What transitioning to a defensive strategy might mean for the Russians in Ukraine.
by Mick Ryan, AM, Strategist,
Leader & Author, Retired Army Major General
While the Russian Army’s offensive in
the east continues, it is likely in the short term that they will reach the
limit of their offensive capability. As such, today I explore what
transitioning to a defensive strategy might mean for the Russians in Ukraine.
The Russian Army has been attempting
to re-boot its efforts in Ukraine. It fired senior commanders accused of
failure, reorganised combat units, begun digging in defensive positions north
of Kharkiv & conducted additional strategic missile strikes across Ukraine.
The focus of Russian forces at present
is eastern Ukraine, and in particular, securing the Donbas region. Compared to
the grand aspirations of Putin in the war’s early days, this is a relatively
modest target. And despite scaling back its goals, the Russian military is
still struggling to make significant progress in the face of the dogged defence
of the Ukrainians, and the massive inflow of western military aid. Thousands of
Russians soldiers have been killed or wounded, and hundreds of armoured
vehicles destroyed in the east of the country. For all this effort, the
Russians have gained little additional territory in the past month.
It is possible, to support their
offensive in the east, the Russians may launch attacks in the Zaporizhia and
Kherson regions. But,
given the scale of the Ukrainian military mobilisation, the amount of western
aid, and the demonstrated inability of the Russians to competently undertake
large scale operations, this too is unlikely to result in significant
breakthroughs. For this reason, it is likely the Russian capacity to continue
its offensive operations in Ukraine is close to reaching its high-water mark.
The Ukrainians have corroded the physical, moral and
intellectual capacity of the Russian military in Ukraine. The Russian
President and military high command will continue to demand advances, but at
some point in the next month or two, any capacity of the Russians to do so will
be at an end. Too many of
the Russian combat units are being frittered away, and too many of their
soldiers and junior leaders lack the will to give their ‘last full measure’ for
an institution that can’t even feed them properly.
We should not be under any
misconception that this means the Russians are defeated, or that they will soon
depart from Ukraine. The Russians will simply shift to a defensive strategy in
Ukraine. And while this may at first glance appear to simplify the Russian’s
problems in Ukraine, the reality is that it raises a new set of challenges.
The four challenges: loosing initiative,
governance, insurgency, morale
The first challenge is that they will
no longer have the initiative. The Russian Army, in a defensive strategy, will
be in a responsive mode. The Ukrainian Army will be able to decide where and
when it engages the Russians. In effect, the strategic, operational, and
tactical initiative will rest with the Ukrainians. This gives the Ukrainian
military high command flexibility about the time, place, strength &
sequencing of the inevitable counteroffensives it will conduct to recapture
A second challenge for the Russians is
that many of its units will shift from military operations to ‘occupation
support’ activities. In effect, soldiers will need to become governors in the
areas of Ukraine they still hold and which they seek to convert to Russian
colonies. Not only does this bleed off military forces to defend against the
Ukrainians, it requires a range of skill sets not normally resident in military
institutions, such as civil administration. And, as the Russians found in Syria
and Chechnya, it is extraordinarily expensive.
A third challenge for the Russian
occupiers, to compound their already massive problems, is that they will
probably have to deal with a nascent resistance movement. As the Ukrainians
have shown throughout this war, they are a proud, determined, and courageous
people. There are already reports of Ukrainian insurgents operating in southern
Ukraine. This will only grow with time in areas controlled by the Russians. And
the Russians know that these insurgents will be well supported by the West.
Finally, the Russian Army has a
problem with morale. In her essay
in Foreign Affairs, Dara Massicot(@MassDara) describes a
“culture of indifference to its personnel fundamentally compromises the Russian
military’s efficacy.” Overlaid with this cultural issue has been multiple
reports by intelligence agencies & media about Russian Army desertions, the
inability to retrieve its dead and lack of support to military families.
These challenges will only be
intensified by a long-term occupation where soldiers are poorly led, and
expected to be administrators, chase insurgents and win the hearts and minds of
patriotic Ukrainians. And large numbers of Russians will be required for an
Army of a occupation – many more than they have currently deployed in Ukraine.
The recent Ukrainian
decision to cease its defence of the Mariupol steelworks provided a small yet
pyrrhic victory for the Russians. But it is unlikely that there will be more of
such minor successes for the Russian Army. As their eastern offensive loses
momentum, the Russians will inevitably have to transition to a defensive
strategy in Ukraine. And in doing do, the Russian Army will confront a new
range of difficult challenges ahead.
Perspectives on the AUKUS partnership
September 2021, the US, the UK, and Australia jointly announced the birth of a
new trilateral security partnership whereby, in Australian Prime Minister Scott
Morrison’s words, “our technology, our scientists, our
industry, our defense forces are all working together to deliver a safer and
more secure region that ultimately benefits all“; that region being
The US so-called ‘pivot to Asia’ is an
expression which came to the fore during the Obama administration and which
aptly describes how American foreign policy priorities started shifting -i.e.
from intervention in the Middle East North Africa- to enhanced military,
economic and diplomatic presence further East, with a view to ultimately
counter-balance a growing Chinese influence. Some analysts have interpreted the
unwavering will to finally disengage from Afghanistan as another step towards acquiring
greater posture in the South China Sea and the Indian Ocean.
The new pact’s most immediate
consequence has consisted in the Australian Government’s cancellation of a multi-billion
dollar deal with France for the supply of diesel-powered submarines, which are
now going to be replaced by nuclear-powered ones produced onsite thanks to
technology sharing among the three like-minded partners. This abrupt twist which
caught the French, as well as Europe, totally off-guard, caused a serious
diplomatic row with Paris; many analysts have since been contemplating how this
latest crisis may hit long-term transatlantic relations.
But what is really at stake
with this new alliance? And most interestingly, how did the Chinese media react
to this news?
We asked some experts in
the field to provide their perspectives. Here’s what they told us.
AUKUS – Chinese media coverage
Dr. Zhan Zhang
Research Fellow, China Media Observatory – Università della Svizzera Italiana (USI)
The same day when Washington announced the creation of the AUKUS, the
news was immediately reported in China, highlighting the first
measure of AUKUS is to work over the next 18 months to figure out how to best
deliver the technology of a nuclear-powered submarine. According to the news
search result on the Baidu platform on Sept.22 2021, within one week, there were
around 65 news items headlined AUKUS from various Chinese news outlets. By counting the news
headline and the first two lead sentences of all the news articles into the
analysis, the keywords map below clearly correspondents the focus of the
Chinese narrative under three main themes during the past week:
- The creation of AUKUS is to counter China: For example, Knews  quoted different international news outlets, including the BBC, Reuters, and Deutsche Welle, stating that such a move is the Western allies pushing back on China’s rising power in the military and technology arenas. The voice of Chinese experts on international studies is also quoted in the article, saying that the intention of the creation of AUKUS was evident: to strengthen military deterrence against China and even prepare for a possible military conflict with China.
- International feedback from other countries, mostly opposing AUKUS: from the collected data, Chinese media discussed the reactions from over 13 different countries, the EU and NATO. France was highlighted the most, as the submarine deal blindsided the French, and Paris is furious about the tearing up of a 56 billion euros contract Australia agreed with Naval Group. Reactions from Malaysia, Russia, New Zealand, Canada, Philippines, Indonesia, India, and the EU followed up, mostly being cautious and worrying as it may accelerate the nuclear weapon arms race in the region (i.e. Malaysia), and some were supporting as it could restore and maintain balance in the region (i.e. Philippines).
- China’s official opposition: Chinese media also gave a lot of space to the foreign ministry spokesman Zhao lijian, who commented the agreement as it “seriously undermines regional peace and stability and intensifies the arms race”. China called for the relevant countries to “abandon the outdated Cold War zero-sum mentality and narrow geopolitical concepts”. In the same article, the Chinese Embassy in Australia is also quoted as an official source, advising Australia to “do more things to enhancing mutual trust and strengthening cooperation between the two countries, instead of bringing further damages and tensions against China”.
Last but not least, it is very interesting (and strange) that the
state-run Xinhua News Agency didn’t record any news about AUKUS, zero results
were found both on their official website and from the Factiva Database.
