Tag Archives: Russia

The Syrian Conflict: Time to Start Thinking Outside the Box

As the conflict drags on, and as more people continue to suffer, it is time to start putting new ideas on the table, and partitioning Syria is certainly one of the suggestions that could work.




[dropcap]A[/dropcap]n end to the violence and conflict in Syria is not in sight, far from it. The UN estimates that around 100,000 have died in the conflict so far and the number is set to rise as both the Assad regime and the rebel movement refuse to end the bloodshed. Many suggestions have been put forward which aim to bring an end to what has been the bloodiest out of all the Arab Spring uprisings. Some believe that arming the rebels is the answer. The supporters of this claim are the UK Prime Minister David Cameron, the French President Francois Hollande and the USA. Russia, on the other hand, has put forward a diplomatic solution which aims to bring both sides of the Syrian conflict to the negotiating table. Britain, France and the USA favour a diplomatic solution as well, however they claim that Assad will never join the negotiations when he is winning on the ground, thus the need to arm the rebels to create a stale-mate.

However in this article I will argue that both of the above proposals are unlikely to reap any substantial results and therefore out of the box thinking is required.

An argument against arming the rebels

There seems to be a consensus among many, that if President Assad was removed from power, Syria would go back to normality and a start of a new and bright era could begin. However, such a view is obscured by a shallow thinking: Assad is bad, rebels are good. Over the last few months, such a view has suffered a great dent, due to the grotesque and vile actions by some of the rebels- atrocities against the Syrian minorities, such as Christians, inhumane treatment of enemy soldiers, harsh treatment of civilians in rebel held areas, among other despicable incidents. Some argue that these actions are only committed by an extremist minority who do not represent a more liberal faction fighting Assad.

Such a claim in itself provides two reasons for why arming the rebels would not work. Firstly the claim correctly points out the fact that the rebel movement is deeply fractured. There is a civil war, in the civil war. There have been many reports of rebel groups fighting each other and murdering fellow generals. Secondly, this leads to the natural conclusion that if Assad were to fall right now, the conflict in Syria would not end. It would simply shift from rebels fighting Assad and fighting each other, to rebels fighting each other to a greater extent. If weapons were provided to the opposition, these would eventually be used to kill fellow opposition groups, thus leading to more bloodshed. Even if the Arab Spring in Syria began with Syrians wanting more democracy and freedom, right now the conflict has become a sectarian and religious war, between Shias, Sunnis and hardened Islamists. Iraq should be the perfect example of how getting rid of a dictator for its own sake does not lead to positive results. Despite over 10 years since the fall of Saddam Hussein, Iraq is still plagued by sectarian violence, almost on a daily basis. Syria is even more diverse than Iraq, therefore there is a grave possibility that the violence would be enhanced.

Further reason to doubt the appeal of arming the rebels are claims that the people living in rebel held areas are deeply dissatisfied with the opposition movement, mainly due to the implementation of strict Sharia laws, which the majority of Syrians are not in favour of. Furthermore, there is a strong possibility that, if these rebels were to win, they would initiate mass atrocities against Assad supporters as part of their revenge. This has happened in Libya after the fall of Qaddafi.

Diplomacy as an end in itself is unlikely to work

Undoubtedly supporting Assad in this conflict would also be unthinkable, given the scale of destruction and deaths that have endured over his watch. For this reason some suggested that negotiations ought to take place where both sides agree to a ceasefire and a transitional government, eventually leading to proper democratic elections where the Syrian people will be able to decide how and who should govern the country. In principle this is a viable idea, certainly more so than the plan to arm the rebels. In practise, diplomacy is unlikely to work, since the rebels and their Western backers have set a pre-condition that Assad should step down. Understandably Assad and his support will never agree to such a condition, firstly because he is winning on the ground, and secondly because the rebels and the West have no political legitimacy to ask him for such a move.  Only the Syrian people have the legitimacy to remove their current leader, yet, as well documented, many Syrians continue to support Assad. To have a legitimate transitional government and legitimate future elections, Assad has to be a part of them, to allow the people the chance to once and for all decide whether they want Assad in or out. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that the opposition will agree to this move, therefore breaking down any prospective positive outcomes from negotiations

Partition Syria

Unless either the West or Russia decide to end the conflict with a comprehensive victory for their respective sides (a move which is unlikely to occur), the stalemate between Assad and the rebels looks to continue. There is a dangerous possibility that Syria may turn into a new Afghanistan and Iraq, with violence and bloodshed continuing for decades. To prevent such an outcome, Syria may have to be partitioned into some parts that will be governed by Assad, and other parts governed by certain factions of the opposition. For now, Assad will never agree to such a plan when he is winning on the ground, when Russia continues to show undisputed support and when the West is so indecisive. Even if Assad were to win the civil war (which is unlikely as it is hard to see the Western powers allowing this to happen), the extremist rebels would continue to cause a nuisance as they would continue to receive financial and military support from Saudi Arabia and Qatar.

Partitioning Syria would look similar to the Russia and Chechnya situation, where technically Chechnya is part of Russia, but has a status of a republic and some limited independence, with their own leader.

Heavy negotiations would need to take place among the Syrian players to arrive at a common outcome and nobody is suggesting that this would be a simple procedure. However, as the conflict drags on, and as more people continue to suffer, it is time to start putting new ideas on the table, and partitioning Syria is certainly one of the suggestions that could work.


Photo Credit: World Shia Forum

Cyprus, the Mediterranean Pivot

The declared objective of the government of Nicosia is to use the geo-strategic position of Cyprus, between Europe and the Middle East, to make the country a true energy hub, with a central role in commercial transit and in the provision of European energy.




[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n recent years the Eastern Mediterranean has increased its own strategic importance at an international level following significant discoveries of hydrocarbons. In this region the recent offshore findings of natural gas are radically changing its geostrategic and economic status. Before achieving the ambitious objective of becoming a net exporter of energy the countries of the Eastern Mediterranean, and Cyprus in particular, must confront regional challenges and interests-be they of an economic, politico-strategic or, inevitably energy-infrastructure nature-of the major powers in the area.

Two years on from the great discoveries of the Leviathan and Tamar fields on the Israeli coast, December 2011 was the turn of Cyprus: the USA company Noble Energy reported an initial discovery of offshore gas in block 12 of Aphrodite, with an energy potential estimated at between 5-8 trillion cubic feet (140-230 billion cubic metres). Evidence suggests that this area is an extension of the Levante basin: it is still the subject of an initial exploratory phase and, therefore, these initial estimates are considered conservative, with the prospect of their rising in the coming years. There is therefore a potential wealth for the island of enormous proportions. According to some experts, in fact, Cyprus could potentially be sitting on a goldmine of at least 60 trillion cubic feet (1.7 trillion cubic meters) of gas, not considering the potential of the petroleum: it could generate revenue of up to $ 400 billion once commercially exploited.

The declared objective of the government of Nicosia is to use the geo-strategic position of Cyprus, between Europe and the Middle East, to make the country a true energy hub, with a central role in commercial transit and in the provision of European energy. A perspective, however, which does not consider the tensions and several unresolved questions that could hinder the energy development of the island, itself essential in reviving an economy in deep crisis.

Firstly, the strong political destabilisation resulting from the 1974 Turkish military invasion which produced a de facto division of the island, between the Turkish-Cypriot north and the Greek-Cypriot south. The discovery of energy resources in the southern part of Cyprus, as well as an absence of results from research conducted thus far into the offshore areas of the north, have added a new and relevant source of friction in relations between Nicosia and Ankara. The island’s peculiar political situation could therefore constitute a brake on the development of the country’s economy, capable of affecting decisions regarding investment by foreign companies, especially those who have strong interests in Turkey. The latter, in fact, threatened repercussions for those companies which intend to enter into agreements for the exploitation of resources with the Cypriot government. Such is the case for Eni S.p.A. which has seen the suspension of all projects undertaken with Turkey, due to its agreement to exploration signed with Nicosia in January. Ankara, in fact, maintains that such energy resources are located in international waters and that they should benefit all of the island’s inhabitants, and not only Greek-Cypriots. Turkish interests, profoundly connected to energy, therefore emerge. Furthermore, relations between Cyprus and Israel, in particular those relating to a possible project for the liquefaction of gas for export, feed the prospect of an energy partnership. Excluding Ankara, this could provide an alternative route for the transport of gas to Europe and Asia, obstructing the great Turkish mission to become a regional energy hub. According to several analysts, this prospect was one of the reasons behind the rapprochement between Turkey and Israel which, enabling the former to maintain its centrality as the country of transit, and the latter to have optimal conditions available for the export of its gas. Whilst in the long term, the economic advantages of cooperation between Nicosia, Tel Aviv, Athens and Ankara could be more convincing, in the short term, energy pressures feed tensions in an already established hotspot.

It is probable that Turkey’s firm stance on the Cyprus question is one of the reasons behind the Russian decision not to accept the bailout plan hastily proposed by Nicosia, in exchange for licenses for the exploitation of gas fields. To this must be added, among others, the European position and the special relationship between Berlin and Moscow, sealed by the agreement on the Nord Stream gas line, which might have suffered setbacks if Putin had decided to approve a bailout plan for a member country within the EU. Moscow’s position, then, is understandable when considering the multiplicity of interests that the country shares with other regional players, such as Germany, Greece and Turkey: these can be safeguarded only by a strategy of ambiguous realpolitik. Although the issue of the Cypriot bailout has put pressure on the relationship between Nicosia and Moscow, it is difficult to imagine a rupture of relations between the two countries, but rather a redefinition in the interests that still bind them. Moscow, in fact, has long-standing ties with the island of Aphrodite, ranging from banking and finance, to real estate and military strategy. There are strong suspicions, for example, regarding the role played by Cyprus in the trafficking of weapons from Russia to Damascus.

Brussels, for its part, seems determined to impose comprehensive change on the Cypriot business model and on its banking system, thus affecting its status as a tax haven for the offshore investments of Russian magnates. Discoveries of gas in the Cypriot Sea represent a great opportunity for Europe to diversify energy supplies, with respect to Russia’s dominant role. Cyprus’s economic problems, however, which have led to the forced levy on bank deposits, also herald strong domestic discontent:  the EU should not exacerbate the economic situation because, as the multiple demonstrations on the island show, anti-European sentiment is particularly widespread amongst the population and could become a source of political instability. This could obstruct a possible solution to the conflict with Turkey, a central obstacle in Ankara’s access to Brussels.

The framework outlined above seems far from optimistic given that, at least in the short to medium term, the European iron fist on bank accounts, the withdrawal of Russian support and Turkish pressure clamp the island in a vice which will only increase internal malaise and aggravate the downturn in the national economy. A situation which seems as if it will be unable to improve until exploitation of the energy resources of the Aphrodite gas field is at full capacity, something which may require several years.

