WORKING PAPER / Alejandro Palacios
Nowadays we are seeing how countries that during the Cold War did not show great symptoms of growth, today are on their way to becoming the world's largest economies during the period 2030-2045. These countries, "marginalized" by the Western powers in the process of implementing a global economic system, aspire to form an economic order in which they have the decision-making power. This is why South-South alliances among formerly "marginalised" countries predominate, and will continue to prevail in the future. Among these, the ZOPACAS (of which I already wrote about in another article), the IBSA dialogue forum or the BRICS group stand out. Throughout this article, special mention will be made to this last group and how the political and economic interests of the great powers within it, mainly of China, prevail when it comes not only to deciding and coordinating the agreed policies, but also to interceding to accept or not the inclusion of a certain country in the group. In this way, China tries to increase its political and economic ties with the African continent which is crucial in China's strategy to become the leading nation by 2049 (coinciding with the 100th anniversary of its creation).
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The possibility that Bolsonaro's government may seek to label the Landless Movement as terrorists for forcibly occupying farms reopens a historic controversy.
When Brazil passed its first anti-terrorism legislation around the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, the initiative was seen as an example to be followed by other Latin American countries, until then generally unfamiliar with a phenomenon that since 9/11 had become pre-eminent in many other parts of the world. However, the possibility that, with the political momentum of Jair Bolsonaro, some social movement, such as the Landless Movement, may be labeled as terrorist, revives old fears of the Brazilian left and accentuates social polarization.
Flag of the Movimento Dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra (MST)
article / Túlio Dias de Assis
At the last Berlin Film Festival, the famous Brazilian actor and filmmaker Wagner Moura presented a somewhat controversial film, "Marighella". The film portrays the life of a character from recent Brazilian history, loved by some and hated by others: Carlos Marighella, leader of the Ação Libertadora Nacional. This organization was a revolutionary guerrilla manager of several attacks against the military dictatorial regime that ruled Brazil between 1964 and 1985. For this reason, the film provoked very different reactions: for some, it is the just exaltation of an authentic martyr of the anti-fascist struggle; for others, it is an apology of armed guerrilla terrorism. This small ideological dispute about "Marighella", although it may seem insignificant, is the reflection of an old wound in Brazilian politics that is reopened every time the country discussion on the need for anti-terrorist legislation.
The concept of anti-terrorism legislation is something that has taken hold in many parts of the world, especially in the West after 9/11. However, this notion is not so common in Latin America, probably due to the infrequency of attacks of this type subject suffered by the region. However, the lack of attacks does not imply that there is no presence of such movements in American countries; in fact, several of them are known to be a "refuge" for such organizations, as is the case in the Triple Frontier, the contact area between the borders of Argentina, Brazil and Paraguay. What happens in that area is largely due to the lack of direct and effective legislation against organized terrorism by national governments.
In the case of Brazil, as in some of its neighboring countries, the lack of anti-terrorism legislation is due to the historical fear on the part of leftist parties of its possible use against social movements of a certain aggressive nature. In Brazil, this was already reflected in the political transition of the late 1980s, when there was a clear protest by the PT(Partido dos Trabalhadores), then under the leadership of Luiz Inácio "Lula" da Silva, against any attempt to introduce the anti-terrorist concept into legislation. Curiously, the 1988 Federal Constitution itself mentions the word "terrorism" twice: first, as something to be rejected in Brazilian foreign policy, and second, as one of the unforgivable crimes against the Federation. In spite of this, no attempt to define this crime was successful, and although after the 9/11 attacks discussions about a possible law were resumed, the Labor left - already during Lula's presidency - continued to justify its refusal by invoking the persecution carried out by the dictatorship's board Militar. See that the same former president Dilma Rousseff was imprisoned for being part of the VAR-Palmares(Vanguarda Armada Revolucionária Palmares), an extreme left-wing revolutionary group that was part of the armed civil service examination to the regime.
Terrorist threat at the Olympic Games
During the PT's terms of office (2003-2016) there was no subject legislative initiative by the Government on topic; moreover, any other project arising from the Legislature, whether the Senate or the Chamber of Deputies, was blocked by the Executive. Often the Government also justified its position by alluding to a supposed "neutrality", hiding behind the desire not to get involved in external conflicts. This attitude would lead to several fugitives accused of participating or collaborating in attacks in other countries taking refuge in Brazil. However, in mid-2015, as the start of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro approached, the risk of a possible attack in the face of such an important event was assessed. This, together with pressure from the right wing at congress (bear in mind that Rousseff won the 2014 elections with a very narrow margin of less than 1%), led the Petista government to ask the parliament to draft a concise definition of terrorism and other related crimes, such as those related to financing. Finally, the first Brazilian anti-terrorism law was signed by Rousseff in March 2016. Although this is the "official" version of that process, there are not few who defend that the real reason for the implementation of the law was the pressure exerted by the FATF (group Financial Action Task Force against Money Laundering, created by the G8), since this entity had threatened to include Brazil in the list of non-cooperative countries against terrorism.
The Brazilian anti-terrorism law was effective, as it served as the legal framework for the so-called Operação Hardware. Through this operation, the Brazilian Federal Police managed to arrest several suspects of a DAESH branch operating in Brazil, who were planning to carry out an attack during the Rio Olympics. Federal Judge Marcos Josegrei da Silva convicted eight suspects for membership to an Islamic terrorist group , in the first sentence of this kind subject in the history of Brazil. The judge's decision was quite controversial at the time, largely due to Brazilian society's unfamiliarity with this subject risky . As a result, many Brazilians, including part of the press, criticized the "disproportionality" with which the defendants were treated.
Since then, Brazil has come to be considered as a sort of example among South American countries in the fight against terrorism. However, it does not seem that the status quo maintained during the end of the Rousseff administration and the short term of Temer will remain intact for long. This is due to the fiery discussion stirred up by the Bolsonarista right wing, which advocates for the criminal activities of several far-left groups, especially the MST(Movimento Dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra) to be classified as terrorism. The MST is the largest agrarian social movement, Marxist in nature, and is known nationally for its occupations of lands that the group considers "useless or underutilized" in order to "put them to better use". The ineffectiveness of the State in stopping the invasions of private property carried out by the MST has been recurrently denounced in the congress, especially during the PT government years, without major consequences. However, now that the right wing has greater weight, the discussion has come back to life and not a few deputies have already mentioned their intention to seek to denounce the Landless Movement as a terrorist organization. Bolsonaro himself has been a fierce advocate of outlawing the MST.
Also, at the same time that the current Minister of Justice, Sergio Moro, announces the possibility of the creation of an anti-terrorist intelligence system, following the model of his American counterpart, and the congress discussion the expansion of the current list of terrorist organizations to include groups such as Hezbollah, other Brazilian politicians have decided to launch in the Senate a proposal legislation to criminalize the actions of the MST. If approved, this initiative would make real the fear that the left has invoked all these years. After all, this is not the best way to fulfill the promise of "governing for all". Moreover, such a disproportionate measure for this subject of activities would only increase the already intense political polarization present today in Brazilian society: it would be tantamount to rubbing salt in an old wound, one that seemed to be about to heal.
The illicit money outflows to foreign safe havens is another negative impact suffered by countries of origin
The people smuggling networks, like any other organised crime groups that operate across different countries, are very sophisticated, not only in their operational structure but also in the organisation of their finances. Fighting against money laundering internationally and against the outflow of the illicit profits from the countries of origin should ameliorate the severe burden that people smuggling means for a lot of African nations.
A rescue of refugees in the Mediterranean Sea [Spain's Navy] ▲ A rescue of refugees in the Mediterranean Sea [Spain's Navy].
ARTICLE / Pablo Arbuniés
According to the UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency, 116,000 migrants crossed the Mediterranean from North Africa to Europe in 2018 and more than 2,200 died in the process. The majority of these migrants are believed to have used smuggling services. This flow of irregular migrants moves around 4 billion euros yearly worldwide and has a crucial impact on African economies.
People smuggling is possible due to the constant interaction and cooperation of many specialised networks. These networks are part of different Organized Crime Groups (OCGs) across many different countries, constituting an even bigger highly-organised network. The global smuggling network provides a wide range of different "services" including other illegal features such as document fraud, and involves a certain degree of infiltration in both sending and host societies (1).
Separation of tasks is extremely important for the survival of the business, as a well-organised network is less vulnerable to criminal investigations, and if the investigations succeed, only small units of the network are exposed. The migration process can be divided into three main stages: mobilization, requirements en route and integration into the destination countries. Each stage is managed by one or more specialised networks that can be independent actors or part of a bigger network.
The process of mobilization involves the recruitment of the migrants in their countries of origin. At this point, it is important to remark that recruiters will only deal with "clients" of their same nationality. After the recruitment, the smugglers ensure them a safe passage to the meeting points located in Khartoum (Sudan) and Agadez (Niger). These cities, respectively located in the south-eastern and south-western entrances of the Sahara, serve as focal communication points and are home to some networks' headquarters. From here, another part of the network takes charge of the migrants and safeguards their journey to Libya often crossing the Sahara on foot. Once in Libya the migrants go under the custody of a third network that takes them to the coast of either Tripoli or Benghazi with the paid protection of the local militias, and once on the coast they can finally embark on one of the overcrowded boats that hopefully will take them to the closest European islands, often being Lampedusa and Malta the destination.
