The USSOUTHCOM chief's appearance on Capitol Hill raises the annual Degree alert to Chinese influence and US pushback.
° In his latest appearance, Admiral Craig Faller warned that the US "is losing its positional advantage' and called for "immediate action to reverse this trend".
° In recent years the Southern Command's speech at congress has highlighted the penetration of China, Russia and Iran, hand in hand with Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua.
° Analysis of the Pentagon chief's interventions in the region sample the growing involvement of the Maduro regime in criminal activities.
► visit of the head of the US Southern Command to Montevideo in April 2021 [SouthCom].
The US Southern Command - the military structure within the US Armed Forces responsible for Latin America and the Caribbean - has been progressively raising the alarm about the growing influence of Russia and especially China in the Western Hemisphere, to the detriment of the US position. This, combined with the threat posed by organised crime organisations, especially those involved in drug trafficking, led USSOUTHCOM chief Admiral Craig Faller to confess in March to feeling "an incredible sense of urgency": "the hemisphere we live in is under attack", he said in his annual appearance before the US congress , dedicated to analysing the threats and opportunities the region presents in terms of security.
In his third "posture statement" to the congress since heading Southern Command, Faller warned that the US is losing its "edge" in the hemisphere and argued that "immediate action is needed to reverse the trend". Analysing his 2019 and 2020 speeches, as well as that of his predecessor, Admiral Kurt Tidd, in 2018, there is a worsening perception of the rivalry with China. Increasingly, the reference letter to the Chinese threat is more explicit and occupies more space. What was first seen as economic leverage, through increased trade and credit allocation, is now presented as more global and strategically more dangerous. According to Faller, China is seeking to 'establish a global logistics and infrastructure base in our hemisphere to project and sustain military power over greater distances'.
The change of Administration has not brought about any change in this worsening perception of the risks being generated in Latin America. Although Joe Biden's presidency has meant a change in tone from that of his predecessor, hostility towards Beijing and the desire to closely monitor other authoritarian regimes such as Russia and Venezuela have been maintained. Hence, the "posture statement" presented this year by the head of the Southern Command is consistent with previous ones in pointing to the growing activity of Russia and China in the region (and of Iran, in coordination with Hezbollah), as well as its partnership with Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, countries that Faller called "malign regional state actors".
The use of Cuba
One of the constant and recurring threats that is gradually increasing is China's economic diplomacy strategy in several countries in the region: through loans and investments, Beijing incorporates these countries into its international trade network , sometimes integrating them into the New Silk Road initiative. The 2018 statement did not mention the issue number of Latin American nations participating in the initiative; the 2019 statement counted 16, and the 2020 statement spoke of 19, indicating a clear trend that China is gradually increasing its activities and influence in the hemisphere. The 2020 strategy also stated that 25 of the 31 countries in the region have Chinese infrastructure projects, which, as the head of the Southern Command expressly points out, could be used in the future to support Chinese military interests. Added to all this is the COVID-19 crisis, which China has used to increase its regional influence through its potential for medical supplies and vaccines.
Venezuela features prominently in the last four statements. Over the years, the situation progressively worsens and the Southern Command's stance towards Maduro's regime hardens: it goes from not calling him illegitimate to calling him illegitimate, and then openly accuses him of involvement in drug trafficking activities. It underlines its close military collaboration with Russia and with Colombian narco-terrorist groups - the ELN and FARC dissidents - which it hosts on its territory.
Another aspect that is reiterated is the emphasis on Cuba's destabilising role: how Havana interferes in internal affairs in Venezuela and Nicaragua, instructing these oppressive regimes on how to repress opposition movements and demonstrations, sometimes sending its own agents to fulfil this repressive function. In addition, the strategy also addresses the fact that Russia uses Cuba as a base for its intelligence operations towards the US and to project its power in the region.
The Southern Command's statements are in line with the concerns expressed in the document framework Strategic for the Western Hemisphere, produced by the National Security committee in 2020. Although the Trump Administration will have to formulate its own strategic plan for the region, no substantial changes can be expected, given that there is the same interest in restoring democracy for Nicaragua, Venezuela and Cuba; in promote transparency and fighting corruption; in combating illicit activities, such as drug trafficking and human smuggling; and in addressing China's growing presence in the region.
With oil production at a record low, the Maduro regime has turned to the precious metal to pay for Tehran's services.
° With no more credits from China or Russia, Caracas consolidated in 2020 the reborn relationship with the Iranians, who are in charge of trying to reactivate the country's crippled refineries.
° In the past year, Iranian-delivered cargo ships have brought more than 5 million barrels of gasoline to the Caribbean nation, as well as products for its Megasis supermarket.
° The involvement of entities related to the Revolutionary Guard, declared group terrorist by Washington, makes any gesture towards the Biden Administration difficult.
► The Venezuelan Vice President and the Iranian Vice Minister of Industry inaugurate the Megasis supermarket in Caracas in July 2020 [Gov. of Venezuela].
Venezuela's relationship with extra-Hemispheric powers has been characterised in the last year and a half by the resumption of the close ties with Iran seen during the presidencies of Hugo Chávez and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. With the financing possibilities provided by China (it has not granted loans to Caracas since 2016) and Russia (its oil interest in Venezuela, through Rosneft, was particularly constrained in 2019 by the Trump administration's sanctions on PDVSA's business) exhausted, Nicolás Maduro's regime once again knocked on Iran's door.
And Tehran, once again encircled by US sanctions, as it was during the Ahmadinejad era, has once again seen the alliance with Venezuela as an opportunity to stand up to Washington, while at the same time reaping some economic benefits in times of great need: shipments of gold worth at least $500 million, according to Bloomberg, are said to have left Venezuela in 2020 as payment for services rendered by Iran. If the credits from China or Russia were in exchange for oil, now the Chavista regime also had to get its hands on gold, as the state-owned PDVSA's production was at an all-time low, at 362,000 barrels per day in the third quarter of the year (Chávez took over the company with a production of 3.2 million barrels per day).
The change of partners was symbolised in February 2020 with the arrival of Iranian technicians to start up the Armuy refinery, abandoned the previous month by Russian experts. Lack of investment had led to neglect of the maintenance of the country's refineries, which was causing severe petrol shortages and long queues at service stations. Iran's attendance would barely manage to improve the refinery status , and Tehran had to make up for this inefficiency by sending in gasoline tankers. Food shortages also provided another avenue of relief for Tehran, which also dispatched ships with foodstuffs.
Gasoline and food
The Venezuelan-Iranian relationship, which without being completely eliminated had been reduced during the presidency of Hassan Rohani, as the latter focused on the international negotiation of the nuclear agreement to be reached in 2015 (known as JCPOA), resumed throughout 2019. In April of that year, the controversial Iranian airline Mahan Air received permits to operate in Venezuela on the Tehran-Caracas route. Although the airline has not marketed the air route, it has chartered several flights to Venezuela despite the closure of territorial airspace ordered by Maduro due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Mahan Air's operations served to transport Iranian technicians who were to be employed in efforts to restart gasoline production at the Paraguaná complex refineries, as well as material necessary for these tasks.
According to researcher Joseph Humire, these and other arrangements were allegedly prepared by the Iranian embassy in Venezuela, which since December 2019 has been headed by Hojatollah Soltani, known for "mixing Iran's foreign policy with the activities" of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). He estimates that Mahan Air would have flown around 40 flights in the first half of 2020.
Similarly, Iran has been sending multiple fuel tan kers to Venezuela to address petrol shortages. The first shipment came in a flotilla of tankers that, in defiance of US sanctions, entered Venezuelan waters between 24 and 31 May, carrying a combined 1.5 million barrels of gasoline. In June, another vessel arrived with an estimated 300,000 barrels, and three others brought 820,000 barrels between 28 September and 4 October. Between December 2020 and January 2021 another flotilla would have carried 2.3 million barrels. To this total of at least 5 million barrels of gasoline should be added the arrival of 2.1 million barrels of condensate to be used as a diluent for Venezuelan extra-heavy oil.
