Winds of war over Nile's waters?

"Without the Nile, there is no Egypt." For centuries, Egypt has done what it wants with that river, allowing it to build ancient empires and modern republics. However, something is changing, and the alert is so great that threats of war with Ethiopia are almost imminent. The latter, in fact, is completing the construction on the Blue Nile of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), the largest African dam for hydroelectric energy (a 4.5 billion dollar project, in which the Italian Salini Impregilo is participating), with inevitable repercussions downstream, along the entire Sudanese and Egyptian stretch. With the construction of another dam,  Koysha on the Omo river ( always with the presence of Salini Impregilo),  and the already completed Gibe III, Ethiopia is preparing to be one of the largest producers of renewable energy of the African continent. In fact, once operative, GERD will increase the energy currently produced by Ethiopia by 270%, allowing it to export electric power to neighboring countries.

Next July, Ethiopia will fill its basin, that has a size around that of London's urban area. Egypt trembles, and that dam has become  responsible for its ‘water anxieties’. In fact, 95% of  the Egyptian population lives  along the Nile. It is  growing  1 million people every 6 months, with an urban concentration in Cairo, in a way that today  it is  difficult to control and manage. For this reason al-Sisi has already announced the construction of a new administrative and ‘smart city’ (with a capacity of 18 million inhabitants) in order to lighten the pressure on the old capital. It will be in a completely deserted area, at the intersection of the main arteries towards the East and South of the country and, of course, along the Nile,  with an important inhabited capacity in the future (it is estimated to have 40 million people in 2050) with inevitable intensive exploitation of the Nile waters.

However, national Egyptian wealth is already concentrated today along that river and in the Suez Canal for maritime traffic. They both represent economic and strategic factors that, if at risk, Cairo will not hesitate to defend militarily. Documents that spoke of the former Egyptian President Morsi's willingness to act with sabotage actions or even aerial bombings to prevent the construction of the Ethiopian dam, clearly  demonstrated Egyptian fears and determination. GERD project was launched in 2011, just as the Arab Springs started. Cairo was then distracted by other priorities to undertake negotiations with Ethiopia in order to contain  future inconveniences of the project. In Morsi’s opinion, therefore, the Egyptian response could and should be immediate and armed. Stopped for other reasons, Morsi’s bellicose intentions against Ethiopia faded.

It was not even the first time that Egypt had threatened to defend its claim to  a full  fruition of the Nile waters. Already in 1978,  in response to the Ethiopian Mengistu Haile Mariam's proposal to build a series of dams along the Nile, President Sadat replied "We will not wait to die of thirst in Egypt. We will go to Ethiopia, and die there. " As if to say, clearly, that the Egyptian dominion over the full flow of the Nile waters was not negotiable at all. It is no coincidence that Ethiopia has always felt itself like a sort of Egypt’s "hydrological colony". Cairo, on the other hand, has always  claimed old treaties - not recognized by Ethiopia -   dating back to the colonial period and 1959, sustaining that any project over those waters requires Egyptian approval. Not even the establishment of the Nile Basin Initiative, at the beginning of the new millennium, and in which 9 other countries  wet by those waters participate, has brought Egypt to a more moderate and conciliatory position over the years.

GERD, on the other hand, is synonymous of great wealth for Ethiopia. It is the possibility of selling electricity to  their neighbors, supporting public finance. It is also a symbol of its rapid rise as one of the most important among the African economic powers. It has an immense political value because its realization also feeds patriotism and fights deep-rooted fears, such as poverty. It also supports the trust of the Ethiopian people for a new and young ruling class in the personage of  the Premier Abiy Ahmed Ali, already Nobel Peace Prize  winner in 2019 for the agreement (albeit still shaky) on the borders with Eritrea after years of war. However, there is no trace of peace in Abiy’s latest statements on GERD and Egypt. "Nothing will stand in the way of the dam construction", he said, adding that, in the event, "millions of dollars" would be ready for a resolutive war against Egypt.

Although al-Sisi said he wants a peaceful solution, Premier Abiy accuses him of sending weapons (documented by UN agencies reports) to the government of South Sudan - with whom he shares concerns about a reduction of Nile waters - in order to foment anti-government protests and armed rebellions in the Ethiopian territory. Cairo denies any accusations, but it is only the beginning of a new Great Game that is being played in the Horn of Africa, and has been for some time now. A game from which China, the United Arab Emirates and the United States are not exempt. Ethiopia, with  100 million inhabitants and its strong economic growth, has a fundamental and  strategic role in that game. It is not a coincidence that President Trump  proposed himself as a mediator in the Egyptian-Ethiopian question, but without currently reaching any agreement.