A call for more European engagement
Dr. Claudio Bertolotti
Director, START InSight
This new cooperation pact with Australia and the UK is coherent with a US long-term strategic vision which started to take shape in 2007 with the establishment of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue -also known as QUAD- involving the United States, India, Japan, and Australia-; however, given its mainly consultative nature, such initiative did not provide practical solutions, nor answers, as it lacked a solid military structure. With the new AUKUS treaty in place, the US will now be provided with a landing place for its Navy but also with allies willing to deploy (nuclear-powered) weapons that, from the point of view of deterrence, are very relevant. Relations with China will further shift towards competition and hint at a potential conflict which, however, won’t suit either of them. As it pertains to Europe, the Biden administration seems to have deliberately bypassed partners with a long-term interest in the Pacific area, like France, while favouring Anglo-Saxon countries with whom it shares the same strategic vision; this is also consistent with the so-called ‘Five Eyes’ alliance (an intelligence-sharing group consisting of five English-speaking democracies -namely the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand- dating back to the Cold War era). Euro-Atlantic relations won’t suffer too much from what is only the latest, in a string of unilateral decisions; however, this situation should encourage Europe to adopt a different approach compared to China’s; one which does not merely contemplate expanding Chinese commercial activities across the Old Continent thanks to the New Silk Road, but is rather bent on widening and increasing European interests and initiatives towards China.
The AUKUS and Trans-Atlantic relations
Dr. Alessandro Politi
Director, NATO Defence College Foundation
The hullabaloo around the contract rescinded by Australia on 12 conventional attack submarines supplied by France in favour of eight new unspecified nuclear attack submarines (UK Astute class?) in the framework of the AUKUS agreement masks some fundamental. First, the Pacific has been essential for the USA since the Nineteenth century, while France and UK were de facto wiped out from it since 1941. Second, the EU as such has a lot to do with China, but nothing in strategic terms in the Pacific or on arms contracts. Third, France has a meaningful presence in the area, but that is it. Fourth, NATO is for now formulating its intentions on the Indo-Pacific and nothing more.
Of course, soured bilateral relations have a serious impact on wider fora at the political level and the USA with the intelligence Prism affair* and this recent move has dented the confidence of Berlin first and Paris now. Not very useful. We can only hope confidence, the glue of any covenant, might be restored.
risks being an implicit weakening of the Quad and does not compensate for
Washington’s confirmed absence from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. It is not
just the economy, but chains of flowers are often more obliging than those of
* surveillance programme used by the US National Security Agency (NSA) to collect private electronic data, which was exposed by Edward Snowden.
AUKUS – a tool in the US symmetrical competitive strategy
Dr. Niccolò Petrelli
author La Grande Strategia e il futuro della competizione USA-Cina
At first glance, the AUKUS pact could be interpreted as a predictable development within the framework of a decades’ old US military strategy addressing potential conflict in the Western Pacific. As a matter of fact, this agreement tells us much more about the nature of the US-China competition strategy. If one takes into consideration the recent withdrawal from Afghanistan, the strengthening of the QUAD, as well as the B3W initiative*, it seems reasonable to conclude that the Biden administration is developing a symmetrical competitive strategy aimed at overpowering its opponent by generating and deploying superior resources in each context where it enjoys a solid advantage (such as in the technological and military areas favoured by AUKUS) and resulting in a generalised “preponderance of power”.
*’ Build Back a Better World’ – an initiative launched by G7 countries in 2021 and based on infrastructure development for poorer countries, as an alternative to China’s Belt and Road
A security dilemma
Dr. Andrea Molle
Senior Research Fellow, START InSight
Assistant Professor in Political Science, Chapman University
For a Realist, AUKUS is the textbook case of a “security dilemma.” The decision to implement a trilateral pact between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States is justified as a way to increase the alliance security in the Indo-Pacific. However, as predictable, China saw it as a direct threat to its security. Prudently, the Chinese media depicted the Anglo-American move as a forerunner of a new era of political tensions. But the Chinese Government is officially signaling a change of posture, tossing the diplomatic equivalent of a “cease and desist” letter and accusing AUKUS to be the product of a Cold War mentality. Indeed, some commentators see a possibility for AUKUS to start a new Cold War, but there are a few essential differences that must be accounted for in order to forecast possible scenarios. First, the Cold War was a conflict between two superpowers in a now-gone bipolar world. Second, the US and USSR were not as economically and culturally interconnected as China is now with the rest of the world. The two blocs were colliding both ideologically and economically. Finally, the threat of mutually assured destruction (MAD) reasonably prevented an escalation and kept the “hot” conflict at the level of proxy wars. In the current multipolar system, defined by the downfall of the US as a global hegemon, a long-lasting deadlock like the Cold War is unlikely, and the pendulum will swing between a newfound balance and a regional hot war. The paradoxical result is that AUKUS could potentially decrease global security and stability, turning the current tensions into an out-and-out conflict, maybe by pushing Beijing to force the hand with Taiwan to signal they would not tolerate any meddling in a region they have always considered their backyard.
 The U.S., U.K. and Australia announced the establishment of a tripartite security partnership.
People’s Daily Online,
is a Chinese multinational technology company that offers the biggest search
engine service in China
number of articles is retrieved on Baidu until 15.00 CET, 22.09.2021.
How powerful is the new military alliance Knews, republished by netease,
AUKUS agreed during G7, but Macron didn’t know anything, m4news, 19.09.2021. http://news.m4.cn/2021-09/1352804.shtml
above, KNews, 16.09.2021 and British Media worries that AUKUS agreement may
anger China. Tencent News 17.09.2021. https://new.qq.com/omn/20210917/20210917A0FA1O00.html
20 years of global terrorist risk, stringent law enforcement and security measures in the XXI century
ASIS International, a community of more than 38’000 members, is the leading non-profit organisation dedicated to promoting excellence in the security management profession worldwide. Through its national Chapters, ASIS promotes professional education and networking at local level.
On the occasion of the 9/11 20th anniversary, the ASIS international chapters of Austria, France, Italy and Switzerland join forces and invite you to a big event taking place on
September 10th, 2021
9 am to 5 pm
LIVE from the premises of
Università della Svizzera Italiana in Lugano (Switzerland)
Click here for both ONLINE and ONSITE REGISTRATION
The event is free and open to ALL
Twenty years of global terrorist risk stringent law enforcement and security measures in the XXI century
The panels are subject to Chatham House Rule
“When a meeting, or part thereof, is held under the Chatham House Rule, participants are free to use the information received, but neither the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker(s), nor that of any other participant, may be revealed”
Welcome message (09:00 – 09:20)
Prof. Boas Erez – Rector, USI / Jean-Patrick Villeneuve – Associate Professor, USI / Etienne Ammon – Chairman, ASIS Chapter 160 (Switzerland)
Session 1 (09:20 – 11:00)
9/11, its context and the subsequent terrorist attacks
Chiara Sulmoni / André Duvillard / Joseph Billy Jr (click here for bios)
Moderator: Luca Tenzi
Session 2 (11:25 – 13:00)
The war on terrorism and its successive impacts on business conditions
Umberto Saccone / Franco Fantozzi / Claudio Bertolotti (click here for bios)
Moderator: Godfried Hendricks
Session 3 (14:15 – 16:00)
The implications, for companies, of the security framework in place in Europe today to consider the residual/objective terrorist threat
Johan Ohlsson Malm / Prof. Frédéric Esposito / Adrien Frossard / (click here for bios)
Moderator: Nicolas Le Saux
For further details, updates, COVID provisions and contacts, please refer to
or your national ASIS chapter
REWARDING MEASURES WITH A VIEW TO PREVENTING TERRORISM. RESULTS FROM A EUROPEAN RESEARCH PROJECT
FIGHT AGAINST INTERNATIONAL TERRORISM
DISCOVERING EUROPEAN MODELS OF REWARDING MEASURES TO PREVENT TERRORISM
(LINK TO THE PROJECT’S WEBSITE)
A number of European countries which experienced internal terrorist threats in the past (e.g. Italy and Spain) have already been regularly applying ‘reward’ measures -such as the recognition of mitigating circumstances, prison benefits and so on- with some degree of success; they basically induced captured terrorists to cooperate with the authorities, taking advantage of the fact that many extremists were merely “flankers” of a terrorist organisation and therefore still sensitive to the loss of freedom, as well as widely rehabilitable.