In addition to fuel, Iran has also sent medical supplies and food to help combat the humanitarian emergency the country is suffering. Thus, it is important to highlight the opening of the Megasis supermarket, which is linked to the Revolutionary Guard, an Iranian military body that the Trump Administration included in the catalogue of terrorist groups. The store sells products from brands owned by the Iranian military, such as Delnoosh and Varamin, which are two of the subsidiaries of the Ekta company, allegedly created as a social security trust for Iranian military veterans. The Ekta supermarket chain is subordinate to the Iranian Ministry of Defence and the Armed Forces Logistics, an entity sanctioned by the United States for its role in the development ballistic missiles.
Gold and Saab
This activity is of concern to the US. An Atlantic Council report details how Iranian-backed networks prop up the Maduro regime. Venezuelan oil minister Tareck El Aissami has been identified as the core topic actor behind the illicit network . He allegedly agreed with Tehran to import Iranian fuel in exchange for Venezuelan gold. According to agreement according to the Bloomberg information cited above, the Venezuelan government had delivered to Iran, until April 2020, around nine tons of gold worth approximately 500 million dollars, in exchange for its attendance in the reactivation of the refineries. The gold was apparently transported on Mahan Air flights to Tehran.
The negotiations may have involved Colombian-born businessman Alex Saab, who already centralised much of the Chavista regime's food imports under the Clap programme and was getting involved in Iranian gasoline supplies. Saab was arrested in June 2020 in Cape Verde when his private plane was being refuelled on an apparent flight to Tehran. Requested to Interpol by the United States as Maduro's main front man, the extradition process remains open.
The entities involved in many of these exchanges are sanctioned by the US Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control for their connection to the IRGC. The IRGC's ability to operate in Venezuela is due to the reach of network to support Hezbollah, an organisation designated as a terrorist organisation by the United States and the European Union. Hezbollah has successfully infiltrated Venezuela's Lebanese expatriate communities, giving Iran a foothold to grow its influence in the region. These links make it difficult for Caracas to make any gesture that might be attempted to facilitate any de-escalation by the new Biden administration of Washington's sanctions.
Beijing is no longer just a commercial partner and infrastructure lender: it is catching up with the West in pharmaceutical excellence and provider healthcare.
° Only Peru, Chile and Argentina have contracted more Chinese and Russian doses; in Brazil and Mexico, doses from the US and Europe predominate, as in the rest of the countries in the region.
° Huawei wins Brazilian 5G bid in exchange for vaccines; Beijing offers them to Paraguay if it abandons its recognition of Taiwan
° In addition to clinical trials in several nations in the second half of 2020, Argentina and Mexico will produce or package Sputnik V from June.
Arrival of a shipment of Sputnik V vaccines in Venezuela in February 2021 [Miraflores Palace].
Vaccination in Latin America is being done substantially with preparations developed in the United States and Europe, although media attention has privileged doses from China and Russia. The particular vaccine diplomacy carried out in recent months by Beijing and Moscow - which, with public funds, have promoted the export of injections ahead of the needs of their own inhabitants - has certainly been active and has managed to give the impression of greater influence than is real, often promising volumes of supplies that have rarely been delivered on time.
When, from June onwards, with most Americans already immunised, the Biden Administration turns its attention to providing vaccines to the region, the imbalance in favour of formulas from "Western" laboratories - also basically used in the UN's Covax system stockpiles - will be even greater. Nonetheless, the development of the health crisis over the past year will have served to consolidate China and Russia's foothold in Latin America.
To date, only Peru, Chile and Argentina have contracted more vaccines from China (CanSino, Sinopharm and Sinovac) and Russia (Sputnik V) than from the United States and Europe (AstraZeneca, J&J, Moderna and Pfizer). In the case of Peru, of the 116 million doses committed, 51 million correspond to European and/or US laboratories, 45 million to Chinese laboratories and 20 million to Russian laboratories. In the case of Chile, of the 79.8 million doses, 18 million are from the first group, while 61.8 million are Chinese. For Argentina, of the 62.4 million doses reserved, 22.4 million are "Western", 10 million are Russian and 30 million are Chinese. These are data from AS/COA, which keeps a detailed account of various aspects of the evolution of the health crisis in Latin America.
As for the two largest countries in the region, the preference for US and European formulations is notorious. Of the 661.4 million doses contracted by Brazil, 481.4 million come from the US, compared to 100 million Chinese doses and 80 million doses of Sputnik V (moreover, it is not clear that the latter will ever arrive, given the recent rejection of their authorisation by Brazilian regulators). Of the 310.8 million contracted by Mexico, 219.8 million are "Western" vaccines, 67 million are Chinese vaccines and 24 million are Sputnik V vaccines.
Tables: reproduction of AS/COA, database online, information as of 31 March 2021
Testing and production
The Chinese and Russian vaccines were not unknown in Latin American public opinion, as in the second half of 2020 they were frequently in the news as a result of clinical trials carried out in some countries. South America was of particular interest to the world's leading laboratories, as it was home to a high incidence of the epidemic along with a certain medical development that allowed for serious monitoring of the efficacy of the preparations, compatible with a level of economic need that facilitated thousands of volunteers for the trials. This made the region the focus of global clinical trials of the main anti-Covid-19 vaccines, with Brazil being the epicentre of degree program experimentation. In addition to trials conducted by Johnson & Johnson in six countries, and by Pfizer and Moderna in two, Sputnik V was tested in three (Brazil, Mexico and Venezuela) and in two by Sinovac (Brazil and Chile) and Sinopharm (Argentina and Peru).
Experimentation, however, was due to private agreements between laboratories, which required little involvement of the health or political authorities of the country in question. The commitment of certain governments to the Chinese and Russian vaccines came with purchase negotiations and then with their subsequent authorisation for use, a final step that has not always taken place. A further alliance in the case of Sputnik V has been Argentina's project to produce the Russian preparation on its territory from next June, for its own vaccination and distribution to neighbouring countries, as well as that of Mexico for the packaging of the doses, also from June. Argentina was the first country to register and approve Sputnik V, using information it has since shared with other countries in the region. Mexico's move has been interpreted as a way to put pressure on the US to liberalise the export of its vaccines as soon as possible.
China has also exerted pressure on some South American countries. It has taken advantage of Brazil's dire need for vaccines to force Jair Bolsonaro's government to allow Huawei to bid for Brazil's 5G network , despite having initially vetoed the Chinese business . Similarly, Beijing seems to have promised vaccines to Paraguay in exchange for the country ceasing to recognise Taiwan. In addition, the Chinese government last year averaged a billion-dollar credit for health procurement, as the head of the US Southern Command has warned, drawing attention to China's use of the crisis to gain further penetration in the hemisphere.
Whatever the final map of the application of each preparation in the vaccination process, what is certain is that above all Beijing, but in some ways also Moscow, has achieved an important victory, even though its vaccines may be far behind in the total number of doses injected in Latin America issue . In a region accustomed to identifying the United States and Europe with scientific capacity and high medical and pharmaceutical development , for the first time China is no longer seen as the source of cheap and unsophisticated products, but on a par in terms of research and health efficacy. Beyond Beijing's successful management of the pandemic, which can be relativised considering the authoritarian nature of its political system, China emerges as a leading country, capable of reaching a vaccine as quickly as the West and, to a certain extent, comparable to it. Russia's image lags somewhat behind, but Sputnik V consolidates Russia's "return" to a position of reference letter that it had lost completely in recent decades.
As a result of the emergence of Covid-19, in the collective Latin American imagination, China is no longer just a factor in trade, infrastructure construction and the granting of credits for development , but has established its penetration as a full-fledged power, also in terms of a central element in the lives of individuals, such as overcoming the pandemic.
Latin American countries have suffered the health and economic crisis of the coronavirus like no other region in the world. With 8.2% of the world's population, by October 2020 it accounted for 28% of global Covid-19 positive cases and 34% of deaths. The worsening of status in countries such as India may have changed these percentages somewhat, but the region has maintained important hotspots of infection, such as Brazil, followed by Mexico and Peru. To cope with this status, Latin America receives two-thirds of the IMF's global financial aid pandemic: the region has 17 million more poor people and will not recover its previous per capita income until 2025, later than the rest of the world.