This journey is very expensive for the migrants, as they have to pay the different smugglers in each step. However, the exact prices are hard to estimate due to the scarce reliable sources on the subject and the heterogeneity of the networks involved. Moreover, not only is it expensive, it is also extremely dangerous, with a vast number of fatalities all along this odyssey. Only in 2016, a record number 4,720 migrants died in the Mediterranean Sea according to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and the number of deaths in the Sahara is impossible to estimate. However, the variety of offers can provide much safer-and thus much more expensive-options such as embarking on a plane with false documentation, which grants the clients a non-existing risk of dying during the journey and a much lower risk of being caught and deported.
As we can see, people smuggling networks offer a wide range of services and prices in order to best suit the demands and financial capabilities of their potential clients, just like any other successful business in the world, involving different forms of interaction and cooperation. Indeed, these networks operate as cartels with centralized systems of management and planning. Another critical part of the business is the gathering of information, mainly about border patrols, changing routes and armed militias that could be a threat or potential co-workers, but also on asylum procedures. This information gathering is tasked to a core group of individuals that manage the constant flows of information and have access to well organised and centralised communication systems.
To deal with the overwhelming amounts of money involved in the process, these networks need a highly organised financial branch, able to deal with the payments and also to launder the money obtained and reinvest it on other legal or illegal activities.
Money laundering and impact in the local economies
International smuggling of migrants is said to move around 4 billion euros yearly all around the world. According to Frontex, most of this money is used to fund other illegal activities such as drugs trafficking or buying weapons to reinforce the network's power. But also, a big amount of money is laundered in order to be invested in legal activities or to be transferred to tax havens.
The money moved by these networks which carry illegal activities is classified as Illicit Financial Flows (IFFs), which we can define as illegal movements of money or capital from one country to another, or those in which the funds have been illegally obtained, transferred or utilized. IFFs are considered very harmful for developing economies such as the ones we can find in Africa, because usually they involve international monetary aids leaving the country for tax havens instead of being utilised according to their intended ends.
In order to launder the money, the most complex networks have what we could consider to be accountancy branches, just like any other OCGs around the world. These accountancy branches seek to place the money outside the countries of origin or operation in order to avoid scrutiny and look for stable economies with predictable financial systems and weak anti-money laundering policies. There they can diversify their investment portfolios and spread the risk without a major threat of being caught by Financial Intelligence Units (FUIs). OCGs seek to invest in products that move extremely quickly in the market such as food products, which makes tracking the money even harder.
An interesting case of money laundering takes place in Europe involving the Pink Panthers, a Serbian band of thieves formed during the Yugoslavian war and now extended as a method, which only reinvested their profits in their cities of origin back in Serbia. These investments proved to be very beneficial to local economies and helped the country fight the devastating effect of the war. In the same way, IFFs originated by people smugglers could in some way be beneficial for the receiving countries, but in reality only a small part of the network's income is reinvested in Africa, and overall, the continent loses a big amount of money in favour of tax havens and funding other illicit activities. In addition, we shall not forget that the source of these funds are illegal activities involving violence and connected to other illicit activities.
In conclusion, it is crucial for the development of the continent to efficiently tackle not only money laundering but also all kinds of IFFs such as tax evasion, international bribery and the recovery of stolen assets. This is an indispensable step in order to have the financial stability required for a sustainable economic development. Moreover, repatriation on flight capital should be prioritized, as it would help a higher sustainable growth without depending on external borrowing and development funds.
Main routes for African irregular migrants [UNODC, before Sudan's split].
The case of Nigeria
We must take into consideration that Nigeria had often been referred in the past as the most corrupt country in the world, and it has serious problems involving money laundering and capital flight. In addition, effectively tackling money laundering could potentially cut the finances of the terrorist group Boko Haram, which operates in the north of the country. These financial characteristics added to the inefficiency of the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) and its dependence from the government, made Nigeria a very suitable country for money laundering.
In 2017, the Egmont Group, a body of 159 national Financial Intelligence Units focused on money laundering and terrorist financing, suspended Nigeria from its membership due to the lack of a legal framework and its dependence from Nigeria's state Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
However, in the past months the Nigerian government, headed by Muhammadu Buhari, has been an example on how to tackle money laundering and deal with the institutional problems that it involves. In March 2018, the parliament passed a new law that aims to tackle money laundering and funding for terrorism by allowing its financial technology unit to operate independently from the control of the state, thus eliminating the unnecessary bureaucracy that used to slow down the investigations. More precisely, this law makes the NFIU an independent body able to share information and to cooperate with its counterparts in other states.
The international community showed its conformity with the new legislation and the NFIU was readmitted in the Egmont Group in July. Whether these policies will fulfil their potential or not, only time can tell.
(1) Salt, J. and Stein, J. (1997). Migration as a Business: The Case of Trafficking.
[Francisco Pascual de la Parte, The returning empire. The Ukrainian War 2014-2017: Origin, development, international environment and consequences. Editions of the University of Oviedo. Oviedo, 2017. 470 pages]
REVIEW / Vitaliy Stepanyuk[English version].
In this research on the War of Ukraine and the Russian intervention in the confrontation, the author analyses the conflict focusing on its precedents and the international context in which it is developing. For that purpose, he also analyses with special emphasis the relations of Russia with other states, particularly since the fall of the USSR. Above everything, this study encompasses the interaction of Russia with the United States, the European Union, the surrounding countries resulted from the disintegration of the USSR (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania...), the Caucasus, Central Asian republics (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan...), China and the participation of Russia in the Middle East conflict. All these relations have, in some way, repercussions on the Ukrainian conflict or are a consequence of this conflict.
The book is structured, as the author himself explains in its first pages, in such a way that it allows different manners of reading it. For those who want to have a general knowledge of the Ukrainian issue, they could only read the beginning of the book, which gives a brief overview of the conflict from two completely different perspectives. For those who want also to understand the historical environment which led to the conflict, they may also read the Introduction. Chapter II explains the origin of Russian suspicion towards liberal ideas and Western inability to understand Russian social concerns and changes. Those people who would like to assimilate the conflict in all its details and understand its political, strategic, legal, economic, military and cultural consequences should read the rest of the book. Finally, those who just want to comprehend the possible solutions to the dispute can directly read the last two chapters. At the end of the book, readers can also find both a wide bibliography used to write this volume and some appendices with documents, texts and maps relevant to the study of the conflict.
The Ukrainian issue started at the end of 2013 with the protests on Kiev's Maidan Square. Almost six years after that, the conflict seems to have fallen in the oversight, but the truth is that war is still going on and that the end to it is not visible yet. When it started, it was a clash nobody expected. Hundreds of people came out to the streets asking for better life conditions and the end of corruption. Mass average made a wide coverage of all that happened, and all the world was conscious and up-to-date with what was occurring in Ukraine. Initially held in a peaceful way, the protests turned violent because of the repressions of the government forces. The president fled the country and a new government, which was pro-European oriented and accepted by the majority of the citizens, was established. However, this achievement was responded by the Russian intervention in Ukrainian territory, resulting in the illegal annexation of the Crimean Peninsula, claiming that they were just protecting their Russian citizens there. Besides, an armed conflict started in the Donbass region, in the East side of Ukraine, between Ukrainian troops and a separatist movement supported by Russia.
This is just a brief summary of how the conflict originated but, actually, it is much more complex than it seems. According to the book, Ukrainian War is not an isolated conflict which happened unexpectedly. In fact, the author argues that the reaction of Russia was quite presumable in those years, because of the internal and external conditions of the country directed by Putin and the ideas that had arisen in Russian mentality. There were eight warnings of what could happen in Ukraine and nobody realized it: some examples are civilian protests in Kazakhstan in 1986, the War of Nagorno Karabakh (a region between Armenia and Azerbaijan) started in 1988, the war of Transnistria (in Moldova) started in 1990, the separatist movements in Abkhazia and South Ossetia (two regions of Georgia)... Russia normally supported and helped separatist movements, alleging in some cases that it had to protect the Russian minorities that were living in those places. This was a quite clear image of Russia's position towards its surrounding neighbors and it reflected that, despite having accepted at the beginning the independence of these former Soviet republics after the fall of the USSR, Russia was not interested in losing its sphere and power of influence in those regions.
