensions around Europe and the rest of the world. If not, the European project will risk crumbling.