Repairing Turkey’s relationship with the West through trade and trust

Maximilian Hess is the founder of the London-based political risk consultancy Enmetena Advisory and a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute and associate fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

James Ryan is the Executive Director of the Middle East Research and Information Project. He has a Ph.D. in History from the University of Pennsylvania and writes frequently on politics and culture in Turkey’s past and present.

Nicholas Danforth and Aaron Stein recently cautioned that Washington and the West must ‘come to terms’ with losing Turkey’ as a key geopolitical ally. We disagree. A positive case for how to get the most from the current relationship and prepare for its growth in the future is more urgent than ever. Turkish domestic dynamics are at a particularly tender moment, as Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been dealt a defeat in recent mayoral elections, and is four years away from closing out his final term as President, according to the current constitutional rules.

There are many areas where the US can be a positive influence in the near and medium term, chief among them on Syria policy where the US and Turkey have long been at odds. As Erdoğan and Bashar al-Assad are sending signals of normalization of their bilateral ties, the US could work to make sure a Turkish-Syrian rapprochement does not continue to trample on marginalized refugee populations, or greenlight significant military action against its Kurdish partners. Additionally, Washington can still hope for positive contributions from Ankara with regards to Russia policy and European energy security. Washington’s demands have not, and will not, sway Ankara – but the right offers may.

There remain significant potential upsides to further developing the West’s relationship with Turkey, for both sides of the bargaining table – and in particular for the United States, EU, and regional and global governance. Looking ahead to a post-Erdoğan horizon, western policymaking institutions should find ways to non-coercively signal that a Turkey that restores rule of law, cleans up its human rights record, and reverses its authoritarian slide has friends and wealth waiting for it on the other end.

Addressing these challenges in the international relationship and in Turkey’s domestic dynamics will take work. But Ankara’s geostrategic position is not going away – and is only increasingly important. Even if the U.S. does somehow manage to extract itself from its long-standing overfocus on the Middle East – an always-unlikely outcome made all-but-impossible amid Israel’s war in Gaza and threatened expansion of the conflict – Turkey will remain crucial in a number of areas of Western interests – including with regards to migration towards Europe, efforts to constrain Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin, energy policy particularly on natural gas, and political transition and instability on the horizon in the Caucasus and in Iran.

As Stein and Danforth correctly identify, “U.S. policy is to now engage with Turkey on specific issues of concern, rather than simply build policy around Turkey as a crucial and trusted partner” but while they recognize that transactionalism can result in key benefits to the relationship, they also argue that “where U.S.-Turkish interests overlap…Turkey will work toward these interests without the need for American incentives. Where U.S.-Turkish interests diverge, Turkey will do what it wants regardless of what America tells it”. This is precisely the argument for both more assertive engagement and for offering Ankara more carrots that create an overlap of interests, rather than focusing on sticks and a strategy of coercion.

This relationship has worked best when the messaging from the West has encouraged deeper cooperation, and supported stable democratic growth, best demonstrated in the early years of the Cold War when the Marshall Plan and NATO membership worked to amplify democratic progress.
 

Carrots and Sticks

To understand Turkey’s role in the western bloc we must clearly understand how Turkey ended up joining Western institutions in the first place. While Turkey has perceived itself as “westernizing” in social, cultural, and institutional modes since the beginning of the republic, it would be a far stretch to say that the regime of Atatürk and his initial successor shared much ideological affinity with Western Europe and the United States. During World War II, the prime motivating factor behind Turkey’s quixotic neutrality was a fear of Russian encroachment on Turkish sovereignty – and it was for this reason Turkey only joined the Allies after the German defeat at Stalingrad, and even then in name only.

A large parliamentary chamber is set up in a semi-circle facing the speaker's chair, with second-story gallery seating on the sides.

Following the war, Stalin voiced several revisionist aspirations on the regime across the Straits and regarding borderland territories in Turkey’s northeastern provinces. This prompted Turkey to hew closely to the western bloc in the San Francisco conference in August 1945, and ultimately join the Marshall Plan in July 1947. It was only after signing those documents, which would ultimately provide Turkey with massive western-backed economic assistance, that Turkey would commit itself to a more democratic future, which would first erupt in the defeat of Atatürk’s party and the ascension of Adnan Menderes’ Democrat Party in the 1950 parliamentary elections.

This sequence of events is often credited to some deep commitment to liberalization on the part of Turkey’s authoritarian ruler of the time – President İsmet İnönü. On the contrary, İnönü had already proved throughout the war to be ruthless in his suppression of dissent and ambivalent in his commitments to liberalism and democracy throughout his career. Rather, it was the perception that limited liberalization and democratization would secure even greater security against a Russian threat that prompted İnönü’s decisions to advance multiparty politics in Turkey. This should be a key example to keep in mind as a post-Erdoğan future creeps closer to a reality.
 

Knowing what to ask

Learning from these past successful approaches, the West must take a selective but targeted approach towards offering Ankara carrots. The Turkish economy remains strained and Erdogan will likely grab at any and all such opportunities – for evidence one need to look no further than the benefits that Erdogan has extracted from Russia through the construction of the Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant, set to open next year that have stretched from Russian subsidies for its construction to extracting funds from the programme to help support the Turkish bond markets as they cratered in 2022.

The West – and in particular the United States – has the ability to offer far greater carrots, however, and indeed the Biden Administration and Western allies have quietly already begun to do so. We’ve already seen Turkey open to these efforts. At June’s St. Petersburg International Economic Forum – Russia’s alternative to Davos – Putin himself complained about the successes here, stating “it seems to me that the economic bloc of the Turkish government has lately been focused on obtaining, loans, investments and grants from Western financial institutions…but if this is connected with limiting the trade and economic connections with Russia then the losses for the Turkish economy will be greater than the gains”. Turkish trade with Russia did indeed stall in the first quarter of 2024. And while Washington has expanded its secondary sanctions threats over support for the Russian economy, no notable Turkish financial institutions or even smaller money transfer services were targeted in the first major round of such designations issued on 12 June.

It is, regrettably, unrealistic to hope that Erdogan will join the sanctions regime against Russia in full, or take significant steps to embrace it more. But that is not to say that Turkey is entirely unresponsive to Western sanctions policy against Russia. Erdogan will continue to seek to transact with Russia and the West, but it is clear that he also has very strict red lines for the relationship with Moscow. Ankara has never recognised Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and Erdogan has repeatedly granted Turkish state awards to members of the region’s indigenous Crimean Tatar population and called for the release of activists from the community, which suffers state sponsored discrimination under Putin’s occupation. Erdogan sees Turkey as the leading power in Eurasia, and his support for the Crimean Tatars follows in part from his efforts to position himself as the leader of Turkic peoples across the region, as seen through the Organization of Turkic States that Turkey founded when Erdogan was prime minister in 2009.
 

It is more urgent than ever that the West engage seriously with the idea that Turkey may be its energy hub of the future – and to transact accordingly – rather than leave open the door to future weaponization of energy supplies by Putin.

The economics of natural gas reveal how Erdogan’s interests are increasingly diverging from Russia’s, even as Turkey remains the main conduit for Russian natural gas entering Europe through the Blue Stream and Turk Stream pipelines and from Turkey to Hungary, Ankara and Serbia through the Balkan Stream pipeline. The latter two were even developed after Russia’s initial 2014 invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea. But so too were the Trans-Anatolian and Trans-Adriatic Pipelines, bringing natural gas from Azerbaijan to Europe. The launch of that network, the culmination of a goal first set by the European Union in 2008 to create a ‘southern gas corridor,’ to diversify away from Russia and long backed by the United States as well, came just fourteen months before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.

While Azerbaijan carries its own substantial geopolitical risks given its still-unsettled conflict with Armenia and capacity limitations, Baku cannot alone become Europe’s key natural gas provider. Turkey offers the route not only to Azeri gas, but Ankara also itself offers potential crucial additional supplies given recent promising exploration in the Black Sea. Additionally, Ankara can help to push Russian gas further out of the European market thanks to Turkey’s substantial liquefied natural gas (LNG) regasification capacity, making it a potential import hub into the Balkans and south-eastern Europe’s pipeline networks. This is crucial to defeating the claims made by regional populists that there is still a need for Europe to secure Russian gas in the future. It is more urgent than ever that the West engage seriously with the idea that Turkey may be its energy hub of the future – and to transact accordingly – rather than leave open the door to future weaponization of energy supplies by Putin.
 

Human Rights and Democracy

Restoration of the rule of law and a return to democracy should focus on the independence of the judiciary, which has acted as the vengeful arm of the Erdoğan regime, in targeting political opponents and perceived conspiracists with trumped up charges and thin evidence for over a decade now.

In particular, diplomatic energy should be focused on loosening the grip on Turkey’s Kurdish-led DEM Party (previously the People’s Democracy Party, or HDP). DEM’s co-founder, Selahattin Demirtaş, is among Turkey’s most talented politicians and has been serving lifetime sentences for trumped up terrorism charges for several years. DEM’s elected mayors in the southeast continually face arbitrary suspension and replacement with AKP appointees. Increasingly, Kurds are becoming disaffected with the electoral process in Turkey and there is a serious risk of Kurds turning in bigger numbers to radical, armed groups like the PKK, and set the limited progress achieved in Turkish-Kurdish reconciliation over the past decade back 30-40 years. Releasing Demirtaş and normalizing relationships with the country’s Kurdish population will shore up human rights, democracy and rule of law, and could serve as a crucial step to bringing the US and Turkey closer together on Syria policy.

Behind a marble dais is a speakers chair. Off to the side are other chairs with microphones.

The current regime’s motivations in Syria are driven by a combination of personal animus with Bashar al-Asad, the economic value of refugee labor, the salience of anti-Kurdish nationalism in Turkish politics and the soft-expansionist aims of creating Turkish-sponsored buffer zones along the border. Opponents of Erdoğan might be less engaged on some of these aspects – if the 2023 election was any guide, they would like refugees sent back to Syria as soon as humanly possible – but they certainly share, perhaps with even greater fervor, the desire to freeze out potential Kurdish autonomy in NE Syria.

Any rapprochement between the two sides on this issue will be hard won as long as the United States is committed to cooperating with Kurdish groups in Syria, but calming tensions inside Turkey around this issue is a critical first step. If the Syrian groups are increasingly seen as the champions of Kurdish autonomy by their brothers inside Turkey, and Kurdish electoral advances are repeatedly met with arbitrary repression and prosecution, then the divides between the West and Turkey are likely to deepen no matter what corner Erdoğan’s successor may come from.
 

