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Two years on: Russia continues to weaponise and attack healthcare in Ukraine

Article by Elly Nott

February 21, 2024

Two years on: Russia continues to weaponise and attack healthcare in Ukraine

At the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022 I wrote in the British Medical Journal that, based on my experience of the Syrian conflict, I feared for Ukraine’s healthcare workers.[1] Tragically, my predictions have been proved correct.


In Syria, where the charity I co-founded has worked since 2012, attacks on healthcare in non-government areas have been a consistent feature of the conflict. Far from being ‘collateral damage’, there is evidence – including cockpit recordings from Russian air force pilots – that healthcare institutions and workers were intentionally targeted.[2]


Two years in to the full-scale invasion and the statistics are shocking. The World Health Organisation has  verified over 1,000 attacks on health care in Ukraine since February 2022;[3] more than 60% of all attacks against health care worldwide in that period.


Citizen researchers at the Centre for Information Resilience have documented attacks on Ukrainian facilities including maternity units and cardiology treatment centres in Kherson, calling them “strikingly reminiscent” of Russian tactics in northwest Syria.[4] Absent a clear link to any military ground operation, the parallel objectives are to create insecurity among the Ukrainian population and demonstrate ongoing determination to secure victory to the Russian public.


Attacking civilian infrastructure frays the ties that bind, both between citizens, and citizens and their government. A strong state relies on an active, vibrant civil society and Ukrainians have valiantly resisted attempts to denigrate their national esprit de corps despite the damage wrought to their infrastructure.


The weaponisation of healthcare and disruption of essential services harms public health and morale in a way that can test that resilience to breaking point.


If the state can no longer provide services, it can prompt the forced displacement of large numbers of people as they seek safety abroad, putting further stress on host nations and in some cases exacerbating social tensions. These actions constitute hybrid warfare tactics, which Ukraine and its allies need to be alert to.


To date, there has not been a prosecution or indictment brought for attacking a healthcare institution. A first step toward accountability is gathering evidence which grassroots entities like the Ukrainian Healthcare Centre are doing.[5] In areas close to the frontline, healthcare facilities may also need to consider moving infrastructure underground or changing their location as protection measures.


There is every indication that attacks on health will continue to be part of the ongoing conflict, necessitating a full spectrum of practical and legal measures to protect healthcare institutions and workers.


Elly Nott is a leader in the humanitarian sector and PhD Candidate, King’s College London.


[1] Elly Nott, Ukraine invasion: Why I fear for Ukraine’s healthcare workers, BMJ, March 2022,

[2] The New York Times, Russia Tapes: Healthcare and Civilians Under Attack in Syria,

[3] United Nations Ukraine, Attacks on healthcare in Ukraine are a grave violation of international humanitarian law, August 2023,,on%20health%20care%20in%20Ukraine.

[4] Centre for Information Resilience, Kherson after occupation: Mapping Russian attacks on medical infrastructure, September 2023,

[5] UHC, Annual Report of the Ukrainian Healthcare Center (UHC) in 2023, February 2024,


Disclaimer: The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not reflect the views of The Foreign Policy Centre.

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    Two years on: The ongoing war in Ukraine is further highlighting the ‘Global North’ and ‘Global South’ divide

    Article by Dr Sasikumar Sundaram

    February 20, 2024

    Two years on: The ongoing war in Ukraine is further highlighting the ‘Global North’ and ‘Global South’ divide

    Soon to enter its third year, Russia’s ongoing war in Ukraine continues to highlight a stark geopolitical split between the Global North and the Global South. For the United States, the United Kingdom, and Europe, which represent the ‘Global North,’ resisting Russian aggression is an existential issue to save humanity from hell. By bringing the full force of sanctions, lawsuits, and military might, they stood together as democracies. However hard it may have been, they were united against the bewildering reality of global disorder brought by the Russian invasion.


    These Global North states have displayed a steadfast commitment to preserving the rules and norms that define and guide the conduct of states. Many have also revised their foreign and security policies to preserve global order in ways that were simply unimaginable before. Two years into the war, how they articulate and hold these commitments together and stay true to the promises made to fierce Ukrainians poses new challenges. Particularly within the context of emerging democratic crises and changing public opinion on the war within the West.


    For many Asian, African, Middle Eastern, and Latin American states, making up the majority of the ‘Global South,’ this war is an existential issue but from another reality. It has created food insecurity, rising energy prices, and a supply chain crisis. It led to the weaponisation of the US dollar, which made international borrowing costly. The war has relied on disruptive technologies to spurt out simplified images of supporters and detractors from the non-Western world. Furthermore, the rejection by the West to calls for a ceasefire, not the least in part due to an academic-military-industrial complex which is justifying the war to protect liberalism, has created, and in some places entrenched, mistrust and dissatisfaction.


    For the Global South states, the approach of countries in the Global North has appeared ever more like a continuation of the established practices of the West, oblivious of the concerns of the rest. For many poor Global South states, Western hypocrisy toward upholding the norms of sovereignty, human rights, and the rule of law is not new. The Russian full-scale invasion of Ukraine only brought these further out in the open. However, many other powerful Southern states have amplified these hypocritical practices to drive their exclusionary nationalism, using the crisis to point out the unfolding of a global disorder. Russia in turn has seized the opportunity to strategically reach out to the Global South, and declaim its association with the West, a move that was simply unimaginable before.


    At this juncture, there are new challenges facing those seeking to win over the Global South states. Working within new coalitions and blocs, many of them have become emboldened and fastidious about speaking truth to power. Two years since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the Global South and its leaders are more central than ever on the international stage.


    Dr Sasikumar Sundaram is a Lecturer at the Department of International Politics at City, University of London. His main research interests lie in International Relations Theory and the Global South States, focusing on India, Brazil, and China. His book Rhetorical Powers: How the Global South Asserts Competence in World Politics is forthcoming from Columbia University Press (June 2025).


    Disclaimer: The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not reflect the views of The Foreign Policy Centre.

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      Two years on: Will Washington remain a reliable ally to Ukraine?

      Article by Dr Andrew Gawthorpe

      Two years on: Will Washington remain a reliable ally to Ukraine?

      Two years after the renewed Russian invasion of Ukraine, war weariness has descended on Washington. The initial American reaction to the attack seemed to be a fulfillment of President Joe Biden’s promise that “America is back”.[1] After the chaos of the Trump years, Washington took on its traditional role as the leader of an international coalition of states, in this case coordinating the provision of international assistance to Kyiv. Since then, the United States has provided about $75 billion in aid to Ukraine.[2]


      Continued American assistance now seems in doubt, mostly due to shifts within the Republican Party, which controls the House of Representatives. The party’s supporters increasingly oppose aid to Ukraine and demand a focus on perceived problems at home. Their leader, Donald Trump, has long sought friendly relations with Vladimir Putin and has promised to end the war in “24 hours” if elected, presumably by pressuring Kyiv to cede territory to Russia.[3] While a new tranche of aid has been approved by the Senate, it looks unlikely to be passed by the House.


