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  • Author: Wolfgang Pusztai
  • Publication Date: 07-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI)
  • Abstract: After the massive defeat of the Libyan National Army (LNA) at the hands of Operation Burkan Al-Ghadab (Volcano of Rage) - which supports the internationally recognized Government of Accord (GNA) - the new frontline is just west of Sirte, a city 370 km southeast of Tripoli and 350 km southwest of Benghazi, strategically located at the entrance to Libya’s Oil Crescent. While Turkish combat drones, air defense, artillery, electronic warfare and Special Forces form, together with about 10,000 Syrian mercenaries, the backbone of Operation Volcano, hundreds of mercenaries from the Russian private-military company Wagner fight for the LNA. Much more important, in May some 12 to 16 MiG-29SM/SMT and 4 to 6 Su-24M fighter jets arrived in Libya from Russia via Syria and operate now mainly from the Al Jufra air base (about 230 km south of Sirte). The Egyptian President Al-Sisi announced on June 20 that his country will intervene militarily, if the Sirte - Al Jufra line is crossed by pro-GNA forces. The political opponent of the GNA, the internationally recognized House of Representatives (HoR) has already officially requested Egyptian military support. However, Turkey and Russia are now the two key foreign players on the ground in Libya. Actually, the GNA is fully dependent on Turkish support.
  • Topic: Armed Forces, Conflict, Syrian War, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Proxy War
  • Political Geography: Russia, Eurasia, Turkey, Libya, North Africa, Syria
  • Author: Matteo Villa, Marta Foresti, Elena Corradi
  • Publication Date: 05-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI)
  • Abstract: Migration is often envisioned as a movement from origin A to destination B. But, even for forcibly displaced people, migration trajectories are much more complex and can be made up of multiple displacements. This study aims to look at how decisions to migrate are shaped and what it is that drives, diverts or deters migratory movements across borders. It focuses on how education in emergency (EIE) affects the migratory decisions of forcibly displaced people. What impact does EIE have on the living conditions of forcibly displaced people in countries of transit? How does the perspective of education in emergency affect their decisions on when, where, and how to migrate further?
  • Topic: Education, Migration, Displacement
  • Political Geography: Europe, Italy
  • Author: Giulia Di Donato
  • Publication Date: 05-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI)
  • Abstract: During the last four decades, China experienced impressive economic growth, becoming one of the leading powers of the global economy. After a century of humiliation imposed by Western and Japanese colonial powers, today the country is demonstrating a strong desire to achieve its national rejuvenation (guojia fuxing). Indeed, under the iconic leadership of President Xi Jinping, China is adopting an increasingly assertive international behavior, balancing the need to protect its sovereignty and strategic interests related to economic and security issues, and the ambition to restore its role of a great power[1]. In this context, the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) - a massive infrastructure project to improve connectivity between the East and the West, increase regional cooperation and facilitate trade and investments - has been described as China’s grand strategy championing its global governance ambitions[2]. Indeed, BRI-participating economies represent more than one-third of global GDP, and over half of the world’s population (OECD 2017).
  • Topic: Regional Cooperation, Economy, Grand Strategy, Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)
  • Political Geography: China, Europe, Asia
  • Author: Matteo Villa, James F. Myers, Federico Turkheimer
  • Publication Date: 05-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI)
  • Abstract: In an ongoing epidemic, the case fatality rate is not a reliable estimate of a disease’s severity. This is particularly so when a large share of asymptomatic or pauci-symptomatic patients escape testing, or when overwhelmed healthcare systems are forced to limit testing further to severe cases only. By leveraging data on COVID-19, we propose a novel way to estimate a disease’s infected fatality rate, the true lethality of the disease, in the presence of sparse and partial information. We show that this is feasible when the disease has turned into a pandemic and data comes from a large number of countries, or regions within countries, as long as testing strategies vary sufficiently. For Italy, our method estimates an IFR of 1.1% (95% CI: 0.2% – 2.1%), which is strongly in line with other methods. At the global level, our method estimates an IFR of 1.6% (95% CI: 1.1% – 2.1%). This method also allows us to show that the IFR varies according to each country’s age structure and healthcare capacity.
