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▲ Members of the Blue Helmets in their deployment in Mali [MINUSMA].
ESSAY / Ignacio Yárnoz
It has been 72 years since the first United Nations peacekeeping operation was deployed in Israel/Palestine to supervise the ceasefire agreement between Israel and his Arab neighbours. Since then, more than 70 peacekeeping operations have been deployed by the UN all over the world, though with special attention to the Middle East and Africa. Over these more than 70 years, hundreds of thousands of military personnel from more than 120 countries have participated in UN peacekeeping operations. Nowadays, there are 13 UN peacekeeping operations deployed in the world, seven of which are located in African countries supported by a total of 83,436 thousand troops (around 80 percent of all UN peacekeepers deployed around the world) and thousands of civilians. The largest missions in terms of number of troops and ambitious objectives are those in the Democratic Republic of Congo (20,039 troops), South Sudan (19,360 troops), and Mali (15,162 troops).
Peacekeepers in Africa, as in other regions, are given broad and ambitious mandates by the Security Council which include civilian protection, counterterrorism, and counterinsurgency operations or protection of humanitarian relief aid. However, these objectives must go hand by hand with the core UN peacekeepers principles, which are consent by the belligerent parties, impartiality (not neutrality) and the only use of force in case of self-defence.
Although peace operations can be important for maintaining stability and safeguarding democratic transitions, multilateral institutions such as UN face challenges related to country contributions, training, a very hostile environment and relations with host governments. It is often stated that these missions have failed largely because they were deployed in a context of ongoing wars where the belligerents themselves did not want to stop fighting or preying on civilians and yet have to manage to protect many civilians and reduce some of the worst consequences of civil war.
In addition, UN peacekeepers are believed to be deployed in the most recent missions to war zones where not all the main parties have consented. There is also mounting international pressure for peacekeepers to play a more robust role in protecting civilians. Despite the principle of impartiality, UN peacekeepers have been tasked with offensive operations against designated enemy combatants. Contemporary mandates have often blurred the lines separating peacekeeping, stabilization, counterinsurgency, counterterrorism, atrocity prevention, and state-building.
Such features have often been referred to the case of the peacekeeping operation in Mali (MINUSMA) as I will try to sum up in this essay. This mission, ongoing since 2013 is on its seventh year and tensions between the parties have still not ceased due to several reasons I will further explain in this essay. Through a summarized history of the ongoing conflict, an explanation of the current military/police deployment, the engagement of third parties and an assessment on the risks and opportunities of this mission as well as an analysis of its successes and failures I will try to give a complete analysis on what MINUSMA is and its challenges.
Brief history of the conflict in Mali
During the last 8 years, Mali has been immersed in a profound crisis of Governance, partner-economic instability, terrorism and human rights violations. The crisis mentioned stems from several factors I will try to develop in this first part of the analysis. The crisis derives from long-standing structural conditions that Mali has experienced, such as ineffective Governments due to weak State institutions; fragile social cohesion between the different ethnic and religious groups; deep-rooted independent feelings among communities in the north due to marginalization by the central Government and a weak civil society among others. These conditions were far exacerbated by more recent instability, a spread corruption, nepotism and abuse of power by the Government, instability from neighbouring countries and a decreased effective capacity of the national army.
It all began in mid-January 2012 when a Tuareg movement called Mouvement National pour la Libération de l'Azawad (MNLA) and some Islamic armed groups such as Ansar Dine, Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Mouvement pour l'Unicité et le Jihad en Afrique de l'Ouest (MUJAO) initiated a series of attacks against Government forces in the north of the country. Their primary goals for these rebel groups though different could be summarized into declaring the Northern regions of Timbuktu, Kidal and Gao (the three together called Azawad) independent from the Central Government of Mali in Bamako and re-establishing the Islamic Law in these regions. The Tuareg led rebellion was reinforced by the presence of well-equipped and experienced combatants returning from Libya's revolution of 2011 in the wake of the fall of Gadhafi's regime.
By March 2012, the Malian Institutions had been overwhelmingly defeated by the rebel groups and the MNLA seemed to almost have de facto taken control of the North of Mali. As a consequence of the ineffectiveness to handle the crisis, on 22 March a series of disaffected soldiers from the units defeated by the armed groups in the north resulted in a military coup d'état led by mid-rank Capt Aamadou Sanogo. Having overthrown President Amadou Toumane Toure, the military board took power, suspended the Constitution and dissolved the Government institutions. The coup accelerated the collapse of the State in the north, allowing MNLA to easily overrun Government forces in the regions of Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu and proclaim an independent State of Azawad on 6 April. The Military board promised that the Malian army would defeat the rebels, but the ill-equipped and divided army was no match for the firepower of the rebels.
Immediately after the coup, the International Community condemned this act and lifted sanctions against Mali if the situation wasn't restored. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) appointed the President of Burkina Faso, Blaise Compaoré, as the mediator on the crisis and compromised the ECOWAS would help Malian Government to restore order in the Northern region if democracy was brought back. On 6 April, the military board and ECOWAS signed a framework agreement that led to the resignation of Capt Aamadou Sanogo and the appointment of the Speaker of the National Assembly, Dioncounda Traoré, as interim President of Mali on 12 April. On 17 April, Cheick Modibo Diarra was appointed interim Prime Minister and three days later, he announced the formation of a Government of national unity.
However, something happened during the rest of the year 2012 after the Malian government forces had been defeated. Those who were allies one day, became enemies of each other and former co-belligerents Ansar Dine, MOJWA, and the MNLA soon found themselves in a conflict.
Clashes began to escalate especially between the MNLA and the Islamists after a failure to reach a power-sharing treaty between the parties. As a consequence, the MNLA forces soon started to be driven out from the cities of Kidal, Timbuktu and Gao. The MNLA forces lacked as many resources as the Islamist militias and had experienced a loss of recruits who preferred the join the better paid Islamist militias. However, the MNLA stated that it continued to maintain forces and control some rural areas in the region. As of October 2012, the MNLA retained control of the city of Ménaka, with hundreds of people taking refuge in the city from the rule of the Islamists, and the city of Tinzawatene near the Algerian border. Whereas the MLNA only sought the Independence of Azawad, the Islamist militias goal was to impose the sharia law in their controlled cities, which drove opposition from the population.
Following the events of 2012, the Malian interim authorities requested United Nations assistance to build the capacities of the Malian transitional authorities regarding several key areas to the stabilization of Mali. Those areas were the reestablishment of democratic elections, political negotiations with the opposing northern militias, a security sector reform, increased governance on the entire country and humanitarian assistance.
The call for assistance came in the form of a UN deployment in mid-January 2013 authorised by Security Council resolution 2085 of 20 December 2012. This resolution gave the UN a mandate with two clear objectives: provide support to (i) the on-going political process and (ii) the security process, including support to the planning, deployment and operations of the African-led International Support Mission in Mali (AFISMA).
The newly designated mission was planned to be an African led mission (Africa Union and ECOWAS) and funded through the UN trust fund and the European Union Africa Peace Facility. The mission was mandated several objectives: (i) contribute to the rebuilding of the capacity of the Malian Defence and Security Forces; (ii) support the Malian authorities in recovering the areas in the north; (iii) support the Malian authorities in maintaining security and consolidate State authority; (iv) provide protection to civilians and (iv) support the Malian authorities to create a secure environment for the civilian-led delivery of humanitarian assistance and the voluntary return of internally displaced persons and refugees.
However, the security situation in Mali further deteriorated in early January 2013, when the three main Islamist militias Ansar Dine, the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa and Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, advanced southwards. After clashing with the Government forces north of the town of Konna, some 680 kilometres from Bamako, the Malian Army was forced to withdraw. This advance by the Islamist militias raised the alarms in the International arena as they were successfully taking control of key areas and strategic spots in the country and could soon advance to the capital if nothing was done.
The capture of Konna by extremist groups made the Malian transitional authorities to consider requesting once again the assistance of foreign countries, in especial to its ancient colonizer France, who accepted launching a military operation to support the Malian Army. It is also true that France was already keen on intervening as soon as possible due the importance of Sévaré military airport, located 60 km south of Konna, for further operations in the Sahel area.
Operation Serval, as coined by France, was initiated on 11 January with a deployment of a total of 3,000 troops and air support from Mirage 2000 and Rafale squadrons. In addition, the deployment of AFISMA to support the French deployment was fostered. As a result, the French and African military operations alongside the Malian army successfully improved the security situation in northern areas of Mali. By the end of January, State control had been restored in most major northern towns, such as Diabaly, Douentza, Gao, Konna and Timbuktu. Most terrorist and associated forces withdrew northwards into the Adrar des Ifoghas mountains and many of their leaders such as Abdelhamid Abou Zeid were reported eliminated.
Despite taking control back to the government authorities and restoring the territorial integrity of the country, serious security challenges remained. Although the main cities had been taken back, terrorist attacks remained frequent, weapons proliferated in the rural and urban areas, drug smuggling was increasing and other criminal activities were also maintained active, which undermine governance and development in Mali. Therefore, the fight just transitioned from a territorial and conventional war to a guerrilla style warfare much more difficult to neutralise.
United Nations deployment
Following the gradual withdrawal of the French troops from Mali (Operation Serval evolved to Operation Barkhane in the Sahel region), AFISMA took responsibility to secure the stabilization and the implementation of a transitional roadmap which demanded more resources and engagement from more countries. As a consequence, AFISMA mission officially transitioned to be MINUSMA (United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali) by Security Council Resolution 2100 of April 25, 2013.
