Terrorism: Islamic State threatens football championships.

by Claudio Bertolotti.

The so-called Islamic State, reigniting fears in Europe after the attack in Moscow, has threatened to launch an attack against the four stadiums where the Champions League quarter-finals will be played starting tonight. Al-Azaim, one of ISIS’s propaganda organs, confirmed these intentions by publishing the image of the four stadiums where the first-leg matches will be held – Parc des Princes in Paris, Santiago Bernabeu in Madrid, Metropolitan also in Madrid, and Emirates in London – accompanied by the caption “Kill them all.”

It is necessary to clarify at the outset: ISIS’s experience, as we knew it in Iraq and Syria, ended in June 2014 with the proclamation of the Caliphate by al-Baghdadi and the establishment of the Islamic State. ISIS no longer exists; in its place is the Islamic State. This is not a minor clarification, as it marks the beginning of the post-territorial era of the movement, which we are observing and suffering from today, both in the West and in the Middle East, as demonstrated by the increasingly manifest strength of this group especially in Syria and Afghanistan.

How serious do you think this threat is? We recall a similar alert on March 30 in Germany.

Firstly, in this case, as in most episodes, it is not the Islamic State itself but its affiliated groups that are calling for the fight. And the current one seems not so much a warning as a call to strike, hence not a direct threat. Also, as the recent history of the Islamic State and its franchised affiliates has shown us, when the group strikes, it does so without warning – effectively exploiting the element of surprise to achieve maximum results. What happened in Russia is confirmation of this. However, and this is the second aspect, consistent with attacks in recent years, attributed to or claimed by the Islamic State, it is the appeal to strike that is captured by individuals, or more rarely by small groups, often disorganized or poorly organized, that constitutes the driving force of the group which, as a rule and for obvious opportunity, only claims the successful ones, a small part, not mentioning the more numerous ones that end in failure.

After the attack in Moscow, these threats, and the arrest yesterday in Rome of a Tajik former ISIS militiaman, do you think there are conditions to understand what ISIS’s strategy is? Is it raising its head? Is it regaining strength?

The Islamic State is indeed raising its head, and it is doing so disruptively and effectively, emotionally bringing us back to the terrible years 2015-2017 when Europe was overwhelmed by a series of disruptive events, in turn evoking the emotions of the al-Qaeda attacks in Europe in 2004, in Madrid and London. Today, it is enough to look at Syria, where it was thought – also due to the media spotlight being directed elsewhere – that the Islamic State had been defeated: this is not the case. On the contrary, the progressive increase in Islamic State attacks, continuous and repeated assaults on prisons to free fighters detained by the Syrian regime, the ability to strike essentially anywhere. It is a very loud alarm bell that anticipates a new wave that is self-sustaining: from the rhetoric of the Taliban victory in Afghanistan, to competition with the Taliban, to the increase in affiliates, individuals, and groups from the Middle East to Southeast Asia, to Europe. Not a new Islamic State, but a phenomenon that is awakening.

Russia: bombing at Crocus City Hall. Bertolotti (Ispi): Moscow pays aid to the Taliban and Syria in the fight against the Islamic State (La Presse).

From La Presse, interview by Luca La Mantia.

Go to the Press Release on La Presse.

Listen to Claudio Bertolotti’s commentary on Radio 3i by Laura Zucchetti

Rome, March 23 (LaPresse) – “In Afghanistan, Russia is engaging with the elder faction of the Taliban, contributing to that cycle of intelligence that allows the Taliban themselves to combat the Islamic State of Khorasan (IS-Kp),” so the attack in Moscow by the jihadist group “is a way of saying ‘you help the Taliban strike us and we strike you‘.” This was stated to LaPresse by Claudio Bertolotti, researcher at the Institute for International Political Studies (Ispi) and director of Start Insight, commenting on the attack at the Crocus City Hall, northwest of the Russian capital. Russia, he continues, also has “a specific and well-defined role, on one hand, in the fight against Islamic terrorism” and on the other hand in supporting Bashar al-Assad in Syria in countering “all Sunni rebel groups, including those affiliated with the Islamic State.”

