In the U.K. and France, There Was a Gaza Vote. And in the U.S.?

Today, Matt Duss of CIP and Daniel Levy of the U.S. / Middle East Project have an article in The New Republic arguing that a Gaza voting block helped the left in France and cost Labour votes in the U.K., and will likely play a pivotal role in the 2024 Presidential election in the United States.

Describing the UK experience, they write:

Among Muslim voters and a slew of progressive and younger voters, positions on Gaza had translated into electoral choices. That had never happened before in U.K. politics. While some of it may have been a luxury vote, assuming an inevitable Labour win, Britain’s governing party is well aware of the consequences for maintaining its rule if this trend cannot be reversed. In sum, the evidence suggests that the narrative that Labour’s aggressively distancing itself from Corbyn-era criticism of Israel by aligning with the Sunak government on Gaza was an essential element of its success was not only wrong but precisely wrong, with that shift acting as a drag on the party in the current circumstances.

Read the full piece here.

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.

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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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.”

CIP Analysis of New Congressional Ukraine and Israel Aid Proposals

We are hopeful that Congress will finally provide long overdue aid to help the people of Ukraine repel Russia’s illegal invasion. With Ukraine’s financial and critical military resources nearly exhausted, this US assistance is vital to preventing Vladimir Putin from achieving his goal of destroying Ukrainian independence and democracy.

In contrast to Ukraine’s demonstrated need for funds to counter conquest and occupation by an expansionist nuclear power, the effort to provide billions of dollars in new American taxpayer funding for weapons to Israel to use in its devastating campaign in Gaza is not militarily, financially or strategically justified.

While Israel has the right and responsibility to defend its people and take military action in response to Hamas’ horrific October 7, 2023 attack, Israel’s campaign in Gaza is failing to achieve its own stated objectives of rescuing the Israelis taken hostage or “eliminating” Hamas from the territory. Instead, Israel’s disproportionate bombardment and siege of the territory with US weapons has resulted in more than 30,000 deaths – two-thirds of which Israel itself estimates are civilians – nearly half of them children.

Despite calls by American lawmakers for meaningful conditions on US military assistance to prevent Israel’s continued use of US arms in a manner that President Biden himself has twice called “indiscriminate,” the stand-alone Israel aid bill being considered by the House of Representatives not only fails to include any such safeguards, but would reduce already insufficient opportunities for Congressional oversight of weapons sales to Israel under federal law. The White House’s issuance of National Security Memorandum 20 (NSM-20) requiring foreign military aid recipients like Israel to adhere to relevant international humanitarian and US law was a step in the right direction, but not a sufficient replacement for durable, statutorily binding safeguards – especially in light of the Biden administration’s resistance to enforcing either existing law or, thus far, NSM-20 with regard to Israel.

With a per capita GDP greater than that of the UK, Canada and Japan – and more than twelve times that of Ukraine — Israel has not made the case to Congress or American taxpayers that it will be unable to carry out essential, legitimate defense activities without the level of financial assistance specified in the bill. Such extraordinary additional subsidization is especially inappropriate in light of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government continuing to spend Israel’s own funds in connection with accelerating efforts to seize and permanently control territory in the occupied West Bank, including the largest expropriation of Palestinian land in the 30 years since the Oslo Accords. Helping Israel finance missile and air defense systems if it was unable to pay for them itself would be entirely reasonable. But providing ever-increasing amounts to fund the deadly munitions and other weapons Israel is deploying in Gaza is not. While Israel openly rejects US requests to use such arms appropriately, desist from violations of Palestinian rights in the West Bank, and refrain from further escalations with Iran, increasing US financing rewards rather than disincentivizes such Israeli actions that run counter to American interests.