      American support for Ukraine has also been undermined by the poor results of Kyiv’s 2023 offensive, in which a substantial number of American-trained and equipped troops failed to make substantial headway in regaining Ukrainian territory. American military commanders have been critical of the Ukrainian military’s tactics and have begun to concede that further breakthroughs by Kyiv seem unlikely.[4] As a result, the Biden administration has begun to shift its approach and prepare for what it views as inevitable negotiations in which Ukraine will be forced to make territorial concessions to Russia.[5]


      Barring a sudden Ukrainian military collapse this summer, the next decisive event in the conflict will likely be the US presidential election later this year. The Biden administration may have decided that negotiations are inevitable, but unlike Trump it does not intend to pressure Kyiv into joining them. Meanwhile, Putin is likely to wait for the outcome of the election before entering serious talks, given that he would be able to achieve much better results if Trump were in office.[6]


      Washington’s fraying support for Ukraine also has broader implications. If isolationist and Russia-friendly Republicans can pull the plug on American support even under a strongly internationalist president, then many other American security guarantees – for instance to NATO or Taiwan – begin to look questionable. As a result, America’s domestic political divisions, which only look set to widen in a contentious election year, may well persuade many other countries that the time has come to reassess whether Washington is still a reliable ally.


      Andrew Gawthorpe is an expert on US foreign policy and politics at Leiden University and the creator of America Explained, a podcast and newsletter. He was formerly a research fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School, a teaching fellow at the UK Defence Academy, and a civil servant in the Cabinet Office.


      [1] Joe Biden, Remarks By President Biden On America’s Place In The World,, February 2021,

      [2] Jonathan Masters and Will Merrow, How Much Aid Has The U.S. Sent Ukraine? Here Are Six Charts, Council on Foreign Relations, December 2023,

      [3] Jack Forrest, Trump Won’t Commit to Backing Ukraine in War with Russia, CNN, May 2023,

      [4] Washington Post Staff, Miscalculations, Divisions Marked Offensive Planning By U.S., Ukraine, The Washington Post, December 2023,; Washington Post Staff, In Ukraine, A War Of Incremental Gains As Counteroffensive Stalls, The Washington Post, December 2023,

      [5] Michael Hirsh, The Biden Administration Is Quietly Shifting Its Strategy in Ukraine, Politico, December 2023,

      [6] Michael Crowley, U.S. Rejects Putin’s Latest Call for Ukraine Negotiations, The New York Times, February 2024,


      Disclaimer: The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not reflect the views of The Foreign Policy Centre.

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        Two years on: Ukraine’s integration into the European Union is driving domestic transformations

        Article by Yuliia Shaipova

        February 19, 2024

        Two years on: Ukraine’s integration into the European Union is driving domestic transformations

        Following ten years of gradual progress towards European Union (EU) integration, driven by the impetus created by the Revolution of Dignity in 2014, Ukraine applied for EU membership in the first days of Russia’s full-scale invasion.


        Many in the EU thought this was only about showing symbolic support to the war-torn country and its brave people, with these sentiments prevailing even after the EU had adopted a lightning-fast decision to grant Ukraine candidate status. While the decision was never seen as symbolic in Ukraine, importantly it is no longer seen this way in the EU either.


        Over the course of the past two years, Ukraine has demonstrated its unwavering commitment to EU integration, not just with words but with deeds. The European Commission’s recommendation to commence accession negotiations, swiftly endorsed by the European Council, reflects an acknowledgement of Ukraine’s tangible efforts.[1]


        The Enlargement Package report of December 2023 reveals a commendable trajectory in Ukraine’s transformation, with an overall assessment climbing from 2.15 to 2.2 on a scale of 1 to 5 throughout 2023.[2] This progress becomes even more significant when considering the addition of new indicators; a comparison with the EU annual report of 2022 would show an improvement from 2.15 to 2.28 in 2023.[3] Although the change might seem small, the EU accession process requires fundamental reforms in virtually all public spheres, not to mention close to 30,000 EU legal acts, with which the legislation of the candidate countries has to be eventually aligned. Among the current nine candidate countries, Ukraine stands out as one of the fastest-moving, underscoring the nation’s determination despite the most challenging context.


        Unlike other candidate states, Ukraine is navigating its transformation amid a full-fledged war. In Ukraine, EU integration is seen as a way to secure its geopolitical choice, finally cutting ties with the Russian empire and ceasing to be a buffer zone between the EU and Russia. Moreover, everyone in Ukraine understands that the rebuilding efforts would require new approaches, ones that only a substantial transformation of the country’s economy and all institutions can provide.


        With EUR 18 billion granted in 2023 and a commitment of an additional EUR 50 billion in the next four years, the EU’s support becomes a lifeline for Ukraine’s survival and recovery, along with the support coming from the UK and the US. This financial backing underscores the mutual understanding that Ukraine’s commitment to democratic and market reforms is not just an internal matter, but a shared responsibility for stability and progress in the region.


        As Ukraine marks the second anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion, the narrative extends beyond conflict and resilience. It is also a story of building a future amidst the existential threat to the nation at present, leveraging EU integration as a catalyst for transformation. Although often overlooked in favour of purely military context, Ukraine’s EU integration is a process of profound importance for its success in the war.


        And if sister democracies are determined to see Ukraine repel the Russian invasion and win the peace, they should also do whatever possible to support and secure its successful accession into the EU.


        Yuliia Shaipova is a Ukrainian EU integration professional with experience in the governmental, business, and non-governmental sectors. She focuses on the political issues of Ukraine’s EU accession and the comparative studies of other countries’ EU integration experiences. Сurrently, Yuliia is an MSt in Diplomatic Studies candidate at the University of Oxford.


        [1] Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations, Ukraine Report 2023, European Commission, November 2023,; General Secretariat of the Council, European Council meeting (14 and 15 December 2023) – Conclusions, European Council, December 2023,

        [2] Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations, Opinion on Ukraine’s application for membership of the European Union, European Commission, June 2022,

        [3] Commission Staff, Analytical Report following the Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the European Council and the Council, European Commission, Commission Opinion on Ukraine’s application for membership of the European Union, February 2023,


        Disclaimer: The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not reflect the views of The Foreign Policy Centre.

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          Two years on: Will international support stay sufficiently united behind Ukraine to pay the price for security in Europe?

          Article by Baroness Ashton

          Two years on: Will international support stay sufficiently united behind Ukraine to pay the price for security in Europe?

          As Europe contemplates further support for Ukraine, it glances furtively at what is happening in Washington DC. The internal machinations on Capitol Hill alone are not enough to stop the European Union (EU) and its European allies from continuing support, but they allow those who would prefer an alternative course to make their pitch. Chief amongst those is Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, who shows a distinct lack of support towards Ukraine.


          The scale of European support for Ukraine to date is huge and largely not understood. The EU has committed nearly 90 billion euro in aid, weaponry, budget support and hosting of millions of Ukrainian refugees. The UK’s 12 billion pounds [14 billion euro] is in addition to this. However, Europe knows that to continue on this scale is increasingly challenging, and will be much more difficult if the USA does not maintain its own commitments.


          So, how long can European unity last? The most obvious worry is of sweeping gains from the far right in the elections to the European Parliament in June 2024. Nevertheless, a good working assumption is that the European Parliament will maintain a sufficient number of centre left and centre right MEPs to continue support for Ukraine. Yet another concern is that Slovakia’s Robert Fico may decide to join forces with Viktor Orbán. Sending one leader out of the room while a decision is made is a ploy the European Council has used in the past and could use again, but sending two feels like a slippery slope. Despite his rhetoric, Fico has so far tucked in behind major decisions; and the hope in Brussels is that this will last. The recently greenlit package of support for Ukraine, which will make available up to 50 billion euros in grants and loans until 2027, is a positive sign, – but how this will continue year on year will remain to be seen, particularly with Orbán inserting additional review clauses into the deal.[1]


          More worrying would be Russia taking more ground and higher Ukrainian casualties. In this instance, the concern is not so much that European support would disappear, but that it would morph into support for a negotiated deal. Some might go further and suggest Ukraine should be prepared to make concessions which will effectively mean conceding territory. Either way, Ukraine’s hand would be poorer in such high stakes negotiations.