On the contrary, within an extended timescale the need for cooperation between the main players involved can only increase, due to pressures deriving from the stabilisation of the Cypriot economy and the gradual exploitation of the rich intra-European gas fields. Turkey has already signalled to this effect: conscious of its role as transit towards international markets, Ankara has proposed to Nicosia its help in the development of gas, noting on the other hand that the benefits of such discoveries should be shared by all the inhabitants of the island. In conclusion, one aspect is more certain than others: without a resolution of the dispute over sovereignty of the island, an issue that has dragged on for 40 years now, eventual regional cooperation seems difficult to envisage.


Original Article: Cipro, il pivot del Mediterraneo

Translated by Lois Bond

Photo Credit: magisstra

Il Corridoio Sud nello scacchiere energetico europeo

Il Corridoio Sud, questo il nome del progetto che punta ad aprire una nuova rotta di transito in Europa, è di estrema rilevanza per la politica energetica europea; il gasdotto permetterebbe infatti di collegare i Paesi produttori del Mar Caspio al mercato europeo, bypassando la Russia e aumentando gioco-forza la diversificazione energetica di Bruxelles, nonché il ruolo strategico dei Paesi di transito.


Senza titolo


[dropcap]C[/dropcap]’è grande attesa per la decisione, prevista per la fine di questo mese, del consorzio Shah Deniz sulla scelta del gasdotto che trasporterà il gas del Mar Caspio nel mercato europeo. Il Corridoio Sud, questo il nome del progetto che punta ad aprire una nuova rotta di transito in Europa, è di estrema rilevanza per la politica energetica europea; il gasdotto permetterebbe infatti di collegare i Paesi produttori del Mar Caspio al mercato europeo, bypassando la Russia e aumentando gioco-forza la diversificazione energetica di Bruxelles, nonché il ruolo strategico dei Paesi di transito. Il gas, proveniente prevalentemente dal giacimento azero Shah Deniz II, è conteso da due diversi progetti: il gasdotto Grecia-Albania-Italia, o Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP), con punto di arrivo in Puglia, e il Nabucco West, una versione ridotta del più conosciuto progetto Nabucco, la cui estensione è limitata al tratto dalla Bulgaria alla località austriaca di Baumgarten, già hub energetico.

La rilevanza del Corridoio Sud è tale che una mappatura degli interessi in gioco risulta necessaria per comprendere l’impatto della decisione del consorzio sugli attori principali; un’esigenza motivata anche dalla presenza in prima linea dell’Italia, che si gioca l’opportunità di diventare l’hub energetico dell’Europa sud-occidentale.

Dal punto di vista economico, i vantaggi del TAP sono noti: pur garantendo la medesima capacità iniziale del Nabucco West, pari a 10 miliardi di metri cubi (bcm), questo gasdotto è più corto e meno costoso e con una struttura manageriale più snella. Può inoltre vantare la presenza nel suo azionariato di Statoil, una delle compagnie facenti parte del consorzio che prenderà la decisione finale sulla rotta di esportazione.

Tuttavia, dal punto di vista politico, Nabucco West ha importanti carte da giocare. Nonostante infatti entrambi i progetti del Corridoio Sud puntino al miglioramento della sicurezza energetica europea, la direttrice nord-orientale contribuisce a ridurre la dipendenza dalle forniture russe dei Paesi  dell’Europa sud-orientale, che mostrano ancora una forte vulnerabilità energetica da Mosca dai chiari risvolti politici. Il TAP, invece, favorisce i Paesi europei del sud, l’Italia in particolare che già diversifica le proprie forniture tramite il gas proveniente dai Paesi del Nord Africa e del Medio Oriente; inoltre, avendo accesso al mare, questi Paesi possono contare sul contributo del GNL per diversificare ulteriormente il proprio mercato energetico, in vista anche di potenziali esportazioni future di shale gas statunitense.

Per tali ragioni, il Nabucco ha storicamente vantato il forte supporto politico da parte degli Stati Uniti. Nonostante l’amministrazione Obama abbia preferito assumere una linea più neutrale rispetto ai suoi predecessori, all’interno del Congresso stanno riprendendo spazio diverse voci che spingono il governo a prendere una posizione più schierata sulla vicenda del Corridoio Sud. Non potendo vantare alcuna partecipazione di compagnie americane nel progetto, è evidente che l’interesse di molti a Washington per il Corridoio Sud non sia di natura commerciale ma squisitamente politica: preferire la direttrice nord-orientale significherebbe, infatti, aumentare la competizione energetica nell’area balcanica, riducendo il potere di ricatto di Mosca e accrescendo di conseguenza il potere negoziale e la stabilità interna dei Paesi NATO interessati.

Russia e Cina sono invece su tutt’altro fronte. Pechino punta ad avere accesso alle risorse naturali del Mar Caspio in competizione con l’UE; un primo successo lo ha ottenuto con l’avvio della costruzione della Central Asia-China gas pipeline che le permette di collegarsi al Kazakhstan, all’Uzbekistan e al Turkmenistan. Pur non essendo riuscita nell’intento di persuadere l’Azerbaijan a vendergli il proprio gas, il rafforzamento della presenza cinese nel Caspio aumenta la competizione nell’area e può rappresentare una minaccia ad un eventuale potenziamento del flusso di gas caspico in Europa.

La Russia non sembra rinunciare alla sua posizione di major player nella regione e sta facendo le sue mosse per tenere sotto scacco i diversi attori in gioco. Gli sviluppi degli ultimi mesi possono essere interpretati come parte di una strategia volta a mantenere la propria influenza energetica nell’area. Da una parte, l’abbandono del progetto di un braccio meridionale del South Stream, con un percorso similare alla rotta del TAP, sembra aumentare la competitività di quest’ultimo e ad indebolire il progetto Nabucco; dall’altra, le pressioni russe sulla Grecia per comprare gli asset delle due compagnie energetiche nazionali DEPA e DEFSA, gli stretti contatti intrapresi con BP (maggior azionista del consorzio Shah Deniz) sulla possibile costruzione di un terzo braccio del gasdotto North Stream in Gran Bretagna, e le minacce alla Turchia di eventuali ritorsioni, quali tagli alle forniture, non appena sarà operativo il collegamento con l’Azerbaijan tramite il gasdotto TANAP, fanno piuttosto pensare ad un piano russo di influenza indiretta sulle scelte energetiche del consorzio azero e di mantenimento del proprio ruolo dominante nel mercato europeo.

L’Europa, dal canto suo, ha preferito un atteggiamento sostanzialmente equidistante tra i due progetti, con la decisione della Commissione di riconoscere ad entrambi l’esenzione alla clausola di third party access. Addirittura, il Commissario UE all’Energia Oettinger ha sostenuto recentemente la possibilità di coesistenza dei due gasdotti che, pur in tempi diversi, potrebbero giungere in ogni caso a realizzazione. Incertezze dal lato dell’offerta e da quello della domanda rendono questa possibilità ancora lontana, soprattutto in vista degli sviluppi di altri progetti nell’area. Da questo punto di vista, il vero competitor di Nabucco West sembra essere il gasdotto russo South Stream che, pur facendo affidamento su diverse forniture di gas, coinvolge gli stessi Paesi di transito e quindi gli stessi mercati finali.

In questo contesto, l’Italia non dovrebbe perdere quest’opportunità, che le permetterebbe non solo di accrescere il proprio ruolo strategico nell’UE, divenendo uno snodo cruciale per il transito di gas nell’Europa sud-occidentale, ma anche di aumentare la sicurezza della propria politica energetica, riducendo la dipendenza dalla forniture russe.

Nel frattempo, nella zona di Melendugno (LE), punto di arrivo del gasdotto, si è già costituito un comitato No-Tap, a riprova di come l’elevata sfiducia delle popolazioni locali sui progetti infrastrutturali energetici e sulle Istituzioni che li promuovono travalichi spesso le questioni internazionali e di sicurezza nazionale. La mancanza di processi di dibattito pubblico istituzionalizzati, che garantiscano il coinvolgimento delle parti interessate e incoraggino un confronto interattivo orientato al decision-making, resta una delle maggiori sfide che l’Italia deve affrontare. Rinunciandovi, non si fa altro che alimentare uno scontro manicheo tra posizioni inconciliabili il cui unico esito finale è lo stallo decisionale; una situazione che rischia di incoraggiare la fuga degli investitori esteri e fonte di possibile rilancio economico per l’Italia.


Russia’s Green Light?

In light of the revelation that the two Boston Marathon bombing terrorists were of Chechen ancestry, does this give President Putin a green light to finally crush the simmering rebellion in the region?

After two wars in the breakaway Russian state from 1994-1996  and from 1999-2009  the region has fallen into an uneasy peace for the past couple year. This peace hasn’t halted the ongoing terrorist campaign by separatist organizations striking at targets both inside Chechyna and in Russia as a whole.

With the 2014 Sochi Olympics quickly approaching President Putin who’s hardline on Chechen terrorist/rebels will want to ensure no threat is presented for the upcoming games. Should the Boston brothers be traced back to a specific Chechen organization will the Russians use this to crackdown on terror organizations in Chechnya and the bases that they use in surrounding states?

For decades the United States has intentionally avoided confronting Russia on the Chechen issue. The standard response from the US government has been calling for “peaceful resolution” to the conflict in the region, while condemning  human rights violations by both Russian military/government forces and Chechen rebel organizations. The question moving forward is whether the US chooses to engage the Russians on the Chechen issue? Will the US turn a blind eye if the Russians decide to crackdown on these organizations and individuals in the run up to the 2014 Winter Games? It is probably too early to say one way or another to how Russia will react to this situation but that reaction will determine the stability of the entire Caucasus region.


Photo Credit: BelyakovPhoto

Cipro, il pivot del Mediterraneo

L’obiettivo dichiarato dal governo di Nicosia è quello di utilizzare la posizione geo-strategica di Cipro, a cavallo tra Europa e Medio Oriente, per rendere il Paese un vero e proprio hub energetico, con un ruolo centrale nel transito commerciale e nell’approvvigionamento energetico europeo.




[dropcap]N[/dropcap]egli ultimi anni il Mediterraneo Orientale ha accresciuto la propria rilevanza strategica a livello internazionale a seguito di importanti scoperte di idrocarburi. In questa regione, i recenti ritrovamenti offshore di gas naturale ne stanno modificando radicalmente lo status geostrategico ed economico. Prima di raggiungere l’ambizioso obiettivo di diventare esportatori netti di energia, i Paesi del Mediterraneo Orientale, e Cipro in particolare, non possono non confrontarsi con le sfide regionali e gli interessi – di natura economica, politico-strategica e, inevitabilmente, energetico-infrastrutturale – delle maggiori potenze nell’area.