One interesting idea shown in the book is the fact that, even though the USSR collapsed and the Soviet institutions disappeared, the idea of a strong empire, the distrust and rivalry with the West powers and the concept of a strong State comprising all the power remained present. All these topics didn't extinguished but survived, and they shape nowadays Russian internal and external politics, defining especially Kremlin's relations with foreign powers. The essence of the USSR persisted under another flag, because the Soviet elites remained without being condemned or imprisoned. Some people could also reason that the survival of the Soviet thought and State's Power is due to the ineffective reformation process hold by the West liberal powers in the USSR after its fall. We have to bear in mind that the sudden incursion of West customs and ideas in a Russian society not prepared to assimilate them, without an organized and ruled strategy to adapt to that change, provoked horrible impacts in the people of Russia. By the end of the nineties, the majority of Russians were thinking that the introduction of the so called "democratic reforms" and free market, with their unexpected results of a massive scale corruption and social deterioration, had been a great mistake.
In that sense, the arrival of Putin meant the establishment of order in a chaotic society, even though it meant the end of democratic reforms. Besides, the people of Russia saw in Putin a leader capable of facing the Western powers (not as Yeltsin, the previous Russian president, who had had a weak position towards them) and taking Russia to the place it should occupy: Russia as a great empire.
One of the main consequences of the Ukrainian conflict is that the context of the relations between Russia and the Western powers has frozen in a dramatic way. Even though their relations were bad after the collapse of the USSR, those relations deteriorated much more because of the annexation of Crimea and the War in Ukraine.
The Kremlin adopted suspicion as a principle (especially towards the West). Concurrently, Russia was encouraging cooperation with China, Egypt, Syria, Venezuela, Iran, India, Brazil and South Africa as a means to face NATO, the EU and the United States. On the one side, president Putin wanted to reduce the weight of that Western powers in the international economic sphere. On the other side, Russia also started to develop stronger relations with alternative countries in order to face the economic sanctions imposed to it by the European Union. Because of these two reasons, Russia created the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), constituted in May 2014, with the objective of constructing an economic integration on the basis of a customs union. Nowadays, the EAEU is composed by five members: Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia.
In addition, Russia has extremely denounced NATO's expansion to the East European countries. Moreover, the Kremlin has expressed this issue as an excuse in order to start the development of a strong military and establishing new alliances. Together with some allies, Russia has organized some massive military trainings near Poland's and Balkan States' borders. In turn, Russia is also working to create disputes among NATO members and weaken the organization.
Particularly, the Ukrainian conflict has also shown the differences between Russian determination and the West indecision, meaning that Russia was capable of carrying out violent and illegal measures without being responded with strong and concrete solutions by the West. It could be analyzed that Russia uses, above all, hard power, taking advantage of economic (the sale of oil and gas for example) and military means in order to dictate another nation's actions through coercion. Its use of soft power occupies, in some way, a subordinate place.
According to some analysts, the hybrid warfare of Russia against the West included not only troops, weapons and computers (hackers), but also the creation of "frozen conflicts" (for example, the Syrian war) which established Russia as an indispensable part to solve those conflicts, and the use of propaganda, mass average and their Services of Intelligence. In addition, the Kremlin was also involved in financing other countries' pro-Russian political parties.
Russian activity is incomprehensible if we don't take into consideration the strong and powerful propaganda (even more powerful than the USSR propaganda system) used by Russian authorities to justify Government's behavior both towards its own people and towards the international community. One of the most used argument is blaming the United States for all the conflicts that are occurring in the world and justifying Russia's actions as a reaction to an aggressive position of the United States. According to Russian average, United States' supposedly main objective was to oppress Russia and foment global disorder. In that sense, Russian general tendency was to replace the liberal democracy by the national idea, with great exaltations to patriotism in order to create a sense of unity, against a defined adversary, the liberal-democratic States and International Organizations.
Another interesting topic is the deep explanation made by the author about how different is Russian's vision of the world, security, relations among nations, Rule of Law... in comparison with the Western conceptions. Whereas The West is centered on the defense and application of International Law, Russia claims the idea that each country is responsible for its own security, taking any measure needed (even if it contradicts International Law or any International Treaty or Agreement). Definitely, what is seen nowadays is a New Cold War consisting in a bloc of liberal-democratic States, which tend to the achievement of a wide trade and globalized finances, against another bloc of the main totalitarian and capitalist-authoritarian regimes, with a clear tendency towards militarization.
Success and perspective
It gives a profound and wide view of what is nowadays Russian external politics. It highlights the idea that the Ukrainian conflict is not an isolated dispute, rather a conflict that is inserted in a much more complex web of circumstances. By means of reading this book, one can realize that international relations don't function as a patterned and structured mechanism, but as a field were countries have different views about how the world is established and about which should be the rules that comprise it. We could say that there is a struggle nowadays between a Liberalist view (which emphasizes international cooperation and the rejection of power as the only way to act in the international sphere -supported by the West) and a Realistic view (which explains the foreign affairs in terms of power, state-centrism and anarchy -supported by Russia) of International Relations.
One of the strong points of the book is that it displays different stances of a lot of analysts about the conflict, with critics to both Russian and Western activities. This enables the reader to compare the conflict under different perspectives and acquire a complete and critical view of the topic. Moreover, readers could also learn and comprehend the actual state of things of other countries of Eastern Europe, Central Asia and the Caucasus, regions which are almost unknown in the Western society.
The book is an excellent research work, which enables anyone who reads it to be able to examine the complicated reality that surrounds the Ukrainian War and to go in depth in the study of the relations among nations.
[Francisco Pascual de la Parte, The returning empire. The Ukrainian War 2014-2017: Origin, development, international environment and consequences. Editions of the University of Oviedo. Oviedo, 2017. 470 pages]
review / Vitaliy Stepanyuk[English version].
In this research on the Ukrainian war and the Russian intervention in the confrontation, the author analyzes the conflict focusing on its precedents and the international context in which it develops. For that purpose, he also analyzes with special emphasis Russia's relations with other states, particularly since the fall of the USSR. Above all, this study covers Russia's interaction with the United States, the European Union, the neighboring countries that emerged from the disintegration of the USSR (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania...), the Caucasus, the Central Asian republics (Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan...), China and Russia's involvement in the Middle East conflict. All these relations have, in some way, repercussions on the Ukrainian conflict or are a consequence of it.
The book is structured, as the author himself explains in its first pages, in such a way that it allows for different ways of reading it. For those who wish to have a general knowledge of the Ukrainian question, they can read only the beginning of the book, which gives a brief description of the conflict from its two national perspectives. Those who also want to understand the historical background that led to the confrontation can also read the introduction. The second chapter explains the origin of Russian suspicion towards liberal ideas and the Western inability to understand Russian concerns and social changes. Those who wish to assimilate the conflict in all its details and understand its political, strategic, legal, economic, military and cultural consequences should read the rest of the book. Finally, those who just want to understand the possible solutions to the dispute can skip directly to the last two chapters. In the final pages, readers can also find an extensive bibliography used to write this volume and some appendices with documents, texts and maps relevant to the study of the conflict.
The Ukraine problem began in late 2013 with the protests at the place Maidan in Kiev. Almost six years later, the conflict seems to have lost international interest, but the truth is that the war continues and its end is not yet in sight. When it started, it was a shock no one expected. Hundreds of people took to the streets demanding better living conditions and an end to corruption. The international media made extensive coverage of what was happening, and everyone was aware of the news about Ukraine. Initially held peacefully, the protests turned violent due to repression by government forces. The president fled the country and a new, pro-European oriented government was established and accepted by the majority of citizens. However, this achievement was met by Russian intervention in Ukrainian territory, which resulted in the illegal annexation of the Crimean peninsula, in an action that Russia justified on the grounds that they were only protecting the Russian population living there. In addition, an armed conflict began in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine between Ukrainian troops and a Russian-backed separatist movement.
This is just a brief summary of how the conflict originated, but certainly things are more complex. According to the book, the Ukrainian war is not an isolated conflict that happened unexpectedly. In fact, the author argues that Russia's reaction was quite presumable in those years, due to the internal and external conditions in the country, generated by Putin's attitude and by the Russian mentality. The author lists warnings of what could happen in Ukraine and nobody noticed: civil protests in Kazakhstan in 1986, the Nagorno Karabakh War (a region between Armenia and Azerbaijan) started in 1988, the Transnistrian war (in Moldova) started in 1990, separatist movements in Abkhazia and South Ossetia (two regions of Georgia).... Russia usually supported and helped the separatist movements, claiming in some cases that it had to protect the Russian minorities living in those places. This gave a fairly clear idea of Russia's position towards its neighbors and reflected that, despite having initially accepted the independence of these former Soviet republics after the fall of the USSR, Russia was not interested in losing its influence in these regions.
An interesting idea that is sample in the book is the fact that, although the USSR collapsed and Soviet institutions disappeared, the yearning for a strong empire remained, as well as the distrust and rivalry with the Western powers. These issues shape Russia's domestic and foreign policy, especially defining the Kremlin's relations with the other powers. The essence of the USSR persisted under another banner, because the Soviet elites remained undisturbed. One might think that the survival of these Soviet inertias is due to the ineffective reform process sustained by the Western liberal powers in the USSR after its collapse. But it should be noted that the sudden incursion of Western customs and ideas into a Russian society unprepared to assimilate them, without a strategy aimed at facilitating such change, had a negative impact on the Russian people. By the end of the 1990s, most Russians thought that the introduction of so-called "democratic reforms" and the free market, with its unexpected results of massive corruption and social deterioration, had been a big mistake.