However, there are other  variables, of  a different nature, that create great concern.

The Great Game and the exploitation of the Nile waters must, in fact, take into account the progressive demographic increase in the African continent, in addition to the depletion, waste and abuse of its great wealth. The Nile waters, in Egypt, are polluted by sewage flows, and garbage navigates along  irrigation canals: a situation that can only get worse  due to the demographic increase and the slowness of  public intervention to manage it.

A central role is also played by climate change. Rises in temperature are already  raising sea’s levels, that ends up eroding beaches and pushing salty waters inland, compromising the sweet ones and consequently drying up portions of fertile lands. In addition, unusual weather conditions have been present for some years. For all these reasons, substantial water shortages are expected in that part of Africa until 2025.

The risk of water stress in strategic areas turns water into a formidable weapon of blackmail, and the threat of a war for its control is a plausible and next occurrence. The international diplomacy, that seems not to  be  fully aware of this risk, can do nothing. Today, in fact,  the same strategic value is  not given to waters as it is to gas or oil. This is a serious evaluation mistake, full of uncertainties for the future of African security. Warning alarms come precisely from  highly unstable geographic areas, in which intra-state conflicts, albeit local and even of low intensity,  are today  mostly  fought for the control of fertile lands and waters.  Furthermore, other destabilizing actions are added  by non-state actors, such as jihadist terrorists, widely present in the whole sub-Saharan area.  They are used to control water  for criminal activities (drug production, for example) using violence and  reducing the possibilities of access to farmers and shepherds. It is a sort of  blackmail against poor people. For them, in fact, water scarcity means that participation in criminal activities or terrorist actions are forced alternatives for gaining money and sustaining their families.

For all these reasons,  threats or wars due to the control of water seem to become explosive  with global repercussions even outside those territories, as demonstrated by illegal immigration flows  of desperate people from Africa to Europe.

It is not the first time that waters have a strategic role, because many  modern wars have been and others are now being fought for the access and control of hydro basins. To deny it means ignoring history. Becoming aware of it means anticipating the times.

 

2/3/2020

Erdogan and Idlib's blackmail to Europe

Europe is once again under Turkish blackmail even if, when you think about, it has never stopped. Erdogan  opened Turkish borders with Greece to thousands of Syrian refugees that he has been welcoming to his territory for years not for pietas, but for contingency and above all calculated convenience. The blackmail is clear: Europe must intervene by supporting him diplomatically and perhaps militarily with the help of NATO in order to guarantee what he deserves of the Syrian territory. The alternative is the opening of  Turkish borders, allowing thousands of desperate to flow along the Balkans and towards one direction, the heart of Europe. A taste of Turkish intentions is already evident in these days: public means, organized by Turkish government, are bringing thousands of refugees to the border with Greece, while other desperate people are already pressing on the checkpoints erected from Athens.

The portion of Syrian territory claimed by  Erdogan  is the Idlib province. It is what remains of the national territory that Assad needs in order  to complete  its clearing of rebel forces, in this case, jihadist. Idlib is in fact the sanctuary of the last resistance of the Hayat Tahir al-Sham coalition’s fighters, the former al-Nusra affiliated to al-Qaeda, since 2011 the arch enemy of Damascus, and supported for years and up today by Ankara.

Erdogan's reasons are clear: Turkey needs that part of Syrian territory to guarantee itself a strategic depth for national security. The same and, in his opinion, obvious reasons that he already listed last fall, when he mobilized Turkish  aviation and armored vehicles to intervene  against the Syrian Kurds of Afrin. If he obtains control over both areas, Erdogan could have a large buffer zone on Syrian soil, that extends along all the Turkish-Syrian borders to the coast of Latakia,  in order to relocate, according to his claims, part of the 3 and a half million of refugees present on its territory. A cumbersome, burdensome and threatening presence for Turkish domestic situation that is now impossible to sustain, economically and  for security.