Dopo le grandi scoperte dei campi Leviathan e Tamar lungo le coste israeliane, a due anni di distanza, nel dicembre 2011, è la volta di Cipro: la statunitense Noble Energy riportò una prima scoperta di gas offshore nel blocco 12 del giacimento Afrodite, per un potenziale energetico stimato tra i 5 e gli 8 trilioni di piedi cubi (140-230 miliardi di metri cubi). Quest’area, con tutta evidenza il prolungamento del bacino del Levante, è ancora in una fase iniziale di esplorazione e, pertanto, queste prime stime sono considerate conservative, con la prospettiva di un loro rialzo nei prossimi anni. Si profila quindi per l’isola una ricchezza di enormi proporzioni: a detta di alcuni esperti, infatti, Cipro sarebbe potenzialmente seduta su un tesoro di almeno 60 trilioni di piedi cubi (1,7 trilioni di metri cubi) di gas che, senza considerare le potenzialità del petrolio, potrebbe generare entrate per 400 miliardi di dollari una volta provata la sua commercializzazione.

L’obiettivo dichiarato dal governo di Nicosia è quello di utilizzare la posizione geo-strategica di Cipro, a cavallo tra Europa e Medio Oriente, per rendere il Paese un vero e proprio hub energetico, con un ruolo centrale nel transito commerciale e nell’approvvigionamento energetico europeo. Una prospettiva che tuttavia non considera le tensioni e alcune questioni irrisolte che potrebbero ostacolare lo sviluppo energetico dell’isola, essenziale per risollevare una economia in forte crisi.

Primo fra tutti, la forte destabilizzazione politica risultante dall’invasione militare turca del 1974 che ha prodotto una divisione de facto dell’isola, tra il nord turco-cipriota e il sud greco-cipriota. La scoperta di risorse energetiche nella parte meridionale di Cipro, nonché l’assenza di risultati delle ricerche effettuate finora nell’offshore del nord, hanno aggiunto un nuovo e rilevante fattore di frizione nelle relazioni tra Nicosia ed Ankara. La peculiare situazione politica dell’isola potrebbe quindi rappresentare un freno allo sviluppo dell’economia del Paese, potendo incidere sulle decisioni di investimento delle compagnie estere, soprattutto per quelle che hanno forti interessi in Turchia. Quest’ultima, infatti, ha minacciato ripercussioni per quelle compagnie che intendono sottoscrivere accordi per lo sfruttamento delle risorse con il governo cipriota. È il caso dell’Eni che si è vista sospendere tutti i progetti avviati con la Turchia, a causa del suo accordo di esplorazione firmato con Nicosia a gennaio. Ankara, infatti, sostiene che tali risorse energetiche si trovano in acque internazionali e che dovrebbero andare a beneficio di tutti gli abitanti dell’isola e non solo dei greco-ciprioti. Emergono, quindi, gli interessi strettamente energetici della Turchia. Inoltre, le relazioni tra Cipro e Israele, in particolare quelle relative ad un eventuale progetto di liquefazione del gas per l’esportazione, alimentano la prospettiva di una partnership energetica che, escludendo Ankara, potrebbe far emergere una rotta alternativa per il trasporto di gas in Europa e in Asia, divenendo un ostacolo alla grande mission turca di diventare un hub energetico regionale. Questa prospettiva, secondo alcuni analisti, è stata una delle ragioni alla base del riavvicinamento tra Turchia e Israele che permetterebbe alla prima di mantenere la sua centralità di Paese di transito e al secondo di disporre di una opzione ottimale per l’esportazione del proprio gas. Se, nel lungo periodo, i vantaggi economici di una cooperazione tra Nicosia, Tel Aviv, Atene e Ankara potrebbero farsi più convincenti, nel breve le pressioni energetiche alimentano di tensioni una zona già “calda” motu proprio.

La ferma posizione turca sulla questione cipriota è probabilmente una delle ragioni alla base della decisione russa di non accettare il piano di salvataggio proposto frettolosamente da Nicosia in cambio di licenze di sfruttamento dei giacimenti di gas. A questo va aggiunto, tra le altre, la posizione europea, nonché la special relationship tra Berlino e Mosca, sugellata dall’accordo sul gasdotto Nord Stream, che avrebbe potuto subire contraccolpi se Putin avesse deciso di approvare un piano di salvataggio per un Paese facente parte dell’UE. La posizione di Mosca, quindi, trova un senso nella molteplicità degli interessi che il Paese condivide con i diversi attori regionali, come Germania, Grecia e Turchia, e che possono essere salvaguardati solo con una strategia di ambigua realpolitik. Sebbene la questione del bail-out cipriota abbia messo sotto pressione i rapporti tra Nicosia e Mosca, è difficile ipotizzare una rottura delle relazioni tra i due Paesi quanto, piuttosto, una ridefinizione in nome degli interessi che ancora li legano. Mosca, infatti, ha legami di lunga data con l’isola di Afrodite che spaziano dal settore bancario e finanziario, a quello immobiliare e strategico-militare. Sono forti i sospetti, ad esempio, del ruolo giocato da Cipro nel traffico di armi che dalla Russia arriva fino a Damasco.

Bruxelles, da parte sua, sembra essere determinata nell’infliggere un pesante cambio di tendenza nel business model cipriota e al suo sistema bancario, inficiando il suo status di paradiso fiscale per gli investimenti offshore dei magnati russi. Le scoperte di gas nel mare cipriota rappresentano per l’Europa una grande opportunità per diversificare le forniture di energia, rispetto al ruolo dominante della Russia. Tuttavia, i problemi economici di Cipro, che hanno causato il prelievo forzoso sui depositi bancari, sono anche forieri di forti malcontenti nazionali; l’UE non dovrebbe esasperare la situazione economica perché, come le tante manifestazioni nell’isola dimostrano, i sentimenti anti-europei sono particolarmente diffusi tra la popolazione e potrebbero diventare fonte di instabilità politica. Questo allontanerebbe una possibile soluzione del conflitto con la Turchia, ostacolo centrale all’accesso di Ankara a Bruxelles.

Il quadro delineato sembra poco ottimista per Cipro dato che, almeno nel breve-medio periodo, il pugno di ferro europeo sui conti bancari, la ritirata del sostegno russo e la pressione turca, stringono l’isola in una morsa che non potrà che aumentare il malessere interno e inasprire la recessione dell’economia nazionale. Situazione che non sembra poter migliorare fino a che lo sfruttamento delle risorse energetiche del giacimento Afrodite non sarà a pieno regime, e per il quale potrebbero essere necessari diversi anni.

Al contrario, in un orizzonte temporale più ampio la necessità di cooperazione tra le parti in gioco non potrà che essere sempre più forte per le pressioni derivanti dalla stabilizzazione dell’economia cipriota e per il graduale sfruttamento dei ricchi giacimenti di gas intra-europei. La Turchia ha già inviato segnali in questo senso: conscia del ruolo di transito verso i mercati internazionali, Ankara ha proposto a Nicosia il suo aiuto nello sviluppo del gas, rimarcando d’altra parte come i benefici di tali scoperte dovrebbero essere condivisi da tutti gli abitanti dell’isola. In conclusione, un aspetto più di altri risulta certo: senza una risoluzione della disputa sulla sovranità dell’isola, questione che si trascina da ormai 40 anni, una eventuale cooperazione regionale sembra difficile da ipotizzare.


Photo Credit: magisstra

Di percezione e realtà: il multipolarismo dopo la Guerra Fredda

Accorpare Paesi diversissimi tra loro in semplicistici acronimi, quali “BRICs”, può talvolta distorcere la realtà: ad esempio, gli interessi di Russia e Brasile, grandi produttori di energia, dalla quale ottengono benefici in virtù degli alti prezzi applicati sulla relativa commercializzazione, non collimano con gli interessi dell’India che, invece, è tra i maggiori consumatori di quelle stesse fonti.




[dropcap]I[/dropcap]n seguito al crollo del muro di Berlino nel 1989, e la conseguente dissoluzione dell’URSS, il momento post-Guerra Fredda diveniva a guida americana, unipolare ed egemonico, e un’intera categoria di Paesi faceva registrare un aumento costante della crescita economica. Tra questi, anche le economie dei Paesi emergenti, che avvaloravano così la teoria dei vantaggi dell’arretratezza delle condizioni di partenza (Gershenkron, 1962), prefigurando una futura convergenza con quelli economicamente più avanzati, anche in termini di influenza e potere politico.

In questa breve trattazione si cercherà di analizzare l’attuale scenario internazionale, verificando l’attendibilità di alcune delle principali previsioni di medio-lungo periodo sulla crescita economica e relative conseguenze. I BRICs, innanzitutto, rappresentano un valido esempio: la Cina è passata da una crescita a doppia cifra registrata nel 2010, ad un “misero” 7.8% del 2012. Il Brasile, nello stesso periodo di tempo, è passato da una crescita maggiore del 7.5% a poco meno del 2%, l’India dal 10.1% al 4.9% e la Russia dall’8% del 2007 al 3.7% del 2012.

Sebbene questi indebolimenti non possano essere assimilabili ad un arresto, risulta evidente come persino una crescita economica apparentemente inarrestabile implichi dei costi di sostenibilità nell’arco di un decennio. Come ha fatto notare l’economista dell’Università di Harvard, Dani Rodrik, il “percapita income gap” tra economie emergenti ed economie sviluppate è addirittura aumentato tra il 1950 e il 2000. Pertanto, nonostante il nuovo millennio sembrasse garantire una diminuzione di questo differenziale, nel 2011 si è ritornati al livello del 1950.

Tra l’altro, accorpare Paesi diversissimi tra loro in semplicistici acronimi, quali “BRICs”, può talvolta distorcere la realtà: ad esempio, gli interessi di Russia e Brasile, grandi produttori di energia, dalla quale ottengono benefici in virtù degli alti prezzi applicati sulla relativa commercializzazione, non collimano con gli interessi dell’India che, invece, è tra i maggiori consumatori di quelle stesse fonti. Come riportato dal World Economic Outlook del Fondo Monetario Internazionale, tutte le previsioni di crescita per il 2013 sono al ribasso quasi ovunque, specialmente in Europa e Cina.

Di conseguenza, si registra uno iato evidente tra quelle che sono, a tutti gli effetti, grandi potenze e tra coloro che aspirano ad essere tali. Infatti, a livello politico le sfide per i nuovi protagonisti della scena multipolare si preannunciano gravi e di difficile superamento.

