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Defense & Security
Shenzhen, Guangdong, China - Apr 27 2023: A China Coast Guard boat is cruising on the sea.

Philippines: Calming Tensions in the South China Sea

by International Crisis Group

“This article was originally published here by the International Crisis Group”Tensions between China and the Philippines are increasing the risk of armed conflict in the South China Sea. In this excerpt from the Watch List 2024 – Spring Update, Crisis Group looks at how the EU can support regional diplomacy to mitigate maritime disputes. Rising maritime tensions between China and the Philippines have highlighted the risk of armed conflict in the South China Sea and the dangers it would pose to global trade. Several countries are implicated in the set of complex sovereignty disputes in the sea, which stem from rival claims to various features and the maritime entitlements they generate, but recent incidents involving Beijing and Manila have triggered the greatest concern. The Philippines controls nine outposts in the Spratlys, a contested group of land and maritime features at the heart of the South China Sea. A submerged reef known as Second Thomas Shoal has become a dangerous flashpoint, with Chinese boats continually trying to block Manila’s efforts to resupply the BRP Sierra Madre, a rusting ship housing a handful of soldiers that a former Philippine government purposely grounded in 1999 in a bid to assert sovereignty over the atoll. China, which also claims the shoal, first started interfering with these missions in 2014, but relations between the two countries in the maritime domain have never been as volatile as during the last seven months. Chinese boats have regularly rammed the Philippine supply vessels or doused them with water cannons, occasionally wounding the sailors on board. Manila has a Mutual Defence Treaty with Washington, making this burgeoning maritime dispute part of the geopolitical competition between the U.S and China. In effect, the South China Sea has become a zone where conflict risks are rife – and where Washington and Beijing could be drawn into direct confrontation. Considering these developments, the EU and its member states should: • Seek greater diplomatic engagement with both Beijing and Manila to keep tensions in check. They should also expand their diplomatic presence across South East Asia and, where relevant, establish reliable channels through which they could communicate with high-level authorities in China and other claimant states should disputes at sea escalate; • Work to promote respect for international law, particularly the law of the sea, as a source of neutral rules for dispute resolution and conflict prevention, for example by organising public events, roundtables and dialogues in Manila and elsewhere. While this measure may not bridge the divides between Manila and Beijing, it could at least help establish a level of mutual support and understanding among the other South China Sea claimant states; and • Strengthen coast guard cooperation with the Philippines, focusing on building capacity in areas such as environmental protection, safety and search-and-rescue procedures. Troubled Waters The sovereignty disputes that underpin the tensions between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea go back decades. But it was Beijing’s manoeuvres to take control of Mischief Reef (in the east of the Spratlys) from Manila in 1995 that altered the perceived balance of power between the two states and in the region, setting off the territorial dispute that has now taken a turn for the worse. China’s assertiveness in the sea has grown in the past few years, along with its military capabilities. The brewing territorial dispute made headlines in 2012 when Beijing in effect took control of Scarborough Shoal, an atoll 220km west of the Philippine mainland but within Manila’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), after a maritime altercation. The incident prompted then-President Benigno Aquino to file a case challenging China’s territorial claims under the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). On 12 July 2016, the presiding arbitral tribunal ruled in favour of Manila, dismissing China’s claim to all the waters within its “nine-dash line”, which constitute almost the entire South China Sea. But it was a Pyrrhic victory. Beijing not only rejected the adjudication and the subsequent ruling, but it had also already undercut efforts to settle the dispute through legal channels by building and fortifying seven artificial islands in the Spratlys while the case was winding its way through the system. This move fundamentally changed the status quo, enabling Beijing to post permanent garrisons in the area for the first time. By many accounts, China has thus ensured itself control of the sea in any situation below the threshold of armed conflict. A short lull in the maritime dispute appeared to follow. After coming to power in 2016, Aquino’s successor, Rodrigo Duterte, pursued a pragmatic policy toward Beijing. Duterte downplayed the tribunal’s decision and cast sovereignty issues aside, hoping to benefit from Beijing’s economic largesse in exchange. Yet his ambitious gambit did not pay off. Tensions at sea continued in the form of regular standoffs between the country’s coast guard and Chinese vessels. Filipino fisherfolk struggled to reach their traditional fishing grounds, and Manila could not exploit the precious oil and gas reserves within its EEZ to which it is entitled under international law. In March 2021, Chinese ships massed around Whitsun Reef, an unoccupied feature in the sea, ringing alarm bells in Manila, where senior officials voiced public criticism of China’s behaviour for the first time in years. By the end of the Duterte administration, the Philippines had revived its ties with the U.S. and become more assertive still, filing several diplomatic protests with the Chinese government. Elected in 2022, President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., Duterte’s successor, was initially disposed toward friendly relations with Beijing, but the relationship soured only a few months into his presidency. Although China remains the Philippines’ top trading partner, Marcos, Jr.’s meetings with President Xi Jinping did not achieve the desired results: Beijing neither agreed to make major new investments nor curtailed its “grey zone” tactics in the South China Sea, understood as coercive actions that remain below the threshold of armed conflict. These rebuffs have helped push Marcos, Jr. toward strengthening ties with Washington, and the Biden administration has, on several occasions, publicly committed that the countries’ Mutual Defence Treaty would be deemed triggered in the event of an armed attack on Philippine warships, aircraft or public vessels. In perhaps the most significant recent development, after a series of high-level visits by U.S. officials to Manila, the two countries agreed to scale up implementation of their Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, which gives U.S. troops rotational expanded access to Philippine military bases, and which China perceives as a provocation, especially given these bases’ proximity not just to the South China Sea but also to Taiwan. Manila has also received defence and diplomatic support from a host of other countries, particularly Japan and Australia. Despite the dispute it has with Vietnam over parts of the South China Sea, it has engaged, more quietly, with Hanoi, and acquired maritime defence equipment from India, thus expanding its circle of partners. Joint naval exercises with various countries have included large-scale ones with the U.S. in April, which involved the deployment of missiles that can reach targets almost 1,600km away – something that was sure to draw Beijing’s attention – and took place just after Manila wound up its first-ever trilateral presidential summit with Washington and Tokyo. In the meantime, the Marcos, Jr. administration has pursued what it calls a “transparency initiative”, publicising information about maritime incidents by inviting journalists to join its coast guard ships or posting video recordings of events almost as they are happening. Dramatic footage of Chinese vessels blocking, ramming or attacking its resupply missions to Second Thomas Shoal with water cannons has generated widespread condemnation in the Philippines and abroad. Many consider these tactics to be bullying. For its part, and despite the 2016 ruling, Beijing asserts that Manila is intruding into its waters and maintains that it is demonstrating maximum restraint. China has also recently referred to a so-called gentleman’s agreement under former President Duterte that it says foresaw preserving a status quo in the South China Sea, with Manila ostensibly agreeing to supply only humanitarian goods and no construction materials to the BRP Sierra Madre; Manila denies that there was any such arrangement. Given the Philippines’ determination to continue resupplying its troops on the BRP Sierra Madre, Second Thomas Shoal will likely remain a flashpoint. Due to the constraints imposed at sea by the Chinese maritime militia and coast guard, Manila is starting to look into other means of provisioning its outpost, some of which are likely to irk Beijing even more, such as airdrops or closer U.S. naval escorts. In September 2023, a U.S. plane was in the shoal’s vicinity during a resupply mission, while a U.S. warship passed through waters nearby in December. But the shoal is not the only possible source of tension. Chinese vessels, both official and non-official, sail through many areas where Philippine fisherfolk traditionally work, while other features, such as Scarborough Shoal, are also points of friction. A large-scale encounter or accident at sea could be especially dangerous. Should a Filipino or Chinese national die during such a confrontation, it could stir nationalist sentiments in Manila and Beijing and heighten threat perceptions on both sides. In case of loss of life on the Philippine side, Manila would expect its U.S. ally to assist under the Mutual Defence Treaty, especially given the recent exchanges with Washington on that topic, although the U.S. has not said precisely how it would come to the Philippines’ aid. How such a dangerous situation would evolve depends in large part on Manila’s political decision to invoke the treaty and the choices Washington makes about how to fulfill its commitments. In principle, Beijing and Manila remain open to negotiations. But the bilateral consultative mechanism, a confidence-building measure designed in 2017 to manage maritime issues between the two countries, among other things, has generated no results of note. Meanwhile, efforts to create a Code of Conduct, which aims to reduce tensions at sea by setting up norms and rules between claimants and has been under discussion between China and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) for over two decades, have stagnated. Why the Sea Matters The South China Sea is a vital waterway through which around one third of global shipping passes. Peace and stability in the sea are a prerequisite for safe trade and are demonstrably in the interest of the EU and its member states. At over 40 per cent, the share of the EU’s trade with the rest of the world transiting the sea is even higher than the global average. Instability in the area would deal a major blow to the European economy; even a slight disturbance of shipping routes could result in higher transport costs, shipping delays and acute product shortages. Should there be an escalation that pits China against the U.S. in a direct conflict, the consequences could be catastrophic and global. European positions toward South China Sea disputes have traditionally highlighted the importance of all parties respecting international law and the need for peaceful resolution, while being careful not to take sides. But over the last few years, China’s assertiveness and expanding military capabilities have driven a greater sense of urgency and something of a shift in European thinking. First, the EU and several of its member states have developed “Indo-Pacific” strategies, designed to guide and promote cooperation with countries throughout the region. Secondly, Brussels has increased its diplomatic support for the Philippine position following maritime altercations, offering supportive statements in December 2023 and March 2024. Brussels and several European capitals now back Manila in regularly underlining the importance of UNCLOS and maritime law in the South China Sea context. Meanwhile, Europe’s presence in the region is growing, if slowly and in part symbolically. In 2021, the EU appointed a special envoy for the Indo-Pacific for the first time, while European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen visited Manila in July 2023, the first trip to the Philippines by someone holding that office and an opportunity to express, at the highest level, the EU’s readiness to strengthen cooperation with the government in maritime security, among other areas. A German frigate entered the South China Sea in 2021, and French and Italian ships made port calls in Manila in 2023. In March 2024, the EU and the Philippines agreed to resume negotiations over a free trade agreement, while a month later France announced talks regarding a Visiting Forces Agreement with the Philippines. While EU interest in the region is rising, European stances on the South China Sea are complex, with member states harbouring different views on maritime disputes in the region and, more broadly, on big-power competition. Some, such as France – which is the only EU member state to have overseas territories in the region (and which has significant EEZ interests there) – see themselves as having stakes higher than others and are keen to participate in the region’s discussions on security. Others, such as Greece and Hungary, are less concerned with maritime flare-ups so far away and tend to ascribe greater importance to maintaining good relations with Beijing. What the EU and Its Member States Can Do As the EU and its most powerful member states are drawn deeper into the South China Sea, they should raise their diplomatic game in the region – both to ensure awareness of mounting tensions and to look for ways to manage corresponding risks. As a practical matter, Brussels could leverage its status as an ASEAN Strategic Partner to seek more participation in that bloc’s security mechanisms and regional forums; the EU and member states could seek higher levels of engagement with regional powers such as Japan, Australia, and South Korea on matters concerning the South China Sea; and Europe could post more diplomats to the region, including permanent defence attachés who speak the language of naval diplomacy. Of particular importance will be maintaining strong lines of communication with Beijing, where Europe is seen as still having some distance from the U.S.-China strategic rivalry, which works to its diplomatic advantage. While to some extent this communication will be traditional bilateral statecraft, it may also mean looking for new opportunities and new channels for dialogue. For example, some member states could also seek to follow the precedent set by France and China in establishing a coordination and deconfliction mechanism between their militaries. Brussels should also continue raising the South China Sea in its engagement with Beijing as it did during the EU-China summit in 2023. Maintaining these channels will become both more difficult and more important if and when the EU and member states expand their operational presence in the region – for example, if they decide to establish a calibrated maritime presence in the South China Sea, as proposed by the EU envoy to the Indo-Pacific. Such a move is still deemed unlikely for now. As for public diplomacy, Brussels and EU member states should consider practical ways to promote principles of the law of the sea in the region, making the case that broader regional support for and adherence to these principles would provide neutral ground for peacefully avoiding and resolving disputes. While it is hard to see this approach appealing to Beijing, which has rebuffed the UNCLOS tribunal’s decision, there could still be benefits in forging closer cooperation among other claimant states. Convenings in Manila and other regional capitals could cover topics related to the continuing disputes but also to cross-cutting themes of regional interest such as fisheries. With negotiations over a regional Code of Conduct stuck, like-minded countries in the region could use these occasions to at least develop common positions on discrete issues that might be addressed by the Code or that could foster regional confidence-building in the South China Sea. Finally, in the realm of capacity building, European governments should continue to strengthen coast guard cooperation with South China Sea claimant states, helping them develop tools and protocols that might be used where appropriate to avoid confrontation and conflict. Since Aquino’s administration, Manila has tried to boost its coast guard capabilities. Given that many of the other claimant states’ vessels in the South China Sea are coast guard ships, and find themselves embroiled in maritime confrontations, a common approach on rules of engagement could help avoid misunderstandings at sea. Building on the EU’s integrated coast guard system, the EU could host or sponsor joint workshops to develop operating principles for the region’s law enforcement vessels and exchange best practices with Philippine authorities. Brussels could also fund agencies such as the UN Office on Drugs and Crime to strengthen coast guard expertise on issues such as environmental protection, safety and search-and-rescue procedures. European member states could also participate in joint activities with the Philippine and other ASEAN coast guards to strengthen fisheries control and maritime border protection and deter piracy or smuggling.