Seven years after, MINUSMA mission accounts with a deployment of 11,953 military personnel, 1,741 police personnel and 1,180 civilians (661 national - 585 international, including 155 United Nations Volunteers) deployed in 4 different sectors: Sector North (Kidal, Tessalit, Aguelhoc) Sector South (Bamako) Sector East (Gao, Menaka, Ansongo) Sector West (Tombouctou, Ber, Diabaly, Douentza, Goundam, Mopti-Sevare). The $1 Billion budget mission (financed by UN regular budget on Peacekeeping operations) accounts with personnel from more than 50 different countries being Chad, Bangladesh or Burkina Faso the biggest contributors in terms of number of troops (Figure 1).
The command and control of the ground forces is headed by both commanders Lieutenant General Dennis Gyllensporre (military deployment) and MINUSMA Police Commissioner Issoufou Yacouba (police deployment). Regarding the political leadership of the mission, the Special Representative of the Secretary-general (SRSG) and Head of MINUSMA is Mr. Mahamat Saleh Annadif, an experienced diplomat on peace processes in Africa and former minister of Foreign Affairs of Chad.
Other international actors engaged
MINUSMA however is not the only international actor engaged in the security and political process of Mali. Institutions as the European Union are also on the ground helping specifically on the training of the Malian Army and helping develop their military capabilities.
The European Union Training Mission in Mali (EUTM Mali) is composed of almost 600 soldiers from 25 European countries including 21 EU members and 4 non-member states (Albania, Georgia, Montenegro and Serbia). Since the beginning of the mission initially designed to end 15 months after the start in 2013 (First Mandate), there have been several extensions of the periods to end the mission by Council Decision (Second Mandate 2014-2016, Third Mandate 2016-2018) until today where we are on the Fourth Mandate (Extended until 2020 by Council Decision 2018/716/CFSP in May 2018). The strategic objectives of the 4th Mandate are:
1st to contribute to the improvement of the capabilities of the Malian Armed Forces under the control of the political authorities.
2nd to support G5 Sahel Joint Force, through the consolidation and improvement of the operational capabilities of its Joint Force, strengthening regional cooperation to address common security threats, especially terrorism and illegal trafficking, especially of human beings.
Regarding this last actor mentioned, the G5 Sahel Joint force (Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad) is an intergovernmental cooperation framework created on 16 February 2014 and seeks to fight insecurity and support development in the Sahel Region with the train and support of the European Union and external donors.
Its first operation, launched on July 2017, consisted in a Cross-Border Joint Force settled in Bamako to fight terrorism, cross-border organised crime and human trafficking in the G5 Sahel zone in the Sahel region. The United Nations Security Council welcomed the creation of this Joint Force in Resolution 2359 of 21 June 2017, which was sponsored by France. At full operational capability, the Joint Force will have 5,000 soldiers (seven battalions spread across three zones: West, Centre and East). It is active in a 50 km strip on either side of the countries' shared borders. Later on, a counter-terrorism brigade is to be deployed to northern Mali.
Finally, as I explained before, France gradually withdrew from Mali and transformed Operation Serval to Operation Barkhane, a force, with approximately 4,500 soldiers, spread out between Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Chad to counter the terrorist threat on these territories. With a budget of nearly €600m per year, it is France's largest overseas operation and engages activities such as combat patrols, intelligence gathering and filling the Governance gap of the absent Government institutions.
Troop and Police contributors to MINUSMA [Source: UN].
Retrieved from MINUSMA Fact Sheet
Assessment on the situation of MINUSMA
Since its establishment, MINUSMA has achieved some of its objectives in its early stages. From 2013 to 2016, the situation in Northern Mali improved, the numbers of civilians killed in the conflict decreased and large numbers of displaced persons could return home. In addition, MINUSMA supported the celebration of new elections in 2013 and assisted the peace process mainly between the Tuareg rebels and the Government. The peace process culminated in the 15 May 2015 with the Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation in Mali, commonly referred to as the Algiers Agreement.
The Algiers Agreement was an accord concluded between the Malian Government and two coalitions of armed groups that were fighting the government and against each other, being (i) the Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA) and (ii) the Platform of armed groups (the Platform). Although imperfect, the peace agreement gave the basis to a continued dialogue and steps were made by the Government regarding the devolution of competences to regional institutions, laws of reconciliation and reintegration of combatants and resources devoted to infrastructure projects in the northern regions.
However, since 2016 the situation has deteriorated in several aspects. Violence has increased as jihadist groups have been attacking MINUSMA forces, the Forces Armées Maliennes (FAMA), and the Algiers Agreement signatories (CMA and the platform). As a consequence, MINUSMA has sustained an extraordinary number of fatalities compared to other recent UN peace operations.
Since the beginning of the Mission in 2013, 206 MINUSMA peacekeepers have died during service in Mali. In the last report of Secretary General, it is noted that during the months of October, November and December 2019, there have been 68 attacks against MINUSMA troops in the regions of Mopti (46), Kidal (9), Ménaka (5), Timbuktu (4) and Gao (4) resulting in the deaths of two peacekeepers and eight contractors and in injury to five peacekeepers, one civilian and two contractors.
During this same period, the Malian Armed Forces have also experienced a loss of 193 soldiers and 126 injured. The deadliest attacks occurred in Boulikessi and Mondoro (Mopti Region) on 30 September; in Indelimane (Ménaka Region) on 1 November; and in Tabankort (Ménaka Region) on 18 November. MINUSMA provided support for medical evacuations for the national defence and security forces, as well as fuel and equipment to reinforce some camps.
In addition, during this last 3 months, there have been 269 incidents, in which 200 civilians were killed, 96 civilians were injured and 90 civilians were abducted. More than 85 per cent of deadly attacks against civilians took place in Mopti Region. Between 14 and 16 November, a series of attacks against Fulani villages in Ouankoro commune resulted in the killing of at least 37 persons.
As we can see from the data, Mopti region has further deteriorated regarding civilian protection and increased terrorist activity. What is more surprising is that this region in not located in the north but rather in the centre of the country. Mopti and Ségou regions in central Mali are where violence is increasingly spreading. Two closely intertwined drivers of violence can be distinguished: interethnic violence and jihadist violence against the state and its supporters.
The attacks directed primarily towards the Malian security forces and MINUSMA by jihadists have been committed by the jihadist group Katiba Macina, which is part of the GSIM (Le Groupe de Soutien à l'Islam et aux Musulmans), a merger organisation resulting from the fusion of Ansar Dine, forces from Al-Qaïda au Maghreb Islamique (AQMI), Katiba Macina and Katiba Al-Mourabitoune. This organisation formed in 2017 has triggered the retreat of an already relatively absent state in the central areas. The Katiba exerts violence against representatives of the state (administrators, teachers, village chiefs, etc.) in the Mopti region, provoking that only 30 to 40 per cent of the territorial administration personnel remains present. Additionally, only 1,300 security forces are stationed across the vast region (spanning 79,000 km²).
Between the Jihadist activities and the retaliation activities by government forces, there has been a collateral consequence as self-defence militias have proliferated. However, these militias have not only exerted self-defence but also criminal activities and competition over scarce local resources. To this problem we have to add the ethnic component where violence exerted by militias is associated with ethnic differences (mainly the Dogon and Fulani). Jihadists have instrumentalised this rivalry to gain sympathizers and recruits and turned the radicalisation problem and the interethnic rivalry into a vicious trap. The ethnicisation of the conflict reinforces the stigmatisation of the Fulani as "terrorists". Meanwhile, the state has tolerated and even cooperated with the Dogon militia to cope with the terrorist threat. However, these groups are supposedly responsible for human rights violations, which again fosters radicalisation among the Fulani population feeling they are left alone in this conflict. As a matter of fact, the Dogon Militia is alleged to be responsible of the 23 March assassination of 160 Fulani in the village of Ogossagou (Mopti Region).
Northern Mali has not remained calm meanwhile, the Ménaka region has also experienced a violence raise. Recent counterterrorism efforts led by ethnically based militias resulted in a counterproductive effects leading to human rights violations and atrocities between Tuareg Daoussahaq and Fulani communities. Due to again the absence Malian security forces or MINUSMA blue helmets, civilians have had no choice but to rely on their own self-protection or on armed groups present in the area, escalating the vicious problem of violence as in the Mopti region.
Strategic dilemmas of MINUSMA
Given this situation, several dilemmas arise in the current situation in which the mission is. The original Mandate of MINUSMA for 5 years has already expired and now the mission is in a phase of renewal year by year, which makes it a suitable time to rethink the overall path where this mission should continue.
The fist dilemma arises given the split of the violent spots between the north and the centre of the country. MINUSMA was originally set up to stabilize the conflict in the north, but MINUSMA's 2019 Resolution 2480 has derived some attention and resources to the central regions and particularly on Protection of Civilians while maintaining its presence in the north too. However, the only problem is that this division on two has not come hand in hand with an increase in resources devoted to the mission, which means that attention paid to the central regions may be in spite of gains made in the north, making the MINUSMA mandate even more unrealistic.
This dilemma raises the problem of financing of the mission. As the years passes, financers of the mission (those that contribute to the General Budget on Peace Keeping Operations of UN) such as the US are getting impatient of not seeing results to a mission where $1 Billion is devoted out of the around $8 Billion of the General Budget. The problem is that for MINUSMA to accomplish its mission in Northern Mali, it has to make an enormous military and logistical effort. The ongoing violent situation calls for security precautions that tie up scarce resources which are no longer available for carrying out the mandate. To illustrate the problem, we can look at the expenditures of the mission and discover that around 80 per cent of its military resources are devoted to securing its own infrastructure and the convoys on which the mission depends to supply its instructions.
