June 18, 2022No Comments

Will METO be the new NATO?

Author: Shahin Modarres.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 26, 2022No Comments

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

Authors: Beatrice Gori, Giovanni Tricco and Giorgia Zaghi.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May 23, 2022No Comments

Dr. Ali Fathollah-Nejad on Iran’s Nuclear Policy and the JCPOA

In this interview conducted by the "Iran Desk" at ITSS Verona Dr. Ali Fathollah-Nejad addresses and analyzes Iran's nuclear policy and the revival of the JCPOA. The interview focuses on the possible outcomes of Iran's nuclear policy, the effect of Iran's nuclear policy in the region, and the international response and reaction from the international community.

Dr. Ali Fathollah-Nejad is a German–Iranian political scientist focusing on Iran, the Middle East, and the post-unipolar world order. He is an associate fellow with the American University of Beirut’s Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs (AUB-IFI) and author of the much-acclaimed book Iran in an Emerging New World Order: From Ahmadinejad to Rouhani (2021). Ali holds a Ph.D. in International Relations from SOAS.

Interviewers: Shahin Modarres, Yasmina Dionisi and Filippo Cimento.

April 5, 2022No Comments

Putin’s War and the Shaping of a New Global Energy Map

By: Riccardo Bosticco, Lorenzo Caruti, Sofia Dal Santo, Miguel Jiménez, Michele Mignogna.

Introduction

The Russian invasion of Ukraine started on February 24, is already showing significant effects on a global scale. As most States and international organizations have officially condemned the war - from West to East between America, Europe, and Africa - openly criticizing Putin's behavior and deciding to sanction Moscow heavily, the biggest problem concerns the aspect inherent to energy supplies. "Europe depends on Russia for about 40% of its natural gas, with most of it transported by pipeline", explains Reuters. Luckily for them, most European countries have cut reliance on Russian gas in recent years. Yet dependency is still weighty, and the most recent sanctions on Moscow caused a further growth of gas prices. European states and companies have acknowledged the danger of relying too heavily on Russian energy, and also those countries that had a commercial, yet controversial, understanding of energy relations with Russia, like Germany, decided to act firmly.

The United States proposes solutions to Europe, while oil and gas producers in the MENA act controversially, and China remains cautiously in the background, carefully observing the evolution of the situation without intervening directly or taking a clear position. Where will the current energy decisions drive us?

The European Union 

The EU is a substantial energy importer, largely reliant on Russia's supply. Accordingly, due to sanctions imposed to punish Russia, the EU has set about to make a significant course correction. The European Commission has proposed an outline of a plan to make Europe independent from Russian gas before 2030: REPowerEU. The main goal of this ambitious plan is to diversify to the greatest extent possible the gas suppliers of the EU by increasing LNG Imports and constructing alternative pipelines. To do so, a strong political will by the Member States to follow the correct route and avoid uncoordinated actions is needed.

Currently, there are not sufficient LNG terminals in the Eastern EU, although growing investments have been undertaken in recent years by the Union; it is, therefore, crucial that such countries have access to regional gas hubs. In addition, even the construction of alternative pipelines prompts some issues. Unsurprisingly, European customers are unwilling to commit financially to long-term gas purchase contracts, which would be necessary to sustain pipeline development, due to EU green obligations. Furthermore, authoritarian governments like Azerbaijan's, Turkey's, and the Gulf monarchies' influence on the gas trade would remain, leaving the door open for political exploits of energy flows. Besides, the existing alternative sources of natural gas to the EU appear to be already at the highest production level. Therefore, the most likely option seems to import from the Caspian Sea. 

Overall, an emphasis is placed by the Commission on boosting energy efficiency and increasing the use of renewables. This is essential since it contributes to terminating the EU's overdependence on a single supplier, even though it does not provide a suitable solution in the short term. Last but not least, the Commission has even undertaken initiatives to mitigate high energy prices

The United States 

Since the energy sector is the primary source of Russia's revenues, this was a primary target for Western sanctions. Yet, while the EU depends heavily on Russian energy, the US is a net energy exporter. Biden recognized this fact. When asked about Italy's carefulness at sanctioning energy, he answered that "this is an alliance of nations that each have their priorities and their […] concerns". Yet, on March 8, the US sanctioned all of Russia's energy exports in the US. The United States is now trying to convince the European allies to do the same by offering additional LNG supplies. On March 25, while in Brussels, Joe Biden announced that the US would send another 15 billion cubic meters of liquefied natural gas to Europe. The United States' primary objective is to disentangle European energy dependency on Russia. The challenges at stake are significant, and the following lines highlight them.

