April 30, 2022No Comments

Dr Widdershoven on the Gulf States’ Energy Strategy in the Context of the Russian-Ukrainian Conflict

Dr. Cyril Widdershoven talks about the energy strategy pursued by the Gulf States in the context of the current war in Ukraine. Dr. Cyril Widdershoven is a long-experienced expert in oil and gas and geopolitics and the founder of Verocy.

In this session, Dr. Widdershoven considers the reasons for the Gulf States to act the way they are, avoiding an active engagement in energy price reduction. After an overview of the Gulf States' green energy policies, Dr. Widdershoven analyzes the consequences of the EU's sanctions on Russia on relations between Europe and energy powers in the Gulf.

Interviewers: Riccardo Bosticco & Michele Mignogna

This is ITSS Verona Member Series Video Podcast by the Political Economy and Energy Security Team.

ITSS Verona - The International Team for the Study of Security Verona is a not-for-profit, apolitical, international cultural association dedicated to the study of international security, ranging from terrorism to climate change, from artificial intelligence to pandemics, from great power competition to energy security.

March 31, 2022No Comments

ITSS Verona 2021/22 Webinar Series: “The Russian-Ukrainian Conflict: What’s Next?” with Tracey German (KCL)

For its forth event of the 2021/22 Webinar Series, entitled "The Russian-Ukrainian Conflict: What's Next?", ITSS Verona members Ludovica Brambilla, Davide Gobbicchi and Fabrizio Napoli (from the Russia and Post-Soviet Space Team) discuss with Dr Tracey German (KCL) - one of Europe's main experts on Russian affairs - the status of the conflict in Ukraine, narratives, strategies, winners and losers, and political, social, cultural, economic implications for all actors involved.

Do not miss on the other ITSS Verona webinars, which are available at the following link: https://www.itssverona.it/activities

September 23, 2021No Comments

Carl von Clausewitz: a milestone in the History of Strategic Thought

By: Danilo delle Fave, Javier Olaechea and Marco Verrocchio.

Carl von Clausewitz was born at Burg, in Prussia on the 1st of June 1780. His family had Polish origins and belonged to the Prussian middle-class. Aged twelve, in 1792 he entered the Prussian army as standard-bearer. He received his baptism by fire during the siege of Mainz in 1793, but he showed to be more interested in war, theory, and strategy. 

He started reading Frederick the Great’s “General Principles of War” and moved on to studying Machiavelli, Montecuccoli and other military strategy theorists. Clausewitz lived in a culturally successful period for European and German philosophy, so his thought was influenced by his contemporary philosophers such as Kant, Fichte, Schiller, and Hegel. During the war with France, he was present at the battle of Auerstaedt. After being held prisoner in Paris for a year, he was convinced of the need to reform the army and to apply new strategies. 

Once back in Prussia, Clausewitz joined General Gerhard von Scharnhorst in the attempt to reform the Army. Together they introduced conscription and limited the privileges of the nobility in the army, to create a more meritocratic military. Clausewitz also proposed the idea of “People in Arms”, a reserve force to defend the country on the side-lines. In 1810, Clausewitz married Maria von Brhul, a woman of noble origins close to the Court. When in 1812, Prussia (under the pressure of Napoleon) sided with France against Russia, Clausewitz and other officers joined the Tsarist troops.

He believed that the most dangerous enemy was Napoleon rather than Russia and soon he became an officer of tsarist-Prussian troops, fighting also at Borodino. In 1813, He played a key role in convincing General Yorck to sign the armistice of Tauroggen. Until the end of Napoleon, Clausewitz fought in the greatest battles in Western Europe such as the Battle of the Nations and Ligny. The period between 1818 and his death (occurred in 1831) was one of the more prosperous times for his studies. Clausewitz’s masterpiece, Vom Kriege (On War), was published in 1832, one year after his death. It was published thanks to the will of his wife Maria von Brhul, who also contributed to writing the introduction of the book. One (if not the only one) case of a woman who wrote an introduction to a classic of war strategy. 

 Why is Carl Von Clausewitz so important for our time? 

Carl von Clausewitz’s works have been studied extensively for 150 years by dedicated scholars and Clausewitz is acknowledged as one of the few great writers on war. Many aspects of his ideas and concepts have received much attention in recent years and continue to remain relevant and are often used in today’s doctrines and for civil-military educational processes. The most important theoretical aspects of war and strategy expounded by Clausewitz, some of which are enduring contributions to contemporary thought and still relevant to today’s strategists.