China's growing fishing fleet sparks complaints of alleged encroachment into exclusive economic zones and illegal activity
° The presence of more than 500 vessels raises concerns about continued radar evasion, use of unauthorised extraction systems and disobedience to coastguards.
° The governments of Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru issued a statement calling for the supervision of an activity that Beijing refuses to submit to international inspection.
° Intimidation is reminiscent of the use of Chinese fishermen as a "strike force" in the South China Sea; here the goal is not about gaining sovereignty, but about fishing.
► The Chinese ship Hong Pu 16, followed by the Argentine patrol vessel ARA Bouchard, in May 2020 [Argentine Navy].
Over the last year, several Latin American countries have complained about Chinese economic predation, due to the massive presence of Chinese fishing boats in the vicinity of their Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and the poaching that is taking place there. They have also denounced the use by Chinese fishing vessels of unauthorised fishing techniques that deplete key fishing grounds and erode marine sustainability.
issue The arrival from China of fishing vessels of what is normally categorised as the Distant Water Fleet (DWF) began to occur in the Latin American maritime contour in 2001 with around twenty vessels; since then their number has been rapidly increasing and the most recent figures speak of some 500 ships. The unease of the most affected countries is not new, but in 2020 the complaints were louder and more formal. Moreover, in the open era of confrontation with Beijing, Washington came out in defence of the interests of its hemispheric neighbours.
China has the world's largest deep-sea fishing fleet, which is expanding as the fleets of other fishing nations are shrinking. Its size is unclear, as it often operates through small front companies that blur its national origin, but it has been estimated to total 17,000 vessels. In this activity far from China itself, the fleet catches two million tonnes of fish, accounting for 40 per cent of the world total in distant waters. Some of its catch is result illegal fishing; China has the worst record in the world for illegal fishing practices, according to Global Initiative's evaluation .
The strategic Galapagos
Fishing is one of the most important resources for several Latin American countries, which is why the massive Chinese presence in the vicinity of their exploitation waters, if there has been no penetration of these waters, has generated concern. In the last year, there have been many reports of Chinese fishing off Ecuador, Peru, Chile and Argentina, mostly linked to the capture of squid, but also of other species such as horse mackerel, mackerel, tuna and southern hake. These countries believe that overfishing and the capture of endangered species such as the giant squid are taking place, threatening the preservation of fish stocks and biodiversity, as well as the possession of false licences and the violation of the sovereignty of coastal states by allegedly illegally entering their EEZs. Fishermen from these coastal states increasingly report the presence of Chinese vessels in an intimidating attitude, carrying out acts that threaten not only their natural resources but also their security.
The main accusations came from July onwards in Ecuador. Earlier that month, the Ecuadorian navy warned of the presence of a Chinese fishing fleet of some 260 vessels fishing just outside the EEZ of the Galapagos Islands, which are under Ecuadorian sovereignty. By the end of the month, the fleet had increased to more than 342 vessels. The Galapagos archipelago was declared by Unesco as reservation of the biosphere, because it is home to hundreds of species of flora and fauna unique in the world. For this reason, exploitation in this area implies very large losses in terms of marine biodiversity.
In addition, half of the Chinese fleet behaved suspiciously, turning off the tracking and identification system. It was an evasion of marine radars that lasted for almost three weeks, as denounced by the Ecuadorian defence minister, Oswaldo Jarrín. The minister implied that this attitude was intended to conceal illegal fishing and perhaps also incursion into waters under Ecuadorian protection in order to fish there. In any case, he specified that the Ecuadorian navy was only able to find a couple of vessels within the Galapagos EEZ, which claimed to be using "innocent passage".
The country's president, Lenín Moreno, formally raised the complaints with the Beijing authorities, informing them that Ecuador would strongly assert its maritime rights over its EEZ, and announced a coordinated position with other Latin American governments. In fact, other countries in the region soon saw the Chinese fleet arrive in the vicinity of their waters. The ships left the corridor of international waters that exists between the Galapagos EEZ and the Ecuadorian coast, where they spent some time to catch the fish that migrate from one side to the other, and then moved south, first in the vicinity of the waters of Peru and Chile, and then, passing from the Pacific to the Atlantic, of Argentina.
These countries were backed by the United States, whose department of state said in August that the massive presence of Chinese fishing vessels and their internship to disable tracking systems, rename vessels and dispose of marine debris was "very troubling". President Donald Trump also spoke negatively on the occasion of his September speech to the United Nations. Washington has long been attentive to China's growing presence on the continent, not only commercially, but also in the management of strategic infrastructure such as port terminals. The Galapagos, specifically, have a special strategic value due to their status access routes to the Panama Canal.
Request for inspections
After Ecuador, due to the threat off their waters, Peru and Chile activated Global Fisheries Surveillance and mobilised air and naval patrols to closely monitor the advance of the Chinese fishing fleet. When the Chinese fishing fleet moved into the Atlantic in December 2020, the Argentine naval force also deployed naval and air units to ensure control over its maritime spaces.
In November, the governments of Ecuador, Chile, Peru and Colombia (the latter's EEZ borders the corridor between the two Ecuadorian maritime areas) issued a joint statement, in which they expressed their concern over the presence "of a large fleet of foreign-flagged vessels that have been carrying out fishing activities in recent months in international waters close to our jurisdictional waters". The grade chose not to explicitly mention China (moreover, several vessels in the fleet were flagged differently, although they were Chinese for all intents and purposes), but it was clear in which direction they were directing their denunciation of "fishing activities not subject to control or reporting".
Latin American countries are demanding that China agree to inspections, in the presence of staff if necessary, of suspicious vessels, even if they have remained in international waters. Beijing responds that it has already established moratoriums at certain times of the year on squid fishing in the region. However, the lack of cooperation so far and the growing demand from the Chinese market suggests that this subject of activities will continue to increase.
As it has done in the Pacific, the United States has sent Coast Guard vessels to the South Atlantic to confront Chinese incursions, in this case in joint exercises with Brazil and Uruguay. It is precisely with the latter country that Washington is trying to arrange some kind of subject of partnership that would allow for greater inspection of the maritime area , as it considers that Argentina could lend itself excessively to Chinese requirements.
A brief outline of the European defence system, integrated into the European External Action Service and its importance to the Union
The European Union will launch the Conference on the Future of Europe on May 9th, marking the beginning of the event that will feature debates between institutions, politicians and civil society on several topics that concern the community, including security and defense. It is clear that the majority of the European Union favors a common defense effort, and the Union has taken steps to ensure a solid structure to lay the framework for a possible integration of forces. Following the efforts to unify foreign policy objectives, a unified defence is the next logical step for European integration.
Course for the Somali National Armed Forces, led by a Spanish Colonel with instructors from Italy, Sweden, Finland and Spain [EUTM-Somalia].
ARTICLE / José Antonio Latorre
According to the last standard Eurobarometer, around 77% of Europeans support a common defense and security policy among European Union member states. The support for this cause is irregular, with the backing spanning from 58% (Sweden) to 93% (Luxembourg). Therefore, it is expected that security and defense will definitely take a prominent role in the future of the Union.
In 2017, the European Commission launched the "White Paper on the Future of Europe," a document that outlines the challenges and consequently the possible scenarios on how the Union could evolve by 2025. In the field of security, the document considers three different scenarios: Security and Defense Cooperation, Shared Security and Defense, and Common Defense and Security. In the first scenario, the member states would cooperate on a voluntary basis, similarly to an ad-hoc system. The second scenario details one where the tendency would be to project a stronger security, sharing military and economic capabilities to enhance efficiency. The final scenario would be one where members expand mutual assistance and take part in the integration of defence forces; this includes a united defence spending and distribution of military assets to reduce costs and boost capabilities.
Although these are three different predictions, what is clear is that the enhancement of European security is of greatest importance. As former European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said in the 2016 State of the Union address: "Europe can no longer afford to piggyback on the military might of others. We have to take responsibility for protecting our interests and the European way of life. It is only by working together that Europe will be able to defend itself at home and abroad". He was referring to the paramountcy of a strategic autonomy that will permit the union to become stronger and have more weight in international relations, while depending less on the United States.