While the strategy to realize such an objective is to rely on scale capacity, what matters in a crisis like this is spare capacity, a factor that might complicate things for the US. Further, the opacity around the technical aspects surrounding the March 25 deal seems indeed mirror the difficulties of disentangling the EU from Russian gas. Moreover, LNG infrastructural capacities in Europe need funds. Turning to oil, the US has demanded an increase in oil output to avoid prices spiking. However, national frackers and OPEC+ countries show little interest in ramping up output. The dilemma is over the first-mover's disadvantage. There has been a phone call between Biden and King Salman of Saudi Arabia concerning additional output; yet, Riyadh answered that it does not want to politicize oil, preferring to observe the other producers' moves and the outcome of the Iranian sanctions lift issue. So, what is next for the US energy strategy?

MENA Region 

While the war is taking place in Europe, it will have long-term effects in the Middle East, too. The leaders found themselves at a crossroads: they condemned Russia but did not agree to impose such severe punitive sanctions. Russia is an essential economic and strategic ally, necessary to maintain control over the Iranian nuclear threat. Moreover, it is the main supplier of wheat, on which many countries in the North African area depend. However, the United States is a fundamental player, too, especially for the political stability achieved in recent years by some countries. In the war context, the oil-producing countries in the Gulf have seen increased revenues. However, beyond the economy, the outcome of this conflict could have significant geopolitical implications for the region, including reshuffling alliances and redefining pipeline routes.
The geopolitical consequences of the war also affected the oil market. Leading OPEC Plus member countries, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, have stressed that cutting Russia out of the oil market would have severe consequences for both the European Union and the United States. Both Ryad and Abu Dhabi are moving closer and closer to Asia, also considering accepting the Yuan instead of the dollar as the oil currency, distancing themselves from Washington, which has been indifferent to the recent missile attacks they suffered. Another debate on energy matters is underway in the Mediterranean area. For example, Turkey is trying to maintain neutrality in the conflict in Europe: with the new energy alternatives that Europe could have at its disposal in order not to be dependent on Russian gas, Turkey could act as a bridge to bring gas to Europe via the Turkstream project, a possible option if Nordstream is not activated, and also for the East-med Pipeline, currently stalled due to the recent withdrawal of the US from the project.

China  

The eventual termination of European energy contracts would put Vladimir Putin under strain since these cash flows are helping the president sustain an already longer than expected invasion. That is where China comes into play. Even though the "red dragon's" stand on Russia's invasion has been somewhat ambiguous, the country has got many reasons for stepping up and taking over the gas imports that Europe will, in time, refrain from. Energy has fueled the extraordinary growth of the "workshop of the world". The country began to aggressively pursue energy sources beyond its borders after 1993, when it became a net energy importer. This deficit was accentuated by the surge of bilateral and multilateral deals after joining the WTO in 2001. The prospects which visualize the country undergoing a structural transformation and moving towards less energy-intensive sectors might alleviate these increased energy needs. However, guaranteeing energy security is a top priority for the one-party state until then. 

Surprisingly, oil meets a tiny fraction of China's domestic total energy demand, and much of it gets to China through the South Sea, a heavily disputed route among Asian countries. This supply uncertainty prevents China from reducing its coal consumption, representing 60% of energy consumption. Nevertheless, China's commitments to be carbon neutral by 2060 do inevitably accelerate the phasing out of coal. Besides having long-term plans for heavily investing in nuclear energy and hydrogen, natural gas supplied by Russia has become increasingly more relevant. The first steps towards this alliance materialized in 2019, with Siberia's pipeline pumping liquefied natural gas to northeastern China. This association was scaled up on February 4, when a 30-year contract was settled which secured the construction of a pipeline connecting with the northeast of the country. Yet, this alliance may even go beyond natural gas. Recent news of the departure of oil giants such as BP, Shell, and Exxon from their joint ventures with Russian companies have spurred speculations of China's state-owned companies stepping in.  

