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In its Global Study on Homicide 2019, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) stated that: “[o]rganized crime kills as many people as all armed conflicts combined”. The American continent had the highest rate of murders for 2017 and has been the same since 1990. UNODC has found that Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, and Venezuela have the highest homicide rates. Can this trend be stopped by the legalization of drugs?

Whether it may help reduce violence is still to be known. Another aspect of it does require further attention; it may help States prevent health deterioration of their citizens. Mainly, legalization could represent access to better quality and information on drugs. Yet, the debate is in no way a straightforward solution.

The motivations of organized crime, especially regarding transnational operations, has been a subject matter of policymakers, academics, and international organizations. Often criminal groups are considered to be ‘rational actors’ that seek to maximize profit. The drug trade is one of the most common methods of revenue associated with organized crime. Both academics and United Nations officials have suggested that legalizing drugs would greatly diminish funding for criminal groups.

Currently, Uruguay is the only Latin American country that allows for the legal use of cannabis and has been since 2013. Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru allow for its use within medical treatments. The debate is particularly relevant in Mexico due to the proximity to one of the largest markets: the United States.

According to research, the legalization of marijuana in some US states helped reduce violent crime in those places that border Mexico. The debate is complex and effects on legalization seem to have different notions in academic texts. The Mexican government has proposed the legalization as part of a wider security strategy but added the need to address both from the need to reduce income to criminal groups and also as a means to reduce the threat to the health of drug users.

Prices for cocaine, one of the most trafficked drugs in the US, increased from 2007 to 2017. Data may show that legalization could contribute to reducing the income of organized crime. But would that necessarily make the groups cease their activities or would it force them into other illegal markets?

Europe’s responsibility to bring back ISIS fighters home

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Following ISIS’ loss of the last sliver of territory in March, US President Donald Trump asked the UK, Germany, France and other European allies to take back the over 800 ISIS members that are captured in Syria and to put them on trial in their home countries. However, European countries have shown to be reluctant to repatriate nationals that have been accused of being affiliated with ISIS or have been involved in the fighting. They claim that bringing them back would pose serious security concerns and they fear that they may have difficulties obtaining enough evidence to prosecute them. They have chosen to revoke their nationality instead, passing on the responsibility to those countries where the fighters are held.

The recent withdrawal of US troops from Syria and the invasion of Turkey have created further tensions in the region, leaving liberated areas unable to contain ISIS fighters in camps, meaning the potential for further activity and radicalization, as many are being freed or have escaped. The Syrian Democratic Forces, in charge of caring for the situation in these camps in northern Syria, have called for an urgent long-term solution as they are struggling to maintain cohesive control over their assigned territories, but European countries are also unable to find a comprehensive way out of the situation. ISIS has lost its territory and leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, but has readjusted to the circumstances and continues to carry out numerous attacks and to grow in numbers. Therefore keeping ISIS fighters and relatives in the region without being prosecuted will not help the situation and could lead to further recruitment in both the Middle East or Europe.

The issue here is not only the continuing of terrorist activity in the region but also the conditions that these European nationals are living in. Conditions in these camps are inhumane and desperate. Widespread trauma among children subject to abuse, inadequate sanitation, and medical facilities as well as a general environment of lawlessness are present and becoming the norm in the camps, which again is strengthening the risk of further radicalization.

The instability in Syria following the Turkish incursion and the long-term detention of these men, women, and children are problematic for many security and humanitarian reasons. European governments should then address the challenge by accelerating the repatriation of their nationals, but instead, they have chosen to respond with exclusion policies and laws, displacing their responsibility onto others.

Some European officials have been trying to send suspects to be trialed in Iraqi courts or international tribunals but, despite some advantages to this prospect, it has been criticized over the risk of unfair or unreliable trials. Therefore, although it will expect some political courage to do so, European governments will have sooner or later to bring ISIS members home.