These measures have effectively strengthened the judicial response to the phenomenon of internal terrorism.
Over the course of the past two years, the FIGHTER project carefully explored whether reward measures can be implemented against international terrorism as well.
Results will be introduced and discussed in an open seminar taking place on
THURSDAY, MAY 20TH, 2021
9:00 -13.00 a.m.
University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, Department of Law – Dean
University of Modena and Reggio Emilia
Chair and introduction:
University of Rome “La Sapienza” – FIGHTER P.I.
“MODERN” TERRORISM: EU COMPETENCES AND SOCIO-CRIMINOLOGICAL ASPECTS
Former Judge, Counter-Terrorism Criminal Law Expert
Sveuciliste U Zagrebu – Pravni Fakultet
Université Saint-Louis de Bruxelles
Vincenzo Di Peso
Nucleus Police Prevention Central Director
ART. 16 DIRECTIVE (EU) 2017/541: NATURE, SHORTCOMINGS AND POSSIBLE EXPLOITATION
Université de Lille 2
University of Modena and Reggio Emilia
A “EUROPEAN MODEL” OF REWARDING MEASURES
Manuel Cancio Meliá
Universidad Autónoma de Madrid
University of Luxembourg
University of Luxembourg
University of Salento
READ OUR IN-DEPTH INTERVIEW WITH FIGHTER’S RESEARCHERS IN ITALY
Risk analysis of militant conspiracy theories
BY ANDREA MOLLE
This analysis was originally disseminated by ASIS Italy Chapter
As much as they sound silly and preposterous, militant conspiracy theories are not a joke and pose an increasing security risk instead. This is mainly due to the ease of diffusion in political systems; their tendency to provoke civil unrest; and the alarming association with far-right terrorist movements with which they share a cell-styled organizational structure.
The infiltration of militant conspiracy theorists in American society is now considered by several analysts so pervasive that it is starting to heavily influence the country’s political environment. Several groups which are operating at the moment have displayed an outstanding ability to mass-proselytize, especially among law enforcement, the military, and, more recently, politicians. In Europe, militant conspiracy theory is a relatively recent phenomenon that currently does not exhibit the same degree of institutional penetration one can find in the US. However, over the past three years, it has shown considerable potential for radicalization. Historically, militant conspiracy theories -which differ from the simple act of consuming conspiracy theories per se- owe much of their traction to the American Alt-Right movement, forerun by social media phenomena such as InfoWars launched in 1999 by Alex Jones. The Alt-Right movement dates back to approximately 2009 when it emerged from the Tea Party platform following the last Great Recession of 2007/08. However, it must be borne in mind that it is with the presidential elections in 2016 that militant conspiracy theorists blossomed and begun to take over on a global scale. Thanks to the QAnon movement and the commitment of essential influencers such as Steve Bannon, it now raises serious concerns due to the violence embraced by many followers. The dangers posed by militant conspiracy theory mainly lie on three primary levels.
First of all, their increased influence on politics. Several social movements and think tanks, those that have always mobilized voters in favour of right-wing parties in the identitarian milieu, have amplified the messages of militant conspiracy theories and, in some cases, have taken on the role of promoters. To gain consensus, mainstream parties have immediately picked up those very same issues and disseminated them, primarily through social media. It almost always happens because conspiracy theories’ simplistic rhetoric offers a great communicational advantage and translates into an immediate return in terms of consensus. However, in doing so, even without espousing conspiracy theories, these parties expose themselves to the risk of associating with a perilous movement and political culture. Above all, the primary risk consists in being infiltrated at the top by militant conspiracy theorists, thus increasing the possibility that future policy-making will be fictitious and based on faulty assumptions. Moreover, there is also the danger of possible connivance with hostile foreign powers that could exploit militant conspiracy theories as a tool of aggressive foreign policy (such as already happens with memetic warfare).
Second, the progressive level of civil unrest. In North America, the US, and Canada, the increased violence linked to militant conspiracy theories has led several security and law enforcement agencies to list conspiracy-based groups as criminal and/or terrorist organizations. However, the lack of a legal framework to prosecute them and the absence of a defined and structured organization with identifiable leadership figures makes it extremely difficult to assess and monitor the conspiratorial environment, let alone to counter it. In many cases, we are talking about individuals who adhere to the contents of a conspiracy and exploit its ideology but operate independently or through loose ties with more structured organizations. The main risk posed by such lone wolves is a future increase in hate crimes. In other instances, militant conspiracy theorists act in a more structured way, as was observed in the case of the assault on the Capitol Hill on January 6th. Here, the risk is mainly an increase in underlying tensions, civil unrest, and violent public outbursts.
Finally, a potential for a terroristic turn. Several analysts fear the increased risk of mass radicalization, especially among the young and less educated elements of the militant conspiracy theories milieu, following the events of January 6th. The propensity to mass-radicalization is due to the very satisfying, interactive nature of conspiratorial contents with their constant references to popular culture that make the experience of consuming and act upon these theories extremely compelling. To spread efficiently, militant conspiracy theories mainly exploit mechanisms of involvement typical of ARG video games (alternate reality game), thereby creating a LARP (live-action role-playing game)-like socially pervasive experience that allows a safe zone for participants to develop their militant profile. The appeal of these theories is quasi-religious. The message is structured as a theology, whereas the eschatological component, the “cosmic war” against the deep state, predominates. The social control level exercised by various conspiratorial groups over their members is so pervasive that it encapsulates them and makes it hard to keep fiction and reality distinct, shielding them from the latter. For example, the failure of Donald Trump’s re-election prophecy has immediately activated religious-like rationalization mechanisms that suggest a violent escalation is likely.
The analysis of recent militant conspiracy theorists’ social networks and their repost highlights how the movement is branching out to the world of white supremacists, right-wing extremists, and violent domestic terrorists. It is not to argue that all militants are involved or will be involved with violent or terrorist organizations, such as, for example, the Oath Keepers, Boogaloo Bois, Proud Boys, and neo-Nazi terrorists such as the Atomwaffen Division. For now, we see this in a minority of cases. However, growing trends hint at it as a natural evolution for many followers, especially if they look for a more militant experience. Furthermore, these violent movements themselves use established conspiracy theory networks to recruit new members to their cause by picking them, for example, among the disappointed fans of QAnon or those expelled from groups disbanded by the authorities. These individuals seem to constitute an ideal recruitment pool of domestic terrorists that could, with little effort and in a short time, exponentially increase their ranks with easily manipulatable individuals. The main risk associated with this trend is potential attacks on infrastructures and other sensitive targets, notoriously exposed to the action of radicalized individuals (lone wolves). It should also be borne in mind that these individuals often possess technical skills and, in some cases, served in the military or law enforcement. We already witnessed a first, worrisome example a few days ago in the State of Florida where a hacker who breached the city of Oldsmar’s water network system with the intent of poisoning its drinking water, was luckily stopped before he could succeed.
To conclude, new efforts must be made to increase our understanding of militant conspiracy theories, with a focus on removing the conditions conducive to their development and spread. Concerning infiltrations, it is important to promote awareness within political parties’ leaderships about the need to reduce the ambiguity of their message and prevent conspiratorial elements from achieving positions of power within their ranks. As far as civil unrest and criminal activities are concerned, it is crucial to better monitor militants within formal and informal conspiracy groups and networks and disband them where necessary by providing appropriate legal paths to prevent and sanction criminal activities. Finally, concerning the issue of terrorism, it is necessary to tackle the militant conspiracy problem by learning from the experience gained in the field of Islamist radicalisation both from an operational point of view; in countering the phenomenon; and finally in terms of intervention, prevention and de-radicalization.
Photo by Brendan Beale on Unsplash
#ReaCT2021: 2nd Report on Radicalization and Counter-Terrorism
In my role as Executive Director of the ReaCT Observatory, I am honoured to introduce #ReaCT2021, the 2nd Report on Radicalisation and Counter-Terrorism in Europe.
This report offers a concise analysis on the evolution of radical ideologies and terrorist threats in accordance with the European Union directive 2017/541 on the fight against terrorism and is meant as a useful contribution, within the wider public debate, to the harmonisation of member States’ discrepancies around what should be defined and treated as terrorism.