Conclusion 
As soon as the shock of the Ukrainian war arrived, the West discovered a hard truth: even in a globally interdependent world, it is not safe to be heavily dependent on a single country. As mentioned above, Europe is moving towards making plans to become energetically independent. Nevertheless, West leaders are conscious that the road to independence will be long and winding, indeed taking years to make it. However, the problem is not only a European matter: as previously said, even a solid Russian ally like China is facing the effect of the energetic crisis. On the other hand, Beijing will probably be seen as the only winner at the war's end, mainly for its ambiguous position. At the same time, the United States is dealing with a different situation: even though it does not depend on energy imported from Moscow, its role as a leader is put to the test. Washington needs to help its allies and, simultaneously, avoid the MENA Region ending up in the hands of China. Therefore, what is at stake is not only the energy question: the current world order could become very different at the end of the day.

January 28, 2022No Comments

Zeno Poggi on The Sanctions Regime against Iran

Dr. Zeno Poggi, co-founder, President and CEO of ZPC S.r.l., Vice President of ACCUDIRE S.r.l. and President of AWOS- A World of Sanctions, tackles a complex issue: The Sanctions Regime against Iran.

Interviewer: Anna Lorenzini

November 26, 2021No Comments

Middle East: Toward a Sustainable Regional Security System?

By: Martina Gambacorta.

Image: This amazing tangled knot of a diagram, made by U.K. data journalist David McCandless, displays the key players and notable relationships in the Middle East. What it communicates is something no one doubts: the Middle East is a confusing place. Image Source: https://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/ng-interactive/2014/sep/24/friends-and-enemies-in-the-middle-east-who-is-connected-to-who-interactive

Without doubt, security is the first and fundamental objective of governments involved in the building of a sustainable regional security in the Middle East but it is not the only one. On one hand, different actors are cooperating to counter the Iranian threat and the affiliated militias. On the other hand, multilateral cooperation is taking a way forward from the mere security interests, while economic and thus political aims are now being prioritized. One of the things that emerged  especially in the last 20 years, is that the US role in the region is vitally important but it works much better when it is done through multilateral efforts of allies. In an ideal World one would see the inclusion of Russia and China in this multilateral work, but if not, it is up to the countries of the region, the US, the EU and other willing actors to try to take action to address the regional challenges. Up to now military action has played an important role—through aviation, maritime and border security; but we are moving toward an increased non-military cooperation. 

In Middle Eastern minds, a unified front would play a decisive role in dealing with major fundamental challenges that are undermining the regional stability, such as Iran. Nonetheless, such unified front would not only look at allies, but would strive to include enemies too. Saudi Arabia and Iran informal talks are a clear proof of how the two want to avoid a collision that would destabilize their respective systems of power.

In this frame, the Middle Eastern geopolitical scene has been shaken in recent years by a completely unexpected, almost paradoxical, convergence such as that between Saudi Arabia and Israel. In this case, the most significant episodes were perhaps the apparently repeated meetings, between 2016 and 2018, between the influential Saudi prince Turkī al-Fayṣal, former head of the secret services, and Tzipi Livni, co-secretary of the largest Israeli opposition party, together with General Amos Yadlin and his colleague Ya'akov Amidror, formerly head of military intelligence and National Security Advisor. Since those years, an intelligence-sharing program has begun between Saudi Arabia and Israel to monitor both the pro-Iranian non-state actors in the region, from Ḥizbullah to the ḥūṯī, and the advancement of the Iranian missile program. 

In Riyadh, the hope is that Israel—through its influence on groups in Washington—will be able to coordinate robust pressure on the US political establishment to activate containment of Iran, by introducing or re-imposing sanctions, and possibly helping to reactivate Washington's commitment to defending the interests of all its traditional Middle Eastern allies. The Saudis therefore offered new demonstrations of loyalty to the United States, including a willingness to open a new chapter to secure Israel's future in the region.

Such normalization reflects nothing but the footsteps traced by Obama, Trump and Biden’s presidencies to leave responsibilities to local actors whenever US interests are not at stake. Also, it reflects a profound need for a sustainable regional security system that could develop simultaneously to the creation of ties of political and economic-financial nature and access to resources. An example is the announcement of the giant Dubai Port (Dp) World that it intends to settle in the Israeli port of Haifa or the maritime expansion strategy of the United Arab Emirates. This demonstrates a need for new funding and space to stay afloat in a crisis environment. 