          If Ukraine is taken, ripped apart and turned into a part of Russia or a vassal to it, what is the price for the security of Europe? I know wars end messily, with ragged edges; even outright victors must mourn loss and destruction. But wherever this moves, Europe has to stick with it. When the day comes, as it always does, when people sit around a table to work out an ending, Ukraine should feel Europe has its back.


          Baroness Ashton is the Former High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy and former Vice President of the European Commission.


          [1] EU Commission, EU solidarity with Ukraine,,grants%20and%20loans%20until%202027; Gregorio Sorgi, Barbara Moens and Elisa Braun, EU approves €50B Ukraine aid as Viktor Orbán folders, Politico, February 2024,,Orb%C3%A1n%2C%20 to%20 drop%20his%20 veto


          Disclaimer: The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not reflect the views of The Foreign Policy Centre.

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            The challenges facing Malta’s chairpersonship of the OSCE

            Article by Prof Stefan Wolff

            February 5, 2024

            The challenges facing Malta’s chairpersonship of the OSCE

            When Malta was confirmed as the OSCE’s Chairpersonship-in-Office (CiO) at the Skopje Ministerial Council in December 2023, the inter-governmental organisation’s prospects for survival increased.[1] After all, protracted negotiations over the next Chair—a role without which the OSCE cannot function—had dragged on for months and raised the spectre of the OSCE’s possible demise.[2] With Russia adamant in its opposition to Estonia’s candidacy, Austria was briefly considered as a possible alternative before Malta emerged as the frontrunner, after Moscow signalled its preference for a non-NATO member to take on the role.[3]


            Yet, while a Chair is essential for the survival of the OSCE, it cannot guarantee its functionality. As primus inter pares, it is primarily responsible for co-ordinating the political dialogue of the participating States and their consultations on ongoing OSCE business.[4] Apart from the Chair, the other top-four leadership positions—Secretary General, High Commissioner on National Minorities, Representative on Freedom of the Media, and Director of the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights—have had their mandates only renewed for an unprecedented, and awkward, nine months, rather than the customary three years or at least hoped-for 12 months. While senior positions like those of the Director of the Conflict Prevention Centre and of the Coordinator of OSCE Economic and Environmental Affairs have been filled, that of the Director of the Office of the Secretary General remains vacant, and two of the OSCE field operations are currently only led by acting heads. Nor has the OSCE had an agreed budget since 2021; instead, it is surviving on monthly allocations based on the last agreed budget, and increasingly on extra-budgetary contributions from predominantly western participating States and the EU, including for the OSCE Secretariat Extra-Budgetary Support Programme for Ukraine.[5]


            For the last two years the OSCE’s profound institutional crisis, which had been brewing in the decade since Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea, has played out against the background of the war in Ukraine. While Russia’s war of aggression has been the main issue on the OSCE’s agenda, there has been no shortage of conflict and instability elsewhere across the OSCE region. Kazakhstan saw turmoil just before Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, and Uzbekistan and Tajikistan experienced significant unrest in Karakalpakstan and Gorno-Badakhshan.[6] Despite some recent progress, there are still unresolved border issues between Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, which escalated into major violence as recently as September 2022.[7] Azerbaijan retook Nagorno-Karabakh by force, displacing many of the territory’s Armenian residents in the process.[8] Tensions, fuelled and exploited by Moscow, have also grown in Moldova, including with the separatist Transnistrian region.[9] Moreover, there are recurring tensions between Serbia and Kosovo.[10]


            Little wonder then that Malta’s priorities as CiO are focused on strengthening the resilience of the OSCE and enhancing security across the region.[11] These priorities, set for the year ahead, are ambitious by any measure, and even more so in light of the challenges that the OSCE and its participating States face. They can be read as a call for political dialogue and action, while they also reflect the deep contradictions that the organisation as a whole is dealing with. While it is absolutely essential that the CiO should “aim to facilitate and deliver decisions that leave the organisation more prepared and flexible to meet current and emerging challenges”, it is hard to see how this will be possible while Malta also vows to “continue to demand Russia’s full and immediate withdrawal from the entire territory of Ukraine.” The commitment to “condemn breaches of our commitments, and help ensure accountability” is laudable. While not inevitable, it is likely to signal the continuation of the “no business as usual” approach which has sought to isolate Russia in the OSCE, rather than a carefully managed balance between calling out Russian violations of international law and maintaining open lines of communication with Moscow.


            There can be no doubt that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which began in 2014 and then escalated into a full-scale war of aggression on 24th February 2022, was a grave breach of international law and the Helsinki Decalogue. However, it would be a fantasy to assume that the OSCE is a community of like-minded states when it comes to the interpretation of what exactly the Helsinki commitments mean. In fact, when the OSCE’s forerunner, the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (CSCE), was established in 1975 it was precisely with the acknowledgement that participating States did not see eye to eye, and were often actively opposing each other, on many of these issues and that a forum for dialogue was needed to mediate and mitigate disagreements.


            The war in Ukraine is an unprecedented crisis for the OSCE and thus a significant challenge for the CiO to manage, making business as usual impossible.[12] Yet the continued survival of the Organisation as Europe’s only all-inclusive platform of security dialogue will require at least some business being conducted, and ideally more sustainably so than over the past years. The Organisation needs to arrange contact and dialogue between its participating States on issues where this is possible. Malta’s approach offers some hope that this might be possible across all three dimensions of the OSCE.


            In the politico-military dimension of the OSCE, work on the inclusion of women and girls has been one of the areas in which it has been very active over the years and where it has an eminently qualified and highly engaged Senior Adviser on Gender Issues in Lara Scarpitta. Work on gender as a cross-cutting issue is also more generally an important area for the OSCE, including in relation to the economic and environmental dimension and the human dimension. In this sense, it is an issue that both exemplifies the importance of the OSCE’s comprehensive approach to security and the possibility of the continuation of at least some business across the organisation.


            This is particularly important in relation to the human dimension where participating States are frequently at loggerheads with each other. The refusal of Belarus and Russia to accept OSCE election observer missions cannot have come as much of a surprise, but it is another attempt at normalising the gradual shutting down of the third dimension—something that is, and should continue to be, strongly resisted.[13] ‘Using’ gender issues to keep the third dimension alive may seem cynical, but it is an essential tool that the OSCE has available and should use to keep the human dimension relevant, not least because it also has real benefits for women and girls. Malta’s emphasis on “combating and preventing violence against women” is therefore highly welcome, as is the connection being made with “OSCE efforts to combat trafficking in human beings.”