It is the fastest way to bring ISIS fighters into accountability for crimes through fairly conducted trials, it will get detainees and their relatives out of an unsustainable security situation and therefore limit the risk of the spreading of ISIS activities in the currently unstable northern Syria.

Israeli politics at the expense of Palestinians

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The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of the longest-running and most controversial conflicts taking place in the world today. Two opposing movements of self-determination fighting for more than seventy years over territory claims, political control and resources, with no clear direction towards peace.

However, what is clear is that whenever attacks are launched from Gaza into Israeli territory, public coverage and attention double up, unlike all the other stories such as Palestinians getting shot almost every week or the daily reality of occupation for example, that get much less or no coverage at all. This may immediately imply the general perception that it is the Palestinians who insist in debilitating relations with Israel. But is this always the case?

Once again, provocations, violence and revenge have invaded the Gaza Strip and Israel. But this time, it is worth noting that the recent hostilities were sparked by an Israeli air strike last November 12th ordered by Israel´s interim Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The attack aimed at and killed the 42-year-old leader of the Islamic Jihad´s armed wing Al-Quds Brigades, Bahaa Abu Al-Ata to which the Islamic network responded with retaliatory rocket fires. And so hostilities began again, creating a new security issue for Israelis.

So why would Netanyahu order such attack, knowing the full consequences?

The events have come at an interesting time in Israeli domestic politics: two months after Netanyahu came second in the general elections. The Israeli army does not usually take credit for initiating confrontation with Gaza and according to its narrative only retaliates when provoked – whether that is true or not is a story for another day.

So why take credit now? Netanyahu is desperate to hold on to power and in order to do so he is trying to convince his people that Israel is in a state of security emergency and that Benny Gantz´Arab-backed minority potential government would be ‘a historic danger to Israel´s security’ and that it ‘will gravely hurt the security of Israel’. But Gantz, former chief of the Israeli Defence Forces, is no peace-hugger either. He contributed to the mass killings of Arab populations as a soldier of the occupying army and if that wasn´t enough, he brags about how many Palestinians he has killed and uses those numbers to convince his voters.

The most devastating fact about this political competition is that it is all at the expense of millions of Palestinians. With the absence of a political solution and hope for peace and security in Palestine, Israeli political leaders will continue to impose violent solutions that only serve their personal political gains. There has to be a shift in focus because regardless of who wins in Israeli politics, Palestinians will continue to be powerless against a situation that the international community has turned a blind eye on. Instead of looking at those politicians in the occupying power, Palestinians, the Arab and international communities will need to create a popular movement based on healthy thought that truly desires peace and change.

Kashmir: A Never-Ending Division

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Following the 1947 separation of India and Pakistan and their independence from the British Empire, the conflict to control the territory of Kashmir began. This conflict has been one of the longest ones in history and unlike others, the situation is anywhere near settled.

Territorial disputes over the Kashmir region sparked two of the three major Indo-Pakistani wars in 1947 and in 1965. In exchange for helping with the rebels, Kashmir signed an agreement to become part of India. Despite joining the country, autonomy was formalized through Article 370, added into the Indian Constitution shortly after. The said article gave the territory of Kashmir a certain amount of freedom: they were able to have their own constitution, their own flag, and autonomy to make laws, whereas foreign affairs, communication, and defense remained under Indian control.

After several violent attacks on each other’s soil, in 1972, under the terms of the Simla Agreement and following UN advice, India and Pakistan renamed the borderline as the “Line of Control” and signed a ceasefire agreement in 2003. Despite this arrangement, they regularly exchanged fire across the border.

With the newly elected Prime Minister Modi, there were high hopes that his government would make significant progress in the negotiations with Pakistan. It was true that some effort was put into fixing their relations, however, momentum was definitely lost in September 2016, when armed Pakistani militants attacked an Indian base near the Line of Control, the deadliest attack in decades. According to the CFR between 2017 and 2018, there were more than three thousand reported violations along the Line.