In that sense, Putin's arrival meant the establishment of order in a chaotic society, although it meant the end of democratic reforms. Moreover, the people of Russia saw in Putin a leader capable of standing up to the Western powers (unlike Yeltsin, the previous Russian president, who had had a weak position towards them) and bringing Russia to the place it should occupy: Russia as a great empire.
One of the main consequences of the Ukrainian conflict is that the context of relations between Russia and the Western powers has frozen dramatically. Although their relations were bad after the collapse of the USSR, those relations deteriorated much further due to the annexation of Crimea and the war in Ukraine.
The Kremlin adopted suspicion, especially of the West, as a basic principle. At the same time, Russia fostered cooperation with China, Egypt, Syria, Venezuela, Iran, India, Brazil and South Africa as a means of confronting NATO, the EU and the United States. On the one hand, President Putin wanted to reduce the weight of Western powers in the international economic sphere; on the other hand, Russia also began to develop stronger relations with alternative countries in order to confront the economic sanctions imposed by the European Union. Due to these two reasons, Russia created the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), formed in May 2014, with the goal to build economic integration on the basis of a customs union. Today, the EAEU consists of five members: Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Russia.
In addition, Russia has been extremely vocal in denouncing NATO's expansion into Eastern European countries. The Kremlin has used this topic as an excuse to strengthen its army and establish new alliances. Together with some allies, Russia has organized massive military trainings near the borders of Poland and the Balkan countries. It is also working to create disputes among NATO members and weaken the organization.
In particular, the Ukrainian conflict has also shown the differences between Russian determination and Western indecisiveness, meaning that Russia has been able to carry out violent and illegal measures without being met with solid and concrete solutions from the West. Arguably, Russia uses, above all, hard power, taking advantage of economic (the sale of oil and gas, for example) and military means to dictate the actions of another nation through coercion. Its use of soft power occupies, in some ways, a subordinate place.
According to some analysts, Russia's hybrid war against the West includes not only troops, weapons and computers (hackers), but also the creation of "frozen conflicts" (e.g., the Syrian war) that has established Russia as an indispensable party in conflict resolution, and the use of propaganda, the media and its intelligence services. In addition, the Kremlin was also involved in the financing of pro-Russian political parties in other countries.
Russian activity is incomprehensible if we do not take into consideration the strong and powerful propaganda (even more powerful than the propaganda system of the USSR) used by the Russian authorities to justify the behavior of the Government towards its own citizens and towards the international community. One of the most commonly used arguments is to blame the United States for all the conflicts that are occurring in the world and to justify Russia's actions as a reaction to an aggressive American position. According to the Russian media, the goal allegedly main U.S. goal is to oppress Russia and foment global disorder. In that sense, the general Russian tendency is to replace liberal democracy with the national idea, with great patriotic exaltations to create a sense of unity, against a definite adversary, the states with liberal democracies and the International Organizations.
Another interesting topic is the author's explanation of how different Russia's view of the world, security, relations between nations or the rule of law is compared to Western conceptions. While the West focuses on defense and enforcement of international law, Russia claims that each country is manager of its own security and takes all necessary measures in this regard (even if it contradicts international law or any international treaty or agreement ). Definitely, what we see today is a New Cold War consisting of a bloc of liberal-democratic states, tending towards the achievement of extensive globalized trade and finance, against another bloc of major totalitarian and capitalist-authoritarian regimes, with a clear tendency towards militarization.
Successes and outlook
The book offers a deep and broad view of what Russian foreign policy is today. It highlights the idea that the Ukrainian conflict is not an isolated dispute, but a conflict that is embedded in a much more complex network of circumstances. He makes it clear that the International Office does not function as a structured and patterned mechanism, but as a field where countries have different views on how the world is governed and what its rules should be. We could say that there is a struggle between a liberal vision supported by the West, which emphasizes international cooperation and the rejection of power as the only way to act in the international sphere, and a realist vision, defended by Russia, which explains foreign affairs in terms of power, state centralism and anarchy.
One of the strengths of the book is that sample presents the different positions of many different analysts, with criticisms of both Russian and Western activities. This allows the reader to examine the conflict from different perspectives and to acquire a comprehensive and critical view of topic. In addition, the text financial aid to learn and understand the real state of affairs in other countries of Eastern Europe, Central Asia and the Caucasus, regions little known in Western society.
This is an excellent work from research, which allows to examine the complicated reality surrounding the war in Ukraine and to deepen the study of relations between nations.
degree program between the armed forces of the major powers to develop and incorporate laser systems
With the development of laser weapons, the use of intercontinental missiles may no longer make sense, as they can be easily intercepted and shot down without causing collateral damage. Thus, the nuclear threat will have to turn to other possibilities, and laser weapons will most likely become the new object of desire of the armed forces.
▲ High energy tactical laser [US Army].
article / Isabella León
Since before World War II, when the British government offered more than $76,000 to anyone who could design a beam weapon that could kill a sheep at 100 meters, technology in this field has come a long way. In 1960 Theodore Maiman invented the first laser and that accelerated the research to develop deadly beams capable of destroying any device sent by the enemy and at the same time generate significant damage to electrical components through a secondary radiation effect. Today the progress in this subject is valued as the greatest military breakthrough since the atomic bomb.
Laser weapons are valued because of their speed, agility, accuracy, cost-effectiveness and anti-jamming properties. These weapons are literally a beam of light moving coherently, so they can hit targets at a speed of 300,000 kilometers per second, intercept numerous targets or the same goal many times, reach goal with extreme accuracy without collateral damage, and resist electromagnetic interference. They are also much cheaper than conventional munitions, at a cost of one dollar per laser shot.
However, laser weapons have some limitations: they require a large amount of power, a size and weight adapted to military platforms and effective thermal management. In addition, their structure depends on the composition of their targets (wavelengths are absorbed or reflected depending on the surface characteristics of the material), the different ranges they must reach and the different environments and atmospheric effects to which they will be subjected. These aspects affect the behavior of the weapon.
However, despite these limitations, the major powers have long been betting on the immense potential of this technology as a strategic weapon.
The U.S. Defense department has worked extensively to contribute to the development of the laser weapon system in specific protective fields, such as the U.S. Navy, Army and Air Force.
At department naval defense is particularly involved in this field. The Navy has developed what is known as the Laser Weapon System (LaWS) which consists of a solid-state, fiber-optic laser that acts as an attached weapon, and is linked to a rapid-fire anti-missile system, as a defensive and offensive weapon for aircraft. The LaWS is goal intended to shoot down small drones and damage small ships at a range of approximately one mile.
The most recent developments have been awarded to the multinational company Lockheed Martin, with a $150 million contract, for the advancement of two high-power laser weapon systems, known as HELIOS, which will be the successor to LaWS. This is the first system to blend a high-energy laser with long-range intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities, and its goal is to destroy and blind drones and small craft.
The Army is also experimenting with laser weapon systems for installation on armored vehicles and helicopters. In 2017, the Armed Forces Strategic Command (ARSTRAT) armed a Stryker with a high-energy laser and developed the Boeing HEL MD, its first high-energy mobile laser, with a counter missile, artillery and mortar (C-RAM) platform, consisting of a 10kW solid-state laser. Simultaneously, research has been conducted to reach 50 kW and 100 kW of power.
On the other hand, the Air Force wants to attach lasers to fighter jets, drones and cargo planes to attack ground and airborne targets. In fact, the Army has continued its research to test its first airborne laser weapons in 2021. One of its programs is a 227kg Gamma that delivers 13.3kW and whose structure allows many laser modules to combine and produce a 100kW light.
Lockheed Martin has also been awarded another contract for business to work on a new laser turret for aircraft, implementing a beam that controls 360 Degrees to shoot down enemy aircraft and missiles above, below and behind the aircraft. The system has undergone many tests and emerged in the project SHiELD, whose goal is to generate a high-power laser weapon for tactical combat aircraft by 2021.
In recent years China has implemented opening-up policies that have put the nation on contact with the rest of the world. The same process has been accompanied by a modernization of its military equipment that has become source of concern to its strategic rivals. In fact, there have been several diplomatic confrontations in this regard. With this modernization, China has developed a five-ton chemical laser system that will be located in the leave Earth orbit by 2023.
China divides its laser weapons system into two groups: strategic and tactical. The former are high-power, airborne or ground-based, and are intended to intercept ICBMs and satellites thousands of kilometers away at goal . The second are low power, generally used for short range air defense or defense staff. These targets are unmanned aerial vehicles, missiles and slow-flying aircraft with effective ranges between a few meters and 12 kilometers away.
Among the most striking Chinese innovations is the Silent Hunter, a 30 to 100kW vehicle-based laser weapon with a range of 4 kilometers, capable of cutting through 5 mm thick steel at a distance of one kilometer. This system was first used at the Hangzhou G20 Summit as a means of protection.
