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Defense & Security
Josep Borell

Europe’s Demosthenes moment: putting defence at the centre of EU policies

by Josep Borrell

HR/VP blog – Defence was at the centre of the last European Union Council. This was the culmination of intense work on EU’s security and defence with the preparation of the European Defence Industrial Strategy and the creation of a new fund to step up our military support to Ukraine. We took stock also of the progress made in implementing the Strategic Compass. Power politics are reshaping our world. With the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine, the war that has flared up again in the Middle East, coups in the Sahel, tensions in Asia… we witness at the same time the return of ‘old’ conventional wars and the emergence of ‘new’, hybrid warfare characterised by cyberattacks and the weaponisation of anything, from trade to migration. This deteriorating geopolitical environment is putting Europe in danger, as I anticipated when presenting the Strategic Compass, the new EU Defence and security strategy, in 2022. Four years ago, when we were facing the COVID-19 pandemic, many said that the EU was living a Hamiltonian moment because we decided to issue a common debt to alleviate the consequences of this crisis as Alexander Hamilton did after the US independence war. We are now probably entering a Demosthenes moment, in reference to the great Greek politician mobilising its fellow Athenian citizens against Macedonian imperialism 2400 years ago: we are finally becoming aware of the many security challenges in our dangerous environment. What are we doing to address these multifaceted threats? The month of March marks two anniversaries: the third of the creation of the European Peace Facility (EPF) and the second of the adoption of the Strategic Compass. These tools have been central to our geopolitical awakening during the last years. It is the right moment to reflect on what has been done and where we are heading on security and defence. Supporting Ukraine militarily in an unprecedented way The European Peace Facility (EPF) is an intergovernmental and extra-budgetary EU fund. It was established in 2021 to allow us to support our partners with military equipment, which was not possible via the EU budget. We started with €5 billion, today the financial ceiling of this fund stands at €17 billion. While it was not originally created for this purpose, the EPF has been the backbone of our military support to Ukraine. So far, we have used € 6.1 billion from the EPF to incentivise the support to Ukraine by EU Member States and, with them, the EU has delivered in total € 31 billion in military equipment to Ukraine since the beginning of the war. And this figure is increasing every day. Thanks to these funds, we sustained our military support to Ukraine. Among other actions, by this summer, we will have trained 60.000 Ukrainian soldiers; we have donated 500.000 artillery shells to Ukraine and by the end of the year it will be more than 1 million. Additionally the European defence industry is also providing to Ukraine 400.000 shells through commercial contracts. The Czech initiative to buy ammunition outside the EU comes in addition to these efforts. However, it is far from being enough and we have to increase both our capacity of production and the financial resources devoted to support Ukraine Last Monday at the Foreign Affairs Council, we have decided to create a new Ukraine Assistance Fund within the EPF, endowed with € 5 billion, to continue supporting Ukraine militarily. I have also proposed last Wednesday to the Council to redirect 90% of the extraordinary revenues from the Russian immobilised assets into the EPF, to increase the financial capacity of the military support for Ukraine. Reinforcing our global security and defence partnerships But the European Peace Facility does not only help Ukraine. So far, we have used it to support 22 partners and organisations. Since 2021, we have allocated close to €1 billion to operations led by the African Union and regional organisations, as well as the armed forces of eight partner countries in Africa. In the Western Balkans, we are supporting regional military cooperation, as well as Bosnia and Herzegovina and North Macedonia. We are also supporting Moldova and Georgia in the Eastern neighbourhood, and Jordan and Lebanon in the Southern Neighbourhood. Since the beginning of my mandate, we have launched nine new missions and operations under our Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP). The last one, Operation ASPIDES in the Red Sea and Gulf region to protect commercial vessels, has been set up in record time. With operations Irini in the Mediterranean, Atalanta near the Horn of Africa and our Coordinated Maritime Presences in the Gulf of Guinea and the Indian Ocean, we are becoming more and more a global maritime security provider. We launched also last year two new civilian missions in Armenia and in the Republic of Moldova. However, our missions in Niger had to be suspended due to the military coup and our military mission in Mali has been put on hold. We are currently reconsidering the form of the support we can offer to our partners in the region: in this context, we have set up last December a new type of civilian-military initiative to help our partner countries in the Gulf of Guinea fight the terrorist threats stemming from the Sahel. We have also reinforced our cooperation with NATO in various key domains such as space, cyber, climate and defence and critical infrastructures. We have broadened and deepened our network of tailored bilateral security and defence partnerships with Norway, Canada, as well as countries in the Eastern neighbourhood (Georgia, Moldova), Africa (South Africa, Rwanda), Indo-Pacific (Japan, Republic of Korea, Australia) and Latin America (Chile, Colombia). The first Security and Defence Schuman Forum in March last year, bringing together security and defence partners from more than 50 countries, was a success. We will build on this when we meet for the next Schuman Forum on 28 and 29 May. Enhancing the capacity to react to crises abroad One of the main deliverables foreseen by the Strategic Compass was the creation of a new EU Rapid Deployment Capacity to be able to quickly react autonomously to crisis situations, for instance to evacuate Europeans in case of an emergency like in Afghanistan in August 2021 or in Sudan in April 2023. It will become operational next year, but to prepare for it, we organised the first ever EU military Live Exercise last October in Cadiz, in Spain. It involved 31 military units, 25 aircrafts, 6 ships and 2,800 personnel form Member States’ armed forces. A second Live Exercise will take place at the end of the year in Germany. A new Crisis Response Centre is also now operational in the EEAS to coordinate EU activities in case of emergencies, including the evacuation of European citizens. We are also strengthening our military and civilian headquarters in Brussels. Investing more in defence together and boosting the EU defence industry At home, we need also to invest much more and help our defence industry to increase its production capacities. There is no other solution if we look at the magnitude of the defence needs for Ukraine but also for our Member States that need to replenish their stocks and acquire new equipment. EU Member States are already spending significantly more on defence with a 40 % increase of defence budget over the last ten years and a € 50 billion jump between 2022 and 2023. However, the € 290 billion EU defence budget in 2023 only represents 1.7% of our GDP under the 2% NATO benchmark. And in the current geopolitical context, this could be seen as a minimum requirement. However, the global amount of our expanses is not the only figure we have to follow carefully. To use our defence expenses efficiently, we have also to take care of filling gaps and avoiding duplications. As I have already said in many occasions, we need to spend more but also better, and better means together. In 2022, the European armies have invested 58 billion in new equipment. For the fourth year in a row, it exceeded the benchmark of 20 % of the defence expenses. However, only 18% of these defence investments are currently done in a collaborative manner, far below the 35% benchmark set by EU Member States themselves in 2007. Since the start of the Russian war of aggression, 78 % of the equipment bought by EU armies came from outside the EU. We are also lagging behind in our investments in Research and Development. That is the reason why I presented earlier this month together with the Commission the first-ever European Defence Industrial Strategy. We need to incentivise much more joint procurement, better secure our security of supplies, anchor the Ukrainian defence industry in Europe and organise a massive industrial ramp-up. We also need to catch up on new military technologies like drones or Artificial Intelligence. With its innovation hub, the European Defence Agency will continue to play a key role in these efforts. To succeed, we will need to ensure much better access to finance for the European defence industry, notably by adapting the European Investment Bank lending policies. We should also foresee issuing common debt to help finance the major necessary investment effort in defence capabilities and defence industry, as we did to face the COVID-19 crisis. However, we have still a lot of work to do to reach an agreement on that subject. Finally, we will also need to reinforce our defence when it comes to hybrid and cyber threats, foreign information manipulation and interference and resilience of our critical infrastructure. As detailed here, a lot has already been done in recent years, however I am very much aware that a lot more remains to be done to match the magnitude of the threats we are facing. We need a leap forward in European defence and European defence industry.

Defense & Security
Damaged Crocus City Hall after the attack.