Rome, March 23 (LaPresse) – “It’s very difficult to keep under control and prevent an attack like the one that occurred at the Crocus City Hall, northwest of Moscow, claimed by ISIS,” said Claudio Bertolotti, a researcher at the Institute for International Political Studies (Ispi) and director of Start Insight, to LaPresse. “Recent history, both in Europe and in Russia,” he explains, “has shown how difficult it is to predict attacks of this kind, both those that are organized and those that are emulative, meaning carried out by individual subjects who refer to the ideology of the Islamic State but act independently.”

Rome, Mar 23. (LaPresse) – The United States, Bertolotti emphasizes, had warned about the risk of attacks in Russia “because they have an excellent capability of gathering intelligence information linked to the dialogue with the new Taliban leadership” in Afghanistan, which is “a bitter enemy of the Islamic State of Khorasan (IS-KP).” Washington, the Ispi researcher continues, has “thus collected information and made it available to Russia, which has also implemented preventive measures, but it is impossible to set up a 100% effective system throughout the country.”

Rome, Mar 23. (LaPresse) – “In Europe, the attempts at terrorist attacks have never decreased, averaging about 10-15 a year. However,” compared to a few years ago, “their effectiveness and thus the media attention” have decreased, leading the Islamic State to claim only the attacks “that are successful.” This is according to Claudio Bertolotti, a researcher at the Institute for International Political Studies (Ispi) and director of Start Insight, commenting on the attack at the Crocus City Hall, northwest of Moscow. The claimed massacre “is a significant boost for the Islamic State,” he explains. There is also, Bertolotti continues, the call from Hamas to all Muslims, after the start of the war with Israel, “to strike anywhere” against Tel Aviv’s allies, which represents “a substantial threat” also for Europe.

Rome, Mar 23. (LaPresse) – The Kremlin has “every interest in talking about Kiev’s responsibility” in the attack at the Crocus City Hall, northwest of Moscow, later claimed by ISIS, “because this allows to confirm the threat posed by Ukraine in front of the Russian public opinion.” This is according to Claudio Bertolotti, a researcher at the Institute for International Political Studies (Ispi) and director of Start Insight. “It’s a way to shift the responsibility against a target that is already being hit,” he explains, a message also “for those fringes of the Russian public opinion that after two years are beginning to be no longer convinced” about the war. Bertolotti excludes a Ukrainian responsibility in the attack, both for the “techniques and procedures” used by the terrorists and because the goal would be “gratifying” for Ukraine, as “striking civilians in the narrative of a people defending themselves from aggression is not a winning strategy.”

China and Russia response to NATO’s increased attention to the Pacific ocean

by Andrea Molle.

The Sino-Russian response to NATO diplomacy in the Indo-Pacific, including the recent Italian efforts, was not long in coming. After the rumors of a new liaison office of the Alliance opening in Japan were confirmed, a hypothesis deliberately omitted from the official statement following Vilnius, the two countries have announced the beginning of a joint naval exercise in the Sea of Japan. The Sea of Japan is a crucial strategic theater for China and Russia. In particular, the Straits of Soya, Tsushima, and Tsugaru have essential implications for the national security of Beijing and Moscow. On Saturday, China’s Defense Minister said that Russian naval and air forces would participate in the “Northern/Interaction” military exercises organized by the Northern Theater Command of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

It should be noted that military relations between the two countries are nothing but new; for example, since 2018, China has regularly participated in major Russian exercises, including “Vostok 2018”, “Tsentr-2019,” and “Kavkaz-2020”. In August 2021, Russia also participated in the “Western/Interaction” exercises conducted in northwestern China’s Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, the first in which China invited foreign militaries. In 2022, Beijing sent contingents of its land, naval, and air forces to Russia to participate in the “Vostok 2022” exercises, which took place in 13 Russian sites and various areas of interest in the Sea of Japan.