Defense & Security
Juba, South Sudan, February 2017. People with yellow jerrycans waiting for water at a borehole site. Salesian camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs).

Sudan and the "ghost" war

by Alessia De Luca

A year after the start of the civil war, the country is overshadowed by violence and mass famine, amidst the silence and indifference of the world. After a year of civil war, Sudan is turning into a failed state. Humanitarian organizations on the ground are sounding the alarm on the first anniversary of the onset of violence. 'In the past year, I have seen my country descend into violence, madness, and destruction,' – said Elsadig Elnour, director of Islamic Relief for Sudan – 'amid the indifference of the rest of the world.' According to Doctors Without Borders, the country is facing a dramatic humanitarian crisis, with over 8.4 million people, about 16% of the population, including 2 million children under 5 years old, forced to flee within the country or across the border, and it is on the brink of mass famine. The conflict, a power struggle between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and the paramilitaries of the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) commanded by Muhammad Hamdan Dagalo, a warlord known as Hemedti, has already caused more than 14,600 casualties, according to the United Nations. However, the humanitarian response has tragically remained inadequate: only 5% of the funds requested have been allocated, making an already critical situation desperate, where Sudanese authorities systematically block the delivery of aid in some areas, while the RSF loot health facilities and supplies. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, has warned the international community of the likelihood of further escalation of violence 'as the parties to the conflict arm civilians' – he explained – ‘and more and more armed groups join the fighting'.    A wall of silence? Despite humanitarian alarms, Sudan remains almost entirely absent from the news and global debate, both focused on the wars in Gaza and Ukraine: so far, international donors have allocated almost a thousand times more aid to Kiev than to Khartoum. To break the 'wall of silence' and reverse this trend, France organized an international conference in Paris that raised two billion euros. But it was precisely from the French capital that the director of Save the Children, Dr. Arif Noor, highlighted the shortcomings of international commitment: 'In the first 100 days of 2024' – Noor said – 'the amount of money raised for the humanitarian crisis in Sudan was less than a fifth of the funds allocated in just two days to rebuild Notre Dame Cathedral’. Noor has defined it as 'shocking to note that, after a fire in which no one died, donors have been so generous in funding the restoration of the Cathedral, while 14 million children are left to fend for themselves as war rages in the country, hunger and diseases increase, and schools have been closed for over a year.' Noor and other operators have urged world leaders to work directly with the warring parties to ensure respect for international law, in the context of a conflict characterized by widespread and documented violations against the civilian population, mutilations, and rapes, especially of young people. The wars within the war? On April 15, 2023, after fighting erupted in the capital Khartoum and violence quickly spread to western Darfur, some observers still hoped that the conflict could be contained. Optimists hoped that, as in previous wars in Sudan, the two parties would quickly reach a stalemate and reach a power-sharing agreement. A year later, we can say that the war has taken a completely different turn, fracturing into a myriad of local conflicts affecting various of the 18 provinces into which the country is divided, and intertwining in the country's complex ethnic mosaic, ultimately involving various militias and rebel groups, along with their foreign supporters. Currently, weapons and militias pour into Sudan from the borders with Chad, Libya, and the Central African Republic, and through the Red Sea. According to various sources, mercenaries from Russia and Ukraine now support one militia or another, while competition for access to land and underground resources fuels the violence. And since neither of the warring parties can deliver the decisive blow, both the SAF and the RSF have begun to 'lose pieces,' creating rebel subgroups that in turn operate according to different agendas and interests. In this scenario, no one currently seems capable of restoring control over the entire Sudanese territory. 'We are plunging towards a failed state', observes Tom Perriello, American special envoy for Sudan, while after a year of war, the country witnesses the massive militarization of local communities, a dynamic that is unlikely to be reversed in the short term. The risk of famine? The country engulfed in violence also faces the risk of famine: according to the latest report from the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC), acute malnutrition will affect most of the country by June, killing half a million people. In the 'extreme' scenario predicted by the Clingendael Institute, up to a million people could die. Due to the war, much of Sudan, especially Darfur, did not yield crops in 2023. Grain production has plummeted while the price of basic food items has increased by up to 88%. These forecasts are expected to worsen as the fighting has now reached the country's 'granary,' the State of Gezira, and although the UN has yet to officially declare famine, few doubt that it is already underway in some parts of Sudan. Further complicating the situation is the fact that, except for a few dozen trucks transported with great difficulty, humanitarian aid does not reach conflict zones. International organizations have reported multiple obstacles, as well as the armed groups' desire to control everything entering and leaving areas under their control by improperly appropriating supplies to resell them on the black market. Currently, hopes that something will intervene to save the country from the abyss it is sinking into are minimal and are directed towards Cairo, where ceasefire talks are ongoing. A separate negotiation, supported by the United States, is expected to resume soon in Saudi Arabia, but a date has not yet been announced. The comment by Lucia Ragazzi, ISPI Africa Program "After the initial weeks since its dramatic beginning in April 2023, the war in Sudan suffered from low priority in the international agenda. However, its consequences continued to manifest in the country and neighboring countries with dramatic intensity. On the one-year anniversary of the war's start, the international conference in Paris has rekindled attention on this serious conflict, taking a step forward to address the severe funding shortfall needed to address the crisis. Increased aid is crucial for a conflict that has already generated the most severe refugee and displacement crisis in the world, risking also becoming the largest food emergency. But, as highlighted by United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, 'beyond global support for aid, there is a need for concerted and global push for a ceasefire, followed by a peace process.'"