Security reasons, therefore,  because of a serious regional instability which, however, Turkey has contributed to create and which, since its inception, is being largely feeding. However, not having any interlocutor able to support him in the entire region and with a difficult conduction of the war, Erdogan asked NATO’s military support. However, its answer was clear: the Alliance cannot do anything, not even in front of the killing of 35 Turkish soldiers by  Russian-Syrian bombings (in which Moscow denies its direct involvement). There has been no aggression in fact against  Turkish territory but, on the contrary, Turkey  is occupying illegally a sovereign state. Furthermore, besides being an insatiable blackmailer, Erdogan does not respect any pact or alliance. He violated also the Idlib agreement with Russia and Iran signed in 2018, in which the non-interference constraint on Syrian territory was clear and explicit. He is not even faithful to the Atlantic Pact, and he has proven it  many times. Why keep trusting on him?

Paradoxically, Putin remains the only one who still seems to be able to bring Erdogan to reasonable negotiations, even if  Libyan  conflict has a  heavy influence on both, because they are supporting adverse factions. However, they are in business for gas, the TurkStream,  with a strategic influence that goes beyond any diplomatic or military initiative, in Syria as in Libya.

Blackmailed  by the Turkish Caliph, Europe faces another  humanitarian and security emergency, that of refugees. It is not a trivial matter and not even solvable with negotiations, due to the fact that the European Union has no political weight in the region and would not have the financial resources to conclude other agreements with Ankara. Also because Europe is not ready for any authoritative diplomatic commitment in the Middle East, as it has shown  during the long war in Syria and with the failure of the Iranian nuclear agreement.

The option expressed by many commentaries  of a possible "humanitarian" war of Europe against Turkey in support of repressed refugees along the borders with Greece, is unsuccessful.  This appeal has been widely abused to many times (ultimately Libya), lying and taking advantage of it. It created chaos and fed enormous distrust for the Western world in general. For years, a consistent part of analysts have avoided it as a perspective. It is no longer credible and not even salable to public opinion anywhere in the world.

The other option can be a humanitarian cordon. However, how much humanity is there in Von der Leyen's definition of Greece as a “shield of Europe"? Shield assumes there is a weapon on the other side. If refugees are weapons, wherever they come from, in the opinion of the most important European political representative, it seems clear what the EU is really. Europe is unprepared  and even unwilling  for that great task, that is the long work for a dialogue and a conflict resolution.

The reason is clearly expressed in the judgment of Fiodor Lukyanov, a Russian expert in international relations, according to which: "Today, in that region, even a mediator, an ambassador, a broker must know how to hold a weapon in his hand. There is no room for abstract diplomacy, for zero risk. " They are bitter but unfortunately realistic findings, which outline complex future scenarios for the Middle East but also for Europe. Excluded from that chessboard, in fact, Europe is constantly blackmailed by  Erdogan who, once again, consistently with his unfaithful nature to the agreements and greedy for power, has turned on the taps to the flood of desperate people.

 

1/3/2020

The common language of hatred as an ideology

In the late evening of February 19th, yet another xenophobic attack took place in Hanau, Germany. A massacre of 9 Turkish people, with many injuries, carried out by a subject whose  terrorist purpose  he exposed in a video, a sort of personal political testament full of delusional externalizations.  Operational methods and communication of the attack recalled terrorist actions of a completely different trend, namely the jihadist ones, whose claims refer obviously to opposite arguments. However, language used by the killer, as already happened in other attacks, showed similarities with the jihadist ones. This is because their respective messages  have a unique matrix that converges in the hatred towards  those who are  ‘different’ because of culture, religion and tradition. A hatred that is no longer marginalized simply to the personal experience of the terrorist, but  that today finds a widespread and rooted consensus in part of public opinion  in a way that  is evolving  into an ideology. In short, however opposed in their final purposes, radical jihadism, subversion and violent xenophobic and anti-Semitic intolerance of a generic extreme right - proper of the Western world - are  similar and even integrating  with each other. Considerations that start precisely from the type of language used for propaganda, as in the claims and terrorists’ video-testaments. It seems they have great affinities and analogies.

It is a sort of common language utilized by the extreme souls of contemporary terrorism. If this extremist trend could be translated into an image, thanks to the common language utilized by its exponents, it would appear not  as a  linear phenomenon but as a horseshoe, with the points closer together than they are towards the centre.