Also of note are innovations such as individual laser weapons, which are laser guns that blind enemy combatants or their electro-optical devices. Within this category are the BBQ-905 and WJG-2002 dazzling laser rifles, and the PY132A and PY131A blinding laser weapon.
Little is known about the level of Russia's laser-related capabilities. However, in December last year, a representative of the Russian Defense Ministry, Krasnaya Zvezda, referred to the Peresvet laser system, which is part of the country's ongoing military modernization program. The objectives are very clear, to shoot down hostile missiles and aircraft, and to blind the enemy's system.
Russia presumably has an extensive research field at this subject, as its arms policy and behavior has been one of constant skill and rivalry with the United States.
Germany's bet in relation to laser technology is the Rheinmetall laser weapons demonstrator, which consists of 50kW of power and is the successor to the latest 10 kW version. This system was designed for air defense, asymmetric warfare and C-RAM operations. The Rheinmetall laser is composed of two laser modules mounted on Oerlikon Revolver Gun air defense turrets. It achieved a destructive 50kW laser with the combination of Rheinmetall's beam overlap technology to focus a 30kW laser and a 20 kW laser at the same location.
The future of laser weapons
When talking about laser weapons, the first thing to keep in mind is the tremendous impact that this technology will have in military terms, which will make it decisive on the battlefield. In fact, many other countries with a constantly modernizing military have implemented this system: this is the case of France in the Rafale F3-R aircraft; the United Kingdom with the Dragonfire high-energy laser, or even Israel, which in the face of the growing missile threat has accelerated the development of this technology.
Today many ships, aircraft, and land vehicles are being designed and assembled in such a way that they can accommodate the installation of laser weapons. Continuous improvements are being made to create longer ranges, increased energy, and adaptive beams. It can thus be argued that the time for laser weapons has finally arrived.
With the development of this technology, military equipment such as ICBM missiles or UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles), mainly, could cease to make sense, since laser weapons are capable of intercepting and shooting down these missiles, without causing collateral damage. In the end, launching the ICBM would be a waste of energy, ammunition and money. Thus, the nuclear threat will have to turn to other possibilities, and laser weapons will most likely be the new emphasis of the armed forces.
In addition, it is important to highlight the fact that this military innovation drives international security towards defense, rather than offensive actions. For this reason, laser weapons would not cancel the tensions in the international sphere, but they could somehow decrease the chances of a military confrontation.
The meeting COP24 made progress on regulating the Paris agreement , but "carbon markets" remained blocked.
Mobilisations for governments to take more drastic action on climate change can make us forget that many countries are taking real steps to reduce greenhouse gases. Although international summits often fall short of expectations, climate agreements are gradually making headway. Here are the results of the last such summit: a small step, admittedly, but a step forward.
Plenary session of COP24, held in December in Katowice (Poland) [COP24].
article / Sandra Redondo
The climate summit (also known as COP: Conference of the Parties) is a global lecture prepared by the United Nations, where measures and actions related to climate policy are negotiated. The last one, dubbed COP24, took place from 2 to 14 December 2018, in the Polish city of Katowice. It was attended by around 3,000 delegates from 197 countries that are party to the United Nations Convention on Climate Change framework . Among them were politicians, representatives of non-governmental organisations, members of the academic community and the business sector.
The first COP took place in 1995, and since then these summits have led to the creation of the Kyotoprotocol (COP3, 1997) and the Parisagreement (COP21, 2015), among other mechanisms for international action. The main goal of the quotation in Katowice was to find a way to implement the 2015 Paris agreement , i.e. to implement cuts in pollutant emissions to avoid an increase in global warming. COP24 was the last summit before 2020, when the Paris agreement will enter into force.
goal The 2015 Paris Agreement agreement was signed by 194 countries with the aim of preventing pollutant emissions, which cause the greenhouse effect, from increasing the planet's temperature above two degrees Celsius Degrees compared to pre-industrial levels. Degrees The international community is calling for a concerted effort to ensure that the temperature increase does not exceed 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. The summit aimed to create a clear, concrete and common outline to be followed by all countries in order to make agreement a reality.
One of the challenges in achieving this goal lies in establishing a balance that allows all nations to participate in this struggle, but taking into account the reality of each one of them: the different technological and financial capacities, as well as the circumstances of vulnerability and historical contamination. As countries with great differences among them are involved, the task of reaching consensus is understandably difficult. This was one of the measures intended to be implemented from the Paris agreement , in which governments pledged to help countries at development to achieve greater and more permanent adaptation.
In the words of Patricia Espinosa, UN Climate Change Executive administrative assistant , in addition to measures to make the Paris agreement effective, it is important to "promote a cultural change in the ways our societies produce and consume in order to rethink our models of development".
Wang Yi, China's foreign minister, said that his country reaffirms that only a joint work among all countries will provide an effective solution in the fight against climate change.
At these summits, agreements must be accepted by all participating states, which can cause negotiations to drag on. This is what happened at COP24. Negotiations were scheduled to end on Friday, but dragged on until the final agreement was reached the following day. The final text, C by all countries in attendance, turned out to be less ambitious than expected, especially on reference letter on greenhouse gas emission cuts.
Despite the declarations of willingness of some countries, certain tensions were inevitable in the negotiations, especially when it came to the assumption that more ambition is needed in this fight. On the one side was the conservative side, with countries such as the United States (which is one of the countries that contributes the most CO2 per capita to global warming) and Saudi Arabia among others. On the other side were the European Union and other states, some of them island states, threatened by rising sea levels, which will continue to rise as a result of rising global temperatures.
Another cause of delay was a demand from Turkey at the last minute to improve financing conditions. With regard to financing, the final agreement acknowledges that more resources need to be devoted to this fight, particularly to the reduction of greenhouse gases.
report of the International Panel on Change
In addition to the measures and cuts that were agreed at this summit, a declaration was to be made with the conclusions of the experts'report group Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which would warn that the world does not have much time left to avoid the worst consequences of climate change.
This report, which was one of the big battles of the summit, details what will happen if the global temperature rises 1.5 Degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels. Currently the temperature is one Degree above pre-industrial levels. Despite the fact that it should have been considered of great importance by all countries, given that these are facts that affect the world, there were countries such as Russia, Kuwait, the United States and Saudi Arabia, which tried to play down its importance and raised doubts about the veracity of the conclusions of the report, while other states defended the unquestionability of the conclusions. A common characteristic of these opposing countries is that they are the world's major oil producers.
The report of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), presented at COP24, indicates that, if no change continues, between 2030 and 2050, these will be the consequences:
-Increase in flood risk from 100% (at 1.5°C) to 170% (at 2°C).
-If we exceed 1.5°C, more than 400 million people living in cities will be exposed to extreme droughts by the end of the century.
Arctic ice will decrease so much that there will be an ice-free summer at least once every 10 years.
-150 million deaths could be avoided by limiting this 1.5°C temperature rise.
-Nearly 50 million people could be affected by a sea level rise by 2100 if the temperature increase exceeds 1.5°C.
-Corals would be among the worst affected, as they would all be lost by 2100 if the 1.5°C rise is exceeded due to rising ocean acidity. Reaching 1.5°C would result in the loss of 70% of them.
According to calculations also made by the IPCC, CO2 emissions will have to fall by 45% by 2030 to limit warming to 1.5 Degrees. In addition, "carbon neutrality" must be achieved by 2050, i.e. to start having negative emissions, i.e. to stop emitting more CO2 than is removed from the atmosphere. The longer it takes to implement these measures, the less time we will have before the negative consequences affect us all, and may even become irreversible. With each passing year, not only are greenhouse gas emissions not being reduced, but they are increasing. That is why now is the time to act.
As a conclusion of the IPCC's report it should be clear that in order to avoid an increase above 1.5 Degrees it was necessary to cut current emissions by 45%. However, due to the disagreement of several states with this report, and the fear of the failure of the summit, these cuts were omitted from the final agreement . This delay in taking drastic action only reduces the time we have to save our planet, risking being too late to avoid the worst consequences.
At meeting in Katowice it was possible to reach consensus on the regulation of the Paris measures agreement , which is already a great achievement, but the agreement came at the cost of setting aside carbon markets, i.e. the set of carbon trading mechanisms that allow countries that emit more greenhouse gases to buy emission rights from those countries that do comply with the targets and emit gases below the established limit. This section blocked the negotiation of other issues for hours, as several countries that benefit from the current status, such as Brazil, opposed modifications. Finally, it was decided to postpone the negotiations until the COP25 meeting next year in Chile.
The common set of rules for all countries allows them to present their progress in the fight against climate change in the same way. We have to remember that the problem after agreement in Paris was that each country decided to present the data pledge cuts in a different way. For this reason, a agreement to unify rules and criteria in a common way is a breakthrough. These transparency rules are particularly important, as they will make it possible to analyse the progress of what has been proposed at each point in time, and this will make it possible to analyse the targets achieved and the need for further action. For example, among the data that all countries are required to include in their reports are the sectors included in their targets, gas emissions and the year of reference letter against which they will measure the process.