            On the other hand, priorities in relation to the economic and environmental dimension are somewhat underwhelming. While there is an apparent intention to continue work on the climate-security nexus—an area in which participating States managed one of their last, jointly-adopted Ministerial Council decisions in 2021—the OSCE’s hitherto prominent connectivity agenda seems to have been dropped completely.[14] This is all the more surprising as the OSCE area not only faces serious connectivity challenges as a result of the Russian aggression against Ukraine but also significant new opportunities, including the notably renewed interest in the Middle Corridor connecting the EU and China.[15] That said, the continuing focus on combating corruption is to be welcomed, not least because it also dovetails with necessary reforms, particularly for Ukraine and Moldova in the context of their EU membership aspirations, where the OSCE also has some potential of offering support.[16]


            Much of what Malta will be able to achieve in keeping the OSCE functioning and relevant across the range of priorities will be accomplished through the remaining field operations in participating States across southeastern Europe and in Central Asia. These missions, as well as the one in Moldova, have provided an important operational backbone for the organisation. Despite the often-contentious rhetoric around their continuation, participating states both east and west of Vienna, including the field operations’ host-states, generally appreciate the contribution that the OSCE makes in the field on a day-to-day basis to strengthening the resilience and security of states and societies in the OSCE area. This is not to underplay the challenges that field operations are facing—from the attraction and retention of qualified personnel, to the management of extra-budgetary projects, to the constraining interpretation of their mandates by host-states. Malta’s commitment “to provide support to our Field Operations and strengthen their capacity to assist host authorities in implementing OSCE principles and commitments”, in this sense is also an important contribution to keep the OSCE as a whole alive. This is the bare minimum of what will be required from the CiO, and even then, Malta is likely to face resistance from many host-states who will continue to interpret existing mandates narrowly and seek to limit OSCE activities to fit their own domestic agendas.[17]


            Ultimately, whether Malta can succeed in living up to the promises that its priorities imply for the OSCE, and for Euro-Asian and Euro-Atlantic security more generally, will be down to factors well beyond the control of a small Mediterranean island state. Having empowered Malta to serve as the OSCE’s CiO in 2024, the Organisation’s participating States must now enable it to act on the Maltese Chairpersonship’s priorities. If they do not or if they allow some to frustrate efforts to salvage what is left of the OSCE as a multilateral forum, they will be culpable in contributing to the OSCE’s further slide into irrelevance. This would deprive Europe of a mechanism to manage security threats and challenges at a time of an increasingly volatile and rapidly deteriorating geopolitical situation.


            Disclaimer: The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not reflect the views of The Foreign Policy Centre.


            Credit: OSCE/Mikhail Evstafiev


            [1] OSCE Chairmanship, OSCE Chairman-in-Office Osamni announces Malta as 2024 Chairpersonship, extension of senior officials following 30th Ministerial Council, OSCE, December 2023,

            [2] Stefan Wolff, Ukraine war: Russia’s hard line at European security meeting ratchets up tensions another notch, The Conversation, December 2023,; Dr Cornelius Friesendorf and Prof. Stefan Wolff, Is a Russian veto on leadership about to provoke the downfall of the OSCE?, FPC, November 2023,

            [3] Stephanie Liechtenstein, How creative diplomacy has averted a collapse of the OSCE – until now, Security and Human Rights Monitor, July 2023,; Stephanie Liechtenstein, Exclusive: Malta under consideration to become OSCE Chair in 2024, Security and Human Rights Monitor, November 2023,

            [4] Primus inter pares is a Latin phrase meaning first among equals.

            [5] OSCE Secretariat Extra-Budgetary Support Programme for Ukraine, OSCE,

            [6] Patrick Jackson and Simon Fraser, Uzbekistan Karakalpakstan: At least 18 killed in unrest over right to secede, BBC News, July 2022,; RFE/RL’s Tajik Service, What’s Behind The Tumult In Tajikistan’s Restive Gorno-Badakhshan Region?, RFE/RL, May 2022,

            [7] RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz Service and RFE/RL’s Tajik Service, Kyrgyz, Tajik Security Officials Say 90 Percent Of Border Agreed Upon, RFE/RL, December 2023,; Reuters, Kyrgyz-Tajik border conflict death toll nearly 100, September 2022,

            [8] Michael Ertl, Nagorno-Karabakh: Conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenians explained, BBC News, September 2023,

            [9] Stefan Wolff, Ukraine war: Moldova could be the first domino in a new Russian plan for horizontal escalation, The Conversation, March 2023,

            [10] Stefan Wolff, Kosovo government must take most of the blame for the latest violence, but any long-term solution will require a constructive response from Serbia as well, The Conversation, May 2023,

            [11] Malta’s OSCE Chairpersonship 2024, Strengthening Resilience, Enhancing Security, OSCE, January 2024,; OSCE Chairmanship, Malta begins its OSCE Chairpersonship with a vision for strengthening resilience and enhancing security, OSCE, January 2024,

            [12] Stephanie Liechtenstein, Foreign Minister of Malta Ian Bord promises to ‘do whatever it takes’ to keep OSCE ‘alice and functioning’ as he outlines 2024 OSCE priorities, Security and Human Rights Monitor, January 2024,

            [13] OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, Decisions not to invite OSCE observers to parliamentary elections contrary to Belarus’ international commitments, OSCE, January 2024,; OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, Russian Federation flouts international commitments once again with decision not to invite OSCR observers to presidential election, OSCE, January 2024,

            [14] OSCE, 28th OSCE Ministerial Council, December 2021,

            [15] Directorate-General for International Partnerships, Global Gateway: EU and Central Asian countries agree on building blocks to develop Trans-Caspian Transport Corridor, European Commission, January 2024,

            [16] Tetyana Malyarenko and Stefan Wolff, Supporting Recovery, Reintegration, and Accession: Opportunities and Challenges for the OSCE in Ukraine, in OSCE Insights, eds. Cornelius Friesendorf and Argyro Kartsonaki (Baden-Baden: Nomos, 2024),

            [17] Cornelius Friesendorf, The OSCE’s midlife crisis, IPS Journal, July 2023,

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              Transatlantic Shifts: Impacts of UK-US elections on the ‘special relationship’

              Article by Dr Andrew Gawthorpe

              January 20, 2024

              Transatlantic Shifts: Impacts of UK-US elections on the ‘special relationship’

              It is often said that the Americans and the British are two people divided by a common language. If that language is democracy, then developments in 2024 could lead to the divisions becoming wider than ever.


              Both countries are expected to head to the polls this year – the United States (US) in November, and Britain sometime in the spring or autumn.[1] Both elections will have consequences for the United Kingdom (UK)’s foreign policy, be it towards the US itself or in other parts of the world. However, perhaps surprisingly, the most profound consequences for British foreign policy are more likely to arise not from its own election but from the one taking place on the other side of the Atlantic.


              Despite the divisions caused by Brexit, there is remarkable cross-party consensus between the Labour and Conservative parties on the principles that should underpin British foreign policy. In both its 2021 Integrated Review and its 2023 foreign policy “refresh”, the Conservative Government committed to “working towards the higher goal of an open and stable international order”. It also placed heavy emphasis on ensuring the security of Europe, including by thwarting Russia’s designs on Ukraine.[2] In its response, the Labour Party has generally agreed with these goals and criticised the Government for not providing sufficient resources to achieve them.[3]


              By contrast, the politics of American foreign policy is much less consensual. One result of the polarisation which has gripped American politics in recent years is that elections have become far more consequential. Because the two parties are so far apart on so many issues, the country can radically change direction based on a single election result.[4] This potential is heightened by the fact that Donald Trump, the candidate currently leading in the polls, and emboldened after his recent win in the Iowa caucus, has both an erratic personality and a marked hostility to most international institutions.


              The result is that if Trump wins the November election, the UK Government’s “closest ally and partner” – to use the words of the 2023 Integrated Review refresh – will be led by a president profoundly hostile to the stated principles of UK foreign policy.[5] Trump has suggested that he may withdraw the United States from NATO, impose a 10% tariff on almost all imports, and withdraw support for Ukraine.[6] Any one of these decisions would send shockwaves around the world, including through London.


              Regional security

              According to the Integrated Review, the UK has two main regional priorities: Europe and the Asia-Pacific.[7] Ever since the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, London has seen the defence of Ukraine as pivotal to the defence of Europe as a whole. The UK has become the second biggest donor of military aid to Kyiv and the UK Government has increased defence spending in order to reinforce NATO’s eastern flank.