  • Topic: Health, Pandemic, Data, COVID-19
  • Political Geography: Europe, Italy, Global Focus
  • Author: Fabio Figiaconi
  • Publication Date: 04-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI)
  • Abstract: In the last decade, the Mekong Region (MR) — that is, the area crossed by the Mekong River and encompassing Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam — has become central to the strategies of major global powers due to a series of economic and geopolitical factors. The most prominent are the region’s growing importance in global trade routes, its geographical proximity to major hotspots (such as the South China Sea and the Malacca Strait) and China’s growing regional activism. The growing importance of the MR in global dynamics spurred several actors to develop specific strategies. While liberal democracies such as the United States (US) and Japan both created regional fora for policy discussions as well as development funds, China increased its presence by offering loans, constructing infrastructures and creating a specific regional institution. Due to the mounting competition, the MR is set to become a major geopolitical hotspot in the Indo-Pacific region.
  • Topic: Economics, Geopolitics, Strategic Competition
  • Political Geography: Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, Myanmar, Indo-Pacific
  • Author: Matteo Villa
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI)
  • Abstract: COVID-19’s lethality in Italy is a highly discussed figure. When compared with other major countries, Italy’s 9.9% case fatality rate (CFR) as of 24 March 2020 is the highest by far. But relying on this figure is misleading. By itself, the CFR tells us almost nothing about COVID-19’s plausible lethality (infected fatality rate, or IFR). On the opposite, recent studies place China’s IFR at 0.7%. By relying on this figure, ISPI’s best estimate for COVID-19’s plausible lethality in Italy is 1.1%. The gap between the IFR and the CFR figures can be largely attributed to the number of infected persons that have not been tested and, therefore, escape counting. ISPI estimates that the number of active cases in Italy is at around 530,000 as of 24 March 2020, or almost ten times larger than the official count of 55,000 active cases. This paper shows that the CFR is an unreliable indicator of COVID-19’s plausible lethality, and there is not enough evidence to suggest that Italy’s IFR is much higher than expected. On the opposite, a direct comparison between the CFR and the IFR is much better placed to paint a more realistic picture of the evolution of the ongoing epidemic.
  • Topic: Health, Pandemic, Data, COVID-19
  • Political Geography: Europe, Italy
  • Author: Eleanore Ardemagni, Ahmed Nagi, Mareike Transfeld
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI)
  • Abstract: As the war in Yemen enters its sixth year, plenty of new and traditional security providers operate, and compete, at the local level. Changes in security governance describe quick political fragmentation and reordering of security relations: in many cases, the agents of protection are, contemporarily, agents of coercion.1 In the eyes of local communities, multiple security actors fill the same roles and perform similar or overlapped duties. As violence and instability persist, Yemenis have paradoxically had to deal with a rising number of local, “national” and foreign security providers in their everyday life, especially in areas held by the Houthi insurgents. Each territory has its own particularities; but some general trends can be identified, depicting a country where local communities fluctuate between bottom-up decentralization and self-governance. Yemen remains fractured into three main competing political-military entities claiming legitimacy: the internationally-recognized government relocated in Aden, the “quasi-state” of the Houthi insurgents based in the capital Sanaa, and the self-proclaimed and secessionist Southern Transitional Council (STC) in Aden and surrounding areas. In the eastern part of Yemen, local authorities remain formally under the internationally-recognized government (as in the case of the Mahra governorate). But beneath these rival “states”, what happens at a community level? Who really provides security on the ground? And since 2015 onwards, what has changed, or not, in terms of security provision and governance?
  • Topic: Security, Governance, Law Enforcement, Conflict
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Yemen, Gulf Nations
  • Author: Eleanore Ardemagni
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI)
  • Abstract: Differently from neighbouring Abu Dhabi, Dubai or Qatar, the northern emirates of the UAE (Ajman, Umm al-Quwain, Ras al Khaimah and Fujairah) and the Sultanate of Oman form a critical sub-region which has entered globalized modernization at a later stage. In the eyes of the ruling elites, current urban development projects, logistical infrastructures, port expansion and tourism should consolidate economic growth, reduce social inequalities (in the northern emirates of the UAE), and design sustainable post-oil paths (in Oman). Trying to balance continuity and change, the northern emirates of the UAE and Oman are renewing their maritime traditions in the context of state transformations that combine national heritage (as trade culture) and connectivity (infrastructures, urban areas, industrial poles) thanks to national “Visions” and the “project-ization of identities”. In fact, new projects do not only aim at attracting investments and create job opportunities, but also at promoting top-down recalibrated values of the new citizenship which in the eyes of the governments, should be business-oriented and community-serving. Tracing the evolution of the northern Emirati and Omani sub-region, which risks to be affected now by the consequences of the US-Iran escalation, this analysis aims to assess economic transformation trends, emerging security issues and geopolitical implications.