The first is "War is nothing but the continuation of policy with other means" and the second is " War is not a mere act of policy, but a true political instrument, a continuation of political activity by other means". The third is “War is an act of force to compel out enemy to do our will”. In addition to these quotes, Clausewitz is important to our time for the meaning of war, but also for his purpose, and suggest to task to follow to reach our goals on the field, which are still used nowadays:

  • First Task: planning for a war requires identifying the enemy's center of gravity and if possible, trace them back to a single one; (examples: enemy's army, capital or allies)
  • Second Task: To ensure that the main forces to be used to attack that point are concentrated for a main offensive.

Insights and Lessons for our Times: 

  • Delimitation of the final objectives: a war is not started, or rationally it should not be done, without the definition of its political and geo strategic aim, in the short term, and its ultimate goal, in the long run. In short, a total war that includes the civilian element and seeks unconditional surrender (World War II) is not the same as a limited war whose objective is to restore a previous situation (Las Malvinas).
  • Active defence: defence cannot be conceived without offensive reactions. Apparently, the defender has the advantage, but mere defence is incompatible with victory. If defence is ever necessary, it should be seen as a step prior to counterattack.
  • Operational flexibility: when two armies engage in combat, there are always elements who emerge unexpectedly, or that behave differently than planned (the so-called “friction”). The battlefield is dynamic, the military commander must know how to adapt to the circumstances. In addition, having a strategic reserve allows dealing with unforeseen situations.
  • Troop’s morale: The morale of the troop must be taken care of; it is a determining factor. A well-equipped army, immune to disinformation strategies through specific training, fights better and performs better under stress.
  • Limits of the action: every commander must know the limit of the army’s strength, in order to avoid losing what they have gained on the battlefield. This operational limit has to be clear at the time of planning.
  • Intelligence analysis: every decision maker must obtain intelligence reports in order to make decision at the strategic level in the right direction otherwise the decision making is likely to be taken over by method and routine, with potentially disastrous results

Since the end of the Cold War and the revamping of unconventional warfare, Clausewitz’s work has renewed significance for scholars and academics. However, even during the Cold War, it continued to be a milestone for several leaders and decision-makers. Roosevelt, Lenin, Mao Tse-tung and Hitler were among the important readers of Clausewitz. For instance, Lenin enlarged the concept of war as policy with other means to explain the conflict of the social classes. 

Today, the lucid approach of Clausewitz to war can be a useful help in understanding how to deal with asymmetrical threats in different fields.  The recent defeat in Afghanistan shows how it can be possible to win battles but lose the war. Clausewitz draws from his age concepts still used today: moral hazard, guerrilla, the importance of the human factor, etc. and therefore, On War remains even today, a benchmark for military and strategic thought.

June 3, 20211 Comment

European Security Challenges I: The footprint of power rebalancing

By Sonia Martínez and Giovanni Rasio.

European Security
"#G7Biarritz" by The White House via CreativeCommons

European Security Challenges

Currently, there exists no popular support to equip the Union with substantial military capabilities to defend itself against common threats. There is no consensus among leaders regarding European Strategic Autonomy, the key aspect of European defence planning. And if this decision is made, European leaders need to craft a common strategy. This query would entail questions such as what the risks are, who would join, or what are the next steps.

Unless the United States abruptly decided to abandon its commitment embodied in Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the European defence configuration is unlikely to vary. Since the beginning of the Cold War, the United States has always acted as the security guarantor of Europe. In particular, the long-standing American support for the Old Continent's defence and security has pivoted around NATO. As a full-fledged multilateral security alliance, NATO has provided an effective shield against the threats arising in Europe’s Eastern neighbourhood. The Organisation also represented the main framework through which Member States’ forces have engaged in military operations under American guidance. 

Approaches to Security

Nonetheless, as positions concerning defence diverge, propelling European self-defence would put the unity of the block under pressure. Europe should not stand solely on its feet, as transatlantic support has and will prove crucial. However, it must undoubtedly increase its defence autonomy to a great extent. According to Chancellor Merkel, the ‘task of the future’ for Europe is to take destiny into its own hands.