At the moment, tensions between both territories and other international forces are exploding after the attack in February 2019. Official reports state that the Pakistani Islamic group Jaish e-Mohammad drove a car carrying between 300-350kg of explosives and crashing into a convoy transporting about 2,500 Indian troops to the Kashmir Valley.

Using the attacks, Prime Minister Modi decided to revoke seven decades of Kashmir autonomy by rescinding article 370 in an attempt to regain support and win the upcoming elections. “The risks of violence have risen significantly. The bottom line is India may believe that this move will bring more clarity to the Kashmir issue by formally integrating the region into the union of India, but there are all kinds of risks and uncertainties ahead” said Michael Kugelman, deputy director of the Asia Program.

Attempts of peace talks have come to no result and Pakistan and Indian remain tense, both aware that their counterpart is a nuclear superpower. On their part, India has approached the US to gain strength as China is gaining power across Asia. Pakistan, on the other hand, is one of the biggest beneficiaries of China’s Belt and Road infrastructure initiative attracting millionaire investments to Pakistani Kashmir.

While the conflict gets worse and international forces seek their own interests in the territory, people living in the Kashmir region have endured decades of human rights violations and abuses at the hands of security forces on both sides.



Securitizing Catalonia (I): the Copenhagen School in the Spanish context

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The ‘rupture of Spain’ and ‘the Spanish unity’ have been one of the most repeated tropes following the events that took place in Spain from 2017, until today. Catalonia, an autonomous region of Spain, announced and celebrated a referendum contra legem in order to gain independence. The Spanish government at the time responded by using a type of discourse that legitimized it for taking a wide range of measures that went from suspending the autonomy of the region to the incarceration of Catalan political leaders, the latter confirmed on October 14th by the Spanish Supreme Court. Is it possible to understand the handling of the process of independence of Catalonia from the frame of the securitization theory from the Copenhagen School (CS)?

Following the linguistic turn, the theory draws on the premise that securitization occurs when actors label certain events as threats and relevant audiences accept such designation. Approaching from constructivism the CS understands that the most important feature is that the word security doesn’t need to be uttered. What is relevant is the use of particular logics that define security, logics enrooted in the speech act (mostly political discourses) that provoke the rupture of the logic of normal politics to enter the realm of security.

The moment of entering the security realm would be the 6th of September 2017, the day in which the Catalan Parliament passed the laws that would allow Catalonia to become independent after the celebration of a referendum, set for the 1st of October. The day after, the Spanish government led by Mariano Rajoy activated the security logic. On the 7th of September, he gave a speech in which he depicted independency as ‘the end of Spain’, creating the need for survival.

Despite Rajoy’s emergency measures to avoid the vote from taking place by transferring National Police officers from all over Spain into Catalonia with the order of confiscating –even by force—ballots and boxes, the vote did take place on the 1st of October. Two days after, the security logic entered a new post-referendum phase: the King of Spain—Felipe VI—gave, symbolically, his first institutional speech following the independence vote.

To explain securitization logic, the process has to be taken as gradual and incremental, from Rajoy’s speech to the Kings one, in different moments, pre-referendum and post, enabling the adoption of emergency measures  in 2017-2018 such as the application of Article 155 of the Spanish Constitution that suspended Catalonia’s autonomy and led to new elections in the region.

Notwithstanding the government effort in securitizing Catalonia, the issue remains unsolved. Emergency measures and particularly the role of the judiciary within the process have not helped in approaching the situation.  Can the judiciary of a country be a securitization actor? How does the realm of security interact with the legal frameworks? One thing is clear: legal frames without political dialogue have proved to be inadequate to solve the situation.

Iraq´s rocky road to stability

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After years of war and occupation, the security scene in Iraq appeared to be somewhat better than it was in the post-2003 conflict period. The territorial (but not complete) defeat of Daesh in 2017 also brought some sort of optimism to the country. However looking closely, Iraq continues to be a war-torn country where a majority of the population lives in aggravating conditions and reconstruction of infrastructure and a harmonized society remains far-sighted. Iraqis have grown tired of a widely believed culture of corruption, weak governance, and a fragmented political arena. These once again, have sparked public anger.