Building a healthy relationship

Turkey under Erdogan is a strong candidate for engaging with in a transactional manner, but the asks should be limited, not tailored. The country’s economy remains highly fragile and although Erdogan has allowed orthodox central bankers and Finance Minister Mehmet Şimşek to take the lead in trying to stabilize the still-inflating lira since the 2023 elections, there remain substantial risks to the downside. Erdogan recently declared that he still believes in his ‘neo-Fisherite’ economics – which flips the traditional relationship between interest rates and inflation – and may be his own worst enemy. But he has repeatedly adapted policy in response to economic carrots – as Putin’s aforementioned complaint alludes to. There are also already signs that the West is aware of this, with the World Bank, in which the US holds the dominant vote share, last September outlining plans to more than double credit to the Turkish government. Proving a positive partner on this front will not only be able to shape Erdogan’s policy, but help align interests with any future Turkish government. The West can also offer other carrots that would appeal to Erdogan, and even benefit Western interests.

Firstly, recognizing Ankara’s increasingly important geopolitical position across Eurasia – particularly in Eastern Europe, Central Asia and the Caucasus – and working through Turkey, rather than against it, offers a more credible alternative to the region’s strongman leaders who worry about Western interest only being fleeting in response to Russia and challenge Putin’s assertions that increased geopolitical competition there is somehow the result of Western expansion rather than Russian mismanagement. Secondly, by offering to partner with Ankara to boost its own gas production, and invest in LNG networks, Turkish interests can align more with Washington’s own broad desire for promoting American LNG and provide the EU with a sustainable pipeline alternative as well.  

Balancing these carrots will require the West remaining steadfast about its ‘sticks’ as well. The secondary sanctions threat regarding trade with sanctioned Russian entities has already proven effective and cannot be allowed to weaken going forward, otherwise Erdogan will exploit it to secure carrots from Putin as well. Similarly, the west cannot count on Turkey to be a reliable partner as long as power continues to be centralized in the Presidential Palace. Turkey is a tough negotiator, and under Erdogan particularly so. But it has not been lost to the West forever, and by improving the offer, and being serious about the value of democracy, there is still much to be gained for both parties.

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The US and EU can build a more democratic world with sports diplomacy

Raül Romeva i Rueda is currently Professor of Global Politics and Sport Diplomacy, as well as the President of the Irla Foundation, a catalan think tank which promotes studies on politics, democracy, fundamental rights and civic republicanism. He is also a former Member of the European Parliament and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Institutional Relations, and Transparency in the Catalan Government.

In the span of my career, from the corridors of the European Parliament and the meeting rooms of the Catalan Government, to the classes of Sports Development and Diplomacy at the University, I have witnessed the ebb and flow of international relations. Today, as we navigate a world fraught with rising populism, the resurgence of the extreme right, and the looming shadow of the climate emergency, the need for a robust partnership between the United States and the European Union has never been more urgent. This transatlantic alliance, founded on shared democratic values, holds the promise not only of addressing immediate threats but also of paving the way towards a more just, inclusive, and sustainable global order.

The Rise of Populism and Extremism 

In the heart of Europe and across the Atlantic, the specter of populism and extreme right-wing ideologies threatens the very fabric of our societies. Twenty years ago we already perceived these movements, often born from disenfranchisement and fear, capitalize on division and discord. Unfortunately, we didn’t care much about them. Too many people thought they were anecdotal. Obviously this perception was wrong.

Nowadays, we have to confront that reality. The transatlantic bond must be a bulwark against this tide, through coordinated policies and shared intelligence that preemptively address the roots of extremism.

Joint public diplomacy initiatives can counter misinformation and promote democratic values. By fostering a culture of critical thinking and resilience, we can inoculate our societies against the lure of simplistic, divisive rhetoric. According to my experience, sports, guided appropriately, can be an extraordinary tool to that end. Let’s see how, with some examples.

Tackling the Climate Emergency: sports sector must take its responsibilities

The climate crisis is a global challenge that transcends borders and ideologies. The US and the EU, as major global players, have a moral and practical obligation to lead by example. Strengthening commitments to the Paris Agreement and setting more ambitious, actionable targets is imperative.

Investment in green technologies and renewable energy must be a cornerstone of this alliance. Collaborative efforts in research and development can accelerate the transition to a sustainable economy. By sharing technological advancements and best practices, the transatlantic partnership can drive a global green revolution, fostering economic growth while safeguarding our planet for future generations.

As a concrete example I’d like to mention the significant responsibility of the sports sector, in general, and football, in particular, both in the US and the EU, in addressing its climate footprint, due to the vast resources consumed and the environmental impacts associated with sports events, facilities, and related activities. Just to name some of them: resource consumption, waste generation, transportation emissions, land use and biodiversity impact, facility construction and maintenance practices. In that regard, collaborative efforts can lead to the widespread adoption of energy-efficient design and technology in new and existing sports facilities, promoting sustainability and setting a standard for the industry.

Good examples of that cooperation would be the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, USA, and the Spotify Camp Nou (the Futbol Club Barcelona Stadium), in Barcelona, Catalonia.

Both are examples of how green technologies can be applied to sports facilities, given the fact that both projects have integrated solar panels, rainwater harvesting systems, and energy-efficient lighting. By sharing these best practices and technologies, sports facilities across the US and EU can reduce their carbon footprint and operational costs.

Strengthening Democratic Institutions, through Sport partnerships

Democracy is indeed the foundation of the transatlantic partnership and again the sports sector (and institutions) have a unique role to play in promoting democratic values, combating corruption, and protecting human rights.

By leveraging their influence and reach, sports organizations can help strengthen democratic institutions both within the US and Europe and extend these efforts to neighboring regions.

There are several ways this can be achieved. For instance, Promoting International Sports Diplomacy, Supporting Grassroots Programs in Neighboring Regions, Hosting International Conferences and Workshops, establishing transparency and accountability programs (Initiatives like FIFA’s compliance program aim to ensure ethical conduct within football organizations), supporting human right’s campaigns (UEFA’s “Respect” campaign promotes inclusion, diversity, and respect in football, tackling discrimination and promoting human rights), or, finally, collaborating with Anti-Corruption Bodies (as the International Olympic Committee (IOC) collaborates with INTERPOL to fight corruption and match-fixing in sports).

In sum, policymakers and sports institutions can work together to develop policy frameworks that integrate sports into broader democratic and human rights initiatives. This integration can ensure that sports contribute to the resilience of democratic institutions and the promotion of justice and equality. By taking these steps, sports institutions can play a pivotal role in strengthening democratic institutions, combating corruption, and protecting human rights, both within the US and Europe and beyond.

A Path Forward

As we stand at the precipice of an uncertain future, the transatlantic partnership offers a beacon of hope. By leveraging our shared values and pooling our strengths, we can confront the challenges of our time and build a more democratic, fair, and inclusive global order. This alliance is not merely a strategic necessity but a moral imperative. It calls for visionary leadership, unwavering commitment, and the courage to act in the face of adversity. Together, the United States and the European Union can forge a path forward, turning crisis into opportunities and ensuring that the future we bequeath to our children is brighter, more just, and more sustainable. And what is more universal than the language of sports?

As someone who has navigated the intricacies of international relations firsthand, I remain hopeful. The challenges are great, but so too is our capacity for cooperation and innovation. In the words of the poet Antonio Machado, “Caminante, no hay camino, se hace camino al andar” – “Traveler, there is no path, the path is made by walking.” Let us walk, or run, this path together, forging a future that reflects the best of our shared humanity.

Bearing all this in mind, my impression is clearly that a more pro-democracy United States administration in 2017 might have been a better friend than the Trump administration was. What we can expect from the future is in the people’s hands.

Iran’s Election Surprise: A Reformist Victory Amid Turmoil

In a dramatic turn of events, Masoud Pezeshkian’s election as Iran’s new president has set the stage for potential change in a nation grappling with deep-seated discontent and geopolitical turmoil. His victory in a snap presidential election, just 50 days after a helicopter crash that claimed the lives of conservative president Ebrahim Raisi, the foreign minister, a governor, and five others, carries significant implications for Iran, the region, and US-Iran relations. This election comes at a critical juncture, with ongoing conflicts such as the Gaza war, the looming threat of its expansion to Lebanon, continued US sanctions on Iran, a rapidly growing Iranian nuclear program, and shifting geopolitical winds challenging the US-dominated global order.

Pezeshkian’s victory is particularly noteworthy given Iran’s political system, which does not hold free or fair elections and is heavily influenced by unelected institutions and theocratic bodies. The Islamic Republic, born from the 1979 revolution that overthrew the US-backed Shah, has been characterized by a persistent power struggle between its republican factions, which advocate for greater political inclusion and reform, and its religiously fundamentalist and ideological factions, which prioritize theocratic governance and strict adherence to revolutionary principles. This internal tension has shaped Iran’s domestic and foreign policies, creating an often contentious political environment.

This election highlighted the enduring clash within the Islamic Republic’s political landscape, and was set against a backdrop of widespread discontent among Iranians. Many citizens are profoundly disillusioned or actively opposed to a political system that has imposed severe economic hardships, social and political restrictions, including pervasive internet censorship, and the enforcement of traditional religious norms like mandatory hijab, in an increasingly secular society. The political environment has also become more insular in recent years, with reformist and moderate figures who once played significant roles becoming largely marginalized.

Pezeshkian’s victory is significant on multiple levels. His approval to run by the Guardian Council—a 12-member body of clerics and jurists that vets candidates—marked the first time in years that a prominent reformist was allowed to seek the presidency. Pezeshkian, a five-term parliamentarian and former health minister in the reformist government of Mohammad Khatami, has represented Tabriz in northwestern Iran, near the Turkish border, where his core constituency includes Iranian Azeris and Kurds, reflecting his own ethnic heritage.

Speculation abounds regarding the motivations behind the Guardian Council, and by extension the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in allowing Pezeshkian to run. It was likely an attempt to increase voter turnout, which had dropped to historic lows in uncompetitive elections since 2021. The Guardian Council approved six candidates, with Pezeshkian being the only reformist, and his main competitors being hardline conservatives.
 

His approval to run by the Guardian Council—a 12-member body of clerics and jurists that vets candidates—marked the first time in years that a prominent reformist was allowed to seek the presidency.

The election’s outcome, however, likely deviated from the Guardian Council’s expectations. The first round saw a new historic low turnout of 39.93%, a reflection of the electorate’s deep-seated apathy and disillusionment. However, amid intense rivalry among conservatives, Pezeshkian emerged as the frontrunner, with Saeed Jalili, a staunch hardliner, advancing to the second round. This result shocked the Iranian political landscape, as historically, lower turnout has typically benefited conservative candidates.

In the second round, Pezeshkian, representing the republican wing of the Islamic Republic, faced off against Jalili, who advocated for autarky and a return to the 1979 revolutionary ideology. The results delivered another surprise: turnout increased to 49.68%.