A final dilemma is related to the development of the terrorist threat. As we have analysed in this article, today's conflict in Mali is about terrorism and therefore requires counterterrorist strategies. However, there are people that state that MINUSMA should focus on the politics part of the conflict stressing its efforts on the peace agreement. Current counterterrorism efforts conducted by the Malian Army are highly problematic as they have fuelled local opposition due to its poor human rights commitment. It has been reported the use of ethnic proxy militias (Such as the Dogon militias in Mopti region) who are responsible for committing atrocities against the civilian population. This makes the Central Government to be an awkward and not very trustworthy partner for MINUSMA. At the same time, returning to political tasks alone may further destabilize the country and possibly the whole Sahel-West African region.
There is no doubt MINUSMA operates hostile environment where around half of all blue helmets killed worldwide through malign acts since 2013 have lost their lives. However, MINUSMA has been heavily criticised by public opinion in Mali and accused of passivity regarding protection of civilians whereas critics say, blue helmets have placed their own security above the rest. The has contributed to this public perception by using the mission's problems as a scapegoat for its own failures. However, the mission (with its successes and failures) brings more advantages than inconveniences to the overall process of stabilization of Mali.
As many diplomats in Bamako and other public officials stress, the mission and its chief, Mahamat Saleh Annadif, play an important role as mediators both in Bamako politics and with respect to the peace agreement. We cannot discredit the mission of its contribution to Mali's stabilisation. As a matter of fact, it is legitimate to claim that the situation would be much worse without MINUSMA. Yet, the mission has not stopped the spread of violence but rather slowed down the deterioration process of the situation.
While much presence is still needed in northern Mali, we should not forget that the core of the problem to Mali's instability is partly on the political arena and therefore needs mediation. Therefore, importance of continuing political and military support to the peace process should not be underestimated.
At the same time, we have seen the situation over protection of civilians has worsened in the central regions, which requires additional resources. Enhancing MINUSMA's outreach and representation might prevent the central regions from collapsing, though solutions need to be found to ensure stability in the long term through mediation as well. Further expanding the mission in the central regions without affecting the deployment in the north and, therefore, not risking the stability of those regions, would require that MINUSMA have additional resources. This would clearly be the best option for Mali.
Resources could for instance be devoted to improve the lack of mobility in the form of helicopters and armoured carriers to make it possible for the mission to expand its scope beyond the vicinity of its instructions. Staying in the instructions makes MINUSMA more of a target than a security provider and only provides security to its nearby zones where the base is physically present. In addition, the most dangerous missions are carried out by African peacekeepers despite lacking adequate means whereas European countries' peacekeepers are mostly based in MINUSMA's headquarters in Bamako, Gao, or Timbuktu. While European peacekeepers possess more sophisticated equipment such as surveillance drones and air support, African troops do not benefit from those and have to face the most challenging geographical and security environments escorting logistical convoys.
Additionally, by accelerating the re-integration of former rebels to the Malian security forces, encouraging Malian police training, and demonstrating increased presence through joint patrols in most instable areas to protect civilians are key to minimise the threat of further violence. Increased state visibility as we have analysed in this essay has driven to insecurity situations. Consequently, if it can be as much of the problem, it can also be the solution to re-establish some of its legitimacy alongside with the signatories of the Peace Accord to show good faith and engagement in the peace process.
In the end, any contribution MINUSMA can make will depend on the willingness of Malians to strive for an effective and inclusive government on the one hand and the commitment of the International community on the other. Supporting such a long-term process cannot be done on the cheap. Therefore, countries cannot continue to request to do more with the same or even less resources.
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[Scott Martelle, William Walker's Wars. How One Man's Private Army Tried to Conquer Mexico, Nicaragua, and Honduras. Chicago Review Press. Chicago, 2019. 312 p.]
review / Emili J. Blasco
The history of US interference in Latin America is long. In plenary session of the Executive Council Manifest Destiny of westward expansion in the mid-19th century, to extend the country from coast to coast, there were also attempts to extend sovereignty to the South. Those who occupied the White House were satisfied with half of Mexico, which completed a comfortable access to the Pacific, but there were personal initiatives to attempt to purchase and even conquer Central American territories.
One such initiative was led by William Walker, who, at the head of several hundred filibusters - the American Phalanx - seized the presidency of Nicaragua and dreamed of a slave empire that would attract investment from American Southerners if slavery was abolished in the United States. Walker, from Tennessee, first tried to create a republic in Sonora, to integrate that Mexican territory into the US, and then focused his interest on Nicaragua, then an attractive passage for Americans who wanted to cross the Central American isthmus to the gold mines of California, where he himself had sought his fortune. Disallowed and detained several times by the US authorities, due to the problems he caused them with neighbouring governments, he was finally expelled from Nicaragua by force of arms and shot dead while trying to return by setting foot in Honduras.
Scott Martelle's book is both a portrait of the character - someone with no special leadership skills and a rather delicate appearance unbefitting a mercenary chief, who nevertheless managed to generate lucrative expectations among those who followed him (2,518 Americans enlisted) - and a chronicle of his military campaigns in the South of the United States. It also describes well the mid-19th century atmosphere in cities such as San Francisco and New Orleans, filled with migrants from other parts of the country and in transit to wherever fortune would take them.
It also provides a detailed account of the business developed by the tycoon Vanderbilt to establish a route, inaugurated in 1851, which used the San Juan River to reach Lake Nicaragua and from there to the Pacific, with the aim of establishing a railway connection and the subsequent purpose to build a canal in a few years. Although the overland route was longer than the one that at that time was also being made under similar conditions on the Isthmus of Panama, the journey by boat from the USA to Nicaragua was shorter than the one that required going all the way to Panama. The latter explains why, during the second half of the 19th century, the project Nicaragua Canal had more supporters in Washington than the Panama Canal.
While Panama is one of the symbols of US interference in its "backyard", the success of the transoceanic canal project and its return to the Panamanians largely defuses a "black legend" that still exists in the Nicaraguan case. Nicaragua is probably the Central American country that has experienced the most US "imperialism". The Walker episode (1855-1857) marks a beginning, followed by the US government's own military interventions (1912-1933), Washington's close support for the Somoza dictatorship (1937-1979) and direct involvement in the fight against the Sandinista Revolution (1981-1990).
Walker arrived in Nicaragua, attracted by US interest in the inter-oceanic passage and with the excuse of helping one of the sides in one of the many civil wars between conservatives and liberals in the former Spanish colonies. Elevated to head of the army, in 1856 he was elected president of a country in which he could barely control the area whose centre was the city of Granada, on the northern shore of Lake Nicaragua.
As he established his power he moved away from any initial idea of integrating Nicaragua into the US and dreamed of forging a Central American empire that would even include Mexico and Cuba. Slavery, which had been abolished in Nicaragua in 1838 and reinstated by him in 1856, entered into his strategy. He envisioned it as a means of preventing Washington from giving up extending its sovereignty to those territories, given the internal balances in the US between slave and non-slave states, and as an attraction of capital from southern slaveholders. He was finally expelled from the country in 1857 thanks to the push of an army assembled by neighbouring countries. In 1860 he attempted a return, but was captured and shot in Trujillo (Honduras). His adventure was fuelled by a belief in the superiority of the white, Anglo-Saxon man, which led him to despise the aspirations of the Hispanic peoples and to overestimate the military capacity of their mercenaries.
Martelle's book responds more to a historicist than a popularising purpose , so it is not so much for the general public as for those specifically interested in William Walker's Fulibusterism: an episode, in any case, of convenient knowledge on the Central American past and the relationship of the United States with the rest of the Western Hemisphere.
staff UNHCR building a tent for Venezuelan refugees in the Colombian city of Cúcuta [UNHCR].
COMMENTARY / Paula Ulibarrena
Restrictive measures imposed by states to try to contain the coronavirus epidemic mean that millions of people are no longer able to go to work or work from home. But not everyone can stop working or switch to teleworking. There are self-employed people, small businesses, neighbourhood shops, street traders or street vendors, and freelance artists who live practically from day to day. For them, and for many others who have no or reduced income, expenses will continue to mount: utility bills, rents, mortgages, school fees and, of course, food and medicine.
All these social impacts of the coronavirus crisis are already beginning to be questioned by those living in the "red zone" of the epidemic. In Italy, for example, some political groups have demanded that aid should not go to large companies, but to this group of precarious workers or needy families, and are demanding a "basic quarantine income".
Similar approaches are emerging in other parts of the world and have even led some leaders to anticipate the demands of the population. In France, Emmanuel Macron announced that the government will take over the loans, and suspended the payment of rents, taxes and electricity, gas and water bills. In the United States, Donald Trump's government announced that cheques will be sent to each family to cover the costs or risks involved in the pandemic.
In other major crises the state has come to the rescue of large companies and banks. Now there are calls for public resources to be devoted to rescuing those most in need.
In any crisis, it is the most disadvantaged who suffer the most. Today, there are more than 126 million people in the world in need of humanitarian assistance, including 70 million forcibly displaced people. attendance . Within these groups, we are beginning to see the first cases of infection (Ninive-Iraq IDP camp, Somalia, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Sudan, Venezuela report ), the cases in Burkina Faso are particularly illustrative of the challenge of responding in a context where medical care is limited. Malian refugees who were once displaced to Burkina Faso are being forced to return to Mali, and ongoing violence inhibits humanitarian and medical access to affected populations.
Many refugee camps suffer from inadequate hygiene and sanitation facilities, creating conditions conducive to the spread of disease. Official response plans in the US, South Korea, China and Europe require social distancing, which is physically impossible in many IDP camps and in the crowded urban contexts in which many forcibly displaced people live. Jan Egeland, director general of the Norwegian Refugee Agency committee , warned that COVID-19 could "decimate refugee communities".