The Observatory mainly focuses on jihadism; however, we make sure to afford enough room and support for studies on other forms of terrorism, ideological radicalisation and social deviance, as well as “conspiracy theories” leading to violent outcomes.
In their assessments, the authors who submitted their work for this issue of #ReaCT2021 took into account the repercussions of new social and conflict dynamics brought about by COVID-19.
Due to other priorities, the pandemic seemed to have sidelined terrorism when, all of a sudden, October 2020 revived the threat which had apparently been overcome. From early September to early November, a successive chain of events clearly highlighted a dramatic and articulated scenario. Those sixty days of fear tell us that terrorism is now a “normal” rather than an ‘exceptional’ phenomenon, as an instrument of the ongoing conflict.
2019-2020: the evolution of European jihadist terrorism
In 2019 according to Europol there were 119 successful, failed or thwarted attacks: 56 of these were carried out by ethno-nationalist and separatist groups; 26 by extreme left radical and anarchist groups; 6 by far right groups; 24 were jihadist, of which 3 were successful and 4 unsuccessful. In the same year, START InSight’s database listed 19 jihadist actions / events (as compared to the 7 reported by Europol); in 2020, the number goes up to 25.
In 2019, jihadists were responsible for all deaths from terrorism in Europe: according to Europol, 10 people lost their lives and 26 were injured (1 person was injured in a far-right attack). START InSight recorded a higher number of people with injuries (48), who were mostly victims of marginal and emulative attacks. In 2020 there was a significant increase in deaths: 16 people were killed and 55 were injured.
The long wave of terrorism which hit Europe following the emergence of the “Islamic State” phenomenon recorded 146 jihadist attacks from 2014 to 2020: 188 terrorists took part in these attacks (59 among them died in action); 406 people lost their lives; 2,421 were injured (START InSight’s database).
Cases of recidivism are on the rise: 3 out of 10 in 2020. START InSight also spotted an increase in actions carried out by terrorists already known to European police forces or intelligence services: 54% of the total in 2020.
An increase in the number of irregular migrants heightens the potential risk of terrorism: 20% of terrorists are irregular immigrants. In France, the number of irregular immigrants involved in terrorist attacks is growing. Until 2017, no attack had seen the participation of irregular immigrants; in 2018, 15% of terrorists were irregular immigrants: in 2020, they reached 40%.
Islamic State and al-Qaeda online terrorist propaganda during the Covid-19 emergency
Propaganda activities carried out during the Covid-19 pandemic and the attacks which took place in Paris, Nice and Vienna, recall how dynamic terrorism associated with the Islamic State and al-Qaeda remains, especially through the Internet. In particular, the Islamic State confirmed its aggressive narrative, identifying the Coronavirus as a “soldier of Allah”. An ally, set out to punish the “infidels”, above all the military and police forces.
The concepts and importance of preventing and countering violent extremism (PVE/CVE)
PVE and CVE gradually became an integral part of the global counter-terrorism architecture. In order to be long-term and effective, these policies and projects require a constant dialogue among researchers, practitioners, law enforcement agencies and legislators which also sets out priorities and expectations. Measuring the results of these activities remains a difficult task but several European think tanks are already bent on the issue.
Countering radicalisation and terrorism via criminal law: problems and perspectives
By its very nature, counterterrorism criminal law does not affect the causes of radicalisation and terrorism. An overarching and disproportionate resort to criminal law may even produce crime-inducing side effects: radicalisation shall be addressed as a reversible process. Counterterrorism criminal law in Europe is generally prison-based, even with regard to facts that arguably do not harm legal goods or interests.
The terror threat in the UK. The challenge: identify, define, arrest and convict
The complexity of the terror threat picture faced by the UK was recently highlighted through court cases which have frustrated the efforts of the security and intelligence forces. The cases that are now emerging are so disconnected from terrorist networks, are planning such random acts and the tools of terrorism are becoming so banal that it has become almost impossible to entirely shield yourself from the threat. But it has also become almost impossible to prove who might be going in this direction. This is creating a new generation of radicals that authorities struggle to identify, define, arrest and convict.
A look at the Balkan gate to Europe
The attack which took place in Vienna in November 2020 drew attention to the issue of terrorism in Europe, especially in the Balkan Area. It also focused such attention on jihadist presence in the Balkan countries, which could become a potential logistical hub for jihadism towards Europe.
Lessons learned from Kosovo’s experience in repatriating former foreign fighters: the small Western Balkan nation of Kosovo repatriated 110 citizens, including men, women, and children, in April 2019, making it one of a very small number of countries that has actively repatriated citizens involved with the Islamic State. The paper also includes what lessons can be learned by EU countries in handling the complex issue of how to manage the return of foreign fighters and their families.
The other terrorisms: far-right, extreme left and the new QAnon phenomenon in pandemic times
The pandemic caused by the Covid-19 virus has also had significant effects on the relational and communicative strategies and methodologies typical of both far-right and extreme left-wing environments. Right-wing violent extremism, a phenomenon in expansion in the West, appears to be acquiring a transnational character and has an emerging symbiotic, mutually-reinforcing interdependent relationship with Islamist extremism. This interdependence poses additional threats to European security.
A threat to democracy is QAnon, a conspiracy theory movement active in more than 70 countries and that presents a high risk of radicalization in Europe. It should be closely monitored because of its potential for violent actions.
Thanks to all of the authors who contributed to this Report. My gratitude also goes to the two co-editors who have given their fundamental input: Chiara Sulmoni, President of START InSight, and Flavia Giacobbe, Director of Airpress and Formiche.
Claudio Bertolotti – Executive Director
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EUNAVFORMED “Irini” operation: constraints and two critical issues
The war in Libya represents the main obstacle to stability in the Mediterranean area. While regional and international actors scramble for influence, the European Union and European states seem unable to revive the diplomatic path launched last January with the Berlin Conference and to prevent a looming humanitarian disaster just beyond the EU’s southern border (ISPI, 2020). As war persists in the North African country, factors such as weapons’ supply, illegal migration, drugs and human trafficking continue to affect the region and the south of Europe -including NATO’s border- and to impact on security in the area. EUNAVFORMED’s “Irini” operation aims at ending arms trafficking in Libya: but such goal is far from being achieved due to a lack of political cohesion and ineffective military capability.
Analysis by Claudio Bertolotti
EUNAVFORMED’s “Irini” operation: constraints and two critical issues
The Berlin Summit as a premise to the “Irini” operation
Participants at the Berlin Conference on Libya, which was held on 19th January 2020, committed specifically to fully respecting and implementing the arms embargo established by the United Nations Security Council Resolutions (UNSCR) 1970 (2011), 2292 (2016) and 2473 (2019). On 17th February 2020, the Council agreed to launch a new military operation in the Mediterranean, which would oversee the enactment of the embargo by means of aerial, satellite and maritime assets. In a break-through following months of negotiations, Greece confirmed its willingness to assist irregular migrants saved at sea by EU military ships, who would therefore not -at least formally- be sent over to an already hard-pressed Italy. This issue had previously stalled any tangible progress.
On 31st March 2020 Josep Borrell, the EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy announced an agreement over the creation of operation “Irini” (Greek for “peace”), an Italian-led mission with its operational centre in Rome. As well as supporting the implementation of the UN arms embargo on Libya, and in accordance with Resolution 2292 of the U.N. Security Council, the mission also entails the inspection of vessels navigating the high seas off the coast of Libya, assumed to be carrying weapons (or related material) to, and from, Libya; it also inherits some secondary tasks from its predecessor, EUNAVFORMED’s operation “Sophia”, including the training of the Libyan Coast Guard and Navy, and search-and-rescue duties.
the mission entails the inspection of vessels navigating the high seas off the coast of Libya, assumed to be carrying weapons to and from Libya
But up to now, “Irini” proved unable to achieve its primary goal, due to a fundamental political weakness brought about by the heterogeneous priorities set by EU countries, and to a limited military capability.