Defense & Security
Hanoi Vietnam - Jan 30 2023: People go about daily life under Vietnamese flags in a narrow residential alleyway called Kham Thien Market in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Convergence in Vietnam, EU Interests a Harbinger of Indo-Pacific Order?

by Richard Ghiasy , Julie Yu-Wen Chen , Jagannath Panda

In March and April, Vietnamese Foreign Minister Bui Thanh Son’s nearly back-to-back visits to the U.S. and China highlighted Vietnam’s increasing penchant for delicate diplomacy with major powers amid the U.S.-China strategic competition in the Indo-Pacific and Vietnam’s territorial tussles with China especially in the South China Sea (SCS), which Vietnam calls the East Sea. Much of the (perceived) disorder in the Indo-Pacific hails from the SCS, and one of Vietnam’s principal challenges is fostering order on its maritime borders. Therefore, Vietnam—historically distrustful of major powers—has been diversifying its relations by seeking security and defense ties with Indo-Pacific partners like the European Union (EU), India, and Japan, as well as with Russia, a country that poses an “existential threat” to the transatlantic allies. At the same time, Southeast Asia is battling disunity within the region for resolving disputes in the SCS, for instance. The regional multilateralism embodied by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) seems to lack teeth even as China ‘controls’ some of its members using its financial and economic heft. So clearly, efforts beyond Vietnam’s “bamboo diplomacy” that deepen international solidarity are required. In a similar vein, Europe’s reluctant rapprochement with China in recent times amid the EU calling China a strategic challenge but continuing to look for economic engagement is reminiscent of Vietnam and much of Asia’s predicament vis-à-vis China. Moreover, like in Southeast Asia, not every member-country of the EU is embracing the Indo-Pacific construct, led by the U.S. Or even if a member does, like France or Germany, it does not spell the end of a productive relationship with China. Nonetheless, it is clear that the EU has started to take a greater interest in the growing geopolitical situation in the Indo-Pacific, even as the disunity over the extent of the Indo-Pacific priorities, including China, is as apparent. In such a scenario, is it possible for the EU and Vietnam, and by extension ASEAN, to have greater convergence, if not congruence, in their policies? Revisiting Vietnam’s Lack of an Indo-Pacific Tilt The Indo-Pacific, the maritime space and littoral between the western Indian and Pacific Oceans, has become the world’s most geopolitically critical region. In this region, much of the focus and debate among the EU’s more proactive members, such as France, the Netherlands, and Germany, is in response to Chinese unilateralism, trade dependency, and unchecked Sino-U.S. contestation. Several of these EU members have come to understand each other’s positions on the Indo-Pacific. Gradually, there is a realization that it is not just about what the EU and its members seek to accomplish in the region but just as much the perspectives and priorities of key Indo-Pacific resident actors—and their views on European strategies and contributions. Vietnam is one such country that is worthy of greater European strategic attention. Vietnam is known for its “bamboo diplomacy”—a reference to the bamboo plant’s strong roots, sturdy stems, and flexible branches—balancing ties with the two big powers, the U.S. and China. In the words of Foreign Minister Bui Thanh Son, Vietnam’s foreign policy caters to “independence, self-reliance, peace, friendship and cooperation, and multilateralization and diversification of external relations and proactive international integration.” However, Hanoi has never officially and fully embraced the term “Indo-Pacific” nor the U.S.-led Indo-Pacific construct although it does recognize that some aspects of the Free and Open Indo-Pacific tenet advocated by the U.S. and its allies are compatible with its national interests. For instance, the order in the Asia-Pacific, a term that Hanoi prefers to use, should be rule-based. This speaks to one of Vietnam’s most important foreign policy priorities: finding peace and stability in the SCS disputes with China and other claimants. However, the order that Vietnam seeks is in more than just the security domain. The goal of development has been the highest priority since Doi Moi (renovation) in 1986. Economic growth is considered the backbone of national security and regime legitimacy. Hanoi’s development of foreign relations can be said to be grounded in its national development experience, with the stress on economic priority leading to national stability and international standing. Vietnam chooses to engage in the Indo-Pacific construct on its terms. Vietnam and EU Convergence On both economic and security fronts, Vietnam and the EU can find converged interests that align closer to each other. Even as Hanoi has not officially adopted the term “Indo-Pacific,” the EU’s Indo-Pacific strategy, if implemented well, could address both Vietnam’s economic and security needs. Despite its security and military power limitations in the Indo-Pacific, the EU can still play a crucial role in effectively addressing these needs, which are vital for the EU’s strategic interests as well. The two already have a Framework Participation Agreement. Vietnam is also part of the EU’s Enhancing Security In and With Asia (ESIWA) project, which covers crisis management and cyber security. This also aligns with the EU’s Indo-Pacific Strategy, where Vietnam is considered a “solid” partner. Notably, both the EU and Vietnam face (potential) economic coercion from China. As China is now Vietnam’s largest trading partner, sudden trade restrictions hindering Vietnamese exports to China would dramatically hurt the Vietnamese economy. In this vein, Hanoi welcomed the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA), hoping it would give opportunities to diversify its trading partners and thus mitigate the risks of economic coercion from China. On the other hand, the EU and its member-states are also trying to increase economic resilience by diversifying trading partners as they wrestle with economic overdependence on China. So, strategically, Brussels presents an excellent opportunity for Hanoi and vice versa. However, challenges remain. For example, all the EU member-states are still to ratify the Investment Protection Agreement signed along with the EVFTA. Even though this is usually a time-consuming procedure, the imperative to reap benefits as soon as possible has taken a setback amid a challenging geopolitical landscape. Nonetheless, the two sides are concerned about more than just traditional economic development; they are concerned about sustainable development and green transition. For instance, under the EU’s Global Gateway framework, the EU and Vietnam have signed the Just Energy Transition Partnership (JETP), which looks to provide a multi-projects credit facility worth €500 million. This is supposed to be the EU’s primary focus in Vietnam now. Yet, Hanoi’s cautious approach for fear of falling into any potential debt trap could stymie smooth cooperation. Projects involving vast sums of money, such as the JETP, are also practically challenging to push at the moment as officials are afraid to be the targets of the Communist Party of Vietnam’s anti-corruption campaigns. Vietnam would also be keen for ASEAN and the EU as blocs to reinvigorate multilateralism and shore up security cooperation, particularly in the SCS disputes. ASEAN states, in general, are looking to the EU as a non-threatening balancing power to reduce the impact of the China-U.S. strategic competition. Among the potential areas of cooperation between the EU and Vietnam within the ASEAN are regional climate action measures, food security, digitalization, and tech innovation. The two sides must also use their partnership to realize an ASEAN-EU FTA. EU as a Security Balancer? The EU and Vietnam also share their commitment to upholding the rules-based order—an essential component of security cooperation because of the region’s strategic importance. However, improving communication and understanding of maritime incidents more effectively is challenging. The SCS territorial conflict is simmering, particularly between China and the Philippines. In 2016, an arbitration tribunal constituted under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) overwhelmingly ruled in favor of the Philippines, which China rejected. However, the ruling bolstered Vietnam’s claims, which were not openly welcomed by other ASEAN states besides the Philippines. In the absence of an agreement for a code of conduct (CoC) between China and ASEAN, which has been dragging on for years, China’s violations of international law in the SCS, including the latest against Vietnam in the Gulf of Tonkin, have increased. Against this scenario, Vietnam and the Philippines have signed maritime security deals. At the same time, Vietnam would be reluctant to do anything more drastic, such as support the Philippines in its attempt to draft a “separate” CoC for fear of Chinese retaliation. While Vietnam is less discussed in major global media than the Philippines on the issue, Hanoi is actively using diplomatic means to internationalize the problem, bringing in more players to address complex territorial disputes to safeguard its sovereignty and promote regional peace. In this context, winning the support of the EU and its member-states would be strategically important for Vietnam. The Vietnamese side can facilitate this by providing foreign entities, including the EU, with more transparent and timely information when incidents occur. Naturally, using a media strategy like the Philippines might sensationalize the issue, which might be different from what Hanoi prefers as it walks a tightrope to balance its complex relations with China. However, Hanoi can at least offer foreign diplomats transparent and detailed information in a timely fashion to help them verify and assess the situation on the ground. This will speed up the EU’s and other potential like-minded states’ response to sea incidents and foster ways forward for more multilaterally agreeable forms of modus vivendi in the South China Sea. Ultimately, such a modus should serve China too. EU No Longer a Bystander The EU’s recent stance on the SCS issue has been its respect for a rule-based order and freedom of navigation, strong opposition to unilateral actions, and supporting the ASEAN-led “effective, substantive and legally binding” CoC while mentioning China but not singling it out. This is a change from the EU’s pre-Indo-Pacific embrace when it was a more divided, neutral house. The EU’s heavy dependence on maritime trade through the SCS mandates that the EU can no longer stand as a bystander. However, ASEAN claimant states, particularly Vietnam, would perhaps expect a sharper or clearer position, which the EU has indeed been moving toward. For example, in March 2024, the EU released a statement expressing concerns about the incidents involving “repeated dangerous maneuvers” by the Chinese Coast Guard and Maritime Militia in the SCS. This tilts to the U.S. line, even as the U.S. has been more vocal in directly criticizing China on the SCS, by calling China’s claims “completely unlawful” even before the current events. One could argue that despite the U.S. and its allies having been vocal, this has yet to lead to a concrete resolution of the conflict. However, if the EU cannot send clear signals on the issue, the division among like-minded countries will be seen as weak and exploitable in China’s eyes. Importantly, this is true not just for the SCS disputes but also for China’s coercive activities in general. Therefore, given the convergent non-confrontational, inclusivity-, and economic interests-oriented attitudes of both Vietnam and the EU toward the Asia-Pacific/Indo-Pacific region, both sides are primed to embrace the other’s strategic outlook and up their game in the face of a challenging China and efforts to foster order.