The Crocus City Hall: What We Know and What We Don’t

by Andrey Kortunov

The overall picture of the Friday’s large-scale terrorist attack in a Moscow’s suburb is finally acquiring some clarity. The attack on the Crocus City Concert Hall in Moscow’s satellite town of Krasnogorsk was conducted by four men of Central Asian origin, who were heavily armed with automatic rifles and incendiaries. The attackers started shooting when they stormed through the entrance killing unarmed security personnel and then proceeded through the lobby to the music room itself. There were no political statements or demands; as it later turned out, terrorists were not even sufficiently fluent in Russian. No hostages were taken, the goal of the attackers was quite simple—to kill as many people as possible and to inflict as much damage as possible to the concert hall itself. With more than 6.200 unarmed people caught in the building, this task was easy enough. The attackers were shooting at pointblank range, reloading their rifles and throwing incendiary checkers in all directions. After having put the building on fire they departed through the same central entrance and left the scene in a closely parked car. Many people were killed by the shooting, many suffocated by the smoke in condensed rooms and hallways, yet other perished when the glass-and-steel roof of the concert hall finally collapsed. With rescue operations and fire-fighting efforts still under way, the number of deaths was climbing over the weekend going to 137, including small children. More than a hundred and fifty victims remain in hospitals and the odds are that the final death toll will be higher. The attackers tried to escape in the direction of Russia’s border with Ukraine, but their car was intercepted by special forces and all the four men were arrested already in the morning of Saturday. Russia’s President Vladimir Putin declared March 24 a day of national mourning. However, even now, three days later, there are still some essential parts of the story that remain unclear and open to public discussions. The most important question is about who really stands behind the Friday attack. It is hardly possible to imagine that a few terrorists could have acted on their own, without a strong institution or a network behind them. In course of the first interrogations, they actually confessed that they were essentially nothing more than disposable ‘guns for hire’, that is to say that they were paid to do the job. By the way, the offered price was not that huge—slightly more than US$5.000 per person. However, the detained terrorists turned out to be incapable or unwilling to properly identity their alleged employers and customers. One of the most popular versions regarding the latter, which is now in broad circulation in the West, links the terrorist attack to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS, an organization recognized as terrorist and its activities banned in the Russian Federation). This version is based on the assumption that ISIS or, more specifically, ISIS-K (the Khorasan branch of the Islamic State operating in Afghanistan) has very many reasons to be unhappy with Moscow’s activities in places like Syria, Libya or even with Russia’s cautious support for the Taliban regime in Kabul. In September of 2022, ISIS-K claimed responsibility for the suicide bomber attack of the Russian Embassy in Kabul, which fortunately produced no victims. The terrorist organization demonstrated its operational capabilities in early January of 2024, when two ISIS–K attackers carried out twin suicide bombings in Kerman, Iran, during an event mourning the US assassination of Quds Force leader Qassim Soleimani. This version of who stands behind the atrocious terrorist attack is particularly convenient for the United States and its NATO allies since it points at the Western long-term enemies and rules out any, even hypothetical Western responsibility for the tragedy in Moscow. However, there are some apparent soft spots in this narrative. First, the pattern of the attack in the Crocus City Hall was very different from the ‘standard mode’ of ISIS operations. The Friday attackers were not religious fanatics, suicide bombers, or indoctrinated shooters ready not only to kill, but also do die pursuing their ‘holy mission’. The ultimate and uncompromised ISIS fanaticism has been demonstrated on many occasions, for instance, during a large-scale terrorist attack in Paris on the 13th of November, 2015. But this was not the case in Moscow last Friday—the attackers desperately tried to escape and to save their live. Second, it would be somewhat counterintuitive for ISIS to target Moscow at this particular moment, when Russia has taken a clearly pro-Palestinian position on a very sensitive for everybody in the Moslem world issue of the Israeli military operation in Gaza. It would be more logical to look for targets among the staunch advocates of Benyamin Netanyahu. Even if ISIS decided to stage a terrorist operation in Moscow, they would have probably targeted one of local synagogues, as they have already tried earlier. The alternative version, which is floating around in Russia, is that the real sponsors and instigators of the attack should be looked for in Kyiv. The version implies that since Ukraine is currently losing to Russia on the battlefield and has no opportunities to reverse the course of the conflict in its favor, terrorist attacks remain one of the very few remaining options that are still open for the Ukrainian leadership to make its case in an ‘asymmetrical’ way. This version can be also regarded as self-serving, since it unquestionably destroys the international reputation of Ukraine. Still, it should not be dismissed without consideration. After all, the terrorists tried to escape Russia through the Russian-Ukrainian border and were captured only a hundred miles away from the border. It seems that they should have at least secured some advance arrangements with appropriate partners in Ukraine, who would allow them to enter the Ukrainian territory safely and find shelter on the Ukrainian soil. Moreover, in Russia they consider a ‘Ukrainian involvement’ in the recent terrorist attack to be a logical continuation of what Ukraine has already been doing for a long time. On many occasions, Moscow accused Kyiv of sponsoring and even of directly organizing diverse terrorist activities deep in the Russian territory, including acts of economic sabotage and assassination attempts against prominent politicians, journalists and opinion leaders. The ongoing investigation should help clarifying the issue of the customers and instigators. However, it is clear that even if a Ukrainian trace is finally confirmed and proved by the Russian side, the West will still continue to deny any connections between Kyiv and the terrorist act in Moscow. The odds are that the Western leaders will continue to reject any piece of evidence that the Russian side might bring to the table. If so, the terrorist attack in Moscow will remain an open file for a long time—just like the file of the Nord Stream pipeline explosions in September of 2022. Another important question that remains unanswered is about the warning of the terrorist act that the United States sent to Russia a couple of weeks ago. In Washington they now claim that they did their best having informed Moscow of a high probability of a large-scale terrorist attack on the Russian soil a couple of weeks ago. However, in Russia they argue that the information from Washington was very general, unclear and therefore not really usable. There are thousands and thousands of popular public spaces in Moscow, and if the warning did not contain any reference to specific probable targets, the net value of the warning was limited at best. Moreover, in Moscow they accuse the United States and NATO of assisting Ukraine with planning its own sabotage and reconnaissance operations, including multiple strikes against civilian targets, which are defined in Russia as acts of state terrorism. This indirect polemics between Washington and Moscow raises a bigger question: is an efficient international cooperation in fighting against terrorism possible in the era of intense geopolitical competition? Is there any hope for success, when this competition in itself turns out to be a fertile soil for terrorism? The current trends are not very reassuring. Though the world has not recently witnessed terrorist acts similar to 9/11 events in New York and in Washington, hundreds of civilians died in the massive attacks in Paris and in Madrid, in Bagdad and in Berlin, in Beslan and over Sinai, in Gamboru (Nigeria) and in Mumbai (India), with new names added to this tragic list every so often. Large-scale terrorist attacks are now few and far between in the United States, but there have been more of them in Europe, let alone in the Middle East and in Africa. Why, then, is the goal to wipe out terrorism not achieved so far? In the first place, the international community has failed to agree on a common definition of terrorism’s origins, driving forces and character. What some actors explicitly dub as “terrorist” may look like a national liberation struggle for others. Bring up the issue of terrorism in Kashmir in a conversation with Indians and Pakistani, only to see there can hardly be a common denominator in this matter. Talk to Israelis and to Palestinians on how they define terrorism, and you will find striking differences as well. The United States routinely accused the Islamic Republic of Iran of sponsoring terrorism, but looking from Tehran you are likely to define the above-mentioned US assassination of Genal Qassim Soleimani as an unquestionable act of international terrorism. Throughout history, many self-confident leaders have attempted to draw a line between ‘bad’ terrorism and ‘good’ terrorism, aspiring to manage and to use terrorists as convenient foreign policy tools. However, this arbitrarily drawn line between ‘bad’ and ‘good’ terrorists has always got blurred, and former seemingly obedient and efficient servants have again and again revolted against their short-sighted masters. Second, any success in the fight against terrorism entails a high level of trust between the interacting parties—simply because they would have to exchange a lot of sensitive and confidential information. In today’s world, trust is thin on the ground. An apparent and mounting deficit of this resource is not only present in the relations between Moscow and Washington; it also takes its toll on the relations between Beijing and Tokyo, between Riyadh and Teheran, between Cairo and Addis Ababa, between Bogota and Caracas, and the list goes on. It would be tempting to try to somehow ‘insulate’ the fight against international terrorism, separating it from the overall geopolitical competition. However, it is practically impossible since any international cooperation on terrorism is inextricably linked to the very core dimensions of national security. Third, international terrorism is far from an issue that is set in stone. It is gradually changing and evolving to become more resilient, sophisticated, and cunning. The recent events at the Crocus City Conference Hall is a clear indication of how much damage can be inflicted by a relatively small, but well-armed and well-prepared group of militants. Similar to a dangerous virus, the terrorist threat is mutating, generating ever new strains. Another lesson that we should learn is that the modern highly urbanized and technologically advanced post-modern civilization—be it in Russia, in China, in Europe or in the United States—is extremely vulnerable to terrorist attacks. Rapidly changing and increasingly complex social and economic infrastructure, especially in large metropolitan areas, is an enabling environment for hard-hitting terrorist attacks. Besides, international and civil conflicts—like the one raging in Ukraine—drastically heighten the accessibility of modern arms for would-be terrorists. Such conflicts inevitably generate large numbers of trained fighters with a lot of combat experience, access to sophisticated weapons and, sometimes, with severe mental problems. These fighters are easy prey for recruiters from international terrorist networks, or they turn into dormant ‘lone wolves’, who could go hunting at any moment. One should not dismiss the kind of terrorism bred by anonymous mavericks and amateurs rather than the sort represented by well-known transnational extremist movements—individualists are the hardest to track and neutralize, while plans of amateurs are harder to reveal. The current progress in military technology, coupled with other trends in the contemporary international arena, portend a new spike in terrorist activities in the coming years Add to this a comprehensive setback in the resilience of global economy, which may be fraught with more social tensions and an inevitable rise of pollical radicalism and extremism in a broad range of countries. An obvious foretelling: In this “nutrient broth”, the virus of terrorism, which has not been wholly eradicated, stands all the chances for an “explosive” growth. Taking terrorism off the agenda is only possible if humanity effects a transition to a new level of global governance. It is either that the leading powers are wise and energetic enough for this, or the tax that international terrorism imposes on our common civilization will be progressively higher. First published in Chinese in the Guancha.