Additionally, as Gaza’s civilian population faces a crisis of starvation and disease, the Israel aid bill unconscionably reinforces the recently legislated prohibition on US contributions to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) – the main provider of lifesaving aid and services in the territory — even as it provides a welcome increase in global humanitarian aid. UNRWA has already fired the 12 low-level staff alleged to have participated in the October 7 attacks and has committed to helping hold them fully accountable if the ongoing investigation confirms the allegations. Lawmakers should work urgently to reverse the funding cutoff as nearly all US partner countries have, rather than continuing to collectively punish millions of Palestinians who rely on UNRWA services, including the hundreds of thousands on the brink of famine in Gaza.

Far from addressing the growing threat to American and regional security that the war and humanitarian crisis in Gaza represent, the stand-alone Israel aid bill would cruelly exacerbate it at the very moment further Israeli escalation with Iran risks drawing the United States even deeper into another costly and avoidable quagmire in the Middle East. At this dangerous moment, lawmakers could best keep Israelis, Palestinians and others in the region — including US personnel — safe by pushing for a Gaza ceasefire that allows for massive humanitarian relief and the release of all hostages, while emphasizing the need for de-escalation in tensions with Iran.

To defeat oligarchy, Ukraine needs strong labor protections. The US can help.

Vladyslav Starodubtsev is a Ukrainian social-democratic, human rights, and social activist and historian of Central and Eastern Europe and Ukrainian left-wing movements.

Every Ukrainian government since independence in 1991 has shared the goal of implementing austerity. In pursuit of an economy organized by neo-Thatcherite principles, each successive government has sought to limit the social and labor rights of Ukrainians. From the Russian invasion in 2014, this has meant prioritizing the oligarchy’s sectoral interests and anti-social business practices over promoting social cohesion and national unity.

Ukrainian labor was already under attack before the 2022 invasion. A 2020 report by the US State Department on the state of human rights, including labor rights in Ukraine, mentioned acts of violence against trade unionists as well as pressure against workers who were acting against corruption in their workplace. In addition, State reported discrimination in the workplace; lack of worker safety and undermining the safety regulations; dangerous work conditions; and delays in payment of wages (essentially a “theft” of wages).

Still, only since Russia’s February 2022 full-scale invasion of Ukraine has the full extent of the consequences of such policies become clear. One can see overworked nurses toiling in hospitals that lack capacities and equipment, facing a huge number of wounded while understaffed and underpaid, for often no more than 130-150 dollars a month – well below the $175 monthly minimum wage (and earning at most a maximum of 300 dollars/month). Construction workers labor without proper safety standards, working under constant threat of rocket and drone strikes. At the same time, the government has implemented tax cuts for businesses, and further benefited employers at the expense of workers by easing the process of firing an employee. All of this came at the moment when stability for most people became non-existent.

Ukraine’s labor standards were already worsening before February 2022, but instead of easing the burdens on workers and capital equally in the face of the war, labor standards have instead been actively degraded by new laws.

Capital Gains

In March 2022 the least balanced labor law in Ukraine since independence, Law 2136, came into effect. It allowed employers to fire workers without the consent of trade unions and during sick leave. It became possible to increase the work week to 60 hours, and the inviolability of the right to pay was abolished. Employers were able to dismiss employees due to disagreements regarding the continuation of work under new working conditions without waiting for 2 months.The biggest imbalance was caused by the procedure for suspending employment contracts, which employers abused, putting employees on the edge of survival with impunity

Law 2136 also canceled holidays during wartime. This could be justified under some circumstances, but in effect, labor bore the brunt of the hardships, while employers were largely unaffected. Before the full-scale invasion, if work could not continue due to objective factors, workers were able to receive compensation while finding a new job, allowing them to find a better job without compromising their dignity by immediately accepting worse employment.

Under the new law, employers could stop employment contracts without firing an employee and without paying them. This meant that people could no longer register as unemployed while finding work and therefore could not get unemployment benefits. This has not always worked out to the employers’ benefit, though it often does. Since Law 2136’s introduction, in some cases courts sided with employees if an employer did not specify a reason for stopping work.

Law 2136 also introduced the possibility of moving workers onto 1-hour working days, with proportional lowering of wages. If employees disagree, they could be fired without any compensation. Employers were only required to provide 2 days of notice before implementing such decisions, thus depriving them of the possibility to save money or find alternative employment.