Although some are disappointed that they expected more results than were achieved, the mere fact that agreement was reached among all the participating countries must be considered a success.
We must bear in mind that some of the participating states that showed less interest and put less effort into the negotiations for this fight, and even raised obstacles in the negotiations, are very important countries in the international sphere, with great economic and political power. For this reason, we should consider the agreement reached as a further step towards raising awareness of the fight against climate change. A small step, but a step forward.
▲ The Forbidden City, in Beijing [MaoNo].
ESSAY / Jakub Hodek
To fully grasp the complexities and peculiarities of Chinese domestic and foreign affairs, it is indispensable to dive into the underlying philosophical ideas that shaped how China behaves and understands the world. Perhaps the most important value to the Chinese is stability. Particularly when one considers the share of unpleasant incidents they have fared.
Climatic disasters have resulted in sub-optimal harvest and could also entail the loss of important infrastructure costing thousands of lives. For instance, the unexpected 2008 Sichuan earthquake resulted in approximately 80,000 casualties. Nevertheless, the Chinese have shown resilience and have been able to continue their day-to-day with relative ease. Still, nature was not the only enemy. Various nomadic tribes such as the Xiong Nu presented a constant threat to the early Han Empire, who were forced to reinvent themselves to protect their own. [ 2] These struggles only amplified their desire for stability.
All philosophical ideologies rooted in China highlight the benefits of stability over the evil of chaos. In fact, Legalism, Daoism and Confucianism still shape current social and political norms. This is unsurprising as the Chinese interpret stability as harmony and the best means to achieve development. This affirmation is cultivated from birth and strengthened on all societal levels.
Legalism affirms that "punishment" trumps "rights". Thus, the interest of few must be sacrificed for the good of the many. This translates to phenomenons present in modern China such as censorship of average outlets, autocratic teachers, and rigorous laws to protect "state secrets". Daoism attests to the existence of a cosmological order that determines events. Manifestations of this can be seen in fields of Chinese traditional medicine that deals with feng shui or the flows of energy. Confucianism puts stability as an antecedent of a forward momentum and regulates the relationship between the individual and society. From the Confucianism stems a norm of submission to parental expectations, and the subjugation and blind faith to the Communist Party.
It follows that non-Sino readers of Chinese affairs must consider these philosophical roots when analyzing current Chinese events. Seen through that lens, actions such as Xi Jinping declaring stability as an "absolute principle that needs to be dealt with using strong hands," initiatives harshly targeting corrupt Party members, increased censorship on average outlets and the widespread reinforcement of nationalism should not come as a surprise. One needs power to maintain stability.
Interestingly, it seems that this level of scrutiny over the daily lives of average Chinese people has not incited negative feelings towards the Communist Party. One of the explanations behind these occurrences might be attributed to the collectivist vision of society that the Chinese individuals possess. They strongly prefer social harmony over their own individual rights. Therefore, they are willing to trade their privacy to obtain heightened security and homogeneity.
Of course, this way of living contrasts starkly with developed Western societies who increasingly value their individual rights. Nonetheless, the Chinese in no way fell their values to be inferior to the Western ones. They are prideful and portray a sense of exceptionalism when presenting their socioeconomic developments and societal order to the rest of the world. This is not to say that, on occasion, the Chinese have been known to replicate certain foreign practices in an effort to boost their geopolitical presence and economic results.
In relation to this subtle sense of superiority shared by the Chinese, it is important to analyze the political conditionality of engaging with the People's Republic of China (PRC) through economic or diplomatic relations. Although the Chinese government representatives have stated numerous times that, when they establish ties with foreign countries, they do not wish to influence partner-political realities of their recent partner, there are numerous examples that point to the contrary. One only has to look at their One China policy which has led many Latin American countries to sever diplomatic ties with Taiwan. In a way, this is understandable as most countries zealously protect their vision of the world. As such, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) strategically establishes economic ties with countries harbouring resources they need or that are in need of infrastructure that they can provide. The One Belt One Road initiative represents the economic arm of this vision while their recent increased diplomatic activity, especially in Africa and Latin America, the political one. In short, the People's Republic of China wants to be at the forefront of geopolitics in a multipolar world lacking clear leadership and certainty, at least in the opinion various experts.
One explanation behind this desire for being at the centre stage of international politics hides in the etymology of their own country's name. The term "Middle Kingdom" refers to the Chinese "Zhongguó", where the first character "zhong" means "center" or "middle" and "guó" means "country", "nation" or "kingdom". The first record of this term, "Zhongguó," can be found in the Book of Documents ("Shujing"), which is one of the Five Classics of ancient Chinese literature. It is a piece which describes ancient Chinese figures and, in some measure, serves as a basis of the Chinese political philosophy, especially Confucianism. Although the Book of Documents dates back to 4th Century A.D., it wasn't until the beginning of the 20th Century when the term "Zhongguó" became the official name of China. While it is true that the Chinese are not the only country that believes they have a higher calling to lead others, China is the only nation whose name uses such a concept.
Such deep-rooted concepts as "Zhongguó", strongly resonates within the social fabric of Chinese modern society and implies a vision of the world order where China is at the center and leading countries both to the East and West. This vision is embodied in Xi Jinping, the designated "core" leader of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), who is decisively dictating the tempo of China's effort to direct the country on the path of national rejuvenation. In fact, at the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in October 2017, Xi Jinping's speech was centered around the need for national rejuvenation. An objective and a date were set out: "By 2049, China's comprehensive national power and international influence will be at the forefront." In other words, China aims to restore its status as the Middle Kingdom by the year 2049 and become a leading world power.
The full-fleshed grand strategy can be found in "Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics in a New Era," a document that is now part of China's constitution and it's as important of a doctrine as Mao Zedong's political theories or anything the CCP's has previously put forth. The Chinese are approaching these objectives promptly and efficiently and, as they have proven in the past, they are capable of great achievements when resources are available. Sure enough, the world is already experiencing Xi Jinping's policies. Recently, Beijing has opted to invest in increased international presence to exert their influence and vision. Starting with continued emphasis on the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), massive modernization of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) and aggressive foreign policy.
The migration and political crisis in Europe and Trump's isolationism have given China sufficient space to jump on the international stage and set in motion a new global order, albeit without the will to dynamite the existing one. Xi Jinping managed to renew a large part of the members of CCP's executive bodies and left the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China notably reinforced. He did everything possible to have political capital to push the economic and diplomatic reforms to drive China to the promised land.
Another issue that is given China an opportunity to steal the spotlight is climate change. Especially, after the United States pulled out from the Paris Agreement in June 2017. Last January, Xi Jinping chose the Davos World Economic Forum to show that his country is a solid and reliable partner. Leaning on an economy with clear signs of stability and growth of around 6.7%, many who had predicted its spiralling fall had to listen as the President presented himself as a champion of free trade and the fight against global warming. After expressing his full support for the agreements reached against the emissions of gases at the climate summit held in Paris in 2016, Xi announced the will of "the Middle Kingdom" to guide the new economic globalization.
President Xi plans to achieve his vision with a two-pronged approach. First, a wide-ranging promotion abroad of "Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics in a New Era." This is an unknown strategy to the Chinese as there is no precedent of the CCP's ideas being promoted abroad. However, Xi views Western liberal democracy as an impediment to China's rise and wants to offer an alternative in the form of Chinese socialism, which he perceives as practically and theoretically superior. The Chinese model of governing provides a way to catch up with the developed nations and avoid the regression to modern age colonialism. This could turn out to be an attractive proposal to developing nations who might just be lured by China's "benevolent" governance and "generosity" in the form of low-interest loans. Second, Xi wants to further develop and modernize the PLA so that it is capable to ensure national security and maintain Chinese positions in areas where their foreign policy has become more assertive (not to say aggressive) such as in the South China Sea. Confirming that both strong military and economic sustainability are essential to achieve the strategic goal of becoming the centre of their proposed global order by 2049.
If one desires to understand China today, one must look carefully at its origin. What started off as an isolated nation turned out to be a dormant giant that was only waiting to get its home affairs in order before it went for the rest of the world. If there is any lesson behind recent Chinese actions across the political and socioeconomical spectrum is that they want to live up to their name and be at the forefront of the world. This is not to say that they wish an implosion of the current world order although it is clear they are willing to use force if need be. It merely implies that they believe their philosophical ideologies to be at least as good as those shared in Western societies while not forgoing what they find useful from them: free trade, service-based economy, developed financial markets, among other things. As things stand, China is sure to make some friends along the way. Especially in developing regions that might be tempted by their tremendous economic success in the last decades and offers of help "with no strings attached." These realities imply that we live in a multipolar which is increasingly heterogenous in connection to values and references that rule it. Therefore, understanding Chinese mentality will prove essential to understand the future of geopolitics.