In this sense, the "Abraham Agreements" go toward this direction but do not come out of nowhere, in that  they represent a tactical convergence between the interests of the actors involved. The Arab Gulf countries, including Qatar and Oman, have been cultivating economic-financial, intelligence and security relations with Israel for years, behind the scenes or in a semi-formal manner. 

In 2015, the Emirates granted the Jewish state to establish diplomatic representation at the International Renewable Energy Agency based in Abu Dhabi. Together with Egypt, Qatar has been the main mediator between Hamas and Israel for years. In 2018, Oman formally received Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. In the same year, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said in an interview that Israelis "have a right to have their own land" and that Saudi Arabia "has no problems with Jews". Also in 2018, Bahraini Foreign Minister Khaled ben Ahmad Al Khalifa even went so far as to take Israel's side against Iran. Commenting on the umpteenth air raid in Syria attributed to the Jewish State Air Force against alleged Iranian military bases, he stated that "Israel has the right to defend itself and eliminate sources of danger".  

If the Turkish threat is added to the Iranian one, the Jewish state could be—together with Russia—a new factor of protection. Behind the curtain of the agreements also hides Saudi Arabia. If Bahrain has signed an agreement with Israel, it is because Riyadh has given the green light. Saudi Arabia then granted the opening of its airspace to air links between Abu Dhabi and Tel Aviv. To do more, Mohammed bin Salman must wait to formally take power, so that his father - the over eighty and sick King Salman - passes away. Mohammed bin Salman’s ambition is to become the protector of all the holy places of Islam. Science fiction, at least for now. 

Is this frame a solid basis for a sustainable regional security system? It is too early to answer and in the following 20 years changes will shape a new frame. As presented in this article,  advances have been made and different actors are building a new unified front. Nonetheless, unanswered questions still remain. One of this concerns Iran and the future of the JCPOA. Should a comprise be found, and sanctions reduced, the unified front will undoubtedly accommodate the US. Nonetheless, the JCPOA works have proofed to be a failure in the past, and unexpected outcomes cannot be excluded. Moreover, the JCPOA will not be enough to tackle other issue but the nuclear one. While allies are talking to each other, and enemies are being included in such dialogue, religious and ethnic differences won’t be easily overcome through politics and economics.

November 26, 2021No Comments

Russian-U.S. Rivalry

By: Igor Shchebetun and Alessio Calzetti.

From the battlespace of Europe to the borders of the Middle East to East Asia the Soviet Union and the United States did battle for the supremacy of the world. Millions of pairs, who inhabited the 20th century, considered it a fight for the end of history. Both powers used every means at their disposal including nuclear bombs, military espionage, finances, propaganda, cultural ties and many more asymmetric tools. Nearly everything the Americans and the Soviets designed, had an art of dying, but was an excuse for living. For this was the geopolitics of the Cold War. 

Bernard Baruch, a financial adviser to presidents Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt, to find the Cold War in 1948 as a rivalry between two superpowers, which at the time was the United States and the Soviet Union, who each proceeded to fill the power vacuums left by the defeat of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. The Cold War was a competition between two systems - the US versus the USSR, capitalism versus communism, pluralism versus totalitarianism. The american-soviet struggle was present in the daily lives of people and shaped their identities and beliefs, from technology and espionage to business sports and movies. Nearly everything we hold dear today was formed by the Cold War. So in a way by studying the past we gained a better understanding of the present. 

Most historians agree that the Cold War took place between 1947 and 1991. It’s origins however are much more profound and can be traced to the geographical pivot theory by historian Alfred Thayer Mahan, who wrote extensively on global politics. Mahan believed that whoever controlled the world's oceans would come to dominate global politics, since most people live adjacent to the sea. The notion was that a powerful navy allows one to project power by the way of the sea onto the commercial maritime routes that connect the globe. For instance, Mahan’s work encouraged the American government to purchase Alaska, annex Hawaii, construct a strong navy and confront Spain in a war. In global terms, Mahan’s book “The influence of sea power upon history” became mandatory reading in the German and French navies and even inspired the Japanese to fight the Russians in 1904. Considering his monumental impact, Mahan is often considered one of the most critical strategists in world history.