              The goal of defending Ukraine is shared by American internationalists of both parties but contested by Trump and many within the Republican Party, including many members of Congress. This ‘America First’ camp disparages the idea that Russia poses a systemic threat to either the US or the international order, believing that China poses a far greater one. They portray Russia’s conflict with Ukraine as essentially a local dispute which should be managed either by Ukrainian concessions or by European countries themselves.[8] Congressional Republicans have already delayed – and may ultimately kill off entirely – a fresh tranche of aid to Kyiv requested by the Biden administration.


              Despite this difficulty, a new Democratic administration would continue to provide strong diplomatic support for Ukraine and attempt to find alternative channels for aid, for instance from allies. Trump, by contrast, has claimed he would end the war in 24 hours – presumably by wielding diplomatic influence against Ukraine and forcing it into territorial concessions to Russia.[9] Even more dangerous to the UK Government’s priorities is Trump’s attitude towards NATO, which the UK Government regards as “the bedrock of our security”.[10] Trump was reportedly on the brink of ordering an American exit from the alliance several times during his first term.[11] Even if he doesn’t order an outright withdrawal, he has committed himself to “fundamentally reevaluating NATO’s purpose and NATO’s mission”.[12]


              Any downgrade in the American commitment to Ukraine or NATO would force a re-evaluation of the most fundamental principles of British foreign policy. There is no conceivable way for Europe and the UK to replace American assistance to Ukraine, much less the capabilities that the US provides to NATO as a whole. Either development would likely lead to renewed calls for Europe to enhance its own defence capabilities and cooperation. But with its domestic economy struggling and the politics of Brexit complicating cooperation with Europe, Britain would be ill-placed to take a leading role in these efforts.


              The US election will also have implications for Britain’s other main regional priority, the Asia-Pacific. There is a bipartisan consensus in Washington in favour of containing the rise of China, but the two parties differ significantly in their preferred methods. The Biden administration has placed heavy emphasis on multilateral cooperation with European countries, for instance with Britain through the AUKUS pact. It has also reinforced American security commitments in the region. In his first term, Trump was much more narrowly focused on trade and repeatedly questioned American defence commitments to South Korea, Japan and Taiwan.[13] Throughout the campaign he has continued to speak highly of Xi Jinping, who he seems to regard as a peer with whom he can cooperate rather than a systemic threat to the current international order.[14]


              As a result, a Trump victory would likely also force London to re-evaluate its Asia-Pacific “tilt”. Firstly, any downgrade in US support for NATO and Ukraine would force the UK to divert its limited resources closer to home. Secondly, a new Trump administration would be much less interested in multilateral or so-called “minilateral” arrangements like AUKUS as a component of its approach to China. Rather than attempting to coordinate with Europe against China as the Biden administration is doing, Trump would be much more likely to pursue American interests unilaterally – including at the expense of Britain.


              An open international economy

              One area in which there is likely to be a direct clash between London and Washington in a second Trump administration is trade. UK policymakers are seeking a new free trade agreement with the US, which Conservatives have touted as a potential benefit of Brexit. More generally, policymakers in both major UK parties are in favour of maintaining an open international economic order based on the free flow of goods and capital.[15]


              The first goal – a new US-UK trade agreement – is likely unobtainable whoever wins the November election. The Biden administration has refused to enter serious negotiations and is unlikely to do so in a second term given widespread hostility to new trade agreements across the American political spectrum.[16] The current administration has also resurrected American industrial policy, pouring state investment into strategic industries in a way which makes it difficult for British businesses to compete. This process is likely to accelerate whoever wins the election, although the Biden administration would almost certainly proceed with more sensitivity to the concerns of its allies.


              It is Trump, however, who is likely to launch a broader assault on the entire international economic order. His campaign has called for a 10% tariff on “almost all” imports and a near-total decoupling of the American economy from China. This would affect UK interests as defined by its government in two ways. First would be the direct economic impact, which would be significant given the high volume of trade between the two countries. To mitigate the damage, UK policymakers would be forced to make a diplomatic scramble for exemptions, pitting them against dozens of other countries seeking the same relief. Yet British policymakers would likely find this need at odds with their desire to maintain open trade relations with China, a predilection which American China hawks view with suspicion and disdain and may wish to punish.[17]


              Secondly, such a serious American challenge to the international economic order would likely rapidly accelerate its fragmentation. In a deglobalised world, nations and economic blocs will thrive if they possess large, integrated markets and deep pools of capital to drive investment and innovation. As with security affairs, the logical course of action for British policymakers would be to seek re-integration with Europe to pool resources and obtain a measure of protection by joining a large regional economic bloc. Yet post-Brexit politics would profoundly complicate this, likely rendering it a non-starter under a Conservative government and difficult to pursue in any impactful way even under Labour.


              Which direction?

              Perhaps the most profound impact of a second Trump victory on British policymakers will be psychological: the realisation that America is no longer a reliable partner in upholding a free and open international order. Although segments of the Conservative Party have some ideological affinity with Trumpian nationalism, no major grouping on the British political spectrum is hostile to international trade and investment or the European security order in the same way as the former president. Nationalism is ultimately a thin basis for cooperation given its emphasis on upholding the narrow material interests of nations, which often clash.


              The result of the next American election hence has profound implications for Britain. Will America remain committed to upholding a relatively free, open and multilateral international order, or will it return to ‘America First’? For many decades before 2016, British foreign policy was based on two pillars: economic integration with Europe, and close alignment on diplomatic and security priorities with the US. Brexit severely complicated the first pillar. If the second pillar is undermined or even demolished in the aftermath of 2024, British policymakers of both parties will be forced into an agonising reappraisal unlike any in their post-war history.


              Andrew Gawthorpe is an expert on US foreign policy and politics at Leiden University and the creator of America Explained, a podcast and newsletter. He was formerly a research fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School, a teaching fellow at the UK Defence Academy, and a civil servant in the Cabinet Office.


              Disclaimer: The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not reflect the views of The Foreign Policy Centre.


              [1] Archie Mitchell, Rishi Sunak Rules out a 2025 General Election: ‘2024 Will be an Election Year’, The Independent, December 2023,

              [2] HM Government, Integrated Review Refresh 2023: Responding to a More Contested and Volatile World, March 2023, pp. 7, 19, 22 – 28 (quote 19); HM Government, Global Britain in a Competitive Age: The Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy, March 2021, pp. 10 – 22.

              [3] David Lammy Responds in Parliament to the Government’s Statement on the Integrated Review, Policy Mogul, March 2023,; David Lammy, Britain Reconnected: A Foreign Policy for Security and Prosperity at Home (London: Fabian Society, 2023), p. 17.

              [4] Andrew Gawthorpe, 2024 US Presidential Elections: A Fork in the Road for the Future of American Foreign Policy?, Foreign Policy Centre, November 2023,

              [5] HM Government, Integrated Review Refresh 2023, p. 23.

              [6] Charlie Savage, Jonathan Swan and Maggie Haberman, A New Tax on Imports and a Split From China: Trump’s 2025 Trade Agenda, The New York Times, December 2023,; Charlie Savage, Jonathan Swan and Maggie Haberman, Fears of a NATO Withdrawal Rise as Trump Seeks a Return to Power, The New York Times, December 2023,

              [7] HM Government, Integrated Review Refresh 2023, pp. 3, 6, 9.

              [8] For instance, see Freddie Sayers, Elbridge Colby: China is More Dangerous than Russia, unHerd, April 2023,; Sen. Josh Hawley on China and Ukraine, Heritage Foundation, May 2023,

              [9] Jack Forrest, Trump Won’t Commit to Backing Ukraine in War with Russia, CNN, May 2023,

              [10] HM Government, Integrated Review Refresh 2023, p. 9.