A critical aspect of this election was the electorate’s strategic behavior. Two key groups emerged: those who actively voted for Pezeshkian in both rounds and those who abstained strategically in the first round but participated in the second. The former rejected Jalili’s ideology, while the latter, through calculated abstention, significantly influenced the outcome and sent an undeniable message to the authorities. By abstaining initially, they sent a message of discontent, and the subsequent participation of part of this constituency ensured Pezeshkian’s victory while maintaining their protest voice and signaling ongoing dissatisfaction.
 

By abstaining initially, [second-round voters] sent a message of discontent, and the subsequent participation of part of this constituency ensured Pezeshkian’s victory while maintaining their protest voice and signaling ongoing dissatisfaction.

Looking ahead, Pezeshkian faces numerous challenges. He ran on a platform calling for an end to mandatory hijab enforcement, easing social restrictions, opening up the political arena, and pursuing constructive international relations, including with the West. During debates, he emphasized the debilitating impact of sanctions and the need for negotiations to lift them. He defended the 2015 nuclear deal, abandoned by the Trump administration, which reimposed US sanctions and decimated the political capital of centrist former president Hassan Rouhani. He also criticized hardliners for actions that he said immensely harmed the country, such as attacks on the Saudi and British embassies.

Hardliners and unelected institutions in Iran will undoubtedly try to obstruct Pezeshkian’s reformist efforts. Their influence, coupled with continued policies of sanctions and regime change from hawkish forces in the US, Israel, and Europe, presents significant challenges. Yet, the Iranian electorate has made its stance unmistakably clear: it rejects extremism and desires a better quality of life, both domestically and through constructive international engagement. Pezeshkian’s platform, centered on economic revitalization and improving diplomatic relations, resonates deeply with the aspirations of many Iranians. This election signals a major moment in Iran, reflecting a collective yearning for progressive change and a break from the past.

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Post-CNN Debate: Visions for the World in 2025

On June 27, CNN held a debate between former president Donald Trump and incumbent president Joe Biden. Both men are in the unique position of running against a previous office holder, and the election itself is a rematch of the socially distanced contest held between the same two candidates in 2020.

There is arguably no area of governance where a president has greater freedom and impact than foreign policy. To better understand how the candidates used foreign policy positions on the debate stage, and the limits of their understanding or desired policies, the fellows of the Center for International Policy have assembled to offer some deeper insight. A transcript of the debate can be read here.
 

Sina Toossi, on the Middle East in the Debate

The presidential debate offered little hope for a more peaceful and just U.S. foreign policy towards the Middle East. The most egregious moment was Trump’s use of “Palestinian” as an insult in an exchange with Biden over their “pro-Israel” stances, a shocking display of racism that has largely escaped mainstream scrutiny.

Trump’s false claims about his Iran policy—asserting Iran was impotent and “broke” by the end of his term—belie the reality of his maximum pressure campaign, which provoked increased aggression from Iran, including unprecedented attacks on U.S. assets and allies, and accelerated nuclear activities.

Biden also faltered, with factual inaccuracies about Iran having intercontinental ballistic missile capabilities and misleading claims about U.S. military members not being killed under his watch in the region. Both candidates failed to present a coherent vision of the realities of U.S. policies towards the region.

 

Joanna Rozpedowski, on NATO in the Debate

Voters concerned about America’s security and geopolitical strategy face a pivotal choice between two starkly different approaches to international conflicts the new president will inevitably confront.

In the CNN debate, President Biden emphasized the importance of robust alliances and collective security measures, arguing that NATO and allied support are essential for deterring Russian aggression and maintaining global stability.

Former President Trump’s transactional approach prioritized national sovereignty, extreme frugality, and direct negotiation over costly multilateral commitments. His rhetoric indicated skepticism about the economic and tactical burdens the US bears in supporting NATO’s Ukraine approach, which thus far failed to result in the war’s peaceful settlement and risks further escalation onto neighboring European countries.

In November, this strategic divide presents Americans with a critical decision: maintain strong international alliances, an aggressive deterrence posture, and multilateral NATO engagement or attempt to resolve the conflict through diplomatic channels and direct negotiation. The decision rests squarely with the electorate.

 

Michael Chamberlin, on Mexico in the Debate

Regarding the issue of fentanyl crossing the border, neither candidate focuses on addressing the root causes. They fail to discuss how to collaborate with Mexico to strengthen its justice and anti-corruption institutions or how to stop Mexican criminal groups from obtaining guns in U.S. stores. Nothing was said about gun control in the United States or the movement of guns south through the same border, which arms the cartels that later send fentanyl north. Additionally, they overlook the importance of preventive measures from a health service perspective. Approaching the problem from a prohibition standpoint alone will never stop drug abuse.

 

Negar Mortazavi, on Iran in the Debate

Neither Trump nor Biden offered a coherent policy on Iran and the broader Middle East. Trump claimed that Iran had no money under his administration which is false. It’s true that he imposed broad sanctions against Iran that hurt the economy. But the impact of sanctions is mainly felt by average Iranian citizens and it does not really influence or change Iran’s foreign policy and regional spending. In fact, during Trump’s term tensions were high between Iran and its network of allies, the Axis of Resistance, and the U.S. and its regional allies.

Trump’s assassination of the top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani brought the two countries to the brink of a dangerous war, with Iran retaliating against the U.S. by shooting missiles from its soil targeting U.S. forces in Iraq. Trump’s “maximum pressure” policy towards Iran was not only dangerous but failed to achieve its stated goal of bringing Iran to the negotiating table for a better deal.

Biden’s policy towards Iran in general has not been very different or successful either. Candidate Biden had promised to prioritize diplomacy with Iran and revive the nuclear deal, but he couldn’t deliver on that promise.

 

Van Jackson, on China in the Debate

Biden has accepted Trump’s premise about China and economic statecraft. He now thinks reducing the trade deficit with China is a mark of progress. He imagines political economy as a zero-sum terrain where their gain is not just our loss; it’s a threat to us. This is the kind of economic nationalism that ultimately serves defense-industrial interests and reactionary political projects.Trump, for his part, openly accused the sitting American president of treason and corruption–he called him a “Manchurian candidate.” This is actual red-baiting; literally John Birch Society stuff. The notable thing, which is of pattern, is that Trump is using China as the wedge to attack his political opponent. The fascistic, corrupt politician is using the China bogeyman to advance his politics against his democratic opponent. The GOP did much the same in 2020 and 2022.

It’s true that politicians from both parties try to play the “China card” to their advantage…but it’s false that the “China card” is some value-neutral object that anyone can use for their purposes with equal effectiveness. China-threat rhetoric systematically biases toward reactionary, demagogic political outcomes; it’s unfavorable terrain for democratic politics. That’s why Democrats who tried to out-hawk their opponents on China in 2022 fared poorly in the general election.

Trump is not wrong that Biden’s foreign policy is pushing us toward World War III—we’re still insisting on a strategy of primacy in a world where power realities simply make it impossible. And by pursuing primacy anyway, the national security state naturalizes the necessity of the most dangerous kinds of policies: containment, arms-racing, and economic nationalism. This will not end well for anyone. The falsity in Trump’s rant though is that he is any better. Indeed, Biden’s China policy is Trump’s China policy. Worse, Trump’s implied theory of war prevention appears to be a form of extortion. Cultivating personal relationships with dictators, he insists, is the way to prevent World War III. That means that Trump puts himself in the position of telling the public, “Look, you want me to be friends with Xi and Putin and Kim. That’s how I’m preventing Armageddon.”

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اقتراح لإنشاء مجلس إعادة إعمار غزة

مدير مؤسسة بال ثينك للدراسات الاستراتيجية عمر شعبان
 
منذ اندلاع الحرب في غزة، استمر الجدل حول إدارة القطاع بعد الحرب دون الوصول إلى خطة ملموسة وشاملة. يحتاج الناس الذين بقوا في غزة إلى تدخل فوري للتخفيف من معاناتهم وتسريع عودة الحياة الى قطاع غزة. إن الدمار شبه الكامل للقطاع، والخسائر الشخصية الهائلة في الأرواح، وعدم المساءلة عن أفعال إسرائيل، وغياب أفق سياسي لإنهاء أكثر من نصف قرن من الاحتلال الذي سبق 7 أكتوبر، يخلق أرضًا خصبة لأولئك الذين يسعون لإشعال المزيد من العنف والتطرف. من الضروري وجود خطة شاملة لإدارة القطاع في فترة ما بعد الحرب مباشرة لضمان الاستقرار الكافي لإعادة بناء القطاع ومنع عودة القتال.
 
هذا الاقتراح لإدارة غزة بعد الحرب مباشرة يستند إلى مجموعة من الافتراضات: أن للشعب الفلسطيني الحق في العيش حياة طبيعية بكرامة وأمان، وأنه لا يمكن ولا ينبغي لهم الانتظار لفترة طويلة من التشاور قبل تحقيق هذه الحقوق؛ أن إسرائيل ومعها العديد من دول العالم لن تقبل بأن يكون لحماس أي دور سياسي أو حاكم في اليوم التالي، ومن ناحية ثانية بما أن حماس لم تعط مباركتها للحكومة الفلسطينية المعينة حديثًا العمل بشكل كامل في غزة؛ ، فمن المحتمل ألا تسمح لها بالعمل بحرية في غزة.
 