Holding the opposite view was geographer Halford Mackinder, who argued that global power belonged to whoever controlled the heartland. Although, he came a bit later than Mahan, Mackinder’s work would also mold the minds of policymakers to come and he is often considered the father of geopolitics as a field of study. In 1904 Mackinder wrote his most important thesis «The heartland theory», which divided the world in three bodies. The first was the world island, which consisted of Europe, Asia and Africa. The second categorization refers to the offshore islands like the British Isles and the Japanese archipelago, while the final group points out to the Americas and Australia as outlying islands. Within these parameters, Mackinder placed a special emphasis on the world island. This was the most populous and resource rich land combination. Whoever controlled the world island would gain the means to dominate the globe. Within the world island however was the heartland region, which stretched from the Volga to the Yangtze and from the Arctic to the Himalayas. This was the core domain of the world island power. A summary of this theory comes down to the following passage: “Who rules East Europe commands the heartland, who rules the Heartland commands the world island, who rules the world island commands the world”. Going by this theory, Mackinder explained international relations by observing how pivot islands were trying to conquer or at least prevent a singular power from dominating the heartland. This concept explains why Britain always fought against whoever tried to conquer continental Europe like Napoleonic France, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. 

Alexander Dugin, for instance, who is a modern political analyst with close ties to the Kremlin, has repeatedly written about the need for a Russian based Eurasian power. In the late 19th and early 20th century, making this theory, especially the part concerning East Europe, became a source of inspiration for policymakers from Nazi Germany. Karl Haushofer, a politician and strategist from the Munich University, argued that Germany's national interest was to expand to the east. 

Haushofer believed that to command authority over East Europe and thereby pivot into the heartland one had to control the eastern half of Europe as a collective unit, since the landmass was geographically defenseless and like the barriers like mountains and rivers. As Haushofer thought to promote a German Soviet alliance, because their collective output would have overwhelmed the coastal powers, such as France, the United Kingdom and the United States. Most analysts today would argue that there is merit to this claim. However, Haushofer ideas took a turn to the dark side, when Adolf Hitler took the queue and added it to his to-do list. Although Haushofer himself was not a member of the Nazi Party, his work influenced the Nazi leadership and laid the bedrock for what will become known as the leobens round. This infamous expansionist policy sought to permanently remove the indigenous populations of Eastern Europe and repopulate the land with German settlers with the ultimate goal, being to dominate the Heartland region and from there the world island. 

From a geopolitical angle the Cold War was a testing ground for these theories, putting the global naval power, the United States against the Soviet Union, which controlled more land than any country. This clash would turn out to be the most epic international power struggle in history. It was essentially a game of chess on a global scale. The Americans sought to contain their Soviet counterparts wherever and whenever. Meanwhile, the Soviet leadership fought desperately to break out the containment by exporting its communist ideology. In the ensuing tug of war, alliances were made. Governments were overthrown and the international community was practically split in two. Underneath the disguise of ideology the age-old geopolitical rules guided the contest. So when Putin says that the breakup of the Soviet Union was a disaster, he isn't referring to the collapse of communism, but the disintegration of the heartland concept. In this regard, one can argue that the grand chessboard of the Cold War still presents the template of modern long-term global politics. 

November 12, 2021No Comments

Taiwan, the relations of the Strait and the Indo-Pacific

By: Francesco Cirillo 

Image Source: https://pixabay.com/illustrations/taiwan-flag-roc-republic-of-china-1184108/

In US strategic assessments Taiwan represents the first anti-Chinese containment line in the Indo-Pacific area, which is why it is essential for Washington to guarantee Taipei logistical support to keep its military and deterrence capabilities efficient.

In recent months, Taipei has seen pressure from Beijing increase, both through propaganda and through continuous violations of the Taiwanese air defense zone. In the previous months, the Wall Street Journal had written that US special forces units were present on the Island of Formosa to support and advise the Taiwanese forces, with the aim of preparing the Taipei forces for a possible attack by the PLA forces in Beijing. Over the years, Taiwan has strengthened and modernized its warfare system, with the aim of guaranteeing itself a conventional deterrence to dissuade Beijing from starting a heavy amphibious invasion operation. Called the Doctrine of the Porcupine, it aims to discourage a possible Chinese attack due to the high human and economic costs. For Washington, Taiwan is indirectly part of the strategy of containing Chinese expansionism in the Pacific. It represents a natural barrier to the air and naval forces of the People’s Liberation Army of the People’s Republic, which aims to expand its zone of influence in the Pacific.