Jacob Kurtzer of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington warns that national policies of isolation in reaction to the spread of COVID-19 also have negative consequences for people facing humanitarian emergencies. Thus the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration have announced the end of refugee resettlement programmes, as some host governments have halted refugee entrance and imposed travel restrictions as part of their official response.
Compounding these challenges is the reality that humanitarian funding, which can barely meet global demand, may be affected as donor states feel they must focus such funds on the Covid-19 response at this time.
On the other side of the coin, the coronavirus could provide an opportunity to de-escalate some armed conflicts. For example, the EU has order ceased hostilities and stopped military transfers in Libya to allow authorities to focus on responding to the health emergency. The Islamic State has posted repeated messages on its Al-Naba information bulletin calling on fighters not to travel to Europe and to reduce attacks while concentrating on staying free of the virus.
Kurtzer suggests that this is an opportunity to reflect on the nature of humanitarian work abroad and ensure that it is not overlooked. Interestingly, developed countries face real medical vulnerability, indeed Médecins Sans Frontières has opened facilities in four locations in Italy. Cooperating with trusted humanitarian organisations at the national level will be vital to respond to the needs of the population and at the same time develop a greater understanding of the vital work they perform in humanitarian settings abroad.
[Maria Zuppello, Il Jihad ai Tropici. Il patto tra terrorismo islamico e crimine organizzato in America Latina. Paese Edizioni. Roma, 2019. 215 p.]
review / Emili J. Blasco
We usually link jihad to the Middle East. If anything, also with the African Sachel, opening the map to the West, or with the border of Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, opening it to the East. However, Latin America also has a place in this geography. It has a place to finance the terrorist struggle - cocaine is a business that Islamists take advantage of, as is the case with heroin in the specific case of the Taliban - and also as a space in which to go unnoticed, off the radar (Caribbean or Brazilian beaches are the last place that would be imagined as a hiding place for jihadists).
Jihad in the Tropics, by Italian researcher Maria Zuppello, deals precisely with that lesser-known aspect of global jihadism: the caipirinha jihadists, to put it graphically, to emphasise the normality with which these radicalised elements live in the Latin American context, although these are criminal networks more sinister than the name might suggest.
Zuppello's research , which is subtitled "the pact between Islamic terrorism and organised crime in Latin America", deals with various countries, although it is in Brazil where the author locates the main connections with the rest of the region and with the international Structures of different jihadist groups. In particular, she points out the link between the religious leader Imran Hosein, who propagates Salafist doctrines, and the attack on the Bataclan party conference room in Paris, as his preaching was particularly responsible for the radicalisation of one of the terrorists, Samy Amimour. Zuppello also analyses the cross-contacts of the Brazilians who were arrested in 2016 in the Hashtag operation, in the final stretch of the preparation for the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games.
Zuppello's book begins with a presentation at position by Emanuele Ottolenghi, researcher who works at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington think tank. Ottolenghi is an expert on Hezbollah's presence in Latin America, on which he has written numerous articles.
At presentation, Ottolenghi highlights the partnership established between jihadist elements and certain levels of the Latin American left, especially the Bolivarian left. "The extremist messages differ little from the rhetoric of the radical left's anti-imperialist revolution, deeply rooted for decades in Latin America", he argues. This explains "the appeal of the Islamic revolution to the descendants of the Incas in the remote Andean community of Abancay, a four-hour drive from Machu Picchu, and to Cuban and Salvadoran revolutionaries (now dedicated to spreading Khomeini's word in Central America)".
For Ottolenghi, "the central topic of the red-green alliance between Bolivarians and Islamists is the so-called resistance to US imperialism. Behind this revolutionary rhetoric, however, there is more. The creation of a strategic alliance between Tehran and Caracas has opened the door to Latin America for the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah. Venezuela has become a hub for Iran's agents in the region".
Illicit trafficking generates millions in dirty money that is laundered through international circuits. The "Lebanese diaspora communities" in areas such as La Guaira (between Venezuela and Colombia), Margarita Island (Venezuela), the free trade zone of Colón (Panama) and the Triple Border (between Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina) are important in this process.
It is precisely this tri-border area that has been the usual place to refer to when talking about Hezbollah in Latin America. The 1992 and 1994 attacks in Buenos Aires against the Israeli Embassy and the AMIA, respectively, had their operational origins there, and since then the financial links of this geographical corner with the Shiite extremist group have been frequently documented. Since Hugo Chávez came to power, there has been a convergence between Venezuela and Iran that has allowed Islamist radicals to obtain Venezuelan passports, and they have also been taking over part of the drug trafficking business as Chávez himself has drawn the Venezuelan state into the cocaine business.
The convergence of interests between organised crime networks in the region and jihadist elements raises the question, according to Zuppello, of whether "Latin America will end up being the new cash machine for the financing of global jihad", or even "something else: a hideout for fleeing foreign fighters or a new platform for attacks, or both".
One of the specific aspects Zuppello refers to is the halal sector and its certifications, which is growing exponentially, causing concern among counter-terrorism authorities in several countries, who accuse the sector of concealing terrorist financing and money laundering. The halal meat trade has provided cover for dozens of Iranian meat inspectors, who have taken up permanent residence in the region.
Research such as that carried out in Jihad in the Tropics has led to a number of Latin American countries agreeing for the first time in 2019 to recognise Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation group .
The Alliance maintains its focus on Russia, but for the first time expresses concern about Beijing's actions.
NATO had begun 2020 in the spirit of leaving behind the internal problems of its particular annus horribilis - a 2019 in which the organisation had reached "brain death", according to French President Emmanuel Macron - but the absence of global normality due to the coronavirus crisis is making it difficult to fully implement internship what was agreed at the London Summit, held last December to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the creation of the Alliance. Indeed, the London Declaration expressed concern about China's actions on issues such as 5G.
North Atlantic Treaty Organisation [NATO] Member States
article / Jairo Císcar
internship NATO Summits bring together the Heads of State and/or Government of member countries and serve to take strategic decisions at the highest level, such as the launch of new policies (e.g. the New Strategic Concept at the Lisbon Summit in 2010), the introduction of new members to the Alliance (Istanbul Summit 2004, with seven new members), or the advertisement of major initiatives, as was done at the Newport Summit 2014, where the core coalition of what would later become the International Coalition against the Islamic State was announced.
The London Summit took place on 3 and 4 December to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the creation of the Alliance, which had its first headquarters in the British capital. At the work meetings, attended by all 29 member states, the focus was on three main issues: (a) the continuing tension-distension between Washington and Paris; (b) the economic issue, both the trade war between the European and US defence industries and member states' defence investment; and (c) the management of an increasingly fractious Turkey.
a) The Washington-Paris dispute witnessed a new chapter in the two most committed countries' understanding of the Atlantic Alliance. While the US continues to insist on the importance of focusing the Alliance's efforts on an Eastern axis (against Russia and Middle Eastern jihadism), France wants NATO's strategic axis to focus on the South, on the African Sahel. This is a vision shared and supported by Spain, which participates in several missions on African soil such as EUTM-Mali or the Ivory Detachment in Senegal (which provides strategic transport in the area to the countries participating in AFISMA and especially to France). For Southern Europe, the greatest threat is the jihadist threat, and its centre of gravity is in Africa. Macron made this clear.
b) The economic issue remains fundamental, and was addressed at the Summit. Since the 2014 Newport Summit, at which the 29 members agreed to direct their efforts towards increasing expense in defence to at least 2 per cent of GDP, only nine have achieved goal (Spain is at the bottom, with a derisory 0.92 per cent, surpassed only by Luxembourg). The United States, at the forefront of defence investment within NATO, contributes 22% of the entire budget. The Trump Administration not only wants this increase so that the Alliance will have larger, more prepared and modernised armies, but it is framing the increase in an ambitious commercial strategy, with the F-35 "Lightning" as its main product. As an example, Poland: after reaching the required 2 per cent, the country announced the purchase of 35 F-35s and their software and technical support for $6.5 billion. In this way, the US was able to cope with the losses caused by the break-up of agreement with Turkey after the Ottomans purchased the Russian S-400 system. With this acquisition, Poland jo ins the club of seven other NATO members with this aircraft, facing the commercial offensive of the European producer bloc to continue selling "Eurofighter" packages and, especially, the recent Future Combat Air System (led by Airbus and Dassault), of which Spain is a member. Europe wants to create a strong Defence Industry community for reasons of self-sufficiency and to compete in the markets against the US industry, which is why we are facing a "mini" trade war between allied countries.
c) On Turkey, NATO's most uncomfortable member, there was a clear negative feeling. It is an unreliable ally, which is attacking other allies in Operation Inherent Resolve such as the Kurdish militias, considered terrorists by the Ankara government. Looming over the leaders present in London was the fear of a possible invocation of article 5 of the Washington Treaty by Turkey calling for active confrontation in Syria. NATO has little choice, for if it does not stand up to Erdogan, it would be pushing him into the Russian orbit.
The summit's final statement showed a change of focus within the Alliance: until now, Russia was the main concern and, while it remains a priority, China is taking its place. The Declaration can be divided into three blocks.
1) The first bloc functions as an emergency stopgap, intended to satisfy the most discordant voices and create a picture of apparent seamless unity. In its first point, member states reaffirm the commitment of all countries to the common values they share, citing democracy, individual freedom, human rights and the rule of law. As a gesture towards Turkey, article 5 is mentioned as the cornerstone of the North Atlantic Treaty. It is clear that, at least in the short to medium term deadline, Western countries want to keep Turkey as partner, being willing to compromise in small gestures.