The existing framework on security
The European Union does not have to start from scratch to achieve these goals, since it currently has a Military Planning and Conduct Capability (MPCC) branch. The bureau is situated within the EU Military Staff, part of the European External Action Service in Brussels. This operational headquarters was established on June 8th, 2017, with the aim of boosting defence capabilities for the European Union outside its borders. It was created in order to strengthen civil/military cooperation through the Joint Support Coordination Cell and the Civil Planning and Conduct Capability, avoiding unnecessary overlap with NATO. Its main responsibilities include operational planning and conduct of the current non-executive missions; namely the European Union Training Missions (EUTM) in Mali, Somalia and Central African Republic.
A non-executive mission is an operation conducted to support a host nation with an advisory role only. For example, EUTM Somalia was established in 2010 to strengthen the Somali federal defence institutions through its three-pillar approach: training, mentoring and advising. The mission is supporting the development of the Somali Army General Staff and the Ministry of Defense through advice and tactical training. The mission has no combat mandate, but it works closely with the EU Naval Force - Operation ATALANTA (prevention and deterrence of privacy and protection of shipping), EUCAP Somalia (regional civilian mission), and AMISOM (African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia), in close cooperation with the European Union. The mission, which is located in Mogadishu, has a strength of over 200 personnel, with seven troop contributing states, primarily from Italy and Spain. Non-executive missions have a clear mandate of advising, but they can be considered as a prototype of European defence cooperation for the future.
The Common Security and Defense Policy (CSDP) is the framework for cooperation between EU member states in order to conduct missions to maintain security and establish ties with third countries through the use of military and civilian assets. It was launched in 1999 and it has become a bedrock for EU foreign policy. It gives the Union the possibility to intervene outside its borders and cooperate with other organisations, such as NATO and the African Union, in peacekeeping and conflict prevention. The CSDP is the umbrella for many branches that are involved with security and defence, but there is still a need for an enhancement and concentration of forces that will expand its potential.
Steppingstones for a larger, unified project
Like all the European Union, the CSDP is still a project that needs construction, and a European Union military should be a priority. In recent years, there have been efforts to implement measures to advance towards this goal. Firstly, Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) was launched in 2017 to reinforce defence capabilities and increase military coordination at an interoperable level. Participation is voluntary, but once decided, the country must abide by legally binding commitments. So far, 25 member states have joined the integrated structure, which depends on the European External Action Service, EU Military Staff and the European Defence Agency. Presently, there are 46 projects being developed, including a Joint EU Intelligence School, the upgrade of Maritime Surveillance, a European Medical Command and a Cyber and Information Domain Coordination Center, among the many others. Although critics have suggested that the structure will overlap with NATO competences, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that he believed "that PESCO can strengthen European defence, which is good for Europe but also good for NATO". It is important to add that its alliance with NATO was strengthened through common participation in the cybersecurity sector, joint exercises, and counterterrorism. Secondly, the launch of the European Defense Fund in 2017 permits co-funded defense cooperation, and it will be part of the 2021-2027 long-term EU budget. Finally, the mentioned Military Planning and Conduct Capability branch was established in 2017 to improve crisis management and operational surveillance.
Therefore, it is a clear intention of the majority of the European Union to increase capabilities and unify efforts to have a common defense. Another aspect is that a common military will make spending more efficient, which will permit the Union to compete against powers like China or the United States. Again, the United States is mentioned because although it is an essential ally, Europeans cannot continue to depend on their transatlantic partner for security and defense.
A European Union military?
With a common army, the European Union will be a significant player in the international field. The integration of forces, technology and equipment reduces spending and boosts efficiency, which would be a historical achievement for the Union. European integration is a project based on peace, democracy, human dignity, equality, freedom and the protection and promotion of human rights. If the Union wants to continue to be the bearer of these values and protect those that are most vulnerable against the injustices of this century, then efforts must be concentrated to reach this objective.
The Union is facing tough challenges, from nationalisms and internal divides to economic and sanitary obstacles. However, it is not the first time that unity has been put at risk. Brexit has shown that the European project is not invulnerable, that it is still not fully constructed. The European way of life is a model for freedom and security, but this must be fought for and protected; it can never be taken for granted.
Europe has lived an unprecedented period of peace and prosperity due to past endeavours at its foundation. It is evident that there will always be challenges and critics, but the only way to continue to be a leader is through unification; and it starts with a European Army. There are already mechanisms in place to ensure cooperation, such as those explored with non-executive missions. These are the stepping-stones for defence coordination and partnerships in the future. Although it is a complex task, it seems more necessary than ever before. For the protection of Western values and culture, for the promotion of human rights and dignity, and for the defense of freedom and democracy, European integration at the defense level is the next step in the future of the European Union.
The former ECB president takes the helm of Italy with a diary of reforms and a return to Atlanticism.
After years of political instability, in mid-February Italy inaugurated an in principle stronger government headed by Mario Draghi, former president of the European Central Bank. His technical profile , his prestige after eight years in European governance and the formation of a government with a certain national unity character are an opportunity for Italy to overcome the current health and economic crisis and undertake the reforms the country needs.
Mario Draghi, accepting the task of forming a government in February 2021 [Presidency of the Republic].
article / Matilde Romito, Jokin de Carlos Sola
For more than a year, the government of Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte had been strongly contested from within, especially by the disagreements of Italia Viva, the party led by Matteo Renzi, at subject economic. The straw that broke the camel's back was Renzi's civil service examination over Conte's proposed plan for the use of aid from the Recovery Fund set up by the European Union to deal with the crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Conte lost his majority on 13 January following the resignation of three ministers belonging to Italia Viva and on 26 January presented his Withdrawal. On 3 February the President of the Republic, Sergio Mattarella, entrusted the new government to Mario Draghi, former president of the European Central Bank (ECB), with the task of leading the new government training .
At the start of his mandate, Mario Draghi set out his objectives. He stressed the importance of the country maintaining a certain unity at such a difficult historical moment and indicated that his priority would be to provide more opportunities and to fight against the status quo that prevents the implementation of reforms.
On 17 February, Mario Draghi won the confidence of Parliament, one of the largest majorities since the Second World War. purpose management Draghi then formed a government made up of different political forces, with the aim of tackling the consequences of the pandemic in a framework of national unity: in addition to various technical ministers (8), the 5 Star Movement (4), the Democratic Party (3), the Lega (3), Forza Italia (3), Liberi e Uguali (1) and Italia Viva (1) are represented in the Cabinet. This internal diversity, which on some issues manifests itself in opposing positions, could lead to some governmental instability.
Domestic politics: recovery and reforms
The Draghi government has made the vaccination campaign and economic recovery a priority, as well as reforms to the tax system and to public administration and the judiciary. The former ECB president has shown a certain capacity for both innovation in organisational Structures and the delegation of tasks, all of which will be tackled swiftly, according to his maxim that "we'll do it soon, we'll do it very soon".
As for the vaccination campaign, Draghi is applying maximisation and firmness. First of all, he reformed the administrative summits in charge of the vaccination plan and appointed General Francesco Paolo Figliuolo, a military logistician, as the new extraordinary commissioner for the Covid-19 emergency. By then, the daily doses provided reached 170,000, but Figliuolo, together with the director of the Civil Protection, Fabrizio Curcio, and the Minister of Health, Roberto Speranza, have set as goal to triple this number issue. To this end, new vaccination sites have been set up, such as businesses, gyms and empty car parks, and a mobilisation of staff has been promoted for vaccination work.
The Draghi government has also become more assertive at the international level, such as the decision to block the export of 250,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to Australia. Although supported by the EU, the measure took many countries by surprise and made Italy the first EU member to apply such a legal mechanism. On 12 March the government announced the possibility of future production in Italy of some of the already internationally approved vaccines.
The new government's economic diary will be characterised by structural reforms to promote productivity, as well as by the implementation of economic aid targeted at those most affected by the crisis, with the goal aim of relaunching the country and combating new social inequalities. The government is finalising the Recovery Plan to be submitted to Brussels in order to obtain the EU funds.
During his term as ECB President Draghi promoted structural reforms in several European countries; therefore, his leadership will be core topic in promoting reforms aimed at increasing productivity, reducing bureaucracy and improving the quality of Education. The government promises more expense on Education and the promotion of a more sustainable and digitised Economics , as called for by the EU Green Deal.