With Law 2136, Ukraine enabled employers to avoid paying maternity leave, compensation for pregnant workers, and other benefits.

In July 2022, the Law on Simplifying the Regulation of Labor Relations (Law 2434) was adopted. It introduced parts of the Civil Codex into the labor Codex, providing further opportunities to undermine the labor Codex by allowing looser contracts between employees and employers. The main “innovation” of this law was the introduction of the possibility of firing workers easily.

In August 2022, the Ukrainian government introduced Law 2421, one of the worst-regulated laws on zero-hour contracts in the world. Precarious work, which elsewhere increasingly trends towards greater regulation, is instead becoming even more precarious in Ukraine. Law 2421 establishes zero-hour contracts without any additional security for workers agreeing to such a precarious arrangement. Employers can enter into collective labor agreements with no obligation to provide employees with work, but can offer it as they need. Payment is made only for completed work. After receiving an offer from an employer, an employee must accept it within the terms established by the contract and start work; in case of refusal, they may face disciplinary action. If the duration of work is less than 32 hours per month, the monthly salary is paid for 32 working hours. In effect, the law practically cancels the requirements for a minimum wage.

The new law introduces the possibility of calling an employee at any time and forcing disciplinary action if an employee doesn’t respond. It introduces the possibility of paying less than a minimum wage for work, as well as the possibility of overtime work without compensation. This law undermines the right to private life and poses severe threats to the mental health and well-being of employees.

In its latest statement, the second biggest trade union of Ukraine directly calls the new labor Codex (planned to be accepted in 2024) that the government is now working on, “enslavement.” The statement reads; “Enslavement of employees is foreseen, and employers are given the right to apply overtime hours almost without restrictions (at their discretion).”

Labor Struggles

Even after this attack on labor rights, Ukrainian labor security formally could be seen as at least comparatively average. But in reality, this could not be further from the truth, as the law has power to protect workers only when it is enforced. Undermining workers’ rights illegally is now an incredibly widespread and normalized practice, one aided by the government’s introduction of a moratorium on labor inspections.

The International Labor Organization has concluded, drawing on the examples of Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, that any moratorium on labor inspections “would substantially undermine the inherent functioning of the labor inspection system” and that to adhere to the norms of labor regulations, “the Government [should] take prompt measures to ensure that labor inspectors are empowered to make visits to workplaces liable to inspection without previous notice and to undertake labor inspections as often and as thoroughly as is necessary to ensure the effective application of the legal provisions.” 

In 2023 labor inspections were reintroduced under the pressure of the EU, but with severe limitations that effectively undermine inspections.

These new labor standards were not in any way communicated with the population, and did not receive adequate debate or discussion before adoption. Most people are not well educated on labor law, and the country lacks a strong pool of labor lawyers who can educate and empower workers to find weaknesses in the law and defend their rights.

While it has become somewhat difficult to criticize Ukraine’s government during wartime, the same criticisms have long been made by Ukrainian trade unions, preceding the war: the country is in dire need of a good system of inspections and labor security to enforce standards of labor law.

Furthermore, there has been a constant effort to nationalize trade union property, pursuing the legal argument that trade union property in the USSR was the property of the state and thus, after more than 30 years of independence, it should be inherited by the Ukrainian state, which is viewed as the successor to the Ukrainian SSR, not by trade unions. This argument is used as both an instrument of intimidation to achieve trade union loyalty and as a tool to undermine trade unions’ means for realizing their role in civil society.

In 2022, the government introduced a number of reforms that severely and disproportionately weakened Ukrainian labor rights. Meanwhile, capital has seen its privileges expand, damaging the social contract between workers and businesses by fully siding with business. Tripartism between the state, capital, and labor is practically no more.

None of these reforms helped the economy. They also weakened the human potential, well-being, and physical and mental state of employees, as well as artificially creating highly precarious conditions.