  • Topic: Infrastructure, Geopolitics, Regional Integration, Heritage
  • Political Geography: Iran, Qatar, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, United States of America
  • Author: Fabio Figiaconi, Claudia Adele Lodetti
  • Publication Date: 07-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI)
  • Abstract: According to the latest World Bank’s “Global Economic Prospects” publication, Covid-19 pandemic will have a negative impact on East Asia causing a -1,2% GDP’s reduction in 2020, that is the region’s first recession since 1998’s Asian financial crisis, while China is expected to slow to 1% this year. Among the various consequences that may materialise, the report highlights the disruption of the global and regional value chains. In addition, as stated by UNCTAD World Investment Report 2020 Foreign Direct Investments’ (FDIs) flows are expected to decrease globally by 40% in 2020 and are projected to decrease by a further 5 to 10% in 2021. This scenario would be detrimental for East Asia’s economies and especially for the network of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) located there, which have had and continue to play a fundamental part in the region’s growth. SEZs are intended as delimited areas within a country’s national borders where businesses enjoy a more favourable regulatory and fiscal regime than that of the national territory, with the aim to draw in FDIs, boost exports, increase trade balance and alleviate unemployment.
  • Topic: Economics, Geopolitics, Special Economic Zones
  • Political Geography: Asia, Southeast Asia
  • Author: Alessia Melcangi
  • Publication Date: 07-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI)
  • Abstract: After an uncertain political transition following the 2011 revolts, Egypt seems ready to reshape its geopolitical role in the Mediterranean area and fulfil its geostrategic goals, always maintaining their national security principle to be an essential objective of its domestic and foreign policy. The two main closely and interconnected scenarios, where the country’s strategic ambitions are projected, move from Libya to the contested waters of the Eastern Mediterranean. In particular the latter represents an area that, in recent years, has become a hotspot for the global energy market due to huge gas-field discoveries. It is enough to imagine how the fight for the control of these resources are shaping the region, elevating it to a potential geostrategic game-changer for the coastal countries such as Egypt.
  • Topic: Economics, Natural Resources, Geopolitics, Exports
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Egypt, Mediterranean
  • Author: Matteo Colombo
  • Publication Date: 07-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI)
  • Abstract: Gas discoveries in the Eastern Mediterranean have been enthusiastically received by international observers, although the current price dynamics advises caution. This commentary both explores the opportunities of political and economic collaboration for the states of the region and beyond, and analyses the financial hazards of gas extraction and selling in a global scenario characterised by low prices and decreasing demand. The arguments put forward are that considerable public investment from regional and European states and a clear stance towards Turkey are necessary conditions to exploit gas opportunities and that the time has come for governments to take these steps. In greater detail, European states and regional governments should soon make a final decision on whether or not to build a pipeline from the gas fields of Egypt, Israel and Cyprus to Italy (EastMed) and on if Turkey should be included in the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum (EMGF): a regional platform to manage gas prices and the energy flow from producing to consuming states.
  • Topic: Energy Policy, Regional Cooperation, Natural Resources, Gas
  • Political Geography: Europe, Mediterranean
  • Author: Ehud Eiran, Aviad Rubin
  • Publication Date: 07-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI)
  • Abstract: Although the Mediterranean was traditionally an afterthought in Israeli geopolitical thinking, the 2000s recorded a shift: Israel is turning to the sea. The Mediterranean is capturing a growing role in Israeli geostrategic thinking. This is in large part the result of the discovery and development of gas in the Mediterranean Sea beginning in the late 1990s. Developed rather quickly, these gas reserves made Israel energy self-sufficient, a significant geo-strategic transformation. Prior to these discoveries, energy was a serious concern. The state had no energy resources, and for decades found it challenging to secure supply in the face of Arab hostility. With the gas discoveries, Israel gained not only energy independence, but also an economic and political tool. Israeli agreements to export gas to Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority gave Israel important leverage. The gas discoveries in the Mediterranean further offered the possibility for export to Europe if indeed Israeli-Greek–Cypriote designs to build an undersea pipe will materialize. The new maritime energy source contributed to the expansion of the Israeli navy. Once a junior player in the Israeli armed forces, in 2013 the navy was entrusted by the government to protect the gas depots, despite the fact that they are held in private hands (including by non-Israeli corporations) and are outside of Israel’s territorial waters. The new task, alongside the expansion of the submarine flotilla (probably as part of a