However, this latest joint training campaign, which adds to the joint patrol activity of the Sea of Japan and the East China Sea by the two Armed Forces, which began last June, seems a leap towards a fully committed strategic partnership. The Chinese Ministry of Defense stressed that while these joint exercises have an operational purpose, i.e., to improve the necessary capabilities to secure strategic sea routes, the development of closer military imposes China and Russia as the absolute guarantors of peace and stability in the region.

Several military experts also predict that these training activities will increase in the future, also thanks to a rotation between all five PLA commands, which could affect different strategic theaters and conflict scenarios, among which, of course, Taiwan.

Details about the Russian naval contingent are not yet known, but the Chinese squad includes the Qiqihar and Guiyang missile destroyers, the Zaozhuang and Rizhao missile frigates, and the supply ship Taihu, which set sail from the port of Qingdao, located in the Shandong province in eastern China.

Italy and Japan: seeking a role in the global arena

by Andrea Molle

For some time now, Italy and Japan have started to entertain the idea of increased bilateral cooperation in the areas of defense and security in the Indo-Pacific. Such a trend had emerged fairly recently with Japan’s participation in the Global Combat Air Program, the rebranded Tempest fighter initiative spearheaded by the United Kingdom and the two countries. However, that only seems to have gained momentum in the last few weeks. The relaunch of joint military exercises between the Italian Navy and the Japanese Self-Defense Maritime Force after roughly 20 years of hiatus is a clear sign of the commitment that both countries are putting into forging a robust strategic partnership. For example, at the end of the last month, the Italian Navy sent its new Paolo Thaon di Revel-class offshore patrol vessel “Francesco Morosini” for a five-month deployment in the region during which it was stationed at the Japanese naval base of Yokosuka, where she was involved in operational and logistical activities with their Japanese counterparts, perhaps in preparation of an increasingly likely future integration between the two Navies with regards to deployment, maintenance, and repairing cycles.

Furthermore, as mentioned a few days ago by the Chief of Staff of the JMSDF, Admiral Sakai, the two countries have launched a broad cooperation program for the F-35B STOVL multi-role fighter. Rome has now committed to acquiring up to 60 F-35A CTOL, the conventional landing and take-off variant intended for the Air Force, and 30 F-35B STOVL, the vertical take-off and landing variant designed for the Navy. Tokyo plans to acquire up to 105 F-35A CTOL and 42 F-35B STOVL, which will likely be assigned to the newly refurbished Izumo-class light aircraft carriers. On the other hand, Italy intends to deploy its F-35B STOVL contingent on the flight decks of its flagship Cavour, which is expected to sail the Pacific between late 2023 and early 2024, and her sister aircraft carrier Trieste. Ensuring the interoperability of the two navies would bring a tremendous operational advantage in terms of deployment, maintenance, and scheduled rotation of naval and aerial assets, thus increasing their readiness and deterrence capacity in the Indo-pacific.

Traditionally limited to the Mediterranean Sea, the renewed strategic interest of Italy in Asia is perfectly consistent with the NATO doctrine that defines the security of Europe as dependent from that of East Asia and is viewed with favor both by the two leading powers in the region: the United States and the United Kingdom. Such enhanced cooperation, especially lobbied by London, was also just recently officialized by a recent MoU signed by the Prime Ministers of Japan, Fumio Kishida, and Italy, Giorgia Meloni, that raised the countries’ bilateral cooperation to the level of strategic partnership, thereby creating a permanent consultation mechanism in the domains of foreign and defense policy issues. The new era of cooperation between Tokyo and Rome is also welcomed by Italy’s Defense Minister Guido Crosetto, who, on the sidelines of the recent trilateral meeting with his British and Japanese counterparts, committed the country to explore paths of integration in the cyber-defense, intelligence and training initiatives, and of course, to created joint-ventures in defense R&D.