Protests have erupted across Iraq over government corruption, shortage of basic services, increasing rates of unemployment and general discontent with the political system. The most striking features of these protests are their magnitude – they are the biggest protests since the fall of Saddam Hussein – and the brutality employed by the Iraqi security forces against those opposing the status quo – as of today, leaving 319 dead and 15,000 injured. These protests are the clear proof and example of the loss of trust in the Iraqi political system and instability in the country, putting Iraq in a direction difficult to pull back from.

So what is interfering in Iraq’s road to stability?

Iraq suffers from a heavily fragmented political system where different factions are competing against one another for power and influence and ultimately applying contradictory measures and working at cross purposes. This fragmented political arena is coupled with the integration of various factions of paramilitary groups within the Popular Mobilization Units (PMUs) with differing purposes, into the security forces. This can only lead to the absence of coherent control over the security situation and therefore more escalation of the conflict. Iraq has consequently become an open political space for contestation between weak and divided political and security figures and the Iraqi population.

Now, will the protesters’ claims be heard? Iraq is trying to get onto a path of stability but protests will not end while the root cause of the problem – unwanted and fragmented government and security forces – is still in place. There needs to be a strengthened and more unified national movement that removes the current political system and re-builds one that truly responds to the Iraqis´ basic needs. Although this will be a long process, it is not impossible and has to be urgently pushed for.

Myanmar’s invisible conflict

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Myanmar was a British colony until January 4th, 1948 when the country became independent. In 1962, General Ne Win imposed a rigid blueprint in an attempt to create a self-sufficient socialist state, free from capitalist and communist influence, the so-called “Burmese Way to Socialism”. This resounding failure greatly improved poverty and isolation within the country. Notwithstanding the State-sponsored violence supported by its own military and civil population, the International community has turned its back and cut down resources leaving the country at its mercy.

As the Guardian labels it, the “Burma road to ruin” lead the country to be one of the least developed countries in the world. In 1988, as a result of several protests across the country against the Socialist System, a military coup was enacted, and the government was overthrown. Despite the efforts of the National League for Democracy (NLD) to restate democracy, the military junta decided to ignore the results.

The lack of representation and religious discrimination reinforced by the adoption of Buddhism as the “national” religion in Myanmar made other minorities feel unrepresented, threatened and prosecuted. The Karen minority, constituting a 7% of the total population, has been fighting for independence since 1949. The Burmese government has used numerous tactics in an attempt to make them cease their efforts. According to the UN Security Council, the tactics against Karen people have been identified as “ethnic cleansing”. More than 100,000 people have been displaced along the Thai-Myanmar border throughout seven refugee camps.

The General Secretary of the Karen Women’s Organisation described the situation as “desperate” and states that Karen people “are losing faith” due to the fact that the Thai government and external funds from NGOs and International Organisations are being cut off.

However, the idea of coming back to their land is a no-go. They don’t have a safe home to go back to even after the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement signed in October 2015. The government has violated the agreement on several occasions and a new arrangement has not yet been made.

While UN Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator states that “The closure of camps must be linked to improvements in freedom of movement and access to services and job opportunities” no movement towards a resolution of the crisis is been achieved. Therefore, the situation remains rather hostile and life-threatening for those who are forced to leave the camps and go back.

Chronicle: Conflict Analysis & Foreign Policy Training

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The World Youth Academy alongside the Research & Advisory in International Affairs Group (RAIA) held this past weekend (11th-13th October) and for the very first time a Summit in Madrid, Spain. Notwithstanding its intensity and hard work, the Conflict Analysis & Foreign Policy training has left us wanting more. The training gathered 26 participants from 16 different nationalities (17 women!), from Spain to Ethiopia; from Syria to Germany.