Defense & Security
Jakarta, Indonesia - April 9, 2023. Verteidigungsminister der Republik Indonesien, Prabowo Subianto

Everybody needs good neighbours: Indonesian defence under Prabowo

by Natalie Sambhi

With Indonesian President Joko (Jokowi) Widodo fast approaching the end of his 10-year term and the February election result now official, it’s time to consider how incoming president Prabowo Subianto will shape the country’s strategic and defence affairs. While the country’s overall strategic outlook is unlikely to shift, there are some changes the new president and new defence minister could—and should—make. First and foremost, as current defence minister, Prabowo will continue to oversee the much-needed military modernisation program, which aims to strengthen the country’s maritime defences by upgrading the navy and air force. It has been Prabowo’s priority and was one of his election promises. But there is a lack of coherence in Prabowo’s approach that is problematic. The program, which promises fighter jets, submarines and patrol boats, had in 2023 only met 51 percent of its targets for the air force, and 60 percent and 76 percent for the army and navy, respectively. His flurry of travel as defence minister from 2019 yielded the signing of contracts for acquisitions from the US, France, Turkey, South Korea and Britain, as well as deeper overall defence ties. Yet, as the ill-fated attempt to acquire second-hand Mirage 2000 fighters from Qatar attests, it is unclear whether these purchases from multiple suppliers will further strengthen Indonesia’s defence posture or fragment it. Additionally, questions remain whether these big-ticket items are appropriate for service requirements or simply provide opportunities for sectioning off parts of the national budget. The new Prabowo administration must also address the inevitable tension between the need to invest in maritime defence and the ongoing primacy of the army. Of Indonesia’s contemporary security challenges, several are land-based and pressing: the army is still heavily relied upon for disaster relief and food security and is tasked with maintaining a sprawling territorial presence. The military must balance deterring potential threats from a larger adversary and attending to internal emergencies facing 280 million citizens on land. Effective deterrence in the region is critical, given China’s shameless bullying of Indonesia’s partners, such as the Philippines, in the South China Sea. Such efforts would be considerably aided by the publication of a new defence white paper or strategic update. The last such document, the 2015 white paper, was issued nearly a decade ago. An update would shift Indonesia’s strategic thinking away from threats such as communism and total people’s defence and help articulate the nation’s own ideas of deterrence. A new strategic document would also allow Indonesia, as Southeast Asia’s largest state and a key Indo-Pacific player, to lead its regional neighbours by example. This is critical given the contemporary security landscape marked by wars threatening food security, sharpened US–China strategic competition, tensions in the South China Sea and climate change pressures. Lastly, such a document would help outline a new phase of military modernisation and detail the government’s response to grey zone threats, particularly in the cyber realm. It should also provide transparency about how the national budget would be spent. And yet we’re unlikely to see any shifts in prevailing strategic thought anytime soon. Unlike his predecessor Jokowi, Prabowo has a personal interest in the defence portfolio and will appoint loyalists to defence and security roles to protect his legacies. An unofficial mock-up of the cabinet floated on social media shortly after the election pictured retired Lieutenant General Sjafrie Sjamsoeddin, Prabowo’s confidante and classmate in the special forces (Kopassus) as defence minister, and retired Lieutenant General Muhammad Herindra, also from Kopassus, staying on as deputy defence minister. That‘s probably not far off what will happen. Prabowo and his ex-Kopassus coterie hold the realist’s world view that might equals right. Prabowo has even written a book on how Indonesia’s military must assiduously protect the country’s natural resource wealth from foreign actors. His deputy Herindra said in an interview last year that ‘the world is anarchistic, chaotic. If we are weak, we will be eaten. It is not about Indonesia not having a power projection; we just want to defend our nation’s sovereignty.’ As for other key positions, such as the military and police chiefs, Prabowo will inherit Jokowi appointees who will serve out their terms for the first few years. They are considered loyal to Jokowi’s interests but often also have links to Prabowo. For example, while the current army chief of ataff, General Maruli Simanjuntak, is the son-in-law of Jokowi’s senior minister and adviser Luhut Binsar Panjaitan. Luhut reportedly has good relations with Prabowo through their shared background in Kopassus. For partners like Australia, Prabowo as defence minister has helped ensure that Indonesia is a good neighbour. Under his watch, defence cooperation has deepened, with Indonesian military cadets graduating for the first time from Australian Royal Military College, Duntroon. Prabowo has also maintained good relations with Australia’s key ally, the United States, meeting several times with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and overseeing the return of Indonesian cadets to American military academies. But Indonesia’s military needs investment and support in developing scenario-based planning and joint operations. These are areas in which Australia, the US and other partners can make valuable long-term contributions. As president, Prabowo will want Indonesia to remain a good neighbour to Australia and, notwithstanding unforeseen events provoking pushback from the Australian public or inciting Prabowo’s nationalist sentiments, he should have every chance of success. To achieve regional stability in the prevailing strategic environment, everybody needs good neighbours.

Defense & Security
Paris,France,1st of May 2024.Thousands of people protested and celebrated on mayday in Paris. Labour unions,workers,students and others marched through the streets

The nickel behind Macron's recolonization project in New Caledonia

by Pablo Elorduy

The protests by the Kanak population are taking place against an electoral reform that will further benefit the settlers recently established on the island. In the background are the profits from nickel mining, which the metropolis wants to monopolize. The riots in New Caledonia have led the Government of the French Republic to intensify repression on the Pacific Island. This week, High Commissioner Louis Le Franc has announced that the police presence would be increased, nearly doubling from 1,700 to 2,700 officers. Officially, five people, including two police officers, have died in the clashes, which have arisen due to a legal change in the system of electing representatives that discriminates against the indigenous Kanak population, who make up 40% of the total population. The clashes are also a result of the deep inequality between the Kanak people and the settlers, who are organized into militias, and are said to have carried out executions of civilians. Kanak organizations claim that the death toll among civilians could be higher. Since Wednesday, May 15th, an emergency state has been declared in the archipelago, and the army has been deployed around ports and airports. More than two hundred people have been detained. The situation has worsened due to problems accessing food — due to distribution issues, according to the island government — and healthcare services, which have arisen since the unrest began in early May. The government has stated that in several neighborhoods, "control is no longer assured," and they hope to dismantle the barricades with explosives placed by the masses of protesters. It is estimated that there are around 9,000 protesters, of whom 5,000 are in Nouméa, the capital, especially in the neighborhoods of Kaméré, Montravel, and Vallée-du-Tir. Additionally, the metropolis has banned access to TikTok — a network used for information among the protesters — and the Ministry of Justice has announced "harsher penalties against rioters and looters." The Ground Action Coordination Cell (CCAT) is the main organization of the Kanak population and has linked the protests to the "methodical sabotage of the decolonization process by the French state" from the very beginning. The fact is that since 1986, New Caledonia has been part of the territories to be decolonized according to the United Nations. "Since Emmanuel Macron came to power, France has radically sabotaged the decolonization process," stated the anticolonial organization Survie in a statement. The government's response has been to discredit the CCAT as a "mafia-like" organization and to denounce foreign interference from Azerbaijan, a country which, according to the Élysée Palace, would be seeking revenge for France's support of its Armenian rivals in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Why do protests arise in New Caledonia? The protests arose in response to a reform by the French government aimed at expanding the electorate for provincial elections in New Caledonia, a territory with an estimated population of 300,000 people. The plan involves extending the right to vote to the recently settled colonial population, around 25,000 people, which would further exclude 40% of the island's indigenous population from the representative system, who are the most affected by poverty and exclusion. The settlers are already able to vote in French presidential and municipal elections, but the plan would change the balance in provincial elections. Thus, supporters of independence and the Kanak population interpret that the "Nouméa Accord" of 1988, which grants more guarantees to the Kanak population, would be reversed in order to further privilege the settlers who have gradually been settling in the territory, attracted by tax benefits and the relationship between their high salaries with European standards and the low prices in the archipelago. This is yet another nail in a hardline shift directed by Macron's government, which in 2021 imposed a referendum to shore up French colonial power over the archipelago despite demands for postponement from the Kanaks and significant voices in French society, who called for respect for the Kanak mourning for those who died from COVID-19. As expected, abstention determined the results. The current constitutional bill to "unfreeze" the electorate, which has been voted on in the Senate and must be endorsed by the French Assembly, has sparked multiple protests, including strikes at the port and airport of Nouméa, closure of numerous administrations, the beginning of a riot at the Nouméa prison, and clashes between police and youth from working-class neighborhoods of Nouméa. As noted in an article from the environmentalist newspaper Reporterre, the control of New Caledonia is strategic for France. The island hosts between 20 and 30% of the world's nickel resources, a resource used in the manufacturing of batteries for electric cars. One out of every four people works in the nickel sector, despite which the industry is in crisis, leading the metropolis, under the guidance of Bruno Le Maire, Minister of Economy, to present a "nickel pact" that would introduce millions in aid to the sector but, at the same time, reverse a 1998 agreement by which the island secured management of the nickel. The proposed pact, explained by an expert cited by Reporterre, "completely departs from the model of mining revenues that benefit New Caledonia for its own development" and follows point by point with a neocolonial logic. Additionally, the metropolis aims for the archipelago to export more raw material, which would lead New Caledonia to lose the added benefit of in-situ nickel processing.