Source: https://mapchart.net/

The Taiwan issue is heavily involved in Sino-US relations, especially with the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979 and the three joint communiques. The TRA obliges Washington to guarantee Taipei a continuous flow of armaments for defensive purposes, with the aim of guaranteeing the Taipei government military capabilities for its own defense. But Taiwan I'm coming! also that Washington, to respect the One China Policy, would not accept any declaration of Independence by Taipei, preferring to maintain the Status Quo.

Even the Taiwanese defense minister himself has declared that Taipei is equipped for a possible attack by the EPL, which according to Beijing itself could have the logistical and military capabilities to invade Taiwan by 2025.

In recent days, US President Joe Biden himself stated that Washington will intervene militarily in support of Taiwan in the event of an attack by the armed forces in Beijing; later, during an interview on CNN, Taiwan's President Tsa-Ing Wen confirmed the Wall Street Journal's early October rumors about the presence of US military units on the island, with advisory and training duties.

In the months preceding the Think Tank of the Center for the New American Security (CNAS) and the Chinese state TV itself have published simulations of invasion of the island of Taiwan, demonstrating that the issue concerning the Taiwanese issue of the strait is a widely discussed debate. and at the heart of US concerns.

For Washington, the concern will also be linked to the nuclear deterrence capabilities that Beijing could acquire by 2030. According to the Pentagon Report Military and Security Developments Involving the People's Republic of China, the People's Republic of China could increase the Chinese’s nuclear arsenal, up to the one thousand nuclear ballistic carriers ceiling for 2030.

For the American political-military leadership, this scenario could compromise US deterrence in the Indo-Pacific area in the coming years.

November 9, 2021No Comments

Interview with H.E. Amb. Khaled Zekriya, Ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in Italy

An interview with H.E. Ambassador Khaled Ahmad Zekriya, Ambassador of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in Rome, Italy; regarding the recent events in Afghanistan and the importance of the international community's cooperation to avoid Taliban's violence and terrorism.

Interviewer: Shahin Modarres.

November 2, 2021No Comments

The United States’ Race for Supremacy in Artificial Intelligence

By: Zrinka Boric

“Where we choose to invest speaks to what we value as a Nation. This year’s Budget, the first of my Presidency, is a statement of values that define our Nation at its best.” - Joseph R. Biden, Jr. (The Budget Message of the President)

This article navigates the landscape of AI policymaking and tracks efforts of the United States to promote and govern AI technologies. 

Technological advancement has become a new approach to increase a state’s political, military, and economic strength. The Cold War and the arms race between the two then strongest nations in the world, the United States of America (USA) and the Soviet Union (USSR), revealed the potential that lay in the development of technology. Today, the United States is again at the forefront in the race for supremacy in the potentially world-changing technology: artificial intelligence (AI). 

Artificial intelligence has the potential to fundamentally change strategy, organization, priorities, and resources of any national community that manages to develop AI technology, lead to further innovation, and eventually apply it. Artificial intelligence is going through major evolution and development, and its potential is increasing at a speed rate. Progress is visibly accelerating, and our social, political, and economic systems will be affected greatly. One of the important questions is how to define and approach all the opportunities AI technology can offer while avoiding or managing risks. 

The American AI Initiative

The United States is characterized by a skilled workforce, innovative private sector, good data availability, and effective governance which are all key factors for the government’s ability to enable effective development and adoption of AI. 

The United States published its national AI strategy, the American AI Initiative, in 2019.The responsible organization is the White House, and its priority is to increase the federal government investment in AI’s Research and Development (R&D), and to ensure technical standards for safe AI technology development and deployment. American AI Initiative expresses a commitment to collaborate with foreign partners while promoting U.S leadership in AI. Nevertheless, it is important to note that the American AI Initiative is not particularly comprehensive, especially when compared to other leading nations, and is characterized by the lack of both funding and palpable policy objectives.