The lack of jobs and extremely low, and usually not-enforceable, minimum wage, which sometimes was ignored outright – even some state enterprises have jobs with less than the $175 monthly minimum wage, with some employees earning only $150 – worsens the situation on the labor market, since fewer qualified workers want to work in Ukraine at a time when the Ukrainian labor market faces serious shortages.

New labor laws have weakened trade unions, thus limiting the voice of civil society and weakening social dialogue between different social groups. This lack of communication also has an economic effect, since cooperation between labor and capital is weak, as is motivation. This lowers productivity and flexibility.

A huge number of workers are working in the shadows. Tax police ignore the problem, and the government tries to normalize this state of affairs. These anti-labor reforms also strengthen the shadow sector, as official employment no longer provides sufficient guarantees. Meanwhile, the government does little to force business out of “the shadow economy.”

Mobilization efforts are hampered by inequality and the refusal of the government to make capital to pay their fair, equal share, together with labor. New labor laws, while rhetorically trying to “move away” from the Soviet legacy, have retained the mindset towards labor inherited from the USSR: a denial of the value and dignity of employees.

Solidarity and the US

How can the US help Ukrainians to limit the harms of oligarchy and regressive reforms, while providing social security for workers ?

In light of such reforms, which are made only for pursuing very narrow sectoral interests instead of the common good, one should understand Ukrainian society and group interests as diverse and complex. We still, unfortunately, retain the strong influence of the old Soviet elite, which became the Ukrainian oligarchy, and we suffer from Thatcherite-like reforms that created a new group of powerful and unchecked influences on politics and the economy. At the same time, Ukraine has a robust civil society, the largest part of which is made up of trade-unions. There are a great number of problems that need to be tackled to ensure basic fairness and justice, which is even more important in the context of full-scale war. Society should feel connected, united, strong, and not undermined and divided by social, political and economic conditions.

Biden’s foreign policy towards Ukraine can be understood in a number of ways. Despite modest beginnings, there have been steady improvements. I expect that this tendency will continue if Biden wins another term. This is the case especially with labor rights, where we hope to see the US taking a greater role in protecting Ukrainian labor.

In 2022, the American Federation of Teachers sent a letter to Secretary Blinken, asking him to look into the Ukrainians government’s actions to undermine the Ukrainian trade union movement and limit worker’s rights. The letter states: “Overall, these new laws, if signed by President Zelensky, will eliminate most collective bargaining rights, reduce worker protections, and allow the state to confiscate property owned by unions and currently used to shelter war refugees.”

The letter was made after a call for solidarity by Ukrainian trade unions against attacks on workers’ rights when they couldn’t be defended, as people were fully concentrated on winning the war.

The AFL-CIO also provided strong backing for Ukrainian trade unions and made sure that Ukrainian trade union voices were heard. It raised awareness in the US government and motivated the adoption of policies to act on Ukrainian society’s demands.

In 2023, Julie Su, the US acting Secretary of Labor, organized a meeting with Ukrainian medical workers to highlight the issues that they are facing, during which Ukrainians discussed the horrible labor conditions in the country.

Some US grants came with conditions that targeted the strengthening of labor, and USAID actively finances trade union events and organizations focused on the promotion of labor rights, such as Labor Initiatives.

The US constantly provides support for the Ukrainian government’s social spending. To make sure that this money would be spent beneficially to the majority of Ukrainians, the US set limitations to the categories on which money could be spent. This is despite the Ukrainian government’s Ministry of Social Policies (which also deals with labor related questions) policy to introduce as many social cuts as possible. This policy was described explicitly: “destroy all social.” The mentioned motivation was to promote the “self-sufficiency” of internally displaced people and others facing extreme pressure so they wouldn’t “get used” to government help. This plan was extensively criticized by Ukrainian social policy researchers.

Active sabotage by some officials and downplaying of the role of the trade unions undermines the majority of Ukrainian society, which in turn produces corruption, unchecked power, lack of stability, and poverty for the majority of Ukrainians. The question of winning the war thus becomes a question of organizing an equal share of responsibility, feeling of community, and common solidarity, which is incompatible with the pursuit of the sectoral economic interests of a powerful few at the cost of the rest of Ukrainian society.