Day 1: Profiling to understand foreign policy

On the first day, Friday, we had the pleasure to be introduced into profiling and foreign policy analysis by Mr. Balder Haeraats. From a fresh approach to decision-making in IR, the participants learned how the personal circumstances and character of key decision-makers can be crucial in order to understand their foreign policy approach and decisions.

During the session, the participants engaged in lively debates among themselves and the lecturer and, to fully grasp the complexities of this kind of analysis, they worked in teams to analyze leaders’ personalities around the world, followed by some role-play as well in which we had to simulate negotiations as the leaders previously analyzed and come to agreements.

It was, overall a very exciting first day in which we had the opportunity to get to know each other, interact and, of course, grab a few drinks afterwards.

Day 2: Approaching to conflict analysis

On Saturday, we had the pleasure to have Mr. Tarik Ndifi, a conflict expert, as our speaker. The participants approached conflict analysis, with a special emphasis on methodology and early warning signs. From a practical perspective, we had the chance to analyze ongoing conflicts, particularly historical Iran-US tensions, and to apply the methodology to a series of group exercises involving practicing Conflict Tree drawing. Although approaching conflict is not an easy job since the topic is complex and requires a great deal of sensitivity and knowledge, Mr. Ndifi’s vast experience and insights helped us understand the ways conflicts can be analyzed to include a variety of perspectives and nuances.

The day included a social gathering post-session in a formal setting that helped us all reset a bit, share impressions and insights and get ready for the final day of the training.

Day 3: An emphasis on rehabilitation 

The last day, Sunday, we gathered once again to continue with Mr. Ndifi’s lecture & team exercises on conflict, this time emphasizing conflict rehabilitation and peacebuilding and the difficulties these processes entail for the everyday of the people living in conflict areas, even after the declaration of formal peace. Thanks to Mr. Ndifi’s experiences in the field, we had the chance to know more about post-conflict situations in Bosnia and Serbia, Germany and Poland, among others.

After this last session concluded, all participants were handed the Certificates of Attendance, symbolizing the final farewell.  Sadly, the training came to an end. But I am sure we will see each other soon, perhaps in Vienna.

Until we do. It has been a pleasure.

What is Peace anyway?

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Today is World Peace Day.

Except there is no peace for 69 countries in the world. Four ongoing wars have casualties toll above 10,000 people. Not all of them are soldiers. Some of the wars are intrastate, some are interstate. Many more cold wars are being lead. Armed conflicts or not, they all have one thing in common.

They are the opposite of peace.

Photo by Nowshad Arefin on Unsplash

But what is peace anyway? And how is it achieved? Some authors consider peace to be an outcome of the process of reconciliation. Some consider it to be a process that leads to reconciliation. It is one of the imperatives of international relations. But defining it is so difficult. There have been research that have shown that peace is defined in different terms in different regions of the world. Some of the factors are common across all or most of the regions (e.g. absence of armed conflict), but many are context specific and dependent (e.g. absence of terrorism). That means that we have to abandon talking about peace in abstract terms and create models for building and keeping peace for each specific conflict, society, context.

When Johan Galtung established the first peace research journal in 1964, he went along and defined two types of peace: negative peace, that involves the absence of violence, and positive peace, which is the integration of human society (Galtung, 1964: 2), these being two separate dimensions. For example, in the case of Bosnia & Herzegovina, negative peace is achieved, however positive peace is still lacking. On the other hand, this year Sweden celebrates 215 years without a war. Yet, it scores 18 on Global Peace Index, while, for example, New Zealand proudly takes 2nd place, but their definition of peace has certainly changed in the light of the latest terrorist attack.

We must define how peace feels, smells, looks like, how we would recognize it, what we want from it, in each specific case and context, in order to be able to achieve it. Generic definitions and imposition of abstract concepts cannot lead us to achieving peace. We may call it peacebuilding, conflict resolution, social reconstruction, normalization of relations, conflict transformation, what is important is to know exactly what is meant by it and to be striving for accomplishing it.