Il colosso cinese dovrà essere chiamato ad affrontare sfide di natura strutturale. A Pechino il margine di manovra politica è condizionato dall’invecchiamento della popolazione, conseguente agli effetti della one-child policy in voga dal 1979, e da quello che, riprendendo Arthur Lewis, viene definito come il Lewis Turning Point. Secondo tale modello, utile a spiegare lo sviluppo industriale, viene ipotizzata una situazione di partenza simile a quella presente nei Paesi arretrati come la Cina di qualche decennio fa: la prevalenza di manodopera sottoccupata nel settore agricolo. L’economia, pertanto, è suddivisa in due settori: uno stazionario, cioè l’agricoltura, e uno moderno, l’industria. Lo sviluppo inizia con un aumento della domanda di prodotti industriali, che provoca un trasferimento di forza lavoro, in esubero nel settore agricolo, da quest’ultimo al settore industriale. Dato l’eccesso di lavoratori, i salari sono molto bassi e quindi le imprese hanno un notevole profitto, che viene poi reinvestito nelle aziende. Finché c’è un eccesso di manodopera nel settore agricolo, il processo di accumulazione degli investimenti e dei profitti procede nel settore industriale, ma quando si verifica il processo inverso, e l’eccesso di domanda di lavoro proveniente dal settore agricolo è stato già ampiamente riassorbito, una economia di tipo industriale subisce seri rallentamenti e gravi perdite di profitto. A tali problematiche se ne aggiungono due di natura politica: la prima, riguardante la supposta capacità del Politburo di Pechino di coniugare un’esigenza di legittimità domestica con il monopolio del potere da parte del partito, finora necessario per la pace sociale. La seconda di politica estera, tutta rivolta al mantenimento dell’influenza cinese nel Sud-Est asiatico.

Giungendo alle conclusioni, due problemi emergono da quanto finora scritto, l’uno di tipo metodologico e il secondo di tipo economico-politico. In primo luogo sarebbe necessario interrogarsi se il PIL, e le relative previsioni di crescita e decrescita, sia un valido indicatore per etichettare alcuni Paesi come “grandi potenze”, o anche solo per effettuare comparazioni attendibili senza il rischio di distorcere un’analisi seria e puntuale. A questo proposito, sembra più ragionevole paragonare Paesi che godano dello stesso reddito pro-capite. Questo, anche per evitare di cadere in visioni limitate che tendano a interpretare i Paesi emergenti come antropologicamente proni alla disuguaglianza, e i suoi cittadini non esigenti di importanti strutture sociali quali il welfare, la sanità e l’istruzione pubblica a livelli occidentali. Per quanto riguarda il secondo, sebbene il valore di previsioni politiche ed economiche possa risultare analiticamente accettabile, presenterà sempre alcuni rischi. In effetti, l’elemento cruciale risiede nel potere d’influenza che queste previsioni potrebbero avere nel presente, indirizzando o meno alcune politiche economiche nel medio e lungo periodo. La teoria, pertanto, deve rimanere uno strumento utile per capire la realtà e il suo progredire, ma di certo non il solo per comprendere tematiche e questioni politico-sociali.


Photo Credit: MREBRASIL

The Algerian Hostage Dead: NATO Is Responsible

While the West may be reluctant to put more boots on the ground due to the growing frustration from the general public, we are likely to see more military interventions this decade.


mali france


What do Libya, Mali and Algeria have in common? The three nations have played a pivotal role in the political domino effect culminating over the last week. At least 48 hostages are now thought to have died in a four-day siege at an Algerian gas plant. In response to the Algerian hostage situation Mr Cameron said his government will continue to focus on fighting terrorism: “There is no justification for taking innocent life in this way”.

These are typical words attributed to a politician speaking in the generic foreign policy language. However David Cameron has failed to mention that NATO also played its part in the Algerian hostage crisis. Algerian crisis is a direct consequence of the current Mali conflict and the Mali conflict is the direct result of the Libyan conflict in 2011 as those who supported Gaddafi were thrown out from the country for being black and had nowhere else to go except to join the Mali terrorist groups.

And since it was Cameron and his “peace-seeking” NATO states who encouraged the violence in Libya and helped to carry out a regime change operation, it seems NATO are at least partially responsible for the Algerian hostage crisis. Politics works in funny ways.

Let us examine each claim individually starting with Libya.

The mission to oust Gaddafi and kick start a new dawn for Libya has been claimed by the West to be a success. Yet an uncomfortable truth rarely mentioned in the Western media remains- hundreds of African migrant workers in Libya accused of being mercenaries for Col Muammar Gaddafi were imprisoned and tortured by fighters allied to the new interim authorities.

Indeed it is heavily documented how the victorious rebels were hunting after African mercenaries and the latter had no choice but to escape from the destruction-stricken country. These mercenaries found a new home- Mali. Additionally there are irrefutable claims that homes have been looted, and women and girls beaten and raped. Perhaps removing Gaddafi was a success for the Western nations, but the country is currently in turmoil and is still mostly run by heavily armed mercenaries.

It is clear that the West had a lot of interest in removing Gaddafi. While the UN gave the authorisation to protect the Libyan civilians, this objective turned into a regime change operation. It is not surprising that Russia and China continue to veto any resolutions in regards to Syria as they understand that another aim to protect the Syrian civilians would simply mean regime change in Syria.

We can only speculate what interests the West has in the region. A number of theories have been put forward: oil, a step towards eventually attacking Iran, protecting Israel, all of the above. While impossible to know the truth, it is clear that the West has a grand strategy for the Middle East and Africa.

And so we arrive at the second stage of the domino effect. The current conflict in Mali seems in many ways to mirror the conflict that took place in Libya. Rebels are trying to take over the country and overthrow the government. There is however one difference. The current Mali government is a friend of France whilst Gaddafi refused to get on his knees for the Western powers.

A popular argument used by the politicians is the claim that Libya was a dictatorship while Mali is a democracy and therefore the West has a responsibility to protect Mali from radical extremists. However if this claim was true then the West would have already intervened in Bahrain, Jordan, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. However these authoritarian states have good relations with the West and are therefore safe from NATO interventions.

Indeed those who claim that the Mali government are not executing their own civilians like Gaddafi did may be shocked to find that there are growing reports by Amnesty International of extrajudicial killings and other human rights abuses in Mali, as troops battle Islamist militants in the West African country.

Residents of Mopti, in the centre of the country, told the Observer of arrests, interrogations and the torture of innocents by the Malian army. Amnesty International says that it has documented evidence of abuse by the Malian army, including extrajudicial killings. It says that in September, a group of 16 Muslim preachers composed of Malian and Mauritanian nationals were arrested then executed by the Malian military in Diabaly. It seems like the French government is trying to protect those that are carrying out human rights abuses.

Undoubtedly the rebels are not saints either. Nevertheless there has to be some consistency from the West. Claiming to be against Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein as they killed own citizens, while at the same time supporting the regimes in Mali, Bahrain and Jordan, who also treat their citizens with cruelty is simply hypocritical.

Of course this is not the first time a Western power has supported brutality. It is also imperative to mention the case of Syria here. Mr Hollande has claimed that the reason why his country is supporting the Mali government against the rebels is because the rebels are Islamic extremists whilst the rebels in Syria are secular.

Mr Hollande’s remarks are are simply wrong as it is well known that a large section of the Syrian rebels are also radical Islamists. The radical rebels who have connections to Al Qaeda seem to be having more influence on the Syrian population than the Free Syrian Army who claim to be secular.

And so thanks to the continuous hypocritical interventions by the Western nations we have arrived at a situation where a BP gas site has been assaulted by terrorists. Whilst undoubtedly investigations will be carried out, it seems more than likely that the terrorists who have carried out the hostage mission are in some way linked to the rebels in Mali.

It is well known that in life, a particular action always leads to a particular consequence. This is called the butterfly effect. International politics is not immune from this phenomenon, as something that began as a mission by the West to oust Gaddafi in 2011 has ended with Western citizens being taken hostage in Algeria. I say “ended” yet it is probable that this is just the beginning of more violence and conflict which will spread to other parts of Africa.

This is rather useful for the NATO states as America and other Western nations have been itching to find an excuse to send more military to the continent now that the Middle East has been “conquered” and squeezed completely dry. And while the resource-plenty and flourishing Africa will now be the new victim of Western interventions, our media and politicians will continue to tell us that our governments are fighting to make the world a safer place by annihilating the terrorists – the same terrorists that arise through Western interventions in the first place.

Just yesterday David Cameron has announced that the war on terrorists will go on for decades and NATO interventions will switch from Afghanistan to North Africa.

Interventions are a destructive cycle. The West intervenes in other regions as a police state under a pretext of supporting democracy, but end up opening a can of worms. Extremism spreads to nearby regions and the locals are angered by the continuous meddling of the West in their affairs and therefore join the terrorist groups which encourages the West to intervene more.

It becomes a permanent circle, or better known as a perpetual war. Alternative solutions to intervention do exist. Empowering regional bodies and governments through international development programs, foreign aid and cooperation are viable alternatives to militarism. While the West may be reluctant to put more boots on the ground due to the growing frustration from the general public, we are likely to see more military interventions this decade. Due to the development of unmanned drones and other rocket-type weaponry, NATO is likely to continue to intrude in the Middle East and Africa. It seems the West never learns.


Photo credit: US Army Africa

La politica delle sanzioni: l’Iran si piega, ma non si spezza

Le sanzioni applicate nel 2012 hanno intaccato esportazioni e profitti, ma non hanno avuto effetto sui programmi nucleari. Almeno, non per il momento.




[dropcap]S[/dropcap]ono ormai decenni che l’Iran subisce sanzioni economiche, ma quelle applicate nel 2012 sono state particolarmente efficaci. Negli ultimi mesi del 2011, le diplomazie di Stati Uniti e UE dovevano destreggiarsi, da una parte, con Israele – che minacciava di attaccare l’Iran –, e dall’altra con Russia e Cina, contrarie a nuove misure. L’AIEA (Agenzia Internazionale per l’Energia Atomica) confermava la gravità della situazione, pubblicando un report allarmante nel mese di novembre; nel frattempo, l’Iran sviluppava tranquillamente i suoi controversi programmi nucleari. Nonostante la situazione di mercato stretto del petrolio, per colpire il Paese mediorientale, USA e UE si concentrarono sulle esportazioni di greggio, che ammontavano a 2,2 milioni di barili al giorno (b/g). In tal modo, veniva messo a rischio almeno il 50 per cento dei profitti di Teheran.

Il 31 dicembre 2011, il Presidente Obama approvò nuove sanzioni: dopo il 28 giugno, le compagnie che avrebbero continuato a importare petrolio dall’Iran sarebbero stato punite con l’estromissione dal sistema finanziario americano. Questa misura colpiva, oltre alle imprese, anche le banche che le avrebbero finanziate. La possibilità di essere dispensati da tale restrizione dipendeva dalla riduzione semestrale del volume delle importazioni, o dalla decisione diretta della Casa Bianca.

Sin dalla caduta dello Scià, gli Stati Uniti smisero di importare greggio dall’Iran; al contrario, l’Unione Europea ha continuato, raggiungendo nel 2011 la ragguardevole quantità di 450.000 barili al giorno. Nel gennaio 2012, però, l’UE ha annunciato un boicottaggio del petrolio iraniano, con decorrenza dal 1° luglio, che avrebbe destabilizzato circa il 20% delle esportazioni del Paese. Gli Stati membri si sono accordati anche per ritirare l’assicurazione ad ogni veicolo usato per trasportare il greggio iraniano e i relativi prodotti derivati. Tale misura ha interessato circa il 95% della flotta commerciale mondiale, lasciando l’Iran con ristrettissimi margini di manovra.