Berlin, March 15, 2024: Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz welcomes French President Emmanuel Macron

The French - German tension

by Juan Antonio Sacaluga

That there is a miscommunication between Paris and Berlin is something that is already being unreservedly acknowledged even among the power leaders in the two capitals. The rift caused by the war in Ukraine is the arena in which tensions are being played out. But there are underlying factors that have contributed to making this gap a major concern for the European stability. We point out the following: The strategic factor Geography determines strategic choices. Germany has always looked to the East as a pole of concern, but also as a pole of opportunity. The former has almost always outweighed the latter. Wars have historically conditioned coexistence with Rusia, regardless of the political regime that has existed in each historical stage. There is one incontrovertible fact: Germany has never won a war against Russia. On the other hand, when talking about peace, German interests have prevailed. Hence in Berlin (or in Bonn, during the first Cold War) there has always been a tendency towards appeasement towards Moscow. Earlier, Hitler wanted to postpone the inevitable confrontation with Stalin’s Russia with a tactical, not a strategic pact (in 1939), a move to gain time and consolidate his domination of Western Europe. With the victory of the Soviet Union, Germany endured the division of the country for almost half a century, a punishment even more humiliating than the previous ones. The western part prospered, and the eastern part stagnated. However, this underhand triumph did nothing to facilitate the reconciliation. Willy Brandt understood this very well when he launched his ‘Ostpolitik’ (Eastern policy) in the early 1970s. The initiative caused concern in Washington, not so much because it was opposed to a thaw it shared, but because of the risk of losing control of the process. There was also some reluctance in Paris. De Gaulle and his heirs had always maintained an open channel of cooperation with Moscow but were distrustful of German overtures. With the crisis of the Soviet system, Franco-German tensions surfaced again. A united and strong Germany awakened the ghost of three devastating wars for France. The Chancellor at that time, Kohl was Gorbachev’s main supporter and acted as a fundraiser for a Soviet Union that was falling apart at the seams. Germany’s repeated commitment to peace and European integration did not seem to be a sufficient antidote to the vision of an Eastern Europe, ‘germanized’ by the economic weight of the new political and territorial power. Germany’s actions in the Yugoslav wars, initially perceived in Paris as ‘dynamiting’, contributed to increase those fears. After the failure of the democratization trial in the ‘new’ Russia, largely caused by a predatory capitalism encouraged from the West, Germany continued to cultivate very close relations with Moscow to prevent an undesirable drift in the Kremlin. Until the successive crises in Ukraine have brought this strategic project to a halt. In France, there has always been an interest in an autonomous relationship model with Moscow, whether in collaboration with Germany or the United States, but in no way subordinate. Gaullist nationalism has survived, both on the right and on the left. Somehow, the French elites have tried to avoid Paris from playing a secondary role in relations with the Kremlin, whether in cooperation or confrontation. Hence Macron (‘more papist than the Pope: more Gaullist than the General’), will attempt a risky mediation game with Putin after the phantom intervention in Crimea and the more obvious one in the Donbas, in 2014; and eight years later, when the invasion of Ukraine was consumed. There has been much speculation about the true intentions of the French president’s trip to Moscow. Macron is anything but naive. Perhaps it was indeed the inevitable need of the Elysée Palace to leave its mark. Now that any conciliation with Moscow seems distant, Macron takes the lead among the ‘hawks’ and pretends to forget that he once wanted to look like a ‘dove’, by suggesting that, although there is no allied consensus, sending soldiers to Ukraine cannot be ruled out to prevent a Russian military triumph. Of all Macron’s gambits, this has been the most or one of the riskiest. And the one that has provoked the most irritation on the other side of the Rhine [1]. Since February 2022, Germany has buried the various branches of the ‘Ostpolitik’, a task falling to a Social Democratic chancellor, perhaps the most unremarkable and least suited for high-level leadership. Olaf Scholz announced the ‘zeitenwende’ (translatable as “change of era, or time”). Half a century of rapprochement with Russia was called into question. The economic equation (energy raw materials in exchange for machinery and capital goods) in bilateral relations was dissolving under the weight of Western sanctions against Moscow. Moreover, the pacifist post-Hitler Germany committed to a military effort of $100 billion (to start with), aimed rejuvenating, strengthening, and expanding the Germany military apparatus. But in everything there is a limit, or a red line. Germany has not been shy with Putin, despite being the European country most harmed by embargoes, limitations and constraints in the Russian oil and gas consumption. Economic war was accepted as inevitable in Berlin. However, caution has been exercised, particularly in the supply of arms to Ukraine. Nonetheless, Germany is, after the United States, the largest net contributor to Kiev’s arsenals [2]. Let’s not forget that. France has also taken its precautions in pressuring the Kremlin, as has the US, despite the rhetoric and the cold war propaganda prevailing for the past two years. That is why Macron’s latest ‘provocation’ has annoyed Berlin so much. Moreover, as usual in his boasts, the French president added insult to injury by suggesting that Ukraine’s delicate fragility demanded more “courage” and less timidity from the allies [3]. Scholz replied with diplomatic and bureaucratic discretion, without any outbursts, recalling that NATO’s decisions ruled out ‘boots on the ground’ (sending troops to Ukraine). But his Defense Minister, Pistorious, could not resist returning the favor and admonishing him for his new moral lesson. The foreign ministers of both countries attempted to ‘diplomatically’ solve the crisis days later, but did not risk holding a joint press conference in order not to show that the political wound between Berlin and Paris was still open. The leak of a meeting of senior German military commanders, spied on by Russian agents, further clouded the atmosphere [4]. Another element unchanged since the Cold War: Berlin may support the European autonomous defense project, but it has never ceased to consider it as subordinate to NATO. The American nuclear umbrella is untouchable, then and now. And not even an eventual (and only speculative, for now) strategic availability of the French nuclear arsenal is capable of changing that axiom [5]. Political factors Apart from strategic considerations, domestic political factors have also played a role in this latest crisis. Macron faces the European elections with the apprehension of a seemingly inevitable victory of the far-right ‘Rassemblement National’. It was once considered a pro-Russian party and even generously funded by the Kremlin. In recent years, the party’s chairwoman has tried to distance herself from the Kremlin but has not entirely succeeded. And Macron wants to exploit this supposed vulnerability of a woman he has defeated twice in the presidential elections, but who seems destined to occupy the Elysée Palace in 2027 if she achieves successful results in this year’s European elections. In this week’s parliamentary debate on the bilateral security agreement with Kiev, Marine Le Pen ordered an abstention. She made it clear that she supports the Ukraine resistance, so that there would be no doubt about her change of attitude towards Russia. But he saw in the initiative of the President’s party a clear intention for electoral gain. Divisions were evident on the left: rebels and communists voted against, while socialists and ecologists voted in favor, but the latter rejected the suggestion of troops deployment. Scholz also faces a challenge from the far right, with elections this autumn that could consolidate the dominance of the AfD (Alternative for Germany) in the eastern states (Eastern Länder). This party has won over citizens who do not have such negative memories of the GDR, but in its rise, it has also bitten into the social democratic base. The chancellor does not want to appear too hostile to an electorate that does not participate in the anti-Russian discourse. Institutional factors In this Paris – Bonn clash, as in previous ones, the structure of the respective political systems also exerts a disturbing influence. The French political system is presidential; the German one is parliamentary. In France, the President has exclusive and personal authority over foreign policy. He does not even need his own majority (in this case, the minority that supports him) to formulate his international proposals. In Germany, by contrast, the Chancellor has to negotiate foreign policy with the coalition partners, and even on rare occasions when there has been a single-party majority government, the Bundestag has exerted considerable influence. Personal factors Finally, personal style is also not to be dismissed. It is not unusual for the Elysée Palace and the Chancellery to be inhabited by like-minded characters. The French President is conditioned by the aura of a political system that relies on an exalted figure and demands real, but also impactful, leadership. Both being and appearing so. The Chancellor, on the other hand, is a sort of ‘primus inter pares’, no matter how prominent. Therefore, since 1945, the personal stature of German leaders has always been framed in firm structures that prevent hyper-leadership. It is the Chief’s (Fuhrer) chastisement. This limitation (historical and political) is sometimes reinforced by a purely personal style. At present, the gap is perhaps the widest in the last eighty years. A French President who likes to talk and a Chancellor who is perhaps the most discreet since the post-war period. De Gaulle and Adenauer cultivated little personal relationship, but neither intended to. Pompidou and Brandt never got along particularly well, although the German took great care that his growing popularity did not irritate in Paris… until the Guillaume scandal ended his career. Giscard and Schmidt gave their cooperation a technical character, forced by the oil crisis following the wars in the Middle East. Mitterrand and Kohl raised the tone of the bilateral relationship but did not always adjust their personal dynamics. The German was the longest-serving post-war chancellor and so, the most mediatic, but the Frenchman never renounced, on the contrary, the solemnity with which the office was exercised. Merkel played down Sarkozy (and later Hollande), but not to highlight her personal qualities, but to put them at the service of Germany’s undisputed economic leadership in post-Cold War Europe. Macron wanted to put an end to this French ‘inferiority’, with difficulty. It is not clear that he succeeded against a retreating Merkel, but he thinks he has it easier with the unremarkable Scholz. Notes [1] “France-Allemagne, un tándem secoué par l’épreuve de la guerre en Ukraine”. PHILIPPE RICHARD & THOMAS WIEDER. LE MONDE, 9 de marzo. [2] “German Chancellor pledges to boost [ammunition] production for Ukraine”. DER SPIEGEL, 5 de febrero (versión en inglés). [3] “Le débat sur l’envoi de soldats en Ukraine révèle les profondes differences de vision de la guerre parmi les allies”. LE MONDE, 6 de marzo. [4] “Now It’s Germany’s turn to frustrate Allies over Ukraine”. THE NEW YORK TIMES, 4 de marzo. [5] “Dans cette nouvelle ère où l’affrontement a remplacé la cooperation, la question de la dissuasion nucleaire reprend tout son sens”. SYLVIE KAUFFMANN. LE MONDE, 7 de febrero.