Because conflicts don’t work.

Everybody should be talking about “Conflict Analysis”. Part I

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If there is something most of us can agree with is that we don’t like conflicts. However, conflicts are a part of life, they just happen! As a matter of fact, in many times conflict leads us to grow up. Some people go to extreme lengths to avoid conflict. If you’re in a leadership position you might know that an unresolved conflict leads directly to unreached potential.

Without understanding the context in which interventions are situated, organizations implementing them may unintentionally fuel conflict. While conflicts are too complex for a single process to do them justice, key features of analysis are conflict profile, causes, actors and dynamics.

Therefore, I have to start this post with one of the most basic and important understandings by Norwegian theorist Johan Galtung, one of the pioneers of the field of Peace Research on ‘Positive Peace’.


Peace as absence of violence is called the traditional notion of peace. Later the definition of peace has been extended to include human rights, equality between mean and women, social justice and ecological balance which is now considered as positive peace. Therefore, the understanding of peace is as the followings:

  • Absence of war and violence.
  • Respect for and promotion of human rights.
  • Establishment of good governance and rule of law. 
  • Presence of democracy and power sharing.
  • Protection and preservation of environment.  
Conflict analysis is the systematic study of the profile, causes, actors, and dynamics of conflict.
Conflict Analysis helps development, humanitarian and peace-building organizations to gain a better understanding of the context in which they work and their role in that context. Conflict analysis is not an “objective” art. It is influenced by different world views, and therefore three approaches are frequently used:
Harvard Approach Human Needs Theory
Conflict Transformation
It emphases the difference between positions (what people say they want) and interests (why people want what they say they want). It argues that conflicts can be resolved when actors focus on interests instead of positions, and when they develop jointly accepted criteria to deal with these differences.
It argues that conflicts are caused by basic “universal” human needs that are not satisfied. The needs should be analyzed, communicated and satisfied for the conflict to be resolved. This sees conflicts as destructive or constructive interactions, depending on how conflicts are dealt with or “transformed”. Conflicts are viewed as an interaction of energies. Emphasis is given on the different perceptions and the social and cultural context in which reality is constructed. Constructive conflict transformation seeks to empower actors and support recognition between them.

In reality

The understanding of the context of interventions and acting upon this understanding to maximize positive impacts is what CA is about. It helps define new interventions and conflict-sensitize existing interventions at the planning stage. It informs project set-up and decision making at the implementation stage. At the monitoring and evaluation stage, CA helps measure the interaction of interventions and the conflict dynamics in which they are situated.

We invite you to learn more about our unique training on Conflict Analysis and Foreign Policy.

We invite you to learn more about our unique training on Conflict Analysis and Foreign Policy. It is going to be held in Madrid, 11-13 October 2019

Therefore, at the World Youth Academy, we aim to increase the building capacity within the youth for conflict analysis may involve: Helping them better understand the context in which they work, prioritizing and integrating conflict analysis into established procedures and budgeting for conflict analysis.

CA can be undertaken for a number of purposes: Promoting participation in social and impactful projects, developing a strategy for engagement, decisions on further project activities and project monitoring. These determine who conducts the analysis: Members of the community, local project staff, national or international staff.

In practice

If you are already into a CA project, remember:

  • Gather information from a wide range of sources and listen to many different actors to broaden understanding of context. Not all information will be available, reliable and unbiased. Research methods such as triangulation aim to reduce such limitations.
  • Conflict analysis itself needs to be conflict-sensitive. It is good practice to get stakeholders on board early and avoid antagonizing potential spoilers.
  • When planning to use a specific conflict analysis framework, consider strengths and weaknesses. Tools are not a substitute for detailed local knowledge and should not stifle creative thinking.
  • Organizations can customize tools to specific needs, objectives, and capacities.