What should be done?

While US policymakers have made efforts to help Ukrainian labor, these efforts are often undermined. For example, medical workers had praised a US grant of $1.25 billion for wages to state-employed workers, but voiced concern with real allocations, especially after Ukraine’s cabinet authorized wage cuts for these same workers. This is just one example where US help has been allocated to help labor, but is subsequently misspent by government schemes or solely allocated for higher management, which already enjoys relatively high wages by Ukrainian standards.

To answer that problem, the US needs to change its priority from securing Ukrainian labor through the help of the government to a multiplicity approach that recognizes the conflicting interests of different parts of Ukrainian society. This might mean helping the national government in one regard while helping the trade unions and local government in others, sometimes, even at the expense of national government interests.

I call that approach poly-archic: recognizing different groups, their positions and roles in society, and the goals that they can achieve. In that sense, the Ukrainian government has a strong pro-oligarchic bias but has a talent for organization of military production and guiding construction efforts. It should be supported in achieving those goals, and trade unions and labor should be supported for the goals of fighting poverty, better social cohesion, tripartism and, importantly, for the effort to battle corruption and oligarchic influence in the political sense: limiting possibilities for unchecked government actions, promotion of group interests; and rigorously controlling government actions towards labor.

Diversifying funds and other means of help towards different agents in Ukrainian society could be a great benefit. Such diversification will strengthen democracy and human rights, promote deliberation, stabilize Ukrainian society, make it more resilient, and indirectly strengthen the Ukrainian war effort. All of this while making the Ukrainian government more transparent and effective.

This is important not only in Ukraine but also in the US. It can create dialogue and cooperation between US trade unions and the US government, combining the skills and knowledge of both to provide strong common support for Ukrainian labor.

With that said, Ukrainian labor will need  substantial international support  to help contain trade union inefficiencies and corruption where those exist. This is a cheap investment, from a financial standpoint, that can boost anti-corruption, democratic, and anti-poverty efforts dramatically.

Conditions for financial aid in terms of labor security could also be stronger. Together with empowering trade unions, it could be enough to help Ukrainians pressure their government when it engages in wrongdoings. Minimum demands would need to include a fair minimum wage, security from firing, promoting social-oriented practices of business, and the introduction of pro-active labor inspection.

Implementing new, even modest, measures towards empowering labor and civil society as a whole will improve democracy and political participation, social cohesion and Ukraine’s economic growth. Ukraine’s victory will be that much closer if Ukrainian labor has a strong voice.

When Will Peace Talks Become an Option in the Russia-Ukraine War?

Eventually, Russia’s war on Ukraine will end. The form of that end will reflect, in large part, the reality on the ground, the political realities and lines that soldiers fought for years to shape and hold. The end of the war will also reflect the willingness of the parties to the conflict, primarily political leadership in Russia and Ukraine, to decide when the slaughter has been enough, to find the terms for peace after violence.

As Dr. Joanna Rozpedowski, senior non resident fellow at CIP, writes for The Geopolitics:

One thing is certain, the world cannot sanction and bomb its way out of serious foreign policy conundrums. One day the guns will fall silent and as with wars of the past, the victors and the vanquished will marvel at a simple gesture of a pen affixing signatures to the peace treaty and wonder, after tallying its dead and wounded, why it took this long. In the nuclear age, this is what advanced societies ought to have the humility and courage to do.

Nuclear weapons form a bounding constraint on the court of the conflict. Russia’s arsenal, the largest in the world, limits in absolute terms the involvement of other nations in the conflict, and carries the menace of a catastrophically high price for any attempt by arms to dissolve the Russian government or state. While not explicitly named, the three nuclear armed members of NATO, including the United States with an arsenal at parity with Russia, constrain the ways in which Russia can conduct war beyond Ukraine, which it has already invaded.

To name these constraints is to acknowledge the reality of the war, and to make open the possibility for considering the way a negotiated settlement might resolve the conflict.