This phenomenon  of violent extremism’s ‘common language', of any ideological or religious matrix, is by no means a new one. It has been present for more than twenty years - even before 11 September 2001, almost simultaneously with the exhaustion of the simple and traditional past ideological oppositions - with a growing and more widespread trend in recent years, thanks also to the use of fast communication systems and social networks by the new millennium’s subversive exponents.

What is less known is the symbiotic relationship that, recently, has arisen between the innumerable subversive subjects.  It had ended up feeding reciprocal and violent intolerance, with the result of providing a service to partisan and sectarian political subjects. It is a triangulation of hatred difficult to control, also because it  seems to reproduce itself indefinitely and without geographical limits. It has been called "cumulative extremism". Practically, and  in simpler words, a religious extremism, for example jihadist, only with its statements feeds  xenophobia  of far-right political movements, and vice versa. The paradox, and even the most risky result, however, is that different extremisms often end up expressing common, shared, violent and aggressive topics such as anti-Semitism and hatred for foreigners.

It is the beginning of a  sort of  'mutual radicalization', that ends up creating a mutual benefit. Whether it is propaganda for jihad that praises death of infidels, or the satisfaction of terrorists’ nihilism with vulnerabilities and  identity crises - such as the killer of Hanau or that of the synagogue in Halle, Saxony, last October - this common language is a sort of fertilizer that feeds mutual hatred and ends up increasing the tendency to radicalize both, and also other subversive phenomena to come.

There are many common arguments: the apocalyptic vision of the future in which, almost always, is dominating by a battle or a 'final' solution to the detriment of the enemy - whether it is the West or Islam, it makes no difference - or even the inevitability of war or clashes between civilizations or religions. It is always a struggle against the common risk of being overwhelmed by an unstoppable process, that could be the 'Islamization of the West' or the 'Westernization of Islam'. There is always a victim  ('we') against a 'demon' (the ‘other’, someone who is different) from which, precisely, 'victimization' and 'demonization' processes are recurring on both fronts. Arguments that are well suited to the political instability, recession, or internal economic crisis present today in many countries,  Western and not.

Another constant and common theme is the immigration phenomenon, that is no longer distinguished between legal and illegal but  portrayed generally as a great risk. It  was  an approach utilized during the propaganda campaign  for Brexit even if, and it should be clarified, in a not violent and terrorist context. However it is now emblematic of this regard. Immigration is seen as a fatality that brings  the dangerous 'exchange of populations', with the consequence of  endangering ethnic and cultural identity,  until even the 'death of a nation'.

Inevitably, this sectarian and fanatic  process, in a sort of realization of communicating vessels,  ends up  increasing mutual intolerance.  In their opinion, its results are justified. They both draw from history arguments as anti-Semitism, Holocaust denial and ethnic-religious cleansing, or symbols such as the Nazi swastika or black flags with  Koran quotations for the return of the Caliphate.

What worries globally counter terrorism operators now, is that  subjects, such as the killer of Hanau or  that of Halle, or the Australian man who in March 2019 killed 51 people in Christchurch mosques in New Zealand - to name the latest events - can no longer be defined as 'loose dogs'. The perception is that the latter, as the 'lone wolves' of global jihadism - another example of shared and common language - feel less isolated and marginal than they used to. Instead they feel more entitled to act through a sort of common and shared  political agenda, whose accounts pass along  the Internet. Not only the emulation, which is the most recurrent risk, but  also a sort of  global organization in progress.

It is the concern expressed in an article by the New York Times this week that exposes documentation and reports to the State Department that testify how white and neo-Nazi supremacists structures are organized like al-Qaeda in the 80s and 90s. Then, in fact,  it transcended the national borders of Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan for recruitment and propaganda, and later also for criminal action.

The fear, expressed by the editors of the NYT article, is that these groups praising white supremacism and neo-Nazism, are no longer solely and exclusively a threat within the United States but also internationally. Furthermore, although sharing similar experiences abroad - such as training camps in Ukraine, for example - it is feared that they will not be classified, domestically and internationally, as 'terrorist organizations'. This fact could in contrast prevent  acting in a concordant and global manner, for example, impeding sharing information between intelligence institutions or trying to  impose sanctions on their sponsor States or political parties. Obviously, it is a lack of knowledge of the political authorities. However, what that article implies is that this operational vacuum is also the result of a political will.