بالإضافة إلى ذلك، سيكون من غير الواقعي وخطير جدًا محاولة استعادة السلامة العامة أو إطلاق أي عملية إعادة إعمار دون التنسيق والتعاون الكافي مع الموظفين المتبقين من السلطة الفعلية في غزة، أي حماس، التي كانت الهيئة الحاكمة في غزة منذ عام 2007.
ستتطلب إعادة إعمار غزة إشراك موظفي الخدمة المدنية للسلطة الفعلية السابقة جنبا ألى جنب موظفي السلطة الفلسطينية في قطاع غزة . موظفي السلطة الفلسطينية ليسوا كافيين والبعض منهم غادروا قطاع غزة او تقاعدوا والكثير منهم لم يمارس عمله منذ 2007. هناك 5000 موظف بلدي في غزة، لا ينتمي أي منهم للسلطة الفلسطينية . قبل 7 أكتوبر، شمل قطاع العمل الحكومي في قطاع غزة حوالي 24000 موظف في الخدمة المدنية، خاصة في قطاعي التعليم والصحة إضافة لــ 18000 شرطي. عندما تم انتخاب حماس في عام 2007، تم فصل الكثير من موظفي السلطة الفلسطينية في غزة –وإستمر الكثير منهم في مواصلة عملهم تحت إدارة حكم حركة حماس خاصي في قطاعي الصحة و التعليم. يقدر عددهم بحوالي 25000، منهم 15000 موظف مدني و10000 من أفراد الأمن. بعضهم بحاجة إلى إعادة التدريب والتوجيه. لذلك، يعد إشراك موظفي الخدمة المدنية للسلطة الفعلية السابقة أمرًا ضروريًا لبدء عملية الإدارة المدنية مع عودة موظفي السلطة الفلسطينية الذي بقوا في منازلهم دون عمل. تفترض هذه الخطة دمج موظفي السلطة الفلسطينية للعمل في القطاع الحكومي مع موظفي حكومة غزة . ليس من الخيارات عدم إشراكهم جميعا لتعزيز النظام العام وتحقيق النتائج. في ضوء هذه الحقائق، تتكون هذه الخطة من أربعة عناصر متكاملة:
 
العنصر الأول: إنشاء مجلس إعادة إعمار غزة. سيتألف المجلس من 15 إلى 20 شخصًا، سيكونون في الغالب من موظفي السلطة الفلسطينية الذين يعيشون في غزة، والذين يتم دفع رواتبهم من السلطة الفلسطينية في رام الله. سيقوم هذا المجلس بتنسيق عمله مع المنظمات الدولية التي ستعمل على إعادة إعمار قطاع غزة. يجب التأكيد على أن هذه اللجنة ستكون بمثابة فرع غزة للحكومة الفلسطينية، وستنسق عملها بشكل كامل مع الحكومة الفلسطينية. يجب السماح لأعضائها بالسفر الروتيني واليسير إلى رام الله والعودة منها، والاجتماع مع رئيس السلطة الفلسطينية ورئيس الوزراء. يجب أن تعلن هذه اللجنة أيضًا أنها ستعمل مع موظفي الخدمة المدنية للسلطة الفعلية. هذا ضروري لكسب تعاون ودعم القوى السياسية و المجتمعية في قطاع غزة. يجب على مجلس إعادة إعمار غزة أن يعلن بوضوح أن ولايته لا تحمل أي مسؤوليات سياسية، وأنه هيئة مؤقتة ليس لاكثر من عامين وتكون مسؤوليته محصورة في تخطيط وإطلاق وإدارة عملية التعافي المبكر والإعمار. يجب على المجلس تنسيق عمله وتمويله وخطته مع المجتمع المحلي و الدولي، يتوجب إنشاء موقع إلكتروني للإعلان عن عمله للجمهور والمانحين بشكل منتظم. يجب أن يضمن هذا المجلس فصل أموال الإعمار عن أي أغراض أخرى من خلال تخصيص حساب بنكي مستقل بإشراف محلي دولي . يجب أيضًا إشراك الشتات الفلسطيني في هذا الجهد، حيث يمتلك الكثيرون المعرفة الفنية الأساسية والموارد اللازمة لتحفيز الاستثمار في مستقبل غزة.
 

يجب أن تشمل المناصب في المجلس ممثيلن من قطاع غزة للقطاعات التالية-

      • قطاع غزة للقطاعات التالية-:
          • قطاع المياه
          • قطاع الكهرباء و الطاقة
          • وزارة الصحة
          • وزارة الشؤون الاجتماعية
          • وزارة الحكم المحلي
          • وزارة الزراعة
          • وزارة الإسكان والأشغال العامة
          • نقابة المقاولين
          • جمعية رجال الأعمال
          • 3 أعضاء من المجتمع المدني، معظمهم من النساء.
          • رئيس الشرطة المحلية
          مراقبون واتصال من المنظمات الدولية، بما في ذلك: الأونروا، برنامج الغذاء العالمي، منظمة الصحة العالمية، اللجنة الدولية للصليب الأحمر، المنظمات غير الحكومية الفلسطينية.

       

      العنصر الثاني: إنشاء قوة شرطة محلية لإنفاذ القانون و الحفاظ على الأمن و السلم الأهلي. ستكون القوة مكونة من 5000 شخص، منهم 2500 من قوات الأمن التابعة للسلطة الفلسطينية الذين استمروا في العيش في غزة، و2500 من الموظفين المتبقين من السلطة الفعلية في غزة. سيتم تعيين رئيس للشرطة من مصر أو رام الله. و سيتم دعوة 20-25 من كبار محترفي الشرطة من مصر والأردن والمغرب للمجيء إلى غزة للإشراف على وتدريب وتوجيه قوة الشرطة المشكلة حديثًا. سيكون لرئيس قوة الشرطة مقعد في مجلس إعادة إعمار غزة.
      العنصر الثالث: مراقبة وإدارة معابر غزة. يجب دعوة الاتحاد الأوروبي والولايات المتحدة للتعاون مع إدارة المعابر في السلطة الفلسطينية لتحمل المسؤولية عن مراقبة والإشراف على تدفق المواد و بالتنسيق مع الحكومة الاسرائيلية ، إلى جانب موظفين محليين من مختلف وزارات السلطة الفلسطينية في غزة. سيتطلب ذلك أيضًا التنسيق مع رام الله. يستوجب ذلك رفع الحصار على دخول المواد الخام و المعدات اللازمة. يجب فتح معبر رفح بشكل دائم للسماح بعودة العديد من الأشخاص المؤهلين والفنيين الذين غادروا غزة خلال الحرب. لا يمكن أن تكون هناك عملية إعادة إعمار في غزة بدونهم.
       
      العنصر الرابع والمهم بشكل خاص: تعزيز المجتمع المدني في غزة. يجب إنشاء صندوق خاص من قبل الدول المانحة لمساعدة المجتمع المدني في غزة على إعادة بناء مكاتبهم وممتلكاتهم ومعداتهم والبنية التحتية الأخرى. يجب أن يدعم هذا الصندوق برامج معالجة الاثار النفسية والاجتماعية التي سببتها الحرب وتعزيز ثقافة التسامح والصمود ونبذ العنف والتعايش والسلم الاهلي وبناء النسيج الاجتماعي ، ويكمل عمل المجلس. يشمل ذلك مساعدة الجامعات في غزة التي دمرت بفعل الحرب على إعادة بناء برامجها.
      هناك بالطبع عدة شروط ضرورية لتنفيذ هذا الاقتراح بنجاح. أولاً، يجب أن توافق الولايات المتحدة، السلطة الفلسطينية، إسرائيل، والاتحاد الأوروبي والدول العربية ذات العلاقة خاصة مصر على الخطة – ويجب أن يتوافر للمجلس الدعم و المساندة من كل القوى السياسية في قطاع غزة. ثانيًا، يجب على المجلس أن يعلن أنه هيئة فنية إدارية مؤقتة، لا يحل محل أي هيئة حاكمة أخرى، وليس لديه أي أجندة سياسية تتجاوز إعادة إعمار غزة. أخيرًا، يجب على المجتمع الدولي، وبشكل رئيسي الولايات المتحدة، الاتحاد الأوروبي والدول العربية الرئيسية، تقديم تعهدات مالية كبيرة لمشاريع إعادة الإعمار ودعم الميزانية المخصصة للأنشطة التي ينسقها المجلس. هذه هي خطة عريضة تتطلب خطط تفصيلية يتم إعدادها من قبل المجلس بالتنسيق مع خطط السلطة الفلسطينية والمنظمات التمويل الدولي. يتوجب تعزيز مشاركة شركات القطاع الخاص المحلية والمتضرريين من الحرب وقطاع الحكم البلدي في عملية التخطيط و التنفيذ و الرقابة بقدر الامكان كي تتوفر الحماية و المساندة المجتمعية لعملية إعادة الاعمار.
       
      يتم تنظيم مؤتمر دولي لإعادة الاعمار تشارك فيه الدول الغنية و المؤسسات الدولية لرصد التمويل اللازم لبدء عملية إعادة الاعمار بشكل كبير بحيث يعطي الامل لمواطني قطاع غزة الذي عانوا ويلات الحرب بمستقبل افضل. يجب تشجيع العشرات من اصحاب الكفاءة والخبرة من فلسطيني الشتات خاصة الذين غادروا قطاع غزة بسبب الحرب على العودة للمساهمة في عملية إعادة الاعمار.
       
      التحديات السياسية لتنفيذ هذا الاقتراح كبيرة، ولكن يجب على القادة إظهار الرؤية والشجاعة اللازمة لمواجهتها والتغلب عليها إذا أردنا تجنب تكرار هذا الكابوس.

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To read this post in English, click here.

A Proposal for a Gaza Reconstruction Council

Omar Shaban is CIP’s inaugural Leahy Fellow for Human Rights and Security. He is also the founder of PalThink for Strategic Studies, an independent Gaza-based think tank with no political affiliation.

When the war on Gaza ends, the survivors will need immediate help and a government to administer that aid. Yet the debate on the post-war administration of the territory has continued throughout the invasion without reaching a concrete and comprehensive plan. The people who remain in Gaza will require immediate intervention to alleviate their suffering. The near-total devastation of the territory, enormous personal losses of loved ones, and the absence of a political horizon for ending the more than half a century of occupation that preceded October 7th create fertile ground for those seeking to foment more violence and extremism. A comprehensive plan for administration of the territory in the near-term aftermath of the war is necessary to ensure sufficient stability to rebuild the territory and prevent a relapse of fighting.
 

Terms for Reconstruction

This proposal for the immediate post-war administration of Gaza is built on a set of assumptions: That the Palestinian people have the right to live in dignity, safety, and normalcy, and that they cannot and should not wait for a long process of consultation before these rights are honored; that Israel will not accept Hamas having any political or governing role the day after, and will likely make it difficult for the newly appointed Palestinian Authority (PA) government to operate fully in Gaza; as Hamas did not give its blessing to the recently appointed Palestinian Authority (PA) government, it likely wouldn’t allow it to work in Gaza freely.

Additionally, it would be unrealistic and very risky to attempt to restore public safety or launch any reconstruction process without the adequate coordination and cooperation with the residual personnel of the Gaza de-facto authority, i.e. Hamas, which has been the governing body in Gaza since 2007.

The reconstruction of Gaza will require engaging civil servants of the previous de-facto-authority. Non-Hamas PA employees in Gaza are not enough. There are 5,000 municipal employees in Gaza, none of whom are PA employees. Before October 7,  this sector included approximately 24,000 civil public servants (in the education and health sectors) and 18,000 policemen. When Hamas was elected in 2007, all PA employees in Gaza –estimated to number around 25,000, of which 15,000 are civil public servants and 10,000 are security personnel– were dismissed. Many of them have been furloughed since 2007, and are thus in need of re-training and orientation. Therefore, engaging the public servants of the previous de-facto authority is absolutely necessary to get the process of civil administration started. It is not an option not to engage them to enhance public order and to reach results.

In light of those realities, this plan consists of four integrated elements: a Gaza Reconstruction Council, a police force for domestic security, monitoring and management of the Gaza crossings, and strengthening Gaza’s civil society.
 