In 2019, the U.S. policymakers were advised to advance the American AI Initiative with concrete goals and clear policies aimed at advancing AI – such as spurring public sector AI adoption and allocating new funding for AI R&D, rather than simply repurposing existing funds.

AI in the USA Budget for FY2022 

President Biden's budget for FY2022 includes approximately $171.3 billion for research and development (R&D), which is an 8.5% ($13.5 billion) increase compared to the FY2021 estimated level of $157.8 billion. 

According to the 2021 AI Index Report, in FY 2020 the USA federal departments and agencies spent a combined $1.8 billion on unclassified AI-related contracts. This represents an increase of more than 25% from the amount spent in FY 2019. 

One of the agencies with the major R&D program is the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). President Biden is requesting $1,497.2 million for NIST in FY2022, an increase of $462.7 million (44.7%) from the FY2021 $1,034.5 million. The second-highest program budget increase in NIST is for Partnerships, Research, and Standards to Advance Trustworthy Artificial Intelligence, $45.4 million (an increase of $15 million compared to FY2021). 

Some departments are expecting large percentage increases in R&D funding, among which the Department of Commerce, with an increase of up to 29.3%. At the same time, it is interesting to note that one of DOC’s latest projects is the creation of the National Artificial Intelligence (AI) Advisory Committee (NAIAC), which will be discussed below.

Numerous policymakers in Congress are particularly interested in the Department of Defense Science and Technology (DOD S&T) program funding. The increasingly popular belief in the defense community finds ensuring support for S&T activities as necessary to maintain USA’s military superiority in the world.

The budget request represents President Biden’s R&D priorities, and the Congress may agree with it partially, completely, or not agree at all. It is safe to say that AI has gained the attention of the Congress, considering the 116th Congress (January 3, 2019 - January 3, 2021) is the most AI-focused congressional session in history with the number of times AI was mentioned being more than three times higher compared to 115th Congress (115th - 149, 116th - 486).

National and International Efforts

As indicated in its national AI strategy, the United States takes part in various intergovernmental AI initiatives, such asGlobal Partnership on AI (GPAI), OECD Network of Experts on AI (ONE AI)Ad Hoc Expert Group (AHED) for the Recommendation on the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence, and has participated in global summits and meetings, such as AI Partnership for Defense, and AI for Good Global Summit. In addition, the United States announced a declaration of the bilateral agreement on AI with the United Kingdom in December 2020. 

On September 8, 2021, the U.S. Secretary of Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo announced the establishment of the National Artificial Intelligence (AI) Advisory Committee (NAIAC). The main purpose of the NAIAC will be to advise the President and the National AI Initiative Office (NAIIO) on issues related to AI. “AI presents an enormous opportunity to tackle the biggest issues of our time, strengthen our technological competitiveness, and be an engine for growth in nearly every sector of the economy. But we must be thoughtful, creative, and wise in how we address the challenges that accompany these new technologies,” Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said.

The United States or China? 

The United States is showing an increasing interest in developing and implementing artificial intelligence through the increase in federal AI-related budget, establishment of new committees, intergovernmental AI initiatives, bilateral agreements, and participating in global summits but the constant comparison is being made between USA and China. Should the future battle over artificial intelligence be between USA and China, the question arises: Who will win this battle for AI supremacy?

Recently, a former Pentagon expert said that the race is already over, and China has won. The Pentagon’s first chief software officer resigned over the slow pace of technological advances in the U.S. military. He claims the USA has no competing fighting chance against China in the upcoming years and that it's already a done deal.

At the same time, an expert in artificial intelligence Kai-Fu Lee, former President of Google China, disagrees with this claim. He notes that the US has a clear academic lead in artificial intelligence, supports his claim by noting that all 16 Turing award recipients in AI are American or Canadian, and the top 1% of papers published are still predominantly American. China is simply faster in commercializing technologies and has more data. 

Artificial intelligence already has numerous uses (academic, military, medical, etc.) and when assessing countries' AI technology reach it is important to separate different uses of technology. 

To answer the question on whether the United States or China will win AI 'race' or whether a new force will emerge, it is necessary to closely monitor artificial intelligence technology development and compare different countries using a uniform set of criteria before reaching a conclusion. Another potential scenario, as highlighted by Kai-Fu Lee in his book AI 2014: Ten Visions of Our Future, states the possibility of United States and China co-leading the world in technology.

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