Defense & Security
Taunggyi, Myanmar - 10 March 2021: Military officers on duty before the crackdown on protests

In Myanmar, the military government is faltering

by Morten Hammeken , Pedro Peruca

한국어로 읽기Leer en españolIn Deutsch lesen Gap اقرأ بالعربيةLire en françaisЧитать на русском Three years after a coup d'état reinstated military rule in Myanmar, armed rebels are on the offensive. The country's civil war is often described in terms of ethnic conflict, but opposition forces are the only ones keeping the hope of an inclusive democracy alive. The military seized power and controlled the country with an iron fist. They are backed by a superpower that benefits from a friendly military junta, prioritizing stability and trade over human rights or democracy. It's a familiar story. At first glance, Myanmar's political situation could easily be compared to that of Egypt (supported by the United States), Belarus (supported by Russia), or Syria (supported by Iran). But while the struggle for freedom and national self-determination seems stalled in many cases around the world, change is happening in Myanmar. Here, the rebels continue to fight against the Tatmadaw, the country's infamous military junta whose claim to power is backed by China. In October 2023, the rebels launched a major offensive, known as Operation 1027, which has been pushing the military government to its limits. So, what is different in Myanmar? "The rebels have been gradually wearing down the military since the fighting began," explains pro-democracy activist Michael Sladnick, who is currently in Myanmar. He started doing solidarity work, donated money to resistance groups, and learned Burmese while speaking online with rebel groups. He left the comforts of Chicago and moved to the borderlands between Thailand and Burma in July 2023. Now, he works with people from different rebel factions united with the goal of ending the dictatorship. According to Sladnick, the military has suffered devastating losses. A patient strategy of death by a thousand cuts is depleting their forces and explains the current success of the resistance. "The military losses number in the tens of thousands. Our estimates put the regime's dead soldiers at fifty thousand, but the actual numbers could be even higher. The junta is simply trying to control an area that is too large for its capacity, and it is finding it difficult to recruit new soldiers. The Tatmadaw has lost several bases on the border with Thailand, where the Karen National Union (KNU) is gaining strength. Just a few weeks ago, Myawaddy, not far from here, was besieged," says Sladnick, who is currently in an undisclosed village near the Thai border. The military, the Three Brothers, and the Revolution Since February 2021, Myanmar has been governed by General Min Aung Hlaing, the self-proclaimed Prime Minister. Before the coup, he commanded the Tatmadaw junta, which has controlled Myanmar since the 1962 coup that followed independence from British colonial rule in 1948. In the 20th century, communists (dominated by the Bamar ethnicity) and ethnic armed organizations fought against the military dictatorship, often at odds with each other. The communist resistance resisted the Tatmadaw until 1989 before collapsing. In this sense, the current insurgency didn't start in 2021 but it is the culmination of decades-long clandestine struggle for democracy. A brief attempt at democratization produced a new government between 2016 and 2021, led by the liberal National League for Democracy. However, the military never relinquished power. The democratic constitution of 2008 still reserved 25% of parliamentary seats for the Tatmadaw, enough to veto constitutional changes. The military remained a State within the State, with no oversight from the civilian government, retaining broad powers over the education sector and public officials, and a monopoly on matters of "national security." This also granted them emergency powers to overthrow even the limited elected government, a prerogative they exercised on February 1st, 2021. As evidence of the Junta's control over the judicial system, in December 2022, Myanmar's former elected leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, was sentenced to twenty-seven years in prison on fabricated corruption charges. The spark that ignited the Arab Spring is often traced back to December 2010 when Tunisian street vendor Mohammed Bouazizi set himself on fire to protest the confiscation of his vegetable stall. In Myanmar, a similar story unfolded when the regime committed a massacre in mid-March 2021, killing dozens of women union leaders in Hlaingthaya, the industrial district of Yangon, the country's largest city. This sparked an unprecedented outpouring of anger in the countryside, where most of the population still resides. For the first time, the rural population rose in support of the workers in Yangon. This formed the basis of a popular uprising, which also helps to explain the intensity of the confrontations. "Hundreds of thousands of workers left the cities and returned to their native villages to organize the revolution there," explains Sladnick. He adds, "When the regime attempted to replicate the repression tactics that had previously worked in the cities, the masses immediately began to take up arms and counterattack. A new generation directly supporting the People's Defense Forces (PDF) emerged in the heart of the country." Three of the largest organized resistance groups joined forces and formed the Three Brotherhood Alliance. They consist of larger, more centralized rebel groups among a mosaic of local autonomous forces. Their power is stronger in the eastern region of Shan state, where the junta also faces both rebel forces and powerful drug cartels. The UN estimates that 25% of the world's opium is produced in Myanmar, and 80% of that figure comes from the Golden Triangle in the eastern Shan state. In Shan state, you can also find the National Democratic Alliance Army and the Ta'ang National Liberation Army, two of the three "brothers" fighting to overthrow the Junta. Other Shan ethnic militias, previously supported by China and Thailand, paint an even blurrier picture of internal power struggles and a labyrinth of different factions. When the third brother, the Arakan Army, launched an insurgency in the Rakhine state in 2019, Aung San Suu Kyi's democratically elected government initially tried to appease the military by siding with them against the demands of armed ethnic organizations. Past mistakes like these continue to strain the relationship between the Brothers and the forces of the National Unity Government in the PDF. But for now, they remain united against General Min Aung Hlaing. In Sagaing, on the other side of the country and bordering India, the struggle took on a different path. Here, Sladnick sees a movement that resembles more of a mass revolution supported by the National Unity Government in exile and its armed wing. Sladnick says: ‘The Sagaing People's Defense Forces have universal support. Myanmar's urban working class grew significantly in the 2010s, but it originates from the rural mass of the population. They provide much of the funding to the PDF groups by sending money to their villages. The uprising in the countryside, which began in 2021, was sparked by the anger over the massacre of women leading protests in Yangon's textile factories.’ The military used to suppress dissent through punitive expeditions, with entire villages burned to the ground. Among the most brutal massacres were the Tatmadaw's reprisals in hundreds of villages like Let Yet Kone and Tar Taing, which were razed. It is estimated that at least six thousand civilians — 160 of them children — were killed by the junta just in 2022, with millions displaced since the 2021 coup. This adds to the millions of people already displaced by the decades-long war the army has been waging against ethnic and religious minorities, culminating in the Rohingya genocide in the 2010s. But the army has been worn down to the point that local militias of the PDFs were able to take control of small towns practically unopposed. As contemporary Myanmar comprises a diverse range of ethnicities, many foreign observers rushed to characterize the ongoing insurgency as "ethnically motivated." Two-thirds of the country's fifty-five million inhabitants are of Bamar descent, while the Shan (9%), Karen (7%), and Rakhine (4%) constitute significant minorities. This impression of a "melting pot of races" is further compounded by descendants of Chinese and Indians, the southern Mon, and the heavily persecuted Rohingya. However, presenting the conflict solely in ethnic terms is overly simplistic, as explained by Sladnick. ‘In Western media, things quickly get reduced to ethnic struggles. This overlooks the fact that all major rebel factions have declared that their offensive is part of a united Spring Revolution. The common denominator is the agreement that the regime must be uprooted in favor of a federal democracy. This is the shared vision of the movement that is gaining traction and spreading from the Shan state to the rest of Myanmar, including the Irrawaddy Valley, dominated by the Bamar, in the central part of the country.’ The protests began to spread even to Rohingya refugee camps, leading the Junta to specifically target Muslim activists during their bloody crackdowns in the cities. This "divide and conquer" approach was met with huge crowds from all backgrounds attending their funerals in displays of solidarity. China’s shadow The fact that the deeply unpopular Junta has been able to stay in power for three years is largely due to China. The northeastern superpower views Myanmar as a strategic partner, even amidst deteriorating relations with many other neighbors. For now, Beijing refrained from military intervention, which is surprising, explains Sladnick. "Since our revolution began, I feared that China would directly intervene and save the Tatmadaw as Russia and Iran did with [Syrian dictator Bashar] al-Assad. But China seems to have somewhat accepted the resistance," he states. In Myanmar, there were even rumors circulating that the Beijing government had given up considering the junta as a stable long-term partner and had started supporting the rebels. But this is likely an illusion, and it may be premature, explains Sladnick: "If China were really supporting the rebels, we would have won by now. The insurgency has achieved some significant gains, especially in Shan state, but the rebellion has not yet reached the larger cities. One of my fellow fighters from a local militia in the city of Loikaw [in central Myanmar] told me the other day that they have plenty of weapons but not enough ammunition or medical supplies." In reality, the Chinese intervention, or lack thereof, can be seen from a more pragmatic standpoint. China tacitly allowed the entry of arms from the black market into the Shan state, which enabled the Three Brothers to gain control over large areas of the region. Some view this as punishment for the government's inability to shut down Myanmar's infamous scam centers, which have generated billions of dollars for Chinese underworld syndicates. In a recent offensive, numerous centers were closed. It's no coincidence that weapons also stopped reaching the hands of rebels in Shan state once this issue was addressed, pressuring the Brothers to reach a ceasefire agreement with the government. "China gave a lot of leeway to the rebels and used it to force concessions from the Tatmadaw," explains Sladnick. This is also evident in the Junta's growing interest in maritime trade. For China, one of the strategic advantages of having a friendly government in Naypyidaw is access to the trade routes of the Bay of Bengal. This is also why the Beijing government has been pressuring the Junta to accelerate the construction of a new deep-water port in Rakhine, despite objections from local fishermen who fear it will destroy their livelihoods. The same dynamics are observed in the western province of Sagaing, where disgruntled workers shut down the Letpadaung copper mine in Salingyi, operated by the Chinese. Like hundreds of thousands of teachers, railway workers, and other public servants, the miners have been on continuous general strike since the 2021 coup. According to one of the miners' leaders, the Junta is now pressuring to resume operations there to appease China. "If you ask ordinary people in Myanmar, they have a very clear understanding of this relationship," Sladnick states. "Everyone sees that the ceasefire in Shan state was necessary because China demanded it. What else could the militias have done? They have been fighting alone for decades, and if they had refused to sign the agreement, China would have completely cut off their arms supply. The hope now is that they will continue to finance other resistance groups," Sladnick concludes. A desperate move Although things have recently calmed down somewhat in Shan state, through an uneasy truce, the pressure on the Junta remains intense. The Arakan Army accepted a ceasefire in Shan state but made no similar promises in Rakhine, where fighting continues. To the Tatmadaw's troubles are added the new resistance groups joining the revolutionary struggle. A few weeks after Operation 1027 ended in a temporary ceasefire, the Kachin Independence Army, which has been fighting since 1960, launched Operation 0307 in the Kachin state, quickly seizing control of dozens of cities and bases similar to the Brothers' offensive in the Shan state last fall. The Pa-O National Liberation Army (PNLA) broke the ceasefire in the Shan state, while the New Mon State Party split in the Mon state to the south, prompting a large number of people to join the resistance. The PDF is also gaining ground in Bamar ethnic regions, while Kalay, on the border with India, was nearly completely taken by insurgents. As the Junta weakens, the strategy becomes bolder. PDF forces in central Burma, still largely reliant on homemade weapons, are invading cities, a clear indication that the authorities' resources are dwindling, and their casualties cannot be replaced. So, how much control has the Junta lost? Although it's difficult to obtain precise information in Myanmar, where access to the internet has been cut off in large swathes of territory, some analysts estimate that up to 48% of the country is now controlled by resistance groups. Myawaddy, on the Thai border, was liberated in early April, while a Junta offensive to reclaim the border town was recently repelled. A drone attack was launched against the capital, Naypyidaw, a few weeks ago, and although Yangon remains firmly under the Junta's control, their authority here could soon deteriorate as well. In February, the Tatmadaw announced nationwide conscription to bolster their depleted ranks. "It's a desperate move," Sladnick asserts. Conscription is highly unpopular among ordinary people. It also means that urban middle-class citizens, who could previously pretend that everything was fine, are now forced to confront the truth. The Tatmadaw has been trying to avoid this measure for the same reasons Russia's regime is trying to keep people from Moscow and St. Petersburg out of its war in Ukraine. Don’t close the door From his base on the border between Myanmar and Thailand, Sladnick recently traveled to the Karenni state. There, the Junta completely cut off internet and phones, so Starlink is the only window to the digital world. This also meant that their group was able to witness combat in areas of the country that had not been reported before. After a three-day delay due to the Junta airstrikes, they were able to witness the deterioration of the dictatorship's control over the region. Only four Junta bases remain standing on the outskirts of Loikaw, where Karenni resistance militias and PDF forces are currently advancing. In some of the hill bases captured in February, the recent corpses of the Junta soldiers still littered the ground, while a trip to the village of Hpa Saung placed them directly in the line of fire. In the small town of Mese, twenty police uniforms still lay among the rubble of the former police station, whose occupants presumably perished in the final battle to liberate the city. Mese has now become a refuge for civilians fleeing from the southern Karenni. But while progress is steady, things could move much faster, explains Sladnick: ‘All the resistance fighters tell me they could take the last strongholds of the regime in a week if they had enough ammunition. But every time they advance, they must wait to resupply. It doesn't help that all the villages abandoned by the Tatmadaw forces are full of explosive traps, making it impossible for people to return. This also highlights the paradox of Myanmar's struggle. Despite ongoing successes - in March alone, five thousand square kilometers were liberated, according to researcher Thomas van Linge - the rest of the world seems to have forgotten about them. It might be a deliberate choice. Cooking oil, malaria medication, bullets, and global attention - everything is scarce here. There's even a shortage of raincoats in refugee camps, turning the upcoming seasonal monsoon in a few months into an imminent threat. "I asked one of my colleagues what she would say to the world if she had the chance. She said, 'Don't close the door on us. Open it!'" In Myanmar, enough is happening to fill the news every night, but the internet blackout and the abundance of other conflicts around the world make Myanmar almost invisible to the public," comments Sladnick. In his opinion, the lack of attention may also be due to an outdated image of Myanmar. "People in the West have this image of Myanmar's freedom fighters as rural peasants with an old rifle in their hands. Listen; these people are modern, connected, and very aware of the global struggle between fascism and democracy. They're aware of what's happening in Gaza, Ukraine, and Syria and see themselves fighting for both national self-determination and social justice worldwide. They know this is part of a broader struggle to prevent the spread of authoritarianism and fascism worldwide." With conscription looming, the last pretenses of normalcy under the regime are rapidly fading away. Everyone is forced to take sides, making the conflict even more intense, explains Sladnick. "The other day I had dinner with a former colleague of my wife, a real estate agent with a very sweet demeanor and a pleasant personality. She's not exactly the type of person you'd expect to be an armed rebel. I said to her, 'The revolution is scary.' She replied, 'Yes, but living under the regime is scarier.' I think this is emblematic of the current mood." Despite the challenging road ahead, Sladnick and the resistance fighters in Myanmar remain optimistic. "Everyone I spoke to in Myanmar believes the regime will collapse. Millions of people have already sacrificed everything in the fight for freedom, and I trust that in the end, we will prevail. If we don't receive help from outside, obviously it will take longer, but the regime's days are numbered. It's just a matter of time."

Defense & Security
(From left): Yahya Sinwar, Karim Khan, Benjamin Netanyahu.