The Gaza Reconstruction Council

The first would be to create a Gaza Reconstruction Council. Ranging from 12 to 15 persons, it will be composed mainly of the PA employees who live in Gaza, who will be paid by the PA in Ramallah and were previously granted permits by Israel to exit Gaza (i.e. who are previously vetted). This body will coordinate its work with the international organizations who will be working on the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip. It must be emphasized that this committee is the Gaza branch for the PA government, and it will fully coordinate its work with the PA government. Its members must be allowed to routinely and easily travel to and from Ramallah, meeting with the PA president and Prime Minister. This committee must also announce that it will be working with the public servants of the de facto authority. This is vital to gain Hamas’ cooperation and support.  The Gaza Reconstruction Council should announce clearly, its mandate has no political responsibilities, it is a temporary body whose responsibility is confined to launching and administrating the early recovery and reconstruction process. The council must coordinate its work, finance, and plan with the community; it must set up a website to declare its work to the public and to the donors on a regular basis. This council must ensure the separation of reconstruction funds. The Palestinian diaspora should also be involved in this effort, as many possess key technical knowledge and resources needed to mobilize and invest in Gaza’s future funds.

Positions in the regional council should include the: Head of the water authority, Head of the energy authority, Head of contracting syndicate, Head of businessman association, Chief of police, and 2-3 members of civil society.

In addition, the regional council should have representatives of: Ministry of health, Ministry of social affairs, Ministry of local government, Ministry of agriculture, and the Ministry of housing and public works.

As well as observer-liaisons from international organizations, including: UNRWA, World Food Programme, World Health Organization, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and Palestine NGOs.

 

Domestic and Border Security

The second element is to create a police force for domestic security. A force of 5,000 persons will be composed of 2,500 from PA security forces who have continued to live in Gaza, and 2,500 from residual employees from the Gaza de-facto authority. Responsibility for this force will be given to a head of police from Egypt or Ramallah. 20-23 senior police professionals from Egypt, Jordan and Morocco will be invited to come into Gaza to supervise, train, and orient the newly formed police force.  The head of the police force will have a seat on the Gaza Reconstruction Council.

The third element is the monitoring and management of the Gaza crossings. The European Union (EU) and USA in cooperating with the PA crossing department should be invited to be responsible for monitoring and supervising the in-flow of material, along with  local staff from different PA ministries from Gaza. This will also require coordination with Ramallah. At a minimum, Rafah crossing must be opened permanently to allow many of the qualified and technical people who exited Gaza during the war to return. There can be no reconstruction process in Gaza without them.
 

Civil Society

A fourth and particularly important element involves strengthening Gaza’s civil society. A special fund must be created by donor countries to help civil society in Gaza rebuild their offices, assets, equipment, and other infrastructure. This fund should support programs for tolerance, resilience, and non-violence, and complement the work of the council. This includes helping Gaza universities destroyed by the war to rebuild their programs.

There are obviously several conditions necessary for the successful implementation of this proposal. First, the United States, PA, Israel and EU must agree to the plan – and there must be a reasonable level of confidence that Hamas will not actively thwart it. Second, the council must announce it is a temporary body, it doesn’t replace any other governing body, and it doesn’t have any political agenda beyond the reconstruction of Gaza. Finally, the international community, mainly the US, EU and key Arab states must make and follow through on major financial pledges for reconstruction and budgetary support for activities coordinated by the council.

The political challenges to implementing this proposal are considerable, but leaders must show vision and courage necessary to confront and overcome them if we are to avoid repeating this nightmare.

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Popular Fronts can defeat reactionaries in Europe

Andrea Venzon & Colombe Cahen-Salvador are the co-founders of Atlas, the global political party uniting people for survival. They previously co-founded Volt Europa, the European federalist political party.

For progressives around the world, recent months have been filled with anger, disbelief and hopelessness. In addition to devastating international wars on Ukraine and Gaza, the threats for global reproductive freedom, and the ongoing climate crisis, the electoral rise of right-wingers globally –evidenced most recently in the European Parliament election– is fueling despair.

Yet, beneath the surface of these alarming results lies a critical, often forgotten truth about any political landscape experiencing an extremist surge: unity among progressive forces can save the day.
 

The Rise of the Right in Europe

Earlier this month, the European Parliament election saw around 60 million Europeans, 30% of voters, chose a far-right party.

These European elections bore a stark resemblance to the 1930s: the far-right is gaining traction in Europe amidst inflation, geopolitical tensions, and hatred; and no one seems to have a recipe to stop them.

June 2024 is hardly the first time the far right has threatened the European continent since the end of World War II. 2016 was a formative year: following Brexit, many extremist political parties grew in power across Europe. For example,  France, Italy, and Germany saw parties with roots in fascism take hold of the electorate. It didn’t happen suddenly, but divisions, hatred, and mistrust of others settled in amidst the solidification of the era of perma-crises.
 

Building the Progressive Infrastructure to Change Course

We both witnessed the fast rise of far-right parties and felt it was time to act. We first founded Volt Europa, a progressive, Eurofederalist party that today sits in the EU parliament. Powered by the energies of young people across the continent, the party has recently won more than a million votes, mainly in Germany and the Netherlands, on a platform of pro-European integration vis-a-vis the right wing, nationalist wave that stormed Europe.

However, global problems need global solutions; climate change, warfare, populism, and new disruptive technologies can not—nor should be—solved from a continent representing less than 10% of the global population. We thus decided to build Atlas: a global political movement building electoral power to promote equitable policies and defeat authoritarianism. Since its founding in 2020, Atlas has grown to include over 25,000 people in more than 134 countries and is getting ready to run candidates for office from India to Italy. Through our work, we have proof that uniting beyond borders, differences, religions and backgrounds is clearly possible.

Those recent elections raised the question: why can’t political parties focus on the bigger picture and what might bring them together? The 2024 European elections have been catastrophic. The Parliament is more conservative than ever before, with the European Parliament Party (EPP) — a party that until recently counted amongst its ranks Hungary’s Orban’s party—playing queenmaker, again.
 

United We Stand, Divided We Fall

As the European Parliament elections showed, a key lesson that progressives must accept before running out of time is that we must be diligent about building coalitions with the political power necessary to succeed.

In Italy, the governing party Fratelli d’Italia (FdI), which has roots in fascist ideologies, secured 29% of the vote, its best electoral result yet. The main opposition party, with 24%, could have combined with the Italian Greens or even two small centrist coalitions, to easily surpass this figure together. This fragmented approach among progressive factions has proven to be a critical weakness, allowing the far-right to come out on top and strengthen its governing position. Italian politics is no stranger to this kind of miscalculation: in 1921, amid rising fascist sentiments, the socialist party won the national popular vote but struggled to build a coalition with centrist or other progressive forces to govern. Hence the conservative bloc, of which Mussolini was part, took over, and three years from that moment, Italy became a one-party dictatorship.

France offers a similar narrative. The far-right, represented by Le Pen’s Rassemblement National and Zemmour’s Reconquête, achieved a record-breaking 37% of the vote, their highest ever. Despite this, the three main left-wing parties, if united, would have garnered 30% of the vote. While this would not have outstripped the far-right entirely, it would have represented a formidable opposition and a platform upon which to build.

Contrary to the tragic Italian example, pre-WW2 France provides a good playbook. On the 11th of June 1934, 90 years before the latest European elections, the leaders of the socialist and communist parties met to build a popular front (le Front Populaire). Although it did not last long, the Front Populaire succeeded in keeping at bay violent right-wing factions and uplifted French workers with era-defining protections, such as the right to strike and paid leave. As we write this, a second Front Populaire is being built to keep Le Pen and her allies at bay in the French national elections.

The path to overcoming the rise of the far-right in Europe and beyond lies in our ability to unite.

Germany’s election results also reflect the same pattern. Here, the poorly performing Scholz Socialists, if they had combined forces with other leftist and Green parties, would have emerged as the leading political force, topping the Christian Social Union (CSU)’s 30%.

In this year’s Indian elections, in which almost a billion people voted, the I.N.D.I.A. coalition thwarted Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s autocratic ambitions, blocked the highly anticipated Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s outright majority, and forced the party to govern through a coalition.

At this critical juncture, the call to action is unequivocal. It is not enough to merely oppose the far-right in rhetoric or through just marginally better solutions. When faced with a potential neo-fascist state, concrete steps must be taken to build electoral coalitions, globally and locally, that can effectively challenge its growing influence. The path to overcoming the rise of the far-right in Europe and beyond lies in our ability to unite. Let us heed the lessons of history and the present, coming together to forge a coalition for progress.

To all who share this vision, Atlas, the radically progressive global political party we are building, is open for exactly this, everywhere across the planet. Reach out, connect, and let’s build the future we all believe in.

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The House NDAA foreshadows Trump’s next term

Stephen Miles is the president of Win Without War. You can follow him on X (formerly Twitter.)

House Republicans have just given us a glimpse into the possible future through their consideration of the Fiscal Year 2025 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), and it’s terrifying. Let’s unpack what just happened.

At its most basic level, the NDAA is the bill that authorizes the Pentagon and associated spending at other agencies, but it’s much more than that. While it authorizes a gargantuan level of spending, nearly one trillion dollars and rising, its real distinction is in being considered one of Congress’ last “must pass” pieces of legislation. Its passage is typically bipartisan, with wide majorities, and contains provisions that touch on nearly every area of federal policy.

In years past, the biggest fights were often about national security and foreign policy, as you’d expect from legislation with ‘national defense’ in the title. How much we should spend at the Pentagon, whether to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay, and the like. But starting last year, something pretty big changed, and this year, House Republicans went into overdrive.
 

The Mandate of Kevin

The bill started out bipartisan, passing the House Armed Services Committee with large bipartisan support, as usual. Then-Speaker Kevin McCarthy, navigating a narrow majority, chose to feed his most MAGA members some red meat by allowing a handful of amendments on the House floor on issues like abortion, LGBTQ rights, and diversity in the military. This turned what had been a bipartisan bill into one of the most partisan ever.

This was, of course, always destined to fail on legislation that needed to pass a Democratic Senate and be signed into law by a Democratic President. So, after months of bluster and bravado, House Republicans did what they’ve had to do on every other piece of major recent legislation and swallowed a compromise bill, one that was popular with a broad bipartisan majority but enraged the far-right MAGA wing of the party.

Which brings us to this year’s NDAA and now-Speaker Johnson navigating an even smaller majority. Rather than recognize reality, work with Democrats, and engage in an honest, robust debate on the myriad of genuine national security threats our country and the world face, Speaker Johnson decided to double down and give even more control to the far-right of his caucus.

This created the fascinating, if horrifying, opportunity to view just what the future may hold should November’s election return unified Republican control to government. It’s a far reaching, radical agenda, so let’s dig in.
 