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Ukrainian Orthodox break with Russia shifts tension between Kiev and Moscow to the religious sphere
While Russia closed the Sea of Azov approaches to Ukraine, at the end of 2018, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church advanced its independence from the Moscow Patriarchate, cutting off an important element of Russian influence on Ukrainian society. In the "hybrid war" posed by Vladimir Putin, with its episodes of counter-offensives, religion is one more sphere of underhand pugnacity.
▲ Proclamation of autocephaly of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, with attendance of Ukrainian President Poroshenko [Mykola Lazarenko].
article / Paula Ulibarrena
January 5, 2019 was an important day for the Orthodox Church. In historic Constantinople, today Istanbul, in the Orthodox Cathedral of St. George, the ecclesiastical rupture between the Kievan Rus and Moscow was verified, thus giving birth to the fifteenth autocephalous Orthodox Church, the Ukrainian Orthodox Church.
The Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew I, presided over the ceremony together with the Metropolitan of Kiev, Epiphanius, who was elected last fall by the Ukrainian bishops who wanted to split from the Moscow Patriarchate. After a solemn choral welcome for the 39-year-old Epiphanius, the church leaders placed on a table in the church the tomos (decree), a parchment written in Greek certifying the independence of the Ukrainian Church.
But the one who actually led the Ukrainian delegation was the president of that republic, Petro Poroshenko. "It is a historic event and a great day because we were able to hear a prayer in Ukrainian in St. George's Cathedral," Poroshenko wrote moments later on his account on the social network Twitter.
The event was strongly opposed by the Moscow Patriarchate, which has long been at odds with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople. Archbishop Ilarion, head of external relations of the Russian Orthodox Church, compared status to the East-West Schism of 1054 and warned that the current conflict could last "for decades and even centuries".
The great schism
This is the name given to the schism or separation of the Eastern (Orthodox) Church from the Catholic Church of Rome. The separation developed over centuries of disagreements beginning with the moment in which the emperor Theodosius the Great divided the Roman Empire into two parts between his sons, Honorius and Arcadius, upon his death (year 395). However, the actual split did not take place until 1054. The causes are ethnic subject due to differences between Latins and Easterners, political due to the support of Rome to Charlemagne and of the Eastern Church to the emperors of Constantinople but above all due to the religious differences that throughout those years were distancing both churches, both in aspects such as sanctuaries, differences of worship, and above all due to the pretension of both ecclesiastical seats to be the head of Christendom.
When Constantine the Great moved the capital of the empire from Rome to Constantinople, it became known as New Rome. After the fall of the Eastern Roman Empire to the Turks in 1453 Moscow used the name "Third Rome". The roots of this sentiment began to develop during the reign of the Grand Duke of Moscow Ivan III, who had married Sophia Paleologos who was the niece of the last ruler of Byzantium, so that Ivan could claim to be the heir of the collapsed Byzantine Empire.
The different Orthodox churches
The Orthodox Church does not have a hierarchical unity, but is made up of 15 autocephalous churches that recognize only the power of their own hierarchical authority, but maintain doctrinal and sacramental communion among themselves. This hierarchical authority is usually equated to the geographical delimitation of political power, so that the different Orthodox churches have been structured around the states or countries that have been configured throughout history, in the area that emerged from the Eastern Roman Empire, and later occupied the Ottoman Empire.
They are the following churches: Constantinople, the Russian (which is the largest, with 140 million faithful), Serbian, Romanian, Bulgarian, Cypriot, Georgian, Polish, Czech and Slovak, Albanian and American Orthodox, as well as the very prestigious but small churches of Alexandria, Jerusalem and Antioch (for Syria).
The Ukrainian Orthodox Church has historically depended on the Russian Orthodox Church, parallel to the country's dependence on Russia. In 1991, following the fall of communism and the disappearance of the USSR, many Ukrainian bishops self-proclaimed the Kiev Patriarchate and separated from the Russian Orthodox Church. This separation was schismatic and did not gain support from the rest of the Orthodox churches and patriarchates, and in fact meant that two Orthodox churches coexisted in Ukraine: the Kiev Patriarchate and the Ukrainian Church dependent on the Moscow Patriarchate.
However this lack of initial supports changed last year. On July 2, 2018, Bartholomew, Patriarch of Constantinople, declared that there is no canonical territory of the Russian Orthodox Church in Ukraine as Moscow annexed the Ukrainian Church in 1686 in a canonically unacceptable manner. On October 11, the Holy Synod of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople decided to grant autocephaly of the Ecumenical Patriarch to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and revoked the validity of the synodal letter of 1686, which granted the right to the Patriarch of Moscow to ordain the Metropolitan of Kiev. This led to the reunification of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church and its severance of relations with the Moscow Orthodox Church.
On December 15, in the Cathedral of St. Sophia in Kiev, the Extraordinary Synod of Unification of the three Ukrainian Orthodox Churches was held, with the Archbishop of Pereýaslav-Jmelnitskiy and Bila Tserkva Yepifany (Dumenko) being elected as Metropolitan of Kiev and All Ukraine. On January 5, 2019, in the Patriarchal Cathedral of St. George in Istanbul Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew I initialed the tomos of autocephaly of the Orthodox Church of Ukraine.
Does politics accompany division or is it the cause of it?
In Eastern Europe, the intimate relationship between religion and politics is almost a tradition, as it has been since the beginnings of the Orthodox Church. It seems evident that the political confrontation between Russia and Ukraine parallels the schism between the Orthodox Churches in Moscow and Kiev, and is even a further factor adding tension to this confrontation. In fact, the political symbolism of the Constantinople event was reinforced by the fact that it was Poroshenko, and not Epiphanius, who received the tomos from the hands of the Ecumenical Patriarch, whom he thanked for the "courage to take this historic decision". Previously, the Ukrainian president had already compared this fact with the referendum by which Ukraine became independent from the USSR in 1991 and with the "aspiration to join the European Union and NATO".
Although the separation had been years in the making, interestingly, the quest for such religious independence has intensified following Russia's annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea in 2014 and Moscow's support for separatist militias in eastern Ukraine.
The first result was made public on November 3, with a visit by Poroshenko to Fanar, Bartholomew's see in Istanbul, after which the patriarch underlined his support for Ukrainian ecclesiastical autonomy.
Constantinople's recognition of an autonomous Ukrainian church is also a boost for Poroshenko, who faces a tough election degree program in March. In power since 2014, Poroshenko has focused on the religious issue much of his speech. "Army, language, faith," is his main election slogan. In fact, after the split, the ruler stated, "the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is born without Putin and without Kirill, but with God and with Ukraine."
Kiev claims that Moscow-backed Orthodox churches in Ukraine - some 12,000 parishes - are in reality a propaganda tool of the Kremlin, which also uses them to support pro-Russian rebels in the Donbas. The churches vehemently deny this.
On the other side, Vladimir Putin, who set himself up years ago as a defender of Russia as an Orthodox power and counts the Moscow Patriarch among his allies, fervently opposes the split and has warned that the division will produce "a great dispute, if not bloodshed."
Moreover, for the Moscow Patriarchate -which has been rivaling for years with Constantinople as the center of Orthodox power- it is a hard blow. The Russian Church has about 150 million Orthodox Christians under its authority, and with this separation it would lose a fifth of them, although it would still remain the most numerous Orthodox patriarchate.
This fact also has a political twin, as Russia has stated that it will break off relations with Constantinople. Vladimir Putin knows that he is losing one of the greatest sources of influence he has in Ukraine (and in what he calls "the Russian world"): that of the Orthodox Church. For Putin, Ukraine is at the center of the birth of the Russian people. This is one of the reasons, along with Ukraine's important geostrategic position and its territorial extension, why Moscow wants to continue to maintain spiritual sovereignty over the former Soviet republic, since politically Ukraine is moving closer to the West, both to the EU and to the United States.
Nor should we forget the symbolic burden. The Ukrainian capital, Kiev, was the starting point and origin of the Russian Orthodox Church, something that President Putin himself often recalls. It was there that Prince Vladimir, a medieval Slavic figure revered by both Russia and Ukraine, converted to Christianity in 988. "If the Ukrainian Church wins its autocephaly, Russia will lose control of that part of history it claims as the origin of its own," Dr. Taras Kuzio, a professor at Kiev's Mohyla Academy, tells the BBC. "It will also lose much of the historical symbols that are part of the Russian nationalism that Putin advocates, such as the Kiev Caves monastery or St. Sophia Cathedral, which will become entirely Ukrainian. It is a blow to the nationalist emblems that Putin boasts of."
Another aspect to consider is that the Orthodox churches of other countries (Serbia, Romania, Alexandria, Jerusalem, etc.) are beginning to align themselves on one side or the other of the great rift: with Moscow or with Constantinople. It is not clear if this will remain a merely religious schism, if it occurs, or if it will also drag the political power, since it should not be forgotten, as has already been pointed out, that in that area which we call the East there have always been very strong ties between religious and political power since the great schism with Rome.
Enthronement ceremony of the erected Patriarch of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church [Mykola Lazarenko].