No one can act with impunity: ICC arrest warrants in Israel-Hamas war are a major test for international justice

by Amy Maguire

한국어로 읽기Leer en españolIn Deutsch lesen Gap اقرأ بالعربيةLire en françaisЧитать на русском The request by Karim Khan, chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), for arrest warrants for Israeli and Hamas leaders is a significant step in the effort to bring justice to the victims of international crimes in Israel and Palestine. Khan has asked ICC judges to issue warrants on charges of crimes against humanity and war crimes against Yahya Sinwar (head of Hamas in Gaza), Mohammed Diab Ibrahim Al-Masri (also known as Mohammed Deif, the commander of the military wing of Hamas) and Ismail Haniyeh (head of Hamas’ political bureau, based in Qatar). They are alleged to bear responsibility for international crimes on Israeli and Palestinian territory at least since October 7 2023. Khan has also requested arrest warrants against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, again for war crimes and crimes against humanity. They are alleged to be responsible for crimes in the Gaza Strip since October 8 2023. What have they been accused of? Sinwar, Al-Masri and Haniyeh are charged in relation to the attacks on Israeli civilians on October 7, in which an estimated 1,200 Israeli civilians were killed and at least 245 taken hostage. In addition, the Hamas leaders are accused of other crimes in the context of the ongoing conflict in Gaza. These include: • extermination • murder • hostage taking • rape and other acts of sexual violence • torture • cruel treatment Khan said in his statement: I saw the devastating scenes of these attacks and the profound impact of the unconscionable crimes charged in the applications filed today. Speaking with survivors, I heard how the love within a family, the deepest bonds between a parent and a child, were contorted to inflict unfathomable pain through calculated cruelty and extreme callousness. These acts demand accountability. Khan noted his office conducted extensive investigations, including site visits and interviews with victim survivors, and relied on evidence relating to the conditions in which Israeli hostages have been held in Gaza. Netanyahu and Gallant are alleged to be criminally responsible for a number of international crimes since Israel launched its military action against Hamas in Gaza on October 8, including: • starvation of civilians as a method of warfare • wilfully causing great suffering • wilful killing • intentional attacks against a civilian population • extermination and/or murder • persecution. The prosecutor said the alleged crimes: … were committed as part of a widespread and systematic attack against the Palestinian civilian population pursuant to state policy. These crimes, in our assessment, continue to this day. Noting the horrific suffering of civilians in Gaza, including tens of thousands of casualties and catastrophic hunger, Khan alleged that the means Netanyahu and Gallant chose to pursue Israel’s military aims in Gaza …namely, intentionally causing death, starvation, great suffering, and serious injury to body or health of the civilian population – are criminal. What does this mean in practice? The next step in this process is for three judges in the ICC pre-trial chamber to decide if there are reasonable grounds to believe war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed. If so, they will issue arrest warrants. It could take months for the judges to make this assessment. If arrest warrants are issued, however, they are very unlikely to be executed. And if none of the accused can be arrested, then no trial will take place because the ICC does not try people in absentia. So, why is it unlikely the accused will be arrested? There are several reasons. First, none of the accused will hand themselves in for prosecution. Netanyahu was outraged by Khan’s decision, calling it “a moral outrage of historic proportions” and accusing him of antisemitism. Hamas has issued a statement strongly denouncing the issuing of arrest warrants against its leaders, claiming it equates “the victim with the executioner”. Second, none of the accused are likely to put themselves in a position to be arrested and turned over to the ICC. Israel is not a signatory to the Rome Statute that established the ICC. Its chief ally, the United States, is also not a member. This would guarantee Netanyahu and Gallant could travel to the US without fear of arrest. Meanwhile, Haniyeh is based in Qatar, which is also not an ICC member state. He may need to curtail travel to other states to avoid risk of arrest. The other two accused Hamas leaders are believed to be hiding in Gaza – they appear more at risk of being killed by Israeli forces than arrest. However, Palestine is an ICC member state, so technically it is obliged to cooperate with the court. In practice, though, it is hard to see how this will happen. Third, the ICC relies on its member states to enforce its actions. It has no independent police force or capacity to execute arrest warrants. The ICC has 124 state parties, while the United Nations has 193 member states. This disparity makes clear the gap between what the ICC seeks to achieve – namely, universal accountability for international crimes – and what it can practically achieve when it lacks the support of implicated or nonaligned countries. What does this mean for the ICC? Khan’s move is unprecedented in one respect. This is the first time the prosecutor’s office has brought charges against a head of state who is supported by Western nations. The move triggered a predictable response from the US. President Joe Biden called it “outrageous” and added: […] there is no equivalence – none – between Israel and Hamas. We will always stand with Israel against threats to its security. But Khan emphasised the importance of the ICC’s independence and impartiality, as well as the equal application of law. No foot soldier, no commander, no civilian leader – no one – can act with impunity. The ICC has previously confirmed its jurisdiction over crimes allegedly committed by the five leaders this week. The prosecutor will be confident the pre-trial chamber will issue the arrest warrants, based on the highly visible nature of the alleged crimes and the volume of evidence available to show reasonable grounds for prosecution. The request for arrest warrants undoubtedly complicates relations between Israel and its allies that are ICC member states. In such a politically charged context, it is fair to describe this effort as a test of the international community’s commitment to the goal of ending impunity for international crimes.

Defense & Security
Wellington, New Zealand - November 29 2019: HMNZS Wellington, a protector-class off-shore patrol vessel in the Royal New Zealand Navy sailing into Wellington harbour.

New Zealand is waking up to threats

by Tim Hurdle

한국어로 읽기Leer en españolIn Deutsch lesen Gap اقرأ بالعربيةLire en françaisЧитать на русском While Australian defence policy looks north, Kiwis focus west. New Zealand has always benefited from strategic isolation and the distance from international conflicts. But as global dangers increase, the reality of the geo-political situation is cutting through in New Zealand’s public discourse. With the active aggression of totalitarian powers like China and Russia causing disruption, New Zealand is waking up the threats they pose to the international order. That’s a good thing for Australia, creating a stronger, more engaged partner to work with in the Pacific and on regional security arrangements. Awareness of the threat that China and Russia pose has evolved in the past 10 years. In June 2022, then Labour prime minister Jacinda Ardern attended the NATO Summit, calling her participation a ‘rare thing’. She condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and said ‘China’s increasing assertiveness is resulting in geopolitical change and competition.’ This mild comment provoked the strong rebuke from Beijing that her comments were ‘unhelpful, regrettable and wrong.’ Her open criticism was a shift from a foreign policy that had been closely tied to protecting the strong trading relationship with China. This shift continued under Chris Hipkins, who replaced Ardern as prime minister until Labour lost office in November. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade released a strategic foreign policy assessment, ‘Navigating a shifting world’, in July 2023. And Hipkins’s defence minister, Andrew Little, said ‘In 2023, we do not live in a benign strategic environment’ as he unveiled a Defence Policy Strategy Statement that achieved cross-party support. With a three-party centre-right coalition government now in office, there is a growing recognition that New Zealand will need to spend more on defence. This is challenging due to excessive pandemic spending that has left a legacy of a bloated public service and a structural fiscal deficit. But on 10 May the government said money from cost-cutting elsewhere in the Defence budget would be recycled back into Defence rather than being subsumed by fiscal consolidation. All parties in the new government have made positive statements about New Zealand reaching the NATO standard of spending 2 percent of gross domestic product on defence. New Zealand last achieved this level in 1992, and spending has continued to decline in recent decades. Currently sitting just above 1 percent of GDP, the fraction is significantly less than Australia’s. New Zealand’s GDP per capita is only three-quarters of Australia’s, meaning its defence spending per person is much lower. The inaugural Australia–New Zealand Foreign and Defence Ministerial Consultations in February bought a new focus to the trans-Tasman relationship. Ministers of both countries said the meetings had taken place amid the most challenging global strategic environment in decades. They committed to increasing military integration. The debate in New Zealand has become sharper as the country has considered joining Pillar 2 of AUKUS, the part of the Australian-British-US defence partnership that deals with technology other than nuclear submarines. Active military collaboration for international security marks a strong shift away from the view of then Labour prime minister Helen Clark, who said in March 2001 that New Zealand was ‘very lucky to live in one of the most strategically secure environments in the world’ and that New Zealanders ‘would like other nations to experience the peace of a benign strategic environment too.’ For as long as her view dominated foreign policy circles, attention was on trade policy; there was little focus on national security or defence issues, beyond a fascination with nuclear disarmament. Clark and her generation promoted a so-called independent foreign policy. Encouraged by the anti-American and anti-nuclear lobby, this amounted to a shift away from the Western alliance. The more modern view in New Zealand is that, as a small country, it must help to uphold the international rules-based system and contribute to stability and security efforts. New Zealand has engaged with Asian-centred regional collaborative security frameworks. More spending is needed. The government will release a new Defence Capability Plan in June or July, setting out procurement priorities. There is no longer a sense that spending on defence will be unpopular. The main challenge will be renewing the fleet of the Royal New Zealand Navy (RNZN). Key units that need replacement are the two Anzac-class frigates, and there are clear signals that New Zealand will consider buying ships of the general-purpose frigate class that is intended for the Royal Australian Navy. Using the same design would promote interoperability and economy. The Royal New Zealand Air Force has modernised with the recent purchase of P-8A Poseidon maritime patrollers and C-130J Hercules airlifters. New naval helicopters are likely to come soon. New Zealand can provide better awareness of the eastern approaches to Australia with Poseidons. A runway extension on the Chatham Islands, 800km east of mainland New Zealand, was opened in January to handle aircraft of the size of Poseidons. These assets are vital to supporting ongoing participation in collective security efforts. The first international deployment of a New Zealand Poseidon was to Japan in April, to help enforce UN Security Council sanctions against North Korea. Kiwi gunners have trained Ukrainian soldiers in Britain. The RNZN is vital to Pacific relationships. New Zealand’s strategic isolation is becoming less apparent amid cyber attacks on the parliament in Wellington, great-power competition in Antarctica and acceptance that the country’s trade routes are exposed. Global conflicts feature on Kiwis’ screens daily, showing that the world is a more dangerous place and that foreign policy must change. It’s understood that stepping up will come at a cost. New Zealand needs to have defence capability that can integrate and enhance Australian forces in the Indo-Pacific. The new government knows that Australia, as New Zealand’s only formal defence ally, is the most important partner.