Through the "Sostegni" legislative decree, the government is implementing an aid plan. Some of them are aimed at defraying the modification of the framework redundancies implemented by Conte, but this requires a more consensual negotiation.
Streamlining of public administration and Justice
The reform of public administration has been entrusted to framework D'Alberti, lawyer and professor of Administrative Law at La Sapienza in Rome. The reform will follow two paths: greater connectivity and an update of the competences of civil servants.
In relation to Justice, the purpose is to implement several of the recommendations forwarded by the EU in 2019 and 2020. Among other measures, the EU calls for greater efficiency of the Italian civil justice system, through a faster work of courts, better burden-sharing work, the adoption of simpler procedural rules and an active crackdown on corruption.
Foreign policy: Atlanticism and less enthusiasm for China
One of the first consequences of Draghi's election as prime minister has been the new image of stability and willingness to cooperate that Italy has come to project not only in Brussels but also in Washington, both politically and economically. Nevertheless, many aspects of Conte's foreign policy will be maintained, given the continuity of Luigi di Maio as foreign minister.
Beyond Europe, Draghi's priorities will be mainly two: a new rapprochement with Washington - at framework of a convinced Atlanticism, within multilateralism - and the reinforcement of Italy's Mediterranean policy. Draghi's arrival also has the potential to break with Conte's rapprochement with China, such as the inclusion of Italian ports in the New Silk Road. While this may secure Italy as a key US ally, any decision will have to take into account the Chinese investment that may be committed.
Contribution to European governance
Italy is the third largest Economics in the EU and the eighth largest in the world, so its economic performance has some international repercussions. Draghi has assured his commitment to recovery and his contacts with European elites may help ease tensions in discussions with other EU members on the distribution of funds, especially the so-called Next Generation EU. During the Euro Crisis Draghi was one of the main advocates of structural reforms and now these are again vital to avoid a rise in expense that could cause debt to grow too high or cuts to budget that would damage growth.
Draghi has declared that "without Italy there is no Europe, but without Europe there is less Italy" and intends to make Italy a more active and engaged player in Europe, while trying to balance the interests of France, Germany and the Netherlands. Merkel's departure at the end of 2021 opens the possibility of a power vacuum in the European committee ; with France and Italy being the second and third Economics her partnership could bring stability and ensure the persistence of the Recovery Fund. This in turn may end up causing governance problems with Germany and the Netherlands should there be disagreements over the use of the funds. However, Draghi has been reticent about France's geopolitical proposals to establish Europe as an actor independent of the US. This could end up poisoning the potential new special relationship between Rome and Paris.
The advertisement willingness to engage in dialogue and concord with both Turkey and Russia may end up causing problems in Brussels with other countries. In Turkey's case, it could jeopardise relations with Greece in the Mediterranean. However, the strong criticism of Erdogan, whom he called a dictator, for having diplomatically humiliated Ursula von der Leyen in his visit to Ankara, seems to rule out counterproductive approaches. On the other hand, his desire for dialogue also with Moscow may end up sitting badly in the Baltic capitals, as well as in Washington.
The Mediterranean: immigration, Libya and Turkey
Draghi also referred to strategic areas outside the EU that are close to Italy: the Maghreb, the Middle East and the Mediterranean. Regarding the latter, Italy's priorities do not seem likely to change: the goal is to control immigration. To this end, Draghi hopes to establish cooperation with Spain, Greece and Cyprus.
In this area the stability of Libya is important, and Italian support for the Government of National agreement Government (GNA) established in Tripoli, one of whose main advocates in the EU has been Luigi Di Maio, who remains at the helm of Foreign Affairs, will continue. Libyan Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah has declared his readiness to collaborate on immigration issues with Draghi, but Draghi seems sceptical towards bilateral deals and would prefer this to be done at a European framework .
This runs counter to the policy of Greece and France, which support the Libyan National Army, based in Tubruk, because of the GNA's Islamist connections and Turkey's support for them. These differences over Libya have already caused problems and hindered the possibility of sanctions against Ankara.
Seizing the opportunity
The new Draghi government is an opportunity for Italy to achieve some political stability after a few years of ups and downs. The integration in the same government of people from different ideological backgrounds can contribute to the national unity required by the present status. The emergency and exceptional nature of the Covid-19 crisis gives Italy an opportunity to implement not only anti-pandemic measures but also radical structural changes to transform Economics and public administration, something that would otherwise be too much of a hindrance.
On the other hand, although within a certain continuity, Draghi's government represents a change in the international strategic chessboard, not only for Brussels, Berlin and Paris but also for Washington and Beijing, as more Atlanticist tendencies will distance him from both Russia and China.
Italian governments are not known for their longevity, nor does this one offer any guarantee of permanence, bearing in mind that the unity effort made is due to the temporary nature of the crisis. Nevertheless, Draghi's own profile projects an image of seriousness and responsibility.
Spain, although affected, is not as badly affected as other European partners.
The UK's exit from the European Union finally materialised on the last day of 2020. The compromise on fisheries was the last point of the arduous negotiations and the differences were only overcome some conference before the unpostponable deadline. The fisheries agreement reached provides that for five and a half years EU vessels will continue to have access to fish in British waters. Although affected, Spain is not as badly affected as other European partners.
Fishing fleet in the Galician town of Ribeira [Luis Miguel Bugallo].
article / Ane Gil
The Brexit-culminating withdrawalagreement ran aground in its final stretch on the issue of fisheries, despite the fact that the UK's fishing activity in its waters contributes only 0.12% of British GDP.
That discussion, which nearly derailed the negotiations, centred on the delimitation of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), the area beyond territorial waters - at a maximum distance from the coast of 200 nautical miles (about 370 kilometres) - in which a coastal country has sovereign rights to explore and exploit, conserve and manage natural resources, whether living or non-living. The UK EEZ is home to fish-rich fishing grounds, which account, with a average of 1.285 million tonnes of fish per year, according to a 2019 study by the European Parliament's Fisheries Committee, for 15% of the EU's total fish catch. Of these catches, only 43% was taken by British fishermen, while the remaining 57% was taken by other EU countries. The European countries that had access to fishing in British waters were Spain, Germany, Belgium, Denmark, France, the Netherlands, Ireland and Sweden.
Therefore, the entrance in force of Brexit would mark the UK's withdrawal from the Common Fisheries Policy, which defines the access of European vessels to the Exclusive Economic Zone.
During its membership of the EU, the UK was part of the Common Fisheries Policy, whereby all EU member states' fishing fleets have equal access to European waters. In the EU, fishing rights are negotiated annually by the ministers of each member state and national quotas (the amount of fish of each species that each country's fleet can catch) are set using data historical data such as reference letter.
The Spanish fishing fleet followed the negotiations closely, as it had a lot to lose from a bad agreement. On the one hand, a Brexit without agreement could mean a reduction in income of 27 million euros related to fishing in British waters; it would also entail a drastic reduction in hake, megrim and mackerel catches for Spanish fishing boats specialising in these species. On the other hand, the employment would also be affected if the agreement established a drastic reduction in catches. Eighty Spanish vessels have licence to fish in British waters, which means almost 10,000 jobs for work related to this activity.
Until Brexit, British waters and their exploitation were negotiated jointly with the rest of the European Union's maritime areas. Brussels tried to maintain this relationship even if the UK left the EU, so the position of European negotiators focused on preserving the system of fishing quotas that had been in place, for a period of fifteen years deadline . However, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson always ruled out any trade agreement that would grant European vessels access to British waters in exchange for better conditions for British financial services in the single market as offered by Brussels. London wanted to implement a regime similar to the Norwegian one, which negotiates year by year the catches of EU fleets in its waters, with the difference that in the Norwegian case the pact refers to average dozen species, compared to almost a hundred in British waters.
We should bear in mind that the service sector accounts for 80% of the UK's GDP, while fishing activities account for only 0.12%. It is therefore quite clear that London's positions on the fisheries section were more political than economic. Although fishing activities have little impact on the British Economics , the fishing sector does have political importance for the Eurosceptic cause, as regaining control of the waters was one of the promises made in the Brexit referendum. Thus, this issue became a symbol of national sovereignty.