Nel complesso, le sanzioni entrate in vigore quest’estate hanno paralizzato le esportazioni petrolifere iraniane, che nel mese di luglio sono scese a 930.000 b/g; una cifra che non si registrava dai tempi della guerra contro l’Iraq. Gli importatori hanno poi elaborato nuove strategie commerciali ed assicurative, riportando il volume delle importazioni ad oltre il milione di b/g. In ogni caso, si parla di livelli molto inferiori a quelli dell’anno precedente.

Chiunque criticasse l’applicazione tardiva delle sanzioni minimizzerebbe la portata dei rischi corsi da Stati Uniti e Unione Europea. Colpire l’industria più fiorente dell’Iran, infatti, significa esercitare ingenti pressioni su di un Paese che, prima del 2012, era il secondo produttore di petrolio dell’OPEC; adesso risulta quarto, dopo Arabia Saudita, Iraq e Kuwait.

Fino all’anno scorso, i ministri dell’economia europei si sono rifiutati di boicottare il petrolio iraniano, poiché il mercato risultava già scosso dalle crisi in Medio Oriente e dall’interruzione dei rifornimenti da altre parti del mondo. In Europa, era opinione comune che la politicizzazione dei rapporti con l’Iran avrebbe compromesso il mercato del greggio, facendo impennare i prezzi e annichilendo le economie interessate. Altri, invece, dubitavano dell’efficacia delle sanzioni, che avrebbero avuto il solo effetto di destinare all’Asia il petrolio rifiutato dall’Europa.

In effetti, in pochi si rendevano conto dell’efficacia congiunta delle sanzioni americane ed europee. Inoltre, la riduzione del volume delle esportazioni iraniane è avvenuta in modo graduale, in modo da non destabilizzare i mercati mondiali e provocare l’aumento indiscriminato dei prezzi.  L’effetto del boicottaggio UE si è misurato in mezzo milione di b/g; inoltre, le stringenti misure assicurative hanno colpito anche altri importatori, rendendo loro difficile procurarsi carichi extra. Le uniche assicurazioni disponibili erano offerte da compagnie iraniane di dubbia affidabilità, a cui hanno fatto ricorso Cina e Corea del Sud; o, tramite garanzie sovrane, da importatori nazionali come il Giappone. La paralisi assicurativa, quindi, ha agito congiuntamente alle sanzioni americane, che minacciavano di alienare dagli Stati Uniti gli interlocutori commerciali dell’Iran.

Nel frattempo, per tutto il 2012 l’Europa ha confidato nella capacità produttiva di Libia ed Iraq, ma soprattutto dell’Arabia Saudita, l’unico “swing producer” in grado, da solo, di influenzare il mercato. A sorpresa, dopo un anno di stop dovuto ai moti rivoluzionari, le esportazioni libiche sono riprese al volume di 1,6 milioni di b/g; la produzione irachena è aumentata di circa 650.000 b/g;  per non parlare di quella saudita, arrivata ai 10 milioni di b/g, superando di 1,5 milioni di b/g la media del 2011. Solo l’accennata minaccia di un attacco israeliano ha determinato una breve impennata del prezzo del petrolio.

Tuttavia, risulta ancora complicato valutare le reazioni dell’Iran. Ufficialmente, il Ministero del Petrolio sminuisce l’effetto delle sanzioni, negando – contro ogni evidenza – ricadute nelle esportazioni.  Da altri organi ufficiali arrivano responsi differenti. Il 17 dicembre scorso è stata diffusa una dichiarazione del Ministro dell’Economia, Shamseddin Hosseini, secondo cui le sanzioni avrebbero dimezzato i proventi delle esportazioni petrolifere. Il 19 dicembre, il Presidente Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ha dichiarato alla stampa che il governo stava cercando di ridurre al minimo, sul bilancio statale, il peso delle vendite del petrolio; pertanto, i tecnici in materia hanno suggerito di preventivare un volume di esportazioni pari solamente ad un milione di b/g per il biennio 2013-2014.

Se valutate dal punto di vista della caduta dei profitti (tra i 3 e i 5 miliardi di dollari al mese), le misure sanzionatorie che hanno interessato Teheran sono state sicuramente efficaci. Difatti, nonostante l’assenza del petrolio iraniano, la disponibilità di greggio sul mercato non è stata intaccata, e i prezzi sono rimasti stabili sui 100 dollari al barile per la maggior parte dell’anno. Inoltre, alcuni dei più importanti importatori dell’Iran, come la Cina, che continua a rifiutare l’approvazione delle sanzioni a livello internazionale, hanno continuato a ridurre le importazioni da Teheran nel 2012, ricevendo in cambio un allentamento delle restrizioni finanziare e legislative da parte della Casa Bianca.

Nonostante questo, gli incontri tra l’AIEA e un’apposita commissione (che conta i cinque membri permanenti del Consiglio di Sicurezza dell’ONU, più la Germania) per valutare gli effetti delle sanzioni, si sono conclusi con un nulla di fatto: sul breve termine, tali misure sembrano non aver sortito alcun effetto sulle politiche nucleari. Al limite, ci si potranno aspettare dall’Iran altre ammissioni ufficiali sullo stato dell’economia, che potrebbe addirittura peggiorare nel 2013, dato che i clienti indiani e giapponesi stanno già dichiarando di voler ridurre le importazioni. Inoltre, dal mese di febbraio di quest’anno, gli Stati Uniti sembrano voler imporre misure ancora più restrittive, che esacerberanno il deficit del bilancio commerciale iraniano, costringendo le banche a trattenere le entrate. Si prevede, poi, un aumento di produzione da parte dei Paesi al di fuori dell’OPEC, commisurato alla lenta ripresa dell’economia globale. Il petrolio iraniano diverrà sempre meno essenziale, influenzando negativamente la valuta e gli altri settori dell’economia del Paese.

Nessuno può sapere con certezza se il 2013 sarà l’anno della resa dei conti tra Stati Uniti ed Iran; ma, a meno di una svolta diplomatica, quello appena iniziato si appresta ad essere un altro anno durissimo per l’economia del Paese.


Articolo tradotto da: Antonella Di Marzio

Articolo originale: Iran Sanctions: Effective But Unsuccessful In 2012

Photo credit: David Holt London


Il dominio dell’Artide e le conseguenze per la sicurezza globale

Il controllo dell’Artide è stato per lungo tempo oggetto di un dibattito intenso e di dispute tra Canada, Danimarca, Norvegia, Russia e Stati Uniti. Il risultato della controversia potrebbe avere un impatto significativo sulla sicurezza globale. 



[dropcap]I[/dropcap]l dominio sull’Artide è stato per lungo tempo al centro di un acceso dibattito e di varie dispute tra Canada, Danimarca, Norvegia, Russia e Stati Uniti. Ciascuno di questi Paesi rivendica la sovranità di parte dell’Artide. Secondo la Convenzione delle Nazioni Unite sul diritto del mare (UNCLOS), uno stato interessato dispone di dieci anni di tempo per rivendicare la sovranità su zone della piattaforma continentale. Tale periodo inizia con la ratifica della Convenzione da parte dei soggetti coinvolti. Ad oggi, il suddetto lasso temporale è stato già superato da Norvegia e Russia, mentre Canada e Danimarca si stanno avvicinando alla scadenza (prevista, rispettivamente, nel 2013 e 2014). Dal canto loro, gli Stati Uniti rivendicano la sovranità di alcune parti dell’Artico per via della vicinanza con il territorio dell’Alaska, sebbene non abbiano ancora ratificato la Convenzione.

Ci sono state dispute per la sovranità di alcune zone particolari dell’Artico. Le aree contese comprendono il Passaggio a nord-ovest, il Mare di Beaufort, l’isola Hans e il Polo Nord. Per il Canada il Passaggio a nord-ovest fa parte delle sue acque interne, il che gli conferisce la possibilità di applicarvi le leggi nazionali in materia di pesca e ambiente e imporvi tasse e restrizioni doganali. Al contrario, gli altri Paesi, Stati Uniti in testa, considerano il Passaggio a nord-ovest appartenente alle acque internazionali. Se quest’ultima interpretazione fosse unanimemente condivisa qualsiasi imbarcazione avrebbe la facoltà di esercitare il proprio diritto di passaggio, limitando in tal modo l’autorità canadese sull’area.

Il Mare di Beaufort si estende dalle coste dello Yukon (in Canada) a quelle dell’Alaska (negli Stati Uniti). Il Canada sostiene che la sovranità debba essere riconosciuta in base all’estensione dei confini territoriali, mentre gli Stati Uniti non appoggiano tale tesi. Questi ultimi, infatti, hanno autonomamente stipulato contratti di affitto per alcuni di quei territori sui quali il Canada rivendica la sovranità per le estrazioni petrolifere. La disputa non è ancora stata risolta, ma si presume che si debba attendere il giudizio di un tribunale internazionale non appena gli Stati Uniti ratificheranno la Convenzione UNCLOS.

Attualmente la Danimarca e il Canada hanno intavolato negoziati per la spartizione dell’isola Hans. Benché piccola e disabitata, l’isola ha attratto l’attenzione di entrambi i governi. Se la mappa elaborata nel 1967 per la determinazione della sovranità sull’isola la localizzava all’interno delle acque canadesi, le più recenti immagini satellitari hanno rivelato che, invece, il confine tra i due stati si trova proprio al centro dell’isola stessa. Nel 1984, 1988, 1995 e 2003 il governo danese ha issato la propria bandiera sull’isola di Hans. Per tutta risposta nel 2005, durante un viaggio in territorio artico, il ministro della Difesa canadese attraccò sull’isola, provocando ulteriori attriti tra i due governi.

In realtà, le più acute controversie riguardano il Polo Nord. La sovranità sul Polo Nord è stata rivendicata da diversi Paesi, anche se non è stato ancora stabilito a quale piattaforma appartenga ufficialmente. Infatti, dopo che nel 2007 un sottomarino russo issò la propria bandiera sui fondali del Polo Nord, seguirono numerose critiche internazionali. Il ministro degli Affari Esteri canadese Peter MacKay stigmatizzò tale atto dimostrativo, poiché implicava l’inequivocabile rivendicazione della sovranità di Mosca sulla regione. L’immediata replica del corrispettivo russo, Sergey Lavrov, puntò a minimizzare l’accaduto come mero atto celebrativo, paragonandolo al gesto americano sul satellite lunare. Ciò nonostante, il ministro delle Risorse Naturali, nonché collega di Lavrov, ha di recente sostenuto l’appartenenza del Polo Nord alla piattaforma sub-continentale russa: pertanto, il suo Paese rivendica di fatto il diritto a disporre delle vaste risorse naturali presenti nel territorio polare.