Continues Rozpedowski:

An international peace conference presents itself as a potential avenue for de-escalation. By convening key stakeholders—including Ukraine, Russia, EU, NATO, U.S., and relevant regional actors—such a forum could provide a platform for a much-overdue constructive and frank exchange of grievances and remedies. A rich diplomatic history of peace congresses exists, which not only gave rise to laws, declarations, conventions, and treaties but through dialogue laid out a foundation for a more humane international order and transcendence of the psychology of dominance among once enemy nations. In an era of boisterous punditry and vocal expertise from all sectors of society, when it comes to peace, why do we remain so afraid to talk?

Read more from Rozpedowski about the role of dialog in bringing an end to conflict.

The Global South is fighting for a voice in global tax rules

Wouter van de Klippe is a freelance journalist and Public Policy graduate based in Europe. He’s particularly interested in organised labour, economic, social, and environmental justice, and social welfare states.

Since 1954, a “rich countries club” of the Global North have set the rules of the global tax system through the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Now, countries of the Global South are successfully fighting for more equal say.

On the 22nd of November, 2023, the Africa Group of the United Nations spearheaded an effort to take global tax rule setting away from the OECD and towards the UN. The UN has global representation, more transparent voting mechanisms, and more impactful accountability measures in case countries violate rules.

What died and let the OECD set tax policy?

Just after the second World War, the newly formed United Nations attempted to start setting global taxation rules determined by all member states. This effort collapsed, rather unspectacularly, in the summer of 1954 with the discontinuation of the fiscal committee of the UN.This left the OECD as the only multilateral organization setting global tax rules. The OECD only included a small number of rich states and its approach towards taxation represented these interests.

The OECD sets tax rules by providing frameworks that countries adopt within taxation agreements with other states. For example, the OECD publishes and updates a “model taxation guideline” that countries typically use when drafting their own taxation agreements. These guidelines provide advice on how to prevent companies from being taxed twice for the same profits, set rules on how to tax profits when companies sell to their own subsidiaries abroad, and more.

Under the OECD’s leadership, this tax system is one where tax evasion is rampant, double-taxation agreements benefit the richest of the world, and it took until  2021 to form an agreement on a global minimum corporate tax rate of 15% to prevent multinationals from fleeing taxes and plundering public funds.

Consider the oil giant Shell. In 2022, Shell announced that it made an astounding $39.9 billion in profits. These profits were distributed all over the world across various tax havens, meaning that it paid a 0% effective tax rate in the Bahamas (on $570 million profits), 3% in Singapore (on $937 million profits), and 7% in the Netherlands (on $2.2 billion profits). Miraculously, Shell was able to squeeze these millions of dollars of profit out of the Bahamas despite it having no ‘real’ economic activity in the country whatsoever.

This is on the verge of a major transformation being led by the Global South.

Tax and Amend

After a drawn-out fight where the US, the UK, and the countries of the EU bitterly resisted the convention, countries representing the vast majority of the world’s population voted on November 22nd, 2023, in favor of the new UN-led convention. In the end, 125 countries voted in favor with 48 votes against.

Ahead of the vote, Dr. Chila Milambo, permanent representative of Zambia at the UN, said that the convention “is not merely a political document, but a beacon of hope for developing countries that have long sought a voice in shaping international tax norms.”

According to the Tax Justice Network, the countries that voted against the resolution are responsible for 75% of global tax evasion and only represent around 15% of the global population. All told, an estimated $480 billion in tax revenue is lost each year as a result of evasion – money that could otherwise be spent on public schooling, transportation, health systems, and much needed programs for the just transition.

While the total amount of money lost to tax evasion is significantly smaller in lower-income countries, the total share of public budgets that they lose is much higher. On average, lower-income countries lose about $47 billion each year – representing almost half of their annual budgets for public health.

The scale of tax abuse is so great under the current system that currently, African countries lose more through tax abuses than the total amount of foreign development aid per year.