Further on, the Alliance stresses the need to "continue to strengthen the capabilities, both of member states and collectively, to resist all forms of attack". With respect to goal , which is paramount for the US and the top-spending states, it says that good progress is being made, but that "more must and will be done".
2) The next block enters subject purely strategic and less political. The Alliance notes that the current international system is under attack by state and non-state actors. It highlights the threat posed by Russia to the Eurasian region and introduces irregular migration as source of instability.
With respect to this stabilisation, the Alliance's main thrusts will be to secure a long-term presence in Afghanistan deadline, a stronger partnership with the UN, as well as a direct NATO-EU partnership . The Alliance wants to increase its global presence and its presence at all levels. The Alliance wants to increase its global presence, as well as its work at all levels. sample is the forthcoming accession of North Macedonia as the Alliance's 30th member, sending a clear message to Russia that there is no place in Europe for its influence.
Clearly, for NATO we are in 4th generation conflicts, with the use of cyber and hybrid warfare. The commitment to 360° security within the Alliance is mentioned. NATO is aware of the changing realities of the battlefield and the international arena, and sample is committed to adapting and update its capabilities.
3) As a third block, for the first time China is mentioned directly as an issue requiring joint decisions. China's emerging leadership in the field of communications and the internet, especially with 5G technology, is of deep concern within the Atlanticist camp. In an operating environment where cyberwarfare and hybrid warfare will change the way in which conflict is dealt with, there is a need to ensure the resilience of societies that are completely dependent on technology, especially by protecting critical infrastructure (government buildings, hospitals, etc.) and energy security. In London, the importance of developing one's own systems so as not to depend on those provided by countries that could use them against consumers was also proclaimed, as well as the need to increase offensive and defensive capabilities in the cyber environment. It was recognised that China's growing influence in the international arena presents both opportunities and risks, and that this is an issue that needs to be closely and continuously monitored.
The Document ends with a statement of intent: "In times of challenge, we are stronger as an Alliance and our people are more secure. Our togetherness and commitment to each other has guaranteed our freedoms, values and security for 70 years. We act today to ensure that NATO guarantees these freedoms, values and security for generations to come".
While it was a bittersweet summit, with many misunderstandings and unfortunate comments, the reality is that, outside of politics, the Alliance is prepared. It is aware of the threats it faces, both internal and external. It knows the realities of today's world and wants to act accordingly, with a greater and more lasting involvement Degree . While words have often remained on paper, this Declaration and this Summit show an Alliance that, with its particularities, is ready to face the challenges of the 21st century - its old ghosts like Russia, and its new threats like China.
UN led vs. non-UN led post-conflict government building
WORKING PAPER / María del Pilar Cazali
Government building in Africa has been an important issue to deal with after post- independence internal conflicts. Some African states have had the support of UN peacekeeping missions to rebuild their government, while others have built their government on their own without external help. The question this article looks to answer is what method of government building has been more effective. This is done through the analysis of four important overall government building indicators: rule of law, participation, human rights and accountability and transparency. Based on these indicators, states with non-UN indicators have had a more efficient government building especially due to the flexibility and freedom they've had to do it in comparison with states with UN intervention due to the UN's neo-liberal view and their lack of contact with locals.
Download the document [pdf. 431K]
The Trump Administration's Newest Migration Policies and Shifting Immigrant Demographics in the USA
New Trump administration migration policies including the "Safe Third Country" agreements signed by the USA, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras have reduced the number of migrants from the Northern Triangle countries at the southwest US border. As a consequence of this phenomenon and other factors, Mexicans have become once again the main national group of people deemed inadmissible for asylum or apprehended by the US Customs and Border Protection.
▲ An US Border Patrol agent at the southwest US border [cbp.gov].
ARTICLE / Alexandria Casarano Christofellis
On March 31, 2018, the Trump administration cut off aid to the Northern Triangle countries in order to coerce them into implementing new policies to curb illegal migration to the United States. El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala all rely heavily on USAid, and had received 118, 181, and 257 million USD in USAid respectively in the 2017 fiscal year.
The US resumed financial aid to the Northern Triangle countries on October 17 of 2019, in the context of the establishment of bilateral negotiations of Safe Third Country agreements with each of the countries, and the implementation of the US Supreme Court's de facto asylum ban on September 11 of 2019. The Safe Third Country agreements will allow the US to 'return' asylum seekers to the countries which they traveled through on their way to the US border (provided that the asylum seekers are not returned to their home countries). The US Supreme Court's asylum ban similarly requires refugees to apply for and be denied asylum in each of the countries which they pass through before arriving at the US border to apply for asylum. This means that Honduran and Salvadoran refugees would need to apply for and be denied asylum in both Guatemala and Mexico before applying for asylum in the US, and Guatemalan refugees would need to apply for and be denied asylum in Mexico before applying for asylum in the US. This also means that refugees fleeing one of the Northern Triangle countries can be returned to another Northern Triangle country suffering many of the same issues they were fleeing in the first place.
Combined with the Trump administration's longer-standing "metering" or "Remain in Mexico" policy (Migrant Protection Protocols/MPP), these political developments serve to effectively "push back" the US border. The "Remain in Mexico" policy requires US asylum seekers from Latin America to remain on the Mexican side of the US-Mexico border to wait their turn to be accepted into US territory. Within the past year, the US government has planted significant obstacles in the way of the path of Central American refugees to US asylum, and for better or worse has shifted the burden of the Central American refugee crisis to Mexico and the Central American countries themselves, which are ill-prepared to handle the influx, even in the light of resumed US foreign aid. The new arrangements resemble the EU's refugee deal with Turkey.
These policy changes are coupled with a shift in US immigration demographics. In August of 2019, Mexico reclaimed its position as the single largest source of unauthorised immigration to the US, having been temporarily surpassed by Guatemala and Honduras in 2018.
US Customs and Border Protection data indicates a net increase of 21% in the number of Unaccompanied Alien Children from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador deemed inadmissible for asylum at the Southwest US Border by the US field office between fiscal year 2019 (through February) and fiscal year 2020 (through February). All other inadmissible groups (Family Units, Single Adults, etc.) experienced a net decrease of 18-24% over the same time period. For both the entirety of fiscal year 2019 and fiscal year 2020 through February, Mexicans accounted for 69 and 61% of Unaccompanied Alien Children Inadmissible at the Southwest US border respectively, whereas previously in fiscal years 2017 and 2018 Mexicans accounted for only 21 and 26% of these same figures, respectively. The percentages of Family Unit Inadmisibles from the Northern Triangle countries have been decreasing since 2018, while the percentage of Family Unit Inadmisibles from Mexico since 2018 has been on the rise.
With asylum made far less accessible to Central Americans in the wake of the Trump administration's new migration policies, the number of Central American inadmisibles is in sharp decline. Conversely, the number of Mexican inadmisibles is on the rise, having nearly tripled over the past three years.
Chain migration factors at play in Mexico may be contributing to this demographic shift. On September 10, 2019, prominent Mexican newspaper El discussion published an article titled "Immigrants Can Avoid Deportation with these Five Documents." Additionally, The Washington Post cites the testimony of a city official from Michoacan, Mexico, claiming that a local Mexican travel company has begun running a weekly "door-to-door" service line to several US border points of entry, and that hundreds of Mexican citizens have been coming to the municipal offices daily requesting documentation to help them apply for asylum in the US. Word of mouth, press coverage like that found in El discussion, and the commercial exploitation of the Mexican migrant situation have perhaps made migration, and especially the claiming of asylum, more accessible to the Mexican population.
US Customs and Border Protection data also indicates that total apprehensions of migrants from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador attempting illegal crossings at the Southwest US border declined 44% for Unaccompanied Alien Children and 73% for Family Units between fiscal year 2019 (through February) and fiscal year 2020 (through February), while increasing for Single Adults by 4%. The same data trends show that while Mexicans have consistently accounted for the overwhelming majority of Single Adult Apprehensions since 2016, Family Unit and Unaccompanied Alien Children Apprehensions until the past year were dominated by Central Americans. However, in fiscal year 2020-February, the percentages of Central American Family Unit and Unaccompanied Alien Children Apprehensions have declined while the Mexican percentage has increased significantly. This could be attributed to the Northern Triangle countries' and especially Mexico's recent crackdown on the flow of illegal immigration within their own states in response to the same US sanctions and suspension of USAid which led to the Safe Third Country bilateral agreements with Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador.
While the Trump administration's crackdown on immigration from the Northern Triangle countries has effectively worked to limit both the legal and illegal access of Central Americans to US entry, the Trump administration's crackdown on immigration from Mexico in the past few years has focused on arresting and deporting illegal Mexican immigrants already living and working within the US borders. Between 2017 and 2018, ICE increased workplace raids to arrest undocumented immigrants by over 400% according to The Independent in the UK. The trend seemed to continue into 2019. President Trump tweeted on June 17, 2019 that "Next week ICE will begin the process of removing the millions of illegal aliens who have illicitly found their way into the United States. They will be removed as fast as they come in." More deportations could be leading to more attempts at reentry, increasing Mexican migration to the US, and more Mexican Single Adult apprehensions at the Southwest border. The Washington Post alleges that the majority of the Mexican single adults apprehended at the border are previous deportees trying to reenter the country.
Lastly, the steadily increasing violence within the state of Mexico should not be overlooked as a cause for continued migration. Within the past year, violence between the various Mexican cartels has intensified, and murder rates have continued to rise. While the increase in violence alone is not intense enough to solely account for the spike that has recently been seen in Mexican migration to the US, internal violence nethertheless remains an important factor in the Mexican migrant situation. Similarly, widespread poverty in Mexico, recently worsened by a decline in foreign investment in the light of threatened tariffs from the USA, also plays a key role.