Presidential election 2024 in the United States. Voting day, November 5.

Elections in USA: a fast-paced race

by Raquel López-Portillo

As rarely in history, elections in the United States have accelerated their tempo at a dizzying pace. The Triumpist tsunami that has swept through this initial primary election process is striking in terms of the acceleration of the process. In 2016, it was not until May that the former President Trump secured the Republican Party candidacy, while in the 2020 cycle it took Biden until June. This hastening has not only impacted domestically but has also put Mexico in a delicate position ahead of the general elections in both countries. It is nothing new that migration is a central topic of debate and dispute, even more so when its politicization increases in an electoral environment. However, the US electoral process has placed Mexico, literally and metaphorically, as a campaign stage. As evidenced by the visit of the two potential candidates for the US presidency to the Mexican border a few weeks ago, the importance of our country today takes a prominent place both in the priorities of the electorate and in the respective campaigns of Donald Trump and Joe Biden. This leaves the administration of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador in a tenuous position in an already complex scenario. The fact that the focus of the conversation has been set on the border so soon leaves at least eight months of a potential spike in tensions. Biden’s rhetoric is no longer the same as when he began his term, nor is it attached to the human rights-centered line that has traditionally characterized the Democratic Party. In contrast, Biden has insisted in recent days on the passage of a bipartisan initiative to allow for the deployment of more border agents and asylum officers, detection technology, and increased capabilities to close the border when it is overwhelmed. In this scene, it is possible to expect that the diplomacy and repeated high-level meetings that have been held in recent months will now come laden with even greater demands and ultimatums. In addition, our country is also expected to be at the center of the legislative debate. While the most radical wing of the Republican Party has been the main protagonist of the budget attacks, the immigration crisis has provoked some democrats to take tougher positions. Politically, this situation has become a thorn in President Joe Biden’s side. He is perhaps the most damaged between the pressures of his closest supporters and the Republican resistance to give him legislative victories, at a time when every message or decision could influence from the presidential race to the elections in the local legislature, where the Democrats seek to recover lost spaces. For the time being, everything points to the fact that the greater the chaos on the border with the country, the greater the political gains. Finally, the border with Mexico has also found a place in the electorate’s priorities. According to various polls, eight out of ten Americans (with or without party affiliation) place immigration as a priority issue. Likewise, at least 28 percent of the polled by the Gallup Agency stated that immigration is the most serious problem that faces the country, ahead of issues such as the economy, inflation, or crime. This also impacts Mexico because it is not only limited to a matter of perception but is inevitably reflected in everyday life. Considering that migration, drug trafficking and insecurity are generally considered as part of the same problem, this has a significant impact on the increase of xenophobic positions, particularly against Mexican nationals living in the United States. Regardless of how the electoral pace continues or who ends up in the White House, Mexico should pay special attention to the speeches, proposals and actions of other people competing at the local or federal level for a position in the next government, particularly on issues that concern our country, such as migration, security, or the fight against organized crime. It is precisely these people who will determine the future of our most important bilateral relationship.

The High Commissioner for the 2030 Agenda, Cristina Gallach, during her speech at an event.

The growing discourse of rejection of the 2030 Agenda in Latin American governments

by Javier Surasky

In September 2015, the delegations of the 150 presidents participating in the Sustainable Development Summit were part of the 193 States preparing to adopt the outcome document of this meeting. This meeting represented the end of the most participatory negotiation process in the history of the United Nations: the adoption of the 2030 Agenda. The sense of optimism and of moving towards a common goal was palpable. Eight years later, the progress of the 2030 Agenda has fallen far short of expectations. Unfulfilled promises, lack of financing, the health crisis generated by COVID-19, the recent wars, and the global economy that has faced first recessionary and then inflationary pressures all have made the idea of finding common solutions to the problems afflicting the world lose momentum. Misinformation on the 2030 Agenda On this fertile soil, conspiracy theories sprout that see multilateralism as the origin of today’s problems. The 2030 Agenda is, in many cases, at the center of these distorted visions. Three conspiracy theories are being raised against the main global sustainable development agenda. Theory of the “New World Order”: This theory is based on the idea that an elite (Bilderberg Club style) formed by a small group of the most powerful people in the world governs the destinies of the planet for their benefit. The “Great Reboot” theory was proposed in Davos after the pandemic, and with the UN’s “build back better” vision, the theory focuses on the economic dimension. It suggests an orchestrated plan by the most powerful countries to appropriate all the world’s wealth. They claim the intentional creation of a pandemic to initiate their plan. “Trickle-down communism” theory: After the fall of the Soviet Union – and knowing that communism could never take over the West – the “left” began a worldwide campaign to slowly insert its ideas into Western societies so that by the time the plan was discovered, the West would have embraced the communist ideal without realizing it. All three conspiracies arrive at the same result: the 2030 Agenda is creating a group (an economic elite, a group of powerful countries, or international communism) aiming to appropriate the world’s wealth. These stories contradict reality and seek to misinform about this milestone for international cooperation, which, despite the difficulty of addressing it, is a renewal of the concept of international development. The disinformation of the 2030 Agenda happens, in most cases, through social networks, and their expressions claim, for example, that this is oriented to Forcing citizens to eat insects instead of meat. Confine the world’s population to neighborhoods where they cannot leave without permission under “15-minute cities”. Feminize men to reduce the world population. Despite the absurdity of the “arguments,” they have served as a basis for those who seek to debate the value of the 2030 Agenda in Latin America. José Luis Chilavert, former goalkeeper of the Paraguayan national soccer team, became a candidate for president of his country in the 2023 elections. He obtained 0.7% of the votes but explained his decision: “I got into politics to fight against Agenda 2030. They want to destroy us.” Sandra Torres, three-time presidential candidate for the Partido Nacional de la Esperanza (UNE by its acronym in Spanish) party, said in a video in the 2023 election campaign: “I will never let them impose an international agenda on us. We Guatemalans will set Guatemala’s agenda. I believe in life, family, and religious freedom. No to Agenda 2030.” In Chile, Congressman Cristóbal Urruticoechea Ríos, with an active mandate until 2026, stated in his country’s congress that “the dehumanization of human beings and the humanization of animals, the destruction of language, the destruction of the middle classes, the liquidation of the sovereignty of nations, the attack on families, life and roots. This is part of the 2030 Agenda.” After Jair Bolsonaro’s defeat in the last Brazilian elections, his son, Eduardo Bolsonaro, became the face of the Liberal Party. His position is forceful: “The more we fight against Agenda 2030, the greater our electoral success will be.” In Costa Rica, New Republic deputy David Segura said in a speech at the chamber that the 2030 Agenda was adopted to “confuse people and, of course, to impose little by little the great modern enemy of all families, which is the nefarious gender ideology,” and then added that Agenda 2030 “opens the door to promote nothing more and nothing less than abortion, financed by international capital giants that pursue their interests, which are far from being yours, mine.” At the level of presidents we have Nayib Bukele, recently reelected to govern El Salvador, maintains a cautious position: “On the issue of Agenda 2030, I am very suspicious of this type of international agendas of the UN, the World Economic Forum, or wherever they come from and their intentions”. Although undoubtedly, the greatest exponent of conspiracy theories in the region is Javier Milei, current president of Argentina, who, during his campaign, stated, “We are not going to adhere to Agenda 2030. We do not adhere to cultural Marxism. We do not adhere to decadence” (read in Spanish), and, already in office, he explained that he was traveling to the Davos Forum with the aim of “planting the ideas of freedom in a forum that is contaminated with the socialist agenda 2030 that will only bring misery to the world”. With such positions, one of the few well-established consensuses in the region during the last 10 years is cracking. The fact that the discussion is settled will be a setback that cannot be allowed. It is up to Latin America’s leaders to armor their support for the 2030 Agenda by being clearer in their positions and more active than before in their policies to implement the SDGs. The Regional Forum on Sustainable Development must make a strong statement in that direction. When the UN Secretary-General stated that we are facing a “breakdown or breakthrough” dilemma, it seemed a rhetorical question. For Latin America, it is no longer so.