However, terrorism is always terror against indistinct subjects and in every place on the planet, with the same cruelty and now with the same language. It is time to contrast these 'hate peddlers' - as the NYT defines them - with resolute awareness, political and legislative forms of contrast. They must be similar or even superior to those used against jihadism, in order to create awareness of the risks that the whole community, without geographical distinctions, is running, fuelling the radicalization of the far-right politics within their respective national borders. It is now a dangerous, global, dynamic and multidimensional phenomenon, such as its arch enemy but at the same time alter ego, namely jihadist terrorism. This is also the first and obvious result of the language of hatred as an ideology.

 

24/2/2020

Mediterranean and Sahel. When embargo to Libya is an European illusion

News from the Libyan front speaks about over a hundred violations of the truce since January 19, the date of the Berlin international conference that, with exaggerated and unfounded optimism, was defined as ‘a small step  towards peace’.

On the contrary,  fighting on both sides, also  with air raids - recently in Waskah, east of Misrata, and  in Tripoli, with 71 Turkish-Syrian mercenaries killed –  adds Berlin to the other failed peace conferences, such as  Abu Dhabi, Palermo and Paris. An easy even banal, prediction that is coming true demonstrating, once again, that international policy is dangerously and increasingly being carried out on different levels, often in open conflict and rarely converging towards common and shared interests.

At the highest level, there are  great events such as the last conference for Libya, even if they turn out to be  only sterile showcases  that satisfy participants’  desire for personal exhibition. On the contrary, crises and conflicts today need participatory and approved solutions that, to be successful, must start from a completely different and much lower level. In the opinion of some observers, in fact, the only approach that is really intended to resolve complex situations such as the Libyan war is the bottom-up one, that starts from the people’s needs (bottom)  in order to suggest solutions to the highest political levels (up). It is a revolutionary, innovative, truly democratic approach, albeit  still illusory and unworkable due to the lack of knowledge, preparation and adequate tools for the political  participation of many populations now involved in conflicts, from Syria, Iraq, Yemen and in particular Libya.

However, many subjects are responsible for these lacks. They are the domestic but also external players  with their economic interests and desire for political or religious influence, or for the control and  management of those lands,  their strategic geographical position or their natural resources. They fit into those fragile contexts and deviate by the rules, knowingly and with impunity, dictating times, imposing  unshared alliances and, consequently, conditioning critical trends  and imposing a degeneration of war.

What is not working today in Libya? Certainly, the embargo,  the central point of the Berlin agreement, does not work. Weapons and men continue to flow undisturbed and copiously towards al-Sarraj in Tripolitania and in support of the rival Haftar in Cyrenaica. If the former enjoys Turkish supplies, including drones, Syrian jihadist mercenaries (there is a total of 6000 incoming units), intelligence personnel, artillery and air defense systems, Haftar is obtaining financial support, drones and planes from the United Arab Emirates (its sponsors in addition to Egypt and Saudi Arabia) and fighters of private companies, especially Russian, flanked by African units of various and nebulous origins.

It does not matter that, according to the Arab press, Gen. Haftar no longer enjoys the full support of the Egyptian President al-Sisi, not satisfied by his mediocre military performance (a judgment widely shared also by his close collaborators) and, therefore, determined to replace him. Or that Putin, in front of his intemperance,  made an agreement with the Turkish Erdogan to share the Libyan cake - while remaining adversaries in Syria, of course - deciding not to grant him the official, but not the unofficial, support once promised.

It is all part of a battered international game of risk that affects the entire Mediterranean, and beyond. It is what is inferred from information mainly by the Arab press, because the war in Libya is also an intra-Arab information war. And how could it be otherwise, when the Emirates (al-Arabiya) contend with Qatar (al-Jazeera) for political and religious influence in that country, each investing huge sums in men and means? Let's take note of it, considering also the unpreparedness of the Western world to make distinctions in complex scenarios, thus drawing irrational conclusions and proposing inconsistent solutions.

The UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) complains, in fact, that people present at the Berlin Conference are now transferring strategic military resources, not excluding France that, for years, has been clandestinely supporting Haftar in its role as 'stabilizer and anti- terrorist ' in the North African region. In short, Haftar is  a guarantee  not only for French economic interests (oil and water) but also for  its 'domestic' security. For this reason, France feels entitled to support him militarily. A situation that goes well beyond imagination, remembering the stereotypical smiles of assent bestowed by President Macron in Berlin while was signing the embargo agreement.