While Rome seeks to carve for itself a place in the Indo-Pacific, perhaps even at the expenses of other European partners, to match its renewed commitment in North Africa and the Middle East, Tokyo appears to be willing to expand its network of security partners, surely to counterbalance the growth of China but also to reduce its dependence on the United States. Japan is diversifying its defense technology portfolio, up to now almost completely aligned to Washington’s interests, while at the same time presenting itself to the White House as the essential actor to stabilize the Indo-Pacific and keep China at bay.

As for Italy, the current administration appreciates that investing in the region is mandatory within the changing international political framework to preserve the country’s national interest.

SIMTERRORISM – Modeling Religious Terrorism in Populations impacted by Climate Change

A book by Andrea Molle

available in our catalogue on Amazon (click for sample)

This volume examines the combined effects of risk propensity, relative deprivation, and social learning of deviance on the collective grievance within a religious population under the assumption of civil unrest caused by extreme climatic events. We designed an agent-based model to demonstrate how greater or lesser amounts of grievance towards political authority are likely to create an ideal en-vironment for organized violence to emerge when resources are threatened by climate change.

Scholars have tried to formulate a generally accepted definition of religious terrorism for almost four decades, but its investigation is still controversial, especially in the context of the emerging study of the political and social consequences of climatic events. This particular form of terrorism is nevertheless highly diffuse and observed to be coming from smaller clubs of radicalized individuals instead of main-stream religious groups. However, we find that doctrinal explanations appear irrelevant in explaining how terrorist cells emerge and organize themselves.

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 territory.

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

   On 15th 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 Indo-Pacific.
   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[1], 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[2], within one week, there were around 65 news items headlined AUKUS from various Chinese news outlets[3]. 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:

  1. The creation of AUKUS is to counter China: For example, Knews [4] 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.
  2. 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[5].  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).  
  3. 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”[6]. 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.

AUKUS 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 steel.

* 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.

[1] The U.S., U.K. and Australia announced the establishment of a tripartite security partnership.

People’s Daily Online, 16.09.2021 http://world.people.com.cn/n1/2021/0916/c1002-32228933.html

[2] Baidu is a Chinese multinational technology company that offers the biggest search engine service in China

[3] The number of articles is retrieved on Baidu until 15.00 CET, 22.09.2021.

[4] How powerful is the new military alliance Knews, republished by netease, 16.09.2021: https://www.163.com/dy/article/GK26ANCG0514EGPO.html

[5] AUKUS agreed during G7, but Macron didn’t know anything, m4news, 19.09.2021. http://news.m4.cn/2021-09/1352804.shtml

[6] See 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)

Speakers line-up
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

Speakers line-up
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

Speakers line-up
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

Speakers line-up
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
ASIS Switzerland
or your national ASIS chapter




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

9:00 -13.00 a.m.



Elio Tavilla
University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, Department of Law – Dean
Luigi Foffani
University of Modena and Reggio Emilia

Chair and introduction:
Massimo Donini
University of Rome “La Sapienza” – FIGHTER P.I.

Armando Spataro
Former Judge, Counter-Terrorism Criminal Law Expert
Mirta Kuštan
Sveuciliste U Zagrebu – Pravni Fakultet
Thibaut Slingeneyer
Université Saint-Louis de Bruxelles
Vincenzo Di Peso
Nucleus Police Prevention Central Director

Patrick Born
Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München
Clémence Quentin
Université de Lille 2
Francesco Rossi
University of Modena and Reggio Emilia

Manuel Cancio Meliá
Universidad Autónoma de Madrid
Silvia Allegrezza
University of Luxembourg
Leonardo Romanò
University of Luxembourg
Ludovico Bin
University of Salento



Photo by Grant Durr on Unsplash

Risk analysis of militant conspiracy theories


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