Defense & Security
11.07.2018. BRUSSELS, BELGIUM. Official Opening Ceremony for NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) SUMMIT 2018

Home alone: The sorry state of Europe’s plans for self-defence

by Nick Witney

With the possibility of a second Trump presidency looming, it is high time to Europeanise NATO’s defence plans Lest anyone had missed the point, Donald Trump has now provided helpful clarification of his attitude towards America’s NATO allies – and specifically those that fail to spend the benchmark 2 per cent of their GDP on defence. If elected he would, he declared at a campaign rally, “encourage” Russia “to do whatever the hell they want” to underspending NATO allies. Reacting to a storm of protest from European leaders, he was happy to repeat himself: “Look, if they’re not going to pay, we’re not going to protect. OK?”. Nowadays, it is less easy for complacent Europeans to shrug off such observations as typical Trumpisms. They have evidence that Trump redux would be likely to apply his malevolent instincts much more efficiently than he did in his chaotic first term as president. And the chances of him having the opportunity to do so are increasingly likely: he has now steamrollered the opposition in the early Republican primaries, and is ahead of Joe Biden in the polls. No one can any longer ignore the real possibility that in less than a year’s time the occupant of the White House could toss the whole responsibility for keeping Ukraine in the fight against Russia into European laps, whilst insisting that from here on in they see to their own defence. It would therefore hardly be premature if Europeans began to explore how each other views the situation; to make contingency plans; and even to take some precautionary steps. The two key challenges are obvious. The first is how to get more weapons, and especially ammunition and air-defence missiles, to Ukraine. Since Russia’s invasion, Europeans have done better at this than might have been expected – but they have not done as well as the need now demands, and not nearly enough to support Ukraine if the United States withdraws its aid. The EU, and especially the European Commission, have played a prominent role here, providing financial incentives for member states to donate from their own stocks and to expand production facilities. But talk of moving European defence industries onto a war footing has yet to be realised; and although the commission will shortly unveil proposals for an ambitious European defence industrial strategy, this can only succeed if member states evince more enthusiasm for collective action than they have so far shown. Only three months ago France, Germany, Italy, and Spain jointly warned the commission to stay off their turf and respect national “prerogatives” on defence. The second key challenge that Europeans should be facing up to is how they would defend themselves without US backing against a Russia that had – the possibility can no longer be discounted – imposed a humiliating ‘peace’ on Ukraine. The “dormant NATO” plans being proposed by right-wing US think-tanks foresee a wholesale withdrawal of US ground forces from Europe. But Europeans have huge psychological difficulties in bringing themselves to discuss the US as they would any other foreign power, even in situations where their own strategic interests are manifestly different from those of the superpower. NATO’s disastrous involvement in Afghanistan, for instance, would never have dragged on for so many fruitless years had not its European members studiously avoided any collective discussion of a campaign which each saw exclusively through the prism of its own bilateral relations with the US. Compounding these challenges is the fact that there is no institutional setting in which Europeans could confer. Their task is, in effect, to Europeanise NATO’s defence plans, but this can hardly be discussed in NATO. That organisation, after all, is where European militaries gather to be told what to do by Americans, but the current US administration can scarcely be expected to lead a discussion premised on its own defeat in the November presidential election. The EU has neither locus nor credibility in military operational matters. The reality is that, if a strategy for defending Europe without the Americans is to emerge, this can only be on an ‘intergovernmental’ basis – through bilateral and minilateral discussion amongst Europe’s main defence players. At the alliance’s 2022 Madrid summit, NATO doubled down on its strategy of forward defence. Russia’s war on Ukraine has demonstrated that we are in a technological era in which defensive systems have the advantage over the traditional means of attack. Destroying massed Russian armour turned out to be relatively easy; getting Russians out now that they have dug themselves in is the devil’s own job. So in Madrid allies resolved to reinforce NATO’s “enhanced forward presence” – boosting in-place forces in eastern and central Europe. But predictably, Europeans have been happy to leave this largely to the Americans, who reinforced their presence in Europe with an additional 20,000 troops. The challenge for European chiefs of staff and defence planners now is to work out how, if the need arises, to substitute for US in-place forces in the frontline states; what capabilities and defensive infrastructure will be needed to halt any assault at the borders; and how to organise the communications and data networks necessary to form an effective system that ties together disparate sensors and missile, drone, and artillery assets. Such planning is now an urgent requirement, not just as a matter of military preparedness, but for psychological reasons. Europe’s frontline states have long felt their western European allies lack not only US military credibility, but also a serious understanding of the scale of Putin’s threat. Europeans will only hang together under a second Trump presidency if they are ready to trust each other, and specifically if the most vulnerable states see a real prospect of western European states putting many more of their bodies on the line as in-place forces. The last couple of years, in which predominantly eastern European states have agreed to purchase an astonishing $120 billion of weapons from American contractors, suggests a fatal tendency to believe that maybe Trump can be propitiated by such largesse. Fortunately, the return of Donald Tusk as Poland’s prime minister has substantially increased the odds of Europeans hanging together even in a Trump 2.0 scenario. The foreign ministers of France, Germany, and Poland (the Weimar Triangle) have just met to discuss strengthening Europe’s efforts. If, as expected, the British Labour party returns to government later this year, then the United Kingdom would be an obvious addition to this group. Indeed, a necessary one: it is hard to envisage a credible European defence of the continent that did not clutch in Europe’s second nuclear power. Keir Starmer has made clear his ambition to restore defence ties severed by Brexit. There is no time to waste: the prime minister-in-waiting could usefully make an early trip to Paris to initiate conversations with the UK’s closest continental ally.

Defense & Security
Vladimir Putin

Putin’s Russia: Violence, Power and Another 12 Years

by David R. Marples

Twenty-five years ago, Russian president Boris Yeltsin chose his fifth and final prime minister, Vladimir Putin. In a decade marked by financial crisis, disastrous war, corruption, and Yeltsin’s lengthy illness, the term of the prime minister was always limited. They were the target when anything went wrong in the Russian Federation, as it often did. The latest choice was not expected to last long either. A former head of the Federal Security Services, he had served earlier in a desk job in Dresden for its predecessor, the KGB, a position that ended abruptly with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the collapse of the East German Communist state. Putin may have remained obscure, but prior to his appointment as Prime Minister he managed to attach his career to the popular mayor of St. Petersburg, Anatoly Sobchak. Putin was appointed deputy mayor, but Sobchak lost his campaign for re-election in 1997 and was later accused of corruption. He died suddenly of a heart attack in 2000. Putin’s sudden rise culminated with the unexpected resignation of Yeltsin at the end of 1999. He became acting president until the elections of March 2000, and then won easily with only one serious opponent, Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov. Putin restarted the war in Chechnya, which had ended with a treaty in 1997 that left the status quo in place. The new war was conducted ruthlessly. The Chechen capital Grozny was erased and several other towns were completely destroyed. The Chechens mounted an effective terrorist campaign outside of their territory. In October 2002, about forty Chechen terrorists attacked a Moscow theatre, holding some 700 people hostage. Russian special forces, on Putin’s orders, stormed the theatre after gas was pumped into the auditorium. All the terrorists died, but so did over 100 attendees. Putin’s ruthlessness was evident. There would be no compromise with terrorists. In 2004, the Chechen president Akhmad Kadyrov was assassinated. Putin wanted Kadyrov’s son, Ramzan, who had switched sides in the war and offered his services to Putin, to succeed him but he had to wait three more years for him to reach the minimum age of 30. Domestically, Putin was fortunate. After a disastrous decline in the late 1990s, oil and gas prices began to rise. The Russian economy recovered. Putin accepted the credit. He removed those oligarchs of the Yeltsin era who refused to stay out of politics; the others became part of his regime. He also gradually began to reassert Russian regional dominance. In several former Soviet republics this was the era of “color revolutions” with popular leaders replacing corrupt figures, often holdovers from the Soviet era. In Ukraine’s Orange revolution protests, Viktor Yushchenko, a pro-European leader defeated pro-Kremlin Viktor Yanukovych after a rerun of the third round of the election. To the south, Mikeil Saakashvili came to power in Georgia with similar goals. Putin’s response was to work more closely with Belarus, a reliably ally under Aliaksandr Lukashenka, and to promote the Collective Security Treaty Organization as a counter to expanding NATO. Aside from Belarus, most of the Central Asian states were included. Alongside this, relations with the West began to decline. Though Putin had some common ground with US president George W. Bush – both were faced with terrorism linked to militant Islamic groups – he resented having to kowtow to the United States as the sole world policeman. He believed the West had fomented the color uprisings. In 2008, after NATO forces colluded with the formation of Kosovo, Putin claimed that the territorial agreements that ended the Second World War had been violated. Russia openly backed two breakaway regions of Georgia – Abkhazia and South Ossetia – and invaded the small Caucasian state in the same year, occupying Gori and other towns. In that same year, Putin completed his second term as president, the maximum under the Russian Constitution, and switched positions with his Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, thirteen years his junior, a diminutive figure whom the West bizarrely regarded as a reformer and a liberal who would moderate Russian policies. The period 2008–12, with Putin in the background, saw one major success. After an insipid presidency marked by foreign travel and symbolic concessions to Ukrainian nationalism, Yushchenko fell from power in 2010 receiving just 1.5% of the popular vote. Yanukovych, the former governor of Donetsk, was finally president. Still, there was strong opposition to Putin’s return to power in 2012 (having amended the constitution to allow himself to do so), led by former deputy prime minister and governor of Nizhny Novgorod Boris Nemtsov. Mass protests took place in Moscow and several other cities. Putin was again triumphant, well ahead of Zyuganov and maverick nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky. Russia faced another crisis in Ukraine in 2014. After Yanukovych decided not to sign the Association Membership with the EU in Vilnius, mass protests began in Kyiv’s Maidan. Yanukovych tried to break them up by force on November 30, which catalyzed a mass movement. By February, Yanukovych had fled and over 100 protesters were dead. In March 2014, Putin began his invasion of Ukraine by occupying Crimea. Russia also backed a separatist revolt in the Donbas, Yanukovych’s home area, with two small breakaway republics announcing their metamorphosis into “people’s republics.” They were largely unrecognized, even by Russia but they remained in place for the next eight years, after Ukraine’s ramshackle army failed to recapture them. Putin’s third term also saw the assassination of Boris Nemtsov, who was walking outside the Moscow Kremlin with his Ukrainian girlfriend. A Chechen gang was the main suspect, possibly on the orders of Kadyrov. Russian agents had already assassinated several other troublesome figures: the courageous journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who monitored the Chechen war in diary form; and Russian defector Aleksandr Litvinenko, poisoned with polonium-210 in London by a former member of the FSB. After 2014, Putin appeared to cast off any illusions that he was approachable, moral, or confined by the usual protocols of a world leader. He began to regard the West as degenerate and in decline, and democracy as a failed experiment. He became extremely rich through his links with oligarchs, and powerful through his siloviki (those authorized to use force against civilians), a holdover from his days as head of the secret police. A hierarchical structure emerged, Putin, his Security Council (including his powerful Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov), his United Russia party that controlled the Duma, and the masses. Using social media, the Russian leadership disseminated a world perspective that anathematized the Americans, NATO, “Gay Europe,” the West, which sought to control the world and reduce Russia to a second-rate power. There were some followers in unexpected places: admirers in the West, some of whom met regularly in discussions of the Valdai Club, some in academia who refused to shed their earlier admiration for Putin’s strong leadership, Viktor Orban in Hungary, and eventually President Donald J. Trump in the United States. By now Putin had developed a vision for his country and the future: a restoration of empire, the ‘Russkiy Mir’, that would include most of Ukraine, Belarus, and later other lands of the Baltic States, Georgia, and Moldova. But it must start with Ukraine, the sacred heartland of the Russian state and Crimea, where it all began in 988 with Prince Vladimr of Kiev (formerly known as Volodymyr of Kyiv). To ensure a righteous foundation and a renewed sense of identity, Putin turned to the ‘Great Patriotic War’, the time when the Soviet Unon had thrown back the Nazi hordes and liberated democratic Europe. The collaborators of that era were linked to his contemporary enemies: Ukrainian and Baltic nationalists. Russian historians began to revise a narrative of the war centred on the Holocaust of the Jews. In the new version, Russians were the main victims of Nazi Genocide. This delusional and twisted interpretation of the past pushed Putin into an expanded war in February 2022, one calculated to destroy the Ukrainian state founded in 1991. That attempt failed because the Ukrainian army was much stronger and backed by the population. But it is still in progress and has costs tens of thousands of lives. The emperor is now crowned again for another six years. Legally he can remain in office until 2036, when he will turn 84. By then Russia may be even larger, but with fewer people as population decline continues, advanced by wars and with resources depleted as oil and gas supplies dwindle. In such a scenario, Russia will continue to be ruled by a physically declining tyrant, still feared by his timid associates. They have seen what happens to those who cross his path. But Vladimir Putin is not immortal and, in that sense, his time in history is little more than the tick of a clock.