Red Meat for the Red Meat Caucus

It’s worth starting with national security and foreign policy, the ostensible focus of the underlying bill. Three issues dominated: Israel and Gaza, China, and Ukraine. Sadly, the overwhelming focus of these amendments and the ensuing floor debate was mostly scoring partisan political points. There was little to no grappling with the complexity of these challenges, honest debate around our nation’s actual goals, or interest in de-escalating geopolitical tensions.

Beyond those issues though, we got an even clearer sense of where a future MAGA majority might take governing. Far from the focus on actual questions of national defense, Republican amendments to the NDAA quickly veered into a litany of far right fever dreams. Reps. Reschenthaler, Greene, and Gosar targeted electric cars while Rep. Biggs focused on trying to gut the Endangered Species Act. Reps. Banks, Norman, and Higgins offered amendments both eliminating diversity focused jobs and offices at the Department of Defense and also barring any such positions in the future. Rep. Ogles had an anti-mask covid conspiracy amendment while a host of Republicans led amendments targeting trans individuals’ access to healthcare. There were also amendments attacking pride flags, drag shows, and women in the military. There was even an amendment from Rep. Boebert to ban the government from trying to confront domestic terrorism. That’s right, Rep. Boebert amended the national defense bill to bar us from defending the nation.

But there was so much more. Perhaps not surprisingly for a party that has made immigration its focus lately, the NDAA featured multiple amendments on the issue, though as with others, there was little to no serious attempts to grapple with a complex issue. Instead we got amendments imagining an immigrant threat to military bases, inventing false analogies to demonize immigrants, and even trying to kick Mexico out of North America. Seriously. But the real window into a possible MAGA future is Rep. Crenshaw’s amendment to require the Secretary of Defense to come up with plans to go to war in Mexico. Yes, you read that right, plans for a U.S. war in Mexico. And this isn’t a case of one random member of Congress with outrageous ideas, it’s in lockstep with the apparent plans of the soon-to-be Republican nominee for President.
 

Lost causes and MAGA monuments

Two final amendments really complete the emerging picture. The first, not surprisingly, is a repeat of the anti-abortion amendment that nearly tanked the entire NDAA last year. Sponsored by dozens of Republicans and adopted on a near party line vote, there’s little reason to believe that this year’s effort will be any more successful in overcoming opposition in the Senate and the White House. However, with control of the Senate and the White House possible to change, it is worth understanding that this provision is likely the floor, not the ceiling of anti-abortion efforts likely to be included in future NDAAs.

But perhaps no other amendment is more revealing than one by Reps. Clyde and Good to force the military to re-install a monument to the Confederacy at Arlington National Cemetery. Arlington, of course, has a complex history deeply tied to the Civil War, but this effort is nothing but pure white supremacy and an attempt to erase the horrific legacy of slavery. It is cold comfort that two dozen Republicans joined with all House Democrats to narrowly defeat this amendment given the very real possibility that an increased Republican majority would pass it and other similar pieces of legislation, openly glorifying some of our nation’s darkest hours.

And while a handful of other Republican amendments similarly narrowly failed given the slim House majority and united Democratic opposition, the vast majority passed. Just like last year, House Democrats overwhelmingly voted against the final bill and Republicans sent it to the Senate by the slimmest of margins. The Senate is now working on its own bill, and the two will likely ultimately head to a conference committee where, in consultation with the White House, Republicans will be forced to drop most, but not all, of these provisions.

Yet, House Republicans have now given one of their clearest views yet into how they will govern next year under possible unified control of Congress and the White House. It’s a terrifying vision, one driven by hate, conspiracy, and bigotry. It’s one that sacrifices genuine efforts to protect people in the United States and around the world in favor of partisan efforts to wage culture wars, limit freedom, and threaten lives.

It’s a dark, deeply disturbing vision of a future we may find ourselves in very soon, and we can’t say we weren’t warned.

Inside Armenia’s geopolitical shift to the West

Omar Hamed Beato is a visual journalist based in the Middle East covering conflict, climate change, migration, and social issues. You can find him on Instagram and follow his work here.

Protesters march across Yerevan the night before the commemoration of the Armenian genocide on the 23rd of April. Manifestations like this are often used by political parties to foster nationalism. Omar Hamed Beato for Center for International Policy.

Protesters march across Yerevan the night before the commemoration of the Armenian genocide on the 23rd of April. Manifestations like this are often used by political parties to foster nationalism. Omar Hamed Beato for Center for International Policy.

As the sun sets over Yerevan –Armenia’s capital– on the verge of the 109th anniversary of the Armenian Genocide, thousands of people flock to Republic Square to remember past and current struggles with neighboring Turkey and Azerbaijan. This genocide, often referred to as the first of the 20th century, claimed the lives of as many as 1.2 million Orthodox Armenians in the Anatolian peninsula during World War I. Over one hundred years later, the wounds of war and mass displacement remain wide open in the minds of the Armenian people. Continuous wars with neighboring Azerbaijan over the majority Armenian-populated territory of Nagorno-Karabakh in the 1990s and recent years have only exacerbated militaristic and nationalist sentiments within Armenian society. The territory,  known by locals as Artsakh, is a self-proclaimed republic within the borders of internationally recognized Azerbaijan. A mix of anger, sadness, and worry can be felt in the ambient – it’s been only seven months since the latest chapter in the war came to a close. Nagorno-Karabakh was completely taken over by Azeri forces prompting almost its entire population of 120,000 to flee to Armenia.

“In the second decade of the 21st century, the Armenian nation has been subjected to genocide once again,” said a speaker at a political rally in Yerevan the day before the commemoration of the genocide on April 24th –a cry that attracted the attention of attendees. “Genocide is the policy of the Turkish state [referring to Turkey and Azerbaijan], the enemy wants to destroy us. One part of Armenia [from Karabakh] was displaced from its homeland of thousands of years.”

Every year, Turkish and Azerbaijani flags are publicly burned in Republic Square, Yerevan. This is the portrayal of a society that is deeply hurt and humiliated after decades of conflict. Omar Hamed Beato for Center for International Policy.

Every year, Turkish and Azerbaijani flags are publicly burned in Republic Square, Yerevan. This is the portrayal of a society that is deeply hurt and humiliated after decades of conflict. Omar Hamed Beato for Center for International Policy.

Yet, despite all the nationalistic sentiment, not everyone at the manifestation agrees on a way forward for Armenia.  Mariam, a young Armenian woman who took part in the event, whose real name is being withheld due to the sensitive nature of the topic in the country, sees it as simple rhetoric rather than a realistic possibility. “I think this gathering is quite populist,” she says while crowds prepare to march across the city. “Don’t get me wrong, I would like Armenia to retake Nagorno-Karabakh to allow everyone to go back home but I don’t think it is possible, Azerbaijan has more power,” Mariam says before the interview gets abruptly interrupted by other people overhearing it from the crowd.

Many in Armenia have lost loved ones to the different wars between these two neighbors since the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, a collapse that reignited the dispute over the territory that remained relatively calm when Armenia and Azerbaijan were coexisting within the Soviet umbrella. For a while, Russia, as Armenia’s historical security guarantor and main economic partner, prevented Azerbaijan from escalating the conflict into a full-out war.

During the 2020 war –when Azerbaijan conquered adjacent territories of Nagorno-Karabakh that Armenia took in the 1990s– Russia played an important role in brokering a peace deal between both states. However, things changed in February 2022, when Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Unable to divert resources from the war effort, Russia was in no position to defend Karabakh from any incoming Azeri invasion. This was put to a test when Azerbaijan began the 10-month-long blockade of Artsakh in December 2022, rationing medicine, food, and fuel, practically isolating this territory from the rest of the world.

Russia’s inaction to the blockade triggered the belief in Baku that there would be no Russian intervention if it decided to go ahead with a complete takeover. Almost a year later, in September 2023, Azeri troops began to hit Karabakh with artillery and drone strikes making Armenians lay down arms within the first 24 hours of the incursion. The mass exodus of the population to Armenia began in September 2023, and on January 1st 2024 Azerbaijan forced the dissolution of the self-proclaimed republic.
 

Coping with a humanitarian crisis on its own

Despite a strong post-pandemic economic recovery, Armenia is still, by many means, a developing economy. According to a 2022 World Food Program report, about one-fourth of Armenians suffers from food insecurity and one in three lives below the poverty line of USD 115 per month.

Hence, since the fall of Karabakh, refugees have been struggling to start anew. The government has promised benefits to the newcomers: a one-off payment of $250 to every adult and a monthly allowance of $125, or about 65 per cent of the minimum wage in Armenia, to cover rent and other basic needs. Yet many refugees complain the much-anticipated money is stuck in bureaucratic backlog. Due to the global focus on the crises in Palestine and Ukraine, only 47 per cent of the $97 million pledged by the United Nations for the emergency phase of the crisis has been raised.

This has affected refugees like Andranik, 47, and his family. Like most displaced from Nagorno-Karabakh, they are living in a small village on the outskirts of Yerevan. He is living with his wife, mother, and three other children –all of whom complain about the lack of aid coming from the government since they arrived in Armenia.

Andranik in front of his house in Yerevan. During the 2020 war –which also claimed the lives of his nephew and younger brother– he was hit by Azeri bullets three times, which has hampered his mobility and consequently, hurt his prospects of finding employment. Omar Hamed Beato for Center for International Policy.

Andranik in front of his house in Yerevan. During the 2020 war –which also claimed the lives of his nephew and younger brother– he was hit by Azeri bullets three times, which has hampered his mobility and consequently, hurt his prospects of finding employment. Omar Hamed Beato for Center for International Policy.

He claims to only be receiving a $50 stipend for his disability –for some reason, he stopped receiving the $125 monthly allowance in February –which is insufficient for a large family like his to survive in Yerevan. “Our economic situation is very bad,” he explains. “We are not expecting any support from the government… [our only hope] is going back to Artsakh one day.”

Due to their economic situation, his family can barely afford any food or essential medicine for his aging mother. They rely on food donations to support their subsistence. “My friends support our family; time to time bring some wood, some food etc. My old friends from Armenia who served in [the military] in Artsakh supported us many times,” Andranik laments while speaking in front of his family. “I am cultivating the land of this rental house to support ourselves [with] some food. We grow some greens, onions, and potatoes. We [are also] keeping some chickens and turkeys as well.”

Andrianik’s mother, Nina, 86, shedding tears when talking about her home in Artsakh. Due to the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, she has been forcibly displaced four times in her life, having to start from zero on every occasion. Humanitarian workers comment refugees haven’t received proper psychological support since they were displaced to Armenia. Omar Hamed Beato for Center for International Policy.

Andranik’s mother, Nina, 86, shedding tears when talking about her home in Artsakh. Due to the Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict, she has been forcibly displaced four times in her life, having to start from zero on every occasion. Humanitarian workers comment refugees haven’t received proper psychological support since they were displaced to Armenia. Omar Hamed Beato for Center for International Policy.