A block that also the Austrian Prime Minister Kurz and Hungary seem not like, asking  the European Union to not  renew the Sophia military mission in the Mediterranean whose purpose would be precisely to contain fighters and weapons  trafficking towards Libya.

Opposite to these discordant positions, information warfare, official declarations of goodwill, double roles on different scenarios and clandestine criminal actions, there is recent analysis from prestigious crises prediction companies that do not mention Libya as  a conflict to be kept under observation  throughout 2020. They speak  about a generic 'Sahel Region'. It is not a  mistake or voluntary omission, neither an underestimation of the Libyan conflict. They consider what is happening in Libya as a natural engagement and a breakthrough of that conflict in the armed instability already present in the entire area and beyond,  even further south, along the whole sub-Saharan belt.

The security of this region has been decidedly infected, in a crescendo that has not been interrupted for about ten years, so much so that the levels of violence in Niger, Nigeria, Mali, Chad, Cameroon, Burkina Faso in 2019 doubled compared to those already high  levels of 2018. The causes and effects of the increasing violence are the local and intra-state conflicts, with armed militia, affiliated jihadist terrorists or sympathizers of al-Qaeda or the Islamic State, and their illicit trafficking with supranational organized crime. It is a violence  imposed  externally and favored domestically  by bad governance, corruption and tribal rivalries. The latter  are often fed ad hoc from outside players, the same Middle Eastern subjects who now confront each other on opposite sides of the Libyan war.

How can we  imagine that an arms embargo in the Mediterranean could put an end to the Libyan war when the great instability of the Saheli region, which extends from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea, has being a widely tested and exploited alternative for countless supplies of weapons and fighters in other conflicts for years, from Sudan to Somalia and, through southern Egypt and Sinai, even to Gaza? It is a violent infection that involves  the entire Mediterranean, and that Europe discusses if and how to control it, writhing on itself for its limited and selfish vision,  in this way losing precious time.

It is to deny a truth - that many European politicians do not like  - expressed by Fernand Braudel who extended  European borders from the  Mediterranean to the sands of the Sahara. “It is not a sea – he wrote -  but a succession of seas. It is not a civilization, but a series of civilizations stacked on each other (...) an ancient crossroads. For thousands years, everything has come together, complicating and enriching its history: pack animals, cars, goods, ships, ideas, religions, ways of living ". It was his way of observing the contemporaneity, and therefore considering history no more  as the primacy of temporality, but replacing it with a greater sensitivity for geography, spaces, and  all realities,  including all their problems. A global vision of a man of culture of the last century, totally absent, it seems, in the powerful men of the new Millennium’s globalization.

 

3/2/2020

Privatization of war. Modern contractors and ancient mercenaries

Recently, there has been a lot of talk about mercenaries, paid by foreign powers and engaged in the increasingly numerous conflicts, of all levels of intensity, everywhere in the world. From the beginning of the new year,  the tone has become stronger because of Syrian jihadists, salaried by Turkey and sent to Libya to fight alongside al-Sarraj's troops  opposed to, among others, the Russian mercenaries of the powerful Wagner paramilitary organization of Yevgeny Prigozhin, and in assistance to gen. Haftar and his allies. In many analysts’ opinion, they represent Puntin and Russia’s direct involvement in the Libyan conflict. The risk is to transform it into one similar to the Syrian war. There are all the premises and also similar actors.

However,  news  about foreign jihadists and mercenaries in Libya caused  sensation, but only for people not  accustomed to international security.  For years, in fact, the phenomenon of private companies engaged in war scenarios has been present,  spread, flourished and  taken on many characteristics that will soon create fears also for Italian domestic security.

Let's proceed in order,  making the necessary distinctions to understand a complex issue, treated like a taboo and therefore never  followed as it deserves.

As it always happens in the thorny issues of the new millennium’s international relations, the watershed is once again due to the end of the cold war, followed  by demobilization,  downsizing and above all  reorganization of all national armies on both fronts,  Western and Soviet. It is estimated that within a decade, the ‘90s, at least 7.4 million former soldiers suddenly became unemployed, in front of an increasing number of local and interregional conflicts, to which was added the war on terror after September 11, 2001.

At first it was Afghanistan, and then Iraq, where private contractors  (such as the Blackwater, responsible for the massacre of civilians in Baghdad, in 2007) began to emerge as  professionals alongside the career soldiers and engaged in functions such as logistics, close protection of people and structures, and procurement that had suffered cuts in national budgets. Functions that, however and in a short time, expanded to operational support, training and combat actions, due to  the increase of limited conflicts  in which States without adequately prepared staff were involved.