Defense & Security
The Israeli-Lebanese border along the coastal road, south of Enn Naqoura

Between War and Agreement with Lebanon: The Conflict Over the Land Border

by Orna Mizrahi , Stephane Cohen

Demarcating the land border between Israel and Lebanon is an important and necessary step—but is it right to do under fire? In this document, INSS researchers provide an answer to this question and detail the background and points of disagreement between the two countries on this issue As part of the American-led efforts to use diplomatic means to end the fighting that has been ongoing for nearly five months between Israel and Hezbollah, the need to demarcate an agreed-upon border between Israel and Lebanon was also on the agenda. The Lebanese government is eager to include border demarcation in any ceasefire agreement and has adopted the same policy on this matter as Hezbollah, linking an end to the fighting to the cessation of Israeli operations in the Gaza Strip and presenting a hardline maximalist approach to border demarcation. Negotiations over the land border between the two countries are likely to be exhaustive due to the complexity of the issue and the wide gaps between the sides. It would be wrong, therefore, to conduct them under fire. At the same time, as part of an agreement to end the conflict, it is feasible to include an agreement over the establishment of a mechanism to discuss the issue at the next stage—once the fighting on the Israel–Lebanon border has died down. Increasingly concerned that the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah could escalate further and turn into an all-out war, the United States is working to advance a diplomatic move that would lead to a ceasefire. France, and more recently the United Kingdom and Germany have joined the Americans in this effort. The Americans have entrusted the task to US President Joe Biden’s close adviser, Amos Hochstein, who successfully brokered the maritime agreement between Israel and Lebanon, which was signed in October 2022. At the behest of the Lebanese, Hochstein has been trying over the course of the past year to recreate this success and to get the parties to agree to a permanent land border. Thus far, he has not been successful. Beirut recently raised again the issue of demarcating the land border between Israel and Lebanon in the framework of efforts to secure a ceasefire between the IDF and Hezbollah, which have been engaged in limited combat along Israel’s northern border since Hezbollah initiated the conflict on October 8. The fighting has been ongoing since then, in parallel to the war in Gaza. In their discussions with American officials, acting Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati and his foreign minister, Abdallah Bou Habib, have been pleased by the Biden administration’s willingness to help broker a ceasefire and to restore quiet to southern Lebanon. They say that they are committed to a diplomatic solution and to international decisions, with an emphasis on UN Security Council Resolution 1701. At the same time, they have taken a hardline position and have been forced to toe the Hezbollah line. They have done so not only in terms of linking an end to the fighting on the Lebanon border with a cessation of IDF operations in the Gaza Strip but also in terms of their demands when it comes to demarcating the land border. Their opening position is intransigent. In their diplomatic meetings and in interviews they have given to the media, both Mikati and Habib have raised the demand that Israel withdraws from every inch of Lebanese territory and, at the same time, they speak about the Mandate-era border, which was adopted as part of the 1949 Armistice Agreements, as the reference point rather than the Blue Line, the line of withdrawal identified in 2000 by the United Nations, without prejudice to any future border agreement. Reports in the Israeli and Lebanese media suggest that the issue was also raised during Hochstein’s recent visits to Israel (on January 4 and again on February 4) and Beirut (on January 11), but for the time being, Hezbollah and, in its wake, the Lebanese government are adamant that they will not pursue a diplomatic channel as long as the war in Gaza is ongoing. Milestones in the Demarcation of the Border between Israel and Lebanon The border between Israel and Lebanon, which is around 120 kilometers in length,[1] was demarcated more than a century ago as part of the Franco–British Agreement on Mandatory Borders that was signed in Paris in December 1920. That agreement saw the two European superpowers divide up the territory of the Ottoman Empire between them and agree on the borders between both Lebanon and Syria (readers must understand that it was not between Lebanon and Syria specifically, but between the territory of both and Palestine), which were under the French Mandate, and Palestine, which was under the British, from the Mediterranean Sea to Hama (which now makes up the border triangle between Israel, Syria, and Jordan). The agreement drew out the general path of the border, and the sides agreed to set up a joint commission to demarcate the exact path of the border. The commission was headed by two officers—French Lieutenant Colonel Paulet and British Lieutenant Colonel Newcombe. The commission demarcated the border, and in March 1923, the final agreement was approved by both countries. It was ratified in 1935 by the League of Nations. The system used by the commission to demarcate the border—a process that took an entire year and which left behind meticulous documentation of its work—was old-fashioned and problematic; it led to huge inconsistencies in the border. The border they drew up did not fully correspond to the border that was agreed on in Paris in 1920, but it was marked on the ground using piles of rocks. These piles were eventually replaced by 71 posts known as boundary pillars (BPs), of which 38 were placed along the Israel–Lebanon border. It should be noted that most of these BPs disappeared or were destroyed, making later demarcation difficult. Throughout the Mandatory period, right up until Israel and Lebanon gained their independence, the boundary drawn up by the commission was recognized as the international border. It was also the boundary that was used for the March 1949 Armistice Agreement between Israel and Lebanon. That agreement, which the Lebanese are citing as their reference point for demarcation today, was not a detailed demarcation of the boundary. Rather, the agreement merely stated that the “armistice line will run along the international border.” In other words, along the border that was drawn up by the two Mandatory powers and approved in 1923.[2] Following the withdrawal of the IDF from Lebanon in May 2000 and as part of the implementation of Security Council Resolution 425 (1978), the United Nations tried to demarcate the IDF’s withdrawal line using a team of its own cartographers. They drew what became known as the Blue Line, which deviates in several points from the Mandate-era boundary, and they based it on cartographic data and the interpretation thereof by members of the team. Israel and Lebanon both accepted the Blue Line as the line to which IDF forces would withdraw from southern Lebanon, but Lebanon submitted reservations that turned into points of contention between the sides. The UN approach is to recognize a border line upon which both parties will agree, although it is doubtful that Lebanon will agree to the Blue Line as the basis and likely will insist on the 1949 line. After the 2006 Second Lebanon War, Israel and Lebanon agreed to physically demarcate the Blue Line on the ground, and to this end, a professional committee was formed. This committee determined the exact location of 470 reference points along the Blue Line—around four such points for every kilometer. The goal of marking the border using blue barrels was to make the border clear to the local population, to military personnel, and to the United Nations—and to prevent any inadvertent Blue Line crossings or violation. Thus far, however, barrels have only been placed on around half of the reference points (more than 270). Each of them was only placed after Lebanon and Israel had examined its exact position and given their approval. Points of Contention between Israel and Lebanon Along the Border Region After the delineation and demarcation of the Blue Line, Lebanon presented reservations regarding 13 points along the Blue Line, covering an area of 485,000 square meters (not including the territory in the triangle of borders with Syria beyond the 1949 Armistice Line). To this day, this remains the main point of contention between the two countries. According to the Lebanese, these points deviate from the boundary that was determined in the 1949 Armistice Agreement (see the map in Appendix A). These points have been discussed at length over the years in contacts between the sides as part of the tripartite meetings and coordination mechanism established by UNIFIL. On a number of occasions, there were even reports that they have reached understandings about a solution for seven of them (although there has been no official announcement that they have been resolved). In July 2023, before the outbreak of the current conflict, the Lebanese foreign minister claimed that of the 13 contested points, agreement had been reached over seven, and that there were only six left to be resolved. Two months later, however, the Lebanese army issued an official statement in which it said that it still sees the 13 as being violations by Israel (the Lebanese see the territory on their side of the 1949 Armistice Line and the Blue Line as having been occupied by Israel) and that nothing had been finalized on the matter. Moreover, the army said representatives in the tripartite coordination