Le conseguenze delle dispute per la sovranità sull’Artico potrebbero avere un impatto significativo sulla sicurezza globale. Stando a quanto sostiene il Gruppo Intergovernativo di Esperti sul Cambiamento Climatico, l’industria marittima potrebbe iniziare a utilizzare l’Artico come rotta marina principale, man mano che la calotta glaciale continuerà a sciogliersi. Questo implicherà un maggiore sforzo per la protezione delle frontiere, oltre alla possibilità di tassare le imbarcazioni. Si crede, inoltre, che l’Artico sia una vasta riserva di gas naturale e petrolio. Considerando le scadenze imminenti della Convenzione ONU e gli alti incentivi economici, l’ipotesi di un conflitto appare sempre più veritiera.


 Articolo tradotto da: Valentina Mecca

Articolo originale: The Security Implications of Arctic Sovereignty

Photo Credit: U.S. Geological Survey

Oil And Gas Pricing- Too Close For Comfort?

Separating gas indexation from oil prices would mean that major gas suppliers in Europe would lose income. Therefore they prefer that gas indexing is coupled with oil, ensuring it’s long-term gas supply contracts and bringing it closer to controlling an EU wide natural gas monopoly.


US California high gas prices sign[dhr]

Gas has been indexed to oil prices ever since the 1960s. It was convenient for gas sellers and gas buyers to have ‘certainty regarding both volume and price as the gas was priced in the contracts at the price of the competing fuels’, this has resulted in a lack of ‘gas-to-gas competition’ and higher than necessary prices for consumers, according to Oil & Gas UK Economic report 2011.

Currently, 90% of the gas consumed in Continental Europe is sold under long-term contracts with oil price indexation that have been extended beyond 2030. One of the main strengths of indexing gas price to oil is to have the security of supply, if gas is to be sold at the continental supply hubs, countries need to know that gas will always be there in order not to risk energy shortage. However the recent US shale gas boom has unleashed a new age of cheap gas, which could trigger changes in gas indexation to oil.

Back in 1989 The Monopolies and Mergers Commission found that there was no competition between gas and oil. The decision to keep gas prices reliant on oil comes from the companies’ interests in keeping high gas prices in the spot market. John Huggins, former director of Gas Transportation, British Gas, said: ‘Changing this situation is likely to be a slow process unless there is a shock to the system from a sudden influx of extra supplies into the spot market.’

Recently Ofgem, the energy regulator, has launched investigations into claims that power firms are manipulating the wholesale price of gas. Because the prices are inflated on the wholesale market, the domestic bills are increasing too. Mr. Clark, Financial Secretary to the Treasury at the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme focused on the need to fine the profiteering power companies: ‘ when it’s as serious as this they should be punished very severely.’ However it is not clear how this would benefit the taxpayer since the fine would simply be passed on to consumers through increased bills and there is no mention of customers receiving compensation payments. This approach of dealing with the symptoms of a malfunctioning trading system rather than the causes is by no means a long-term solution.

At the same time Europe’s commitment to implement the third Energy Liberalisation Package, which says that energy supply, production and transmission activities must be separated in order to promote regional solidarity and security in gas supply is being compromised. The EU law requires ‘all energy companies active in the European market to run their supply, transport and sales businesses separately’.

However eight EU countries including Russia (Gazprom), Germany, France refused to start ‘full ownership unbundling’ in which a parent company sells its transmission networks to a different firm. Gazprom, the Russian state owned natural gas producer, is increasing its’ influence in Europe and reinforcing it’s supply chain. Recently during an asset swap with German BASF, Gazprom took over its’ natural gas trading and storage businesses. Separating gas indexation from oil prices would mean that Gazprom, the leading gas supplier to Europe, would lose income. Therefore it prefers to keep the indexing coupled with oil ensuring it’s long-term gas supply contracts and bringing it closer to controlling an EU wide natural gas monopoly.

One major threat to Gazprom’s near monopoly of the EU gas market and the old-world thinking regarding oil and gas indexing is the recent advent of shale gas. Shale gas deposits are evident in many EU countries and could quickly diversify the supply and lead to a rethinking of the pricing structures. The sudden increase in gas output from shale gas could lead to genuine gas- to-gas competition and lower prices for consumers.


Photo Credit:  youtube_user_willtrade4food

Good Luck President Obama, You Need It!

Most of Obama’s policies are completely unchanged from those of his predecessor. The War on Terror continues, the drone program has expanded, relations with western Europe remain strong whilst those with Russia remain hostile. But what of the second term?


President Obama looking serious


“The best is still to come” was the soundbite which has resonated from Obama’s victory speech last night. Time will tell if this is the case, but the facts are that the US public has overwhelmingly supported the status quo in this time of economic trouble. The President remains in office, the Democrats keep the Senate and the  Republicans keep the House of Representatives. In that respect nothing has changed. But with no future election to worry about, will Obama’s foreign policy change from the Bush spillover which dominated his first term?

In 2001 George W. Bush faced one of the most dramatic changes in international affairs since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Faced with two falling towers and thousands of dead Bush was faced by a US public desperate for answers, for justice and for vengeance. The result of this was the first term of the War on Terror, 2001 in Afghanistan, 2003 in Iraq. Wars that were supposed to be short interventions to create a change in the Middle East became festering pools of suffering for almost a decade. Tens of thousands died across the Middle East, and by his second term Bush was desperately trying to hold together a mission that was going from bad to worse.

Obama inherited that mission. Bush’s surge in Iraq had already stabilised the country ready for a withdrawal Obama only had to keep on target. However, the ongoing mission to attempt to stabilise the Middle East, destroy the leadership of Al-Qaeda and mend relations damaged by the 2003 invasion of Iraq remained the same.

What Obama faced in taking office was a battle between his lofty ideals and promises and reality. His compromise was pragmatic, driving towards aims slowly and cautiously and making no significant and unbalancing changes to the foreign affairs of the second term of Bush.

What did change was so gradual the world’s population at large barely noticed it. There was a shift from the Middle East to the Pacific with troop deployments in Australia and a new agreement with Japan over Guam and further military cooperation. Although this shift has been slowed by the Arab Spring and the continued fighting in Syria, it is symbolic enough to prompt China’s own challenges for the South and East China Sea. There were significant defense cuts which have placed an emphasis on less of everything, but a greater emphasis on technological and training superiority. Obama has orchestrated a gradual lean to a more impartial role in the Middle East than under Bush, one aided by his faux-pas with Nicholas Sarkozy and the intervention in Libya against a secular dictator on the side of Islamists as well as liberals. More generally there has been a shift away from democratic transition by pressure or force and towards a focus on stability. Transition is now pushed towards supporting stable governments and pushing them towards liberal reform. Again, the Arab Spring was an unexpected reversal of this trend. And, of course, Osama Bin laden is dead.

However, most of Obama’s policies are completely unchanged from those of his predecessor. The War on Terror continues, the drone program has expanded exponentially, relations with western Europe remain strong whilst those with Russia remain hostile. But what of the second term? What of 2012-2016?

Well the answer is: Probably much of the same, but don’t expect the US foreign policy world to look the same in 2016 to 2008. The track of Obama’s presidency has been a gently-gently turn from Bush’s policies to Obama’s, and the US should look very much like Obama’s legacy by the end of the next four years. A turn from the Middle East to East Asia, from military intervention to diplomatic and economic pressure, from antagonism of Muslim states to partnerships based on the national interest of influence.These policies have already proved fruitful and will continue to do so. Japanese support for military bases was prevented from collapse just long enough to actually step up cooperation important to limit China’s expanding Pacific potential. Sanctions in Iran have its economy on the verge of collapse and popular support of Ahmadinejad beginning to turn against him. The intervention in Libya and support for the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions has given Obama political capital there not seen for decades. Despite the Benghazi attacks popular support is actually for the US as militant groups were forced out of Eastern towns across the country by anti-extremist protesters.

That said, just like the Arab Spring revolutions, the 9/11 attacks and the fall of the Soviet Union, sudden and unexpected events can throw the best plans into disarray. How Obama deals with potentially disastrous events could change his foreign policy dramatically.

  • Afghanistan: Withdrawal in 2014, if too soon, could devastate the region and NATO’s influence.
  • Syria: The conflict must be restrained to the country to avoid regional collapse.
  • Iran: Although sanctions are working, should Iran turn to desperate measures or should Israel overplay its hand things could turn very dangerous.
  • Yemen: A potential second Afghanistan/Somalia. Though the risk is smaller should the state collapse, the threat of a new front could give extremists a valuable new refuge.
  • South/East China Seas: The competition between the South-Eastern/Eastern Asian powers over the seas is not a battle the US can involve itself in overtly or risk facing backlash. However it is one which needs to be carefully monitored and one where soft power could be at its most important.
  • West Africa: The continued rise of Bokko Haram, Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQM) and other extremist Islamist groups in this region could be a new front in the most need for intervention but with the least popular support for it. So far the US has only been able to give token support for these states, but as things go from bad to worse in Mali this cannot be expected to be the end of the conflicts.

Congratulations Barack Obama, but I don’t envy you in the four years to come. You will face a hostile House of Representatives and a demanding public. You will face the challenge of keeping North Africa on your side and yet still combat Islamic extremism, of limiting China without antagonising it, of realising your potential without ceasing to be pragmatic. Good luck President Obama, you need it.


Photo Credit: US Army

The Security Implications of Arctic Sovereignty

Arctic sovereignty has long been the subject of intense debate and dispute between Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States. The outcome of the battle for it could have a significant impact on global security.


Arctic Sovereignty


Arctic sovereignty has long been the subject of intense debate and dispute between Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States.  Each country claims ownership of part of the Arctic.  In accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) countries have ten years to make claims for sovereignty over extended shelf areas.  The ten year period begins when each country ratifies the UNCLOS.  The deadlines for Norway and Russia have already passed while those of Canada and Denmark are approaching quickly (2013 and 2014 respectively.)  While the United States claims sovereignty over parts of the arctic due to its northern territory of Alaska it has yet to ratify UNCLOS.

There have already been disputes for sovereignty over particular areas of the Arctic.  Disputed areas include the Northwest Passage, the Beaufort Sea, Hans Island and the North Pole.  Canada considers the Northwest Passage to be internal waters which entitles Canada to the right to enact fishing and environmental laws, to enforce taxation and import restrictions.  The United States and others consider the Northwest Passage international waters.  This would entitle ships to a right of passage and limit Canadian authority over the area.

The Beaufort Sea covers the boundary between the Yukon (in Canada) and Alaska (in the United States.)  Canada maintains that sovereignty should be distributed based on extensions of the land border while the United States disagrees.  The United States has leased land under the sea that Canada considers to be its own to search for oil.  The issue has yet to be resolved but would probably be settled by a tribunal if the United States ratifies UNCLOS.