Defense & Security
France and New Caledonia flags.

France, New Caledonia and the Indo-Pacific

by Denise Fisher

한국어로 읽기Leer en españolIn Deutsch lesen Gap اقرأ بالعربيةLire en françaisЧитать на русском How France manages the first outbreak of serious violence in New Caledonia in 40 years will affect not only its future role there but its acceptance as a resident Pacific, and Indo-Pacific, power. The violence of indigenous independence supporters, many of them very young, signals that the inconclusiveness of earlier peace agreements risks taking New Caledonia back to the bloodshed of the 1980s. The unrest is targeting the capital, Noumea, and its population of Europeans, who mostly support staying French. The wounds are deep. The peace agreements that ended violence in the 1980s largely succeeded because of difficult and constant compromises by the French state, loyalist parties and independence parties. Mutual trust in the promises of those agreements to work towards self-determination underpinned the French state conducting three referendums in New Caledonia from 2018 to 2021. The first two were impeccably organised and showed, respectively, that 56.7 percent and 53.3 percent opposed independence. But the state dropped the ball in a third referendum in 2021, sticking with an intended voting date despite indigenous requests for postponement. At the time, hundreds of Kanaks had died from Covid-19. Their leaders said they could not ask their people to campaign or vote when their traditions required lengthy mourning rituals. The resulting indigenous boycott saw the count of opposition to independence soar to 96.5 percent. Since then, divisions have deepened. Loyalists, backed by the government in Paris, say all three votes were valid and want to cement the territory as part of France. Independence groups reject the third vote and seek another; some refuse to participate in discussion about the future. They rejected Macron’s offer of a chemin de pardon (path of forgiveness) when he visited in July 2023. They did not attend a meeting he convened, and their supporters did not turn out for his major speech there, sending a strong message of discontent. Macron then threatened unilateral action unless local parties came to an agreement. Informal discussions between some parties from each side in December ended with wide divergences, including over a further independence vote and voter eligibility. To set a deadline, Macron introduced legislation postponing local elections from April 2024 to December 2025, and he put forward another bill that would amend the French constitution, imposing broader voter eligibility and thereby diluting the Kanak voting share, unless locals reached agreement before the end of June. Demonstrations erupted into violence on 13 May, the day France’s National Assembly debated imposing from Paris the enlargement of voter eligibility. The destruction perpetrated by young Kanaks signalled not only to France and loyalist parties who were their targets but also to Kanak leaders and neighbouring countries the depth of distress of a new generation who felt disrespected and excluded from determining the future of their homeland. How France responds will be decisive for its sustainable future in New Caledonia. New Caledonia’s population is about 270,000. In the census of 2019, indigenous Kanaks were 41 percent, Europeans 29 percent and other Pacific islanders and ‘others’ composed the remaining 30 percent. Another census is due this year. Kanaks may now exceed 45 percent, since there have been net departures of about 2000 people a year since 2015, almost all presumably non-indigenous. Moreover, some people in the ‘others’ category, which includes the sub-categories of ‘mixed’ and ‘Caldeonian’, would also be Kanaks. And the Kanak share of the population will rise, especially since recent developments may contribute to an increase in non-Kanak departures. While New Caledonia’s neighbours have quietly supported the peace agreements, they remain concerned about the interests of the islanders in the non-self-governing French territory. Some of them took New Caledonia to the United Nations Decolonisation Committee in 1986, ensuring annual UN scrutiny of the territory and France’s dealings with it since then. The Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) has regularly sent missions monitoring implementation of the Noumea Accord and observed each referendum, expressing serious reservations on the third. The Melanesian Spearhead Group (Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and New Caledonia’s FLNKS independence coalition) was formed in the mid-1980s specifically to support Kanak independence claims. With the eruption of violence, their silence has broken. Making Australia’s highest-level statement in decades, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said Australia was closely monitoring the situation and encouraged all parties to work together constructively to shape the institutional future of New Caledonia. PIF Secretary-General Henry Puna said he was not surprised by the riots, noting it was unfortunate that the third referendum had been allowed to go ahead amid the pandemic. PIF chair and Cook Islands Prime Minister Mark Brown said New Caledonia and French Polynesia had been included in the forum ‘in recognition of their calls for greater autonomy coming from their people’, and supported providing help to prevent conflict. Vanuatu Prime Minister and Melanesian Spearhead Group Chair Charlot Salwai publicly opposed France’s constitutional change and urged a return to the spirit of the peace agreements and the sending of a dialogue mission led by a mutually respected person. France has done much to regain the acceptance and trust of the region in recent decades. Responding to island governments’ visceral opposition to its policies in the 1980s, France abandoned nuclear testing in the region and gave greater autonomy to its Pacific territories. It did so by respecting local governments and people. Macron has articulated an Indo-Pacific vision for France that’s firmly based on its sovereignty in the Pacific. But, to maintain France’s claims as an Indo-Pacific power, he must listen to the large and growing indigenous minority in its pre-eminent Pacific territory, New Caledonia. And he must listen to the appeals of Pacific island governments, so they and France can move forward together with humility and respect.

Defense & Security
2021 Myanmar Armed Forces Day

Myanmar: If sanctions aren’t the solution, what is?

by Morten B. Pedersen

한국어로 읽기Leer en españolIn Deutsch lesen Gap اقرأ بالعربيةLire en françaisЧитать на русском The local population invariably pays the price for financial punishment of the regime. So better for the world to directly support communities instead. The decision by Australia in February last year to impose sanctions on 16 members of Myanmar’s ruling junta, as well as two military holding companies, received rare praise from a wide range of Myanmar resistance groups, international activists, and trade unions who had long been dissatisfied with Australia’s Myanmar policy. A year later, in February this year, when two Myanmar government banks and three private companies supplying jet fuel to the military were added to the sanctions list, there were almost standing applause. This is symptomatic of a world where many activists see sanctions on the military regime as the primary measure of “good policy”. Unfortunately, the obsession with sanctions draws attention away from other important issues, notably the nature and quality of international aid to the Myanmar people. Don’t get me wrong. There are strong normative reasons for imposing sanctions on Myanmar’s military rulers. Sanctions signal support for international law and lend weight to the broader policy of ostracising the military regime, which is deeply illegitimate and guilty of mass atrocities. They also provide a measure of symbolic support for the resistance, which has called for sanctions to support their cause. With so many people believing that sanctions are simply the right thing to do, not imposing them also have significant reputational costs for Australia. But as a strategic tool, sanctions are overrated. No Myanmar general is going to be shamed by Western criticism into changing their behaviour or induced by a travel ban to surrender their power and privileges as the resistance demands. In theory, by targeting the flows of arms and finance to the regime, sanctions may weaken the junta’s military capabilities and help tip the balance of power on the battlefield. But the main sources of military revenue are simply out of reach. As the de facto government of the rump state of Myanmar, the junta has inherited the state’s money printing press, as well as its sovereign borrowing rights, and the ability to set foreign exchange rates. Moreover, it is skimming hundreds of millions of dollars annually off the drugs trade and other illicit economic activity through a combination of protection payments and official “whitewashing” of private profits of unknown origin. Sure, sanctions bite. But any pain the military regime feels will invariably be transferred to other groups. Indeed, given the military’s control of key levers of the economy, the term “targeted sanctions” employed by governments such as Australia’s is really a misnomer. Whatever the generals lose in one area, they can take somewhere else. Anyone who thinks sanctions are the solution should take a closer look at daily life in Myanmar. While the population is suffering from run-amok inflation and shortages of vital goods such as medicine, there are no indications that the junta has had to reduce its arms spending. On the contrary, the number of air strikes on resistance forces and local communities continues to rise month by month. But if sanctions aren’t the solution, what is? To answer that question, we need to take step back and look at what is happening on the ground in Myanmar. With the military suffering defeat after defeat on the battlefield and gradually retreating from large parts of the country, resistance groups have started building parallel state structures and providing public services in “liberated areas” outside of central state control. Across Myanmar, new political authorities are claiming jurisdiction to govern significant territories and populations. They are establishing new government institutions; pronouncing better laws and policies; and providing security, health, and education for millions of people. While much of this is still rudimentary, they are effectively building mini states. At the grassroots level, thousands of community-based organisations are delivering humanitarian assistance to conflict-affected populations, while local communities are building their own roads and schools, and hiring their own teachers and nurses. This fragmentation of authority may seem confusing – and even threatening – to many outsiders who see it as a symptom of state failure. But it can also be viewed as the basis for a new kind of state, better suited to unifying and serving Myanmar’s diverse ethnic communities who have suffered greatly from decades of overcentralisation and continuous civil war. When asked, senior Australian government officials invariably say their primary goal in Myanmar is to help its long-suffering population. And many of their critics presumably would agree. By supporting these emerging local governance structures, Australia could help the resistance by increasing its relevance to the daily struggles of local people. It could also help vulnerable communities by expanding humanitarian assistance and basic social services. And it could help the country by supporting longer-term institution-building and establishing the basis for a new federal democratic union. All of this would help the Myanmar people in ways that sanctions never will.