              [11] John Bolton, The Room Where it Happened: A White House Memoir (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2020).

              [12] Donald J. Trump, Agenda47: Preventing World War III, March 2023,

              [13] Josh Rogin, Chaos Under Heaven: Trump, Xi, and the Battle for the Twenty-First Century (Boston: Mariner, 2021).

              [14] Newsroom, Hear Donald Trump Praise Dictators at New Hampshire Rally, CNN, November 2023,

              [15] HM Government, Integrated Review 2023, p. 45; Lammy, Britain Reconnected.

              [16] Graham Lanktree, Biden Quietly Shelves Trade Pact with UK before 2024 Elections, Politico, December 2023,

              [17] HM Government, Integrated Review 2023, p. 31.

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                The geopolitics of international climate diplomacy: A read-out from COP28

                Article by Dr Andrew Gawthorpe

                December 19, 2023

                The geopolitics of international climate diplomacy: A read-out from COP28

                This year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28), held from 30 November to 12 December 2023 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), got off to a rocky start. Hosting the conference in the UAE, a country where fossil fuels make up 30% of the economy, was always going to be controversial, as was the decision to pick as President of the Summit Sultan Al Jaber, the CEO of the country’s state oil company.[1] When audio emerged of Al Jaber recently claiming that there is “no science” to indicate that a phase-out of fossil fuels is necessary for the world to meet its climate targets, many analysts were ready to write the conference off entirely.[2]


                Especially when judged against such low expectations, the final results of the conference are best described as ‘limited but positive.’ For the first time ever, a UN climate summit ended with a declaration that explicitly mentioned the need to “transition away from” fossil fuels.[3] Traditionally such a statement has been opposed by, among others, China, India, Saudi Arabia, and sometimes the United States (US). On the other hand, the Summit’s final text has been criticised for containing numerous loopholes and for doing little to provide low-income countries with the financing that they need to transition away from fossil fuels.[4]


                The outcomes of UN climate summits are profoundly influenced by geopolitical and political trends unfolding in the world at large. In particular, the attitudes of China and the US have often played a key role in determining whether progress can be made. The two countries are the world’s largest emitters, key green energy innovation hubs, and potential sources of climate finance for less developed countries. They also have a fiercely antagonistic relationship, one which has, at times, threatened to extinguish the possibility of climate cooperation altogether.


                The climate and US-Chinese competition

                In recent years, climate policy itself has become a key arena of US-Chinese competition. Both countries want to be the global leader in green energy technology, to ensure a sustainable energy transition at home as well as to enhance their influence abroad. China has been heavily subsidising its renewables industry for decades, with the result being that the West is now heavily reliant on China for a number of technologies vital to the green transition, such as solar panels and electric vehicle batteries. In response, US President Biden’s administration has unveiled expansive subsidies for American green energy companies and placed a number of trade sanctions on China. These moves were denounced by China, which sees them as an attempt to suppress the rise of the Chinese economy.[5]


                This has coincided with a general downturn in US-Chinese relations prompted by former Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi’s trip to Taiwan in August 2022 and the Chinese spy balloon caught floating over the United States earlier this year. Beijing cancelled ongoing climate talks with Washington after Pelosi’s trip, raising fears that the two countries’ climate envoys would not even be talking to each other in the run up to this year’s COP28 Summit.


                The talks finally restarted in the summer of 2023, just in time to begin preparations for COP28.[6] Although this reopening of dialogue did not represent any major underlying improvement in the relationship between the two countries, it did indicate that both see the climate issue as having significance beyond their own bilateral relationship. The leadership in both countries recognise the need to address climate change and that failing to do so will harm their diplomatic standing among the nations which stand to suffer from unchecked global warming the most. Crucially, this summer also coincided with a renewed push in Beijing to improve its relations with the US as the Chinese economy experiences unprecedented difficulties.[7]


                With this, the stage was set. One of the great virtues of the UN climate summit system is that it creates periodic bursts of pressure on world leaders to come up with new commitments to tackle climate change. For the US and China particularly, there is a powerful incentive not to be seen as a spoiler. This has enabled – or forced – Washington and Beijing to come together to enable important breakthroughs in the past; as they did in the run-up to the Paris Climate Summit in 2015 and the Glasgow Summit in 2021, which saw a breakthrough on methane reduction. Once again, in the run-up to COP28, this system worked – but it also exposed the ways in which geopolitics continues to shape and limit the extent to which progress can be made.


                The key issues at COP28

                At COP28, the two main issues facing delegates were the phasing out fossil fuels and the provision of climate finance to developing nations. Both required US-Chinese cooperation to come to fruition, but in the end only one of them did.


                The phase-out of fossil fuels has traditionally been a point of major contention at UN climate summits. Although the entire edifice of international climate diplomacy is premised on a transition away from greenhouse gas-emitting fuels and towards renewable energy sources, actually explicitly calling for fossil fuels to be abandoned has proved a step too far for many countries. Producing countries like Saudi Arabia have an obvious reason for refusing to denounce their major source of revenue. However, less-developed countries like India and various African nations have also been wary of abandoning the only affordable source of energy they have access to.


                In the past, China has aligned itself with the less-developed countries, claiming that it is unfair for developed nations to now deny others a cheap source of energy after using it to get rich themselves.[8] The Trump administration was also opposed to endorsing a phase-out of fossil fuels, particularly as America was undergoing an oil and gas boom, which has now transformed it into the world’s largest producer.[9]


                China’s decision at COP28 to endorse a “transition away from” fossil fuels will hence be remembered as a key moment in international climate diplomacy. Although the decision-making of the Government in Beijing is notoriously opaque, one reason for the shift may be that China’s energy mix is increasingly starting to look like that of a developed rather than a developing country. In 2023 alone, China built enough renewable energy capacity to power all of France.[10] As the global center of production for many of the technologies, which will power the green transition, China also stands to benefit as the world becomes increasingly reliant on those technologies.


                In the end, the Summit declaration’s language on fossil fuels was agreed between the US and Chinese delegations, highlighting once again the importance of their cooperation.[11] Yet on the other key issue at the Summit – finance – no breakthrough was found.


                Developing nations require trillions of dollars annually to keep the global green transition on track.[12] Where this money should come from is a key point of contention. China argues that the developed countries that have benefited the most from past greenhouse gas emissions should cover it, whereas the United States and other Western countries thinks China – and also India – should pay.[13] However, the West’s position is undermined by the fact that it has often not even fulfilled its own pledge of paying $100bn annually. With an election looming in the United States next year, there was little chance that the Biden administration would make any new commitments in this area, and the deadlock encountered at past summits remained.


                The limits of progress

                Overall, the outcome of COP28 shows that while progress can be achieved when the interests of the world’s most powerful countries align, the battle against climate change remains dependent, at least to some measure, on geopolitical harmony. In their written submissions to the conference, many countries – including China – warned that rising trade and technology protectionism was a threat to global climate cooperation.[14] Yet there seems little chance that either the US or China will bow out of the race to dominate the green sector anytime soon. Moreover, a major blow-up in some other aspect of the relationship – say, over Taiwan – could derail progress entirely.


                The world therefore finds itself in an uncomfortable position, with any future progress on climate change dependent on stability in what is a heavily contentious bilateral relationship. With the US Presidential election looming next November, there is also the possibility of Donald Trump returning to the White House, a development that is likely to result in the US abdicating itself once more from its global responsibilities.


                Amid these swirling geopolitical and political currents, all progress on the climate is fragile and reversible. COP28, at least, turned out somewhat better than expected. We must hope that the same can be said of future summits too.