Denmark and Canada are currently negotiating the division of Hans Island.  The island is small and uninhabited but has received significant attention from both governments.  The maps originally used in 1967 to determine ownership of the island showed the island to be in Canadian waters but recent satellite imagery has revealed that the boundary between the countries falls directly in the middle of the island.  In 1984, 1988, 1995 and 2003 the Danish government planted flags on the island.  In 2005 the Canadian defence minister stopped on the island during a trip to the Arctic which resulted in another dispute between the governments.

Perhaps the most intense dispute in the Arctic has been and will be over the North Pole.  The North Pole has been claimed by many countries but it is yet to be determined which shelf it is attached to.  In 2007 a Russian submarine planted a Russian flag at the seabed of the North Pole and sparked a major international controversy.  Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay criticized the Russians for planting the flag as though it entitled them to sovereignty over the North Pole.  Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov responded that it was merely a celebration of national accomplishment akin to putting the American flag on the moon.  Despite this Russia’s Natural Resources Ministry claims that results from samples taken on the expedition indicate that the North Pole is an extension of Russia’s continental shelf and that Russia is entitled to the vast natural resources that it may hold.

The outcome of the battle for Arctic sovereignty could have a significant impact on global security.  According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change the shipping industry could begin to use the Arctic as a major shipping route as the ice cap continues to melt.  This has consequences for border protection and the rights to charge levees on shipments.  Beyond that the Arctic is believed to have vast reserves of natural gas and oil.  With the impending deadlines and high economic incentives to gain sovereignty there is little doubt that conflict will arise.


Photo credit: U.S. Geological Survey

Will The Dragon Swallow The Bear?

If Russia’s future boils down to a choice between the East and the West, maybe it’s just about time for Moscow to start reconsidering its troubled relationship with Europe


The Kremlin, Moscow, Russia


“Russia’s death will come in either of two ways – from the East by the sword of the awakened Chinese, or through the voluntary merger with a pan-European republican federation”. These stunning words were written by Konstantin Leontyev, a Russian philosopher, already in 1891. His judgment might be very close to the truth if one takes a closer look at what has been happening within the last decade in the vast, wild country of Far Eastern Siberia. Spanning over spectacular 6.2mln square kilometers, Far Eastern District is home to a mere 6.2 million people (population of Israel). Those 6 millions are mostly native Russians as well as some semi-nomadic indigenous tribes, who live in the wilderness breeding reindeers and cattle. Yet, since the collapse of Soviet Union, Siberian lands East of Baikal Lake have become home to hundreds of thousands (precise numbers are unknown) of Chinese, whose community has been growing exponentially every year since 1998.  Russia and China share a 2,038 mile-long border – one the longest in Asia. But there is a stark difference between a life in the South and the North – Chinese border provinces house ca. 110 million people, who have harvested the fruits of economic boom and indulged in development and unprecedented wealth for over a decade, whereas their Slavic neighbours were left with a feeling of gloom, frustration and abandonment by Moscow, watching from far away how the Russian cities West of Ural blossomed, showered with oil and gas money.

This is why scarcely populated, undeveloped and relatively impoverished Russia’s Far East has become an increasingly attractive destination for China’s investments. One of the areas of such investment is farming. Infinite amount of uncultivated land makes a perfect opportunity for the production of cheap food for Chinese markets. For example, in the Birobidzhan oblast, Stalin-made Jewish enclave, Chinese companies have already rented out hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland and more is being bought or rented every year for cultivation. These companies do not hire locals, but bring their compatriots to do the seasonal work in the field. In the cities, Chinese businessmen run numerous enterprises, from shopping malls to vodka distilleries, hiring Chinese workers, and flooding Siberia with Chinese products, capital and culture. The invasion from the South makes Russians feel a bit like strangers in their own country but little choice they have, they accept for the most part foreigners’ presence. Without them, their cities and villages would never gain an equally good opportunity to advance economically. Nevertheless, fear of being overwhelmed by a populous and powerful neighbour is also spreading. To demonstrate just how much attention Chinese influx draws among Russian policymakers, one can look at Prime Minister Medvedev warning directed towards China in August this year, in which he stated that it is “important not to allow negative manifestations, including the formation of enclaves made up of foreign citizens”, as well as emphasized Russia’s need to defend itself against “excessive expansion by bordering states”.

On the other hand, Far Eastern District was the only Russian governorate in 2009 to experience a growing, rather than contracting, economy.  This growth was fuelled by Beijing’s growing appetite for Siberian great riches above and underneath the ground – timber, oil, gas and steel. Kimkan mine near Birobidzhan, now owned by a Chinese conglomerate IRC, holds ca. 1bln tonnes of iron ore and that’s just one single mine in this enormous country. Now, Kimkan’s iron has replaced imports from Brazil as a cheaper, more available source. Chinese lumberjacks smuggle thousands of tons of timber from Russia and sell them to wood mills back at home. China is also interested in Siberian water reservoirs as more and more of its cities suffer from water shortages, whereas Baikal lake contains a fifth (!) of world’s sweet water.  Yet, the most important project so far, which skyrocketed the value of Chinese-Russian trade, was the opening of an oil pipeline in January last year. This pipeline carries almost 15mln tones of oil every year directly into China. Another 15mln tons are transported to the Kozmino seaport near Vladivostok, and shipped to farther regions of Southern China. The pipeline project also was politically motivated on Moscow’s side – Putin wanted to send a message to EU that it’s not irreplaceable as a trade partner, and Russia doesn’t appreciate how Brussels constantly patronizes her and preaches how to run its domestic politics. If in Putin’s eyes, China is a better alternative than the EU, should then Russia view Chinese penetration of its Far Eastern territories as a security threat?

A threat from China does not come in a form of unparalleled value of trade between the two countries or from what is, as of now, the best period in Sino-Russian relations in history. The threat comes in size disparities, as Russia will never be able to compete with China, financially, economically nor militarily. Firstly, Russian state control of its Far Eastern territories is weak and Chinese are taking advantage of it very well. Scarce population in the area is mostly to be blamed, but widespread corruption and general social malaise are also at play. Declining native Russian population facilitates Chinese buyout even more. Moreover, Moscow also becomes increasingly dependent on China on its hard currency inflow – China has already taken over Germany as Russia’s biggest partner, whereas Russia is only on the eighth place in China’s trade balance and fifth in energy trading. With Russian physical presence virtually vanishing year by year, Far Eastern District, and in the end all of Siberia might become a Chinese dominion, which will fuel its titanic industrial sector, making China largely resilient to fluctuations in global resource prices. In the worst-case scenario, it will also allow China to become a virtually invincible military power, which will wield huge human resources, enormous industry to produce firearms, as well as its own, reliable source of energy and materials right from across the border. Russia’s traditional military strategy, which worked so well in past wars with Europe and which can be summed up as “human quantity over arms quality” supported by insurmountable resource capacity, will lose any value in the face of a conflict with 1bln-people-strong country. Fears of losing Siberia to China can be far-fetched, but looking at a current dispute between China and Japan over Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, Chinese takeover of Siberia cannot be ruled out and should definitely become a central theme in Russian foreign policy thinking. Russia still aspires to be a peer to other global powers in this increasingly multilateral world, but a powerful neighbour encroaching on its greatest treasures can substantially impede its ability to exercise a successful foreign policy.

So if Russia’s future boils down to what Leontyev prophesied over a hundred years ago, a choice between the East and the West, maybe it’s just about time for Moscow to start reconsidering its troubled relationship with Europe.


Photo Credit yvescosentino

George Osborne’s Welfare Cuts: A Necessary Step

There are plenty of opportunities out there to get some form of qualifications and work your way up towards an average salary which is able to support a small family. Not only is having a job beneficial to the economy, but it also creates a positive atmosphere in a particular community and in the nation as a whole.


the welfare state is proof of god


During his Party Conference speech on the 8th of October George Osborne has proclaimed that the Government will press ahead with plans to cut £10 billion from the welfare budget by 2016-17 on top of the £18 billion cuts already under way. Osborne has secured the agreement of Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, something he said would be necessary in order to avoid additional cuts in other Whitehall departments. The announcement, made in Osborne’s speech to the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham, will set the Tories on collision with their Liberal Democrat coalition partners.

Nick Clegg told his party’s conference last month that he would not allow “wild suggestions” of a £10 billion cut in welfare, while Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander said, “We simply will not allow the books to be balanced in a way that hits the poorest hardest.”

The rhetoric by George Osborne will undoubtedly create new tensions between the political right and left, between the supporters of cuts and the supporters of spending to kick start the economy. It is perhaps too easy to claim that George Osborne is taking a typical Conservative means to end the deficit – cut the funding to the poorest while the rich are left unscathed. I am going to lay down all my cards on the table and truthfully say that I am personally not a fan of the Conservatives. In fact I am a member of the Green Party therefore in theory I should despise any policies put forward by the Tories. However, George Osborne and his team are onto something with their idea on cutting the welfare budget and in this article I will explain why.

When I immigrated to Britain in 2001 from Russia, I was surprised to learn that thousands of people in this country are able to be unemployed yet still live fairly comfortably. In Russia, if a citizen does not have a job, chances are he may end up on the streets. Even as a young child back then I was proud that a country like Britain looks after their citizens who were unlucky enough to be jobless. But as I grew older I realised an uncomfortable truth, that many of these jobless citizens chose to be unemployed and made the jobseekers benefits their life choice. As I studied the whole purpose of the welfare system, I learned that benefits were meant to be a safety net for the society rather than something people jump on in order to escape employment and watch Jeremy Kyle instead. It angered me that some people choose to live their whole life on welfare benefits and I began supporting the Conservative Party for a number of years.

Yet even now, as a centre-left individual, I believe that there should be cuts to the welfare budget. Having watched a programme recently on a council estate in Blackburn and having heard some young people on the programme claim that they are on benefits “because it’s just easier than getting up early every morning” I thought it was time for the government to take some measures.

George Osborne put forward an idea that families who have children for the sake of receiving child benefits will also feel the full wrath of the welfare cuts. Once again, I have to agree that this is a necessary action to take.  In my short lifetime, I have lived in some poor areas and I was saddened to see poor families having children for the sake of having more cash rather than because they genuinely wanted to create a family. Not only am I a believer that it is wrong to bring children into this world if you are not able to financially support them, but I am also a believer that bringing up children without fully understanding the responsibilities it will entail to bring these children up properly will create a nasty vicious circle. This circle goes round as follows: a financially poor mother has a child, the father of the child is long gone, the mother is unable (or does not want to) bring her child up properly, the child grows up with no respect towards society and his country and thus also takes the life of a benefit scrounger and/or a criminal.

Ultimately it is important to change the culture of Britain. Irrespective of my leftward-leaning ideology, I am happy to announce my belief that some citizens of this country must stop relying on Jobseeker’s Allowance and child benefit to get through life. There are plenty of opportunities out there to get some form of qualifications and work your way up towards an average salary which is able to support a small family. Not only is having a job beneficial to the economy, but it also creates a positive atmosphere in a particular community and in the nation as a whole.