The starting point for the negotiations was the UK government's demand to repatriate up to 80% of the catches in its waters of control, while the EU offered refund to the UK between 15% and 18%. Johnson wanted to keep management from exploiting its waters and to negotiate with the EU as partner preferential. He expressed his initial intention to establish, from January 2021, more frequent negotiations on how to fish in his EEZ. This resulted in a finalagreement which implies that European vessels will continue to be able to fish in British waters for five and a half years, in exchange for refund 25% of the quotas EU vessels fish there, estimated to be worth around 161 million euros. In return, fish products will continue to enter the European market at zero tariff. After this transitional phase, the EU and the UK will have to renegotiate year after year. If the agreement is violated, there are mechanisms in place to ensure compensation, such as tariffs.
Consequences for Spain and its European neighbours
The agreement provoked discontent in the UK fishing industry, which accused Johnson of caving in on this agreement. The National Federation of Fishermen's Organisations expressed disappointment that only marginal changes had been made to quotas and that EU fleets would continue to have access to UK waters up to the six-mile limit. The prime minister responded that the UK could now catch "prodigious amounts of extra fish".
For the time being, the UK has already encountered some problems. The new customs agreement has been causing delays and lorries have to be checked at the borders. With a sudden overproduction, there will not be enough veterinarians to make the necessary export health certificates. Therefore, the new bureaucratic requirements has led to several cases of seafood rotting on the docks before it can be exported to the EU. It is estimated that the fishing industry is losing 1 million pounds per day due to these new requirements, which has caused many fishermen to reduce their daily catches.
But EU fishermen will also be affected, as until now they have been catching fish in British waters with a total annual value of 650 million euros, according to the European Parliament, especially at position from Danish, Dutch and French vessels. In addition, Belgium is one of the countries most affected, as 43% of its catches are taken in British waters; it will now have to reduce its catches by 25% over the next 5 years. Moreover, Belgian fishermen used to land their fish in British ports and then truck it to Belgium. However, this will no longer be possible. Alongside Belgium, other countries that will suffer most from the loss of fishing rights due to Brexit are Ireland, Denmark and the Netherlands.
As for Spain, the fishing sector has acknowledged its unease about the annual negotiation that will take place after the initial five-year period, as well as the consequences for the future distribution of the rest of the fishing quotas, for the Common Fisheries Policy itself, for the exchange of quotas between countries and for the sustainable management of marine stocks. However, in the short term deadline the Spanish fleet does not seem to be so affected in comparison with other European countries.
In fact, the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, Luis Planas, gave a positive assessment of this agreement, considering it a "good agreement, which provides stability and legal certainty". Planas argued that the 25% reduction in the average value of catches by the eight European countries fishing in British waters has limited effects on Spanish fishing activity and, by way of example, he stated that hake catches will only be reduced by 1%. In other words, the current quota of 29.5% would fall to 28.5% in 2026. In addition, other species of greater interest to Spain (such as mackerel, horse mackerel and blue whiting) have not been included in the agreement and there are no reductions in deep-water species in high demand (such as black scabbardfish or grenadiers). In conclusion, Planas said that Spain has only conceded on 17 of the 32 fishery resources allocated to the country. However, it is up to Brussels to go into the details and decide on fishing quotas during the transition period that opened on 1 January, in which the eight countries fishing in British waters will have lower quotas.
In conclusion, Britain now has the ability to dictate its own rules at subject on fishing. By 2026, the UK can decide to completely withdraw access for EU vessels to British waters. But the EU could then respond by suspending access to its waters or imposing tariffs on UK fish exports.
An update on the Iranian nuclear accord between 2018 and the resumed talks in April 2021
The signatories of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), reached in 2015 to limit Iran's nuclear program, met again on April 6 in Vienna to explore the possibility of reviving the accord. The US withdrawal after Donald Trump becoming president put the agreement on hold and lead Tehran to miss its commitments. Here we offer an update on the issue until the international talks resumed.
Trump's announcement of the US withdrawal from the JCPOA on May 8, 2018 [White House].
ARTICLE / Ana Salas Cuevas
The Islamic Republic of Iran is a key player in the stability of its regional environment, which means that it is a central country worth international attention. It is a regional power not only because of its strategic location, but also because of its large hydrocarbon reserves, which make Iran the fourth country in oil reserves and the second one in gas reserves.
In 2003, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) brought to the light and warned the international community about the existence of nuclear facilities, and of a covert program in Iran which could serve a military purpose. This prompted the United Nations and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (the P5: France, China, Russia, the United States and the United Kingdom) to take measures against Iran in 2006. Multilateral and unilateral economic sanctions (the UN and the US) were implemented, which deteriorated Iran's economy, but which did not stop its nuclear proliferation program. There were also sanctions linked to the development of ballistic missiles and to the support of terrorist groups. These sanctions, added to the ones the United States imposed on Tehran in the wake of the 1979 revolution, and together with the instability that cripples the country, caused a deep deterioration of Iran's economy.
In November 2013, the P5 plus Germany (P5+1) and Iran came to terms with an initial agreement on Iran's nuclear program (a Joint Plan of Action) which, after several negotiations, translated into a final pact, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), signed in 2015. The European Union adhered to the JCPOA.
The focus of Iran's motives for succumbing and accepting restrictions on its nuclear program lies in the Iranian regime's concern that the deteriorating living conditions of the Iranian population due to the economic sanctions could result in growing social unrest.
The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action
The goal of these negotiations was to reach a long-term comprehensive solution agreed by both parties to ensure that Iran's nuclear program would be completely peaceful. Iran reiterated that it would not seek or develop any nuclear weapons under any circumstances. The real aim of the nuclear deal, though, was to extend the time needed for Iran to produce enough fissile material for bombs from three months to one year. To this end, a number of restrictions were reached.
This comprehensive solution involved a mutually defined enrichment plan with practical restrictions and transparent measures to ensure the peaceful nature of the program. In addition, the resolution incorporated a step-by-step process of reciprocity that included the lifting of all UN Security Council, multilateral and national sanctions related to Iran's nuclear program. In total, these obligations were key to freeze Iran's nuclear program and reduced the factors most sensitive to proliferation. In return, Iran received limited sanctions relief.
More specifically, the key points in the JCPOA were the following: Firstly, for 15 years, Iran would limit its uranium enrichment to 3.67%, eliminate 98% of its enriched uranium stocks in order to reduce them to 300 kg, and restrict its uranium enrichment activities to its facilities at Natanz. Secondly, for 10 years, it would not be able to operate more than 5,060 old and inefficient IR-1 centrifuges to enrich uranium. Finally, inspectors from the IAEA would be responsible for the next 15 years for ensuring that Iran complied with the terms of the agreement and did not develop a covert nuclear programme.
In exchange, the sanctions imposed by the United States, the European Union and the United Nations on its nuclear program would be lifted, although this would not apply to other types of sanctions. Thus, as far as the EU is concerned, restrictive measures against individuals and entities responsible for human rights violations, and the embargo on arms and ballistic missiles to Iran would be maintained. In turn, the United States undertook to lift the secondary sanctions, so that the primary sanctions, which have been in place since the Iranian revolution, remained unchanged.
To oversee the implementation of the agreement, a joint committee composed of Iran and the other signatories to the JCPOA would be established to meet every three months in Vienna, Geneva or New York.
United States withdrawal
In 2018, President Trump withdrew the US from the 2015 Iran deal and moved to resume the sanctions lifted after the agreement was signed. The withdrawal was accompanied by measures that could pit the parties against each other in terms of sanctions, encourage further proliferation measures by Iran and undermine regional stability. The US exit from the agreement put the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on hold.
The United States argued that the agreement allowed Iran to approach the nuclear threshold in a short period of time. With the withdrawal, however, the US risked bringing this point closer in time by not waiting to see what could happen after the 10 and 15 years, assuming that the pact would not last after that time. This may make Iran's proliferation a closer possibility.
Shortly after Trump announced the first anniversary of its withdrawal from the nuclear deal and the assassination of powerful military commander Qasem Soleimani by US drones, Iran announced a new nuclear enrichment program as a signal to nationalists, designed to demonstrate the power of the mullah regime. This leaves the entire international community to question whether diplomatic efforts are seen in Tehran as a sign of weakness, which could be met with aggression.