After a rather unipolar age, the EU should use the global power rebalancing scenario to its benefit. New challenges are compelling the US to shift its focus and resources from Europe and the Middle East towards the Indo-Pacific. This rebalancing dynamic, which partially began with the so-called Pivot to Asia during the Obama Administration, culminated with the Indo-Pacific Strategy introduced by President Trump. The attention required by the US posture in the Pacific, combined with Trump’s proneness to threatening European allies to withdrawal the American troops, have somehow pushed Washington and Europe far from each other.

The Union beyond question needs a more autonomous security approach. This is certainly the viewpoint of President Macron, who advocates for ‘European autonomy’ in defence matters, based on the principle of interoperability. This approach evokes a Union capable of delivering both soft and hard power. The German approach is comparatively different. It is based on cooperation, support, and it emphasises the importance of strong transatlantic relations. A coordinated European approach is needed to secure the continent in an unprecedented environment marked by COVID-19 and a complex setting on the East wing. 

Impact of European Security Approaches on Strategy

Given the ever-changing uncertain global outlook, observing strategic moves conducted by other global actors is paramount. After Brexit, the UK pivoting from Europe to a global strategy adds complexity to the EU’s defence strategy. In January 2021, the European Union officially lost an important partner for its Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). Other than holding one of the most powerful militaries in the world, the United Kingdom, together with France, has historically proved essential in nuclear deterrence and expeditionary capabilities for the European Union.

After leaving the EU, the UK aims to revive a more global dimension of its foreign policy. This would allow London to regain a leading role on the international stage. The Integrated Review 2021 offers a first glimpse of the new ‘Global Britain’, conveying that the UK will be the first European country to tilt to the Indo-Pacific region, thus inevitably shifting its focus away from a continental perspective.

Further crucial points need to be addressed in common security matters of the EU. The EU's internal and external security issues are becoming increasingly intertwined. An updated version of the 2016 EU Global Strategy and the implementation of tailored policies are required to counter potential security threats.

Moving forward

Initiatives such as the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PeSCo) and the Coordinated Annual Review on Defence (CARD) are turning points for a coordinated approach to security. The Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) comprises both assets and capabilities of Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), dealing among others with crisis management. And yet, this task remains a vital milestone to secure Europe.

This is even more essential concerning the EU's southern and eastern neighbours. In this regard, Karrenbauer highlights the need to pay attention to the four cardinal points. The CFSP, in fact, is a model based on multilateralism that aims to demonstrate that this sort of international order functions. However, European multilateralism will not prove successful without coordination and agility. The unanimity factor implies that if member states do not arrive at a consensus other states might make a move to solely benefit themselves.

Conclusion

Member States should work together concerning security matters in the direction of strategic autonomy. The region should take on its hard power responsibility in an uncertain multipolar environment. There is an inevitable overlap between internal and external security threats. Exchanging information is crucial to achieve an effective defence strategy.

As Kramp-Karrenbauer, German Minister of Defence, wrote, Brexit exhibits the results of a European policy that feeds on sentiment instead of devising ideas for a common European future. Brexit has possibly fissured relations between the UK and the EU, as press biases indicate.

Europe needs to cooperate to bring forward a common defence framework that rises above politics. The way ahead should be a combination of more strategic autonomy and stronger transatlantic relations; while the former will be critical, the latter has proved crucial. The US rebalance of power, the pandemic and Brexit are increasing the temperature of the stove. European leaders should know that a watched pot never boils.

Here is an in-depth analysis of Russia’s motivation in the region.

May 5, 20212 Comments

The Book of Five Rings: The Japanese Art of Becoming Better Individuals

Marco Verrocchio and Javier Olaechea Lázaro.

The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi, alongside Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, is one of main masterpieces in strategic studies. Not only can it be considered as a manual for leaders in the military and private sectors, but it can also serve as a way for self-development and success in daily life. Encompassing five books on spiritual symbols from Buddhist culture, the combination of Mushashi’s martial arts and his literary skills is a tremendous inspiration for us all.  

Historical setting

The end of the Momoyama Period and the beginning of the Edo, when Musashi lived and wrote the Book of Five Rings, was an age of political, religious and social turmoil. An age that started with the Warring State period and culminated with the establishment of the Tokugawa shogunate in the 1603. The main actors of this era were the Daimyō , warlords who fought each other to control the country. Initially, the Daimyō were open to new trade routes, especially with the arrival of the Portuguese in 1543 and the arrival of Christianity through the missionaries. Soon, these improvements brought technical development such as the arquebuses and printing. Thanks to these, the Daimyō were able to increasingly focus on military campaigns meant to control Buddhists and Shintoist religious institutions, as well as merchants. This resulted into urbanisation of civic society, with Samurai, merchants, and bureaucrats settled around local warlords' fortified castles, and farmers gathered in small villages in the countryside. 