Having said all of that, I undoubtedly understand that the current economic situation in Britain is dire and the rate of unemployment is high. Of course citizens who genuinely cannot find a job must receive benefits in order to support themselves while they search for employment. Nevertheless, there are far too many people who see benefits as “free money” rather than a safety net, and against all odds, I am therefore supporting the policies by George Osborne to cut the welfare budget.


Photo credit: Bettysnake

China’s Growing Role In Counter-Piracy Operations

The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has now maintained a counter-piracy presence in the Indian Ocean for four years. This begs the question: why is China becoming increasingly cooperative in counter-piracy operations?


PLA Missile Tracking Ship


[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he rise of China is one of the prominent issues that scholars of International Relations encounter today and will continue to do so in the future. The PLAN deployment is a fascinating component of the wider China debate as it represents the first time that Chinese vessels have conducted a ‘far-seas’ operation to protect Chinese interests since the fifteenth century. Even more remarkable is the fact that the typically isolationist and paranoid Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is now openly cooperating with a variety of traditional foes in the area of counter-piracy; states such as India, Japan and the US are now closely communicating and operating in conjunction with their PLAN counterparts in the Indian Ocean.

This raises a series of intriguing questions. From a Chinese perspective, what are the motivating factors behind this operation? Is it economic, political or geostrategic concerns that have driven the PLAN to cooperate in the Indian Ocean? Is this deployment merely benign in nature or does it imply an element of self-interest? Why is China cooperating over the issue of piracy when it refuses to align itself with international norms, for instance, human rights?

PLAN Deployment

This deployment did not arise out of a policy vacuum; when Jiang Zemin was replaced by Hu Jintao in 2002 he affirmed that the PLAN must develop towards ‘far-seas defence, enhancing the far-seas manoeuvring operations capabilities’. In the years since Hu’s statement, there has been a significant evolution in the PLAN capacity from a ‘near-seas active defence’ strategy (jinhai jiji fangyu) to ‘far-seas operations’ strategy (yuanhai zuozhan). Chinese defence expenditure has enlarged year after year in line with its burgeoning economy; official figures show that, prior to the PLAN counter-piracy operation began, defence expenditure rose to RMB417.876 billion (USD65.71 billion) in 2008, representing an increase of 17.5% upon the previous year. Thus, with an enlarged budget and a new ‘far-seas’ doctrine, the naval modernisation observed in the PLAN has certainly influenced the Chinese decision to join the international response in the Indian Ocean.

Traditionally, the East and South China Seas have been the significant regional chokepoints that had a strategic bearing on Chinese interests; however, as mentioned in the introduction, the Indian Ocean has now become a crucial expanse for China due to piracy, rising energy demand and trade interdependence. Hijackings, such as the Tianyu 8 and Zhenhua 4 incidents, are appropriate examples of how piracy is detrimental for Chinese trade.

Subsequently, the passing of UN Security Council resolutions 1814, 1816 and 1838 provided the PLAN with the supranational authority it required and it joined the international counter-piracy effort on 26 December 2008, becoming fully operational on 6 January 2009. In searching for legitimacy to conduct this operation, it is expected that the presence of the EU, NATO and CTF-151 counter-piracy task forces had a positive influence upon China’s decision.

Chinese caution towards a potential deployment can be explained by the realpolitik that remains embedded in a post-Mao China and an enduring belief in the adages of Deng Xiaoping. A former PRC leader himself, Deng recommended that the Chinese leadership ‘bide time’, maintain a low profile and take advantage of international opportunities to gradually maximise its power and position in the world. China seemingly aspires to take advantage of the unique situation of Somali piracy rather than become an established torch-bearer of international peace and security. By participating in counter-piracy operations, China is afforded the opportunity to deploy into the far-seas without an immediately hostile reaction from the international community.

Counter-Piracy Cooperation

The PLAN signified upon the initiation of the deployment that its undertaking would primarily consist of the independent escort of Chinese and foreign vessels. Despite its underdeveloped operational capabilities in comparison with other naval forces, it is clear that China wishes to be both seen and consulted as an equal within the international counter-piracy effort. China is not comfortable with communicating openly with institutions such as the EU and NATO as they do not represent a single voice but a multitude of perspectives; Beijing much prefers to conduct dialogue on a bilateral basis.

In the wider operational dimension, China has repeatedly declined proposals to integrate with the collective maintenance of the International Recommended Transit Corridor (IRTC). Again, China does not wish to integrate itself within a multinational command structure. Instead, China conducts its escort operations approximately ‘five nautical miles north and south of the IRTC’ rather than within the box system. Whilst the PLAN is still a ‘green-water’ navy and their model of participation is not unusual among the other independent actors, the refusal to participate in the IRTC indicates that China is not prepared to truly contribute to the ‘global good’ in a manner that is harmonious with the Western world, as much as its rhetoric suggests otherwise.

However, there are now signals that China’s actions in the Indian Ocean might begin to match their rhetoric; their counter-piracy strategy is outwardly evolving to incorporate a greater degree of coordination with the broader counter-piracy coalition. The first year of the PLAN was characterised by unilateralism, but the De Xin Hai hijacking on 19 October 2009 served to alter PLAN perceptions on counter-piracy cooperation when maritime cooperation could have prevented such an episode. It is widely agreed that only rigorous cooperation and coordination can help the international community to deal with the problem of piracy in an efficient way at sea.

Accordingly, the PLAN has taken progressive steps to enhance coordination with other navies in the Indian Ocean. Firstly, the key to successful and effective coordination is to communication and consequently, a web-based communication system entitled Mercury has been introduced amongst all naval forces apart from Iran. Secondly, China concluded an agreement in January 2012 with its traditional enemies, Japan and India, to strengthen coordination and adjust each other’s escort schedules to achieve maximum efficiency in the fight against piracy.

Lastly, and most importantly, are the coordination mechanisms of the Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia (CGPCS) and the Shared Awareness and Deconfliction (SHADE) group. China was a founding member of the CGPCS as it is based around ‘voluntary cooperation’ in counter-piracy rather than under the command of another power or institution. SHADE is a scheme that assembles the wider counter-piracy community for regular meetings in Bahrain. China has now participated in the rotating chairmanship of the SHADE meetings and even expressed an interest in a co-chair position, usually held by the EU, CMF or NATO. However, this initial interest never materialised.

Nevertheless, it is patently clear that China is unwilling to enhance collaborative efforts with the wider counter-piracy community. Reasons for collaborative deficiency in Chinese foreign policy vary from a lack of operational experience to a lack of political will; it is true that much mistrust remains over ideological differences and issues such as human rights and Taiwan.

PLAN Motives

This defensive position is reflected in the PLAN’s counter-piracy deployment and their coordination with the international effort in several ways: firstly, the Indian Ocean represents a vital strategic arena in which China’s energy security is increasingly vulnerable. Secondly, China has evidently taken extra care not to arouse the ‘China threat’ theorem in its counter-piracy and wider foreign policies. Secondly, China is clearly endeavouring to protect Chinese national interests through the PLAN deployment and their naval modernisation. Thirdly, Chinese naval diplomacy in the Indian Ocean signifies a defensive policy, not one of aggression. Lastly, China is practicing ‘security through cooperation’ unilaterally with traditional foes.

What is clear is that the Indian Ocean is a vital arena for China; every year some 100,000 cargo ships pass through the Indian Ocean, as well as 66% of the world’s oil shipments. The significance of this expanse becomes apparent upon learning that Chinese total energy consumption from 2005 to 2012 has risen 60% and is predicted to increase a further 72.9% between now and 2035. Accordingly, there is now a growing energy demand within China to sustain its economic growth and, as the majority of China’s oil imports derive from Africa (Angola, Sudan) and the Middle East (Saudi Arabia), it is obvious that the Indian Ocean is the critical route for its external energy requirements.

China has been determined to dispel the ‘China threat’ theory. Before the PLAN deployed in the Indian Ocean, they waited patiently to gauge the international reaction to the counter-piracy mission. They also ensured that the deployment had the authorisation of both the Somali government and the UN. In line with the maxims of Deng Xiaoping, China knows that any sign of aggressive behaviour would be criticised by the international community and potentially harm their development. Thus, China is essentially employing a neo-Bismarckian strategy, manoeuvring peacefully towards Great Power status without provoking the international community into a counter-balancing reaction.

This is embodied within China’s ‘peaceful rise’ policy. Chinese actions and rhetoric attest to this guiding principle in the CCP’s foreign policy; the counter-piracy operation in aid of the global commons allows China to justify their naval modernisation, along with the opportune location of the piracy problem. China speaks of a foreign policy that pursues ‘peace and promotes friendly cooperation with all countries on the basis of the Five Principles of Peaceful Coexistence’, in addition to Hu Jintao’s ‘harmonious world’ vision.

Moreover, Chinese counter-piracy policy is distinctly aimed towards the protection of Chinese national interests. There is an evident gap between China’s defensive interests and its actual capabilities; therefore, it is aiming to close this gap through the advancement of the PLAN’s operational capabilities, increased field experience and the acquisition of modern naval assets. For example, China has now acquired its first ever aircraft carrier, the ex-Soviet Varyag, and it is expected to become operational by the end of 2012.

By coordinating in the counter-piracy effort, China is able to learn how a ‘far-seas’ fleet is operated, offer PLAN personnel invaluable experience for future expeditions, and gain knowledge from other international naval forces. Thus, China has evolved its naval strategy to meet the demands of its expanding interests in the Indian Ocean and it can therefore be deduced that the PLAN deployment is an extension of this defensive strategy.

As a result of the PLAN’s new ‘far-seas’ mantra, the counter-piracy deployment has also increased Beijing’s diplomatic network across the Indian Ocean. After each task force rotation, the PLAN ‘sails along the East coast of Africa and visits Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, South Africa, Madagascar and the Seychelles’ to parade the Chinese flag and to foster goodwill within these countries. Further Chinese engagement with the Indian Ocean littoral states consists of port and refuelling developments at Gwadar in Pakistan, Hambantota in Sri Lanka and Chittagong in Bangladesh with the Seychelles also offering China an invitation to establish a military presence on the islands.

Yet, by cooperating to some extent with traditional regional adversaries, China hopes that it can begin to assuage their doubts about their growth as a power and hopefully continue along the path of development. On cooperation in counter-piracy and the wider Indian Ocean region it is imperative that China ‘go along to get along’ in protecting their national interests.

As Donald Rumsfeld proffered, it is ‘the mission that determines the coalition’ and the issue of piracy has clearly determined China’s participation and cooperation with the international community in the Indian Ocean. From a Chinese perspective, they have participated out of self-interest; on a wider scale, their participation has been facilitated by the ad-hoc regime that has emerged. For China to protect its national interests and continue on its path towards a ‘peaceful rise’ it now appreciates that ‘problems will be global – and solutions will be, too’; this is what truly accounts for Chinese cooperation in counter-piracy operations in the Indian Ocean.


Photo Credit: Michael R Perry