future nuclear deterrent against Iran), awarded the fleet a more important role in Israel’s national security establishment and resource allocation. It also allowed Israel to use the force for international cooperation and military diplomacy in the region. This turn to the sea also contributed to an emerging quasi-alliance with Cyprus and Greece, which includes, among many other areas, the possible joint gas export project, military exercises, and bi-annual trilateral summits between these countries’ leaders. Like its regional allies, Israel is affected by growing Chinese interest in the Mediterranean. Chinese corporations contracted the expansion of Israel’s two largest ports, Ashdod and Haifa. The latter was substantial enough to irk the US, whose navy used the Haifa port in the past for re-supply. Israeli and Chinese actors are in early phases of developing a Chinese funded, or owned, high speed train from Israel’s Red Sea port in Eilat to the Mediterranean port of Ashdod, that will serve as an alternate route for the Suez Canal portion of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
  • Topic: Economics, Energy Policy, Geopolitics, Refugees
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Israel, Palestine, Mediterranean
  • Author: Camille Lons
  • Publication Date: 07-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI)
  • Abstract: Once marginal in shaping the geopolitics of the Southern and Eastern Mediterranean, Gulf power projection and competition have become a central driver of the politics of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Syria since the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings. The political turmoil that engulfed these states created both threats and opportunities for Qatar, the UAE and Saudi Arabia, the rich and ambitious states of the Arabian Peninsula. Their involvement, which combined economic aid, political support and at times military assistance, was structured around their notion of what is the desired or acceptable role of Islamist movements in Arab politics. On the one hand, Qatar supports Islamist movements and most notably the Muslim Brotherhood as instruments of influence and popular appeal, while the UAE and Saudi Arabia perceive them as a security and ideological threat to their regional influence and domestic stability.
  • Topic: Politics, Regional Cooperation, Maritime, Strategic Competition, Rivalry
  • Political Geography: Libya, Syria, Egypt, Qatar, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Gulf Nations
  • Author: Nael Shama
  • Publication Date: 07-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI)
  • Abstract: After many years of being the Middle East’s backyard, the Mediterranean has over the past decade become its flashpoint, hosting a toxic mishmash ofmilitarized conflicts, border disputes and energy competitions. If these divisions are not contained using constructive diplomacy and viable multiparty agreements, regional instability will continue to pose a threat to all Mediterranean littoral states.
  • Topic: Economics, Natural Resources, Maritime, Conflict, Geography
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Mediterranean
  • Author: Haizam Amirah-Fernandez
  • Publication Date: 07-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI)
  • Abstract: There is something deeply and comprehensively flawed in the EU’s relations with its Mediterranean neighbourhood. After more than 50 years of European cooperation, agreements, declarations and plans with the southern Mediterranean and the Arab countries, only one new democratic state (Tunisia) has emerged. A benevolent observer would say this democratisation process was not initiated as a result of the EU’s resolute support for a population demanding freedom from an authoritarian regime. A blunter observer, however, would argue that Tunisians managed to topple their former autocrat despite the support he received from certain European quarters until the very last minute. So much for decades of European pro-democracy rhetoric.
  • Topic: International Relations, Democratization, European Union, Crisis Management, Trade
  • Political Geography: Europe, Mediterranean
  • Author: Bahgat Korany
  • Publication Date: 07-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI)
  • Abstract: Why did the January-2020 Berlin Declaration on Libya fail to limit this country’s flare-up, and the more recent Cairo Declaration in June could face the same fate? It is because this Libyan case is but a reflection of the predicament of the East Mediterranean and the whole MENA insecurity complex: the inter-connectedness of different elements of instability, geopolitical as well as domestic, entangling several international/regional powers and local actors/militias. So-called “new wars” are multiplying and the State – this classical bedrock of international order – is declining. This insecurity complex tends to be dominated by what Thomas Friedman of the New York Times called in a different context Black Elephants. As a metaphor, Black Elephants is itself a combination of two well-known English metaphors: the “elephant in the room”, which denotes a basic or risky topic that we choose to ignore or neglect ; and “black swans”, which denotes unexpected occurrences. I use this double metaphor to indicate that both past policies and new events trap the East Mediterranean into multi-layered conflicts, and a thick insecurity complex. While here the emphasis is mainly on domestic dynamics will be also taken into account. Country examples such as Libya, Syria or Lebanon are cited to demonstrate the argument.