“Irini” ’s mission
On 30th March 2020, the European Council officially launched EUNAVFORMED’s “Irini” operation in the Mediterranean. Through the imposition of an arms embargo and a new military operation within the scope of the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP), the European Union is stepping up its efforts towards peace in Libya.
up to now, “Irini” proved unable to achieve its primary goal, due to a fundamental political weakness brought about by the heterogeneous priorities set by EU countries, and to a limited military capability
The main task assigned to EUNAVFORMED’s “Irini” consists in implementing the embargo by also inspecting vessels to and from Libya, which can be reasonably assumed to be carrying weapons (or related material) for belligerents; as well as gathering extensive and comprehensive information on the trafficking of arms and other military equipment and supplies by sea. As secondary tasks, EUNAVFOR MED “Irini” will also:
- monitor and gather information on illicit exports of petroleum, crude oil and refined petroleum products from Libya
- contribute to the capacity-building and training of the Libyan Coast Guard and Navy in law enforcement tasks at sea
- contribute to the disruption of the business model of human smuggling and trafficking networks through information gathering and patrolling by planes
“Irini” ’s mandate will initially last until 31st March 2021 and the operation will be performed under the close scrutiny of EU Member States, who will exercise political control and strategic direction through the Political and Security Committee (PSC) -in its turn under the responsibility of the Council and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy-. Unlike its predecessor “Sophia”, which operated in the Strait of Sicily, “Irini” shifted eastwards to patrol the waters between Egypt and Crete, with special attention payed to Cyrenaica.
A worsening situation: weapons keep reaching Libya
The internationalization of the conflict -its transformation from a civil war into a war by proxy- ensures that technologically-advanced military equipment continue to reach Libya by air, land, and sea. The fact that non-state armed actors in the country are pretty familiar with such weapons systems is a harbinger of danger for bordering countries as well: between 2012 and 2014, terrorists and separatist groups filled their arsenals with weapons belonging to the former Libyan army. These weapons could now cross into bordering countries, a number of which are increasingly struggling with insurgencies fueled by, among others, the so-called and dangerous as ever Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaida.
participants at the Berlin Conference on Libya committed to fully respecting the arms embargo established by the UN Security Council; according to the UN, the latter has since been broken by several participants
Against such background, the optimist attitude displayed at the Berlin Conference now seems unjustified, especially as according to the UN, the arms embargo has since been broken by several Summit participants, with planes landing at airports in both Eastern and Western Libya with their cargos of weapons, armored vehicles, foreign fighters, and military advisors. The UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL, 2020) reported that “several among those who participated in the Berlin Conference” have been involved in the “ongoing transfer of foreign fighters, weapons, ammunition and advanced systems” and other military equipment (Kaim, Schulz, 2020).
From theory to practice: operational difficulties and political boundaries
“Irini” started its activities at sea on 4th May but, despite some initial confidence, it has since been marred by differences among EU members. Greek and French ships joined the mission at the end of May but Malta, which had pledged specially-trained on-board personnel, withdrew its participation in an apparent attempt at influencing the Libyan GNA and Turkey.
The mission currently operates with the Greek frigate “Spetsai” (Hydra class) and the French frigate “Jean Bart” (Cassard class); a small maritime reconnaissance aircraft made available by Luxembourg and Poland; a German P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft; and (as of July) the Italian ship “San Giorgio”. In August, Germany provided its “Hamburg” vessel -a Sachsen class frigate with a crew of 250 military personnel. Italy further contributes with a drone for surveillance operations and with the logistical bases of Augusta, Pantelleria and Sigonella, while a P72 maritime patrol aircraft, an Air early-warning aircraft (Aew) and a submarine “will occasionally be available in support” (Pioppi, 2020). According to its operational commander, the deployment will “soon be capable of reaching full operational capacity” (Pioppi, 2020): nevertheless, compared to its initial objectives, it suffers from very limited resources and its effectiveness is further undermined by poor political cohesion among the 27 European partners.
Turkey’s challenge to the European Union
On 10th of June 2020 the Greek frigate “Spetsai” (under Italian command) tried to approach Tanzanian-flagged mercantile ship “Cirkin”, which was being suspected of carrying weapons from Turkey to Tripoli. The maneuver was countered in the Gulf of Sirte by direct intervention of a Turkish military unit escorting the mercantile (Hassad, 2020). A second Turkish military unit apparently converged towards the Greek frigate after a Greek navy helicopter overflew the “Cirkin”. As soon as the Greek helicopter approached the “Cirkin”, it received a call from the Turkish frigate explaining that “the Turkish ship is under the protection of the Turkish Republic”. The Turkish official said that the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) had not recognized “Irini”. A laser framing action on the part of the Turks -as a prelude to an escalation- is thought to have put an end to the situation by forcing “Spetsai” into retreat.
The “Cirkin” freighter, which entered the port of Tripoli on 11th of June (a day after the event), had set sail from the Sea of Marmara, south of Istanbul, after docking in a “roll-on roll-off” (RORO) port for a loadful of weapons, equipment and heavy vehicles, including armored vehicles hailing from a nearby military base of the Turkish army. The 4,000 tons, 100 metre’s long Turkish freighter was launched in 1980 and has previously been used by Ankara for shipping armored vehicles and other equipment to the GNA in Tripoli.
Greece denounced the incident -which would later re-occur with the French ship as well- as a blatant violation of the UN embargo; to which Ankara replied by underlining how, since the “Cirkin” enjoyed Turkish protection, the “Irini” intervention could in fact be deemed un-necessary. Turkey undeniably exposed the European operation’s critical issues; it also criticized its unilateral bias in favor of General Khalifa Haftar and further suggested the creation of a new mechanism by the United Nations (Hurriyet Daily News, 2020).
The incident, which did not make headlines outside Greece, testifies to the political -rather than operational- ineffectiveness of the European mission, which is supposed to be enforcing a military embargo on Libya; but as a matter of fact, does not seem to be able to control naval routes and to stop flows of weapons and other equipment from reaching General Haftar’s faction by land, from Egypt, and by air, from Russia.
the fact that the EU mission deals primarily with naval violations of the embargo raises questions about its effectiveness
“Irini” ’s two principal shortcomings
The fact that the EU mission deals primarily with naval violations of the embargo raises questions about its effectiveness. Military supplies reach the opposing Libyan factions from two directions: the western maritime border, used by Turkey to provide the GNA in Tripoli with weapons and fighters; and the eastern border, whereby Egypt and the United Arab Emirates send their support to Haftar’s LNA (al-Jazeera, 2020). As Egypt and the UAE are determined to take advantage of the situation, the Turks are left with no other option than supplying Tripoli with weapons across waters that are now being patrolled by the EU.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu recently complained that “the EU mission did not do anything to stop other powers’ shipments into Libya”, including what he alleged were “arms being sent by France to Haftar”. France, which denies supporting Haftar but has long been suspected of favoring him, voiced its fury last month after alleging that the French ship “Courbet” was subjected to laser framing by Turkish frigates’, while inspecting a mercantile en route to Libya (al-Jazeera, 2020).
Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio addressed the issue as well by specifying that “Irini” “is not a naval blockade. The international regulatory framework includes the naval blockade as a method of war. Therefore, the blockade is a measure that can only be adopted during international armed conflicts. “Irini” envisages measures which must be selective, legitimate and fully respectful of international law, and aimed at promoting the return of peace and security in Libya “(Di Feo, 2020). Di Maio’s statement implicitly upholds the operation’s structural limitations, which clearly emerge in the form of two main criticalities.
the absence of a jurisdictional framework for States to operate in Libya or bordering nations, allows countries wanting to flout the arms embargo, to directly supply weapons to the conflicting parties by land, sea and air
One of the weak points of the arms embargo on Libya consists in its implementation. States’ and EU actions are restricted to enforcing the arms embargo at sea. Initially, the Security Council had only called upon States to inspect all cargos to and from Libya “in their territory, including at seaports and airports”, should they possess information providing reasonable grounds to believe that those cargos contained arms. The absence of a jurisdictional framework or authorization for States to act outside their own territory and to operate in Libya or bordering nations, allows countries wanting to flout the arms embargo, to directly supply weapons to the conflicting parties by land, sea and air.
The second criticality resides in the option of extending monitoring activities to Libya’s land borders, which involves having “boots on the ground” EU military personnel, but only in the event of a request from local authorities. If up to very recently, an agreement on this issue between General Khalifa Haftar in Tobruk and Tripoli government’s chairman Fayez al-Serraj seemed utterly unlikely, the truce which was announced on 21st August 2020 by al-Serraj and Aguila Saleh (spokesperson of the Chamber of Representatives in Tobruk) could open a different scenario (and al-Serraj’s apparent intention of leaving office at the end of October also adds to the picture). Currently though, without any Security Council authorization or consent on the part of the Libyan authorities, the EU cannot conduct any aerial surveillance activities within Libyan airspace, let alone stem the supply of weapons by air or enforce the arms embargo on the ground in Libya. As most of the weapons destined for General Haftar’s forces are being transported by land or air, a stricter enforcement of the arms embargo at sea comes at the expense of the Libyan Government of National Accord, which receives most of its supplies from Turkey via the sea route.