                Andrew Gawthorpe is an expert on US foreign policy and politics at Leiden University and the creator of America Explained, a podcast and newsletter. He was formerly a research fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School, a teaching fellow at the UK Defence Academy, and a civil servant in the Cabinet Office.


                Disclaimer: The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not reflect the views of The Foreign Policy Centre.


                [1] United Arab Emirates (UAE) Ministry of Foreign Affairs, UAE Economy, undated,

                [2] Damian Carrington and Ben Stockton, Cop28 President Says There Is ‘No Science’ Behind Demands for Phase-Out Of Fossil Fuels, The Guardian, December 2023,

                [3] United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, First Global Stocktake, December 2023,

                [4] Damian Carrington, Failure of Cop28 On Fossil Fuel Phase-Out Is ‘Devastating’, Say Scientists, The Guardian, December 2023,

                [5] Andrew Gawthorpe, U.S.-China Competition Is Weaponizing The Green Transition, World Politics Review, September 2023,

                [6] Aime Williams and Demetri Sevastopulo, John Kerry Visits Beijing To Restart Stalled US-China Climate Talks, Financial Times, July 2023,

                [7] Laura He, Beijing Is Ready To Improve Ties With US, Says Chinese Vice-President, CNN, November 2023,

                [8] Andrew Freedman, Top Emitter China Says No To Fossil Fuel “Phase Out” Language At Cop28, Axios, September 2023,

                [9] Lindsay Maizland and Anshu Siripurapu, How The U.S. Oil And Gas Industry Works, Council on Foreign Relations, August 2022,

                [10] Xu Yi-chong, COP28: Why China’s Clean Energy Boom Matters for Global Climate Action, The Conversation, December 2023,

                [11] Maha El Dahan, David Stanway and Valerie Volcovici, How The World Agreed To Move Away From Fossil Fuels At COP28, Reuters, December 2023,

                [12] News Wires, Developing Countries Need ‘Radical’ Investment To Fight Climate Change, UN Says, France24, November 2023,

                [13] Navin Singh Khadka, COP28: Should India and China Benefit From A Climate Change Fund?, BBC News, December 2023,

                [14] COP28, China’s Submission On The Elements For the Consideration Of Outputs Component Of The Global Stocktake, undated,—China%20-%20Submission%20on%20the%20Elements%20for%20the%20Consideration%20of%20Outputs%20Component%20of%20Global%20Stocktake.pdf

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                  Insights on India’s G20 Thematic Priorities and UK Policy Opportunities

                  Article by Foreign Policy Centre

                  December 13, 2023

                  Insights on India’s G20 Thematic Priorities and UK Policy Opportunities

                  Since the 2023 G20 Summit in September, FPC has been running an interview mini-series that delves into the six thematic priorities set by host country India:


                  – Multilateral institutions for the 21st century;

                  Accelerating progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs);

                  Women-led development;

                  Technological transformation & digital public infrastructure;

                  Accelerated, inclusive & resilient Growth; and

                  Green development, climate finance & LiFE.


                  Below is an overview of the series and the experts that contributed to it, with a focus on what the UK could do to improve their policy-making in these key areas.



                  UK Policy Opportunities:


                  As a country that recently left a regional bloc, the UK should ensure it maintains its historic leadership role in international fora. A nuclear powered country, a G7 member, and one with strong ties with increasingly influential states such as Nigeria, Kenya, and South Africa, the UK should focus its role in promoting greater inclusion of these and other countries and support substantial roles for them in the multilateral, democratic ecosystem.”

                  – Thomas E. Garrett, Community of Democracies


                  As is well known, the UK’s retreat from spending on [Official Development Assistance] ODA has been noticed and has come at a cost in terms of global credibility, particularly on critical issues such as climate, finance and health. What is less often mentioned is the UK’s retreat as a troop contributor to UN peacekeeping. While the UK’s mission to Mali was no longer sustainable, the fact that it was not replaced by a similar deployment elsewhere has seen the number of UK blue helmeted troops shrink back to pre-2016 levels. It is perhaps here, and in voluntary funding for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, that the best value for money can be found when contributing to the multilateral system.”

                  – Fred Carver, Strategy for Humanity



                  UK Policy Opportunities:


                  The UK needs to strengthen the means of implementation on the SDGs so that they can be implemented in a way that promotes integration and policy coherence across the framework. This includes meaningfully engaging all stakeholders and to improve accountability and transparency around how SDG gaps and progress are being monitored. As one of the major creditors of multilateral development banks, it is positive to see that the UK has announced its intention to get behind some of the key reforms of the international financial architecture that are being proposed – however, there needs to be clarity on how these will now be taken forward and to ensure that these proposals do not further entrench debt unsustainability of low and middle-income countries. Finally, it is important that the UK’s approach on the SDGs is grounded in the transformative principles of the 2030 Agenda, namely the pledge to Leave No One Behind, universality and human rights.”

                  – Lilei Chow, Save the Children


                  “Multi-stakeholder engagement mechanisms are one way of engaging broad support towards SDG implementation. The UK Government should deliver on their 2019 voluntary national review commitment to establish a multi-stakeholder engagement mechanism as a way to mobilise cross-sectoral support. This should be accompanied by specific support to civil society organisations, who play a critical role representing people, holding governments and others to account and supporting communities.”

                  – Dr Abigael Baldoumas, Policy and advocacy consultant



                  UK Policy Opportunities:


                  “There are several important mechanisms the UK Government must have in place in order to see significant progress on the aims of women-led development, mirrored in its current gender equality initiatives. Firstly, such work cannot be siloed into stand-alone programmes, but must be incorporated across the entire Government as priorities in domestic and foreign policy. Secondly, the UK must put its money where its mouth is and provide sufficient resources to achieve these agendas. Such efforts also require close working relationships with feminist civil society, where the input of activists and academics are prioritised and compensated. Lastly, and crucially, the UK must take accountability and recognise its own role in creating the global instability that leads to violence against women and girls. Then and only then can we expect to see progress toward safeguarding women and girls’ rights.”

                  – Marissa Conway, UNA-UK


                  “Ambition means not only restoring the aid budget to a level where the UK is able to meaningfully confront the consequences of transnational challenges including rising conflict, climate change and a growing anti-gender movement, it must also change how it funds: providing core, flexible, long-term funding directly to women’s rights organisations on the ground.”

                  – GAPS (Gender Action for Peace and Security), Civil society network



                  UK Policy Opportunities:


                  “Arguably, the most important lesson the UK should learn from recent experience is that the UK’s freedom of action is limited. It can achieve more through cooperating with other states than it can achieve alone. The Government deserves credit for recognising the national priority of having a thriving sector of science and technology, but the boldness of its ambition (for the UK to be a ‘science and technology superpower’ – irrespective of the vagueness of the term) is not matched by the necessary scale of resources. Increasing investment and reducing hyperbole would not be a bad place to start.”

                  – Dr Joe Devanny, King’s College London


                  “The UK Government should become the world’s biggest advocate for open source, push open technologies as a differentiator against closed systems which are not transparent and accountable and lead on public interest AI. By becoming the world’s largest advocate for open source, could provide the UK Government with an effective new voice, demonstrating its ongoing ability to be a global leader in forefront technologies.”

                  – Catherine Stihler, Creative Commons



                  UK Policy Opportunities:


                  “On the global stage, the UK Government could position itself as a champion of an inclusive and resilient global economy. It could help to change the narrative so that trade is fully aligned with key UK foreign policy ambitions such as achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and delivering on the Paris Climate Agreement. A UK trade strategy that sets out how this might be done would be a good start.”