  • Topic: Security, Regional Cooperation, Conflict
  • Political Geography: Mediterranean
  • Author: Valeria Talbot
  • Publication Date: 07-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI)
  • Abstract: Over the last years, Turkey has increased its activism in the Mediterranean, becoming a key and assertive player in regional politics and crises. From the Eastern Mediterranean gas dispute to the Libyan war, Ankara has not hesitated to flex its muscles to safeguard its interests and achieve its goals. Turkey's activism is part of a wider foreign policy, which has become more and more militarized since 2015, aiming at extending its geopolitical influence in the Middle East and its surrounding regions. This includes a significant maritime component, the so-called Mavi Vatan or the "Blue Homeland" doctrine, for the control of waters in the Eastern Mediterranean, the Aegean Sea and the Black Sea through military power projection. It is not by chance that Blue Homeland is the name of the largest naval exercise (involving 103 military ships and 20,000 soldiers) in Turkey's history which was launched at the end of February 2019 to test its ability to carry on war simultaneously in the Black Sea, the Aegean Sea and Eastern Mediterranean. A more active role for the Turkish Navy in national defence as well as in energy geopolitics competition is one of the pillars of this maritime doctrine, which also relies on the development of an indigenous defence industry.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Politics, Natural Resources, Crisis Management
  • Political Geography: Turkey, Mediterranean
  • Author: Matthew Wilson
  • Publication Date: 07-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI)
  • Abstract: From the moment he first declared his candidacy for the presidency of the United States on a strongly nationalist platform promising to “make America great again,” Donald Trump has been dogged by accusations that he is too cozy with explicitly racist, fringe-right figures and movements. Periodically, critics have seized on phrases or images in Trump’s communications that they argue send subtle messages of encouragement or solidarity to Nazis and white supremacists. This began during the 2016 campaign, when former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke expressed enthusiasm for Trump’s presidential bid. When asked for his attitude regarding the support, Trump at first equivocated and professed insufficient knowledge of Duke and his movement, before explicitly disavowing Duke and the Klan some days later. The issue arose again during Trump’s first year in office, when he asserted that there were “very fine people, on both sides” of clashes in Charlottesville, Virginia between anti-Confederate statue protestors and far-right elements. Trump’s defenders insist that the “very fine people” he was referring to were members of local heritage groups and not the violent extremists who descended on the city from outside (and, indeed, in the same press conference Trump clarified that he was “not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists because they should be condemned totally”). The issue, however, has not gone away; over the last several years, critics have periodically spotted images in Trump administration communications that they allege hearken back to historical European fascism, and recently he has been accused of using phrases with regard to law enforcement and protests that echo American segregationists. Just recently, the Trump campaign drew criticism for retweeting a video of a parade of his supporters in Florida, during which one participant shouted “White Power!” While the campaign later removed the video and claimed that they had not noticed the offending phrase, the incident reignited critics’ claims that Trump is at best indifferent toward—and at worst actively solicitous of—white nationalist support for his presidency.
  • Topic: Politics, Domestic politics, Far Right, Donald Trump
  • Political Geography: North America, United States of America
  • Author: Naser al-Tamimi
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI)
  • Abstract: With more than 136 countries (end-July 2019) reported to have signed up to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI hereafter) since it was announced by President Xi Jinping in 2013, estimates for China's potential BRI investments vary significantly, from around US $1 trillion to as much as US $8 trillion. China’s spectacular economic rise over the last three decades has been accompanied by a sharp increase in its energy demand. As a result, China is the world’s largest energy consumer. As its economy continues to grow, even at lower rates than before, its dependence on oil and gas imports will increase over the next two decades.
  • Topic: Oil, Economy, Soft Power, Belt and Road Initiative (BRI)
  • Political Geography: China, Asia
  • Author: Gautam Chikermane
  • Publication Date: 02-2020
  • Content Type: Commentary and Analysis
  • Institution: Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI)
  • Abstract: India’s middle class will count a few rupees, bank depositors will get a little security, privatisation enthusiasts will chew on a new player in the market. But other than high-sounding grandiose statements, India’s Budget 2020 has delivered no expectations. This was preordained, of course. So, if anyone is feeling disappointed, clearly s/he is not reading the economic signals in the economy or the approach of Narendra Modi’s government to it clearly. Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had little room for manoeuvre. Her Budget shows how little. In a line: Budget 2020 is yet another wasted opportunity.
  • Topic: Markets, Politics, Budget, Finance, Narendra Modi
  • Political Geography: South Asia, India