On the one hand, some opinions consider that, by remaining within the JCPOA, renouncing proliferation options and respecting its commitments, Iran gains credibility as an international actor while the US loses it, since the agreements on proliferation that are negotiated have no guarantee of being ratified by the US Congress, making their implementation dependent on presidential discretion.
On the other hand, the nuclear agreement adopted in 2015 raised relevant issues from the perspective of international law. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action timeline is 10 to 15 years. This would terminate restrictions on Iranian activities and most of the verification and control provisions would expire. Iran would then be able to expand its nuclear facilities and would find it easier to develop nuclear weapons activities again. In addition, the legal nature of the Plan and the binding or non-binding nature of the commitments made under it have been the subject of intense discussion and analysis in the United States. The JCPOA does not constitute an international treaty. So, if the JCPOA was considered to be a non-binding agreement, from the perspective of international law there would be no obstacle for the US administration to withdraw from it and reinstate the sanctions previously adopted by the United States.
The JCPOA after 2018
As mentioned, the agreement has been held in abeyance since 2018 because the IAEA inspectors in Vienna will no longer have access to Iranian facilities.
Nowadays, one of the factors that have raised questions about Iran's nuclear documents is the IAEA's growing attention to Tehran's nuclear contempt. In March 2020, the IAEA "identified a number of questions related to possible undeclared nuclear material and nuclear-related activities at three locations in Iran". The agency's Director General Rafael Grossi stated: "The fact that we found traces (of uranium) is very important. That means there is the possibility of nuclear activities and material that are not under international supervision and about which we know not the origin or the intent".
The IAEA also revealed that the Iranian regime was violating all the restrictions of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The Iranian leader argued that the US first violated the terms of the JCPOA when it unilaterally withdrew the terms of the JCPOA in 2018 to prove its reason for violating the nuclear agreement.
In the face of the economic crisis, the country has been hit again by the recent sanctions imposed by the United States. Tehran ignores the international community and tries to get through the signatory countries of the agreement, especially the United States, claiming that if they return to compliance with their obligations, Iran will also quickly return to compliance with the treaty. This approach has put strong pressure on the new US government from the beginning. Joe Biden's advisors suggested that the agreement could be considered again. But if Washington is faced with Tehran's full violation of the treaty, it will be difficult to defend such a return to the JCPOA.
In order to maintain world security, the international community must not succumb to Iran's warnings. Tehran has long issued empty threats to force the world to accept its demands. For example, in January 2020, when the UK, France and Germany triggered the JCPOA's dispute settlement mechanism, the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a direct warning, saying: "If Europeans, instead of keeping to their commitments and making Iran benefit from the lifting of sanctions, misuse the dispute resolution mechanism, they'll need to be prepared for the consequences that they have been informed about earlier".
The purpose of the agreement is to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power that would exert pressure on neighbouring countries and further destabilize the region. For example, Tehran's military influence is already keeping the war going in Syria and hampering international peace efforts. A nuclear Iran is a frightening sight in the West.
The rising in tensions between Iran and the United States since the latter unilaterally abandoned the JCPOA has increased the deep mistrust already separating both countries. Under such conditions, a return to the JCPOA as it was before 2018 seems hardly imaginable. A renovated agreement, however, is baldly needed to limit the possibilities of proliferation in an already too instable region. Will that be possible?
Following referendums in 2018 and 2019, the Guatemalan government submitted its report to The Hague in 2020 and the Belizean government has one year to reply.
Guatemala presented its position before the International Court of Justice in The Hague last December, with a half-year delay attributed to the Covid-19 emergency status ; Belize will now have a year to respond. Although the ICJ will then take its time to draft a judgement, it can be said that the territorial dispute between the two neighbours has entered its final stretch, bearing in mind that the dispute over this Central American enclave dates back to the 18th century.
Coats of arms of Guatemala (left) and Belize (right) on their respective flags.
article / Álvaro de Lecea
The territorial conflict between Guatemala and Belize has its roots in the struggle between the Spanish Empire in the Americas and British activity in the Caribbean during the colonial era. The Spanish Crown's inaction in the late 18th century in the face of British encroachment on what is now Belize, then Spanish territory, allowed the British to establish a foothold in Central America and begin exploiting mainland lands for precious woods such as dyewood and mahogany. However, Guatemala's reservations over part of the Belizean land - it claims over 11,000 square kilometres, almost half of the neighbouring country; it also claims the corresponding maritime extension and some cays - generated a status of tension and conflict that has continued to the present day.
In 2008, both countries decided to hold referendums on the possibility of taking the dispute to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which would rule on the division of sovereignty. The Belizeans approved taking that step in 2018 and the Guatemalans the following year. The issue was formalised before the ICJ in The Hague on 12 June 2019.
The territory of present-day Belize was colonised by Spain in the mid-16th century as part of the Viceroyalty of New Spain and dependent on the captaincy of Guatemala. However, as there were no mineral resources there and hardly any population, the metropolis paid little attention to the area. This scant Spanish presence favoured pirate attacks, and to prevent them, the Spanish Crown allowed increasing English exploitation in exchange for defence. England carried out a similar penetration on the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua, but while the Spanish managed to expel the English from there, they consolidated their settlement at area Belize and finally obtained the territory by the Treaty of Paris in 1783, whereby Spain disengaged itself from this corner of Central America. That concession and another three years later covered just 6,685 square kilometres, a space close to the coast that was later enlarged inland and southward by England, since Spain was not active in the area. From then on the enclave became known as "British Honduras".
The cession did not take into account the claims of the Guatemalans, who considered the space between the Sarstún and Sibún rivers to be their own. Both rivers run west-east, the former forming the border with Guatemala in the south of what is now Belize; the other, further north, runs through the centre of Belize, flowing into the capital, splitting the country in two. However, given the urgency for international recognition when it declared independence in 1821, Guatemala signed several agreements with England, the great power of the day, to ensure the viability of the new state. One of these was the Aycinena-Wyke Treaty (1859), whereby Guatemala accepted Belize's borders in exchange for the construction of a road to improve access from its capital to the Caribbean. However, both sides blamed the other for not complying with the treaty (the road was not built, for example) and Guatemala declared it null and void in 1939.
In the constitution enacted in 1946, Guatemala included the claim in the drafting, and has insisted on this position since the neighbouring country, under the name Belize, gained its independence from the United Kingdom in 1981. As early as 1978, the UN passed a resolution guaranteeing the rights to self-determination and territorial protection of the Belizean people, which also called for a peaceful resolution of the neighbouring conflict. Guatemala did not recognise the existence of the new sovereign state until 1991, and even today still places some limits on Belize's progressive integration into the Central American Integration System. Because of its English background, Belize has historically maintained a closer relationship with the English-speaking Caribbean islands.
Map of Central America and, in detail, the territorial dispute between Guatemala and Belize [Rei-artur / Janitoalevic Bettyreategui].
Adjacency Line and the role of the OAS
Since 2000, the Organisation of American States (OAS), of which both nations are members, has been mediating between the two countries. In the same year, the OAS facilitated a agreement with the goal aim of building confidence and negotiations between the two neighbours. In order to achieve these objectives, the OAS, through its Peace Fund, actively supported the search for a solution by providing technical and political support. Indeed, as a result of this rapprochement, talks on the dispute were resumed and the creation of the "Adjacency Line" was agreed.
This is an imaginary line that basically follows the line that "de facto" separated the two countries from north to south and is where most of the tensions are taking place. Over the years, both sides have increased their military presence there, in response to incidents attributed to the other side. Due to these frequent disputes, in 2015 Belize had to request financial aid military presence from the British navy. It is precisely in the Adjacency Zone that an OAS office is located, whose purpose purpose is to promote contacts between the communities and to verify certain transgressions of the agreements already signed.
One of the most promising developments that took place under the umbrella of the OAS was the signature in 2008 of what was called the "specialagreement between Guatemala and Belize to submit Guatemala's territorial, insular and maritime claim to the International Court of Justice". Under this agreement both countries undertook to submit the acceptance of the Court's mediation to simultaneous popular consultations. However, in 2015, through the protocol of the agreement Special between Belize and Guatemala, these popular consultations were not allowed to take place at the same time. Both parties committed to accept the Court's decision as "decisive and binding" and to comply with and implement it "fully and in good faith".