In conclusion, the Trump administration's new migration policies mark an intensification of long-standing nativist tendencies in the US, and pose a potential threat to the human rights of asylum seekers at the US-Mexico border. The corresponding present demographic shift back to Mexican predominance in US immigration is driven not only by the Trump administration's new migration policies, but also by many other diverse factors within both Mexico and the US, from press coverage to increased deportations to long-standing cartel violence and poverty. In the face of these recent developments, one thing remains clear: the situation south of the Rio Grande is just as complex, nuanced, and constantly evolving as is the situation to the north on Capitol Hill in the USA.
Chinese companies develop four mining projects on the island; Trump offered to buy it out
The melting of the Arctic ice opens up new sea routes and makes certain territories, such as Iceland and especially Greenland, whose enormous size also conceals vast natural resources, particularly valuable. Chinese mining companies have been present in the 'Green Land' since 2008; the Danish government has sought to curb Beijing's increasing influence by directly taking over the construction of three airports instead of having them placed under management . Copenhagen veiled fears that China will encourage Greenlandic independence, while the White House has offered to buy the island, as it has tried to do at other times in history.
▲ Population of Oqaatsut, on the east coast of Greenland [Pixabay].
article / Jesús Rizo Ortiz
Greenland is the largest island in the world, with more than 2 million square kilometres, while its inhabitants are less than 60,000, making it the least densely populated territory in the world. This reality, together with the natural wealth still to be exploited and the geographical location, give this Green Earth great geostrategic importance. Moreover, global warming and the struggle for the new world order between the US, China and Russia place this territory dependent on Denmark at the centre of geopolitical dynamics for the first time in its history.
Due to the melting of the Arctic Ocean, new communication routes are emerging between the American, European and Asian continents. These routes, although they will remain subject to limitations in the future, are becoming more and more accessible for longer periods of the year. Greenland is a strategic control and supply point for both the Northern route (following the northern contour of Russia) and the Northwest route (through the northern Canadian islands), not only for goods and commercial ships, but also in terms of security, as the melting of the ocean ice significantly shortens the distances between the main international players.
Greenland's geographical position is core topic, but also what lies beneath the ice that covers 77% of its surface. It is estimated that 13% of the world's oil reserves are found in Greenland, as well as 25% of the so-called rare earths (neodymium, dysprosium, yttrium...), which are essential in the production of new technologies.
Interest from China and the US
The prospects opened up by the increased possibility of navigation through the Arctic have led Arctic powers to develop their strategies. But also China, interested in a Polar Silk Road, has sought ways to be present in the Arctic circle, and has found a gateway in Greenland.
China's foreign policy is largely focused on implementing projects in areas where its financial power is needed, and it is doing so in places where it is needed, such as Africa and Latin America, development . This subject action is also being carried out in Greenland, where Chinese companies have been present since 2008. The main Danish political parties view this connection with Beijing with reticence, but the reality is that many of the Greenlandic population, more than 80 per cent of whom are of Inuit origin, value positively the possibilities for local development investment opened up by Chinese investment. This different perspective was particularly evident when in 2018 the Greenland government promoted three international airports (expansion of the airport in the capital, Nuuk, and construction in the tourist sites of Ilulimat and Qaqortog), which together represented the largest public works contract in its history. Although an offer from the state-owned construction company CCCC was quickly received from China, Copenhagen finally decided to provide Danish public funds and to participate in the ownership of the airports, given the misgivings about the Chinese initiative.
China is in any case present in four previous mining-related projects run by both state-owned and private companies, all of them following the geopolitical purposes of the Chinese government, whose Ministry of Information Technology and Industry has expressed its interest in Greenlandic activity. These four projects are the Kvanefjeld project for rare earth mining, mainly financed by Shenghe Resources; the Iusa project for iron ore mining, fully financed by General Nice; the Wegener Halvø project for copper mining, supported by Jiangxi Zhongrun after a agreement with Nordic Mining in 2008; and finally, the so-called Citronen Base Metal project, at position of China Nonferrus Metal Industry's Foreign Engineering and Construction (NFC).
The United States is not lagging behind in its interest in Greenland. As early as the 1860s, US President Andrew Johnson highlighted Greenland's importance in terms of resources and strategic position. Almost a century later, in 1946, Harry Truman offered the Danish government to buy Greenland for $100 million in gold. Although Denmark rejected the offer, it did agree to the establishment of a US air base at Thule in 1951. This is the northernmost military base in the world, which was core topic during the Cold War and is still in operation today. This base gives the US an advantage not only in the face of the commercial opening of new sea crossings, but also in the face of a hypothetical Sino-Russian coalition seeking to dominate the Northern route. In other words, given Greenland's dual importance (natural resources and security), it is understandable that someone as unconventional as Donald Trump has once again suggested the possibility of buying the huge island, something that Copenhagen has declined to do.
Projected pathways through the Arctic; the top row corresponds to the melting that could occur with low emissions, the bottom row in the case of high emissions [Arctic Council].
At the centre of a 'Great Game
Aside from the current unfeasibility of such an operation subject without taking into account, among other things, the will of the population, it is true that a Great Game is taking place between the main international players to count Greenland among their geostrategic cards.
1) The US already has a military presence in Greenland, as well as good relations with NATO members Denmark and Iceland, so control of the Denmark Strait is guaranteed, as well as the space between Greenland, Iceland and the UK (known as the GIUK Gap), which connects the Arctic with the North Atlantic. However, Washington will have to change its strategy if it wants to take control of Greenland, starting by improving its relations with the Danish government and funding projects on the island.
2) Although not prominent in relation to Greenland, Russia enjoys pre-eminence in the entire Arctic region. It is by far the country with the largest military presence in the area, having reused some of the Soviet installations. It is the hegemonic power along the entire Northern route, considered by the Kremlin to be the main national communication route. Given Russia's absolute empire over this route, the ice that still covers it for much of the year, and US control of its Atlantic side, this route will not (at least in principle) be a real and profitable alternative to the Strait of Malacca, much to China's discomfort.
3) China presented its Arctic policy white paper in 2018, in which it defined itself as a 'quasi-Arctic power'. For the time being, it has set its sights on Greenland as a key point on its Polar Silk Road. The northern route would cut transport time between Asian and European ports by about a week and would be a much-needed alternative to the Strait of Malacca. The big island has so far focused on resource extraction, following its own cautious modus operandi. Moreover, the Chinese funds provide Greenlanders with an alternative to absolute dependence on Denmark, which additionally favours the island's nationalist pretensions.
The changes, although significant in some cases, will not substantially alter trade flows between the three countries.
The new Free Trade Agreement between the United States, Canada and Mexico is now ready for implementation, following ratification by the congresses of the three countries. The revision of the previous treaty, which came into force in 1994, was called for by Donald Trump on his arrival at the White House, citing the trade deficit generated for the US in relation to Canada and especially Mexico. Although some significant corrections have been introduced, following the main American approaches, it does not seem that the revised agreement will substantially modify trade flows between the three countries.
▲ Presidents Peña Nieto, Trump and Trudeau sign the free trade agreement in November 2019 [US Gov.]
article / Marcelina Kropiwnicka
On 1 January 1994, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) entered into force. More than twenty years later and under the administration of President Donald Trump, the three partner countries opened a review process of agreement, now called the Free Trade Agreement between the United States, Canada and Mexico (to which each country has given a different acronym: the Mexicans call it T-MEC or TMEC, the Americans USMCA and the Canadians CUSMA).
The text of the TMEC finally ratified by the three countries is broadly consistent with the old NAFTA. However, there are particular distinctions. Thus, it includes stricter rules of origin in the automotive and textile sectors, an updated labour value content requirement in the automotive sector, increased US access to Canadian supply-managed markets, novel provisions related to financial services, and a specification on the establishment of free trade agreements with non-market economies. The joint goal is to encourage production in North America.
New developments negotiated in 2017-2018
The three parties began negotiations in the summer of 2017 and after just over a year they concluded a agreement, signed by the presidents of the three countries in November 2018. The main novelties introduced until then were the following:
1) The agreement revises the regional value content (RVC) percentage for the automotive industry. Under NAFTA, at least 62.5% of an automobile had to be made from North American parts. The TMEC raises the percentage to 75% with the intention of strengthening the countries' manufacturing capacity and increasing the strength of work in the automotive industry.
2) Along the same lines, to support employment in North America, the agreement contains new trade rules of origin to boost higher wages by mandating that 40-45% of auto manufacturing be done by workers earning at least $16 per hour on average by 2023; that's roughly three times the pay a Mexican worker normally receives today.
3) Apart from the automotive industry, the dairy market will be opened to ensure greater access for US dairy products , a demand core topic for Washington. Currently, Canada has a system of domestic quotas that were put in place to protect its farmers from foreign skill ; however, under the new TMEC agreement , changes will allow the US to export up to 3.6% of Canada's dairymarket ,an increase of 2.6% from the original NAFTA provision. Another achievement core topic for Trump was the negotiation of Canada's elimination of what are known as itsmilk classes 6 and 7.
4) Another new aspect is the sunset clause. NAFTA had an automatic sunset clause or a pre-determined end date for the agreement, which meant that any of the three parties could withdraw from the agreement, after a six-month notice of withdrawal notice ; if this did not occur, the agreement remained indefinite. However, the TMEC foresees a duration of 16 years, with the option to meet, negotiate and revise the document after six years, as well as the possibility to renew the agreement after 16 years.