Other than creating a strict hierarchy of social classes, the Samurai class benefited from great privileges serving under a Daimyō. Samurai became so relevant that many of them were able to gain political and military power, overthrowing members of upper classes. War amongst the Daimyō continued in the last decade of the XVI century, especially after failed attempts to invade Korea in 1592 and 1597. The Warring Period ended only with the preeminence of Tokugawa Ieyasu. After defeating opposing Daimyō at Sekigahara, he established the Shogunate in 1603. The Edo period began. This is known as an era marked by Japan's isolationist foreign policy, which lasted for 214 years. The missionaries were ousted and Christianity was prohibited. With the unification of Japan, firm social hierarchy was ultimately consolidated.

The role of the Samurai changed too. The latter increasingly transitioned from warriors to courtiers, bureaucrats, and administrators. Keen to preserve their glorious past from the Warring Period, Samurai-led martial arts schools flourished all over the country and many Samurai started to write novels and manuals to preserve and pass down their precious cultural heritage. The famous Bushido written by Yamaga Soko (1622-1685) and the Book of Five Rings of Miyamoto Musashi are examples of this period. 

Author setting

Little is known of his early life. Miyamoto Musashi was born around 1584 in the Harima province, situated in the south-west part of Japan. His father, Hirata Munisai, was a Samurai but Musashi lived his early years with his uncle, a clergyman, studying Confucianism and Buddhism. Three years later, Musashi left his village, fighting several Samurai in order to be accepted under the patronage of a Daimyō. At the age of 25, Musashi established a school of martial arts in Edo, the capital of the Shogunate. 

Musashi explored other arts, such as poetry, acting, calligraphy, and tea ceremony. He established the school of martial arts ``two skies in one” (Niten Ichi-ryu), teaching the use of two swords. In 1643, he exiled himself to a mountain with the aim to write the Book of Five Rings. He died aged 62 years old two years later. 

Insights and Lessons for our Times

From its purely formal conception, the book describes a series of stages designed to guide us along the path of personal growth in any field where we seek to develop. Musashi divides the book into an introduction presenting himself and five chapters, or rings, from which we chose the three most relevant in relation to our time:

Earth Manuscript: the importance of military strategy, or the "Way of strategy", sets out the spirit and moral requirements for understanding this domain. As the great swordsman explains, for any challenge we may be faced with, very few (if any) require the mastering of only one single skill. To master any field, it is argued, it is important to understand and master all the constituent parts of that peculiar field. 

Water Manuscript: methods to achieve victory through certain techniques to master body and arms correctly. Focus is allocated particularly on the importance of “looking in” and “looking out”, as one seeks to maximise strategy. Within this context, we learn about the damaging nature of tunnel vision and blind spot. This is given by narrow approaches that push us to consider a limited number of solutions vis-à-vis challenges instead of valuing alternative course of action.

Fire Manuscript: describes techniques that have to do with different situations such as the environment where the fight is taking place, how to handle the mood of the opponent or what attitudes are to be adopted according to the situation. The most valuable word here is “timing”. The timing to decide when to fight or, conversely, when not to fight. Musashi teaches us to think deeply about our preparedness to fight life-battles. He explains how there is no shame in admitting we are not ready to overcome challenges. There is instead shame in knowing we are not ready and still convince ourselves we can fight and win. Whilst self-confidence remains key, right timing is even more important.

In general, this piece is about the type of honour and impeccable conduct that coexist with bushido[1]. One could argue that its relevance to today's time is minimal. And yet, whilst focus is mostly military, the Book of the Five Rings can actually be applied to other, if not all, ethical and psychological dimensions that feature adversarial competition.

In truth, we claim it promotes effort and search for self-improvement through discipline, which greatly resonates to the kind of lessons we are to internalise in our daily lives.


[1]  It is a term translated as "the way of the warrior", in the Japanese tradition. It is a strict and particular code of ethics to which many samurai (or bushi) gave their lives, demanding loyalty and honour until death.