One might question whether the EU operation will be any more than symbolic, as EU member States are not likely prepared to commit all the naval and surveillance assets which are required to effectively enforce the arms embargo.
Analysis, assessment, forecast
Despite the UN arms embargo, Turkey signed a military cooperation deal with the GNA and sent drones, armored vehicles, Syrian mercenaries and military officers to support al-Sarraj against the forces of eastern-based commander, General Khalifa Haftar. Ankara’s support affected the balance on the ground, forcing Haftar’s Libyan National Army to retreat from the west of the country following an unsuccessful attempt at capturing Tripoli; an attempt which turned into an exhausting one-year siege.
It is clear how current rules make it impossible to stop weapons’ shipments from Turkey, while the latter consolidates its position and role in Tripoli. As a sign of this, Ankara was assigned the port of Misurata in a move which saw the simultaneous removal of Italy from the same area.
“Irini” should essentially consist in a deterrent barrier; however, due to its shortcomings in countering embargo violations, such deterrence inevitably fails and Europe cannot but acknowledge, at most, Turkey’s commitment to war, and its success in Libya.
Due to a lack of control on land, sea and air routes, the overall impact of “Irini” is currently marginal. The mission will only be successful in so far as it is inscribed into a broader strategy which needs to be clearly defined and better implemented.
As recently suggested by ECFR (European Council for Foreign Relations), Italy should grab the opportunity offered by the German presidency of the EU Council to initiate a platform from which -together with allies- to enforce international norms on the conflict; broker among international competitors who have an interest in ‘feeding’ a war-by-proxy; enable a new UN conference on Libya. An engagement in this direction would jeopardize Russia’s attempt at protracting the conflict and possibly fill the vacuum generated by Turkey, Egypt and the UAE, who are supporting opposing sides.
due to a lack of control on land, sea and air routes, the overall impact of “Irini” is currently marginal. The mission will only be successful in so far as it is inscribed into a broader strategy
The recent UN Security Council resolution 2473 (2019) in support of operation “Irini” can be seen as a useful stepping-stone towards bolstering a European political vision able to turn into diplomatic and military action and initiative. EU member States should launch a real, impartial and balanced operation based on a shared strategy, which would concretely fulfill the Berlin Conference’s commitments. In order for this to be achieved, the embargo must necessarily be extended to include air and land, rather than being restricted to patrolling sea routes (Varvelli and Megerisi, 2020).
 On 15th September 2020, al-Serraj apparently announced his intention to leave his post at the helm of the GNA by the end of October.
WAR AND PEACE IN THE MEDITERRANEAN: understanding the Turkish escalation between the Chinese expansionism in Africa and the reshaping of Middle Eastern equilibria
by Andrea Molle
The renewed interest in the Mediterranean, too often considered as a secondary theater in the context of International Relations, derives from several medium and long-term processes that are affecting the global geopolitical equilibria. In particular, it is the consequence of an aggressive Chinese trade policy in Sub-Saharan Africa, which has intensified in the last decade and sees many African states, such as Kenya and Congo, for example, reduced to colonies or in a de facto subordination to China’s interests.
This dynamic is echoed by Beijing’s desire to complete its Belt and Road Initiative, affirming itself as a privileged trading partner of the most important powers within the EU to force it in a relationship of strong dependence. This scenario is made possible by the vacuum created with the protectionist and isolationist turn of the USA led by Donald J. Trump, who seems to lack any coherent international strategy. Moreover, it is a consequence of the lack of a coordinated European strategy in foreign affairs, as demonstrated by the recent Italian interest in becoming a closer partner to China independently from its partners’ choices.
The intensifying of migratory fluxes, aggravated by climate change, corruption, and the increased radicalization in Africa, is a symptom of the destabilization resulting from the Chinese expansionist policy that handed control of critical commercial routes and hubs over to Beijing. Faced with a substantial erosion of their economic systems, mostly caused by the quasi-monopolies established by Chinese companies and investors and the consequent social crisis, more and more people leave Africa to seek fortune in Europe, accentuating the demographic crisis of the continent. Paradoxically, such an easing of demographic pressure contributes to the perpetuating of Chinese control over African governments, hence aggravating the crisis and divisions within the European Union.
Moreover, the crisis is exacerbated by the recent Turkish initiatives aimed to gain a hegemonic role in the Maghreb and the Eastern Mediterranean. This pitch invasion is seemingly facilitated by the shared Islamic culture to which Turkey claims the role of Defensor in open competition with other countries such as Saudi Arabia. Once again, this is a consequence of America’s withdrawal and the lack of a single European voice. With the expected resignation of Fayez al-Sarraj, the head of the Government of National Accord (GNA) recognized by the United Nations, the effects on the current Turkish activities in Libya are hard to anticipate. Nevertheless, the intentions of Ankara remain unchanged: to become the privileged Chinese partner by taking advantage of this economic and political conjuncture.
To better understand Ankara’s strategy while not underestimating its chances of success, it is paramount to consider the totality and complexities of the Sino-Turkish relations. We are witnessing several signals. First of all, a softening of visa policies between the two powers has been underway for years. In addition to intensified cultural exchanges, China has recently granted Turkey considerable financial resources to support the industrial and military development plans of the government led by Erdogan. To overcome its structural military inadequacies, Turkey is now rumored to considering the purchase of fifth-generation Shenyang J-31 stealth fighter aircraft. The opening to a partnership with China has been made possible by the exclusion of Turkey from the Lockheed Martin F-35 initiative, wanted by the US. It also represents a further step towards Turkey’s exit from NATO. Should it happen, the loss of the Turkish partner would undoubtedly cause a crisis in the Atlantic Alliance, which is already in a state of suspended animation according to several international observers. A possible weakening of NATO is also a goal of Putin’s Russia, which, despite the current political tension with Turkey, is already providing the country with anti-aircraft systems and is pressing Ankara to purchase its Sukhoi Su-57 stealth fighters.
In this context, the normalization of the diplomatic relations between Israel and some of the Middle Eastern powers, such as the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, and the unconfirmed rumors of possible future agreements for developing common military assets, should not be at all surprising. Indeed, this event cannot be just considered due to Trump’s plan to bring stability to the Middle East, which many commentators describe as insufficient if not wholly nonexistent. Instead, it must be understood as evidence that the Arab world, in a perpetual crisis of relevance, is aware of the profound changes in the geopolitical equilibrium of the Eastern Mediterranean and is trying to gain the most advantageous position possible. Finally, what seems to be consolidation now may appear as an anti-Turkish front. However, on a closer look, it is more likely to form an opposing front to Chinese neo-colonial reaches in Africa, or at least contain them while reducing at the same time the dependency from the West.
This game of Risk against the Sleeping Giant will eventually involve all those Persian Gulf countries, which were once sworn enemies of the Jewish state, which today think of Israel more and more as a natural ally. To them, Tel Aviv will represent not only a strong military partner but also an economic and technological hub capable of rivaling Beijing. Such a realignment of alliances and loyalties would probably lead to a solution to the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This result, however, will not be due to either the American mediation or the joint efforts of various nations and international organizations. But instead to the emergence of a common enemy at the horizon. If a solution is therefore reached, it will, unfortunately, be at the expense of the Palestinians. Clinging to obsolete rhetoric and increasingly marginalized by their former allies, they do not seem willing to accept the changes and adapt their long-term objectives and strategy accordingly, falling into complete irrelevance.
With tensions with China predictably on the rise and in the face of the recent threats to Greece, the US has recently taken a stand, causing the temporary withdrawal of Turkish exploration vessels in the territorial waters controlled by Athens. However, coming “too late and one dollar short,” the US is not signaling any intent to get involved in the Eastern Mediterranean. On the contrary, responding to the American intervention and following the announcement of military exercises planned by the Greek armed forces in the northern Aegean, Ankara accused again Athens of violating the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne, which ended the Greek-Turkish war (1919- 1923) by redesigning the new borders between the two countries. It is not the first time that Turkey has accused Greece of violating the Treaty. The first time was in June 1964, following the deployment of a Greek motorized brigade on the island. However, this time Turkey does not seem to rule out a military reaction to the exercises recently announced by Athens.