The advertisement of the split between the two churches is, for some, logical in historical terms. "After the fall of the Byzantine Empire, the independent Orthodox churches were configured in the 19th century from agreement to the national borders of the countries and this is the patron saint that, with delay, Ukraine is now following", explains the theologian Aristotle Papanikolaou director of the Center of programs of study Orthodox Christians of the University of Fordham, in the United States, in the above mentioned information of the BBC.
It must be seen as Constantinople's opportunity to detract power from the Moscow Church, but above all it is the reaction of general Ukrainian sentiment to Russia's attitude. "How can Ukrainians accept as spiritual guides members of a church believed to be involved in Russian imperialist aggressions?" asks Papanikolau, acknowledging the impact that the Crimean war and its subsequent annexation may have had on the attitude of Constantinople's churchmen.
There is thus a clear and parallel relationship between the deterioration of political relations between Ukraine and Russia and the separation between the Kievan Rus and the Moscow Church. Both Orthodox Churches are closely intertwined, not only in their respective societies, but also in the political spheres and these in turn use for their purposes the important ascendancy of the Churches over the inhabitants of the two countries. In final, the political tension drags or favors the ecclesiastical tension, but at the same time the aspirations of independence of the Ukrainian Church see this moment of political confrontation as the ideal moment to become independent from the Muscovite one.
After four years of military board , the upcoming elections open the possibility of returning to a legitimacy that has been too often interrupted by coups d'état.
Thailand has known several coups d'état and attempts to return to democracy in its more recent history. The military board that seized power in 2014 has called elections for March 24. The unsuccessful desire of King Maha Vajiralongkorn's sister to contest the election for the post of prime minister has drawn global attention to a political system that fails to address the political aspirations of Thais.
▲ Bangkok street scene [Pixabay].
article / María Martín Andrade
Thailand is one of the fastest developing ASEAN countries in economic terms. However, this progress is encountering a difficult obstacle: the political instability that the country has been dragging along since the beginning of the 20th century and that opens a new chapter now, in 2019, with the elections that will take place on March 24. These elections mark a before and after in recent Thai politics, after in 2014, General Prayut Chan-Ocha staged a coup and became Thailand's Prime Minister heading the NCPO (committee National Council for Peace and Order), the board government constituted to run the country.
However, there are many who are skeptical about this new entrance of democracy. To begin with, the elections were initially set for February 24, but shortly thereafter the Government announced a change of date and called them for a month later. Some have expressed suspicions about a strategy to prevent the elections from taking place, since, according to the law, they cannot be held after one hundred and fifty days from the publication of the last ten organic laws. Others fear that the NCPO has given itself more time to buy votes, while commenting on concerns that the Election Commission, which is an independent administration, may be manipulated to achieve a success that the military board will find difficult to ensure.
Focusing this analysis on what the future holds for Thai politics, it is necessary to look back at its trajectory over the last century to realize that it follows a circular path.
Coups d'état are nothing new in the country (1). There have been twelve since the first Constitution was signed in 1932. Everything responds to a never-ending struggle between the "military wing", which sees constitutionalism as a Western import that does not quite fit in with the Thai Structures (it also defends nationalism and venerates the image of the king as a symbol of the nation, Buddhist religion and ceremonial life), and the "leftist orbit", originally composed of Chinese and Vietnamese emigrants, which perceives the country's institutionalism as similar to that of "pre-revolutionary China" and which throughout the 20th century expressed itself through guerrilla warfare. To this latter ideology must be added the student movement, which since the early 1960s has criticized "Americanization", poverty, the traditional order of society and the military regime.
With the urban boom that began in the 1970s, the gross domestic product increased fivefold and the industrial sector became the fastest growing sector, thanks to the production of technological goods and the investments that Japanese companies began to make in the country. During this period there were coups d'état, such as the one in 1976, and numerous student demonstrations and guerrilla actions. After the 1991 coup d'état and new elections, discussion was opened on how to create an efficient political system and a society adapted to globalization.
These efforts were cut short when the economic crisis of 1997 arrived, which generated divisions and aroused rejection of globalization as the evil force that had brought the country to misery. It is at this point that someone entered the scene who has since been core topic in Thai politics and who will undoubtedly mark the March elections: Thaksin Shinawatra.
Shinawatra, an important businessman, created the Thai Rak Thai (Thai ama Thai) party as a nationalist reaction to the crisis. In 2001 he won the elections and bet on economic growth and the creation of large companies, but at the same time exercised intense control over the media, attacking those who dared to criticize him and allowing only positive news to be published. In 2006, a coup took place to overthrow Shinawatra, who was accused of serious corruption offenses. However, Shinawatra won the elections again in 2007, this time with the People Power Party.
In 2008 there was another uprising, but the Shinawatra brand, represented by the sister of the former Prime Minister, won the elections in 2011, this time with the Pheu Thai party. Yingluck Shinawatra thus became the first woman to preside over the Thai government. In 2014 another coup removed her and installed a board that has ruled until now, with a speech based on the fight against corruption, the protection of the monarchy, and the rejection of electoral politics, considered as the national epidemic.
In this context, the entire effort of the board, which is running in March under the name of the Palang Pracharat party, has been focused on weakening Pheu Thai and thus wiping any remaining trace of Shinawatra off the map. To achieve this, the board has proceeded to reform the electoral system (in 2016 a new Constitution replaced that of 1997), so that the Senate is no longer elected by the citizens.
Despite all the efforts manifested in vote buying, the possible manipulation of the Election Commission and the reform of the electoral system, it is sensed that Thai society may make its voice heard as it is tired of the military government, which is also losing support in Bangkok and in the south. Added to this is the collective conviction that, rather than pursuing economic growth, the board has focused on achieving stability by making Thailand's Economics more unequal, according to data of Credit Suisse. For the same reason, the other parties running in these elections, Prachorath, Pheu Thai, and Bhumjaithai, agree that Thailand has to be re-integrated into the global skill and that the capitalist market has to grow.
At the beginning of February the context became even more complicated when Princess Ulboratana, the sister of the current king, Maha Vajiralongkorn, announced the presentation of her candidacy in the elections as representative of the Thai Raksa Chart party, allied to Thaksin Shinawatra. This news was a great anomaly, not only because of the fact that a member of the monarchy showed his intention to participate actively in politics, something that had not happened since the end of the absolute monarchy in 1932, but also because all the coups that have taken place in the country have had the backing of the royal family. The last one, in 2014, had the blessing of the then King Bhumibol. Likewise, the royal family has always had the support of the military board.
In order to avoid a confrontation that would damage the monarchy, the king reacted quickly and publicly rejected his sister's candidacy; finally the Electoral Commission decided to withdraw her from the election process.
During the last years the board military has been manager of bad governance, of the weak institutionalism of the country and of a Economics threatened by international sanctions that seek to punish the lack of internal democracy.
To begin with, following article 44 of the Constitution proclaimed in 2016, the NCPO has legitimacy to intervene in the legislative, judicial and executive branches under the pretext of protecting Thailand from threats to public order, the monarchy or Economics. This not only precludes any possibility of effective interaction and conflict resolution with other actors, but is an unmistakable feature of an authoritarian system.
It has been precisely its characteristics of authoritarian regime, which is how its governmental system can be qualified, that have made the international community react since the 2014 coup, imposing various sanctions that can seriously affect Thailand. The United States suspended 4.7 million dollars of financial attendance , while Europe has objected to the negotiation of a free trade agreement , because as Pirkka Tappiola, EU representative to Thailand has indicated, it will only be possible to establish a agreement of that subject with a democratically elected government. In addition, Japan, the main investor in the country, has started to look for alternative ways, setting up factories in other parts of the region such as Myanmar or Laos.
Faced with the questioning of its management, the board reacted by dedicating US$2.7 billion to programs aimed at the poorest sectors of the poorest population, especially farmers, and by investing nearly US$30 billion in the construction of infrastructure in areas that have not yet been exploited.
Given that exports account for 70% of Thailand's GDP, the government cannot afford to have the international community at odds with it. This explains why the board created a committee to handle human rights problems reported from abroad, although the goal of the initiative seems to have been more for publicity purposes.
In the face of a new democratic phase, the board has a strategy. Having put most of its efforts into the creation of new infrastructure, it hopes to open an economic corridor, the Eastern Economic Corridor (EEC), with which to turn the three main coastal provinces (Chonburi, Rayong, and Chachoengsao) into special economic zones where industries such as automobiles and aviation are boosted, and which will be attractive to foreign investment once democratic legitimization has been cleared.
It is difficult to foresee what will happen in Thailand in the March 24 elections. Although almost everything speaks of a return to democracy, it remains to be seen the result of the party created by the military (Pralang Pracharat) and its firm commitment to a truly honest institutional game. If Thailand wants to continue to grow economically and attract foreign investors again, the military should soon give way to a fully civilian process. It may not be a smooth ride, as democracy is a dress that has been a bit of a tight fit for the country so far.
(1) Baker, C. , Phongpaichit, P. (2005). A History of Thailand. Cambridge, Univeristy Press, New York.