The interventions of private military and security companies increased, with their expansion into 'sensitive' sectors such as intelligence and analysis, with a turnover that, it has been estimated,  to be around $ 50-60 billion annually.

It soon became compelling to attempt regulation.

The first engaged contractors belonged, and still do, to the so-called private military (PMC), security (PSC) and intelligence (PIC) companies. Their use is now regulated by the 2008 Montreaux Document (Italy joined it in June 2009), drawn up on the   initiative of Switzerland, under the auspices of the International Red Cross and in compliance with the Geneva Conventions of international humanitarian laws in conflict zones.

The Montreux Document consists of a generic legal framework, signed and shared by 56 states, 3 supranational bodies and some large NGOs that,  for some years, have been  extensively using private contractors services  in crises or conflict areas.

However, if  signing of the Montreux Document by the United States, many of the European countries and China stand out most of  all, the signatures of Russia and of all the Middle Eastern states, except Jordan and Iraq, are missing. It is not a trivial matter, due to the growing armed divergences in that region and the influence’s ambitions of all its protagonists, in particular Saudi Arabia and the Emirates.

In fact, it is not a  coincidence that these States, lacking in men in uniform but abundant in money and armaments (Saudi Arabia is the third country in the world for weapons’ purchase) have for years resorted to authentic mercenaries, such as  in the old style, as in Machiavelli's judgment, of the "unnecessary and dangerous" armed gangs,  made up of  former members of élite forces, criminals and drug traffickers looking for new jobs. This is the case of the Colombians, Panamanians, Chileans and Salvadorans who, hired by Reflex Responses (R2), and trained by American, British and Israeli 'professionals' and under the guidance of the Colombian mercenary Oscar Garcia-Batte  have joined  the Saudi coalition forces in Yemen’s war against those supported by Iran. They are Riyadh’s mercenaries paid in the Abu Dhabi banks, and flanked by irregular Sudanese forces, mostly survivors  of  the Darfur war, in whose ranks there are very young fighters, not much older than teenagers.

Yemen’s war is one of the most recent examples, with the Syrian jihadist mercenaries hired from Turkey and sent to Libya, with a regular six-month contract, signed by the government of al-Sarraj - the UN backed GNA - for a monthly wage of around £ 1500. A salary 30 times higher than the paltry one received for  their employment in the Syrian conflict, with the promises - although later denied by Turkey - of a Turkish passport, free insurance and medical assistance of injured, and certain repatriation of those killed on the ground.

Briefly, in the new millennium wars, modern contractors operating alongside regular forces under the aegis of  international regulation - still shaky, but with at least defined and undersigned legal outlines, often supported by national legislation, and, in this regard, Italy is still lacking  -  more and more often   oppose the larger but above all anarchist environment of old style mercenaries.

Beyond the obvious ethical considerations - to which, however, only a small part of  Western world is sensitive – mercenaries represent an emergency for global security. Concerns about their unscrupulous behaviour,   their movements in  different war scenarios  (for example, the Russians of Wagner, from Ukraine, 2014, at the siege of Deir Ezzor in Syria, 2016-17, up to the Central African Republic in 2018, and now in Libya) or their engagement in repressing popular protests (as in Venezuela, with Russian mercenaries), and even their proven links with supranational organized crime.  Last but not least, it seems there is no control over their movements, as it happened – although it must  be verified -  with the escape of about 150 Syrian-Turkish jihadists from Libya, a dozen of whom would have attempted to reach the coasts of Italy and find refuge in Europe.

The risk is that, given the wide global instability, together with the power  ambitions of  many subjects,  and the weakness of regional and supranational political organizations to manage crises,  in modern and privatized wars,  the proven economic rule that bad money always, inevitably, drives out good money, will prevail. It is not a remote risk that is now looming with the use of old-fashioned mercenaries. The whole question requires attention, debate and discussion in order to overcome any hesitation, clear taboos that surround it and bring everything back, as far as possible, to a context of shared rules, whose application, above all, could be verified. Shared rules, once again,  make the difference between order and security in the face of anarchy and vulnerability for a country like Italy, exposed in the turbulent Mediterranean.

 

27/1/2020