The Hague and the impact of the future resolution
The referendums were held in 2018 in the case of Guatemala and in 2019 in the case of Belize. Although the percentages of both popular consultations were somewhat mixed, the results were positive. In Belize, the Yes vote won 55.37% of the votes and the No vote 44.63%. In Guatemala, on the other hand, the results were much more favourable for the Yes vote, with 95.88% of the votes, compared to 4.12% for the No vote.
These results show how the Belizeans are wary of resorting to the Hague's decision because, although by fixing final the border they will forever close any claim, they risk losing part of their territory. On the other hand, the prospect of gain is greater in the Guatemalan case, since if its proposal is accepted - or at least part of it - it would strategically expand its access to the Caribbean, now somewhat limited, and in the event of losing, it would simply remain as it has been until now, which is not a serious problem for the country.
The definition of a clear and respected border is necessary at this stage. The adjacent line, observed by the OAS peace and security mission statement , has been successful in limiting tensions between the two countries, but the reality is that certain incidents continue to take place in this unprotected area. These incidents, such as the assassination of citizens of both countries or mistreatment attributed to the Guatemalan military, cause the conflict to drag on and tensions to rise. On the other hand, the lack of a clear definition of borders facilitates drug trafficking and smuggling.
This conflict has also affected Belize's economic and trade relations with its regional neighbours, especially Mexico and Honduras. This is not only due to the lack of land boundaries, but also to the lack of maritime boundaries. This area is very rich in natural resources and has the second largest coral reef reservation in the world, after Australia. This has, unsurprisingly, affected bilateral relations between the two countries. Whilst regional organisations are calling for greater regional integration, the tensions between Belize and Guatemala are preventing any improvement in this regard.
The Guatemalan president has stated that, regardless of the Court's result , he intends to strengthen bilateral relations, especially in areas such as trade and tourism, with neighbouring Belize. For their part, the Caricom heads of state expressed their support for Belize in October 2020, their enthusiasm for the ICJ's intervention and their congratulations to the OAS for its mediation work.
Qatar's economic strengthening and expanding relations with Russia, China and Turkey have made the blockade imposed by its Gulf neighbours less effective.
It is a reality: Qatar has won its battle against the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia after more than three years of diplomatic rupture in which both countries, along with other Arab neighbours, isolated the Qatari peninsula commercially and territorially. Economic and geopolitical reasons explain why the imposed blockade has finally faded without Qatar giving in to its autonomous diplomatic line.
Qatar's Emir Tamim Al Thani at lecture Munich Security 2018 [Kuhlmann/MSC].
article / Sebastián Bruzzone
In June 2017, Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Libya, Yemen and the Maldives accused the Al Thani family of supporting Islamic terrorism and the Muslim Brotherhood and initiated a total blockade on trade to and from Qatar until Doha met thirteen conditions. On 5 January 2021, however, Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman welcomed Qatar's Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani with an unexpected embrace in the Saudi city of Al-Ula, sealing the end of yet another dark chapter in the modern history of the Persian Gulf. But how many of the thirteen demands has Qatar met to reconcile with its neighbours? None.
As if nothing had happened. Tamim Al Thani arrived in Saudi Arabia to participate in the 41st Summit of the committee Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) where member states pledged to make efforts to promote solidarity, stability and multilateralism in the face of the challenges in the region, which is confronted by Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile programme, as well as its plans for sabotage and destruction. In addition, the GCC as a whole welcomed the mediating role of Kuwait, then US President Donald J. Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
The Gulf Arab leaders' meeting has been a thaw in the political desert after a storm of mutual accusations and instability in what was called the "Qatar diplomatic crisis"; this rapprochement, as an immediate effect, clears the way for the normal preparation of the football World Cup scheduled to take place in Qatar next year. The return of regional and diplomatic understanding is always positive in emergency situations such as an economic crisis, a global pandemic or a common Shia enemy arming missiles on the other side of the sea. In any case, the Al Thani's Qatar may be crowned as the winner of the economic pulse against the Emirati Al Nahyan and the Saudi Al Saud unable to suffocate the tiny peninsula.
The relevant question brings us back to the initial degree scroll before these lines: how has Qatar managed to withstand the pressure without buckling at all in the face of the thirteen conditions demanded in 2017? Several factors contribute to explaining this.
First, the capital injection by the QIA (Qatar Investment Authority). At the beginning of the blockade, the banking system suffered a capital flight of more than 30 billion dollars and foreign investment fell sharply. The Qatari sovereign wealth fund responded by pumping in $38.5 billion to provide liquidity to banks and revive Economics. The sudden trade blockade by the UAE and Saudi Arabia led to a financial panic that prompted foreign investors, and even Qatari residents, to transfer their assets out of the country and liquidate their positions in fear of a market collapse.
Second, rapprochement with Turkey. In 2018, Qatar came to Turkey's rescue by pledging to invest $15 billion in Turkish assets across subject and, in 2020, to execute a currency swap agreement to raise the value of the Turkish lira. In reciprocity, Turkey increased commodity exports to Qatar by 29 per cent and increased its military presence in the Qatari peninsula against a possible invasion or attack by its neighbours, building a second Turkish military base near Doha. In addition, as an internal reinforcement measure, the Qatari government has invested more than $30 billion in military equipment, artillery, submarines and aircraft from American companies.
Third, rapprochement with Iran. Qatar shares with the Persian country the South Pars North Dome gas field, considered the largest in the world, and positioned itself as a mediator between the Trump administration and the Ayatollah government. Since 2017, Iran has supplied 100,000 tonnes of food daily to Doha in the face of a potential food crisis caused by the blockade of the only land border with Saudi Arabia through which 40 per cent of the food enters.
Fourth, rapprochement with Russia and China. The Qatari sovereign wealth fund acquired a 19% stake in Rosneft, opening the door to partnership between the Russian oil company and Qatar Petroleum and to more joint ventures between the two nations. In the same vein, Qatar Airways increased its stake in China Southern Airlines to 5%.
Fifth, its reinforcement as the world's leading exporter of LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas). It is important to know that Qatar's main economic engine is gas, not oil. That is why, in 2020, the Qatari government launched its expansion plan by approving a $50 billion investment to expand its liquefaction and LNG carrier capacity, and a $29 billion investment to build more offshore offshore platforms at North Dome. The Qatari government has forecast that its LNG production will grow by 40% by 2027, from 77 million tonnes to 110 million tonnes per year.
We should bear in mind that LNG transport is much safer, cleaner, greener and cheaper than oil transport. Moreover, Royal Dutch Shell predicted in its report "Annual LNG Outlook Report 2019" that global LNG demand would double by 2040. If this forecast is confirmed, Qatar would be on the threshold of impressive economic growth in the coming decades. It is therefore in its best interest to keep its public coffers solvent and maintain a stable political climate in the Middle East region at status . As if that were not enough, last November 2020, Tamim Al Thani announced that future state budgets will be configured on the basis of a fictitious price of $40 per barrel, a much smaller value than the WTI Oil Barrel or Brent Oil Barrel, which is around $60-70. In other words, the Qatari government will index its public expense to the volatility of hydrocarbon prices. In other words, Qatar is seeking to anticipate a possible collapse in the price of crude oil by promoting an efficient public expense policy.
And sixth, the maintenance of the Qatar Investment Authority's investment portfolio , valued at $300 billion. The assets of the Qatari sovereign wealth fund constitute a life insurance policy for the country, which can order its liquidation in situations of extreme need.
Qatar has a very important role to play in the future of the Persian Gulf. The Al Thani dynasty has demonstrated its capacity for political and economic management and, above all, its great foresight for the future vis-à-vis the other countries of the Gulf Cooperation committee . The small peninsular "pearl" has struck a blow against Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, who did not even show up in Al-Ula. This geopolitical move, plus the Biden administration's decision to maintain a hardline policy towards Iran, seems to guarantee the international isolation of the Ayatollah regime from the Persian country.