mechanism did not have the authority to approve this. Recently, against the backdrop of negotiations, the issue was again raised in an interview given by Mikati. On February 1, he claimed that seven of the 13 points had already been settled, but that there were still major gaps in the positions of both sides with regard to the remaining six. Five days later, the foreign minister made a similar argument. The table below shows the 13 contested points, most of which could be resolved with some good will from both sides. At the same time, a number of points of strategic importance will be hard to resolve—primarily the first point close to the coast at Rosh Hanikra (B1), given its strategic location and its importance to both sides. This was one of the reasons that Israel demanded within the maritime agreement to preserve the status quo at this particular point, which was initially intended to be the starting point for the maritime demarcation, and to postpone the discussion on it until negotiations took place over the land border. >> Table: Lebanese reservations over the demarcation of the Blue Line    According to some recent reports, in addition to the 13 familiar points, Lebanon has already presented more Israeli violations and has demanded that Israel withdraw from 17 other areas beyond the Blue Line, some of which correspond with the 13 previous areas of contention. This is in contrast to the recently stated position of the Lebanese prime minister and foreign minister, both of whom referred only to the 13 contested areas. Details of these points, as published by the Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Akhbar newspaper, appear in Appendix B. In addition to the points of contention along the Israel–Lebanon border, there are also a number of substantial contested points on the Golan Heights. The Lebanese have laid claim to areas that were captured by Israel from Syria in 1967 during the Six-Day War in the border triangle between Israel, Lebanon, and Syria. According to Beirut, Israel must return these territories, which it claims as its own, before any resolution of the conflict with Syria, which has opted not to deal with the issue at the current time. Further complicating the situation in these areas is the Golan Heights Law that Israel passed in 1981, which formalized the change in the legal status of the Golan and determined that the area fell under Israeli law, jurisdiction, and authority. These disputes form a major part of Hezbollah’s narrative. The organization argues that it is fighting for the liberation of more Lebanese territory from Israeli occupation, while exacerbating the already intense disputes between Beirut and Jerusalem and using them as part of its struggle against Israel. Therefore, it is no coincidence that many of Hezbollah’s military attacks during the past nearly five months of fighting have also been directed at the areas of Mount Dov and Shebaa Farms. There are two main areas in question: The northern part of the village of Ghajar: Lebanon claims sovereignty over the northern part of the village, which is located on the original border between Syria and Lebanon. Indeed, Lebanon’s claim is not entirely groundless, since the Blue Line dissects the village, in accordance with the findings from 2000 by UN cartographers, who worked according to maps in their possession. The northern part of the village, therefore, is in Lebanese territory, even though it was captured by Israeli forces from Syria in 1967 and its residents are Alawites. Lebanese complaints intensified after September 2022, when Israel erected a fence to the north of the village to prevent infiltrations from Lebanon. The erection of this fence was done in coordination with the IDF, which took into account the residents’ suffering from having their village split in two and the fact that entry was only possible via a border police and military checkpoint. Closing off the village from the north allowed it to open to visitors. In addition to the northern section of the village, Lebanon is also demanding territory to the east of the village. The Shebaa Farms: This is an unpopulated agricultural area on Mount Dov (the foothills of Mount Hermon), between the village of Ghajar and the Lebanese village of Shebaa (in the border triangle), which Beirut claims belongs to the village. From an Israeli perspective, this strategic area is vitally important in order to monitor a hostile region. Evidence of this was provided in October 2000, when three Israeli soldiers were abducted in a cross-border raid. It is no coincidence that Hezbollah’s first attack during the current conflict, on October 8, was against Mount Dov, which has become a key target over the past months. In contrast to the official Lebanese position, Hezbollah also has claims to more Israeli territory, which it wants to “liberate from occupation.” There are seven Shiite villages in the Upper Galilee which were abandoned or evacuated, and then captured by Israel during the War of Independence in 1948. It should be stressed that in official statements from Beirut about the border dispute with Israel, these villages are not mentioned. However, it is likely that, even after the resolution of the dispute over border demarcation between the two countries, Hezbollah will continue to refer to these villages as occupied Lebanese territory. This is an integral part of its efforts to maintain its status as “defender of Lebanon” and it will be used to incite hostility toward Israel. From an Israeli perspective, it would be wrong to negotiate the border demarcation under fire. The issue of border demarcation has, as mentioned, come up as part of the diplomatic efforts to end the fighting between Hezbollah and Israel; the Lebanese side (and, it seems, the mediators) raised it as one of the things that Israel could offer in order to promote a ceasefire. However, given the ongoing escalation and the possibility of all-out war, it appears that it would not be the right course of action for Israel to include negotiations over the future land border in talks aimed at securing a ceasefire—notwithstanding the importance of an agreed-upon resolution of the issue. There are several reasons for this: The time element: Negotiations are likely to be long and complex, given the profound disagreements that exist, especially over three points: Rosh Hanikra (B1); the village of Ghajar; and the Mt. Dov/Shebaa Farms. Such talks will not be completed quickly and will not lead to a ceasefire any time soon, especially given that the Lebanese side is currently presenting a particularly hard line. Israel, on the other hand, is interested in an immediate end to the fighting, so that the evacuated residents of the North can return to their homes as soon as possible. This argument is also supposed to convince the Americans, who are also keen to secure a ceasefire sooner rather than later and to avoid regional conflagration. An achievement for Hezbollah and the loss of a bargaining chip: If Israel were to hand over territory to Lebanon—no matter how little—as a result of the current conflict, it would inflate Hezbollah’s sense of accomplishment, as well as its claimed status as the ‘protector of Lebanon.’ It would also strengthen its argument to remain an armed organization, against the wishes of those citizens in Lebanon who want it to turn over its weapons to the Lebanese army. Moreover, Israel would lose a bargaining chip in the anticipated negotiations over the implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, especially in terms of its desire for Hezbollah to withdraw north of the Litani River. The same is true of a partial solution, regarding, for example, the seven border points over which there is agreement in principle. While Hezbollah would portray this as a “victory,” the disagreements and the reasons for continued conflict would remain unaddressed. There is no official address on the Lebanese side with which Israel can sign any agreement, given the political vacuum that exists there. Since the last election in Lebanon, in May 2022, a transitional government has been in power and, since the end of President Michel Aoun’s term of office in October 2022, Lebanon has yet to elect a replacement. As per the constitution, it is the Lebanese president who has the authority to sign such agreements; indeed, it was Aoun who signed the maritime border agreement with Israel on his last day in office. Similarly, opponents of any agreement with Israel could challenge the authority of the current interim government to engage in negotiations on any issue with Israel. In conclusion, reaching an agreement on the route of the land border between Israel and Lebanon would be an important element in forging a new reality in the region. However, it would not be right to hold a complex discussion on the issue, and certainly not to accept a partial agreement that would include Israel’s surrendering of territory, as long as Hezbollah has not agreed to cease the current fighting, which it initiated. Therefore, Israel must reject the inclusion of the issue in the preliminary understandings over a ceasefire and must insist that negotiations over the demarcation of the land border only take place at a later stage. Appendix A Map of the Disputed Areas According to the Lebanese Side  Appendix B Lebanese Claims of Israeli Violations Along the Blue Line    Note: These are areas that Israel currently occupies and which the Lebanese claim violate the Blue Line. This list was published on September 7, 2023, by the Al-Akhbar newspaper, which is affiliated with Hezbollah. [1] “It’s time to talk about the Blue Line: Constructive re-engagement is key to stability,” March 5, 2021, [2] Haim Srebro, True and Steady: Mistakes in the Delimitation of the Boundaries of Israel and Their Correction (Tzivonim Publishing, 2022), p. 143.