5) The three-country pact also includes a chapter on work that anchors labour obligations at the core of agreement , making enforcement more demanding.
Reforms in Mexico
Precisely to make that last point more credible, US and Canadian negotiators demanded that Mexico make changes to its labour laws to speed up the process of approval and ratification of the TMEC by lawmakers in Washington and Ottawa. US House leaders had doubted Mexico's ability to comply specifically with the labour rights points of agreement. One of President Trump's main objectives in the renegotiation was to reassure US workers that the status of skill would be overcome.
Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador sent a letter to the US congress guaranteeing the implementation of a four-year plan to ensure the achievement of adequate labour rights. López Obrador committed to an outlay of $900 million over the next four years to change the labour justice system and ensure that disputes between workers and employers are resolved in a timely manner. Mexico has also invested in the construction of a Federal Centre for Labour Conciliation and Registration, where labour disputes will be addressed prior to a court hearing.
Obrador showed his commitment to labour reforms by ensuring at least a 2% increase in theminimum wage in Mexico. Most importantly B is that the requirement for direct voting of union leaders will change the way workers' organisations function. With direct elections, decisions on collective agreements will be more transparent. Mexico's plan to improve the working environment will start in 2020.
What's new in 2019 to facilitate ratification
Faced with demands on the US congress , especially from the Democratic majority, to ratify the treaty, negotiators proceeded with two major revisions to NAFTA. One of them aimed primarily at revising a large number of provisions relating to intellectual property, pharmaceuticals and the digital economy:
6) The intellectual property rights chapter seeks to address US concerns to spur innovation, generate economic growth and support jobs work. For the first time, according to the US Trade Representative, the additions include: strict rules against circumvention of technological protection measures for music, movies and digital books; strong protections for pharmaceutical and agricultural innovation; broad protections against theft of trade secrets; and authority for officials to stop suspected counterfeit or pirated goods from official document .
7) A new chapter on digital trade has also been included that contains stricter controls than any other international agreement , strengthening the foundation for the expansion of trade and investment in areas where the US has a competitive advantage.
8) The final draft removes a 10-year guarantee of intellectual property protection for biological medicines, which are some of the most expensive medicines on the market. It also removes granting an additional three years of IP exclusivity for medicines for which a new use is found.
A second group of last minute changes makes reference letter for greater environmental and labour protections:
9) Environment covers 30 pages, outlining obligations to combat trafficking in wildlife, timber and fish; strengthen law enforcement to stop such trafficking; and address critical environmental issues such as air quality and marine litter. New obligations include: protection of various marine species, implementation of appropriate methods for environmental impact assessments, and alignment with obligations under seven multilateral environmental agreements. In particular, Mexico is agreement to improve surveillance to stop illegal fishing, and the three countries agree to stop subsidize fishing for overfished species. To increase environmental accountability, Democrats in the US House of Representatives called for the creation of an inter-agency oversight committee. However, the treaty does not address climate change issues.
10) To ensure that Mexico delivers on its labour promises, House Democrats forced the creation of an interagency committee to monitor the implementation of Mexico's labour reform and compliance with labour obligations. Despite the new and unique 'LVC' requirement, a labour value content rule, it will still be difficult to impose a minimum wage on Mexican automakers. However, US Democrats hope that the condition will force automakers to buy more supplies from Canada or the US, or cause automakers' wages in Mexico to rise.
The finally ratified agreement will replace the one that has been in force for 25 years. Overall, the move from NAFTA to the TMEC should not have a drastic effect on the three countries. It is a progressive agreement that will entail slight changes: certain industries will be affected, such as the automotive and dairy industries, but only to a small extent. In the long run deadline, given the changes introduced, wages should increase in Mexico, which would reduce Mexican migration to the US. Businesses will be affected in the long run deadline, but with back-up plans and new redesigns, the transition process will hopefully be smooth and mutually beneficial.
▲ A picture of Vladimir Putin on Sputnik's website
ESSAY / Pablo Arbuniés
A new form of power
Russia's growing influence in African countries and public opinion has often been overlooked by western democracies, giving the Kremlin a lot of valuable time to extend its influence on the continent.
Until very recently, western democracies have looked at influence efforts from authoritarian countries as nothing more than an exercise of soft power. Joseph S. Nye deﬁned soft power as a nation's power of attraction, in contrast to the hard power of coercion inherent in military or economic strength (Nye 1990). However, this influence does not fit the common definition of soft power as 'winning hearts and minds'. In the last years China and Russia have developed and perfected extremely sophisticated strategies of manipulation aimed towards the civilian population of target countries, and in the case of Russia the role of Russia Today should be taken as an example.
These strategies go beyond soft power and have already proved their effectiveness. They are what the academia has recently labelled as sharp power (Walker 2019). Sharp power aims to hijack public opinion through disinformation or distraction, being an international projection of how authoritarian countries manipulate their own population (Singh 2018).
Sharp power strategies are being severely underestimated by western policy makers and advisors, who tend to focus on more classical conceptions of the exercise of power. As an example, the "Framework document" issued by the Spanish Institute for Strategic Studies on Russia-Africa relations (Mora Tebas 2019). The document completely ignores sharp power, labelling Russian interest in communication markets as no more than regular soft power without taking into consideration the disinformative and manipulative nature of these actions.
A growing interest in Africa
Over the past 20 years, many international actors have shifted their interest towards the African continent, each in a different way.
China has made Africa a major geopolitical target in recent years, focusing on economic investments for infrastructure development. Such investments can be noticed in the Ethiopian dam projects such as the Gibe III, or in the Entebbe-Kampala Expressway in Uganda.
This could be considered as debt-trap diplomacy, as China uses infrastructure investments and development loans to gain leverage over African countries. However, there is also a key geopolitical interest, especially in those countries with access to the network Sea and the Indian Ocean, due to the One Belt One Road Initiative. This project requires a net of seaports, where Kenya, and specifically the port of Lamu, could play a key role in becoming a hub for trade in East Africa (Hurley, Morris and Portelance 2019).
Also, Chinese investments are attractive for African countries because they do not come with prerequisites of democratisation or transparent administration, unlike those from western countries.
Yet, even though both China and Russia use sharp power as part of their foreign policy strategies, China does barely use it in Africa, since its interests in the continent are more economic than political. This is based on the view that China is more keen to exploit Africa's natural resources (Mlambo, Kushamba and Simawu 2016) than anything else.
On the other hand, Russia has both economic and military interests in the region. This is exemplified by the case of Sudan, where in addition to the economic interest in natural resources, there is also a military interest in accessing the network Sea. In order to achieve these goals, the first step is to grant stability in the country, and it can be achieved through ensuring that public opinion supports the government and accepts Russian presence.
The idea of a Russian world-Russkiy spanish medical residency program-has grown under Putin and is key to understanding the country's soft and sharp power strategies. It consists on the expansion of power and culture using any means possible in order to regain the lost superpower status.
However, this approach must not be seen only as a nostalgic push to regain status, but also from a purely pragmatic point of view, since economic and practical factors have "pushed aside ideology" in the competition against the West (Warsaw Institute 2019).
The recent Russia-Africa Summit (23-24 October 2019), that took place in Sochi, Russia, proves how Russia has pivoted towards Africa in recent years, offering infrastructure, energy and other investments as well as arms deals and different advisors. The outcome of this pivoting is being quite beneficial for Moscow in strategic terms.
The Kremlin's interest in Africa was not remarkable until the post Crimea invasion. The economic sanctions imposed after the occupation of Crimea forced Russia to look further abroad for allies and business opportunities. For instance, as part of this policy there was a more robust involvement of Russia in Syria.
The Russian strategy for the African continent involves benefiting favourable politicians through political and military advisors and offering control on average influence (Warsaw Institute 2019). In exchange, Russia looks for military and energy supply contracts, mining concessions and infrastructure building deals. Moreover, on a bigger picture, Russia-as well as China-aims to reduce the influence of the US and former colonial powers France and the UK.
Leaked documents published by The Guardian (Harding and Buerke 2019), show this effort to gain influence on the continent, as well as the strategies followed and the degree of cooperation with the different powers-from governments to opposition groups or social movements.
However, the growth of Russia's influence in Africa cannot be understood without the figure of Yevgeny Prigozhin, an extremely powerful oligarch which, according to US special counsel Robert Mueller, was critical to the social average campaign for the election of Donald Trump in 2016. He is also linked to the foundation of the Wagner group, a private military contractor present among other conflicts in the Syrian war.
Prigozhin, through a network of enterprises known as 'The Company' has been for long the head of Putin's plans for the African continent, being responsible of the growing number of Russian military experts involved with different governments along the continent, and now suspected to lead the push to infiltrate in the communication markets.
Between 100 and 200 spin doctors have already been sent to the continent, reaching at least 10 different countries (Warsaw Institute 2019). Their focus is on political marketing and especially on social average, with the hope that it can be as influential as in the Arab Springs.
Influence in the average is one of the key aspects of Russia's influence in Africa, and the main targets in this aspect are the Central African Republic, Madagascar, South Africa and Sudan. Each of these countries has a potential for Russian interests, and is targeted on different levels of cooperation, from weapons deals to spin doctors (Warsaw Institute 2019), but all of them are targets for sharp power strategies.
However, it is hard for a foreign government to directly enter the communication markets of another country without making people suspicious of its activities, and that is where The Company plays its role. Through it, pro-Russian publishing house lines are fed to the population of the target states by acquiring already existing average platforms-such as newspapers or television and radio stations-or creating new ones directly under the supervision of officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, this ensures that the dominant frames fit Russia's interests and that of its allies.