                  – Ruth Bergan, Transform Trade


                  “One key change that could be transformational to our economy: the purpose of the corporation […] This is a radical agenda for the UK, (though now increasingly mainstream across Europe and some emerging markets): it would mean company directors have a higher duty of care for the public interest; are accountable to communities and workers, not just investors; and act on ‘double materiality’ – namely the risks to the company of human rights abuse and pollution, as well as risks to workers and communities, in the company’s operations and supply chains.”

                  – Phil Bloomer, Business & Human Rights Resource Centre



                  UK Policy Opportunities:


                  “Bodies such as the UK’s Climate Change Council can provide independent expert advice on optimal policy mixes tailored to the specific circumstances of countries. Besides, democratic governments can ask citizens about their policy preferences on climate action: this is what deliberative democracy mechanisms such as citizens’ assemblies on climate are for.”

                  –  Rafael Jiménez Aybar, Westminster Foundation for Democracy


                  “The G20 and UK need to consider countries’ historical emissions and the role they have played in the past and current to develop a global carbon-based economy.


                  The pandemic, war and economic crisis can problematically obscure the playing field of global power structures and inequality, in addition to the unevenness in emissions and burdens of climate change. The debate on loss and damage is important in this regard as it also puts in sharp focus how countries need to act in order to address future loss and damage.”

                  –  Professor Naho Mirumachi, King’s College London

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                    Op-Ed: Accountability in Conflict – reflections from the inaugural meeting of the Syria Ukraine Network

                    Article by Elly Nott

                    December 12, 2023

                    Op-Ed: Accountability in Conflict – reflections from the inaugural meeting of the Syria Ukraine Network

                    The battle Ukraine fights is not just for its survival as a nation but for values we hold dear in the United Kingdom. The values of an open society – respect for individual rights, full participation in political and economic life and the rule of law to institutionalise those rights – are anathema to the leadership of the Russian Federation.


                    Being at the receiving end of the malign attentions of the Russian state is something that unites Ukrainian and Syrian civilians, so there was much to discuss when experts and activists from both nations met under the auspices of the Syria Ukraine Network in Kyiv on 16-17 October 2023.


                    The meeting aimed to stimulate new ways of thinking about justice and accountability in the two conflicts and foster solidarity between people who have suffered occupation and violence in response to their calls for democracy and human rights. My conclusion was that active, engaged citizens are essential to create the conditions for justice and thriving open societies.


                    Justice for war crimes is, understandably, commonly conceived as being secured through the mechanisms of the international legal system. In humanitarian relief operations, the multilateral institutions of the UN have traditionally been front and centre in media coverage of responses to emergencies. Less visible, but just as valuable, is the role of engaged citizens in collecting evidence and providing not just emergency responses to humanitarian disasters caused by conflict, but principled, long-term support and grassroots governance.


                    Among our group in Kyiv were investigative journalists, lawyers, policy experts, storytellers, healthcare workers and representatives from Syrian and Ukrainian NGOs. One such group was Truth Hounds, who have been documenting, monitoring and carrying out investigations into human rights violations in Ukraine and neighbouring states since 2014.


                    The Senior Legal Counsel of Truth Hounds shared a précis of their latest report on the abuse and torture of staff at the Zaporizhizhia Nuclear Power Plant. The plant was captured by Russian forces on 11 March 2022 and has since then been under the ‘management’ of Rosatom, Russia’s state nuclear power company. Truth Hounds report that war crimes were aided and abetted by Rosatom, yet despite this the company conducts business in large parts of the world without sanction.


                    Getting Rosatom’s directors facing charges in court could take decades, if it ever happens at all, but the actions of Ukrainian lawyers to gather evidence and investigative journalists to bring these stories to light can exert pressure on companies that continue to do business with Rosatom and connected commercial entities.


                    From the start of the Syrian revolution in 2011, when large swathes of the Syrian people dared to dream for greater political and economic freedom, citizen journalists have broadcast the brutality of the suppression of that revolution. As in Ukraine, Syrian-led organisations like the Syrian Network for Human Rights have conducted the painstaking work of gathering evidence, establishing databases to archive and catalogue incidents and seeking opportunities to bring perpetrators to justice.


                    On 10 October 2023, Canada and the Netherlands asked the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to rule on seven ‘provisional measures’ designed to end ongoing torture and human rights abuses carried out by the Syrian state against the Syrian people. Among the sources of evidence referenced in court transcripts were fourteen contributions from the Syrian Network for Human Rights.


                    In further example of the importance of Syrian-led efforts to secure justice, on 15 November 2023 French criminal investigative justices have sensationally issued arrest warrants for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, his brother and Commander of the Fourth Division of the Syrian Army Maher al-Assad, and two more senior officials.  The warrants were issued for the use of chemical weapons against civilians in Douma and eastern Ghouta in August 2013, attacks in which more than 1,000 people perished. Instrumental to convincing French judges there is a case is the testimony of survivors, filed by the Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM). The SCM have pushed for Syrian civil society involvement in international investigation and justice mechanisms and the French decision represents a degree of success for their endeavours, though there is still far to go.


                    In northwest Syria, locally-led organisations have also been at the forefront of the response to humanitarian challenges. From 2011 onwards, Syrian citizens in the nation and diaspora mobilised to create NGOs that provided services in areas where the regime had been expelled. As well as providing services, health organisations provided a degree of governance from the ground up. The Idlib Health Directorate holds elections to its board, the process is transparent and the result respected. This democratic exercise is admittedly on a small scale, but in a state that has been ruled by a succession of authoritarian Ba’athist governments since 1963 the determination to hold elections is an expression of independence and defiance of the regime and hardline religious groups.


                    Doctors have a particularly special role in Syrian society, regarded as hakim, meaning ‘wise’ in Arabic. Throughout the Syrian conflict, healthcare workers have been at the forefront of the narrative war that has raged alongside the conflict. Healthcare workers are in a unique position to speak to the carnage caused by barrel bombs, missiles and bullets as they witness it daily. Too often, violence is inflicted on the caregivers themselves.


                    The endless violence takes an immense toll on healthcare workers. Recent research by Aula Abbara, Diana Rayes and colleagues details the far-reaching impact that working in a conflict-afflicted area has. The notorious ‘double-tap’ attacks, where an initial strike is followed up with another when first responders and medical staff are on the scene, is identified as particularly disturbing for healthcare workers, creating anticipatory stress when they arrive to help.


                    In 2021, leaders of twelve of the world’s leading democracies including the UK stated in a joint Open Societies Statement that values of freedom and democracy are under threat from: ‘rising authoritarianism, electoral interference, corruption, economic coercion, manipulation of information, including disinformation, online harms and cyber-attacks, politically motivated internet shutdowns, human rights violations and abuses, terrorism and violent extremism.’


                    The threat is real, but the UK Government can help those at the civic frontline by targeting support to locally-led and grassroots groups doing the hard work of collecting evidence, documenting war crimes, providing essential services and grounding the principles of the open society in everyday lived activity.


                    International institutions and multilateral bodies are often overstretched and constrained by labyrinthine internal procedures. Individual states have the ability to target greater support to locally-led organisations on a bilateral basis. Funding cycles should be for the long-term and include funding for the documenting evidence, and protection of staff and infrastructure. Rather than targeting support on programmatic activity only, there should be support for governance and development too.


                    Active citizens make for vibrant, open societies but political will and financial support is needed to create and secure the space for them to thrive.



                    Elly Nott, leader in the humanitarian sector and PhD Candidate at the Department of War Studies, King’s College London.


                    Disclaimer: The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not reflect the views of The Foreign Policy Centre.

                    Image by WikiCommons.


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