On the northern shore of mare nostrum, things are not going any better. Although it is clear that the game that is being played in the Mediterranean, and that involves Greece and Cyprus, is an existential threat to European and Western interests, including the survival of the European Union, few nations have fully understood it. Amongst the European capitals, the change in the balance that for years accompanied the Union’s Mediterranean policy seems to be fully appreciated only by Paris. Accused of only aiming to control negligible energy resources, the second powerhouse of the EU has instead always pushed for a more incisive international role for Europe and its military integration. France is left alone while Berlin acts as Germany is still a trading state, interested only in short-term economic gains and not to upset the precarious balance reached with Turkey on the issue of migrants from the Balkan route.
As for Italy, Rome seems to think its best option is to take once again on the very same posture of equidistance and neutrality that has reduced it to a background actor in the international relations system with the addition of a dangerously ambiguous relationship with China. Nevertheless, France, which appears to be the natural candidate to lead the Union’s foreign policy, cannot expect to win this game alone. Geography is not an opinion: without Italy, the second naval power in the EU, Europe stands no chances of being relevant. It will inevitably be doomed in a humiliating position of subjugation.
Estimating the number of unidentified cases of COVID-19 in Italy as of March 31st using South Korean and Chinese mortality rates
Andrea Molle, Chapman University, California USA.
The global panic around the COVID-19 epidemic is fed by alarming estimates of its mortality rate. Italy in particular is watched upon with great anxiety as a potential global scale scenario with a mortality rate currently estimated in the 10%. Using the mortality rates by age group identified in China and South Korea as theoretical mortality rates and comparing them to the deceased numbers in Italy in order to estimate the number of unidentified COVID-19 cases, I suggest that as many of 500,000 infected, asymptomatic, individuals are not included in the official count. This in return, results in the over estimation of the overall gross mortality rate which probably falls around 2%. There are strategical public policy implications to our quarantine and mitigation strategies.
The official number of cases and deaths from COVID-19 in Italy represents a mystery for the disease seems to have taken on a more aggressive and lethal form than in other countries, with a mortality rate currently estimated in the 10%. In this research note, I assume that this is a statistical artifact and a consequence of extremely unreliable data on the true total number of cases in Italy. First, there is one main factor which contributes to an underestimation of the total case numbers. Italy appears to have performed fewer tests than other countries and, more importantly, it is testing only individuals who experience severe symptoms, and who ultimately require hospitalization. Many of the currently infected, asymptomatic, people are therefore not included in the official count. Secondly, in more acute cases, there is a lag of about 8 to 10 days between the initial onset of the symptoms and the death of the patient. All this clearly results in the over estimation of the overall mortality rate.
Here I suggest that is possible to get a better understanding of the actual spread of the contagion in Italy using the mortality rates by age group identified in China and South Korea as theoretical mortality rates and compare them to the deceased numbers in Italy in order to estimate the number of unidentified COVID-19 cases.
Estimates of Total Cases
First we need to consider mortality rates in China using the most recent data available . Being the first country to experience an outbreak of COVID-19, it is now probably the closest country to having a conclusive outcome for most of its active cases. Chinese estimates are, however, considered highly problematic and present a staggering difference between the mortality rates in Wuhan and the rest of the country. Therefore, we advise extreme caution if using them as a reference.
The following table (1) computes estimates of the total cases in Italy using Chinese mortality rates as a reference. Using the official number of deaths by age group reported by the Italian Ministry of Health at March 30th   (column B of the table), we estimate the number of true cases by age group (column D) assuming that Italy has the same mortality by age group as China. This is done by dividing the number of deaths in each age group by the corresponding theoretical mortality rate. By subtracting the number of official cases (column C) from them, we determine the estimated number of infected people who are not yet identified (column F). In comparing the latter with the official Italian data, we assume that the more the detected lethality differs from the theoretical mortality, the more infected people are not yet identified.
Table 1 – Estimated true cases (Chinese mortality reference)
For example, if we want to estimate the true number of infected in the 70 to 79 bracket, we divide the number of deaths officially recorded for this age group (3,458) by the corresponding mortality estimated from the Chinese data (8%) thus obtaining a projection of 43,225 cases which results in 25,761 more cases than the 17,464 currently detected. By repeating this for each age brackets, with the exception of the <30 bracket for which we don’t have mortality data available, we estimate that the total number of true cases is 169,408.
Let’s now consider mortality rates in South Korea as of March 30th . The East-Asian country has the most accurate estimates of the true size of the infection due to its extensive testing, it has already reached the cases peak, and is not far from having a conclusive outcome for most of its currently active cases. Because of the more reliable data, assuming that the standards for reporting cases outcomes are the same across both countries and its structural and demographical similarities with Italy, we recommend using the estimates based on the Korean case. In other words, the mortality rates by age group in South Korea represent a better approximation than China of what the true Italian mortality rates should be. Adopting the same procedure as we did with China and results are shown in the following table.
Table 2 – Estimated true cases (South Korea mortality reference)
Following the previous example, in order to estimate the true number of infected in the 70 to 79 bracket using the South Korean mortality rates, we divide the number of deaths officially recorded for this age group (3,458) by the corresponding mortality estimated from Korean data (5.27%) thus obtaining a projection of 65,617 cases which results in 48,153 more case than the 17,464 currently detected. By repeating this for each age brackets, with the exception of the <30 bracket for which we don’t have mortality data available, we estimate this time that the total number of true cases could be as large as 416,270.
Finally, to obtain a more accurate estimate of unidentified cases, we can factor the window from contagion to death in our calculations. I computed an estimate of future deaths by regressing the current distribution of cases with a fatal outcome up to March 30th. I then opted for a conservative prediction of 14,574 total deaths by April 5th and redistributed them across age brackets using the same proportions as in the original Italian data.
Table 3 – Estimated true cases with projected deaths (South Korea mortality reference; death cases adjusted for onset-to-death window)
Once again, if we use the resulting distribution to estimate the true number of infected in the 70 to 79 bracket using the South Korean mortality rates and we divide the number of deaths for this age group (5,026) by the corresponding mortality from the Korean data (5.27%) we obtain a projection of 95,374 cases which results in 77,910 more cases than the 17,464 currently detected. By repeating this for each age brackets, with the exception of the <30 bracket for which we don’t have mortality data available, we estimate that the total number of true cases could be as large as 605,330.
The validity of our assumptions and the robustness of our estimates are confirmed by the resulting mortality rate of 2.408% that is similar to the Case Fatality Rate at 10 days (2.45%) computed by dividing the number of death at March 30th (812) by the cases active at the beginning of March 20th (33,190) . The analysis shows that about 78.64 to 85.31% of cases haven’t been identified and thus between 327,367 and 516,427 infected people are still potentially contagious. Although these figures should be taken cautiously, the size of the difference between identified and unidentified cases remains alarming. Moreover, as shown in the following table (4), if the true mortality rate in Italy is the same as North Korea, the age breakdown suggests that more than 70% of undetected cases should be among the active population, between 40 – 69 years old.
Table 4 – Proportion of unidentified cases per age bracket (South Korea mortality reference; current cases vs. adjusted for onset-to-death window)
Many researchers are now suggesting the importance of comorbidities in determine the severity and the outcome of the infection by COVID-19. Having an estimate of undetected cases could help the Italian government, and other governments now facing the same scenario, to better investigate the spread of the virus among their population. Thus, extending aimed testing to underrepresented age brackets and, for example by targeting individuals with comorbidities, increasing the effectiveness of their public health strategies in facing the pandemic as well as mitigating the panic in the public.
About the Author
Andrea Molle, Department of Political Science and Institute for the Study of Religion, Economics and Society, Chapman University, Orange, California, 92866 USA
 The Novel Coronavirus Pneumonia Emergency Response Epidemiology Team. The Epidemiological Characteristics of an Outbreak of 2019 Novel Coronavirus Diseases (COVID-19) — China, 2020[J]. China CDC Weekly, 2020, 2(8): 113-122.