Also, the presence of Russian international average is key to its sharp power. Russia Today and Sputnik have expanded their reach by associating with local entities in Eritrea, Ivory Coast, etc. Russian radio services have been expanded to Africa as well as a key factor in both soft and sharp power.
Finally, social average are a great way of distributing disinformation, given its global reach and the insufficient amount of fact-checkers devoted to this area. There, not only Russian average can participate but also bots and individual accounts are at the service of the Kremlin's interests.
Although Madagascar is viewed by the Kremlin as a high cooperation partner, it doesn't seem to have much to offer in geopolitical terms other than tan mining concessions for Russian companies. Therefore, Russian presence in Madagascar was widely unexpected.
During the May 2019 election, Russia backed six different candidates, but none of them won. In the final stages of the campaign, the Kremlin changed its strategy and backed the expected and eventual winner, Andry Rajoelina (Allison 2019). This could be considered a fiasco and ignored because of the disastrous result, but there is a key aspect that shows how Russia is trying to shape public opinion across the continent.
Although political advisors and spin doctors were only one part of the plan, Russia managed to produce and distribute the biggest mass-selling newspaper along the country with more than two million copies every month (Harding and Buerke 2019). Though it did not seem to have any major impact on the short term, it could be an important asset for shaping public opinion on the long run.
Central African Republic
The Central African Republic (CAR) is of major geopolitical relevance in the whole of the African continent. Due to its location as well as its cultural and ethnic features, it is viewed by the Kremlin as the gate to the whole continent. It is the zone of transition between the Muslim north of the continent and the Christian south (Harding and Buerke 2019).
Given the complicated situation and the context of the ongoing civil war, it can be considered as an easy target for foreign powers. This is mainly due to the power structures being weakened by the war. Russia is part of the UN peacekeeping mission in the CAR, in a combination of soft and hard power. Also, a Russian training centre is operative in the country, and both Moscow and Bangui are open to the inauguration of a Russian military base.
Russia played a key role in the peace deal of February 2019, and since 2017 Valery Zakharov, a former Russian intelligence official, has been an adviser to CAR's president. All of this, if the peacekeeping operations are successful, would lead to an immense political debt in favour of the Kremlin.
The mineral richness of the CAR is another asset to consider due to the reserves of gold and high-quality diamonds. Also, there is a big business opportunity in rebuilding a broken country, and Russian oligarchs and businessmen would certainly be interested in any public contracts regarding this matter.
In the CAR, Russia exerts sharp power not only through social average, but also through two print publications and a radio station, which still have limited influence (Harding and Buerke 2019). Through such means, Russia is consistently feeding its frames narratives to a disoriented population, which given the unstable context, would be an easy target to manipulate. Moreover, the possibility to create a favourable dominant post conflict narrative would render public opinion more likely to accept Russian presence in the future.
Sudan is of major geostrategic importance for Russia among many other actors. For long time both countries have had economic, political and military relations, leading to Sudan being considered by the Kremlin as a level 5 co-operator, the highest possible (Harding and Buerke 2019). This relation is enforced by Sudan's constant claims of aggressive acts by the United States, for which it demands Russia's military assistance.
Also, Sudan is rich in uranium, bearing the third biggest reserves in the world. Uranium is a key raw material to build a major power nowadays, and Russia is always keen on new sources of uranium to bolster its nuclear industry.
Moreover, Sudan is key in regional and global geopolitics because it offers Russia a possibility to have a military base with access to the network Sea. Given the amount of trade routes that go through its waters, the Kremlin would be very keen to have said access. Many other powers have shown interest in this area, such as the Gulf States, or China with its base in Djibouti being operational since 2017.
For all these reasons. Sudan is a very special element in Russia's plans, and thus its level of commitment is greater than in other countries. The election to take place on April 2020 could be considered as one of the most important challenges for democracy in the short term. Russia is closely monitoring the situation in order to draw an efficient plan of action.
Before the end of Omar al-Bashir's presidency, Russia and Sudan enjoyed good relations. Russian specialists had prepared reforms in economic and political matters in order to ensure the continuity in power of Bashir, and his fall was a blow to these plans.
However, Russia will devote many resources to amend the situation in the Sudan parliamentary and presidential election, that will take place in April 2020. In a ploy to maintain power, Al Bashir mirrored the measures employed against opposition protesters in Russia. These tactics consist of using disinformation and manipulated videos in order to portray any opposition movement as anti-Islamic, pro-Israeli or pro-LGBT. Given the fact the core of Sudan's public opinion is mostly conservative and religious, Russia's plan consists on manipulating it towards its desired candidate or candidates (Harding and Buerke 2019).
In order to ensure that the Russian framing was dominant, social average pages like Radio Africa's Facebook page or Sudan Daily were presented like news pages, while being in fact part of a Russian-backed influence network in central and northern Africa (Alba and Frenkel 2019). The information shown has been supportive of whatever government is in power, and critical of the protesters (Stanford Internet Observatory 2019), which shows that Russia's prioritary interest is a stable government and weak protesters.
Another key part of the strategy has been pressuring the government to increase the cost of newsprint to limit the possibilities of countering the disinformation distributed with the help of Russian advisors (Harding and Buerke 2019). The de-democratization of information can prove to be very effective, even more taking into account the fact that social average is not as powerful in Sudan as it is in western countries, so owning the most popular means of communication allows to create a dominant frame and impose it to the population without them even noticing.
The economic context of South Africa, with a large economy, a rising middle class and a good market overall, is quite interesting for business and could be one of the reasons why Russia has such an interest in the country. Also, South Africa can be seen as an economic gateway to the southern part of the African continent.
South Africa is a key country for the global interest of Russia. Not only for its mineral richness and business opportunities, but mainly for its presence in BRICS. Russia attempts to use BRICS as a global counterbalance in a US dominated international landscape.
Russia is interested in selling nuclear technology to its allies, and South Africa is no exception. The presence of South Africa in BRICS is key to understand why such a deal would be so interesting for Russia. BRICS may not offer the possibility to create a perfect counter-balance for western powers, mainly due to the unsurpassable discrepancies among the involved countries, but its ability to cooperate comprehensively on limited shared projects and objectives can be of critical relevance (Salzman 2019).
The presence in the country of Afrique Panorama and AFRIC (Association for Free Research and International Cooperation), shows how Russia attempts to exert its influence. Both pages are linked to Prigozhin, but they are disguised as independent. AFRIC was involved in the elections of Zimbabwe, South Africa, Madagascar and DRC (Grossman, Bush and Diresta 2019).
In fact, if public opinion could be shaped in order to make Russia's interests like nuclear cooperation acceptable by South Africa, the main obstacle would be surpassed, and a comprehensive plan of cooperation would be in play sooner than later.
The elections of May 2019 were one of the main priorities for Russia. The election saw Cyril Ramaphosa elected, as successor of Jacob Zouma. Ramaphosa is known to have openly congratulated Nicolás Maduro for his second inauguration and holds good relations with Vietnam. This are indicators of a willingness to have good relations even with anti-western powers, which is of big interest for the Kremlin. Furthermore, he has a vast business experience, being the architect of the most powerful trade union in the country among other achievements and initiatives, which would see him open to strike deals with Russian oligarchs in the mineral or energetic fields.
All this considered, South Africa is of extreme relevance for Russia, and thus its efforts to be able to shape public opinion. This could be used to favour the implementation of nuclear facilities as well as electing favourable politicians, creating a political debt to be exploited someday. For now, any activity has been limited to tracking and getting to understand public opinion. However, the creation of new average under some form of control by the Kremlin is one of the priorities for the coming years (Harding and Buerke 2019), and could prove a very valuable asset if it's successfully achieved. Also, despite what was said in the case of Sudan, the importance of social average is not to be forgotten or underestimated, especially given the advantage of English being an official language in the country.
The bigger picture
From a more theorical point of view, that of the Flow and Contra-flow paradigm, Russia attempts to set the political diary through mass average control, as well as impose its own frames or those that benefit its allies. Also, given the proportions of the project, we could talk about an attempt to go back to the cultural imperialism doctrines, where Russia attempts to pose its narrative as a counterflow of the western narratives. This was mainly seen during the cold war, when global powers attempted to widely spread their own narratives through controlling said information flows, arguably as a form of cultural imperialism.
This can be seen as an attempt to counterbalance the power of the US and western powers by attempting to shift African countries towards non-western actors. And African countries may be interested in this idea, since being the centre of the competition could mean better deals and business opportunities or investments being offered to them.
It would be a mistake to think that Russia's sharp power in Africa is just a tool to help political allies get to power or maintain it. Beyond that, Russia monitors social conflicts and attempts to intensify them in order to destabilise target countries or external powers (Alba and Frenkel 2019). Such is the case in Comoros, where Prigozhin employees were tasked to explore the possibilities of intensifying the conflict between the local government and the French administration (Harding and Buerke 2019). Again on a broader picture of things, the attempt to develop an African self-identity through the use of sharp power looks to reduce the approval of influence of western democracies on the continent, thus creating an ideal context for bolstering dependence on the Russian administration either through supply contracts or political debt.
In conclusion, the recent growth of Russia's soft and above all sharp power in Africa could potentially be one of the political keys in the years to follow, and it is not to be overlooked by western democracies. Global average, supranational entities and public administrations should put their efforts on providing civil society with the tools to avoid falling for Russia's manipulative tactics and serve as guarantors of democracy. The most immediate focus should be on the US 2020 election, since the worst-case scenario is that the latest exercises of Russia's sharp power in Africa are a practice towards a new attempt at influencing the US presidential election in 2020.
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