The OECD itself recognized that it was failing to prevent tax abuse so in 2016 it created a special framework that now includes over 140 countries with the goal to establish new tax rules. This is called the OECD/G20 inclusive framework and was heralded by some as a much needed step towards global inclusivity in taxation.

Critics have argued that it hasn’t meaningfully challenged the skewed nature of global rule setting. The Tax Justice Network argues that the OECD’s lack of transparency, bias towards OECD member states. The fact that its key members are the same countries responsible for tax abuses mean that it is unsuitable to be the body determining how global tax rules are set.

The fight for a seat at the table

For decades, the dominant narrative of tax evasion was that poor administrative infrastructures facilitated corruption within low-income nations, squarely placing the blame on the countries suffering the most from the evasion. Through years of lobbying, campaigning, and organizing, Global South-led coalitions of civil society organizations and political leaders fought for recognition that tax abuses were inherent to the current system, and that meaningful change was needed. The reality was clear – a tax system that was built by the richest countries of the world would never provide justice to the Global South.

In 2015, the G77 group of developing countries tabled an earlier motion to legislate taxes at the UN in a meeting at Addis Ababa. Then, amidst heavy lobbying by countries of the OECD, the resolution tabled at the summit in Addis Ababa was rejected.

At the time, the slogan supporting the change was “if you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu”. If the talks at Addis Ababa represented a failed effort to establish more equitable tax rules, the passing of the resolution at the UN last year, nearly a decade later, shows the resolve and durability of solidarity movements of the Global South.

The proposed UN tax convention represents yet another instance of powerful Global South solidarity, such as what we have seen in the Global South’s rallying support for South Africa’s genocide case against Israel, and the near-unanimous Global South support for the COVID vaccine patent waiver at the peak of the pandemic.

A just and solidaire foreign policy is out there – in this case at least, it’s just not the Global North leading it.

While debate still needs to take place on what exactly the tax convention will consist of, it represents a success in forcing a more inclusive and democratic future for setting the rules of taxation. The Global South has shown that international solidarity can force meaningful changes in a regime built against their interests. With the UN becoming the leading institution for tax reform, the majority of the world’s population will finally have representation at the taxation rule table.

Full view of the UNGA hall

Biden’s different rules for Ukraine and Israel

Biden’s divergent handling of Ukraine’s war against Russia and Israel’s war in Gaza define the bounds of the administration’s foreign policy, a staggering juxtaposition in effect. Biden’s team persuasively rallied international support to the side of an invaded Ukraine, under a vision of universal application of international law and solidarity between those victimized by aggressors. In Israel, Biden stood by the country following the horrific attack by Hamas on October 7, 2023, and continues to largely stand by the country months into Israel’s war of retaliation waged against the people of Gaza.

Matt Duss, executive vice president of the Center for International Policy, outlined this tension in a December piece for The New Republic:

The reality is that Russia is occupying Ukraine to end Ukrainian self-determination, and Israel is doing the same to Palestine. “They’re not a real people and the land is really ours by right” is the position of both the Russian and Israeli governments regarding Ukrainians and Palestinians.

When it came to America’s role in aiding Ukraine beset by an invading power, the Biden administration rallied diplomatic efforts and military aid, ensuring that the smaller country could not be bullied out of existence by its more numerous, nuclear-armed neighbor. The Russian invasion, at a large scale and aim, built on previous aggression, which had seen Ukraine in an intense but smaller-scale conflict since 2014.

While the spark of Israel’s assault on Gaza is retaliation for an attack on civilians, the conflict itself builds from decades of occupation and specific tensions, history well outlined by Duss. That the Biden administration’s response to Israel’s war was diplomatic and material backing, instead of urging its ally to address the enduring and destabilizing harms of occupation, was a profound missed opportunity.

Duss continues:

The United States has put a great deal of effort in appealing to the global south/nonaligned world on a range of issues, including support for Ukraine. That effort was mortally wounded when the whole global south saw the West’s blatant double standard. (“For my friends, everything; for my enemies, the International Criminal Court.”)

Read the rest of the piece at The New Republic.