Map of Countries with elections in 2024

A landmark year for Africa and the democracies

by José Segura Clavell

2024 has begun intensely and looks extremely busy for the neighboring continent: up to 18 countries will hold general elections at a time of global polarization where democracies are strained by the rise of populism and the growing influence in Africa of countries like Russia, China, and Türkiye. It is not every year that the African continent has an electoral calendar as relevant and extremely busy as the one we are starting in 2024: specifically, 18 general elections are expected to be held this year in Africa. Comoros, Mali, Senegal, South Africa, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Rwanda, Mozambique, Botswana, Chad, Tunisia, Mauritius, Namibia, Ghana, Algeria, Republic of Guinea, South Sudan, and Guinea Bissau have already passed, will or should go through this important stage in the next twelve months. And I maintain that it is a transcendental year because the test of democracy for all these countries is taking place in a context of enormous global polarization, in a world that seems to increasingly reward populist options. In the background of our observation of all these electoral processes and aware that, in many countries, certain deficiencies in democratic culture can be detected, there is a fundamental debate underway among Africans themselves, but which challenges us directly. Aren’t we in the West trying to impose a model of democracy that, as we can see, has not been useful in so many African countries? A complex debate, undoubtedly, but as a democrat, it does not allow for many nuances in my view, beyond the fact that what matters is that the people can participate in their government and express themselves, and that they can do so in freedom, without coercion, threats, or conditions. However, all these processes must also be seen from a geopolitical point of view. Europe, which has always insisted the most on democratic demands, is losing steam in Africa. The European Union, and the voids it leaves behind have been filled by countries such as China, Russia, or Türkiye, which do not hesitate to violate democratic procedures or respect for human rights. Because Russian influence in certain areas of Africa has not only been military: its interference in fields such as disinformation has weakened the democratic approaches that we, Europeans, have always defended and inspired. And China, which would almost deserve another article, will be discussed another day, since its dominance is economic, tied by the granting of credits. It is also evident that among African youth a clear critical analysis of colonialism, and how their countries have been related to European countries until today, is growing. In West Africa, the one around us, this clearly leads us to France, which is highly questioned throughout the Sahel, but which in a certain way affects the image of all the countries that we could include in what we call “the West”, whether we have a colonizing history or not. And that should also call us to reflect on how badly we have done and how selfish we Europeans have been with the African continent, giving priority to our commercial and geopolitical interests. Not so long ago, and forgive the harshness of the term, is where we went to hunt black people later sell them, in a spurious trade of human beings. Some of these electoral processes will take place in territories of great relevance for our country, such as the neighboring Senegal, that current sender of a large part of the people who come to us on board of small boats and “cayucas”. I write these lines on a morning (Friday, January 26th) in which, despite a horrible windstorm and very rough seas, the arrival of cayucos to the Canary Islands has not stopped, six of them in the last few hours, with more than 300 people, one of them to the island of El Hierro with two corpses on board. The drama does not stop, and it is even more difficult for me to digest it amidst information from Fitur in which we celebrate the wonderful prospects for the arrival of more and more tourists. There is barely a month to go before a key electoral process for Senegal, this friendly country, until a few years ago considered a beacon for democracies throughout West Africa. Journalist José Naranjo, who lives in Dakar, wrote the other day in El Pais that these are the most open elections in recent Senegalese history. Many of the Senegalese migrants who arrived in the Canary Islands during this record-breaking 2023 pointed to the political climate in the country and its impact on local economies as one of the causes for risking their lives at sea, so it is clear the importance of how the election results unfold, and how the electoral results are accepted. This is followed by the Sahel countries. The ‘non-democratic’ situation in countries such as Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger or Chad is extremely complex, reflecting the tense geopolitical moment they are experiencing, marked by the rise of terrorism – the pressure exerted by Al Qaeda and the Islamic State, with an increasingly well-founded fear of their expansion towards the West African coastal countries, like Ivory Coast, Ghana, Togo or Benin –, the European withdrawal from the region and the subsequent rapprochement with Russia of the countries currently governed by military juntas. In the Sahel, three countries are due to hold general elections in 2024 to return to the democratic path. They are Mali, Burkina Faso, and Chad. In Mali and Burkina Faso, the situation is almost the same: after two coups d’etat in each case, the resulting military junta expelled from the country the European military missions that were assisting them in the fight against terrorism and moved closer to Russia. Amid sanctions by the international community and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the countries not only postpone the elections (in the case of Mali), but also argue that, given the delicate moment of the fight against jihadist forces, organizing election is not a priority. The last of our Sahelian neighbors is Mauritania, a country with close economic and even sentimental ties to the Canary Islands archipelago. Mauritania is a Sahelian country that differs from its neighbors in that it is not governed by a military junta, but by a democratically elected president. The current ruler, Mohamed Ould Ghazouani, came to power in 2019 after elections that were deemed free and transparent by international observers. Ghazouani has pushed for a gradual political opening, releasing political prisoners, allowing the return of exiles, and favoring dialogue with the opposition. However, the country continues to face challenges such as the threat of jihadist terrorism, poverty, slavery, and ethnic discrimination. Its presidential elections are scheduled for June 22. Very soon we will see our Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez, visiting the country. Another country facing a key election this year (expected in October) is South Africa. The ruling African National Congress (ANC), the party that succeeded with Mandela in defeating segregationism, faces its biggest challenge since the end of apartheid, as polls suggest it could lose its absolute majority in Parliament for the first time. Some corruption scandals, the economy (inflation, unemployment, or electricity blackouts) and the great inequalities experienced by South African society seem to have questioned the traditionally, calm majority, of the party now led by President Cyril Ramaphosa. Let us not forget that, together with Nigeria, South Africa is the economic engine of the African continent and that, at the global and geopolitical level, it is already a leading player. Its decisive gesture of suing Israel for genocide against the Palestinians at the International Court of Justice has put it in the limelight, positioning it as the voice of the global south at a time when that global south is making a decisive place for itself on our geopolitical map. All this is to explain that we are facing a series of elections in key countries in our neighborhood, with complicated histories and complex contexts that we must keep an eye on. Because this year there are not only elections in the United States. Next door, in Africa, everything that happens also concerns us. Article written by José Segura Clavell, General Director of Casa África, and published on January 26th, 2024 in and on January 27th, 2024 in Kiosco Insular and Canarias7.

Energy & Economics
Argentine President Javier Milei takes the stage to speak during the 2024 CPAC Conference at the Gaylord National Resort Convention Center in Washington DC on February 24, 2024

Javier Milei ended a DC - sized deficit in... nine weeks

by Peter St. Onge

Argentina’s Javier Milei is racking up some solid wins, with the fiscal basket case seeing its first monthly budget surplus in 12 years. Apparently, it took Milei just nine and a half weeks to balance a budget that was projected at 5% of GDP under the previous government. In US terms, he turned a 1.2 trillion-dollar annual deficit into a 400 billion surplus. In 9 and a half weeks. How did he do it? Easy: he cut a host of central government agency budgets by 50% while slashing crony contracts and activist handouts. For perspective, if you cut the entirety of Washington's budget by 50%, you'd save a fast 3 trillion dollars and start paying off the national debt. It turns out it can be done, and the world doesn't collapse into chaos.    Milei Making Fast Progress Deficits aren’t the only win Milei's logged. He’s slashed crony regulation, got rid of currency controls, and recently slashed rent prices by removing controls — that actually led to a doubling of apartments for rent in Buenos Aires, slashing rent costs. Unfortunately, it's not all smooth sailing: a bill to privatize corrupt state-owned companies — to effectively de-Soviet the Argentine economy — was blocked by the socialist opposition who serve the government unions who would lose their jobs. Meanwhile, a major Milei reform to make it a lot easier to hire people but would hurt unions was struck down by the high court, which said it must go through Congress. Having said that, for the average Argentinian, these are deckchairs on the Titanic compared to the elephant in the economy: Argentina's hyperinflation. Just last week, the monthly inflation figure came in at 20.6% — on the month. That was a lot better than the outgoing government, but it still left year-on-year inflation at 254%. Why so high? Partly because Milei had to free up the exchange rate to smooth the path to dollarization — for Argentina adopting the US dollar instead of the local confetti. But mostly because the rivers of money printed by the previous socialists continue to run through the battered ruins they left of Argentina's economy. After all, Milei's only been in office for two months.  Argentina’s Dollarization Milei's reforms will continue to be trench warfare. But his inflation progress is going to be key to retaining support. He just notched a big win with the deficit, but it only stops the bleeding — the patient is still on life support. To fully kill Argentina's hyperinflation, Milei would need to make real progress on the dollarization — or, dare we dream, a gold standard. On dollarization, that would involve announcing a months-long window for peso assets to be revalued in dollars. He's been preparing the groundwork so far — the currency controls and deficits are a big help. And he's surely motivated to do it since dollarization in other countries like did it like Ecuador has 90% public support. But it is a complicated process, and if done badly, he'll be dead in the water. The stakes are high. And not just for Argentina: If Milei succeeds, he'll be a model for radically shrinking government in other countries in Latin America, in the rest of the world, and even for our spineless goblins in Washington. Originally published at