Difficult living conditions and lack of job opportunities across rural areas in Armenia have prompted about three out of four refugees to settle in Yerevan and adjacent provinces.

“The situation for Nagorno-Karabakh Armenians is really bad” says Benyamin Poghosyan, a senior research fellow at the Applied Policy Research Institute of Armenia –an independent Armenian think tank. “They lack housing and many of them have no jobs. What the government is paying is barely enough to rent an apartment, especially in Yerevan.”

Beyond the Armenians displaced from Artsakh, the country has seen a significant influx of Russians opposing the regime since the war in Ukraine broke out. These recent arrivals en masse mean that the Armenian labor market is struggling to absorb all these new workers –especially as the country has historically been characterized by high unemployment amongst the most vulnerable.  A December 2023 report by the International Monetary Fund estimates these influxes to account for a 3.5 per cent increase in the labor force relative to 2021. Figures show a grim outlook for Karabakh Armenians –it will take until at least 2028 for them to be fully integrated into the job market.

Adella, 65, and her son Radik, 41, are examples of this. Once considered well-off in Karabakh, now they find themselves living in a warehouse in the town of Masis, some 30 minutes away by car from Yerevan. Since they moved here, they have struggled to find jobs – they are only able to generate some extra income when they sporadically sell on the streets some shipments of perfume sent by their relatives living in the UK and Russia.

“I would like to find a job, any kind of job. I will do heavy jobs if necessary,” explains Radik. “[Unfortunately], there are no jobs here.”

Lack of jobs and aid means mother and son live in an unhygienic house with no running water or electricity. “There’s no furniture inside the house –they just gave me a blanket. It’s just cold at night. [We have a] heater but it is not powerful enough,” says Adella as she gazes at Mount Ararat in the background. Due to inadequate infrastructure at home, Adella and Radik have to visit their relative’s house two to three times a week to shower.

Life on pause. Adella video calling one of her relatives living in Russia inside the warehouse where she lives. Due to her age, she is struggling to find work as employers prefer younger workers. Omar Hamed Beato for Center for International Policy.

Life on pause. Adella video calling one of her relatives living in Russia inside the warehouse where she lives. Due to her age, she is struggling to find work as employers prefer younger workers. Omar Hamed Beato for Center for International Policy.

To address the housing issue, the government initiated a program aimed at assisting Karabakh refugees in securing permanent housing. However, this initiative has encountered opposition within the refugee community. The government offers up to $13,000 for families to construct or purchase homes in sparsely populated areas, where employment opportunities are scarce, and $5,000 in areas near Yerevan. Benyamin argues that “this scheme only allows Nagorno-Karabakh refugees to buy old Soviet-era houses on the borders of Armenia,” where they do not want to live.

Anna, 45, together with another family from Artsakh, currently rents a house for $390 a month in the surrounding areas of Yerevan. She works at a tobacco factory six days a week, while her husband, Artur, 59, works in the land. They express concern that the government is failing to acknowledge the refugees’ apprehensions about living near Azerbaijan. “We are not prepared to endure another displacement disaster,” Anna laments, humorously remarking that the pledged funds would only enable them to afford “half a house.”

Portrait of Ararat, Anna’s relative who died during the 2020 war against Azerbaijan. Most families from Artsakh and Armenia have relatives who have died fighting in the last few years. Omar Hamed Beato for Center for International Policy.

Portrait of Ararat, Anna’s relative who died during the 2020 war against Azerbaijan. Most families from Artsakh and Armenia have relatives who have died fighting in the last few years. Omar Hamed Beato for Center for International Policy.

Greta, Anna’s 80-year-old mother-in-law, adamantly rejects the idea of purchasing a house in Armenia. Her thoughts are fixated on returning to her home in Artsakh –where she lived her entire life until September 2023. “I would love to return if the Azeris were not present. I long to visit the graves of my son and husband, and to see my house and everything again”, Greta emotionally expresses, wiping away tears. “During the day, I am in Armenia, but at night, my heart is in Artsakh.”

Greta next to the window in her rental house. Due to the inability to afford rent individually, many families have joined together, residing in crowded accommodations. Omar Hamed Beato for Center for International Policy.

Greta next to the window in her rental house. Due to the inability to afford rent individually, many families have joined together, residing in crowded accommodations. Omar Hamed Beato for Center for International Policy.
 

Is the West the answer to Armenia’s woes?

Unable to handle the humanitarian crisis on its own and with its security constantly under threat of further Azerbaijani attacks, Armenia has –in recent months– begun diversifying its alliances’ portfolio by mainly decoupling from Russia and looking to Western partners for economic aid and security assistance.

Since the fall of Nagorno-Karabakh, repeated meetings have been taking place –in Yerevan and Western capitals alike– between Armenian officials and their Western counterparts looking to establish new economic partnerships. This culminated in a meeting between Ursula Von Der Leyen, Josep Borrell, Anthony Blinken, and Armenia’s Prime Minister, Nikol Pashinyan, in Brussels on April 5th leading to a $293 million aid package from the EU over the next four years and another further  $65 million coming from the US.

“This shows that the European Union and Armenia are increasingly aligned in values and interests,” commented Von der Leyen during the press conference that followed the meeting. “The humanitarian situation of refugees in Armenia remains a priority…we’re ready to do more to support the long-term integration of refugees.”

In a recent meeting between US and Armenian officials in Yerevan on June 11th, the US reiterated its commitment to support ongoing efforts to accommodate refugees. “The United States acknowledges the ongoing economic and social challenges Armenia faces in supporting displaced persons and refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh and intends to continue to assist the Government of Armenia’s efforts in this regard,” reads  the press release. “The United States praised Armenia’s efforts to shelter displaced persons and refugees, and Armenia offered appreciation for the more than $21 million in humanitarian assistance the United States has provided to support displaced persons and refugees from Nagorno-Karabakh since September 2020.”

To avoid repeating history and the events of the last years and decades, Armenia is not only seeking new economic partnerships and aid, it’s also modernizing its defense capabilities. For instance, since 2020, Armenia has purchased artillery, radar, and missile systems from India and last November, France began supplying precision rifles, radars, and armored vehicles to the Armenian armed forces. “For Armenia, enhancing military capabilities is the least it can do because they can’t trust Russia anymore,” says Marylia Hushcha, a southern Caucasus and eastern Europe researcher at International Institute for Peace, a Vienna-based NGO promoting peaceful conflict resolution across the world.

Praying for a better tomorrow. Armenian youth has embraced Western values more than any other generation in the country. Despite the desire to pivot West, many feel uncertain about how, and if, this will be achieved. Omar Hamed Beato for Center for International Policy.

Praying for a better tomorrow. Armenian youth has embraced Western values more than any other generation in the country. Despite the desire to pivot West, many feel uncertain about how, and if, this will be achieved. Omar Hamed Beato for Center for International Policy.

“There is this fear in Armenia that Azerbaijan may attack again in the future, especially in the south,” she continues, referring to the dispute over the Zangezur corridor, a narrow strip of land connecting Azerbaijan proper to its western region of Nakhchivan and Turkey alongside the Armenian-Iranian border.

“The decision of the Soviet government to separate West Zangezur, our historical land, from Azerbaijan and hand it over to Armenia led to the geographical separation of the Turkic world,” posted Ilham Aliyev, Azerbaijan’s president, on X (formerly known as Twitter). “We will implement the Zangezur corridor, whether Armenia wants it or not,” he threatened back in 2021.

The geographical location of Armenia has made finding security all the more difficult. To the East and West, it is surrounded by adversaries Azerbaijan and Turkey. To the south, it borders Iran –which despite its historically strong ties with Armenia is increasingly cooperating with Azerbaijan on a variety of infrastructure projects like the recently inaugurated Qiz Qalasi dam. “Armenia has no allies in the region whereas Azerbaijan feels secure because it has its own military power but also it has the support of Turkey,” adds Marylia via video call. “Armenia has had a military alliance with Russia which isn’t working and Azerbaijan has an alliance with Turkey that is working”. An example of this close cooperation between Azerbaijan and Turkey, Turkish-made drones supplied to the Azeri armed forces played a major role in the 2020 war and the subsequent takeover of territories surrounding Artsakh, as did the provision of arms by Israel.

“You need two armies with similar power not to start a war. By acquiring more weapons from the West, Armenia is, to some extent, trying to counter Azerbaijan’s military advantage on the battlefield and enhance its security,” Marylia tells the Center for International Policy.
 

Armenia’s Russia problem

While Armenia has been taking concrete steps to decouple from Russia, the high degree of interconnectedness between them means there is still a long way ahead before the vision of the Armenian government becomes reality.

While former Soviet republics such as Moldova, Ukraine, and Georgia –all of which are now candidates to join the EU– took concrete steps in the 2010s to get closer to the West, Armenia’s government at the time decided to strengthen its cooperation with Russia. In 2013, Armenia announced it would join the Eurasian Customs Union, a free trade zone comprised of Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Belarus, and Armenia. To this day, Armenia is officially still part of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a security alliance akin to NATO formed of ex-Soviet states –although the government claims their membership is now on pause.

Graffiti showing resentment towards Russia. it reads "no water can wash the blood off putin's hands"

Graffiti showing resentment towards Russia. Many in Armenia blame Russia for leaving them vulnerable against Azerbaijan. Negative feelings against Russia will likely last for decades if not generations. Omar Hamed Beato for Center for International Policy.

Historically, Russia has been the biggest arms exporter in the region –to both Armenia and Azerbaijan. Given Armenia’s lack of indigenous military Industry, in the 2010s, 94 per cent of all the weapon imports came from Russia. This has served Moscow’s purpose of enhancing profits for its military industry and destabilizing the region. Achieving a quick modernization of its armed forces with Western equipment seems unlikely after decades of investments in Russian-manufactured gear. “The EU is not a military power and the US is unlikely to fill the gap to substitute Russia as a major weapons exporter to Armenia, especially as both are focused on Ukraine and Gaza,” Marylia comments.

Furthermore, Armenia’s former imperial power maintains control over all energy infrastructure in the country, along with key transportation systems like railways, where it continues to maintain approximately 3,000 soldiers until at least 2044. “Russia’s presence in Armenia is very strong”, explains Marylia. “Armenia is trying to reach out and connect with the West but practically it is very difficult –quite impossible I would say. It is unlikely Russia would not intervene if Armenia goes against Russian interests.”

According to Benyamin, the feasibility of this shift depends on the outcome of the war in Ukraine. “If Russia doesn’t lose the war, it will have more resources to look into other neighborhoods like the South Caucasus. Russia will say ‘ok guys, games are over and you were dreaming or making some steps against Russia. I am back and you will do whatever I want’. [This will happen] regardless of who is Prime Minister in Armenia.”
 