 Age distribution of coronavirus (COVID-19) cases in South Korea as of March 30, 2020, Korean Center for Disease Control. Retrieved through link [Retrieved on March 30th, 2020. The site updates regularly, mortality rates are subject to change].
 Characteristics of COVID-19 patients dying in Italy. Report based on available data on March 30th, 2020, Istituto Superiore di Sanita’: Link [Retrieved on March 30th, 2020. The site updates regularly, mortality rates are subject to change].
 COVID-19 Italia – Monitoraggio situazione by Protezione Civile: Link [Retrieved on March 30th, 2020. The site updates regularly, case numbers are subject to change].
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Comorbidity Factors (such as heart disease and diabetes) Influence COVID-19 Mortality More Than Age (Chapman University)
by Steven Gjerstad and Andrea Molle – Chapman University, USA
last update 2020.03.30
“It is an extremely important finding, not only because it allows for better decisions in the triage phase. But also because in the following phases, starting from the so-called phase 2 up to the production and distribution of a vaccine, it will be essential to make decisions aimed at protecting those who are the most at risk of serious consequences. Moreover, before the vaccine is distributed, individuals with hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, if not already developed immunity, will necessarily have to be closely monitored. Not only as they are at higher risk, but above all because if the disease is reactivating, we will see it in those with comorbidities, since healthy individuals tend to be asymptomatic and therefore could spread the virus silently.”
The global reaction to the COVID-19 epidemic has rested on a critical assumption, that all persons over the age of 60 face an unacceptable risk of death if they are infected with the virus. Recent evidence from a detailed analysis of individual Chinese, American, and Italian patient data clearly indicates that this assumption is incorrect. Our research indicates that only 0.8% of all coronavirus-related deaths in Italy involved otherwise healthy individuals. The remaining 99.2% of deaths involved individuals who had at least one, and often at least 3 other illness factors. There are significant public policy implications to our quarantine and triage strategies.
Mortality from COVID-19 increases substantially with comorbidity factors, such as heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, stroke, and liver disease. After we control for the high incidence of comorbidity factors among the elderly, we find that mortality from coVid-19 does not vary much with age.
The coronavirus epidemic in Italy has strained hospital resources, including ICU beds and ventilators for those experiencing acute respiratory failure. Studies of COVID-19 in China , Italy , and the United States  show that fatality rates increase rapidly with age, especially beyond age 60. The same studies and others also show that fatalities increase substantially with comorbidity factors, such as heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, stroke, and liver disease [1, 4]. These morbidity factors are known to increase rapidly with age [5, 6, 7]. This paper demonstrates that once we control for comorbidity factors, age has a minor effect on COVID-19 mortality. Among the elderly the higher incidence of heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and other comorbidity factors lead to their increased mortality form COVID-19. The distinction is an important one for the critical triage decisions that are required now. If it is the comorbidity factors that lead to death with COVID-19 patients and not age, then triage will be more effective if healthy elderly people are provided with treatment, since their chances of survival are good.
We examine 73,780 cases of COVID-19 and 6,801 deaths from COVID-19 in Italy through March 26, 2020. Based on estimates of the prevalence of comorbidity factors in Italy by age group and on the frequency of COVID-19 cases and mortality rates for age groups, we estimate the percentage of patients with and without morbidity factor that would be expected to die, first assuming that those with and without comorbidity factors are equally likely to die. Subsequently, we use a maximum likelihood estimate to get mortality probabilities for people in each age group, with and without comorbidity conditions. COVID-19 patients with comorbidity conditions are 10.5 times as likely to die than those without a comorbidity condition. For example, an Italian COVID-19 patient between 70 and 79 years old with no comorbidity factor has about a 1.6% chance of death, whereas a 70 to 79 year-old patient with a comorbidity condition has a 21.4% chance of death.
Triage decisions based on patient age do not account for the large differences between the prognosis for patients with and without morbidity factors. As medical resources become strained during the epidemic, it will be important to take account of the probabilities of survival for patients with different medical histories.
Table 1 in  shows that 50.7% of the fatal cases of COVID-19 in Italy through March 26 had 3 or more of the comorbidity factors. Another 25.9% had 2 of these factors, and 21.3% had one factor. Only 2.1% had no factor. This last statistic is important. If age alone were an independent factor that leads to high mortality, then – we will demonstrate in this paper – there would be many more deaths among those who are elderly but otherwise healthy. In other words, the 2.1% frequency of no comorbidity factors would be much higher.
Tabella 1 in  shows that 19.2% of 73,780 COVID-19 cases in Italy through 4 p.m. on 26 March were among people age 70 to 79. From Tavola 7 in , we can infer that close to 25% of those people have none of the comorbidity conditions. We take death rates for the age groups from Tabella 1 in . We consider the hypothesis that healthy people in each age group are as likely to die as those with 1 or more comorbidity condition. This hypothesis will lead us to the conclusion that there should be approximately 10.5 times as many people with no comorbidity factors as the number that are shown in Table 1 in .
People between 70 and 79 comprise 19.2% of the cases, and 25% of those have no comorbidity condition, so healthy people 70 – 79 years old are 4.8% of the cases. If healthy people between the ages of 70 and 79 are as susceptible to death from COVID-19 as those in their age group who have comorbidity conditions, then their death rate should be 16.9%, like their age group. If they were dying at the same rate as their age group, the fraction of all cases who would be people between 70 and 79 and have no comorbidity factor would be 0.048 x 0.1569 = 0.0081. Now we repeat this analysis for the remaining age groups and fill out Table 1.
Table 1: Column E shows the percentage of the 73,780 total cases that would be healthy people (i.e., no comorbidity factor) in their age group and would die from COVID-19.
The total number of deaths that we would expect for people with no comorbidity factor would be this expected death frequency times the number of cases, which is 0.0209 x 73,780 = 1,542.
Table 2: Column E shows the percentage of the 73,780 cases in each age group that would die who have one or more comorbidity factor.
We now carry out a similar calculation in Table 2, but we consider here those people who have one or more comorbidity factor. This calculation shows that 7.08% of the total cases should be people with one or more comorbidity factor who died. That would result in 0.0708 x 73,780 = 5,223 deaths. As a check, total predicted deaths are 6,765. The total number of deaths from Tabella 1 in  where we get our total number of cases and our lethality factors for age groups (Column D) is 6,801.3
Our hypothesis that healthy people in each age group have the same probability of dying from COVID-19 leads us to the conclusion that of our estimated 6,765 deceased, 1,542 or 22.8% should have no comorbidity factor. Yet Tabella 1 in  shows that only 2.11% had no comorbidity factor. Consequently, the hypothesis that the probability of dying is the same for all people in an age group regardless of their comorbidity factors leads to the conclusion that there would be about 10.8 times as many deaths among those with no comorbidity factor than what we see in the sample of deceased persons in Tabella 1 in .
This analysis can be augmented by assuming different probabilities of mortality for those with and without comorbidity factors. If we multiply every element in Column D in Table 1 by 0.0925 we would get 143 deaths among those with no comorbidity factor. If we multiple every element in Column D, Table 2 by 1.2677 we would get 6,622 deaths among those with one or more comorbidity factor. We would then have 143/6,765 = 2.11% of the deceased having no comorbidity factor, as in Tabella 1 in . The probabilities of death are then those in Table 3.
Table 3: These mortality probabilities produce fatalities in each age group that match total fatalities and match the frequency of comorbidities found in Tabella 1 in .
From this we conclude that age is most likely only a moderate factor leading to COVID-19 mortality. Of course, healthy elderly patients are not dying in large numbers from COVID-19, so triage decisions that ignore the elderly healthy are not likely to lead to large numbers of deaths within this group. These patients are likely to recover, but they are likely to recover more quickly and with less physical damage if they are provided treatment. They also are unlikely to require critical care for much longer than a healthy young person, since like the healthy young, they are recovering. For these reasons, we believe that triage decisions should be made without regard to a patient’s age.
About the authors
Steven Gjerstad, PhD, Economic Science Institute, Chapman University, 1 University Drive, Orange, California, 92866 USA, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; Tel: 714-628-7282
Andrea Molle, PhD, Institute for the Study of Religion, Economics and Society, Chapman University, Orange, California, 92866 USA
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