The road towards peace

The Armenian government has been signaling that it is ready to make concessions to Azerbaijan in order to reach a permanent settlement to the conflict. There have been no indications from PM Nikol Pashinyan and his environment suggesting any military action against Azerbaijan.

On the contrary, in January, the Armenian government launched the so-called ‘Crossroads for Peace’ initiative with the intention of enhancing “diplomatic initiatives, dialogue, and cultural exchange” in the South Caucasus. In an article by Armenia’s President Vahagn Khachaturyan published in the World Economic Forum, he wrote “Armenia is committed to turning the aftermath of the crisis into an opportunity for building lasting peace and promoting regional cooperation.”

“There is a belief in the Armenian government that Armenia cannot develop without normal relations with Azerbaijan and Turkey. [They think] Armenia should pay whatever price to get this normalization,” adds Benyamin. Hence, in April, the Armenian government gave up four villages to Azerbaijan in the Tavush region, located in Armenian’s north, villages it had conquered from Azerbaijan during war in the 1990s.

Yerablur military cemetery in Yerevan. Many families visit graveyards of soldiers on a weekly basis –mandatory military service in Armenia means many of these fallen soldiers were 20 years old or younger –a painful reality still highly present for many. Omar Hamed Beato for Center for International Policy.

Yerablur military cemetery in Yerevan. Many families visit graveyards of soldiers on a weekly basis –mandatory military service in Armenia means many of these fallen soldiers were 20 years old or younger –a painful reality still highly present for many. Omar Hamed Beato for Center for International Policy.

Yet despite the government’s good intentions, it is unlikely it will sail through smooth waters. The transfer of these border villages has sparked widespread protests around the country demanding the government revert this decision. The fall of Karabakh has created a sense of humiliation in Armenian society. It is unlikely that a peace deal –signed on Azerbaijan’s terms– will provide the much anticipated lasting peace to the region.

“At the end of the day, one day there will be a new government which may want to take some of the losses back. This [one-sided deal] will be the recipe for the next Armenia-Azerbaijan war,” says Benyamin.

Center for International Policy contacted the Ministries of Foreign Affairs of Azerbaijan and Armenia requesting comments on their respective views on the peace process. However, no responses have been received by the time of publication.

Armenia is in a weaker position than Azerbaijan militarily and politically speaking. Arguably, it needs the peace treaty more than Azerbaijan. Marylia believes the Armenian government is caught between a rock and a hard place as its approach to peace faces “resistance from the public and Azerbaijan is not the easiest negotiating partner.”

The shift to the West may try to provide the Armenian people with some economic relief and a renewed sense of security. However, it will take many decades until peace can be achieved, not only between governments but between societies, allowing cultural communication, trade, shared infrastructure, etc. “The EU [and the US] don’t have enough leverage over Azerbaijan to make it more accommodating with Armenia,” she adds. The West’s ambition is “to act as a mediator but their attempts have not worked.”

Can Climate Refugees Find A Home In The Metaverse?

Anmol Irfan is a Muslim-Pakistani freelance journalist and editor. Her work aims at exploring marginalized narratives in the Global South with a key focus on gender, climate and tech. She tweets @anmolirfan22

With a total land mass of fewer than 26 square kilometers across its three coral islands and six atolls, the Pacific Island nation of Tuvalu is expected to be the first nation in the world lost completely to climate change. Facing this very near threat, authorities are working with international organizations to mitigate the impacts of climate change, as well as resettling people in other countries like New Zealand. But there’s a third approach being taken as well – creating a digital Tuvalu. At the Cop27 climate conference in November 2022, then-Minister for Justice, Communication & Foreign Affairs Simon Kofe gave a speech where he said that the threat to Tuvalu left them with no choice but to become the world’s first digital nation.

“Our land, our ocean, our culture are the most precious assets of our people and to keep them safe from harm, no matter what happens in the physical world, we will move them to the cloud,” Kofe said in a video. At the time, Kofe hinged the expectations for a digital Tuvalu on the metaverse. Now, almost two years on from his announcement, experts still remain confused as to what that digital nation can really look like, and more importantly if tech like the metaverse is really the future for the climate action movement.

For Tuvalu, becoming a digital nation encompasses multiple aspects, including a digital replica of the country’s landscapes, digital citizenship, and archives of cultural heritage so that the Tuvalese diaspora can stay connected to their identity, and visit a digital replica of the country they were forced to leave behind. They also want citizens to be able to participate in polls and events. Whether all that can be possible is a question of the sustainability impact of such undertakings, the policies surrounding these decisions and the investment of those in power.

“Technology is for the most part perceived to be neutral, though that is not always in fact the case and of course almost any innovation can be used in both positive and negative ways” says Professor Karen Morrow, professor of Environmental Law at Swansea University. She adds, “It’s taken us a long time in human history to reach a point where there’s enough of us and our technology is invasive enough to change the planet. Some things no amount of technology can help reverse, like dealing with polar ice melting, but what technology can do is help us understand the issues better,” especially when talking about how what we really need is pursuing the law and policy around these issues in a way that leads to action.

The metaverse itself might be abandoned before the people of Tuvalu leave their islands and atolls, but the question of a “digital nation” remains. With such little regulation over, or even research around its energy-impact, backing such a large scale project as a digital migration to a virtual space might just do more harm than good. But that doesn’t mean abandoning any such action. Rather, policy makers should focus on the best course of action for the Tuvalu and the Tuvalese diaspora that prioritizes their needs.
 

Virtual safety

For Tuvalu’s case, this digitization offers a means to preservation of artifacts and culture – but on a policy level, there’s still little knowledge of how these digital boundaries can be managed. Manann Donoghoe, senior research associate at Brookings Metro, whose work focuses on climate reparations says that a digital nation cannot be the only solution. “I think for a lot of the people of Pacific Island nations, perhaps it makes more sense to be pursuing a strategy where those people can gain sovereignty somewhere else. Australia, for example, is in talks about settlement agreements which are not perfect but you need to start thinking about where you put these communities,” he says. He’s also wary of the way tech advancements have divided the globe in the past. “Unfortunately, a lot of tech advancements in the past have led to increasing division in Global North and Global South countries. If you don’t have strong policy structures about who has access, who’s using them and how, that could happen again,” Donoghoe adds.

Tuvalu may succeed in creating a digital replica of the landscape in the metaverse, but historically, technological advancements haven’t favored Global South nations, and it’s likely that the people’s experience in that digital replica may be coloured with the impact of that history.

Besides offering a digital home for climate, the metaverse could join other technologies used to fight climate change, if it can shift user behaviors away from emissions-generating activity.  Last year, a Cornell study stated that by replacing the air pollutants, the use of a virtual world through the metaverse could potentially lower greenhouse gas emissions by 10 gigatons, and help lower the global surface temperature by 0.02 degrees. To get there, the metaverse needs to join other technologies that facilitate digital learning, remote working and other digital aspects of everyday life. But what about the policy needed to put this future into action?

“There are huge opportunities for advances in technology to enable policy and action. Using machine learning to analyze satellite imagery or field sensors can help to close data gaps. One recent example is [the World Resources Institute]’s work with Meta where we developed a new algorithm for measuring tree height at global scale. As this work matures, we’ll be able to measure an individual tree’s height anywhere in the world, which is critical for carbon measurement, restoration monitoring, and so much more,” says Evan Tachovsky, the Global Director of WRI’s Data Lab.

But even for something as big as WRI, Meta and technologies work has been largely focused on data and inanimate objects, not people. And unlike other data collected, people cannot and should not be so neatly categorized. Nor can their actions be controlled or limited, and with unchecked environmental impact, the Metaverse at this scale may be a climate disaster waiting to happen.
 

Material Limits

Assistant Professor Robert Verdecchia at the University of Florence worries that policies around technology regulation aren’t sustainable enough for tech to really have a net positive impact. The impact that many optimists are looking for can only be positive when the technology being used isn’t having a negative impact on climate in the first place. “The lack of standards of what sustainable means from an IT perspective then leads in turn to a complete lack of policy, IT is consuming more and more energy and the lack of standardization especially in measurement of sustainability leads to complete lack of policy.”

Which is why Verdecchia and other experts are concerned that not enough policy is being geared towards managing the sustainability and equitable division of AI development. Verdecchia further adds that AI’s energy consumption is currently very high, and that’s not being talked about enough in conversations around taking action.

A 2023 study found that ChatGPT consumes 500 ml of water for every 20-50 simple questions and answers. Another, specifically looking at reducing the carbon footprint of the metaverse, pointed out that training an AI model consumed 284 tons of carbon dioxide, which is more than 5 times the amount of greenhouse gas a car emits in its lifetime. While the research around the metaverse’s energy consumption is much less precise, one comparison can be seen through the energy consumption of transactions. While a credit card transaction in the real world consumes about 149 kilowatt hours (kWh) of energy, a similar transaction digitally in the metaverse consumes 2189 kWh, which is 14 times that amount.

Precedent also shows that much of the power for development and mitigation both in terms of resources and finances lies in the hands of the Global North, which raises further questions about equity within policy. Currently a major chunk of technology development, whether it be in projects like the metaverse, generative AI or other similar innovations, lies in the hands of private companies, like Google and Microsoft.

Public-private partnerships to involve these developments in climate action might seem like a good way forward when it comes to scaling them up, but Morrow questions whether these would really be true partnerships at all. “Partnership is a word that’s everywhere, you’ll see it used in climate contexts globally. But the word partnership can only be used if you have the same goal. Furthermore, Big Tech is more powerful than many governments, and that’s not a partnership when power isn’t equal,” she says.

So even when countries like the United States, who have more resources, think of funding projects like Tuvalu in the metaverse, they need to reckon with the power private institutions – who don’t always have citizen’s interests in mind – will have in these decisions. That coupled with the still vague environmental impact of such projects creates perhaps too many question marks for this to be seen as a major solution.

There’s other issues like international collaboration, and putting vulnerable communities first to consider as well. Michelle Solomon, senior policy analyst at Energy Innovation, says, “This is something we think about with the transition of communities, particularly like coal plant communities in the US where the situation may be similar to what Tuvalu is facing  in terms of identity loss. Putting communities first and what the communities priorities are is crucial. Ultimately solutions built from the ground up will be most positive and long lasting for the community.”

It’s why Tuvalu’s example needs to become the starting point for governments to start thinking about how technology can actually be used to benefit vulnerable communities. Verdecchia suggests that might be easier in Global South nations away from the strongholds of the major Big Tech companies. While tech may be the answer to some environmental problems, such mass usage of tech that consumes energy on such a large scale cannot be the answer to an already existing climate problem.

Instead of the last word, Tuvalu’s efforts to preserve the nation in the metaverse can be the start of a conversation. Beyond digital preservation, the effort can spur efforts towards resettlement, physical archives and attempts to preserve cultures in other ways that align with the values of the communities that are most vulnerable.